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Can we talk about Durgin Park?

Ok, so I admit that I have not eaten at Durgin Park in about 25 years. But I do not understand why people continually recommend the place on this board. Is the food any good? I understand that it may be a good example of classic New England fare, but classic New England fare was never particularly good, was it? Should I be trying this place again? It gives me the heebeejeebees just thinking about it!

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  1. Well, if you like pot roast and Indian pudding, go there. If you don't, don't. I wouldn't eat there weekly, but I for one am glad it's there.

    1. Sure, we can talk about it. I haven't been since someone took me 6 years ago. They thought as a resident of Boston I should have the experience. Eh. The steak was flopping over the edge of the plate, the sides were cafeteria-good and the indian pudding was, um, pudding. I didn't love it, but it wasn't bad either. I guess as a recommendation for classic New England fare, you don't have many other choices.

      1. I was walking by over the weekend, on my way to the North End, and walked in out of curiosity. It looked like a tour bus had just unloaded at the front door. I saw 3 people with maps out. The clam chowder looked as thick and gooey as ever, like you could stand a spoon up in the middle of it. I think it's a lot of the same people that wait in line at the terrible tourist-trap restaurants in the North End just to be able to say they ate there. Someone at the Chamber of Commerce must be recommending the place...

        1. I was wondering the same thing. I grew up in Boston and it was always a treat as a kid to be taken there. I am not sure now if the treat was the food or the fact that we were actually being taken out to dinner. I always got the shortribs and I was always astounded at the attitude of the wait staff. I haven't lived in the area for 27 years but come back to visit family and wondered if I should revisit or would that spoil my good childhood memories.

          1. A few thoughts on Durgin-Park:

            * It wouldn't have to be very good to be considered one of the best restaurants in the mystifyingly-popular mall that is Faneuil Hall Market Place. I think it's pretty good.

            * Atmosphere remains somewhat novel. At my last lunch there, the fellow seated across the communal table from me was a classic sixtyish Beacon Hill Brahmin type, right down to his well-worn blazer and Harvard tie. We shared some polite conversation, a nice change from my often-harried lunch routine.

            * I thought my "Yankee cut" (I think that's the smaller one, not the "Durgin cut") prime rib, rare as ordered, was quite delicious, worth the $21 or so. It came with excellent sides (pureed squash was one I recall) and decent cornbread. I could only finish about half of it, took the rest with me for a next-day sandwich (and I virtually never doggie-bag).

            * I still like the Indian pudding, not everyone's favorite, but very nicely done here. It remains your only game in town if you're itching for a coffee Jello.

            * I think the upstairs dining room is a little nicer and brighter. The downstairs room has a bit of a dank, stale-beer-smelling tavern quality to it.

            * I haven't experienced the deliberately rude waitress shtick here in a while. My server was polite and efficient (and male).

            * Yankee food is what it is: kind of plain. But I find the quality much better than other similarly Olde Boston kind of places: Union Oyster House, Parker's. It won't make you forget the food at Locke-Ober. (What else even fits this definition anymore: the Warren Tavern, maybe?)

            So, maybe not breathtaking, but doesn't provoke the heebie-jeebies in me, either. And I'd still rather eat here than at Kingfish Hall.

            5 Replies
            1. re: MC Slim JB

              warren tavern is burgers and chicken wings these days.

              1. re: MC Slim JB

                Don't care much for the communal tables, but they make a decent prime rib. turkey dinner was passable, not much to rave about. I do like the coffee jello though.

                1. re: Pegmeister

                  seems like most people don't go for the communal table... why is that???

                  1. re: bowmore36

                    I guess it's my own discomfort or insecurity about socializing with strangers while dining. Nothing worse in my eyes than being a party of 2 being seated with a party of 12.

                    1. re: bowmore36

                      I actually like communal tables, though granted it can be a bit awkward (like when the people across from you have absolutely nothing to say, which happened to us at an unnamed place a few weeks ago).

                      The turkey dinner isn't bad there, though as Pegmeister says, it's not all that memorable.

                2. A professor of Am. History I had in college used to take her class to dinner at Durgin Park and the late lamented Felicia's in the North End so we could have an 'authentic' Boston dining experience. I do not remember the food, but I do remember the experience.
                  The waitress at DP was gruff but not surly. I put it down to the enormous crowd in the place.

                  1. I mostly agree with MC Jim. It's got atmosphere and the food is pretty good. I went back there a few years ago after not eating there in years and years and years. I liked it so much I went back a couple more times in quick succession.

                    my blog:

                    1. Echo most everyone's comments. Durgin Park does a few things very well, in particular the prime rib. This should bear mention in the "doing one thing and doing it well" thread on this board. I don't know anyone who has come away unhappy.

                      1. Durgin Park is what it is. It may not be fine dining, but there is no reason for it to cause heebeejeebees. The people who manage and work there are great.

                        While it is not my first (or second, or third) choice, I recently took a large group (20) of out of town clients there as our casual dinner one night, and they loved it (locaton, atmosphere and food). I must say that my prime rib was excellent. I only had the regular (or ladies cut as the waitress informed me). The large Durgin cut was like the piece of beef that flipped Fred Flintstone's car.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Gabatta

                          Agreed, you go there for the prime rib, Indian pudding, and atmosphere. But alas, the waitresses aren't quite as surly these days as I remember from my youth. Still, even then I'm quite sure a lot if it was an act, just to maintain the tradition.

                          And that massive haunch of beef on the bone, hanging over the edges of the plate, leaves an indelible (and not at all unpleasant) memory. That's more than I can say for a lot of other, "better" restaurants.

                          1. re: BobB

                            During the Bi-Centennial year the waitstaff was instructed to tone-down the, mostly affectated, surliness lest it scare away thos tourists from Iowa. I'm in the yea camp regarding Durgin Park. If it offends somebodies foodie sensibilities, fine. Just leave the rest of us alone to enjoy DG for what it is as well as what it isn't.


                          2. re: Gabatta

                            I do like pot roast and indian pudding but I don't like Durgin Park. I have been there sporadically over the years back to the 99 cent lunch specials with my Dad when I used to come in to meet him for lunch. I went a couple of years ago and had one of my all time worst meals and service. I had Baked Stuffed Lobster (probably not a good choice) and I can't remember what else. The waiter was terrible and it wasn't part of the schtick just slovenly and clueless. To top it off, we were there doing a service audit. You can imagine how well that was rated! Anyway, I haven't been back since and do not plan to ever go back.

                          3. I suspect that some people that recommend it don't live here.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: C. Hamster

                              Not this boy, I'm a local with Boston roots going back generations! As has been stated above, stick to what they do well and you won't be disappointed.

                              1. re: BobB

                                I didn't mean on this thread ... I meant more in general.

                                I suspect Durgin Park, Union Oyster and No Name are recommended on this and other boards by people who ate at those places while visiting and didn't have the chance to sample alternative venues.

                                1. re: C. Hamster

                                  I wonder how many hotels in Boston recommend these places also to their guest. Some clients of mine staying in Boston got pointed to Durgin Park on a recent visit.

                              2. I love Durgin Park. The prime rib is excellent, and certainly a much better deal than any of the upscale steakhouses nearby (including Plaza III in the Marketplace), at about half the price. The other Yankee specialities are all very good, assuming you like Boiled Dinner, Baked Schrod and Yankee Pot Roast. I happen to be a big fan of Indian Pudding as well (I like that molasses flavor, similar to gingerbread).

                                The reason I recommend it constantly is because I think it's one of the few "Boston Original" places left around here. It's a place where you will know for sure that you are dining in Boston and not in some boring, predictable chain place that you can find in Houston or Atlanta or St. Louis.

                                Unfortunately, these types of places around here are disappearing quickly, as the "Chain Monster" seems to have its firm grip on Boston lately.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: mwk

                                  But the choice is not between Durgin Park and a chain!

                                  There are loads of much better restaurants within walking distance of DP that are "Boston Originals." Not ever Boston Original needs to serve dreary boiled dinners or soggy red-sauced pasta.

                                  I don't see the "chain monster" having much of a grip here at all. I think we lag far behind in that category, thankfully.

                                  If people want prime rib and boiled dinner and Indian pudding, so be it, I can accept that cultural cliche. But to call it a "Boston Original" and not, say Neptune Oyster, is both limiting and unfair.

                                  1. re: C. Hamster

                                    You hit it right on the nose..."cultural cliche". But fortunately or unfortunately for us New Englanders, that is our heritage. Just like going to Beale St. in Memphis for some ribs or BBQ Spaghetti, or New York for bagels and pastrami, or Dallas for Chicken Fried Steaks, or Chicago for a hot dog and deep dish pizza...

                                    You might not like traditional New England fare. Since it was borne out of hardship and deprivation and in some cases (baked beans, Indian Pudding, as examples) out of our Puritan heritage, maybe it's not the most sophisticated cuisine in the world. I'm a big fan of Neptune Oyster, and I have my favorites in the North End as well. But to say that the fancy dishes served at Neptune, or the Italian food of the North End is "traditional" for New England, is missing the point entirely.

                                2. I'm one of the people who recommends Durgin Park on this board -- by the way, I live in the Boston area -- and here's why I do so. Many folks visiting Boston seem interested in getting a dining experience that is considered indigenous to the area (I do the same when I travel), and as I see it, there are two things that qualify:

                                  1. seafood, especially fried clams, lobster, and steamers.
                                  2. classic Yankee cooking.

                                  There used to be a moderate number of places that did the latter, but most are gone now. Durgin Park is to my mind, the best of these unless you want to try what might be considered an expense-account slant on it at Locke Ober. As MC Slim JB rightly notes, both the Union Oyster House's and Parker's versions of this cuisine are decidedly inferior to DP in this regard. It's perhaps not a cuisine everyone likes, but it is definitely indigenous to the area. On top of all that, DP is also a historic and interesting place in and of itself.

                                  The way I see it, it's like going to Lancaster County in PA and asking what the local indigenous fare is -- which in this case would be Pennsylvania Dutch. I'd consider myself remiss if I didn't put it forward and suggest the best exponents of the cuisine if I lived there. Sure, some folks don't like this kind of food -- in fact, except for the desserts, Penna Dutch doesn't strike me as being that dissimilar from Yankee cooking -- but that's not a reason to avoid recommending it.

                                  Myself, I think the food there is good, and I do go sometimes.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: bachslunch

                                    I haven't been there in years, but I used to go when I worked nearby and got a craving for fried oysters, At the time, few other places would predictably have them on the menu.

                                  2. I like Durgin-Park for lunch. The prime rib is very good, with a saltier taste and a texture I like on occasion. I don't consider it gourmet prime rib, meaning buttery and yet beefy.

                                    I can't imagine eating anywhere other than upstairs. The atmosphere is very comfortable for me. Back in the day, before the market was developed, you could avoid the line by buying a drink downstairs and then going up the back way to the dining room. D-P is still popular with locals during the week at lunch for the traditional favorites but not at dinner and not on weekends.

                                    I have trouble understanding many of the posts about the marketplace. It's largely for tourists and, judged on that basis, it's at the very top of outdoor mall spaces. Southstreet Seaport or Baltimore's Inner Harbor don't come close - in ambiance, shopping and dining. The outdoor seating for McCormick & Shmick is particularly nice, though I sometimes grab a sub from Al's and sit on a bench to eat while watching the tourists go by.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: lergnom

                                      I guess I have a visceral loathing for the Market Place because it strikes me as such an unworthy tourist destination. You come all the way to Boston so you can shop at a Coach store or Victoria's Secret? It seems such a soulless spot for Boston to be famous for, to get so much foot traffic. It's another damnable mall, mostly filled with shops you can find anywhere in America.

                                      I think Fanueil Hall belongs as a stop on a historical or architectural tour of the city. And maybe the Market Place is better than South Street Seaport and its ilk, but that seems like saying it's the most amazing Thomas Kinkade painting ever. I would never waste time during a trip to Manhattan or Baltimore on those places, either.

                                      I've spent some time drinking at Ames Plow, and I don't exactly hate McCormick & Schmick. I expect to try Wagamama and Beard Papa at least once sometime. But I mostly find the whole thing kind of depressing. When my visiting friends want to do something comparably touristy, I send them to the North End; at least it has real, unique local charm and character -- and many better places to eat.

                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        What he said. The fact that Fanueil Hall and its dining options may suck less than South Street Seaport or Inner Harbor doesn't change the fact that they still suck.

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          > ". . . but that seems like saying it's the most amazing Thomas Kinkade painting ever."

                                          That's funny!

                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                            Agreed, the only (dubious) distinction Quincy Market has over South Street Seaport and all the rest is that it was the first historic city district to be "renovated" like that, all the others copied its success. The whole area was so much funkier (and more fun to visit) before they cleaned it up.

                                            That's one of the things I like about Durgin Park, it honestly predates all that generic new crap and reminds me of visiting the area as a kid.

                                          2. re: lergnom

                                            Its funny - the only thing I remember about DP from childhood was my father taking us to the bar for a drink in order to get in more quickly. It seemed like another of my fathers series of great tricks that don't work at the time, until we were quickly and politely escorted upstairs past the huge waiting line. It seems a shame that this no longer applies - its kind of like the surly waitresses - a tradition that has passed.

                                            1. re: tdaaa

                                              Does the place still have lines to get in?

                                              1. re: Blumie

                                                I haven't seen one during weekday lunch service in the past six months or so. I imagine if a busload of tourists just arrived, you might have to take a communal table seat or sit in the smelly tavern for immediate service. I can't speak to the dinner service.

                                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                  Not that I've gone in 25 years in any event, but if a busload of tourists pulls up, I'm walking across the street to Neptune!

                                                2. re: Blumie

                                                  In the wintertime, there usually aren't lines. During the summer, at prime "tourist" dinner hour of 6pm, there can be a line. But, it's nothing compared to what I remember as a kid, coming here to visit my big brother in college...then, it seemed that the line was always down the stairs and out the door all the time.

                                            2. I like to go there every few years, especially during the winter, for the Fish Chowder and Indian Pudding. It's not "Great," but it's unique, and those two items are still very acceptable to me.

                                              1. You can still get a nice Dungeness crab on Fisherman's Wharf in SF, you can still get a nice pastrami sandwich at Carnegie Deli, you can still get a nice beignet at Cafe du Monde in N'awlins, and you can still get a nice Indian pudding at Durgin Park. They all occupy the same culinary and cultural niche, and it's nice they still exist.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. I worked near there for a while in 2006. And in the winter, when there are few tourists about, I found Durgin Park to be a good place for a inexpesive lunch. $7.95 for Yankee Pot Roast with spuds & veg and a piece of corn bread.

                                                  1. "Heebeejeebees" is having to wait until January 20th, 2009. That's the real heebeejeebees!

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Harp00n

                                                      I went to college in Boston right after Noah got off the Ark. Durgin-Park was a great student treat: huge portions, better than dorm food, low prices.The market district was still the real market district, and Rouse hadn't gotten its corporate mitts on anything.

                                                    2. It is unjustly scorned by foodies. There are certain things (as discussed in the other comments) on the menu that it does fairly well, and more reliably and at a better price point (note the three-point combo I am discussing here), than almost any other place. It's most definitely not Thomas Kincaid.

                                                      1. I've dined there with large groups about five times in the last six years. The communal table, family-style servings, kitschy olde-New-England flavor retain some charm. However, service has gotten perceptibly worse in the last couple of years -- as has the food. Last time, after about six service errors (e.g., running out of lobster on a week-night, running out of salmon, bringing bloody steaks to those who'd requested well-done, etc.), we were told that DP had come under new management. So, even you're a long-standing fan of this place, you might feel differently upon revisiting it these days.