Chain Link: Restaurants Worth Checking Out

In general, I skip a chain restaurant and prefer to go to a small, local independent restaurant whether I’m at home or in traveling to another city.  With social media sources for information such as Yelp, Chowhound, Urbanspoon Zomato, my Facebook feed full of food loving folks, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, I can get a good sense of a local spot without having to live in a particular city so seeking out local gems isn’t that difficult.  Recently, in the South End Barcelona Wine Bar opened and my daughter and I have been thinking about trying it, but then I read that it was part of a group of restaurants; what I would consider a small chain of restaurants.  In the South End there are tons of options for local independent dining so we decided to skip Barcelona Wine Bar.  I had been to Toro, The Butcher Shop, B&G Oysters, among other restaurants located right next to Barcelona Wine Bar, and dream about the food at each of those places, so Barcelona Wine Bar was just going to have to wait.  It was the ever-present food blogger dilemma of too many good bites on this side of town and too few meals in a day (not to mention budget).

The paella was so tasty. It was a tad inconsistent with the rice and some of the seafood being over cooked while other parts of dish (seafood) was perfectly cooked. I'd definitely give it another try though because it was so tasty.
The paella was so tasty. It was a tad inconsistent with the rice and some of the seafood being over cooked while other parts of dish (seafood) was perfectly cooked. I’d definitely give it another try though because it was so tasty.

A year or so ago, the kids and I found ourselves at Chuck E. Cheese’s (an unfortunate situation but as many parents understand its an occasional necessity).  After Chuck E. Cheese’s we usually go to HMart for dinner, but for whatever reason we decided not to and instead we raced across the parking lot in the pouring rain and escaped into try Papa Razzi.  Papa Razzi is another chain that I first saw because I remember always passing this restaurant along Route 2 as we drove to Vermont year after year.  I’d seen the chain here and there and I have to admit I thought it was like a Bertucci’s or a standard pizza joint.

In both these cases, my assumptions were turned on their head.

Custom charcuterie board (choose your own or get the chef's choice) at Barcelona Wine Bar, South End, Boston.
Custom charcuterie board (choose your own or get the chef’s choice) at Barcelona Wine Bar, South End, Boston.

I decided giving Barcelona Wine Bar a chance after a local chef mentioned to me that they actually do a good job finding a chef and give their chef a certain amount of control over the menu.  I made reservations and dined with three fabulous food loving bloggers (A Beautiful Bite, Capability Mom and KimWorld).  Our reservations were for 6:30 and I believe we left at 10:00 our bellies filled with fabulous foods and having had a wonderful time all around. I will still go to Toro and PICCO and Coppa and my favourite local spots, but what I like about Barcelona Wine Bar is convenience, and the price.  Barcelona Wine Bar is a much larger restaurant than many other South End spots so the wait may not always be as long as elsewhre.  Price-wise, because Barcelona Wine Bar is a mid-sized, well-established chain, they have the advantage of business experience and being able to purchase beautiful product for all the restaurants at once which may help with cost.  Most of the dishes we ordered were fabulous.  There were a few little misses.  The Paella wasn’t perfect, but it was still delicious.  The shocker at the end of the evening was the bill (much less than expected).  We actually had to double check it because we were sure some items we had ordered were left off the tally.  I cannot wait to go back again, and I’ll definitely keep it in mind when I’m meeting a group for dinner that can’t be accommodated at some of the smaller restaurants nearby.

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And now for something completely different…  Papa Razzi, which apparently was known for it’s fine dining look and white table cloths is actually nothing like a Bertucci’s or a pizza joint like I asssumed.  My kids and I stopped in for lunch/brunch and we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and the service we experienced.  It was a meal we all really enjoyed. I was recently invited to Papa Razzi to celebrate the launch of their new “Metro” look and vibe.

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The white table cloths are gone (I’m not missing them but I hear people who have been going to Papa Razzi for years are having a little trouble adjusting) but the food is still excellent.  The more casual environment isn’t reflected in the food, even if you’re popping in for their weekday power lunch.

What I really liked about Papa Razzi was that, once again, it is a larger space and the food is reasonably priced.  I take my children to fine dining, tiny restaurants   I take my daughter to tiny, high end, local restaurants because she dines well there, she appreciates the food and she can handle the setting.  My son on the other hand is not as comfortable in that type of setting.  At a restaurant like Papa Razzi, I can have good food and the children have options they like as well.  I don’t feel like I’m wasting money on poorly microwaved food served on a fancy looking plate.  Instead, I’m getting freshly prepared food and being served by a staff that seems happy to be doing what they do ( you can’t usually fake this stuff and that says a lot about the company to me.)

Creamy polenta with slow cooked oxtail at Papa Razzi Metro in Burlington, MA
Creamy polenta with slow cooked oxtail at Papa Razzi Metro in Burlington, MA

What have I learned?  Don’t judge a book by its cover…or rather don’t judge a restaurant because it is a chain.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Leah –

    This was a cool and unexpected treat to read. We try really hard to do exactly what you discovered, and I’m really pleased that we could deliver.

    Here’s the flip side of the argument: We do a nice, reasonably-priced restaurant, and work like crazy on getting the food and the customer service right. People like it, and they come, and there’s a big wait at the door, and inevitably we start getting the requests: “Hey, why don’t you open one of these in (fill in the blank)?” Our best chefs and managers want the chance to run their own restaurant, so when we find a great location we open a new Barcelona. The locals are (generally) happy, the wait goes down, the employees get promoted… but then we get the “chain” disapproval.

    Some restaurant people deal with this by simply giving each restaurant a different name, even though it’s common ownership and interchangeable employees. We keep the name the same, but give each one a completely different design, and the menus are all different, as well. There’s not that big a difference – it’s all in the guest experience.

    So have some pity on us chains. We’re still making the donuts, one at a time. Condemn us for bad food, or bad service, or high prices, but not for our name — we like it, and so do the people who come in to eat. Thanks for realizing this in your blog. It was fun to read.

    Andy Pforzheimer
    Barcelona

    Like

    1. leahklein says:

      I agree completely and cannot wait to go back. Ironically one of our blogger friends was moving to the DC area that week and this was a ‘until we see one another again’ dinner. We were all thrilled to see that when she moves, and gets married she’ll have her own Barcelona Wine Bar nearby to go to. It is so true what you say re: restaurant groups and differently named restaurants. I know of many that are different names and cuisine styles but are so similar nonetheless. After a first visit to Barcelona Wine Bar, I would think anyone will gladly come back again mini chain or not. I will have to stop in in CT when I see my in laws to do a compare and contrast experience.

      Like

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