With its distinctive smokehouse aroma and the easy charm of a country store, Two Boroughs Larder is a snug urban market café with farmhouse flavor and reminders of the classic mercantile.
Yet this stylish “meet-and-eat” is anything but old-fashioned when it comes to food. In the heart of Cannonborough-Elliotborough, husband and wife team Josh and Heather Keeler share new American cuisine from regional farms and waters, including hearty pork preparations, seafood dishes, and creative sides reflecting Josh’s New England Culinary Institute training, his Pennsylvania roots, and a penchant for pure flavor. Heather manages the café, where guests gather to share a bite at the bar or graze among stylish racks of condiments, eco-friendly household goods, and gourmet house specialties to go.
Fashioned from two former shops, the redefined space incorporates reclaimed and recycled wood, glass, and exposed brick that add character and warmth. Seating options include the bar and a few tables on one side, with a larger community table and scattered seating on the other. Quarters are close, and while this may not be the place for your most private conversations, it’s an excellent spot for a neighborly chat.
The daily menu features a seasonal collection of locally sourced and house-made ingredients. Breakfast sandwiches combine farm eggs, Nueske’s bacon, and aged cheddar with fresh-baked breads, and King Bean coffee is available to quick-start the morning. Smaller plates pair local fish, roasted bone marrow, crispy pig head, and Clammer Dave’s clams with exquisitely fresh herbs, vegetables, and sauces. Larger plates and sides offer heartier portions and earthy accompaniments, some enhanced with lighter citrus and natural flavors and others brimming with butter. And for a healthy meal on the run, the standard bowl-o-noodles offers Keegan-Filion pork, a farm egg, broth, and whole wheat noodles with add-in options of kimchi, greens, and pickled mushrooms.
Happy to be the first guests to arrive on a recent evening, we took advantage of the momentary quiet to get to know the owners’ philosophies and intricacies of the menu. The friendly bartender, who was also our server, shared the beverage list featuring a good selection of local brews on draft and in bottles, as well as wines and nonalcoholic choices. White Thai ale from Mount Pleasant’s Westbrook Brewing Company, a refreshing twist on the classic Belgian witbier style, was excellent with dazzling wild striped bass crudo, the hint of lemongrass and ginger spice from the beer pairing well with the notes of Thai basil, lime, and coriander found in the pristine fish. Baby beets, slender young carrots, razor-thin radishes, and celery completed this excellent starter.
Supremely fresh Kung Pao sweetbreads— gently sautéed and finished with a Mepkin Abbey mix of shiitake, enoki, and porcini mushrooms, and peanuts—were also a genuine treat. Austrian white grüner veltliner was a good choice with the sweetbreads and trio of sides, including roasted Brussels sprouts with crispy bacon lardons, baby carrots with toasted hazelnuts, and French breakfast radishes. Considering our rich dishes, the chilled radishes should perhaps have been enjoyed as a salad rather than a side.
Our final selection, Masami Ranch pork ribs, were the denouement of the evening, garnished with sesame seeds and piled high upon a bed of al dente pinquito beans flavored with smoked maple and country ham. The meat was a tender luxury, with fat and flavor intact, and the beans a smooth combination of sweet, salty, and smoky.
Desserts are simple yet delicious, including local Sweeteeth candy bars and the house-made chocolate budino pudding flavored with sea salt, olive oil, and toasted pistachios. Our one complaint was that service, while excellent in the beginning, drifted as the restaurant got busy—though the staff did their best to keep up.
Two Boroughs is an engaging addition to the neighborhood and a stellar effort by the Keelers to bring a new option to our food-centric city. Browse the shelves before you leave and fill up a growler bearing the image of shop dog Walter, sure to be a crowd-pleaser at your own home feast. —Patricia Agnew
Two Boroughs Larder
Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Average dinner entrée: $27