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Pleasant Cafe: a Fantastic Go-To, Authentic Neighborhood Restaurant and Bar in Roslindale, Mass. Since 1937

Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 4/7/2018.

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Pleasant Cafe neon sign in Roslindale, Mass. (Boston neighborhood).
Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, Mass. Photo credit: Joanie Morgan.

At one point driving north on Washington St. in Roslindale, Mass., affords beautiful views of the modern Boston skyline, soon followed by an eye-catching transformation of this densely-populated Boston neighborhood with its new restaurants, boutiques, shops, renovated historic buildings and increasingly appealing walkability factor in central Roslindale Square. Things look very different here than even 15 years ago when closed stores and shuttered buildings marred the innate charm of this working class urban village.

Near Bellevue Hill in West Roxbury, however, at the geographical peak of Roslindale proudly stands a traditional Italian-American restaurant that hasn't changed much since opening in 1937 and still brings in the crowds that love the homey atmosphere and delicious comfort foods that first made them famous locally.

The Pleasant Cafe
(first named Original Parkway Pizza) plays every bit of that role. The iconic old-fashioned marquee neon sign from 1949 (as seen in the picture above) shines brightly out front at night above an inviting swirled glass brick facade, regular brick front, slate tiles, a "Liquors" sign in the right side of the window, "Fine Foods" and "Pizza" mentioned more than a few times, and the name of the restaurant seen in five different places on the exterior. That doesn't count the side of the building where there is more mention.

Pleasant Cafe, Roslindale, Mass (Boston neighborhood)
Pleasant Cafe exterior.

Inside, the front-to-back front wooden bar with diner-like green swivel stools and a long display of drinks against the wood-paneled wall evokes like the kind of scene that your dad or grandfather might have looked forward driving to while listening to Sinatra or maybe Ned Martin and Jim Woods announcing the Sox game through the Philco car radio in the old Chevy station wagon. You could picture a dad or papa stopping by the Pleasant Cafe to enjoy drinks alone, or better yet with neighborhood friends at the bar -- thick Boston accents, stentorian voices, hearty laughs, strong sports opinion, and all.

The old-fashioned bar at the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, Mass.
Bar at the Pleasant Cafe.

Pleasant Cafe seating near the bar in Roslindale, Mass.
Dining area by the bar at the Pleasant Cafe.

Both the bar/dining area and standalone dining room have their own entrances and, inside, are separated by small stair ramps under archways. The separate dining room looks virtually unchanged from back in the day with leather green booth seats and carpet runners, tan tile floors, a drop ceiling, ceiling fans, plain-looking white blinds, old-style radiators, restroom signs with 50s-style fonts, a take-out pick-up area tucked away to the side, and authentic
wood-paneled walls with myriad framed pictures lending a nice touch. Nothing phony has been added to give the dining an artificially-created "new" old look. The only sign of a 21st century bar and restaurant staple: a few flat screen televisions, but they do not come close in size to the humongous TVs that typically tend to oversaturate and overwhelm dining and drinking areas. All in all, the restaurant's frequent use has aged beautifully and gracefully without the need for the building equivalent of plastic surgery. If there was ever a museum for remarkable old school restaurant preservation, the Pleasant Cafe would probably be the lead exhibition.

Pleasant Cafe dining room in Roslindale, Mass.
Separate dining room at the Pleasant Cafe.

Amazingly, the Pleasant Cafe has undergone only one ownership change since its opening when FDR was inaugurated for his second term as U.S. president and Amelia Eahhardt attempted to fly around the world. The Iantosca family ran the restaurant for generations before the Morgan and Lynch families took helm in 1979. John Morgan, wife Joanie and his mom, Joan, run the restaurant today in a true family sense, including the local customers that the Morgans also call family. Regulars frequent the Pleasant Cafe with fierce loyalty and a sense of community, knowing that they can take solace against the complex and often rushed 21st century lifestyles just outside the building. Politicians have been part of the customer fabric, too, from the late, popular Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Boston City Council legend Albert "Dapper" O'Neil to current Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

The locals also like another Pleasant Cafe feature that is rarely seen at other Boston restaurants: free parking across the street in a large lot!

Jack Morgan (John's dad), members of the Lynch family and former bartender George Parelli (he worked at the Pleasant Cafe for nearly 70 years) who are no longer with us would certainly be proud of the tradition being carried on at this vintage restaurant with loads of charm, characters and a few characters along the way. It's a local icon and appropriately named -- a family-friendly place that almost feels like a second home away from home. The food is fresh, simply served and incredibly delicious.

"It's really a good place that knits a neighborhood together," said Bill Carley, a Roslindale native who is in his 50s and now living in Walpole, Mass.

John Morgan, 52, has worked at the Pleasant Cafe since age 13 when he started busing tables. With the exception of cooperative education student jobs when he attended Northeastern University (and graduated), the Pleasant Cafe has served as his sole place of employment. Morgan has virtually done it all at the Pleasant Cafe -- to this very day -- and that includes shoveling snow in the winter (and, often in the fall and spring) to clear the way for hardy New Englanders to arrive at his restaurant.

"I wanted to carry on the tradition and feel honored to do so," said a humble Morgan, of owning the Pleasant Cafe. "To see the customers, the regulars come in day-to-day and to work with staff... yes, it is more of a lifestyle than a job."

John Morgan and mom Joan at the Pleasant Cafe in Roslinedale, Mass.
John and his mom, Joan Morgan at the Pleasant Cafe. Photo credit: Joanie Morgan.

Some of the kitchen and wait staff have worked at the Pleasant Cafe for more than 20 years. Even a relative newcomer like waitress Kim Lore takes on her job with a comfort, ease and personable, genuine nature that belies her relatively short stint here of three years. Lore beams with excitement, in a down-to-earth thick Boston accent, to one customer that she brought extra sauce for the take-home pasta, while enthusiastically recommending the chopped sirloin as one of her favorites to a customer not sure what to order.

Waitress Kim Lore brings carries out food at the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, Mass.
Kim Lore waitresses at the Pleasant Cafe.

The Morgan's son, Jack, worked at the Pleasant Cafe last summer and enjoyed the camaraderie amongst family -- in this instance, with grandma Joan...

Grandson Jack Morgan enjoys working with his grandma Joan at the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, Mass.
Jack Morgan enjoys a moment with his grandma at the Pleasant Cafe.

Of course, the comforting feel of the Pleasant Cafe would be nothing without the phenomenal comfort foods featuring many of the recipes being handed down the generations from the Iantoscas to Morgans. Pizza remains the big draw here and is served from 3 p.m.-on every day except Sunday when pizza is offered starting at noon. The thin-crust pizza -- with pizza sauces and doughs made in house every day -- features a delicious three-cheese blend, a crispy crust, fresh-tasting homemade tomato sauce and quality toppings that are amply added to the mouthwatering mix. The recipe comes straight from the Iantosca years and with no preservatives. It's beyond outstanding.

"The best pizza 'evah'!," said John Delcore, a retired Army colonel who grew up in Roslindale. "I grew up eating at the Pleasant."

Pizza from the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, Mass.,
Pepperoni, pepper and onion pizza from the Pleasant Cafe. Photo credit: Joanie Morgan.

"People seem to love the pizza and it's just not in this area, either," said Morgan, a West Roxbury native. "One guy from Texas loves our pizza so much. He ordered five pizzas to bring back to Texas. It's interesting what you see on Facebook, too, like someone from North Carolina who said he would do anything for a pizza from the Pleasant Cafe."

The Carley family would do anything for a pizza, too, and designated a young Bill to walk what seemed to a virtual mountain to bring back pizza for the family. He and his family found a go-to place the way locals do, to this very day, at the Pleasant Cafe.

"My dad was the only one who drove and he was at work, so my mom would have me walk uphill (a few blocks away) on Walworth Street and I would walk as fast as I could home before the pizza got cold," said Carley. "I'll tell you, it was much easier walking back home downhill than the walk to the Pleasant Cafe. The Pleasant Cafe was a staple for us, especially during Lent when it was either the pizza or mac and cheese... Such a friendly place -- the waitresses would always call you "hon." Before any of us had a car, my friends and I would go there, too, on a cold winter night and go get pizza. It was a lot better than hanging out on the streets...Very fond memories of the place."

Recently, NBC Boston 10 recently held its Boston Pizza Madness Tournament with the Pleasant Cafe earning the number one spot for best pizza in the Boston area.  That's noteworthy, given the competition that includes local landmarks like Santarpio's, Regina Pizzeria, Town Spa, and the Lynwood Cafe. To see the NBC 10 Boston video of the Pleasant Cafe, click here.

"What an honor that was," said Morgan. "We never expected that. We are a neighborhood place where we do our job every day and when something like that happens, it is an honor.  The place went crazy with orders after the good news."

The signs out front hint, however, that the Pleasant Cafe serves more than just pizza. The words "Fine Foods" becomes validated inside with a fabulous offering of appetizers, chicken, steak, seafood, pasta, salads, homemade soups (try the New England clam chowder) and specials with prices that also seem retro. Some other places in Boston charge twice the amount for some of the items seen on the Pleasant Cafe lunch and dinner menus. Very rare is it in the Boston area to see a full service restaurant menu with sandwiches starting at $4.50 and dinners at $9.25.

Pleasant Cafe lunch menu, Roslindale, Mass.
Lunch menu from the Pleasant Cafe.

The chicken and veal parms, chicken broccoli and ziti, chicken cacciatore, shrimp scampi, and steak tips have long-standing status as some of the signature dishes, as well as the weekly specials.  Those specials embody the best of comfort foods: Roast turkey dinner and roast prime rib of beef on Sunday and Monday; Yankee pot roast on Tuesday; roast loin of pork and broiled scallops on Wednesday; New England boiled dinner and roast prime rib of beef on Thursday; fisherman's platter and roast prime rib of beef on Friday; and roast prime rib of beef and baked stuffed shrimp on Saturday. There are also additional blackboard specials...

Blackboard specials at the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, Mass.
Blackboard specials from the Pleasant Cafe.

Recently, I enjoyed the veal parm off the lunch menu (it was more like a full dinner) served with a nice crisp salad, angel hair pasta with homemade tomato sauce and a locally-made roll. It was every bit as good as anything this writer has experienced in the North End of Boston -- a destination known for its Italian food!

Veal parm from the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, Mass.
Veal parm from the Pleasant Cafe.

Angel hair pasta with homemade sauce from the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, mass.
Angel hair pasta with tomato sauce from the Pleasant Cafe.

Salad and rolls from the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, Mass.
Salad and rolls from the Pleasant Cafe.

The generational family recipes combined with excellent choices in local food sourcing help elevate the Pleasant Cafe well beyond typical neighborhood restaurant and bar fare. The Pleasant Cafe has been sourcing locally long before going local was trendy.

"We get our seafood from Jordan Brothers (Brockton) and Captain Marden's (Westwood)," said Morgan. "Captain Marden's delivers seven days a week to us, so that really keeps it fresh. Our burgers are also fresh and we get the beef from Daman (Newmarket Square in Boston). Our veal comes from J. Carter (also in Newmarket Square)."

While the food brings crowds to the Pleasant Cafe, the drinks list also serves as a staple at this unpretentious restaurant and bar.  The Pleasant Cafe has a full liquor license, offers many cocktails, and more than 30 beers and 40 wines. For the non-drinker, they feature Pleasant Cafe Soda including raspberry lime rickey, diet and regular root beer, cream soda and grape.

Drinks list from the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, Mass.
Some of the drinks available from the Pleasant Cafe.

Add some homemade grapenut pudding for dessert -- a traditional New England favorite -- and the overall experience adds up to a dining experience so timeless and heartwarming. This old place never grows old for locals, travelers and transplants and is definitely a go-to type of restaurant in the Boston area with generations of customers to prove it.

"We do get a lot of people who came here with their parents and grandparents and now they come here with their children," said Morgan. "Mostly locals, but those who have moved out to places like Foxboro and Mansfield find their way back to enjoy our restaurant. It's definitely like family here."

Pleasant Cafe is located at 4515 Washington St., Roslindale, Mass. Tel. 617-323-2111. Web site: http://www.pleasantcafe.com Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pleasantcafe. Twitter address: http://www.twitter.com/PleasantCafe.






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