There are hidden restaurants and then there are truly hidden restaurants, and every now and then, a dining spot is discovered that is so far off the radar that it is almost a wonder how anyone has found the place at all. And so it goes with the Winthrop Arms, a homey and cozy restaurant located within a grand old hotel sitting on a hill high above the ocean in Winthrop. And while the food at the Winthrop Arms is very solid with some hints of true greatness (see the mac and cheese description below), it is perhaps the overall atmosphere of the restaurant (and hotel) that makes this such a particularly endearing spot.
The first thing people notice as they step into "The Arms" (as many call it) is that this is no cookie-cutter hotel. Indeed, the lobby is all decked out in mahogany, with warm lighting, historic photos, and an attractive tiled floor giving patrons the sense that they have stepped back in time (and indeed they have in a way, as the hotel first opened just before the end of World War I). And the restaurant is every bit as appealing, with more dark woods and old photos, as well as comfortable booths, stained glass windows, multiple rooms (each with a unique atmosphere), a tiny bar that sits at the entrance to the main dining area, and a recent addition--an outdoor porch that is open during the warmer months and tends to get cooling sea breezes when the rest of the region is sweltering.
The menu at the Winthrop Arms can probably be described as traditional American, with such familiar items as broiled salmon, veal parmigiana (the veal is particularly tender here), good takes on chicken cordon bleu and veal cordon bleu, a classic chopped sirloin, and stuffed pork chops that are substantial enough to almost require a doggie bag. They also have combo plates, including an excellent baked stuffed scrod and scallop entree that has flaky scrod and a classic Ritz cracker stuffing. A series of surf and turf dishes are offered at the Winthrop Arms, such as the wonderful New York sirloin and crab cakes, which features tender beef along with delicious Maryland crab meat. Plenty of poultry dishes are available, including an old-fashioned turkey dinner with stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes, a chicken pot pie with a thick top crust and a savory and slightly spicy interior, a stick-to-your ribs chicken cordon bleu with plenty of chicken, ham, and cheese, and the chicken monique, which is a boneless breast of chicken topped with mozzarella cheese, stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach, and sauteed in white wine with mushrooms. Perhaps the most memorable item at the Winthrop Arms (depending on whom you ask) is the crispy, creamy, and utterly sinful macaroni and cheese. The dish, which is on the menu as an appetizer but can be ordered as an entree, includes four different types of cheeses, macaroni that leans a bit toward cavatappi (the pasta is fairly long and slightly spiraled), and a golden brown crust on top. A variety of soups (such as a hearty lentil, which isn't available every night), salads (including a fresh and tasty Caesar), appetizers (the bacon-wrapped scallops are particularly fine), and sides (including scalloped potatoes and sweet potato puffs, both of which are occasionally on special) are also offered, and the children's menu here features a number of items, helping make the Winthrop Arms a family-friendly place. Desserts at the restaurant lean toward Italian specialties, with such everyday items and specials as tiramisu, a "dream" bomba, and limoncello, along with lemon meringue pie, along with a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies. The drink menu is fairly basic at Winthrop Arms, but a few surprises show up here and there, including the wonderful Duvel Belgian ale, which is actually served in a funky Duvel glass.
There is no Boston-area restaurant (or hotel, for that matter) quite like the Winthrop Arms, mainly because the era of the grand old hotels has mostly passed in Boston, even as it remains strong in places such as New Hampshire and New Jersey. And perhaps that is what makes the Winthrop Arms such a special place (in addition to its absolute obscurity), as it allows its visitors a truly unique experience, whether they dine in the restaurant or stay in the cozy little rooms upstairs. Definitely don't miss this hidden gem along the shores of Winthrop.
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