Early in the new year, my wife and I took in a Patriots game at a Brooklyn bar. As the Pats were on the path to victory, we dug into soggy nachos, chicken wings so thick with sauce that there could have been Tinkertoys instead of drumsticks under the barbecue mess, and indifferent french fries.
A few days later, we were back on home turf and found ourselves sampling escargot, oven-baked shrimp, and lobster ravioli in a Mill City watering hole. Hmm … can you guess which place we enjoyed more?
The answer won’t surprise you. Said watering hole was the Lowell gastropub Warp & Weft. Gastropubs are traditional-looking bars or pubs that serve innovative, high-quality food. This happens to be a trend that fits well with downtown Lowell’s distinct blend of traditional and contemporary culture.
Warp & Weft is located in a Market Street space that previously housed bars that closed following, um, a series of unfortunate events. The dive bar vibe has faded, and the new establishment represents something else entirely.
You pass a window-front stage as you walk in. The quality of the live music offerings is part of Warp & Weft’s appeal. A bar dominates the right side of the long rectangular space, which includes standard and high dining tables, and features plenty of brick and old wood.
Now about those dollar bills scattered across the ceiling. Someone at Warp & Weft started the tradition of wrapping a bill, a thumbtack and quarter in a way that allows the bill to stick to the wooden ceiling and the quarters to fall back to earth. When the stuck dollars reach critical mass, they are “harvested” and donated to a local nonprofit.
That is just one example of the way Warp & Weft is committed to Lowell. In a nice bit of textile terminology, the bar’s name refers to threads in fabric, but also suggests its role as part of the community, as their website makes clear. Following three pop-up openings last summer, W&W made its downtown debut in October, after which the Mill City tie-in produced an unexpected benefit. Shortly after it opened, local politicians caught on and started using the site for fundraisers.
The dinner menu isn’t extensive. There are, for example, only a half dozen main dishes, and two of them are sandwiches. But there is a nice variety of soups, salads and starter dishes, along with daily specials. The Warp & Weft folks are committed locavores, and the beer list includes nearly two dozen area brews.
The most expensive food item is a smart salmon plate with porcini risotto and spinach ($19), a bargain at today’s prices. However, I’m a big believer in daily and weekly specials saying more about an eatery than the standard menu. The drink of the week was a mirtillo ($9), made of house-infused blueberry vodka, elderflower liquor, blue curacao, lime juice and prosecco. Though it had a wholly unnatural blue tint, if the bartender had offered doggy bottles instead of doggy bags, I would have gladly taken one home to enjoy later.
The lobster ravioli ($15) featured three big pieces of pasta stuffed with lobster. I’ve spent much of my life in Maine, and some of that in a family restaurant, so I’ve earned my right to be a lobster snob. Too often, “lobster-anything” dishes include lobster with an overpowering flavor from either being left around too long or — horrors — using lobsters that have already kicked the bucket. This was not a problem at Warp & Weft. The ravioli was mild and tasty, and done just right, and who can quibble with the price?
The same pride and effort showed up in the escargot ($13) that was served out of shell in a deft Dijon tarragon cream sauce, and with the oven-roasted sage shrimp ($11) wrapped in soppressata.
Warp & Weft is still a work in progress. Our server was friendly and well-intentioned but seemed overwhelmed. The fresh berry crepe with dark chocolate ($7) was good, but read better than it tasted, in part because it was too doughy.
Still, overall, Warp & Weft has raised the bar for bar food in the Merrimack Valley.
Warp & Weft
Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Thursday and Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.