If there is an absolute truth about downtown Andover restaurants, it’s this: You better do it right, or you don’t have a chance. There are just too many other good dining options. Elm Square Oyster Co. does it right.
The three-room eatery occupies the space that once housed Bin 28, later called Brasserie 28. The same ownership has been involved in all three restaurants.
Bin 28 got a thumbs-up from another reviewer in this magazine in late 2010. I also enjoyed the food there, and found the dark and intimate space inviting … at first. But “dark and inviting” can become “dismal” over time, and it ultimately struck me as a place to go hide, not always an endearing trait for a restaurant.
That’s not a problem for the Elm Street Oyster Co. Though the basic layout remains the same — with a smart bar immediately on the left as you enter — the space is brighter and cheerier, with a nautical decor and soft colors. Three small dining rooms lead to the raw bar and open kitchen in the back of the restaurant.
Elm Square Oyster Co. calls itself a “modern New England eatery,” and the menu backs up that claim. There is plenty of seafood, of course, including shellfish. A lengthy “charcuterie & snacks” list runs the gamut from salty nuts ($7) and daily cured meats ($8) to local cheese ($6) and chicken liver mousse ($7).
Nearly a dozen entrees and appetizers also offer a good variety of options for most palates. Obviously, the idea is to make the restaurant a favorite haunt for folks, including families. I never quite got that vibe from Bin 28/Brasserie 28.
It’s no surprise that the selection of raw oysters is one of the menu’s centerpieces. Each day, a half dozen or more varieties are featured, along with descriptions such as “buttery finish,” “pristine,” and “silky” — as if you’re sampling Napa whites.
Most of Elm Square’s oysters are from Cape Cod, Maine and Canada. We mixed and matched — some briny, some plump, some very clean. We loved ’em all. And don’t be afraid to ask for a little Tabasco for added thump.
A trio of deviled egg halves ($6) was a fun starter. Oh, they won’t be as good as your mother’s, but close enough. The beef tartare ($14) included smoked onion and mustard seed, hardly traditional. But it was a terrific appetizer and packed with flavor.
The crabcakes ($11) weren’t such a hit. The five small cakes, though laced with tarragon and fennel, were surprisingly bland; a dab of remoulade would have helped.
The local cod with black kale and maitake mushroom ($28) is a prime example of what the place does well. The fish was so fresh I worried it might jump off the plate and slap me in the face. It had a light texture and a mild, clean taste. Flavors melded well, and the result was a dish that clicked at every level.
Though the heritage chicken ballotine ($26) wasn’t on par with the cod, it was a satisfying entree, served with lentils, onions and Brussels sprouts.
A tasty affogato ($11) – chocolate cake and ice cream escorted by a shot of espresso poured into the dish as it is served – is among the five dessert selections.
The service was spot-on, but with one small gripe: no salt or pepper on the tables. The restaurant also features an extensive wine/spirits/beer menu – I’ll be going back with friends.
Elm Square Oyster Co. is a welcome addition to downtown Andover and a worthy successor to Bin 28 and Brasserie 28.
Elm Square Oyster Co.
Dining hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.;
drinks served until midnight