After six years of planning and building, a pair of Auburndale residents finally achieved their dream and opened Ward 4 in June 2021, cheekily named after the fourth voting ward of Newton, where the community restaurant sits.
“They’ve never had that neighborhood spot to go to, so it was always a dream, just finally opening and having that spot,” said Doug Peel, General Manager for Operations for Ward 4. “The whole concept is ‘neighborhood spot,’ so what better way to pay homage to the neighborhood than naming it after the neighborhood?”
On the western outskirts of Newton, Auburndale is the part of the suburbs that’s just shy of being considered “the country,” exemplified by the over 250 acres of preserved wildlife refuge across the Charles River from the town, marking the town’s border.
The small, sleepy town hasn’t changed much since Walter Devine and Chris Noble, Ward 4’s owners, grew up there, with the same small mom-and-pop grocery markets and hairdressers lining the streets for decades. Devine and Noble lived their whole lives in the tight-knit community.
They love the small-town life, according to Peel, but always lamented the fact that their Auburndale family never had a gathering place to celebrate the community’s closeness. This longing sparked their long-term dream of opening a restaurant to give back to the town they loved so much.
“[Residents] were saying they’ve never had that spot anywhere near here where they could [stay for hours],” said Peel, who has worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years. “And the fact that they can now—they love it, and that’s why we’re doing it.”
Peel has worked with the two owners since January 2020. From designing the menu to staffing or cooking on the line, Peel handles anything and everything in the restaurant. He had a large hand in building the restaurant.
“Everything inside here, all the rich walnut, is all hand cut. We did it ourselves. There’s literal blood, sweat, and tears in these walls—I can show you the stains,” Peel said, pointing to the restaurant’s rough exposed brick wall with a hearty laugh.
During a snowstorm this winter, Peel had given his staff the day off, but he still opened the restaurant alone. He hadn’t expected the flocks of people that would come to Ward 4 that day for heat, Wi-Fi, and a home-cooked meal due to the many power outages across Newton.
It was a busy night for Peel, with many of the guests staying from open to close, but he promised to cook anything and everything the people wanted—even short rib, Ward 4’s most laborious recipe.
Ward 4’s high ceilings, dark wood floors, dusky stone bar top, and oversized, plush leather booths give the restaurant a warm, homey, and comforting feel. It’s the kind of atmosphere that makes you lose track of time.
Only when the sun sets, sending a hazy orange glow through the floor-to-ceiling front windows and the many skylights across the restaurant, will you realize you’ve been at your table for two hours. It’s the perfect place to catch up with friends and enjoy fresh, made-from-scratch food and artisan cocktails.
“You want to have that neighborhood spot, but also a place where people are happy to come,” Peel said. “Happy to enjoy the food, thrilled when they can sit down at a really relaxed atmosphere and get a pan-seared salmon over a bed of risotto, ’cause why wouldn’t you want to have that?”
Peel’s motto in the kitchen is “if we can do it ourselves, we do it ourselves.” From the restaurant’s hand-cut french fries to made-to-order chicken tenders, Peel said he wants to make sure the guests at Ward 4 are getting a fresh, handmade meal that tastes delicious without having to spend $50 on a plate.
Everything on the Ward 4 menu is under $30, with some items—like individual tacos—listed for just $5.
Ward 4’s menu has something for everyone, from classic pub food like wings and various kinds of french fries to Boston classics like fish and chips, to tacos, burgers, bolognese, steak frites, and a variety of vegan options.
“When we were putting it together, it was like, ‘Okay, let’s take all the comfort aspects of things people love and make it so it’s an unforgettable dish that makes people say, ‘Yes, I’m coming back,’” Peel said.
Ward 4’s bolognese is made with fresh pasta and a sauce “done right,” according to Peel, utilizing three cuts of meat and a cooking time of three hours.
One of its newest menu items—a vegan cauliflower taco—has quickly become its second-most popular dish, only behind the crispy brussels sprouts with bacon. The team at Ward 4 is always looking to create new recipes and try new ingredient combinations to keep its menu updated and give guests another reason to continue coming back.
Peel said that a lot of Ward 4’s menu items and rotating dishes come from the chefs throwing things together in the kitchen when making their own meals. He’s also inspired by Food Network competition shows when working in the kitchen, seeing what ingredients he has on hand and thinking about how he can modify them to create a new dish.
“It’s one of the best things about working in a restaurant like this,” Peel said. “We’re small, we’re local. There’s not someone down the corporate line screaming at you to use exactly two ounces of pasta. You get to play around with different things, experiment, and see what works.”
Ward 4’s bar operates with the same casual, experimental philosophy with over 60 whiskies and bourbons, 20 rotating taps, and 24 rotating wine selections. It also serves a variety of speciality cocktails—all with Newton-inspired names—that Peel said are subtle takes on many classic bar cocktails. The “Green Line,” for example, is a gin drink with lavender liqueur, green Chartreuse, St. Elder, cucumber, and lime.
Along with great food, drinks, and company, Ward 4 hosts many live events to help bring the community together, such as open mic nights every Wednesday from 7:30 to 10:00 p.m. and live music most Saturdays. A full schedule of Ward 4 events can be found on its website.
This summer, Peel said that a back patio with a beer garden feel may open at Ward 4, complete with an outdoor bar and designated performance area for live music. He said he may also introduce a whiskey club, allowing participants to get a special, engraved whiskey glass at the restaurant after trying a certain amount of different bourbons.
Starting in April, Ward 4 will start offering themed dinners, like Bourbon and Barbeque, with prix fixe menu items and wine or liquor pairings depending on the theme.
“The restaurant is a place to come if you feel like being part of the family here,” Peel said.
Featured Image by Francesca Giangiulio / Heights Staff