A question of competition

Restaurant: Weber's on Boston has returned to its pub-food roots. But times have changed, and now Canton has many eateries clamoring for diners' attention.

Sunday Gourmet

January 02, 2000|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

In the early part of the last decade, restaurateur Jim Mikula reopened a turn-of-the-century Canton tavern as Weber's on Boston. At the time Canton hadn't become the restaurant capital of the universe -- at least that's what it seems like these days -- and Weber's made quite an impression. The carved mahogany bar, comfortable dining room and period appointments created a pleasant setting for the hot crab dip and burgers that were the mainstay of the menu.

A few years later Mikula sold Weber's, and for a while it suffered an identity crisis. When the new owner turned it into a French bistro, the name changed to Le Bistro Midi, then back to Weber's -- not a good sign.

Now Mikula has bought the restaurant back, named it the "Original Weber's on Boston Street" (if only on its menu) and started serving pub food again. The problem is that the Weber's of 2000 has a heck of a lot more competition than the original Weber's (small o) did. Just for starters, there's the Can Company and its several restaurants right across the street. If Weber's is going to do pub food, it had better do really superb pub food if it wants to survive. The kitchen isn't quite there yet.

Still, the restaurant has a lot going for it -- most notably the setting. This is the kind of place you want in your neighborhood: comfortable and casual, but with a real patina. The dark paneled walls are hung with mirrors in ornate gilt frames. A pressed-tin ceiling, original light fixtures and starched white linen on the tables add to the fin de siecle feel.

The service at Weber's can sometimes be a plus and sometimes be a minus. It's erratic. One night we were almost alone in the dining room, and our waitress was superb. On another visit the room was packed, and one waiter scurried to keep up (and wasn't able to).

When I called Weber's menu "pub food," I didn't mean to suggest that that's all the kitchen does. (In this day and age, few bar-restaurants limit themselves to chicken wings and steamed shrimp.) For a first course, you could get a pleasant crawfish pie, a tart shell filled with crawfish tails in a cream sauce that has a bit of zip to it. Or you could start with fat, crisply fried spring rolls filled with shrimp and pork and vegetables like sweet red peppers. Equally appealing is the smooth, delicious corn and crab chowder, which whispers crab and shouts cream. And some will be perfectly content with the excellent herbed focaccia and tapenade to hold them until their main course comes.

The food is a bit iffier when you get to main courses. On Wednesdays, it's surf and turf night, which is usually a choice of steak and seafood imperial or a bigger steak with no seafood (I know it sounds odd) for $11. I'm happy with small amounts of meat, but these are thin rib eyes, or in the case of the actual surf and turf, a thin filet mignon. And seafood imperial with shrimp and scallops doesn't quite cut it with those of us used to all crab meat. Still, you get what you pay for; and they certainly aren't overcharging here.

The best parts of a couple of our entrees were garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed fresh vegetables. A pork loin special featured good meat; but it needed some sort of sauce, or at least the pan juices. Quesadillas with lots of vegetables, chicken and cheese would have made us happy, but the tortilla was deep-fat fried, so it was greasy and simply didn't work. Shrimp and asparagus over spinach penne could have been a winner, but its Alfredo sauce had an unconscionable amount of garlic.

Desserts -- oddly enough for a bar-restaurant -- have no such problems of inconsistency. If a delicate creme brule with a thin, brittle crust of caramelized sugar is too dainty for you, try chunk chocolate and banana wrapped in fragile leaves of pastry and deep-fat fried. Wicked. Weber's also has a perfectly good tiramisu, but it pales in comparison with the other two.


Food: ** 1/2

Service: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ***

Where: 845 S. Montford Ave., Canton

Hours: Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Tuesday through Sunday

Prices: Appetizers, $6-$15; main courses, $5.50-$17.50

Call: 410-276-0800

Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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