Earlier this year, I found myself spending a good deal of time lurking on the Tripadvisor page for Boston, England, a middle-of-nowhere town in rural Lincolnshire, about two and a half hours northeast of London. As a Bostonian-American living in the UK, I felt it was my duty to explore the nominal and historical origins of my hometown, and I was seduced by the notion of traveling not to Oxford or Bath or even Cambridge, but to somewhere by all accounts shittier. Most of my trips include food and drink as a focal point, but this would decidedly not be a food-focused trip. Still, I had to eat. And, not knowing anybody who'd ever been to Boston, England, I ended up interfacing at length with its modest Tripadvisor presence.
At the time, the top-rated restaurant (it is currently #4, out of 117) was a place called Witham & Blues—a New York-style American kitsch restaurant that's technically situated in a village just outside Boston called Langrick. (If you're not familiar with the locality's topographical features, the pun in the restaurant's name won't make sense. Rambling through Boston and its environs is the river Witham—hence, Witham & Blues.) After reading a shameful amount of the Tripadvisor reviews and convincing myself that I had to go, I gathered that it would be a good idea to book ahead, so I gave them a ring two days before my weekend trip. All they could offer me for that Friday—we're talkin' a table for one here, by the way—was 6 PM. I accidentally wrote it down as 6:30 and arrived on time, 30 minutes late.
The first thing that strikes you at Witham & Blues, which turned out to be on the side of a pretty desolate country road, is the giant, lit-up Uncle Sam positioned on the roof. The second and third things have to be the early-'90s-era NYPD cruiser and NYC yellow cab parked outside. Inside, I was greeted by a very friendly hostess and seated in an empty sort of ante-dining room facing a full-wall mural of an exaggerated New York City skyline. Bright stage lights mounted on that wall were positioned more or less directly in my face, so I stared down at my table, which offered another pictorial motif of New York scenes. Different servers walked past and smiled shyly; I think my American accent had earned me a quasi-celebrity status there, but maybe it was just that I was one of the only customers. I was offered a clownishly large laminated menu and dove in to the surreal presentation of my national cuisine. At about this time, another party sat down at an adjacent table and I began feeling more comfortable.
The menu basically read like it was written by Guy Fieri, with usual-suspect American offerings including nachos, popcorn shrimp, crab cakes, and the like. There were a few bizarre deployments of place names—i.e. "South Dakota Salmon" and "Pennsylvania Pepper Steak"—which can, I think, be chalked up to a preference for assonance over regionally accurate depictions of American cuisine. Can't blame them. I ordered a beer and "the famous WB sliders – our signature dish," which included selections from a large list of burgers: the "WB House Burger"(baby gem lettuce, tomato, pickled courgette [sic], tomato jam chutney, and mayo); the "Brooklyn Burger" (mozzarella, onion chutney, and beer battered onion rings piled high); and the un-American sounding "Brussels Burger" (Brussels paté, caramelized onion, and shredded iceburg lettuce).
After ordering, my comfort evaporated as I heard the booming, amplified sound of a soda can opening, followed by liquid pouring into a glass, and the rhythmic thumping of a bass drum. Over speakers that had formerly been playing the soft coos of Buddy Holly, a husky voice began, "She tastes like cherry cooooola," and a few servers materialized in front of me and the other table holding pom-poms, looking absolutely mortified. The song (which I later learned is called "Cherry Cola," by someone/thing called McFly) continued as they began a synchronized dance. I felt a very acute discomfort, no doubt magnified by the fact that I was alone. Don't get me wrong: I don't subscribe to the cultural stigma against dining alone, and in some ways, I feel like being at Witham & Blues by myself was enriching. But for the love of God, I really wanted somebody to share this experience with, and the table next to me wasn't responding to my nonverbal pleas for eye contact.
"Cherry Cola" turned into a medley of other random American songs like "We Go Together" from Grease, and I wondered to myself why this hadn't been mentioned in any of the Tripadvisor reviews. All in all, the routine lasted about three minutes, but it felt like an hour. When the servers finished, one of them—still looking deeply embarrassed—brought my sliders, and I dug in.
Living in Boston, England must be pretty fucking dull, and this restaurant is a beacon of light in an otherwise pretty geographically and economically bleak part of England.
The best was probably the "Brooklyn Burger," but I'm easily won over by a burger topped with an onion ring. The Brussels burger was solid, but the caramelized onions were cloyingly sweet, and I don't remember much of the WB house burger. The fries on the side were nothing special and there was a very mayonnaisey cole slaw that I didn't really eat. It was clear that, in keeping with the general idea of this trip, the food was secondary to the overall pageantry of an early evening spent alone at Witham & Blues.
When everything had been cleared, Witham & Blues' chipper owner Victoria came by to chat, and I extended my genuine American stamp of approval for the sliders. She and her husband had just been vacationing in Myrtle Beach (yikes!), she told me, and she expressed, or rather confirmed the affinity for Guy Fieri that I had suspected. She was so personable and genuine that I felt bad for wincing at the dance routine and cringing at the restaurant's over-the-top décor. The truth is that living in Boston, England must be pretty fucking dull, and this restaurant is a beacon of light in an otherwise pretty geographically and economically bleak part of England. With this in mind, I went back to my B&B and succumbed to four hours straight of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, dozing off to the sweet sounds of Guy Fieri.