Have you ever experienced a restaurant where although you're dining out, it feels like home?
As promised in my last post, last week I had the privilege of heading out to dinner with the Boston Brunchers, an acclaimed food blogger group, at the award-winning Maximo's in Watertown, Mass, and as we enjoyed five diverse and delicious courses with the owners, the Zeller family, an overwhelming sense of welcoming comfort came over me. Maybe it was the fact that Betsy Zeller sat down to eat over easy conversation with us, or that her husband and head chef, Phil Zeller personally introduced and delivered each course to our table. Or, perhaps it was the fact that their charming and handsome toddler, Max (the restaurant is named after both him and his sister, Morgan -- think "Max and Mo's") made his way around the table to flirt with each diner as his doting grandparents kept a watchful eye and chatted with each blogger about the history of the restaurant and the complexity of the food.
I imagine it was the combination of all of these deeply personal elements that made my experience at Maximo's such a memorable one. But of course, there was also the food.
Roasted Tomato Bruschetta
We kicked off the meal with one of my personal favorite appetizers. Since I enjoy bruschetta so much, I'm known to order it pretty much anywhere I go if it's on the menu. I guess you could call me a bruschetta connoisseur, of sorts. So, as you can imagine, when it comes to bruschetta, I'm not always easily impressed. But the folks at Maximo's have truly mastered the art of great bruschetta. The crostini were toasted to perfection, providing a flawless canvas for the juicy, roasted tomatoes, onions and herbs. I think Maximo's is really on to something when it comes to roasting the tomatoes, as it really intensified the tomato flavor to balance out the garlic and onions. I gobbled up this course before I even had a chance to photograph it, if that gives you any idea of how much I enjoyed it. I probably would have been wholly satisfied after just that course, but next up was the Mediterranean Turkey Burger.
Mediterranean Turkey Burger
I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about seeing a turkey burger on the menu. Typically, turkey burgers are thought of as the red headed step child of traditional burgers and often lack flavor, but Maximo's interpretation was quick to prove me wrong. The ground turkey was mixed with tabouleh, goat cheese and Maximo's "special spice blend," and these added ingredients took this turkey burger to a whole new level of flavorful deliciousness. Full disclosure: I'm somewhat obsessed with goat cheese, so in my mind, you really can't go wrong by adding it to almost anything! The turkey burger was served with a side of roasted potatoes which although were cooked well and had a great texture, I felt were a bit salty. I'm one of those people who is super sensitive to salt in any dish however, so this is likely just my own odd salt-aversion speaking.
Steak & Onion Salad
This was an awesome salad! You can imagine my excitement when I saw goat cheese reappear in this course, in addition to the turkey burger. The greens, char broiled hangar steak, grilled red onion, goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and chimichurri sauce played very well together on the plate, in terms of both aesthetic appeal and taste. After taking a steak cooking class shortly before this meal, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to apply my new educated critique to the hangar steak in this dish. Maximo's passed my taste test with flying colors as the meat was very tender and packed with flavor. I think this dish was the most fun to photograph since the ingredients and colors were so fresh and vibrant.
At this point in the meal, I was already getting full from all of the delicious courses we had already experienced, but who could resist this utterly unique and delightful interpretation of the classic BLT? This BLT was truly "slammin'" as it featured a perfectly fried egg garnished with cheddar cheese and mayo. I liken biting into this sandwich to the first beautiful day of spring weather in New England. It's just too, too good and you can't wait for more.
The sandwich was served with a shot of roasted corn and black bean soup that perfectly complimented the array of flavors in the BLT. Clearly, Maximo's is keen on roasting vegetables and I'm all for it! This soup acted as a perfect dipping sauce for the sandwich, and I was in heaven.
Cilantro Lime Grilled Tuna
Before I make any comments on our final course at Maximo's, I have to tell you that generally, I'm not a huge fan of seafood. I'll eat clam chowder, crab cakes, some salmon dips, tuna fish and once in a while calamari, but for the most part, fish isn't really my thing. However, I've spent most of my life trying different kinds of fish in hopes of acquiring a taste for it because it's so good for you. So, when I saw tuna on the menu at Maximo's, I was a little nervous. Naturally, this was my least favorite course that evening, just because of my feelings on fish, but to be fair, I did eat a few pieces of the tuna because I was so pleased with how they were seasoned. The cilantro and lime pairing was a perfect diversion for my palette and allowed me to appreciate the tender preparation of the tuna, without being overcome by the fishy taste.
The tuna was served with sauteed kale and southwestern quinoa. I wasn't blown away by the kale. When it comes to wilted greens, I usually prefer a little extra kick of flavor, like lemon. These were a little bland for my taste. But I felt differently about the southwestern quinoa! I often took bites of this in tandem with the citrusy tuna and the two together created a wonderfully dynamic bite of punchy, cultured flavor.
During the meal, Betsy discussed how she is inspired by food similarly to how she is inspired by theater. She imagines the cooks and kitchen staff are the stage crew, the waiters are the actors, each course is an act and the diners are the audience. After experiencing a wonderful meal with a very gracious family and to boot, being sent home with a personally handwritten thank-you note, I'd say Maximo's deserves a standing ovation.
*While I did receive this complimentary meal from Maximo’s, these opinions are honest and entirely my own.