Malden’s Restaurant Scene Is Far From Suburban
The new variety of cuisine and an upswing in contemporary options make dining out in Malden a lot more interesting.
To be honest, Malden’s never been on my radar. I grew up south of the Charles River and didn’t go north of Harvard Square. Until a couple years ago, the only thing I knew about the city was that its first mayor was Elisha S. Converse, which is the coolest name ever. (I may be biased.) But as Greater Boston booms and restaurants proliferate, there is a growing number of reasons to check out Malden. The food scene is in flux. Classics like Dockside and Dom’s Sausage maintain their place in the community, but shifting demographics and tastes are making room for more contemporary establishments to find a home here as well.
Joining me tonight is my good friend Emily Scott, a former restaurant worker (retired: honorable discharge) who owns a custom jewelry shop in Somerville. Emily recently moved to Malden, but hasn’t had much opportunity to eat out here so this seemed like the perfect excuse to hang out. On Emily’s recommendation, we head to Mystic Station in the heart of Malden Center. Open for two years now, Mystic Station is an inviting neighborhood bar. Even on Sunday night, the place is buzzing with a mixed crowd of younger patrons and families. The staff is warm and seems to know everyone walking in the door. I watch as Bryan Palazzolo, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Executive Chef Nicole Palazzolo, works the room, checking in on guests and making sure everyone’s happy.
I manage to snag Mr. Palazzolo between table visits to talk to him about the restaurant, in particular the 26 draught lines he keeps full with mostly craft beers. “I’ve always enjoyed craft beers and I thought it fit the concept of the restaurant. The passion we put into our restaurant is the same passion they put into their beers,” he says. Keeping track of an ever-changing draught list can be difficult, so Polazzolo encourages regulars to consult the BeerMenus app to stay up to date.
On the decision to open up in this location, Palazzolo says it was a challenge at first. “We knew we were taking a risk — there was nothing like this in Malden,” he says. “But we did our homework and knew it was an up and coming city. We’re right where we want to be.”
After chatting with Palazzolo, Emily says we need to order the buffalo chicken dip ($8). With my weakness for the red stuff, I’m happy to oblige. The dish is served in a small cast iron skillet with a basket of fresh nacho chips. It’s a gooey mess of cheese, chicken, and buffalo sauce (I’ll call my sponsor later) which pairs perfectly with our Coca Colas.
Now that we’re sugared up, Emily and I move on to the next stop. I’d describe Ferry Street as cabin-chic, with its rustic décor, all wood bar, and very cool wooden beer tap tower. It’s a fun motif that works in Malden, but wouldn’t feel out of place downtown. Emily and I keep things light and order a few of Ferry Street’s small plates. Tasty fried Brussels sprouts ($5), bacon- and pickle-topped devilled eggs ($4), and a buttery chicken liver pate ($6).
Executive Chef and Owner Jason Ladd opened Ferry Street nearly two years ago with the idea of creating the kind of place he’d like to hang out in. “I was catering to myself,” he says. After nearly twenty years as a chef, Ladd was ready to move into ownership. He wasn’t dead set on Malden at first, but he feels like he’s in the right place at the right time.
“We’re not a typical Malden restaurant,” he says. “There’s been some hesitance to be completely accepted in the neighborhood, but the demographic here is changing. It’s going from blue collar to a little more cosmopolitan and metropolitan.” Even with resistance, Ladd is grateful for the support he’s received from his neighbors. “It’s very community-oriented here. About 80 percent of our customers are regulars who live within walking distance.”
Our last stop of the night is WOW Barbecue, which food truck fans might recognize. The Chinese barbecue business, started in 2013 by Babson MBA graduate Steve Liu, was quick to add a brick and mortar location where the simple concept of grilled meat on a stick feels like a revelation. We go all in on our food order, choosing eight items to share. Savory grilled mushrooms ($3), rich lamb ($5), and spicy ribs ($2.50) top the list. A plate of chilled, vinegary lotus root adds texture to our meal and is a refreshing palate cleanser.
I chat with Liu about his quick success. “Chinese barbecue is a very popular cuisine in China, but it was lacking in the Boston area,” he says. “When we started, we got a lot of press within the Chinese community, and we were really popular with students, so we found a brick and mortar location and expanded our menu. We only have seven or eight options on the truck, but we have about 40 at the restaurant.”
Malden was an easy choice for Liu. He lives here and knows it’s a popular neighborhood for people coming from China. Liu also sees WOW as part of a new breed of East Asian restaurants. “Ever since we opened there’s been a lot of places opening up with Chinese or Asian focused food,” he says. “There’s a change of generations here. I think in the long term it’s definitely good and will only attract more people to the Malden area as a destination for dining.”
By the end of our third meal, Emily and I are stuffed. Over tea, she confides in me that she doesn’t really feel like she lives in Malden, as most of her life still revolves around Somerville and Boston. I imagine a lot of people moving here feel similarly. But a slew of great restaurants to choose from can go a long way toward making a person feel at home, and they’re sure to attract visitors. I may not be ready to proclaim Malden as the Boston area’s hottest new food destination, but there’s certainly momentum here. Pretty soon Malden will be a place food lovers won’t want to overlook.
Mystic Station, 139 Pleasant St., Malden, 781.480.3166, mysticstationmalden.com
Ferry Street Food & Drink, 118 Ferry St., Malden, 781.321.0265, ferrystreetmalden.com
WOW Barbecue, 184 Salem St., Malden, 781.605.2766, wowbarbecue.com