Jamaica Plain has a number of outstanding restaurants along its main street. You can find a variety of cuisines, including Cambodian, Indian, Japanese, Irish, American, and Mexican in and around Centre Street in this funky Boston neighborhood. There is, however, another excellent dining spot in Jamaica Plain, but this one is hidden in a block of stores across from the Forest Hills T stop, far away from the center of JP. Indeed, the Dogwood Cafe is very easy to miss, but to those who know about it, the Dogwood is one of the best true neighborhood spots in this part of Boston.
The Dogwood Cafe looks like your typical restaurant and pub combination from the outside, and in fact the inside does have that familiar comfortable neighborhood feel to it, complete with a black ceiling, lots of dark wood, a large fireplace in the dining area, and a long bar along the left side of the restaurant (and recent renovations have really freshened up the place, including the addition of a cozy back patio). But there is much more to the Dogwood than burgers and beers; here you can get a number of delightful dishes (with the menu changing every now and then), including daily soup specials such as a rich-tasting Portuguese kale soup with linguica or a fantastic prime rib and mushroom soup, freshly-made breaded chicken tenders (nothing like your typical pub-style tenders), house-made quesadillas that, again, are much better than the basic type you tend to get in bars, crispy Brussels sprouts with maple bacon aioli, a creamy artichoke and spinach dip that comes with freshly-made pita chips, baked manicotti stuffed with creamy ricotta and greens, an excellent macaroni and cheese with three different cheeses and bread crumbs on top, a delicious char-grilled burger with options that include a creamy guacamole aioli, a roasted half chicken that is encrusted in fresh herbs, a juicy and tender brick chicken, a savory chicken pot pie that is topped with mashed potatoes, nicely charred wood-fired pizza (a rarity in the Boston area), and a tremendous short rib ravioli dish. In addition to the extensive menu at the Dogwood, there is also a great selection of beers, including some regional ones that can be very difficult to find (Maine Lunch has been available here on tap, for instance). By the way, the pizzas are named after trees, which seems odd until you realize that the Arnold Arboretum is basically within site of the Dogwood Cafe. (And perhaps that's where the name of the restaurant comes from? It all seems to add up!) A couple of the "tree" pizzas include an earthy and savory Evergreen Pizza, which has broccoli, spinach, pesto, garlic, mozzarella, and feta, and a zesty Chestnut Pizza with artichoke hearts, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, feta, and olive oil. (You can also choose your toppings, with the bacon and feta pizza being particularly good.) For folks who still have room for dessert, the Dogwood has some good ones, including an utterly sinful brownie sundae and similarly decadent versions of apple crisp and bread pudding. Drinks include some decent craft beers as well as interesting takes on classic cocktails, including a coconut margarita and a watermelon gin fizz.
The Dogwood Cafe is not a household name; it is rarely listed in restaurant guides and is seldom mentioned outside of Jamaica Plain. But the Dogwood does seem to have a bit of a cult following, which makes sense considering that there are few places quite like it. The next time you are sauntering through the Arnold Arboretum or browsing through the quirky shops of Jamaica Plain, head over to the Dogwood Cafe. Chances are, it will be the first of many trips to this mellow, friendly restaurant next to the Forest Hills Station.
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