A chance meeting with Michael Tallon of Townsend’s

I decided to take a short walk during my lunch break yesterday afternoon. For kicks, I walked down past Townsend’s (81 Fairmount Ave in Hyde Park) to peek into the window of TC’s Coffee Shop (next door). Nope… not open yet. As I walked back, I paused for a moment to read Townsend’s menu. The first thing I noticed was that the kids menu was prominently displayed in the window as well. “Very cool,” I thought “I love it when restaurant owners aren’t afraid to welcome children.” As I perused the menu, I was also very impressed with the diversity of ingredients and the lack of “typical pub grub” that appeared. Everything sounded delicious…

As I turned to walk away, Michael Tallon – owner of both establishments (and previous owner of the Kendall Cafe) – popped his head out and asked if I wanted to come inside. Now I’ve conversed with Michael a few times via email… but he’s never met me, so he had no idea who I was. I introduced myself as I accepted his offer and was pleasantly surprised by his hospitality toward a complete stranger during hours the restaurant isn’t even open.

A Poland Spring’s guy took advantage of the situation and followed me through the front door — pitching his products to Michael as I looked around and took in the atmosphere. The space is great… very open, with rich, earth tone walls and vaulted ceilings, a huge fireplace and intentionally weathered hardwood floors – together creating a very warm and welcoming environment. The place reminded me very much of the Washington Square Tavern (which I love) – just on a grander scale.

When Michael finished up with the sales guy, he spent the good side of 45 minutes giving me an impromptu tour of the entire space, including the kitchen and the very zen-like back patio. After, we walked over to TC’s for a peek of that as well. The entire time, he discussed his ideas and inspiration for the restaurants. It was an extremely pleasant experience – one that left me anxious to return during open hours to feel the vibe and try the food.

There were several aspects of our conversation that really struck me — I wish I could share our entire conversation with you. However, this was an impromptu visit — no notebook and no pen means no notes. I will properly review Townsend’s after I return for a dining experience, but in the meantime, I will try to convey some of Michael’s finer points that I think my readers will find both interesting and enticing.

Michael’s expertise and background is in beer and wine — and it’s apparent by the diverse menus and by his wealth of knowledge in these mediums. The menus are constantly being updated to offer clients a new experience every time they visit. He thrives on making recommendations and offers flights of beer and beer-paired dinners to demonstrate his skills. It is very important to him that his customers are involved in his restaurant and are provided with a very personalized experience.

There aren’t many vegetarian items on the menu; but don’t let this hold you back from a visit. His Executive Chef, Stephen Hoddinott has withheld vegetarian options intentionally. He would rather visit with patrons at their table, listen to their likes and dislikes and then craft a meal made especially for them. No default pasta marinara or fettuccine Alfredo; rather, a custom dish made with the same fresh ingredients and seasonings the other dishes offer.

In fact, all dishes are made to order in a very similar fashion; therefore, if you see a dish you like on the menu — but don’t care for an ingredient or two, the chef is very happy to alter the dish to your liking. The same holds true for the beer and wine varieties. Don’t see something you like? You can either ask Michael for a recommendation based on your flavor preferences or request an addition to the menu.

The hidden back patio has a very different feel than the indoor space. Natural wood paneling, slate tiles and teak-like tables and chairs give the space a very Asian-garden feel. There is also an upstairs space that has a separate bar and can be reserved for private parties and events. While just a candelabra sits in the fireplace right now, the winter brings a roaring fire where you can sit sipping an after dinner aperitif or two. I may seem like I’m going on and on about this place… especially for not having eaten there… but I was very impressed. Impressed with the layout, impressed with the menu and most impressed with Michael.

Though they are not open for lunch as of now, they do offer a brunch menu that includes traditional Irish fare as well as German pancakes and classic Crepes — and a separate bar menu for those of you who want to nosh on a few smaller dishes. I will probably hit them up for dinner first… as there were several dishes calling my name.

The location is kind of off-the-beaten-path… but so was Roslindale Square ten years ago and look at it now. The positive side to the location is that it’s a short walk from two different commuter rail stations and there is plenty of on-street parking. Additionally, Michael and his family live in Hyde Park… so the addition of this space is giving back to the community.

Take my word for it… this place is worth a look-see. I’ll report back as soon as I’ve had a chance to get there for dinner!

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