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Review of Centre Street Sanctuary

July 10, 2014 by tablecritic in Restaurant Reviews

By Rachel Lebeaux – Located just off Jamaica Plain’s Hyde Square, Centre Street Sanctuary has been open for about a year in the former location of the Blessed Sacrament Church. It’s not hard to see the heritage behind this resurrection: stained glass windows serve as separators between bar seating and a dining space, and reused church materials such as pews line the walls and double as seating.

The owner, Adam Rutstein, credits his wife for the restaurant’s name. “Sanctuary says everything: It’s a safe haven,” he explained, grinning.

In addition to an extended bar and two distinct seating areas, the restaurant maintains an outdoor patio facing Centre Street. It’s lovely, as long as you’re prepared for some ambient noise from cars and the music from their radios. Planters enclosing the patio are festooned in flowers and herbs, including dill, thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley and various forms of mint — many of which are making their way into the menu.

“We tried to create an environment that doesn’t exclude the neighbors, but you also feel in your own world when you sit down,” Rutstein said.

In a kitchen helmed by chef Steve Adan, Sanctuary’s menu “is really a mood menu. It depends on what you’re in the mood for,” Rutstein said. It’s sprinkled with church call-outs, its sections including “In the Beginning” (appetizers), “Selections” (entrees) and “Creations” (the kitchen’s “culinary difference,” as Rutstein refers to some of the more creative dishes).

“Having staple items is tough for what I like to do,” he said. “I like to have fun with the menu and change it up. We’ve got to take what’s basic and create around it.”

The menu changers seasonally, although some items, such as the poutine, stay put year-round.

“We’re a comfortable neighborhood restaurant. Our focus is on basic comfort food, but we twist it up a bit. We don’t want to do designer food and miss the mark,” Rutstein said.

 

Drinks: In addition to wine and beer, the restaurant has a cordial license, rather than a full liquor license. That means many sweeter liquors and flavored vodkas can be served but some vodkas and hard liquors are restricted. But the restaurant can still mix up most cocktails, which it quickly proved with an off-menu request, a cherry-flavored mojito ($10) enhanced by a sprig of fresh mint. The Sanctuary sangria ($10), one of three on the menu, contained red wine, hibiscus liqueur, peach brandy and puree, and iced tea. Although sweet for my tastes, the red-wine grounding diluted by some of the other elements, it hit the spot on a warm summer evening.

Appetizers: The complimentary “bread” basket was anything but traditional bread and butter. Homemade potato chips, fried in 100% canola oil, were accompanied by a whipped white-bean, garlic and artichoke dip; it took some willpower not to request seconds.

Fried mac-and-cheese balls ($6) were four golden-fried orbs stuffed not with the customary risotto, but elbow macaroni enveloped in cheese. There was a nice textural contrast between the crunchy exterior and creamy filling, making them absolutely addictive, and the accompanying tomato sauce was a nice, zesty offset.

Bone-in wings ($10) come in three flavors: honey-chipotle, soy-molasses or damnation habanero jerk. We went with the damnation habanero, in spite of warnings about the level of heat. When they arrived, however, they weren’t especially spicy; our server confirmed that diners rarely scarfed them down so quickly. We questioned whether we had been served the soy-molasses wings and were told no, just a more-mild-than-usual batch of the damnation habanero. I’m not so sure, but in any case, aside from a gloppy quality to the sauce, they were very tasty, served with lime wedges, sprinkled with cilantro and chives and boasting a crispy skin and tender meat within.

The Greek salad ($9) came highly recommended by both Rutstein and our server, but we still nearly passed, because they usually contain too much iceberg lettuce and not enough of the “good stuff.” It was a pleasant surprise, then, that Sanctuary’s Greek salad contains no iceberg lettuce and only the good stuff: bright red, yellow, orange and green peppers splayed across the plate like a rainbow, plus cucumber slices, whole grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, slivered red onions and fresh oregano. A swoop of whipped feta cheese across the plate completed the artful composition. Rutstein said he received inquiries when he briefly removed the salad from the menu, and I can see why.

Entrées: From the “Selections” menu, the four honey-marinated, naturally fed sirloin tips ($18) were perfectly cooked and extremely tender; the flavor of the dark-cherry glaze wasn’t especially assertive, but the meat didn’t really demand a sweet counterpoint. The tips were showered with pea shoots, a nice call-out to the accompanying green pea risotto we ordered on the side. I would emphasize “on the side” — the springy pea flavor was so good, and the mint-green color so lovely, that I would recommend serving the risotto separately from the meat so that the flavors don’t unnecessarily mingle, because they were both delicious on their own.

From the “Creations” menu, the gluttony burger ($13) lived up to the name, and then some. The gargantuan concoction started with two oversized sesame-seeded brioche buns (Rutstein said he tasted 14 before settling on this one), then layered on a half-pound patty of ground sirloin, two slabs of bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, aged cheddar cheese and a caramelized shallot aioli. It was almost laughably big, having to be “squished” extensively in order to take a bite, but it was a juicy, well-constructed burger that held together, and the fries a worthy companion. This is absolutely a filling meal in itself that I would happily order again.

Dessert: There were two desserts available on this evening; we selected the triple-berry cheesecake ($6). The graham-cracker crust was very good, and the cascade of fresh blueberries, raspberries and blackberries made for a fresh, summery dessert. Alongside the cheesecake, I sipped a decaf coffee ($2.75) from Fazenda Coffee Roasters in Forest Hills, a nice way to wind down the evening.

Assessment: Centre Street Sanctuary’s reclaiming of the former church and materials makes for a unique dining space, one fit for a crowd or a more intimate meal, and the outdoor patio is small but charming. The menu particularly excels in the kind of comfort food with a twist its owner cites; just as important, the price point, with most entrees $20 or less, actually seems appropriate for a night out near home, more so than many self-styled “neighborhood spots” nowadays. “Sanctuary,” indeed: the restaurant’s a blessed addition to the Jamaica Plain dining scene.

Address: 365 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Phone: 617-942-8951
Website: http://www.centrestreetsanctuary.com
Cuisine: American
Price: Appetizers $4-$12; entrees $13-$25; desserts $6
Hours: Dinner: Mon.-Thurs.: 4pm-12am; Fri.-Sat.: 4pm-1am (kitchen until 12am); Sun.: 4pm-10pm (kitchen until 9pm). Brunch: Sat & Sun:10am-3pm
Features: Brunch weekends, trivia Wednesdays, outdoor patio, cordial license, private events,
Recommendations: Sanctuary sangria, fried macaroni and cheese balls, wings, Greek salad, steak tips, gluttony burger, triple-berry cheesecake.

 

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