This spring saw a changing of the guard at neighborhood favorite Pops. The South End boite, a Frenchism truly deserved by the tiny restaurant, brought in new executive chef Amanda Howell, whose affection for bold flavors and satisfying comfort food, even in summer (what, you live on lettuce all summer?), has built a plucky menu with some striking variations on popular standards. Forget delicate slicing and dicing, chunky quartered beets are topped with crunchy toasted hazelnuts ($9) and the ahi tuna carpaccio comprises thick coiled slabs of fish, soft and juicy, and served with a spicy potato and apple salad ($13) plus a dash of fruit jam.
Howell gives the humble arctic char ($23) a regal setting atop a creamy polenta and adds a layer of tender spinach in between. Juices from all three layers combine, perfect for mopping with fresh ciabatta. The rich lobster mac and cheese ($19) is also a triple treat, brightened by spring peas. Good things come in threes? A creamy cold coconut rice pudding served with coconut gelato and grilled pineapple ($8) confirms that at Pops, they do.
Take it outside
The Pops Tremont Street patio is perfect for people-watching, and the pretty conservatory inside overlooking the garden provides shelter from heat and summer storms. The restaurant is hoping to expand its outdoor seating into the garden, too, depending on city-planning permission. The “Five Bucks a Pop” bar menu is a nice way to try some of Howell’s dishes, including her mushroom caps stuffed with short rib. For summer, the Good Thyme cocktail — a riff on the refreshing “John Daly” made with herb tea, vodka and thyme-infused simple syrup — matches that price ($5), too.