The Phorench Dip with Wendigo's sweet potato fries.
The wendigo is a cryptozoological entity of Algonquian legend, sort of like a werewolf, that represents a human given over entirely to its hungry, animalistic nature.
Wendigo is also a new Stoughton restaurant that serves a burger called "The Cannibal." Upbeat? Maybe not, but stay with me, because this little tavern is pretty charming.
Wendigo has taken over the former Main Street Pour House, and is the second restaurant for Cale and Caitlin Ryan. (The other is Famous Yeti's Pizza, also in Stoughton.) It provides continued evidence of the pair's capacity to craft a concept, flesh it out and execute it well from day one.
The old Pour House was all reddish tavern lighting, wallpaper and nondescript artwork. The Ryans have redefined the space with the new restaurant standards of exposed brick, natural wood and plain black-on-white menu design. Animal portraits (just regular old animals, no freaky cryptids) from local artist Natalie Wright hang throughout, adding both personality and conversation material.
A handsome back bar displays Wendigo's custom liquor infusions, and those in turn tune up a cocktail list that's fun and approachable. Those cocktails shift seasonally (lemon and thyme in a gin cocktail have given way to cranberry, for example), but share an easy-drinking, punchy disposition.
The food menu, on the other hand, doesn't steer from summer to fall quite as nimbly. Ingredients like peach, watermelon, lamb and tomatoes have lingered into mid-October; sweet corn has, at least, already made its exit. Other dishes, more in keeping with Wendigo's cozy feel, work well regardless of seasons.
The punny Phorench Dip, a mashup of the classic French dip and Vietnamese pho, resembles a bánh mì (itself a French/Vietnamese mashup) but resists the problem those sandwiches often have of being all bread and no filling. Ribeye, sprouts, jalapeño, plus a cup of rich, lip-coating jus -- it's delicious, and as much like pho as anything that isn't pho could be.
Tweaking a club sandwich is hardly new, but replacing the bacon with a fairly thick slab of pork belly and pulling it off? Remarkably unlikely. And yet, the Clubhouse is a decadent sandwich that's as good straight out of the kitchen as it is later out of the fridge, which is fortunate because it's massive and will generate leftovers. The Wendi Melt is almost as generously proportioned, and equally deep of flavor. Of particular note here is the fat layer for which prime rib is typically beloved; the meat is cooked right, and the fat is luxurious and tender.
The aforementioned Cannibal burger is poorly described on the menu. I expected pork jowl as a topping, but it is instead stuffed inside the burger. Sadly, it doesn't add much sandwiched between two thin patties. The promised garlic aioli was almost indiscernible. A little more would turn this burger from a good start into a can't-miss.
Wendigo's reach into more composed main courses comes up a bit short. Pesto zucchini pasta exposes another weakness of the menu descriptions; the "pasta" is actually julienned zucchini. While the pesto's flavor is good, and the fried artichokes on top are a strong addition, the whole dish is too oily. Trout tacos (three to an order) are a touch soggy, owing to the tomato cucumber salsa.
The triple vinegar pork is close to the mark but still doesn't quite hit it, the flavors of North Carolina barbecue competing with a mushy and visually unappealing texture. The vibrant, crisp, and really quite lovely carrot/radish slaw that sits next to it highlights how muddy the main dish is.
Ultimately, Wendigo is a tavern, and the best tavern dishes are often snacky portions. Wendigo's poutine is a winner, loaded with your choice of mushrooms or a brisket that, impressively, is prepared for this dish only. (Also an option: choosing both.)
From the list of sides, french fries are solid, sweet potato fries even better -- maybe the best I've had -- and the individual ramekin of green bean casserole was delicious enough to win over my wife, whose allegiance to her mother's version runs deep and strong.
Of course, service as warm and accommodating as Wendigo's would win anyone over, whether it's a server quietly picking up a diner's jacket, which had fallen off the back of her seat, or chatting about those animal portraits. Though young, Wendigo already feels like a natural fit for downtown Stoughton.