Another year, another trip to Boston, another visit to Kelly’s Roast Beef. Like clockwork I am. Boston, and the surrounding ‘hood, is like a second home to yours truly. It should be no surprise then that this North Shore fixture, in business since 1951, has been as much a part of my life as anything else in Massachusetts. But enough of the nostalgic namby pamby, what we have here is a waterside walkup that has expanded to include five Boston area locations, a catering service, and a handful of merchandise options.
Though I’ve driven by a couple of the other locations, I have only eaten at the original, found just across the road from the Atlantic Ocean in Revere. It follows, that I can’t speak to the quality of food, the experience, or anything else at the satellite locations. Regardless of what goes on elsewhere, a trip to the original Kelly’s may be as much about the experience as it is the food. In that spirit, I see no reason for the constant crowd to dwindle anytime soon.
For those of you from outside the Boston area, Kelly’s Roast Beef may still be familiar. In Good Will Hunting, it was the subject of the sandwich fight between the Affleck brothers. To refresh … that scene went something like this (NSFW):
Morgan: Chuck, I had a double burger!
Chuckie: Will you shut the fuck up? I know what you ordered, I was there.
Morgan: So give me my fucking sandwich.
Chuckie: What do you mean your sandwich? I bought it. Hey Morgan, how much money you got on you? Morgan: I said I’d give you the change when we ordered the Sno-Cones when we pulled up, so why don’t you give me my sandwich and stop being a prick.
Chuckie: Well why don’t you give me your fucking sixteen cents you got on you and we’ll put your sandwich on layaway. There you go, keep it right up here for you, We’ll put you on a program. Everyday you bring your six cents and at the end of the week you’ll get your sandwich.
Morgan: Why do you have to be such an asshole?
Chuckie: What am I, fuckin’ sandwich welfare? I think you should establish a good line of credit. Like how you bought your couch, payment plans. Remember how your mother brought in $10 everyday for a year and she finally got her couch Rent-A-Center Style?
Now granted, that’s somewhat superfluous information; however, it speaks to a point. Kelly’s is a well known commodity. So much so that in recent years, Kelly’s has gone corporate. The original location has undergone a major face lift. It now sports sidewalk seating, a spiffy new sign, slick menus, and branded staff members. I always appreciated the shack-like decor and casual atmosphere … but I’m not willing to say that the “shower” has taken away from the experience. Besides, the more vibrant green and tan color scheme fit and we are in Irish country after all. At the end of the day, there’s still something comfortably rustic about the experience, especially if you brave inclement weather to get your fix.
Regardless of any aesthetic changes, the menu at Kelly’s seems as set as ever. In addition to the namesake roast beef, you can order all the standard cold cuts and sandwich meats as well as a number of seafood based sandwiches. With the exception of the lobster roll, most of the sandwiches fall in the $7 to $9 price range, making a meal at Kelly’s very affordable. The majority of the seafood comes in “plate” form … meaning with each order, you get a side of fries.
I always blow past both of those sections and head straight for the sides. Head scratching I know, but I’m a fried clam man … and the sides section is where you’ll find the largest concentration. In addition to the rings and fries, sides consist of chicken fingers, chicken wings, and a variety of fried seafood “boxes.” Stupidly listed as small and medium (uh… why not just small and large?), the boxes come with your choice of clams, scallops, or shrimp.
A small order of a vegetable oil heap of fried goodness will satiate most diners. However, if you’re trying to feed the hump for your last fill of fried clams for the foreseeable future, you could probably pound down a large … err… medium order that is. To deliver the goods to the customers, Kelly’s takes a paper sack, places a Chinese take-out container inside, and promptly fills that box until it overflows with the item of choice.
The batter used isn’t inventive and doesn’t make any bold statements. Instead, it’s a straightforward “breading” with a tip of the scale towards the salt. Meanwhile, the vegetable oil gives the food a clean, crisp taste. Speaking to the fried clams (which account for 98% of the food I’ve ever consumed from said establishment), the bellies here drift toward the larger end of the spectrum. If you’re not a fan of a meaty belly, you may not take a liking to these. I find the saltiness of the batter a solid accompaniment to the aforementioned meatiness of the clams. Though I’ll stop well short of calling these fried perfection, the batter adheres well to the clam and the freshness of the product is evident. I think my biggest complaint is with the variety of bellies you’re likely to end up with. Some of the smaller bellied clams get over cooked on account of their size.
I suppose it’s worth noting that tartare sauce is an important aspect of the clam eating process. It can often make or break the experience. Kelly’s tartare is more than sufficient. The major flavor here is sweet pickled relish; however, it’s delivered in such a way that you know you’re eating tartare sauce and not relish with a touch of mayo.
The other item I sometimes end up with is a portion of the lobster roll. Fairly priced at $17, you get roughly 8 oz. of lobster tossed in mayo and served with diced celery. A traditional take, I have always appreciated the roll at Kelly’s. However, I was robbed of the opportunity to sample it during my last visit. Since my Aunt skipped out on lunch, I am stuck thinking about my last known experience. While specifics elude me, I remember an ample portion of fresh lobster served up in a good bit of mayo. The crunch of the celery worked as did the bread. However, if you’re prone to light servings of mayonnaise, this iteration may not be fore you. That was roughly a year ago … so don’t hold me to that as it may have changed..
If you’re wondering why I didn’t mention service, it’s due to the limited interaction you actually have with the staff members. Not much to go on when all they do is take your order (gruffly or otherwise). More importantly, you’ll have to forgive the lack of food-centric pictures and the poor focus of the evidence that does exist. I spent the better part of my 10 minute ride from Revere to Logan International face-deep in my box ‘o clams. Stopping long enough to snap a photo was difficult enough. Add in the moving car, greasy hands, and the point and shoot camera, and you have a recipe for blurriness.
While they aren’t my favorite fried clams and lobster rolls on the North Shore, their proximity to Logan and seaside view of the Atlantic makes Kelly’s a more than serviceable option. While I’ve grabbed a bite there way more than the three requisite visits necessary for a full on review, my limited experience with the menu makes me hesitant to actually assign a grade. Some of the one off establishments in the area do a better job with fried seafood and/or lobster rolls, Kelly’s easily bests fellow chain Legal Sea Foods in that department. Not only is the fried food superior in quality, but Kelly’s offers a lot more product and for less money. The walk-up and order experience gives the place a touch of individuality not relatively available elsewhere.