From their giant steaks to their tasty muffins, these now-closed New England restaurants live on in our memories (especially when our stomachs grumble).
By Joe Bills
Jun 23 2022
Here in New England, we develop pretty strong attachments to the places that serve us what, and how, we like best … and boy, do we miss them when they’re gone. We are lucky enough to still have many wonderful eateries from which to choose, from Kelly’s Roast Beef to Louis’ Lunch, and we appreciate them all. But we never let go of our past loves, so let’s step into the wayback machine and revisit a few of the now-closed New England restaurants that live on in our memory.
In the early decades of the car boom, Route 1 in Saugus, Massachusetts, was a bastion of kitschy restaurants, each of which wore its theme proudly and worked to out-do the others. From the Chinese palace Weylu’s to the giant (and rather unhappy-looking) bull at Full of Bull Roast Beef, restaurants and other attractions — including a mini-golf course that featured a 50-foot-tall orange dinosaur — competed for attention as vigorously as reality show contestants.
But even among those eye-catching neighbors, Hilltop Steak House stood out. There was no mistaking the type of experience that awaited after you drove past a pasture of fiberglass cows and turned in at the 68-foot-tall cactus sign. There were “Wanted” posters and bull horns on the walls. Dining rooms were named after places like Kansas City, Dodge City, and Sioux City. The rooms were big, the drinks were big, and the food was big (the standard-size sirloin was 18 ounces, but much larger cuts were available as well). And the profits? They were biggest of all. In its prime, Hilltop Steakhouse was regularly listed among the busiest restaurants in the world.
Hilltop Steak House was founded in 1961 by a butcher named Frank Giuffrida, and it was popular from the start. Despite the restaurant’s impressive size (at 20,000 square feet, it could accommodate up to 1,400 patrons), the porches were often lined with customers waiting to get in. In 1989, Hilltop grossed $60 million, serving more than 2 million hungry diners. But by then the end was in sight: Giuffrida had sold the business the previous year, and it did not fare well under later owners. There was a push to open Hilltop locations across New England, but tastes were changing, and the auxiliary restaurants never quite succeeded in capturing the appeal of the original. The downturn in public favor that doomed the new locations eventually caught up with the original as well, and in 2013, the Saugus Hilltop Steak House served its last meal and joined the ranks of now-closed New England restaurants.
This Boston-based chain was the creation of Cambridge native V.J. Catania. At its early-1970s zenith, Pewter Pot Muffin Houses could be found from Harvard Square to Cape Cod, about 40 of them in all. The lure? Muffins, of course — from standard varieties like blueberry and coffee cake to unusual creations like almond tea and fruit cocktail (there were even “mystery muffins” for daring diners.)
The Pewter Pot was also known for good coffee — served in pewter pots — and hearty chowders, sandwiches, and breakfast foods. (Its clam chowder recipe continues to circulate online, still in demand after all these years).
The interior of most locations had an old-Boston feel, with heavy wooden tables and dark-beamed ceilings. The walls featured murals of a traveling muffin man making his rounds.
Pewter Pot Muffin House did not have a long run. Catania opened his first restaurant in 1963 (belying the menu’s claim of “famous since 1831”), but 10 years later he had sold all the locations except the one in Falmouth. He repackaged it as the Hearth ‘n Kettle and eventually expanding that brand to five Cape Cod locations. He would also later own three other New England classics: the Cape Codder Resort and Residences in Hyannis, the Dan’l Webster Inn in Sandwich, and the John Carver Inn in Plymouth.
New England has seen some long-serving restaurants, but there aren’t many that can say they lasted nearly two centuries. Durgin-Park, a staple in Boston’s Faneuil Hall since 1827, closed its doors on January 12, 2019. At the time of its closing, it was the second-oldest restaurant in Boston (behind Union Oyster House, 1826) and the fifth-oldest in the country.
Durgin-Park’s roots actually go back even further, since it grew out of a food hall that opened shortly after Faneuil Hall’s construction in 1742. John Durgin and Eldridge Park took that over in 1827 (a third partner, John Chandler, came aboard in 1840, but by then it was apparently too late to add his name). Following the 1877 deaths of Durgin and Park, Chandler and his heirs ran the restaurant until 1945. Two more owners saw the restaurant through its next 60 years, until it was finally sold in 2007 to Ark Restaurants, whose other holdings include Bryant Park Grill in New York City and Sequoia in Washington, D.C.
During its long run, Durgin-Park flirted with expansion, operating satellite locations at Copley Place and Logan Airport for a time. But it was hard to match the unique charm of the original, whose hallmarks included long waits, 20-seat communal tables, and sassy/surly waitstaff. The menu highlighted the restaurant’s deep roots, serving up traditional New England boiled dinners and pot roast, as well as steamed lobster, chowders, and broiled prime rib. And for dessert, you couldn’t go wrong with Durgin-Park’s Indian pudding.
In 1931, George and Grace Kimball purchased 200 acres of land in Nashua, New Hampshire, and turned the property into a turkey farm. It fronted onto Daniel Webster Highway, so that’s where they put their farm stand — and business was good. By 1938, the Kimballs had added turkey sandwiches and ice cream to its offerings, and after those were met with high demand, they opened a restaurant in 1940, serving their own turkeys and other fare.
But on November 27, 1950, just four days after Thanksgiving, a massive fire leveled the restaurant. Not having adequate insurance to rebuild, the Kimballs opted to sell. In March 1951, Howard Flanders and his family became the new owners of Green Ridge Turkey Farm, and a rebuilt restaurant reopened the following year. Victor and Anna Charpentier purchased the farm and restaurant in 1954, and they ran it until Victor died in 1966. At that point, ownership passed to Victor’s nephew, Luc Charpentier, who ran the restaurant until it closed in the mid-1990s.
Throughout its run, seafood remained a popular menu item and pies were the go-to desserts, but the star of the show never changed. Every day was Thanksgiving at Green Ridge Turkey Farm, and the roast turkey with stuffing and potatoes and cranberry sauce is what put it on the map. (Well, that and the giant turkey that overlooked it all from the restaurant’s iconic highway sign.)
Today, a mammoth Barnes & Noble bookstore occupies the space where the restaurant once stood.
Founded by Massachusetts native Edward Brigham in 1914, Brigham’s opened in the Boston suburb of Newton as a single shop, with the proprietor selling the ice cream and candy he made in the back room. It was a hit from the start, and before long the store’s popularity soared to the point that on some busy days the police had to be called on for crowd control. Among Brigham’s claims to fame was popularizing — or perhaps even creating — “jimmies” as an ice cream topping.
Brigham’s quickly outgrew its mom-and-pop roots. Dedicated production facilities were established, and more than 20 new Brigham’s locations opened in the 1930s and 1940s. Then when Star Market bought Brigham’s in 1961, it sparked a flurry of expansion that added another 40 restaurants to the mix. At its height, Brigham’s had 100 restaurants across Massachusetts. The food was fine (think burgers, tuna melts, and BLTs), but the ice cream was always the draw. They made a mean lime rickey too.
Following a return to private ownership in 1982, Brigham’s capitalized on its most popular offering and began selling packaged ice cream in supermarkets. When hard times descended in the 2000s, the company was split into two entities, with the restaurant business being sold to Deal Metrics, and the retail ice cream business, along with the Brigham’s name and trademark flavors, being sold to Hood, which continues to distribute them to stores under the Brigham’s name. The final Brigham’s-branded restaurant, located in Arlington, Massachusetts, retired the name in 2015.
Located on the town line between Lexington and Waltham, Massachusetts, Chadwick’s was best known for its ice cream sundaes, and most famously the “BellyBuster”: 20 (some say 30!) scoops of ice cream, carried to the table on a silver platter by multiple busboys, who would pretend to struggle with the weight. Supposedly, the BellyBuster was free to anyone who could eat it all in one go.
Equally memorable were the Chadwick’s birthday celebrations — and since the whole thing worked on the honor system, it was pretty much always someone’s birthday. Actress Amy Poehler worked at Chadwick’s as a teenager in the late 1980s, as did her future Saturday Night Live castmate Rachel Dratch. In a 2013 essay in The New Yorker, Poehler described the scene:
Chadwick’s was one of those fake old-timey restaurants. The menus were written in swoopy cursive. The staff wore Styrofoam boaters and ruffled white shirts with bow ties…. Every time a customer was celebrating a birthday, an employee had to bang a drum that hung from the ceiling, and play the kazoo, and encourage the entire restaurant to join him or her in a sing-along. Other employees would ring cowbells and blow noisemakers. I would stand on a chair and loudly announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are so happy to have you at Chadwick’s today, but we are especially happy to have Kevin! Because it’s Kevin’s birthday today! So, at the sound of the drum, please join me in singing Kevin a very happy birthday!”
Décor included a large-wheeled 19th-century-style bicycle that hung on the wall, and for a while, a Superman cape could be found hanging in the phone booth in the back. But alas, all good things must come to an end. Despite its popularity, Chadwick’s closed in 1998. There is now a daycare center where it once stood, at the corner of Waltham Street and Concord Avenue.
Founded in Boston by Eben Jordan and Benjamin Marsh in 1851, Jordan Marsh & Company was a pioneering department store that expanded throughout New England and beyond, becoming a popular anchor store as mall shopping took off in the 1950s and 1960s. At its height, the Jordan Marsh flagship store at Downtown Crossing was Boston’s largest store, with 1.7 million square feet of retail space. Here, shoppers could not only find a wide range of clothing and items from “around the world,” but also be treated to fashion shows, concerts, holiday exhibits, art shows, and a bakery that soon became famous for its blueberry muffins.
Located on the ground floor, the Jordan Marsh Food Shop and Bakery would have shoppers following their noses toward those signature muffins and other baked goods; once there, they could also browse gourmet snacks and gift baskets. For many shoppers — and especially for any weary kids and spouses who accompanied them — the bakery was an essential part of a long day of shopping at Boston’s destination store.
In the mid-1990s, amid flagging sales, Jordan Marsh closed its doors for good, with the remaining stores being rebranded as Macy’s. But the man who had been behind those delicious muffins for more than 30 years, baker John Pupek, wasn’t ready to let go. So he opened his own shop, the Jordan Marsh Muffin Co., in Brockton, Massachusetts, in 1998. After a six-year run, Pupek retired on Christmas Eve of 2004. Luckily, the recipe has been preserved for those who would like to make those classic Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins at home.
Which now-closed New England restaurants do you miss most?
This post was first published in 2020 and has been updated.