It’s no secret that heading south of Boston will bring you to bar pizza country, while heading north of the city will get you into areas known for roast beef sandwiches. But the cities, towns and neighborhoods immediately north of Boston also have a common thread of another kind.
Hidden among the densely populated residential areas are local watering holes known for their mixed grill options and Italian-American fare, including beloved spots like Newbridge Café in Chelsea, Floramo’s in Malden (they recently moved from Chelsea), Pearl Street Station in Malden, 8/10 Bar & Grille in Everett and Casey’s in East Somerville.
One favorite that’s located within Boston city limits is Kelley Square Pub in Eastie. The name may easily fool people into thinking it could be an Irish pub, but its name comes from what Central Square used to be called (and is still called by many). Make no mistake — like the others mentioned here, this is your classic Italian-American joint and one that rivals all the others, even surpassing them when it comes to certain food options.
Kelley Square Pub, like so many hidden gems in the Boston area and elsewhere, is not the type of place that you’ll just happen to find. It’s buried away smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood of row houses and a scattering of shops and eateries, including the renowned Italian restaurant Rino’s, which is basically just around the corner.
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Unlike so many other Boston restaurants, Kelley Square actually has its own parking lot, though unless you feel really confident about your parking skills, it’s best to find a space on Bennington Street instead, because it can be an adventure pulling into a space in the lot and even more of an adventure attempting to get out.
But as tight as the parking lot is, the place itself is surprisingly spacious, with a long and narrow dining area with booths to the left of the entrance, a bar that runs parallel to the dining section, a small dining area further to the left and a relatively large (and quiet) dining room in the back that’s perfect for larger groups, birthday parties, etc.
Throughout the space is all kinds of memorabilia that sports lovers should enjoy, including boxing memorabilia, as boxing is in the blood of the family behind the place.
Eat New England
Much like Newbridge, Floramo’s and the like, Kelley Square Pub is basically an Italian-American bar, which is a rather unique and often overlooked category of places found just north of Boston, though you can also find such spots elsewhere in the region, including the Midway in Dedham, Franco’s in Waltham and D'Ann's in Abington.
Most of these types of places offer pizza, pasta and mixed grill items on their menus, and Kelley Square’s menu covers all of this and more, with such items as Neapolitan pizza that actually rivals the nearby Santarpio’s (which is often mentioned among the best pizzerias in New England), Sicilian pizza that gives the Italian food shops and bakeries in the region a run for their money and steak tips that reach the heights of such stalwarts as the Newbridge and Floramo’s.
PHOTOS: Italian-American Classics at Kelley Square Pub
In addition to these favorites, you’ll also find plenty of old-school items, like garlic bread, potato skins, fried calamari, stuffed peppers, quahogs, bacon-wrapped scallops, shrimp scampi, ribs, chicken parmigiana, pasta with meatballs, sweet Italian sausage, baked stuffed haddock and pork chops with vinegar peppers.
If you’re craving an alcoholic beverage, Kelley Square Pub may look from the outside like a dive bar where you might opt for a beer and a shot, and while you can certainly do that at the bar, it’s more of a place where you might enjoy a martini, manhattan, negroni or a glass of wine with your meal, since it emphasizes the restaurant side of the place a bit more than some of the other spots mentioned here.
Kelley Square Pub has been around for several decades, and during that time it has built up a loyal following not just in its immediate neighborhood, but really in all of Eastie and throughout the North Shore as well.
Sadly, these types of watering holes are slowly but surely disappearing from the local landscape as the years go by, but here’s hoping that this spot will be around for many years to come, offering reasonably priced Italian food and American classics in an environment that is warm and welcoming, not just to locals but to newcomers are well.
Kelley Square Pub, 84 Bennington Street, East Boston, MA, 02128. kelleyssquarepub.com