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How Tessie's Bar & Kitchen Became An Instant Favorite in the Heart of Walpole Center, Mass.

This suburban Boston restaurant offers a burger bar scene that is truly rare and well done at the same time

Tessie's Bar & Kitchen, Walpole, Mass.
Tessie's Bar & Kitchen on Main St. in downtown Walpole.

Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Article updated on 7/16/2019.

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The third time has been a charm for Mark and Maura McAuliffe, owners of Tessie's Bar & Kitchen located in the heart of downtown Walpole, Mass.

The husband and wife team always loved the 1006 Main St. location at the charming, quaint historic Walpole Center Block Building that dates back to 1927. The challenge: how to build a food destination that people could enjoy in the small 900 sq. ft. space.
A few doors down, Mark and Maura had already found their restaurant pot of gold with The Raven's Nest -- a cornerstone business with its wonderful Irish pub meets contemporary American full service restaurant. Mark and Maura were simply trying to complement The Raven's Nest with a smaller more intimate place that had it own personality.

After several years of trial and error with a coffee shop and a wine and chacuterie bistro, Mark and Maura happily found far greater success with
Tessie's Bar & Kitchen -- a burger bar going far beyond the industry standard. Locals have instantly connected to the small, cozy environment and found the locally sourced burgers, salads and other menu items top-notch.

Mark soon found himself working 14 straight days to meet the needs of consistent crowds since its soft opening at the beginning of June 2019.

"I knew it was going to be successful, but didn't think it would take off the way it did," said Mark, a County Cork, Ireland native.


Tessie's popularity wasn't just a curiosity factor, however, as word-of-mouth, for better or worse, gets around quickly about new businesses in this close-knit small town. Fortunately, for Tessie's Bar & Kitchen, that word-of-mouth was for the better.

Sign at Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in Walpole, Mass.
New sign, new restaurant.

Pam Driscoll, a lifelong resident with a good sense of what businesses work in her hometown, raved about Tessie's.

"I love the new place," said Pam. "The food, the vibe... great addition to the town center."

Burger and garlci tater tos with homemade ketchup from Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in Walpole, Mass.
Burger with garlic tater tots from Tessie's.

Previously at this location, both the Coffee Perch and The Raven's Vine & Tap certainly rose to the top of their genres but had their challenges. Coffee shops with drive-throughs remained the preferred brew in this area. Cured meats and cheese with a wine and beer menu was a fantastic idea but didn't fully cure what the locals were looking for in a new downtown restaurant. Mark and Maura took these two former dean's list-caliber spots and transformed the storefront into a Magna Cum Laude-level dining establishment by first employing a few simple tweaks for their impending burger bar: graduate from a beer and wine license to a full liquor license and build a full kitchen for maximum culinary possibilities. Tessie's Bar & Kitchen now offers everything on The Raven's Nest drinks list including more than 15 different draft beers, an extensive wine list and many signature cocktails. Mark and Maura cleverly had the front-to-back kitchen built at the lower level of Tessie's, given the small dining and bar area upstairs needed to be solely dedicated to eating, drinking and good conversations.

All this has added up to one instantly likable, fully functional place that is about as comfortable and agreeable as it gets when dining out.
There are clear virtues in the small restaurant concept starting with a sense of belonging and community.

Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in downtown, Walpole, Mass.
Cozy atmosphere at Tessie's Bar & Kitchen.

"We picked things that we like to eat when dining out," said Mark. "It is different than The Raven's Nest. A different type of burger, salads. It's a comfortable place, too. The music is on, but people can talk. It's not too loud, not too soft."

Tessie's: Mark and Maura's Excellent, Thoughtful Adventure

Mark McAuliffe, owner of Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in Walpole, Mass.
Mark pours a drink at Tessie's.
 
While the number of burger bars in the Boston area are about as saturated as the fat in a burger, few stand out as great overall experiences. That's because many of these restaurants follow a paint-by-numbers model without that sense of community. It is often about following the trend, making a lot of money and, for some, opening a business to ultimately franchise it.

While Mark and Maura recognize the value of a valid trend, they created Tessie's Bar & Kitchen with a genuine, thoughtful approach and a love for family and Walpole. First, Mark made sure to name the restaurant after his daughter and his 87-year old mother (who lives in Ireland). Oh, and one more inspiration, a Boston Red Sox mascot: Tessie is Wally the Green Monster's little sister. Turns out the McAuliffes are huge baseball fans!

Looking at the restaurant inside and out, as well as tasting its menu offerings based in local food sourcing, it is clear that Mark and Maura have hit a home run with Tessie's Bar & Kitchen with, no doubt, a hall of fame restaurant future.

Outside, colorful flowers enliven the scene with some outdoor seating available for those comfortable summer days or nights. The awning, by the way, was salvaged from a jewelry manufacturing plant being demolished in nearby Attleboro...

Walking to Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in downtown Walpole, MA.
Approaching Tessie's in downtown Walpole.

Maura's brother, John Davis (a contractor), traveled with Mark 90 miles out to this barn in rural western Massachusetts to purchase old barn wood to repurpose for the bar at Tessie's...

The barn in Hadley, Mass, where Mark McAuliffe traveled to for repurposed wood to be used at his restaurant, Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in Walpole, Mass.
Photo credit: Tessie's Bar & Kitchen web site.

They first met with "Joe the farmer" (pictured right) at his farm in Hadley...

Contractor (left) meest with "Joe" the farmer in Hadley, Mass., and brings back repurposed wood to create the bar at Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in Walpole, Mass.
Photo credit: Tessie's Bar & Kitchen web site.

And then filled John's truck to the brim to bring back the repurposed wood, thus eventually creating the bar's beautiful look that flows so nicely with the dining room...

Bar and dining room at Tessie's in Walpole, Mass.
A one-of-a-kind look at Tessie's.

The reclaimed barn wood flourishes, post-and-beam design under the 20-ft. high industrial ceilings, the high top tables, handsome bar and brick walls help create an incredibly welcoming rustic, casual atmosphere. These nice elements, however, do not solely set the tone. It's almost like the small town ways of Walpole have permeated into the restaurant and graced every square foot with a hometown feel. The friendly feel happens through conversations, the owners who love the town, or by just watching the pulse of the downtown through the windows. Smaller spaces can bring about bigger relationships and that is exactly what is going on among townsfolk, out-of-towners and staff at Tessie's. Limited space can magically create unlimited meaningful interaction and it always helps when there is good food and drink to enhance the experience. Tessie's is definitely that kind of place.


Back to the design, the brick wall contains two notable features.
First, Mark and a few friends spent a week painting each brick by hand. Then, large framed baseball pictures were placed on the wall to honor America's Favorite pastime -- next to eating and drinking, that is.

Cozy place: Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in downtown Walpole, Mass.
Brick walls, baseball pictures, game watching and conversations at Tessie's.

"It took a while but it was worth it," said Mark. "We used chalk paint on the brick and it came out really well. We love the look, too, of the baseball pictures on the wall."

The Main Course...

Tessie's sources local grass-fed beef and produce from local farms as a great starting point for the stellar food experience. Burgers are hand-formed and cooked using a smash method to keep all the flavor and juices. Served with a choice of house fries, tater tots or homemade cole slaw, the burgers have a simply phenomenal, one-of-a-kind taste. Many of the trendy burger bars and chains, in an attempt to be different, end up having a sameness in the taste of their burgers. It's like a new normal that has become almost predictable, in some cases. Tessie's, on the other hand, offers a burger that tastes unique, in the best sense.

It's all hard to describe and better to be tasted but clearly, the chef has an idea of what to do with burgers. Tessie's offers 10 specialty burgers, but also a "Build Your Own Burger" option by choosing the type of bun (the potato bun is best), sauce and toppings. The Tessie Burger is a fantastic option with cheddar, onion bacon jam, shredded lettuce, tomato and smoked avocado aioli...

Mouthwatering burger from Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in Walpole, Mass.
The Tessie burger.

"People love The Tessie Burger," said Mark. "And they are going bananas over that onion bacon jam (there's a hint of maple syrup in the mix, too). It is so delicious. Somebody said we should put it in a jar and sell it."

Tessie's also features beautifully created fresh salads like "And The Beet Goes On" with mixed greens, roasted red peppers, gold beets, goat cheese, pistachios and tomatoes, all tossed with lemon honey vinaigrette...

Beet salad from Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in Walpole, Mass.
And The Beat Goes On salad from Tessie's. Photo credit: Tessie's Bar & Kitchen Facebook fan page.

Tessie's also makes a stellar, amply served mac and cheese dish with housemade four-cheese sauce, mini penne and topped with Ritz Crackers.

Baked mac and cheese from Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in downtown Walpole, Mass.
Mac and cheese from Tessie's.

The Chili Bowl features a hearty, flavorful taste with the right mix of ground beef, melted cheese, sliced jalapenos, scallions, and tortilla chips served with sour cream on the side.

The Chili Bowl from Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in downtown Walpole, Mass.
The Chili Bowl.

Tessie's menu features many other standouts including Buffalo fried cauliflower, wings,  crispy fried pickles, steak and turkey tips and the fried chicken sammie: hand-breaded chicken, bacon, shredded lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and honey mustard sauce on a pretzel roll. "The Harry Dog is is another highlight with an all-beef frank, potato bun, ketchup, mustard, relish and onions.

Hot Dog from Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in Walpole, Mass.
The Harry Dog from Tessie's. Photo credit: Tessie's Bar & Kitchen Facebook fan page.

If having any room for desserts, Tessie's offers some fresh-made offerings like the chocolate cheesecake.

"The main focuses are to serve fresh food and do it well," said Mark.

Location, Location, Location

Tessie's Bar & Kitchen is located in historic, quaint downtown Walpole, Mass.
Tessie's Bar & Kitchen on Main St. in Walpole.

Tessie's overlooks a classic small-town New England scene framed by a church with a tall white steeple, three town commons, American flags and the understated brick grace of a historic building block in which the restaurant resides. The most prominent sight from Tessie's large picture windows (that open up during good weather) is the unique stone gazebo built in 1901 at the town common. This is the home of many concerts and other forms of entertainment as well as presidential visits. JFK spoke here once when campaigning to become the 35th U.S. president. It's a stunning sight that reminds us that we are officially in New England. First, a view from Tessie's...

View of the historic stone gazebo at Walpole Town Common in Walpole, Mass. from Tessie's Bar & Kitchen.
Historic gazebo beyond the windows at Tessie's.

And then by taking a nice walk around the town common after lunch or dinner to see the gazebo and green space up close while spotting a wonderful Main Street USA scene in downtown Walpole...

Up close at the Walpole Town Common Gazebo in downtown, Walpole, Mass.
A closer look at the town common gazebo.

"We love the town center," said Mark. "It is so quaint, so historic. Walpole is really a fantastic town and we are so glad to be here. The town common really adds a lot to the town. It's beautiful and has so many events going on like Santa's visit and concerts."

Walpole town common across the street from Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in downtown Walpole, Mass.
Walpole town common.

Conclusion

A look at Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in downtown Walpole, MA.
Cozying on up to the bar at Tessie's.

Tessie's took more than a year to open and left people wondering, "Why is it taking so long to open a restaurant that is so small in size?"

Mark has a simple answer.

"It took a while because we wanted to do everything right," said Mark. "We didn't want to be in a rush and that allowed us to do things correctly. We strive for perfection."

Mark points to a Guinness beer glass as a metaphor to the time it took to open Tessie's.

"The lesson of the story 'The Tortoise and The Hare' was that the tortoise was more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than acting quickly and carelessly," said Mark. "That's what we did here."

Guinness glass at Tessie's Bar & Kitchen in downtown Walpole Mass.
Guinness glass with tortoise logo at Tessie's. Photo source: Tessie's Bar & Kitchen Facebook fan page.

The slow build ultimately led to a fast start at Tessie's Bar & Kitchen. The growing crowds suggest this cozy, instantly likeable restaurant could very well become a cornerstone "go-to" restaurant -- just like its big brother, The Raven's Nest -- in the near future. It is that good of a place. Additionally,
they also realize downtown Walpole is about to change with nearly 400 market-rate apartments scheduled to arrive within a year. Knowing that more customers are on the way but with a limited small dining space, Mark and Maura plan on signing up with food delivery services so that new and current residents, alike, can enjoy Tessie's delicious foods at home. It's all part of a visionary plan, first having started with construction of the full kitchen downstairs.

Call it all a small restaurant in a small town with a big vision and heart.

"We are very excited about Tessie's," said Mark. "It is so intimate and welcoming. We are creating great things in the kitchen. Everyone loves burgers and salads. And the service is so good. Unlike larger restaurants, the waitresses don't disappear. Here, the waitresses can't do that nor would they want to. It's like going into someone's living room!"


Tessie's Bar & Kitchen is located at 1006 Main St., Walpole, MA. Tel. (508) 734-5746.
Log onto the Tessie's Bar & Kitchen web site and on Instagram and Facebook for more information.

Be sure, too, to visit Mark and Maura's first restaurant in Walpole, The Raven's Nest!



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Tessie's Bar and Kitchen is a cozy burger bar in downtown Walpole, Massachusetts.


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