“I didn’t get into the restaurant business to be a restaurant owner,” says Kristin Canty. “I have a restaurant to support farmers.” Two restaurants, in fact, and soon to be three: Canty, who owns Woods Hill Table and Adelita, both in Concord, will open Woods Hill Pier 4 on the former site of the iconic Anthony’s Pier 4 in Boston’s Seaport District on Tuesday, November 26. (Find it at 300 Pier Four Blvd., with stunning views of the water and the Institute of Contemporary Art.)
Canty — who is also the filmmaker behind a documentary called Farmageddon: The Unseen War on American Family Farms — is intimately involved in the farm-to-table movement, sourcing many of her restaurants’ ingredients from her own New Hampshire farm and supporting other local farms that support her food philosophy.
For Canty, it all comes back to the principles of ancestral foods, which she credits with curing one of her children of a life plagued with severe allergies. “He was allergic to the world,” Canty recalls. “Doctors told me he was a ‘bubble boy.’” (Now he’s all grown up — and he’s at the restaurant, training to be a bartender.) Ancestral foods are “what our ancestors ate before industrial agriculture kicked in,” says Canty — think fermentation, unpasteurized (“raw”) milk, sourdough, soaked and sprouted grains, and the like. (It’s legal for consumers to get raw milk directly from farmers in Massachusetts, but it’s not something that Canty can serve at her restaurants. There’s raw milk cheese on the menu at Woods Hill Pier 4, though, which meets all the necessary requirements as it’s aged over 60 days.)
The ancestral diet — and a goal of supporting organic, small-batch, ethical producers and farmers — informs the menu at Woods Hill Pier 4, which is quite different from its longtime predecessor on the pier, Anthony’s. There are some nods to the classic restaurant, though, which closed in 2013 after 50 years in business: Old photographs and memorabilia from Anthony’s will be on display in the new restaurant, and there’s a bit of an Anthony’s throwback dish on the menu — lobster “Newburg” — although done in Woods Hill style, with a lobster coral hollandaise, fennel compote, baby turnips, sorrel, and warm popovers by Boston’s Popover Lady.
Woods Hill Pier 4’s menu is overseen by chef Charlie Foster, an alum of Toro and Clio who has been executive chef of Concord’s Woods Hill Table since it opened in 2015.
“I make the food rules,” says Canty, “but Charlie has complete creative control over the menu as long as I know that it’s organic and he’s supporting certain farms, using stuff from our farm, all the things that are important to me for the environment. It’s all his: He creates the food and the flavors using those ingredients.”
On the menu: Lots of smaller dishes tailored for sharing, unlike Woods Hill’s older Concord sibling, which follows a more traditional appetizer/entree format. There’s seafood aplenty — local fluke crudo, East Coast oysters, Rhode Island whelk — and several pasta dishes, including a bucatini all’amatriciana that features Woods Hill Farm guanciale.
The direct sourcing from Woods Hill’s own farm is the point — “It’s a way that you can eat something from our farm that you can’t have anywhere else in the world,” says Foster. It’s not just about serving dishes that taste good; it’s about telling the story.
The menu also includes a few “blowout” dishes for two, says Foster, like the aforementioned lobster or a dry-aged Woods Hill Farm duck breast with crispy confit, which is served with a dirty rice made with the hearts and livers from the ducks. Nose-to-tail cooking is another important piece of the Woods Hill ethos.
The drinks, too, follow the theme, with the selection featuring small-batch, local distillers such as Bully Boy and Privateer; organic and biodynamic wines; and the like. The beer list — which is entirely local (Barewolf, Night Shift, etc.) — includes 10 to 15 rotating cans and bottles of unfiltered, unpasteurized brews.
The glitzy Woods Hill Pier 4 space feels worlds away from a farm in Bath, New Hampshire: The restaurant is at the base of a new luxury condo building; one of the penthouses already sold for over $15 million. The Seaport District as a whole is rapidly changing, with skyscrapers sprouting up on every available parcel of land on the once-desolate waterfront. The restaurant space, conceptualized by Boston’s Analogue Studio, feels special occasion-worthy; it’s oceanic without being cheesily nautical, thanks to a carefully chosen color palette of blues and grays, not to mention rippling waves of white sound paneling lining parts of the ceiling. The patio space — once weather permits — seems poised to be one of the nicest outdoor dining areas in the neighborhood.
While the space doesn’t have that pastoral connection to farmland on the surface, it’s won’t be far from diners’ minds. In the water views from every table, and in every word of the menu, there’s a distinct connection to the land (and the sea). In an era where “farm-to-table dining” often evokes thoughts of Portlandia or serves as a buzzy marketing phrase, Canty, Foster, and the Woods Hill team take it more seriously than most, and it feels like a gift to Boston to bring something this grounded and this personal to the Seaport.
Woods Hill Pier 4 opens at 5 p.m. for dinner daily, starting on November 26. In the first half of 2020, it will be joined at 300 Pier Four Blvd. by a new location of Nantucket’s popular Nautilus restaurant.
• Woods Hill Pier 4 [Official Site]