Credit for this recommendation goes to Scott Holliday, bar manager at Cambridge's Rendezvous Central Square. Recently when I was at the restaurant we were chatting about the great restaurants in Maine, he asked if I'd been to The Black Birch in Kittery. I hadn't, and have been meaning to go ever since. When I did last week, I didn't know how I'd missed it for so long. It's what every neighborhood restaurant should be: low-key, cheery, and reasonably priced with food that's well-executed and imaginative but not flashy; a great beer list; and fun cocktails.
After trying a handful of the dishes, I'm convinced you can't really go wrong, but here's where I'd start:
Deviled Eggs 3 Ways ($3): Of the three current flavors (which change regularly), the more conventional country ham and sweet pickle is the one I could eat over and over again; the smoke and brine make a perfect match with the rich, creamy yolk. I appreciated that the kitchen had more fun with the other two—harrisa and fennel and cucumber and plum paste—and while they were tasty, those defining elements were strangely subtle. Maybe just a dab more harissa and plum paste would do the trick.
Roasted Cauliflower ($5): If the huge wedge of the cauliflower on your plate doesn't wow you (yes, this preparation deserves a steak knife), the deep sear and miso romesco spooned over top will. And if you think of what you spend $5 on at other places (say, a Starbuck's coffee drink), this seems like an even better deal.
Deep-Fried Short Rib ($11): When I asked the server for recommendations, she replied that customers often tell her the short rib is the best thing they've ever eaten. I wouldn't go that far, but it was darn tasty. The rice flour dredge is responsible for the light, crisp exterior—an ideal entry point into a piece of meat that's unctuous and spoon-tender within. The fixin's might be even better than the meat, though: satiny puréed purple potatoes, sunchoke chips, and horseradish cream.
Chocolate Donuts with Passion Fruit Curd ($8): A regular dessert special with alternating flavors. Pairing tangy passion fruit curd with cocoa-y donuts (the chocolate flavor is even but mellow) never would have occurred to me, but it was brilliant and makes me wonder why it's not more common. Also going for them: They're fresh, hot donuts, and those are almost never not good.
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Senior Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.