In a city with a restaurant scene this vibrant, how could we possibly highlight just one outstanding chef? We’ve got the lowdown on each of the reader-voted “Best Chef” nominees from this year’s Scout’s Honored Awards, with a few of our personal favorites thrown in for good measure.
Craigie on Main
It’s nearly impossible to step into Tony Maws’ Craigie on Main with no expectations. Since 2008, the award-winning chef—whose numerous accolades include a 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast and national nods from the New York Times, Bon Appétit and Gourmet, to name just a few—has been cooking up inventive, experimental and much-lauded French-American fare with locally driven flare.
And yet, on any given night, you’re sure to have those expectations exceeded. Peering into the Craigie kitchen, you’ll watch as the star chef and his team prepare unforgettable plates: crispy-fried pig’s tails, Pennsylvania Dutch Country chicken, that iconic burger (they only make 18 a night). And to really see what makes the chef shine, stop by on Sunday nights and take in the weekly “Chef’s Whim” series, which finds Maws and company serving an inventive and unpredictable four- or six-course tasting menu. It’s an impromptu exploration of dishes not typically found on the Craigie menu.
He was one of America’s best new chefs in 2005, according to Food & Wine—in 2016, he’s just one of its best chefs.
Puritan and Company
An Inman Square fixture since 2012, Puritan & Company’s offerings are simultaneously refined and rustic, the atmosphere both elegant and familial, with dishes celebrating New England’s culinary history but with a decidedly 21st-century twist. That’s thanks to Will Gilson—who else but this cheeky, charming chef would serve a Moxie-glazed lamb belly that highlights the New England soft drink?
And while the soda-glazed staple was instantly infamous, it’s the locally sourced ingredients, enduring commitment to quality and VIP service that have helped Gilson’s restaurant endure as one of the region’s greats.
Well, that and the full pastry bar. And pizza night each Thursday.
Dante de Magistris
Sidle up the Restaurant Dante patio, take in the panoramic view of the Charles River and prepare to be wowed by Chef Dante de Magistris’ inventive, unexpected Italian dishes. Serving up classic comfort food with a twist—like gnocchi with slow roasted duck, vegetable soffritto and drunken sour cherries or lobster Amatriciana with chitarra spaghetti, guanciale, tomatoes and hot peperoncino—de Magistris’ eponymous eatery has become a destination.
Just don’t leave without digging into a plate of the Arancini (breaded, deep-fried risotto balls on a plate of truffle honey) or the Carrozza (fried mozzarella and prosciutto with tomatoes).
Pastry chef Renae Connolly has been with the Café ArtScience team for the last two years, ever since the restaurant first began making waves in Kendall Square for its fusion of science, art and food. But prior to this position, she worked in restaurants around the globe preparing all different kinds of fare—from Japanese to Italian to coastal Californian—and she’s learned to adapt to her surroundings while staying true to herself.
That’s why her desserts aren’t just technically impressive—though they are—but also fun, exciting and engaging for guests. While treats like the adorable “tiny spoons” are both completely unexpected and meticulously prepared, they’re still somehow familiar and comfortable. They’re just presented in fanciful forms unlike anything you’ve tried before.
When we sat down with Shepard’s Susan Regis earlier this year to talk about her 2016 James Beard Award nomination, she was almost wishing that it was her chef de cuisine, Peter McKenzie, who was up for the accolade. “I feel his influence has made Shepard better than I ever imagined,” she noted at the time.
McKenzie’s work isn’t going unnoticed—Shepard was the only area restaurant to make Eater’s latest list of the “21 Best New Restaurants in America.” The restaurant was also among Bon Appétit’s 50 Best New Restaurants for 2016, where BonApp’s staff highlighted McKenzie’s mastery of the open flame, writing that he’s “known to dangle everything from mackerel to brandy-drowned quail over the open hearth.”
Of course, they’re just saying what Regis already knew: “He’s sort of like a young Bob Dylan—so many ideas, all the time.”
This story originally appeared as part of our annual best-of feature, “Scout’s Honored,” in the September/October print issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 240 locations throughout Cambridge and just beyond its borders or by subscription.