Chef and restaurateur Jason Santos just wants to have fun. “I won’t do anything if it’s not fun,” he tells Eater, a few days prior to the August 9 opening of his second location of Buttermilk & Bourbon, his New Orleans-inspired homage to Southern cuisine. “I take creative liberty with a lot of things to give people what they want. When you open a restaurant, what you want it to be and what it becomes are two very different things. I’m humble enough at this point to know: Give them what they want.”
As such, this isn’t a strict interpretation of New Orleans food (but yes, there are beignets); it’s more of a whimsical take on the city and the South as a whole, featuring some regional ingredients and bestsellers from Buttermilk & Bourbon’s original location in Back Bay, which opened in early 2017.
The new location (100 Arsenal Yards Blvd., Watertown, within the Arsenal Yards development) features a Marra Forni brick oven. It’s the brand of choice for a lot of upscale pizzerias, but here it’s for oysters. There are roasted oysters with chargrilled butter and romano crumbs, inspired by New Orleans icon Felix’s. “The first time I went to New Orleans, I ate 8,000 of those in two days,” says Santos. There’s also oysters Rockefeller and Buffalo fried oysters. Raw oysters and a couple other raw bar items round out the seafood portion of the menu.
Aside from the expanded oyster selection, the menu at the Watertown Buttermilk & Bourbon looks much like the one at its Boston counterpart, but only for now. Staples like the fried chicken and the biscuits will stay, but after the opening menu, which mostly relies on favorites from the original spot, the locations will diverge. “We’ll definitely be different; we’re in a different area, so we should be,” says Santos. The new location also features a three-season patio, a fireplace, and live music.
Santos also runs coastal Mexican restaurant Citrus & Salt in Back Bay and casual seafood restaurant B&B Fish in Marblehead, and while it’s not impossible that those could one day expand, Buttermilk & Bourbon was the clear choice for this particular expansion. “People sincerely love it, and I sincerely love it,” says Santos. “I love everything about it — I love the brand; I love [New Orleans]; I love the culture. I knew that if I were to grow, I wanted to do Buttermilks.”
Here’s an inside look at some of the dishes on the opening menu:
Aged Gouda Mac ‘n’ Cheese
“We always do a mac and cheese,” says Santos, noting that this particular one was on the opening menu at the original location and was “easily the most popular thus far.” It features gouda — but “not that crappy processed gouda; it’s a really good aged gouda” — and “pork scraps,” which come from all the leftover bits of the restaurant’s many pork products (bacon, tasso ham, pork belly, and more). There’s also a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos crust. “I’m not really into the cliche things — I try not to get on the bandwagon of all that crap — but it really is good,” Santos says, noting that he serves Flamin’ Hot street corn at Citrus & Salt and B&B Fish, and it’s extremely popular. On the mac and cheese, it bakes into a crunchy crust and adds a bit of “whimsy” atop the creamy gouda sauce.
Red Apple Wedge
“We’re trying to take a wedge and make it a little more fun,” says Santos. It’s made with cut slab bacon, and the dressing features blue cheese made at Clemson University in South Carolina, which is also in the Buffalo oyster dish. “It’s unbelievable blue cheese,” he says. “It’s delicious, really creamy, and not pungent. If you don’t like blue cheese, you might actually like Clemson; it’s a little bit more mild.” The wedge gets topped with candied walnuts and shaved apple. “Kind of the obligatory bacon and blue cheese,” Santos says, “but better bacon, super cool.”
Spicy Fried Cauliflower
One of a few vegetarian-friendly dishes on the menu, the cauliflower is blanched, soaked in buttermilk and hot sauce, tossed in cornstarch, and fried until crispy. The sauce — a red jalapeno vinaigrette — is “kind of a riff on Buffalo sauce.” The dish is finished with goat’s milk feta (“far superior than sheep’s milk feta”) whipped with lemon juice and garlic, as well as the restaurant’s own version of everything spice, with fried garlic, poppyseeds, fennel seeds, and coriander seeds.
Cast Iron Baked Brie
“We’ve done many versions of this,” says Santos. “It’s a huge seller.” A big piece of brie is baked in cast iron with caramelized onions and drizzled with Steen’s Syrup, a cane syrup from Louisiana. The dish is garnished with gooseberries, spiced pecans, and grilled bread from Cambridge-based Iggy’s, “which is the best,” says Santos. He’s been using the bread in his cooking since he was 19 years old. “Their focaccia would be part of my last meal,” he says.
Slow Roasted Baby Back Ribs
“When we tell people how we do them, they’re always like, ‘What?’” says Santos. He marinates the ribs, wraps them in plastic, then wraps them in aluminum foil before baking them in the oven — “they basically steam so they become super, super tender” — and then grilling them and tossing with a Carolina mustard barbecue sauce. The ribs are served with pickled cherry peppers and a potato salad that Santos has been making for over two decades.
Obviously there’s bourbon — nearly 20 varieties — as well as rye, scotch, whiskey, beer, cider, and wine. Cocktails include some frozen options, hurricanes on tap, some bourbon-based drinks (like a chocolate praline Old Fashioned), and more.
Buttermilk & Bourbon’s Watertown location is open for dinner daily, beginning at 5 p.m., with lunch and Sunday brunch coming soon. Reservations are available online.