No, not Cheers - Bostonians don't actually go there, by the way - I'm talking about Tremont 647, that South End stalwart that has, for nearly 12 years, been one of the most popular gathering places for the neighborhood.
Opened in December 1996 by Chef Andy Husbands, Tremont 647 - and its counterpart, Sister Sorel (named so for Husbands' sister) - have stood the test of time in an area where the loyalty of restaurant patrons can be ephemeral, at best.
The atmosphere of the establishment is relaxed and inviting, from its glass-walled facade - which in the spring and summer opens up, letting the restaurant spill out onto Tremont Street - to its open air kitchen, there is nothing pretentious about it.
Though a rainbow flag hangs proudly outside, 647 is itself a microcosm of the evolution of the South End in recent years. Just as the area lying between West Newton and Berkeley Streets can no longer be tagged solely as Boston's "gayborhood," Tremont 647 isn't a gay hangout, or a straight hangout - it's just a neighborhood hangout. On any given evening, you can find a mix of anyone and everyone: professionals, students, blue collar, white collar, hipsters and preppies of all backgrounds and orientations - dining and drinking with the sole purpose of having a good time.
The menu here changes seasonally, with Chef Husbands and his team often adding items to all menu categories - appetizers, entrees, sides, desserts and drinks all tend to get a make-over as the weather turns. More worldly items such as braised lamb over Parisian gnocchi rotate in and out, but the full-time menu sports dishes that reflect what seems to be Husbands' passion - American comfort food, specifically, BBQ.
There is a decidedly southern influence to most of these dishes, using ingredients that are a bit alien to a northern crowd - the incredible buttermilk fried chicken is served with steamed collard greens, and a grilled biscuit with gravy.
A personal favorite is the wood-grilled flat iron steak, served up with garlicky (as in, don't expect any kisses for a while) broccolini and a side fontina-stuffed tater tots, an amazing taste that can - and should - be ordered up as an individual side if you choose a different dish.
The chef's signature rib dish - Andy's "180" Ribs - are served up with cornbread and cole slaw, with the optional add-on of...wait for it...a Pabst Blue Ribbon 16-ounce "tall boy."
Not to be outdone by the entrees, there are two appetizers that are especially worth noting. First, the lobster mac 'n' cheese is a favorite among patrons, to the point where The Improper Bostonian noted it in their "Best of 2008" issue, and rightly so. Served up in its own mini-skillet, the dish delivers exactly what it promises - a heaping portion of gooey, al dente mac 'n' cheese with chunks (not the "need-a-magnifying-glass" pieces you often find) of fresh lobster baked right in.
Second, and in my opinion, best, are the momos. For anyone unfamiliar, a momo is a Tibetan dumpling which is stuffed with any number of ingredients. At Tremont 647, the preferred preparation is fried, with a pork filling. Simplistic, but absolutely addictive, these are served with soy sauce and sriracha (ask for extra), and are often gone far too quickly. While these may seem like any fried dumpling you can get at any Asian-influenced establishment, there is something unique about this dish, and is a must-order for any first-timer.
For dessert, make sure you dig in to Andy's signature banana cream pie, drizzled with chocolate and caramel, and topped off with nut brittle.
For all the cuisine, it's the restaurant's drinks that draws many in, and keeps them in Sister Sorel (which, while connected, is primarily a stand-alone bar) late into the night. Three of the more popular mixes are the 647 raspberry vodka gimlet, made with a house-infused raspberry vodka, the Tremont Tang, blending papaya vodka and fruit juices (and a rim lined with Tang mix), and the Sidecar from Hell, which, well...is.
Trumping everything else, it's really the staff that makes the popularity of Tremont 647 what it is. From servers to chefs to bartenders to hosts, you get the vibe that no one working there is just sticking around for a paycheck - they're also having fun, which puts guests at ease, and makes for an even better experience all around. They remember repeat customers, and often go out of their way to to recognize them, whether it be with a greeting, or if you're lucky, a complimentary round of momos.
It should be noted that on weekends they host a wildly popular pajama brunch (where the staff go all out in various combinations of pajamas, robes, long johns, curlers and most anything else they can get their hands on). The brunch has its own menu, which can - and likely will - be review unto itself.
Finally, make sure you keep an eye out for special events at the restaurant. These range from small celebrations, such as the recent "F! Restaurant Week" party, celebrating the end of Boston's bi-annual, price-slashing Restaurant Week promotion (which, as the party's name insinuates, are not the most loved weeks for those in the food service industry), to the upcoming Bourbon & BBQ night on October 13th. This reservation-only night includes bourbon tastings, passed appetizers and a family-style BBQ dinner.
Tremont 647 and Sister Sorel are located on the corner of Tremont and West Brookline in Boston's South End. More information and full menu can be found at www.Tremont647.com.