With upbeat funk music playing in the background, an eclectic crowd fills the air with laughter and conversation at Buttonwood on a Wednesday night. A group of friends celebrates a promotion next to an old couple asking a waiter about the unique shot glasses that their digestifs came in. General manager Matt O’Keefe has worked at the restaurant for the past four years and said Wednesday’s scene is typical.
“People can have a good dinner, whether they want to celebrate the anniversary, come in with their kids, or just come in and have a beer and watch the Celtics game,” O’Keefe said. “We’re trying to kind of hit on all those levels.”
Buttonwood is located in Newton Highlands and serves rustic American food. With seasonally changing dishes sprinkled in with a few long-standing classics, the restaurant is unique in the bold dishes it serves to its customers.
O’Keefe said one of the restaurant’s biggest goals is to build community with the customers through its food. ‘
“Our number one focus is getting to know our guests and create regulars,” said O’Keefe. “I think some restaurants just view it as maybe a transaction, but we’re trying to create relationships and instill a sense of community.”
In 2018, the restaurant experienced a damaging electrical fire. While no one was hurt, the business was forced to shut down for 10 months as a result of the fire. O’Keefe still remembers rushing down to the restaurant after getting the phone call informing him about the fire.
“I was dropping my daughter off at school and got a call that the restaurant was on fire,” O’Keefe said. “I remember the fire department said we will be closed for two weeks, and nobody could believe it. It ended up being 10 months to the day.”
Buttonwood had only been open for four and a half months and was just finding its rhythm when the fire hit. The fire changed the sense of community both among the restaurant’s staff and within Newton, as the staff members felt they lost everything they had worked so hard for. O’Keefe had been working at Buttonwood for 28 straight days before the fire.
“It was just kind of a bummer because we had really hit our stride right when the fire hit,” O’Keefe said. “We had some really positive reviews in the Globe and received proper Bostonian media coverage. We were really starting to find our footing, and we were operating at a momentum that we didn’t have when we first opened, so we lost all that momentum.”
Since then, Buttonwood has been rebuilding by reorienting itself with the community-first philosophy it was founded on. Walking into the restaurant, kind servers with smiling faces immediately greet customers.
One customer, Teddy Gillman, was visiting Newton with his grandma when he visited the restaurant for the first time. He said the restaurant’s atmosphere welcomed him in.
“[The crowd] sort of ebbed and flowed. … It was lively,” Gillman said.
The current seasonal menu features a selection of salads and starter plates and various cuts of meat.
The Pizza Shop Greek salad features romaine, feta, and olives, with a splash of color from fresh radishes. Yet the seemingly typical salad’s exterior deceives the eyes, as the exceptionally strong balsamic and rosemary and paprika seasonings light up the taste buds, giving the dish a hearty feel.
The fries with garlic aioli were on the soft side but maintained the restaurant’s typical bold flavor. While the fries were lightly seasoned, the aioli provided the richness the fries needed.
Customers at the restaurant—both young and old, new and regular—spoke highly about the food. Nine-year-old Elliot lives in Newton and occasionally comes to Buttonwood for dinner with his mom after school. He ordered the cauliflower, featuring molito rojo, crema, and toasted sesame.
“It was tasty, a little spicy, but really unique,” said Elliott. “I wish we came here more!”
Buttonwood is open at 51 Lincoln Street Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.