At PKL, Boston’s newest (and only) pickleball venue, newbies and veterans of the badminton-like sport can have a great time running around and hitting balls, or lounging with a cocktail, or relaxing over slower-paced games of shuffleboard and cornhole — or a combination of all of these. It’s an added bonus, then, that a talented Boston chef is overseeing the food menu and showcasing the best of local sourcing, elevating bar snacks to a new level.
A venue this fun could probably get away with microwaved mozzarella sticks, but happily the team has decided to complement the games with fantastic food, including plentiful vegetarian options and dishes that feel a lot lighter than typical bar fare. Who wants to get competitive over a pickleball match minutes after downing pounds of fried food?
“There are people who would use this place as their actual workout, but they do want to stay and enjoy something, so we don’t want it to be all greasy, heavy food,” says PKL cofounder Brian Weller, who comes from the fitness world. (He and PKL cofounder Dustin Martin previously introduced Boston to the worldwide boutique fitness studio chain Barry’s.) Similarly, Weller notes that PKL offers a selection of nonalcoholic and low-alcohol cocktails in addition to its boozier drinks, providing some options to those who want a festive night out minus the intoxication.
The menu is made to be shared, packed with snacks like wagyu pigs in a blanket, pretzel bites, wings, and nachos. All meats are sourced from iconic local butcher shop Savenor’s, where PKL chef Christopher Walker is general manager.
It’s meant to be “essentially an upscale version of bar food,” says Walker. “You get dishes that are unique, but you also get things that are relatable.”
Take the cheesesteak, for example. “I grew up on steak and cheeses in the Dudley [Square] area, this place called Stash’s,” says Walker. “This is a play on that. How do you bring something that’s known throughout Boston but a little bit different, tasty, and shareable?” He amps up the PKL cheesesteak with a chipotle aioli, a house-made cheese sauce, sauteed peppers and onions, pickled onions, and chives. “It’s a good dish if you’re playing pickleball and you’re like, ‘Alright, I want something I can eat quick but with a little bit of substance,’” says Walker.
In addition to his work at Savenor’s — where he has worked hard to boost the prepared foods section, among other improvements — Walker has honed his skills at a variety of restaurants in Greater Boston and beyond, focusing particularly on butchery and charcuterie. He was on the opening team at the now-closed West Bridge in Kendall Square, for example, a spot that won acclaim for its France-meets-New-England cuisine. He ran the charcuterie program there, making pates, rillettes, accoutrements like jams and mustards, and more. Later, he worked at Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop in the South End, making items like sausages and terrines, eventually taking on a busy dual role as lead butcher and sous chef.
That’s just a fraction of Walker’s resume; he’s been at this for quite a while. “I started cooking with my parents at the young age of about six,” says Walker. “I decided I wanted to be a chef when I was 10; by 12, I picked my culinary school, Johnson & Wales; and I went there when I turned 18.”
Whether you’re going for the food and drink or the workout, or a little bit of everything, PKL is up and running, with 22,000 square feet of space — two bars and dining areas, five pickleball courts with lounge areas that fit 10 people each, a separate lounge tucked away from the action, two shuffleboard courts, and a cornhole area. Find it at the Iron Works development in South Boston, which is also home to Castle Island Brewing Co. (and its in-house bar-style pizzeria, Bardo’s), Tatte Bakery, a forthcoming expansion of Cambridge’s Shy Bird restaurant, and more.
PKL joins a local scene eager for venues that mix sports and fun. Greater Boston’s already home to a fancy dart-throwing bar, a few ax-throwing bars, upscale ping-pong, and more, but PKL is really the first of its kind around here. There are some pickleball courts around town, but this is the only dedicated venue that comes with an irresistible menu of bar snacks with a twist.
PKL (64 C Street, South Boston) is currently open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, with the kitchen open until 10 p.m. daily. Find information on the venue’s website about reservation rates for pickleball and shuffleboard, as well as dining reservations (no pickleball required). The bar areas and lounge are first come, first served.