Diaspora

Jody Adams reflects on her new Greek restaurants, the future of Harvard Square, and her work ethic – The Boston Globe

The Boston restaurant scene continues to change, but Dorchester’s Jody Adams, 65, is a constant. She comes from a different generation of Boston chefs: Todd English. Gordon Hamersley. Lydia Shire. Adams, who’s from Providence, arrived in Boston in the 1980s, working at restaurants such as Michela’s and Hamersley’s before opening Rialto in the Charles Hotel in 1994; it closed in 2016.
Harvard Square is also a changed place (more on that later), and her focus has changed, too. Now Adams runs Porto in the Back Bay; Trade in the Financial District; and a growing web of counter-service Greek restaurants, Saloniki, with locations in Harvard Square, Central Square, and the Fenway. Two new branches will open this month, one on Newbury Street and another on Beacon Hill.
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“We’re incredibly proud of our spatchcock chicken,” says Adams, who loves Mediterranean food, because “it feels like home.”
Tell me about the new Salonikis.
We’re incredibly excited about these locations. I mean, the one on Newbury Street is iconic. It’s supposed to be a Greek spot — you know, it was Steve’s forever. I can remember going in there before I had children, and then when I had children. So it just seems like it’s meant to be.
It wasn’t like suddenly in September of 2022 we decided to open two new stores. That had always been part of the plan. My partners Eric Papachristos and Jon Mendez are really excited about growing this company and bringing this incredible scratch-based, fresh, homemade Greek food to a bigger and broader audience.
We were supposed to put one in the airport, but because of COVID, the kibosh was put on that. We’ve been in growing mode for a while. It’s just that COVID interrupted the process.
What’s your sense of the city’s foot traffic? What does it feel like in Boston now?
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I’m going to speak anecdotally, from my personal experience, and also then, of course, everything you sort of hear and read. You know, Harvard Square, for instance, was D-E-A-D. When Harvard wasn’t in session, Saloniki bumped along. … Fenway, we were able to keep going because of the hospitals and frankly, you know, the community of people who were coming to have their children taken care of, which wasn’t going to stop because of COVID.
At Porto, we kept that little machine going and pivoted and this and that. And, you know, we really found out that Porto is actually in a neighborhood, even though it feels like it’s the middle of nowhere. Eric will say it’s the worst location in the city. We grew and built during COVID.
I was on Newbury Street on Saturday. Oh, God: It’s like you had to step to the side to let people pass. It was like downtown Manhattan during lunch hour when everybody’s out, when the traffic on the sidewalk is so bad, you’ve got to keep up or get run over. So we’re really excited about that with our location on Newbury Street. Certainly during COVID there were a lot of empty storefronts on Newbury, and those that feel like they’re beginning to fill up again.
But the Financial District, where Trade is, we’re still waiting. What do you call them in the Wild West, those things that go down an empty street? The dust balls?
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What are the neighborhoods to watch in the coming years?
I’m a resident of Dorchester and see a lot of activity in Dorchester. You know, I ride my bike through Nubian Square; I see some activity there. So, that, fingers crossed for me, is what I would like to see. I would like to see Boston actually grow in ways that reach into different neighborhoods. You know, the Seaport sort of sucked the wind out of everything for a while. It has no soul. … It’s a mall. There’s nothing wrong with a mall, but it’s not the neighborhood for everybody that it’s been touted to be. … Don’t get me started!
I want to ask you about Harvard Square. How would you say that neighborhood has changed? If there’s one neighborhood that seems to really strike a nostalgic chord, it’s that one.
I can put on different hats and speak about Harvard Square. So here’s what I would say. I would say that Harvard Square, short of Harvard University, has lost its identity — has lost an identity. Yeah, what is it?
I started going there … back in high school, and then I went back, you know, when I first arrived in Boston, so in the early 1980s. Harvard Square, like I think most places, is forever evolving. … It’s always changing. So the question is, where is it going? There’s been some wonderful, some really nice development, and there’s going to be some in the future that will protect the architectural aesthetic of Harvard Square. You know, I had a conversation with [developer] John DiGiovanni recently, because he’s developing the Garage. And I think he’s going to do a nice job. And I love the Garage, but it needs to be reactivated. When was the last time you went in there to buy something? I think there was a store where my son used to buy all his punk clothes. There were reasons to go in there; Newbury Comics. But I haven’t been in since my kids were teenagers.
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… I think the question is really: What’s the vision for it? And who’s in charge? And when is it going to happen? Because it just feels like it’s been in sort of a holding pattern without an identity for a while.
What was it like to be a young chef in Boston in the 1980s?
I remember feeling like I was a part of something that was really exciting, really important, really hard. It was this energy. And there was a culture. And there was a community, and it was really defined. And we were doing something that was recognized and important. … It was a time when, you know, there were farmers who were knocking on doors of chefs and bringing them bags of dirty potatoes and mismatched zucchini and tomatoes that were still warm because they had just been picked and things like that. There was a woman who was growing beautiful salad greens in greenhouses that I bought for a while when I was at Michela’s. It was an incredible time when there was experimentation and innovation. But it was all about the ingredients.
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So I feel incredibly fortunate. There was no roadmap. I didn’t know anybody. I met people once I got into this world in Boston, but I didn’t know anybody who was a cook in a restaurant until I came to Boston and got a job. There was this sense that everybody had their own neighborhoods, right? Like, Lydia [Shire] had Biba, so she had downtown Boston. Gordon had the South End with Chris Douglass and Icarus. Chris Schlesinger had Inman Square, Cambridge; Todd English had Charlestown. Everybody had their territory. And then Barbara Lynch started building restaurants. I started building restaurants. So then it sort of grew and expanded, but there was this mutual respect for territory, which was interesting.
And Boston was known as a city because we were small, and I think this is probably true of other cities as well. But we were known from the outside looking in, because I remember people saying this: We were known as a community of competitive yet supportive and connected chefs. We were friends, and we knew that if one boat rose, we all rose.
You’re still biking. Didn’t you just do a big race?
I just did the Pan-Mass Challenge. Exercise is the fountain of youth. I’m going to keep going until I drop. Particularly the Pan-Mass Challenge; there are people older than I am who are doing it. And the beauty of the Pan-Mass Challenge is that there are many ways to ride. I do a two-day ride; I could do a one-day ride or a shorter ride. … I’m kind of a monster, and it’s been pointed out to me that I don’t feel pain.
I just march through it; it’s been a real advantage for me in my life, but it doesn’t come from a super healthy place — in terms of mental health, it comes from a really Yankee Waspy background. Pull up your bootstraps, right? Don’t complain! My daughter is much more evolved in many ways than I am. She’s 26 and said: “Mom, you know, that isn’t a good thing, necessarily. You’re supposed to stop.”
Which new restaurants do you want to try?
I haven’t really been out much in the last two years. First it was COVID, and then just getting our restaurants up and going, particularly Trade, has been all-consuming. I haven’t even been to Faccia Brutta! With that said, there are a number of restaurants I have been wanting to try. The places I’m drawn to have all kinds of cuisines: Bosso Ramen Tavern in Harvard Square; Nightshade Noodle Bar in Lynn; Miznon, I’ve heard it’s great for fast-casual; Nomai, Brian Moy’s new place; Nu Flav Haitian Restaurant in Dorchester (I love Haitian food and haven’t been back to Haiti in too long); Moeca, for Michael [Pagliarini]’s Italian seafood; and Pho Linh, Tam Le’s restaurant in Quincy.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.
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