The Culinary Reawakening in Winter Hill
You can learn a lot from the personalities behind the brewing, scooping and baking that’s reviving an old-school neighborhood’s food scene.
In 2016, Winter Hill residents will finally be able to order an artisanal latte — from a brewery, no less — without leaving the neighborhood. Winter Hill Brewing Company’s morning cafe will fill a hole that those who know Somerville as one of the best cities to visit, and live in, might be surprised to learn exists. But the neighborhood, home to not-to-miss institutions like Mamma Lisa’s Pizzeria and Winter Hill Bakery, hasn’t become a food-and-drink hotspot like nearby Union Square and East Somerville. As alderman Tony Lafuente put it, the culinary scene has been “nonexistent, really.”
“This has been a very traditional community, and now it’s changing slowly,” Lafuente said. “You’re beginning to get newcomers; you’re beginning to see creativity.”
In 2013, Sarma shook up the landscape with its modern Mediterranean small plates and craft cocktails but remained an island, though a popular and delectable one. With the forthcoming opening of Winter Hill Brewing Company and Tipping Cow ice-cream shop, as well as the recently opened Somerville Bread Company, Winter Hill is on its way to becoming Somerville’s next food-and-drink destination.
Winter Hill Brewing Company
When co-founder and head brewer Jeff Rowe walks his neighborhood of two years, people greet him as the "Winter Hill Brewing guy." And as soon as the city of Somerville gives him a pour license, he and his business partners, Bert Holdredge and David Bailey, are ready to kick open the doors.
In a space that a prepaid cell-phone retailer used to occupy, staff will serve Union Square’s Counter Culture Coffee and locally made pastries from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. After closing shop for a few hours, they’ll reopen as a brewery and restaurant, with five taps and chef Samantha Kerivan managing the sandwich-and-small-plates menu. “Our emphasis,” Rowe said, “is always to be what you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a brew environment.”
When the brewery has its planned soft opening in early March, Rowe said, the five beers on tap will be the year-round house IPA and light ale, as well as three seasonal ones: a Russian imperial stout, a North American strong ale with molasses and brown sugar, and a black IPA.
Old school, meet new school: “There’s a weird dichotomy with Winter Hill and Somerville in general. You have these pizza shops lined up, and they’re all fantastic. And if you duck into the neighborhood a little bit, heading toward Medford Street, there’s Sarma, which is unbelievable. And right down in East Somerville, La Brasa. So in Winter Hill, you’re surrounded by this burgeoning potential.”
What lies ahead: “I think the food’s going to get more elevated, and hopefully there’s less of a divide and more of a mutual respect for what was and is now. A lot of people are looking to us to see how it goes: our relationship to the city, our relationship to our neighbors. Sarma is not going to be alone in being this kind of elegant, upscale place.”
328 Broadway, Somerville, winterhillbrewing.com
When founder Anna Gaul lived in Winter Hill two years ago, she said there was little to do. Now the Tufts University graduate and Medford resident is getting ready to open a scoop shop in a neighborhood that she describes as “building up very quickly.”
“It’s great; it’s becoming an actual destination instead of just a place to live.”
Tipping Cow’s gelato-style ice cream is already for sale all over Greater Boston, including at Medford’s Whole Foods Market, Cambridge’s Formaggio Kitchen, and Belmont’s The Spirited Gourmet. Gaul grew her following at Somerville’s farmers’ markets, which made the city an inviting place to open a storefront.
Gaul aims to open the shop in late March. She’ll sell all-natural, nut-free ice cream to go by the pint, and there will be at least 12 scoop flavors on the menu, like vanilla-buttermilk, Earl Grey & lemon, dark chocolate and sea salt, espresso, Irish stout, and maple bacon. A Champagne sorbet is in the works.
Winter Hill Community (School): “I’d love for it to be a spot where the teachers could come and get their morning coffee, where kids could swing by after class. We wanted it to be a nice family place because there are a lot of young families in the area.”
Food future: “I would love to see more restaurants move into the area. As an ice-cream place, we want to be a dessert destination. To have more restaurants in walking distance, it would be very beneficial to us.”
City of Somerville: “A couple years ago, we tried to open a store in Medford. And it actually was exceedingly more difficult. It was definitely a big hurdle to get through the Board of Appeals in Somerville. But we were impressed by how easy it was compared to a neighboring city.”
415 Medford St., Somerville, tippingcowicecream.com
Somerville Bread Company
A newly vacant storefront close to where bread baker Nick Robertson lives in Winter Hill was too convenient to pass up. So the former commercial pilot and stay-at-home father of five years went for it.
“It might have shoved me a little quicker into this than maybe I was planning,” he said, “But what the hell?”
Robertson started baking while caring for his first-born, getting tips from the San Francisco Baking Institute and King Arthur Flour and then taking his improved loaves to dinner parties, where guests eventually encouraged him to go pro. He ran stands at the Harvard Ed Portal and Peabody farmers markets last summer with the goal of opening a brick-and-mortar.
For now, Somerville Bread Company is a single-man operation, focused on tailored wholesale to local businesses, like Winter Hill Brewing Company. But Robertson opens his shop to the public three days a week to sell baguettes, country loaves, ciabatta rolls, pizza crust, and other subtly sour bread. When he opened Feb. 6, he had about 100 customers, he said, and was three loaves short of selling out.
Baking for WHBC: “Obviously, proximity helps in this case, too, but it’s nice to kind of help each other out, starting up together and kind of grow together.”
Opening day: “The really cool thing about it was, I would say 90 percent of those were people who were in a four or five block radius. They were saying, ‘I live two blocks this way’ or ‘I live on this street; we’re so excited for you to be in the neighborhood.’ Same thing with Tipping Cow; they’re just really excited for options.”
A new Winter Hill? “I kind of like the way it is. What makes us who we are, are these old-school Italian spots, places that have endured time and the rough times. So I’m hoping all that stuff stays. The worry about a neighborhood really developing is that it loses its identity, and I don’t want to do that. I want to tread lightly. That being said, the nature of really evolving is to explore new ways to identify oneself.”
415 Medford St., Somerville, 202.841.4100, somervillebreadcompany.com
Open Tuesday and Thursday, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.