Review: Maurepas Foods_lowres

Chef Mike Doyle offers creative dishes at his Bywater restaurant Maurepas Foods.

Any neighborhood would welcome a place like Maurepas Foods. It's affordable, casual, artfully refurbished, creative at the bar and serious in its sourcing and cooking.

  As it happens, Maurepas Foods feels particularly at home deep in the Bywater. Theatrically bohemian here, solidly working class there and under rapid renovation just about everywhere, there is a lot going on in this neighborhood, and Maurepas Foods keeps pace with its energy and idiosyncratic style.

  Mike Doyle opened the restaurant in January after a tenure as sous chef at Dante's Kitchen, and he's brought the same farm-to-table aesthetic of that Riverbend standout to his own kitchen. This is why at Maurepas Foods a simple plate of purple kohlrabi becomes a conversation piece, and why a head of romanesco, that trippy, fractal-like cauliflower cousin, can get a table pondering appropriate wine pairings.

  Doyle's menu is designed for quick service and low prices, and it achieves both. Most dishes are under $10, and while you'll likely have to wait for a table (this restaurant has been rolling from the get-go), orders come out at the rapid clip of bar food. This makes it feasible to build a meal as you go. That's good, because the standard appetizer/entree format doesn't work. Most of the dishes are somewhere between appetizers, sides or really small entrees in size. My advice is to order three dishes for two people and take it from there.

  The menu is always changing, though some mainstays include the grilled, head-on shrimp over large-bore Israeli couscous, and steamed mussels, which were excellent with a sharp, sauce-like broth of Stilton and brown ale. Golden pastry caps a stew of plump, nearly-raw oysters that continue cooking in the bowl as you eat.

  Diners generally can discern the size of a dish by its price, but the menu doesn't give much description, and that is a problem with the fish and chips. A tidy assemblage of sauteed drum with soggy Lyonnaise potatoes, it didn't satisfy the notion of fish and chips for anyone at our table.

  The cheese boards and house-made pickle plates fit the concept here. If it sounds like a sausage sandwich doesn't, well, you just have to see this sandwich. The sausage — thick, spicy, encased in a blackened shell — keeps company with tiny bits of squid in a way that seems odd but proves delicious between aioli-smeared hollows of crusty bread. Tiny mint ice cream sandwiches make a fun dessert, though so does another dive into the inventive cocktail list.

  Picture windows around this old corner building frame Bywater streetscapes, and it seems half the neighborhood is inside on any given night. It also sounds that way. It's boisterous and lively, which is good if you're in the right mood, but rather hard acoustics make Maurepas Foods the wrong choice for an intimate dinner. This is a very social spot. If it were in your neighborhood, you'd be here eating and chatting all the time too.