In some ways, The Old Grist Mill Tavern in Seekonk is anything but old. It has been rebuilt three times since converting to a restaurant in the 1930s, most recently due to the infamous banana truck gas main fire of 2012. If you wanted to get technical, very little of the place is actually original; then again, very little of a place is just the place. The building was carefully rebuilt to conserve the character of the original, and looking up to the gorgeous pecky cypress vaulted ceiling upon entering, it’s clear this has been a success. The space feels sharp, even gleaming, but undeniably “old.”
With windows running the length of the building to overlook the Runnins River, the restaurant remains intimately linked with the millstream that once turned its ancestors. As big as this sprawling 200-seater is, it feels quite cozy. As modern as it might be in the carbon dating sense, to eat in this place, one can’t help but feel the company of three centuries of people. There’s the nice buzz of family and friends, and loyal locals speaking knowingly about what things were like “before the fire.”
Just as the name suggests, the food is old school New England tavern fare. The menu is a big one-sheeter, focused on the four S’s: starters, soups, steaks and seafood. You get your choice of starch, veggie of the day and even that ultimate nostalgia act: the salad bar. You won’t find anything new here, but you’d be foolish to be looking. I chose accordingly: a starter of Grilled Littlenecks in a garlic and white wine sauce ($13), followed by a 10oz Prime Rib ($22). My wife went with Lobster-Stuffed Mushrooms ($12) and Baked Crab Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp ($22).
We started at the salad bar, where I reacquainted myself with Bacon Bits. The greens were crisp, the choices plentiful and the ladles were a-drizzling. Among other things, the bread basket we were given contained slices of a loaf of cinnamon bun bread, and there wasn’t a whole grain in sight. Perhaps my Foolproof Barstool Ale qualifies? A session ale is just the thing for a tavern, and their focused selection of brews and wines fit the scene.
For once, I think I out-ordered my clever wife. The grilled clams checked every box: clean texture, grilled just until tender and drowned in a very rich broth of garlic, white wine and butter. I began by squeezing a bit of lemon to add something bright to each slurped clam, but it wasn’t long before I was doing it right, clumsily sponging up sauce with the airy grill-marked bread. Her appetizer was a row of baked crimini mushrooms, richly stuffed, topped with a melted cheese and flecked with lobster chunks. The lobster gets rather lost in the cheese, I thought, as I gobbled down the last one.
Turning to our mains, my wife’s stuffed shrimp featured a variation on the same bread crumb stuffing we had with the mushrooms, but the generous amount of crab came through. The shrimp itself was easily the best part: well cut, generously portioned and perfectly cooked. My prime rib was a real highlight: roasted perfectly and medium-rare from border to border as God intended it. Food historians could dispel any thought of this being a historically accurate miller’s feast, but, swirling each plump pink forkful in its own juice, a man could dream. This was accompanied by a humble baked sweet potato – skin just charred, flesh perfectly soft – and the veggie of the day, baby carrots, heavily buttered and very lightly herbed. Finally, the crucial pot of jus, poured with abandon, binding everything together.
To finish, or in this case, to tap out, we were obliged to share dessert. In a world of deconstructed desserts, here we visit with trusted friends like chocolate cake, apple pie and strawberry shortcake. We went with what was a textbook Tiramisu ($6), with interlaced drizzles of chocolate and caramel adding some panache. Perhaps it could have used a bit more coffee, but not as much as I could have used the hungrier stomach of my forbearers, or their more honest day’s work. Even if your Monday doesn’t involve hauling sacks of grain, this is a great day to try out the Old Grist Mill Tavern. The Monday special means $24 will get you satisfaction, with a 10 oz Prime Rib, soup and a house wine or beer.
The Old Grist Mill
390 Fall River Avenue