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Red Heat Tavern - VisitingNewEngland small business partnership

The Fire Inside Red Heat Tavern's Unique Grilling Concept

American comfort foods and backyard cooking get a mouthwatering makeover at this popular eatery

Red Heat Tavern, Bedford, Mass.
Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.

Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 2/19/2019.

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The Red Heat Tavern, in Bedford, Wilmington, Milford and Westborough, Mass., and South Windsor, Conn., never includes the phrase "Been there, done that" as part of its culinary vocabulary.

Unlike the traditional measures used to create grilled foods, Red Heat Tavern heats up this food genre with a cooking technique virtually unheard of in New England. They employ a Josper Charcoal Broiler Oven imported from Barcelona, Spain to sear the food, infuse with smoke and lock in bold flavors that taste unlike anything else in the grilled foods category. With heat generated between 600 and 900 degrees, the oven also uses a unique lump coal imported from Paraguay that burns longer and prevents flare-ups -- the latter, of course, the bane of effective grilling.

Amazingly, Red Heat Tavern is the only restaurant in Massachusetts and only one of three in New England that possesses this traditional European cooking oven. Roughly, 80 percent of the menu items from the Red Heat Tavern enter the Josper Oven including chicken wings, ribs, turkey, red meats, corn and even blueberries for the homemade cheesecake.

The unique Josper Grill creates amazing food flavors at the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
The Josper Oven. Photo credit: Red Heat Tavern.

The Red Heat Tavern experience feels like a lively backyard grill gathering that happens to be indoors with the state-of-the-art appliance serving as the conversation piece of the neighborhood. The Josper Oven, however, isn't exactly that easily financed grill with low monthly payments. The cost comes in at $24K. Alan Frati, Red Heat Tavern Director of Operations, says, however, that the Josper Oven is worth every penny.

"There is an art to cooking with the Josper that is different than microwaving, gas and electricity," said Frati. "There is a uniqueness to the food and precise skill is needed to grill correctly. It's an incredible piece of equipment and the food comes out with an amazing flavor. Every dish has a story."

Red Heat Tavern (Bedford, Mass.) classic burger.
Classic burger from Red Heat Tavern. Photo credit: Red Heat Tavern.

Cooks have a strong fire inside to withstand working with the high heat during shifts. This isn't after all, a typical grill. but the staff wouldn't have it any other way. They love the opportunity to work with a grill that other restaurants don't have.

Alan Frati, director of Operations at Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
Alan Frati, director of operations at Red Heat Tavern, brings out a burger from the open kitchen.

"In the beginning, we were making mistakes -- burning stuff -- but there is an evolution to the process," said Frati. "There's extensive training to make sure everyone gets it right. Also, our managers go through a 10-week training program working every job at each station and going through online training."

The result: something very different and quite wonderful for lunch and dinner.

"We never use the term barbecue here to describe the Red Heat Tavern," said Frati, 33, a Salem, N.H. native and graduate of Johnson and Wales University (renowned for its culinary programs) in Providence, R.I. "We refer to what we do as backyard grilling. Not everything that comes out of the grill is barbecue. There is so much more to it than that. And the dining experience is like a party in someone's backyard with, also, great craft beers and music playing. We are family-friendly, too."

Love at First Sight and Whiff

Red Heat Tavern bar and dining room in Bedford, Mass.
Dining room and bar at the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford.
 

Walking from the parking lot to the entrance at the Bedford location reveals a sign of good things to come with the smoky aroma escaping to the outside. Once in the restaurant, it's not only love at first whiff, but also love at first sight. The high industrial-style ceilings, wraparound bar and open kitchen create a lively, fun scene that is also cozy and comfortable. High top tables with thick block wood, red booths, big vertical picture windows, wood floors and ambient hanging lights infuse together as nicely as the food flavors. The "Charcoal Cooking" sign above the open kitchen with busy chefs and cooks creating, innovating and producing remind customers why they came here in the first place.

Many of those customers are true believers and even travel great distances to experience the one-of-a-kind food.

"I travel around New England for work," said Paul Ardizozoniu, of Gilford, N.H. "Back in September of 2018, I stumbled on to the Red Heat Tavern in Wilmington. Since then I have tried every single place at least once, if not two or three times. Fantastic food, setting and service."

Timothy Moore, a Billerica, Mass., resident, lives closer to the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford and takes full advantage of the geographical proximity.

"My wife and I have been to Red Heat Tavern in Bedford on a few occasions and have always had a great experience," said Moore. "The atmosphere at this location is really great, the food is amazing, and the drink selection is great, too. There are many excellent choices on the menu and we’ve tried numerous items. You really can’t go wrong and won’t be disappointed. Everything is very tasty and always really fresh. The restaurant has a real warm and cozy feel and the service quick and attentive. We will be returning to this location soon!"

The Smokehouse pulled pork sandwich from the Red Heat Tavern with several locations in Massachusetts.
The Smokehouse: All natural pork smoked for 12 hours, bread and butter, fried pickles, Granny Smith apple coleslaw, chipotle barbecue sauce on grilled ciabatta with sweet potato fries on the side.

The Red Heat Tavern culinary team makes everything in house from scratch including its own barbecue sauce. The steaks, chicken and fish are cut fresh with nothing ever frozen. They also embrace the farm-to-table movement tapping into locally-sourced foods whenever possible.

Fresh salad from the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Massachusetts.
Fresh greens from the Red Heat Tavern.

The foundation for the Red Heat Tavern's commitment to excellence has deep local roots. Burton's Grill, an outstanding and innovative group of restaurants based in Andover, Mass. that opened in 2005, owns the Red Heat Tavern. Like Burton's, the Red Heat Tavern might initially seem like a chain given its several locations. It is anything but, according to Frati.

"Our CEO, Kevin (Harron), wanted the Red Heat Tavern brand to have the same value that made Burton's successful, but at a lower price point," said Frati. "That was the initial thought and then we expanded from there with this unique concept...
We are not a chain. We are founded in New England. We change the menu every six weeks and the core menu twice a year. We tap into local bakeries and farms and have fresh seafood delivered six days a week."

Additionally, like Burton's, Red Heat Tavern makes a full commitment to being an allergy-friendly certified restaurant with, soon, the ability to be a 100 percent gluten-free facility. Burton's Grill, named "#1" for the most allergy-friendly restaurants in 2018 by Allergy Eats, has certainly gained a stellar reputation for excelling in this sector of restaurant operations and the Red Heat Tavern faithfully follows suit.

"We bread in 100 percent corn flour," said Frati. "Nothing here is pre-breaded, either."

Wonderful Tavern Experience

Dining room scene at the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
Dining room scene at the Red Heat Tavern.

In Bedford, the day has begun long before the customers arrive. An Ipswich Shellfish representative delivers fresh seafood from its truck to the Red Heat Tavern. A team meeting takes place inside. Not one of those phony chain restaurant meetings where everyone must conform to a sterile standard and false enthusiasm, but rather a group of seasoned industry workers and junior staff blending in so well amongst each other with spirit, professionalism and personality. The kitchen staff prepares with hard work ethic and precision in a spotless environment that everyone can see, given the open concept. Frati arrives and starts the day right away speaking with his staff and vendors with the polish, assertiveness and civility of a high-performing executive, while also coming across like someone who never forgot where he came from. He has worked virtually every job in the restaurant field, including as executive chef to help kick off the grand Red Heat Tavern concept at the original Wilmington location several years ago.

"We have a great team," said Alan. "That's what separates us. There's great pride here. All managers, chefs, everyone is passionate and that is a big part of what makes the Red Heat Tavern so special. We share core beliefs."

All walks of life arrive for lunch including military and civilian employees from nearby Hanscom Air Force Base, working professionals from myriad private sector businesses, families, and senior citizens. The local crowd from Bedford -- an extremely tight-knit small town -- has embraced Red Heat Tavern since its opening

A nice way to start off the one-of-a-kind food experience: the handmade jumbo tater tots stuffed with applewood smoked bacon, smoked Gouda, provolone and American Grana cheeses accompanied by housemade ketchup and beer cheese.

Jumbo Tater Tots from the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
Jumbo tater tots from the Red Heat Tavern.

The Red Heat Tavern realizes, also, that daily greens don't have to be boring. Case-in-point: the Thai chicken salad with chopped romaine, Thai basil, red peppers, edamame, red and green cabbage, shredded carrot and cucumbers with cilantro peanut dressing.

Chicken Thai Salad rom Red Heat Tavern in Burlington, Mass.
Thai chicken salad from the Red Heat Tavern.

If wanting something more American traditional, the mesquite chicken Caesar salad stands as a popular choice with its romaine, American Grana cheese, housemade croutons and homemade dressing.

Mesquite Chicken Caesar salad from the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
Mesquite chicken Caesar salad from the Red Heat Tavern.

The mesquite wings start with an all-natural chicken marinated with 13 spices for 24 hours and then slow cooked over coals at 600 degrees. The smoke rolls over the wings and is charred, seared and then tossed with homemade barbecue sauce.

All natural wings marinated overnight from the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
Chicken wings from Red Heat Tavern.

Although the Red Heat Tavern is a relative newcomer to the Boston area dining scene, the steak tips have to be considered among the best in the region -- noteworthy, given all the legendary places that serve this classic comfort food. The Red Heat's version features 3/4 lbs. of tender, mouthwatering coal-fired tips marinated in-house, garlic, housemade steak sauce and
accompanied with herb Parmesan fries. In a way, it's not fair to compare the steak tips with others because the Red Heat Tavern creates a flavor that can't be experienced anywhere else, courtesy of the Josper Oven and skilled chefs and cooks.

Steak tips from the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
Steak tips from the Red Heat Tavern.

The BBQ burger also features that one-of-a-kind Josper Oven flavor and includes applewood smoked bacon, Vermont cheddar cheese, onion strings and honey barbecue sauce on a toasted bun. The charred-meets-juicy-flavor offered at the Red Heat Tavern puts many of those burger chain gourmet burgers to shame.

Red Heat Tavern barbecue burger with applewood smoked bacon, Vermont cheddar, onion strings and BBQ sauce on a toasted bun.
BBQ burger from the Red Heat Tavern.

For the more health conscious, try the Mediterranean Rice Bowl. This mouthwatering dish features lemon rice and fresh spinach tossed in Greek dressing with coal fired Portobello mushrooms, mesquite grilled tomatoes, charred red peppers, Harissa chickpeas, balsamic smoked olives and Narragansett feta cheese. Yum!

Mediterranean Rice Bwol from the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
Mediterranean Rice Bowl from the Red Heat Tavern.

Burton's offers wonderful local seafood, so it's no surprise that the Red Heat Tavern follows suit. This Kettle Chip Atlantic Baked Haddock has a kettle chip crust, sun-dried tomato beurre blanc, lemon rice and grilled asparagus from the Josper Oven.

Kettle Chip Atlantic Haddock from the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
Kettle Chip Atlantic Baked Haddock from the Red Heat Tavern. Photo credit: Red Heat Tavern Facebook fan page.

The Red Heat Tavern also features homemade desserts like the aforementioned blueberry cheesecake. For those who like an adult beverage, the Red Heat offers 24 draft beers (with the exception of the Connecticut location), and an extensive wine and cocktail list.

"We also feature seasonal brews at all restaurants," added Frati.

Bar scene at the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
Bar scene at the Red Heat Tavern in Bedford.

Conclusion

Dining area at Red Heat Tavern in Bedford, Mass.
Comfy red booths at the Red Heat Tavern.

The "Been there, done that" familiarity of restaurants that do the same thing over and over isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as the food and overall dining experience is a good one. It's just that the thrill of finding a style of comfort classics completely different -- yet received well by the general public -- is a revelation. The Red Heat Tavern does just that, and then some, by journeying into virtually unchartered food territories in New England with a much-needed vacation break from the typical. Additionally, while many restaurants get just plain weird with combinations of ingredients that don't always work together (all in the name of "creativity"), the Red Heat Tavern seems to hit a home run with each meal by taking backyard favorites and traditional comfort foods and taking them to the next level with the Josper Oven.

"I have worked in the restaurant industry for years, but like this experience best," said Jerome O'Donnell, a manager at the Bedford Red Heat Tavern. "It's a good place to work and the customers seem to really love the food. I know I do!"

Jerome O'Donnell, a manager at the Red Heat Taver in Bedford, Mass., prepares to bring out food to customers.
Jerome O'Donnell, a manager at the Red Heat Tavern.

Up to 5,000 guests a week arrive at the Wilmington location with between 2,500 to 4,000 at the other locations. It's also a fabulous place for catered food. Ultimately, the build-it-and-they-will-come theory certainly applies at the Red Heat Tavern, and with good reason. Here's to Josper Oven-style grilling and the staff that loves cooking for the public with this medium!

Red Heat Tavern Locations

Wilmington 300 Lowell St., Wilmington, MA. Tel.978-447-5669. Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/RedHeatTavern. Instagram page: http://www.instagram.com/rhtwilmington.

Bedford
152 Great Rd., Bedford, MA. Tel. 781-538-4330. Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/rhtbedford.
Instagram page: http://www.instagram.com/rhtbedford.

Westborough
227 Turnpike Rd. (Stagecoach Plaza), Westborough, MA. Facebook fan page:
http://www.facebook.com/rhtwestborough. Instagram page: http://www.instagram.com/rhtwestborough.

Milford
124 Medway Rd., #1, Milford, MA. Tel. 774-462-5990. Facebook fan page:
http://www.facebook.com/rhtmilford. Instagram page: http://www.instagram.com/rhtmilford.

South Windsor
400 Evergreen Way, South Windsor, CT. Tel. 860-432-5563. Facebook fan page:
http://www.facebook.com/southwindsor. Instagram page: http://www.instagram.com/southwindsor.


Red Heat Tavern web site: http://www.redheattavern.com


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