- HOUSE SPECIALTY: The Florentine, one of Boston's signature pizzas.
We'll be honest: We weren't thrilled to draw Boston's in the restaurant-review assignment pool. It's a chain restaurant, but one we'd never heard of. It's out by the airport, in the former Bobbisox location, which to us meant food prepared for a captive audience — never a good thing. And Boston? With pizza? New York, sure. Chicago, definitely. But Boston?
Still, we traipsed dutifully out there on a recent noontime, buoyed by the “it's not bad” verdict of a co-worker who'd eaten there.
Our overall impression: She was right.
Boston's is a national chain with more than 50 locations — there's also one in Bentonville. The Little Rock restaurant is big and airy, and geared, judging from the predominance of tables and booths designed to seat six or more, toward larger gatherings of friends and co-workers. The music's pretty loud, although not to the point that you can't carry on a conversation.
Pizza is the supposed star at Boston's, but the menu is so vast and varied you'd hardly know that if the restaurant's marketing materials didn't point it out. There's little here you haven't seen before — there is some creativity in the pizza offerings, but otherwise, you'll find pretty standard chain-fare pasta, sandwiches, entree salads and burgers.
Our first visit, we started with the fried green beans, a new addition to the menu and apparently the latest trend in deep-fried appetizers. We suppose if you're going to eat something deep-fried, better to go with vegetables than say cheese or Twinkies — but don't order these expecting to actually taste the green beans. Like many fried things, the breading dominates.
For entrees, we ordered one of the house special pizzas, the Florentine ($9.59 for the individual size), which is topped with fresh spinach and basil, mozzarella, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted garlic. Sounds light, but it isn't: Boston's pizza sauce is dark and heavy, and they're generous with the roasted garlic. Still, it was pretty good. The crust was crispy, and the toppings were fresh and well combined. We ate as much as we could stuff in.
Other signature pizzas: The Tuscan (roasted garlic, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, spicy chicken, feta); the Flying Buffalo (Buffalo cream sauce, spicy chicken, Parmesan bread crumbs and Buffalo wing sauce); and the Caprese (a thin crust with olive oil and Parmesan, topped with tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and a balsamic glaze).
Our companion ordered the Jambalaya Fettucini ($13.79) — pasta tossed with a “spicy Cajun tomato sauce,” grilled chicken, shrimp, Italian sausage, tomatoes, green peppers, green onions and black olives. A critic of few words, he volunteered only that he wished the sauce had been spicier.
For dessert we shared Boston's version of the ubiquitous brownie with ice cream and hot fudge sauce. It's possible, though hard, to screw this one up, but Boston's is fine. We might try the Boston cream pie next time, though; apple crisp and tiramisu are also on the menu.
On our return visit with a different companion, we started with a bowl of cheese dip, which was surprisingly good. It had some kick, and the tortilla chips were light and crisp. Didn't have the guilt-allaying presence of green beans, but at least we weren't even trying to fool ourselves.
The entrees this time around were a little less impressive. We ordered the Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken Penne (lunch portion $9.29, dinner portion $12.99), which is advertised as involving sun-dried tomato pesto and a “hint” of Alfredo sauce, along with grilled chicken. Our waitress brought us the wrong dish — which we figured out when we bit into what we thought must have been a piece of fried, rather than grilled, chicken and discovered it was actually sausage. The correct dish came out pretty quickly, though, and the waitress brought us a complimentary salad in the meantime. Unfortunately, we liked the first dish — we think it was the Baked Penne with Spicy Sausage Pomodoro — better than what we actually ordered, which was fairly bland and didn't have any pesto that we could see. We'll stick with the pizza menu in the future.
Our companion ordered the Alaskan halibut and chips ($12.49), three small filets served with fries and cole slaw. It wasn't anything to get excited about, but probably about as good as you could expect from a chain place that specializes in pizza.
If pizza and pasta don't float your boat, Boston's also has burgers, a few other sandwiches, several entrée salads and a few other entrees, including ribs and chicken parmesan.
Service was fine — typical for a chain restaurant, efficient and unremarkable. The prices struck us as a bit high — $9 burgers, $12 pastas, $10 salads. Perhaps that's where the captive audience part comes in.
Boston's, the Gourmet Pizza
3201 Bankhead Drive
Decent if unimaginative food, a chain-restaurant-vast menu with something for everyone. The pizzas are a good bet.
11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Full bar. Credit cards accepted. TVs in separate sports bar area.