435 Bar + Grille

435 is Much More Than Just a Pub

In the early post-industrial years, “converted factory space” was an exciting phenomenon. Aside from sheer utility, an avant-garde sense of justice prevailed to see these brick behemoths, once the site of hopeless worker drudgery, reclaimed for use in the hospitality industry.

That said, it’s difficult to imagine 435 Lancaster St. as sweat shop. One reaches 435 Bar + Grille’s dining room via an elevator bolted to the parking lot side of the rambling factory building. When the door slid open, we were ushered into an airy space that was bright, welcoming, clean and uncluttered.

To the left was a long bar lined with people enjoying drinks and, for many, dinner. We requested a table in the dining room and were led to the other side of the room and promptly greeted by Rachel, our server. With no dividers, the room felt splendidly unclaustrophobic and, a story or so above street level, huge windows were filled with blue sky, puffy clouds and an early evening setup for a late-spring sunset.

Although billed as an “exciting new gastropub,” I readily admit that I harbored doubts. “Upscale sports bar” seemed a safer expectation.

Then I started to browse the appetizer menu and realized we had very unusual options; none of the freezer-to-deep-fryer mechanized fare that’s so common to typical pub menus. Plus, the list of draft beers was aggressively curated for flavor. I would have happily sampled 435’s Asparagus Tempura or the Lobster Arancini. But fate took us down a different path when we came across 435 Poutine. My Québécois grand-père would have been pleased.

Poutine might be a staple item of Canadian lunch carts, but in the hands of 435’s kitchen, it’s a force to be reckoned with. Thick, steaming-hot French fries were slathered with molten, garlicky cheese curd that formed a golden crust around the edges of the large bowl. To ramp up the richness factor, they were splashed in a red wine reduction and scattered with crisp chips of bacon.

This was unusual dining excitement: Poutine’s bold flavors served up in this huge portion are, no doubt, destined for menus everywhere! But garlic curds? What is this new food group that tastes so extraordinary? Not waiting for a wiki explanation, I just had to ask Rachel. Amused by our enthusiasm, her response was perfectly accurate: “Deliciousness!”

And that might well have served an appropriate mantra for our entire meal at 435 as we headed toward the entrée course.

Maple Salmon, my friend’s entrée, featured a deep orange-gold fillet cloaked with thick maple cream sauce and plated to ascend a hillock of mashed potatoes. Brilliant green fresh asparagus spears added color and crunch. All innocent enough. Until he remarked, “Yummm! Try this salmon!”

So I forked a flakey chunk from the unsauced end of the fillet. OMG. It was exactly how I love fish, especially salmon. Tender and moist, with layers that fell apart and a thin exterior coating of buttery crispness – in this case, with just a simple hint of maple flavor. Maple syrup is something I reserve for breakfast and butternut squash, but 435’s chef understands restraint and knows his (her?) way around a hunk of fish.

My entrée, Pappardella Bolognese, was one of the day’s specials. Broad pappardelle noodles made from scratch at neighboring Pastaland were packed in a meaty-thick red sauce that featured chips of pancetta ham. Attention carb-loaders! This bowl seemed endless; each time I twirled another clump of noodles on my fork, it seemed the portion actually grew larger with more, large tasty chunks of meat emerging. I finally requested a take-out box for the leftovers.

We completed our meal with 435’s Brownie Sundae, a generously proportioned fudgy brownie served awash in hot chocolate sauce and topped with a perfect sphere of vanilla ice cream that oozed meltiness where it sat in the sauce. We agreed: “Way too big for just one person!”

“Deliciousness” may have been the evening’s mantra, but there were other themes emergent during our meal at 435 Bar + Grille. Such as: “large portions perfect for sharing,” “excellent value” and “engaging friendly service.” And, I concur, “hot new gastropub.”

435 Bar + Grille • 435 Lancaster St., Leominster • (978) 798-1111 • 435barandgrille.com

By Bernie Whitmore