Parker House Rolls and More in Boston


The perfect buns, hot from the oven, came on a cloud of pressed white cotton cradled in a silver basket. They weren’t just any rolls, they were Parker House Rolls – baked, served and soon devoured at the Parker House Hotel.

The Omni Parker House at the corner of Tremont and School streets, a bastion of tradition and old-world elegance founded in 1855 in Boston, is still thriving in the 21st century. It is a culinary landmark, as well as a historic hotel. In addition to the famous rolls, Parker House claims to have perfected the Boston Cream Pie and coined the term Scrod.

I have long chased the holy grail of an authentic, delicious Parker House Roll – light and fluffy with a slightly crispy crust and buttery flavor. My modest success at home never came close. Some local bakeries make fine examples. But I was looking forward to making a pilgrimage to the source in Boston. I was not deceived.

After a sumptuous brunch, restaurant manager Scott Culhane took us to where the buns are made. Descending steep stairs and through narrow corridors below street level, we found the sparkling bakery.

The long wooden tables and industrial-size mixers were clean and ready for early morning action the next day. On the counter, a venerable dough divider stood ready to cut rolls with the pull of its long handle. We were left to imagine the hustle and bustle as rolls, pies, cakes and more were prepared each day.

The breakfast/lunch/brunch menu emphasized the traditional in favor of the trendy. There was an award-winning clam chowder ($10) elegant in its simplicity and a scrod ($30) cooked with buttery cracker crumbs. The blueberry and buttermilk pancakes were appealing for brunch, but when the waiter recommended the corned beef hash ($22), I was all for it. It came in its own cast iron skillet with two eggs (easier for me), breakfast potatoes, and toast – a hearty brunch indeed. The hash – shreds of corned beef and diced potatoes sprinkled with red and green peppers and flavored with onions – nestled in the pan with the hash browns under an egg hat.

The individual Boston Cream Pie, befitting the elegant surroundings, was more elegant than the typical restaurant variety. The chocolate top was artistically swirled like a fancy cappuccino, chopped toasted almonds sprinkled the sides, and a swirl of fruit puree with a handful of raspberries framed it all. But beneath the thrift store was a tender, flavorful cake core with rich custard between the layers.

Corned Beef Hash in its own cast iron skillet with two eggs, breakfast potatoes and toast - a hearty brunch indeed - at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston

Corned Beef Hash in its own cast iron skillet with two eggs, breakfast potatoes and toast – a hearty brunch indeed – at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston

Frank Whitman / For Connecticut Media Group

The Parker House has carefully preserved its historic feel while updating it to avoid feeling musty or fraying. The wood-paneled entry leads to a two-story lobby with carved details and an elaborate tray ceiling lit by crystal chandeliers. Ahead is the eye-catching bank of bronze elevator doors. You can easily imagine former regulars like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes conversing in deep leather armchairs.

Parker’s Restaurant continues the same upscale style with crisp white tablecloths, upholstered chairs, and monogrammed silver. It’s not hard to conjure up Jack proposing to Jackie at Table 40. Over the years, Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton have all chatted over a meal.

While the Parker House is the flagship of New England culinary tradition, there’s a lot more good food in Boston. The seafood is plentiful, fresh and local. Jasper White’s Summer Shack is notable for its impeccably fresh fish, oysters and lobsters served in a cozy beach atmosphere. Try the grilled salmon ($28) with apple fennel salad and parsnip puree or the pan-roasted haddock ($26) with mushroom butter and sherry. (There’s also a convenient Summer Shack branch at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville.)

In Boston, they are particularly proud of the good Italian cuisine of the North End. On a recommendation we went to Vinoteca di Monica. The full menu took a deep and delicious dive into Italian cuisine.

Boston is full of history dating back to the earliest days of our founding. The Freedom Trail is a good starting point. It takes you right past the Omni Parker House – be sure to walk in and sit down to the culinary story.

Frank Whitman writes a weekly column called “Not Bread Alone”. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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