Spring should look like this: Along a 40-minute drive west on Route Two, Concord is blooming. Tiny blue, purple and white flowers carpet un-mulched ground; magnolia, dogwood and apple blossoms form frilly canopies; and daffodils, narcissus and violets dapple the sidewalk around the town’s Colonial Inn.
The inn, built in the 1700s, is undergoing its own spring renewal. Its restaurant, Merchant’s Row, sports a smart new menu, designed to separate it from the causal fare of Liberty, the inn’s tavern, and to merit a diner’s drive. Design-wise, Merchant’s Row is unremarkable. But 1930s-era vocal jazz plays, adding atmosphere that’s far from generic boutique-ification. It’s pleasant, comfortable and relaxing.
Chef Cassandra Pianowski’s menu is similarly razzle-dazzle free. Layers of strong but complementary flavors color such dishes as Maplebrook Farms burrata bruschetta. Underneath the burrata (mozzarella’s highly palatable cousin), macerated strawberries and caramelized onions marry with a touch of saba — grape must syrup — and swirls of balsamic reduction. A roasted free-range chicken is balanced by the fruity sweetness of a whiskey and cider jus. The luscious half chicken sits atop soft sweet potato hash flecked with red pepper that adds delicate notes of fruity spice.
The day boat-caught haddock with potato gnocchi is lighter, but no less intriguing. Topped with crispy strings of fried leek and placed in a saffron shellfish broth, its mysterious mineral tones enhance the delicate fish.
And since it’s spring, it’s soft shell crab time — a plump specimen is lightly tempura battered and paired with a slaw and soy dip. Spring should taste like this.
It’s Concord; it’s historical: Before it became an inn, the building was once home to Henry David Thoreau. Louisa May Alcott lived nearby at Orchard House, and Merchant’s Row’s Sunday brunch is often graced by a visit from “Alcott” (really, Orchard House’s executive director Jan Turnquist). Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, Pianowski’s pineapple and banana tarte tatin crosses timelines, riffing on the older French version of pineapple upside-down cake. It’s served with coconut ice cream and a tangy passion fruit puree that gives the dessert a bold, piquant flavor.
48 Monument Square, Concord