As is typical of all bureaucracies, the state of Massachusetts has laid out its guidelines for Phase III Mandatory Safety Standards (August 10) for re-opening restaurants by releasing a 4,500-word directive whose implementation gets down—I kid you not—to pretzels and potato chips, plexi-glass dividers, pool tables, chalkboards and salt and pepper. Tough as such standards will be to adhere to on a case-by-case basis, Boston’s restaurants are doing everything they can do save their businesses.
One large operations which I visited last winter before the pandemic hit, had little time to resurrect their three establishments and re-hire sufficient personnel to enforce the flurry of regulations, but, as I’ve noted before, there is no more resilient and determined industry in America than the restaurant sector.
Woods Hill Pier 4 (300 Pier Four Boulevard; 617-981-4577), located on the repurposed Boston Harbor piers where the famous (and creaky) Anthony’s Pier 4 used to sit, is part of a development, like New York’s Hudson Yards that has razed whatever historic atmosphere the area once had, now a warren of high-rise glass and steel buildings indistinguishable from their mirror images in Asia. Ironically, then, Woods Hill Pier 4 is a restaurant with a very clear link to the traditions of New England bounty and provender.
Owner Kristin Canty and Partner-Chef Charlie Foster (previously at Boston’s Toro and Clio) work with their own Farm at Woods Hill in Bath, NH, and other small purveyors to utilize “the whole animal” approach via “grass fed proteins, sustainably caught fish, raw milk cheeses, locally grown and soaked organic grains, raw fermented foods, and organic produce to deliver nutrient dense dishes that employ the best ecologically viable ingredients available.”
Seeking to maximize all possible means of producing profits during the epidemic, they are currently open for dinner 7 days a week, with lunch on Friday, brunch of Saturday and Sunday. They are doing “contactless” take-out, including cocktails, and the outdoor patio season will extend into fall and winter with heaters.
It’s a good-looking modern dining room, though hardly farm-like, with a rippling wave-like ceiling, sea blue armchairs, and a large window wall. (At full capacity it gets very loud, but these days that’s not a problem with reduced seating.) When I visited last February, the menu was more-or-less winter based, which meant cold water halibut with a luscious green peppercorn beurre monté Swiss chard, rutabaga and candied lemon ($27), and a lovely parsnip tartine with buckwheat crust, maple-glazed carrots, frisée and the tang of grapefruit ($15). Shaved Rhode Island whelk was a delight, bathed in lobster broth with green apple and lime ($17). The housemade pastas included a well-wrought bucatini all’amatriciana with guanciale bacon from their own farm ($28) and another with lamb bacon, eggplant caponata, pine nuts and a mint gremolata ($29). Both are still on the menu. There’s also a lavish shellfish platter for four to six people at $130.
I’m not a fan of grass-fed beef, but the lean steak tartare took on fine flavors of rosemary and tallow aïoli, crispy shallots for textural interest, a quail egg and warm, chewy baguette ($16). I was happier with the nicely-fatted crispy lamb ribs with urfa pepper and a red wine glaze ($19), and a full-flavored glazed pork butt with winter squash ($23). Incidentally, all menu items have code letters to indicate if they gluten-free, dairy free, vegetarian and nut free. It’s come to that.
Now, at the end of summer, menu items (I have not tried) include whelk with melon, cucumber, sesame, torn herbs, Thai chili vinaigrette ($18); pork belly confit with peach ponzu, Maine kelp salad, jalapeño (($17); a watermelon and fried clam salad with shaved sweet peppers, mint and habanero yogurt dressing ($17); and now, with tomatoes at their best in New England, heirloom tomato salad with crispy feta stuffed squash blossom, basil and purslane aïoli and espelette pepper ($19). And this would hardly be Boston if they didn’t include a mound of lobster, celery, red onion, creme fraiche inside a warm popover.
For dessert there are hot beignets with rhubarb aïoli butter and chocolate ($12) and daily ice creams. The lemon meringue pie is an American classic.
The Pier 4 complex includes two buildings, one an office building and the other a condominium building. Designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, the office building is a striking addition to the architectural landscape of the Seaport District as visible from the water and the new Seaport District neighborhood.
The building’s waterfront prime location determined the design of an iconic building that would have high visibility from the Harbor, from the city and within the Seaport neighborhood. The building’s modern glass and steel exterior provides two distinct and different signature façades one facing the harbor and the other facing the city.
The West façade, facing Boston, has a more subdued gesture. It opens up to the city with a convex façade and having its three main features, the main entrance, a trapezoidal cut-out terrace at the fourth floor facing the Institute of Contemporary Art museum, and an open to the sky Penthouse terrace. All of these moves are located in a staggered rhythm creating movement towards the water.
The East Side, facing the harbor in a more intimate way, have these two story undulating triangular moves that shift and slide between each other, creating a constant movement that changes though out the length of the day. At night, the underside of the waves is lit up continuing to show this same effect causing a reflection on the harbor and the pedestrian walk below.
To achieve an oversize dimension of the glazing units (IGU) without the use of visible horizontal mullions, an intermediate transom or ‘kiss mullion was introduced. This allowed uninterrupted sleekness to the curtain wall surface.
The office lobby is located in the center of the building creating a public corridor from east to west serves as an important element in the public access requirements of the building, creating permeability through the building.
Elkus Manfredi Architects has been central to the redevelopment of Boston’s Seaport District since 2010. That year, with its initial project One Marina Park Drive, the firm set a high architectural standard for mixed-use buildings in the area. Elkus Manfredi’s next District project, Liberty Wharf, was completed in 2012. Liberty Wharf is a lively waterfront restaurant/office complex that strategically reinstated a missing section of Boston’s famed HarborWalk and has been recognized with a number of design awards, including the Preservation Achievement Award of the Boston Preservation Alliance. Elkus Manfredi has since played a substantial role in ongoing urban planning, and architecture in the Seaport: in a three-square-mile area, the firm is responsible for over six million square feet of new and re-purposed space, including retail, office, life science, hospitality, and mixed-use.
For generations, Anthony’s Pier 4 on the South Boston waterfront was a destination for special occasions.
The famed restaurant, known for its popovers, lobster newburg, and a wall of famous diners’ pictures, closed five years ago and was later razed to make way for redevelopment. Now, the company behind that project hopes the site will once again become a place where people gather.
Development firm Tishman Speyer took the wraps off a new public park at the water’s end of Pier 4 earlier this fall. Past a glass-wrapped office tower and a fancy condo building, an acre of grass, plaza, and boardwalk reaches out over the harbor’s edge.
It’s the latest in a series of waterfront parks that have opened in the Seaport District in recent years as major development has rolled through the neighborhood. And it again raises the question of how to make these truly public spaces, not just front yards for the residents of the expensive condominiums next door.
“It’s a pier that has never been open before,” said Jessica Hughes, managing director of Tishman’s Boston office, “unless you were eating popovers at Anthony’s.”
When Tishman bought the pier from another developer in 2014, a year after Anthony’s was closed, and began pushing ahead with plans to build on it, the company knew that state environmental law — known as Chapter 91 — would require devoting half of the site to publicly accessible open space. That’s true for nearly all waterfront development in Boston, part of an effort to improve public access to the harbor. But so far, the result has been a mishmash of parks, piers, and plazas that critics say feel unwelcoming, and often add up to less than the sum of their parts.
“That’s the larger problem down there,” said Deanna Moran, director of environmental planning at the Conservation Law Foundation, which has challenged several waterfront projects and zoning plans over public access. “Developers see Chapter 91 as an obligation, instead of an opportunity. They just fit it to meet their predeveloped plan.”
But at Pier 4, Hughes said, Tishman is attempting to do better.
The company reshaped the two buildings that had been approved for the site, making the street-level open space flow more smoothly from the Institute of Contemporary Art next door. They rebuilt the pier’s sea wall and raised the site by two feet to better withstand storms and rising seas. And it hired landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand to design the park with an eye to drawing people from Seaport Boulevard and Northern Avenue, several blocks off the harbor.
The result is a stretch of boardwalk along the edges of the fingerlike pier, and a swoop of grass on the harbor side. There are stretches that extend out over the water, and down stairs to the harbor itself. At high tide, the bottom steps are submerged.
“This is one of the few places in the city where you can actually dip your toes in the water,” Hughes said.
On a cloudy, cold morning last week, the park was mostly empty. The dull roar of planes taking off at Logan Airport was punctuated by occasional car horns from Seaport Boulevard and the sound of water lapping against the pier.
The intention was to create a space apart from the bustle of the city, said Eric Kramer, a Reed Hilderbrand principal who helped design the project, and also to make people feel welcome. There are benches and mounted binoculars — at a child’s height — for taking in the views. And unlike some nearby piers, there are no signs stipulating what you can’t do there — like skateboard, or let your dog on the grass.
“They’ve done a really nice job of drawing you out there in terms of design and landscaping,” said Alice Brown, director of planning at Boston Harbor Now, which advocates for waterfront access. “And they put enough space out there that says, yeah, it’s worth it to come all the way to the end. That’s something developers of long piers have struggled with.”
Still, Moran said, there is room for improvement. There are no signs indicating that this is, in fact, a public park and part of the Harborwalk, a series of public paths and boardwalks ringing the harbor. The benches — some made of reclaimed hunks of sea wall — are so subtle that a passerby might not even recognize them as a place to sit. And there’s little actual grass, she noted, just a modest patch that slopes at a gentle angle.
“Kids are not going to want to play at this park. You’re not going to get families,” she said. “It attracts a certain kind of person, which is what the Seaport has gotten a bad name for.”
Hughes believes otherwise. Even during the brief period of pleasant weather this fall, the park drew a wide range of visitors, she said, including families from nearby buildings. The condo building’s first retail tenant — the farm-to-table Woods Hill restaurant — opened before Thanksgiving, and it’s aiming to fill ground-floor retail space with tenants that will appeal to a mix of visitors, giving people more reasons to venture beyond the Seaport District’s main thoroughfares and out to the water’s edge.
“I think people will use the heck out of this park,” Hughes said. “We want them to make a day of it here.”
Kind of like they did at Anthony’s in the old days.
We are thrilled to introduce you to restaurateur Kristin Canty who will be establishing the Seaport’s first farm-to-table restaurant at PIER 4.
You may recognize Canty’s name as the mastermind behind Concord’s popular Woods Hill Table. Wood’s Hill Table is an organic restaurant, complete with a full bar, that is a culmination of Kristin’s passion for food, family farms, sustainable sourcing and ancestral health.
Read the below Q&A to learn about her inspiration, favorite dishes, why this location, and more.
Q: Why this location?
A:Having grown up in the Greater Boston area, I have fond memories of celebrating with friends and family at Anthony’s PIER 4. As a restaurateur, I’m inspired by its impact on the Boston restaurant scene. While the Anthony’s PIER 4 experience could never be replicated, we do hope to honor its legacy by providing the Seaport a convivial waterfront dining atmosphere and warm hospitality.
Q: Where do you source your products?
A: We source our products from our proprietary farm, The Farm at Woods Hill, in Bath, New Hampshire, and several other small, supporting purveyors. Purchased in 2013, our farm is the source for the vast majority of the food served at Woods Hill Table, including pasture-raised cows, pigs, broiler chickens, laying hens, ducks, lambs, blueberries, garlic, pumpkins, apples and more. The 265- acre property also boasts four beehives, and 200 mushroom logs that sprout mushroom varietals including oyster, shiitake, lion’s mane and maitake.
Q: When did you open Woods Hill Table and why?
A: I purchased the farm in 2013 and opened the doors to Woods Hill Table in March 2015.
Ever since I was personally impacted by the healing power of food many years ago, ancestral health has become a personal and public passion. Defined by pasturing farm animals, growing produce without pesticides and embracing raw and fermented foods, the concept is seamlessly woven through the Woods Hill Table menu, allowing me to share the foods that I’ve long created for my family with the larger community.
Q: What’s your favorite dish? Ingredient?
A: I’m a huge raw food advocate, and I eat our Woods Hill Farm Beef Tartare almost every day! It’s made with beef from our own pasture raised, grass-fed cows and is both flavorful and incredibly nutrient dense.
Q: Tell us more about Farmageddon.
A: After seeing the impact the incorporation of raw milk had on my son’s health, I spent years working with and advocating on behalf of farmers locally in New England and across the country. This inspired me to produce my documentary, Farmageddon – The Unseen War on American Family Farms. The film, which was released in 2011, captures the obstacles faced by the modern farmer and the injustices, including government raids and search and seizure, so often faced by the families that form the foundation of America’s food system.