There are some places that make you smile on so many levels, and John's Roast Beef and Seafood in Lynn is one of them. First of all, when you walk into a North Shore roast beef and seafood joint, you don't really expect to see an interior with upscale touches. Second, you would probably not expect upscale touches of any kind in a restaurant on Western Avenue in Lynn, a gritty thoroughfare that is (often unfairly) seen by some as one to avoid after dark. And third, well, third focuses on the roast beef itself. In this writer's opinion, John's meets--or possibly beats--some of the great roast beef joints in the Boston area, and yet the place isn't even remotely as popular as such well-known spots as Kelly's Roast Beef, Bill and Bob's, and the Liberty Bell. This is truly one place that needs to be discovered, even after nearly 40 years of being in business.
The interior of John's Roast Beef and Seafood, while not quite romantic (don't expect candlelit tables and opera music here), is quite a bit nicer than your typical roast beef joint. Attractive cylindrical hanging lamps are used rather than harsh fluorescent ones, and the easy-to-read menu boards behind the counter are lit up by the type of spotlights that one might find in an art gallery. The earthy tones used for the walls complement the lamps, whose two-toned color schemes add a touch of class that you would probably not expect in a place that is basically a sandwich spot. A high ceiling and hard floors make John's prone to echoey acoustics, though the noise level is certainly bearable. For those who are dining in, a number of tables are lined along the wall opposite the counter area.
The roast beef at John's hits all the right notes, as it is served warm (but not too warm), is lean (but not too lean), is so tender that you could cut it with a butter knife, and has no discernible gristle or waste of any kind. The onion roll (which is an option for the super beef) is soft and pillowy, while the regular roll is similarly fresh. For those who like their roast beef "three-way"--that is, sauce, cheese, and mayo--the Smithfield James River barbeque sauce adds a bit of heat and richness to the sandwich, while the cheese and mayo both add some creaminess. In addition to the super beef, customers can get a regular beef, a junior beef, or even tiny roast beef "sliders." The seafood part of John's menu includes clams, shrimp, scallops, calamari, fish sticks, and haddock bits, while other items on the menu include hot dogs, hamburgers, a pastrami sandwich, steak tips, souvlaki, ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, stuffed shells, and a variety of soups and salads. Beverages are limited to soda, milk, water, Gatorade, and coffee.
It may seem strange that there is a slightly upscale roast beef and seafood joint in a decidedly working-class neighborhood within an old industrial city north of Boston, but the whole concept somehow seems to work at John's, with the extraordinary roast beef being a big part of this. As we've said in the past, some hidden gems are both more "hidden" than others and more in the way of "gems" than others, and John's Roast Beef and Seafood does seem to be both of these. Lovers of roast beef should not miss this one.
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