Pieroni’s Sea Grill: Gone but Not Forgotten

Pieroni's Sea Grill Menu, Giuseppe PieroniWhen I was a kid, we did not go to Boston often. For one thing, it was a 50-mile ride from Somerset MA. For another, taking all six of us anywhere could be an expensive proposition.

We also did not eat out often. Back then, fast food franchises did not exist and no one had even thought of casual fast-food restaurants. Eating out meant a restaurant where we four kids had to be on our best behavior and the check was substantial. (More on that later.)

Going to the Big City

Yet we did go to the big city occasionally because our parents tried to show us new things and educational places.

As far as I know, we didn’t ever see a game at Fenway Park and Quincy Market was still a commercial enterprise, not a festival marketplace. My older siblings have refreshed my memory of where we went. The destinations included:

  • Dinerama, Windjammer, Louis de RochemontCinerama to see Windjammer
  • The Boston Science Museum
  • The Boston Museum of Fine Arts
  • The Mapparium at the Christian Science Mother Church.

When we went to Boston, we ate out. While my brothers remember Jimmy’s Harborside, I don’t. We did slog through the discarded produce to eat at Durgin Park when it still catered to workingmen instead of tourists.

Pieroni’s Sea Grill on Washington Street

Pieroni's Sea Grill, Washington Street, Boston, Giuseppe Pieroni,

Pieroni’s Sea Grill on Washington Street

The restaurant I remember most vividly was the Pieroni’s Sea Grill at 601 Washington Street in the area now known as Downtown Crossing. It would have been down the street from the Cinerama theater, no longer extant. This week I was cleaning up a box of papers when I found an old menu from Pieroni’s. What a flashback in time.

The building no longer exists: it was replaced by new construction long ago. Originally, there was more than one restaurant in this group. The story behind the hotel and three restaurants is the familiar one of an immigrant who comes to America, works hard, and makes good. 

Giuseppe Pieroni’s Success Story

In 1890, 15-year-old Giuseppe Pieroni left Barga, Italy, and came to Boston with a knowledge of English (thanks to his father) but short on money. He took a job washing dishes in the basement of a restaurant on Washington Street.

It took him two years to work his way up to Second Chef de Grille and another year to make him Premier Grilleur in a Tremont Street restaurant. He was only 18. His three brothers joined him and together they used their spare time and Sundays off to sample and compare the dishes from other establishments.

Pieroni's Hotel, Park Square, Boston, Giuseppe PieroniIn 1894, the brothers opened Pieroni’s Sea Grill on Beacon Street, venue that drew customers with a “secret seafood sauce.”

This venture proved so successful, they moved to a 700-seat restaurant on Eliot Street, then added the 1200-seat place on Washington Street. A 600-seat establishment at 13-15 Stuart Street in the Theater District came next. In 1919, the brothers opened the Pieroni Hotel on Park Square, which earned a gold medal in Nice in 1930.

The Sea Grill Cuisine

The Pieroni brothers did not attempt to lure patrons with signature dishes from their Tuscany region of Italy. Instead, they gave Boston’s diners what they were used to and what they wanted: seafood (especially lobster), beef, pork, lamb and poultry. Desserts included such all-American items as ice cream, Jello and pudding. The deep fryer took the place of a sauté pan and, by the 1950s, mayonnaise had replaced the secret seafood sauce.

The Boston Chamber of Commerce elected Giuseppe Pieroni its president in 1925. With the fortune made from his restaurants, Signor Pieroni built the luxurious Villa Pieroni in Tuscany, 20 miles north of Lucca, which was completed in 1911. Unfortunately, he did not get to retire there. Giuseppe Pieroni died suddenly on the job in one of his restaurants on February 25, 1944.

In his life, he amassed stature and prominence and gave jobs in his restaurants to over a thousand people from Italy’s Serchio Valley. I have not been able to locate his grave.

Eating at Pieroni’s Sea Grill

So, what did we eat at Pieroni’s Sea Grill? Dining out in Boston was a different experience back then.

I have the lunch menu, which is extensive, with meals ranging from Welsh Rarebit ($1.25) to Lobster Salad with Mayonnaise Dressing ($3.70). The most expensive item is the Roast Prime Rib of Beef meal, which included tomato juice, soup or chowder, the prime rib, choice of potato and vegetables, dessert, and tea or coffee for $4.50. A one-pound Broiled Live Lobster with drawn butter, fries or baked potato, rolls and butter, and beverage went for $2.50.

Pieroni's Sea Grill, Pieroni's menu, Giuseppe Pieroni

Should you want wine with your meal, you could order a bottle of imported Bordeaux, Orvieto, or Chianti for $3.50 or Burgundy for $2.00. No vinyard or vintage specified. A variety of beers would set you back from $.35 to $.65 a glass.

The Pieroni’s Sea Grills are Gone

If these prices seem ridiculously low, remember that wages were equally low in the fifties and early sixties. A minimum-wage salary brought in $50 a week before taxes and $35 after taxes. A man making $10,000 a year was doing very well and an expensive house cost $40,000. It’s all relative.

None of these restaurants exists today, of course. The Massachusetts Transportation Buildings stands on the site of the old hotel and a shopping mall replaced the Washington Street establishment. To estimate today’s prices at most of Boston fine-dining establishments, just add a zero—or more—to the Pieroni’s prices.

Getting More for the Money

You got a lot more food for the money back then, too. No restaurateur of the fifties would have dreamed of serving three scallops on a plate with two stalks of asparagus and a squirt of potato puree and calling it dinner for any price. No one worried about fancy plating or organic ingredients, either. People came to restaurants to eat and they were happy if they left with a well-cooked meal and full stomachs.

Today, Boston’s dining scene features celebrity chefs, recipes from all over the world, farm-to-table ingredients, fusion cuisine, and craft beer. Chefs like Tiffani Faison, Ken Oringer, Barbara Lynch, and Jason Santos have probably never heard of Giuseppe Pieroni but they have built on the achievements of men like him, visionaries who paved the transition from eighteenth-century food scene to the twenty-first.



This entry was posted in Boston, Food and Cooking, History and tagged , , , , , , , , by Aline Kaplan. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at aknextphase.com. She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

17 thoughts on “Pieroni’s Sea Grill: Gone but Not Forgotten

  1. I believe this was my parent’s favorite restaurant. They used to go there on Friday nights before they were married. My mother always got the baked stuffed lobster. One evening she asked the waiter how the stuffing for the lobster was made because she loved it. The chef came out to speak to her and gave her the recipe. It was Ritz cracker crumbs, butter, and the raw tamale from the lobster. My dad was drafted for WWII so for two years or so they didn’t go there. When he got home they went back on a Friday night. The staff at the restaurant were very happy to see them and asked why they hadn’t been there in years. I think the meal was free that night.

  2. My grandfather was a chef at Perrone‘s restaurant . My uncle Louis owned Deni’s seafood restaurant on Tremont Street Boston. Louise Deney was my grandmother‘s brother. And Almando was married into the family he married into one of my mothers cousins. My last name is Torrre . I can remember as a child going to Perrone‘s restaurant and my grandfather would take me into the kitchen. That was a beautiful beautiful establishment and everyone there were loyal and loving and friendly. As was Deni’s On Tremont Street in Boston.

  3. Our dad worked at South Station, RR Express, as did most of his family-his dad for 50 years !! He would take us to Pieroni’s on Washington Street from time to time. Near old Scollay Square. What a treat. What great fried clams and lobster !! Waiters wore white jackets and aprons. Very KOOL old Boston I remember as a kid. Lots of bars and lots of sailors walking around.

  4. Amedeo was my grandfather and I remember him with nostalgia and admiration . Years ago
    I wrote a little book (Pieroni , from Barga to Boston )
    If you give me a mailing addres l will be glad to send you a copy .
    Thanks for the memories .
    Paolo Riani
    www paoloriani.com

  5. My grandparents met there many many years ago. They both worked there. My grandmother was a waitress and my grandfather was a salad maker. They both came over on the boat from Italy and met at Pieroni’s. They were both great cooks. I ate very well growing up. Thanks for the memories

  6. Pieroni’s on Washinton Street is where, as a four year old, I tasted my first fried full belly clam. It left me feeling I had just experiended a miracle of taste. The occasion was a make-up dinner my paternal grandfather arranged for my mother after they had an argument a few weeks earlier.

    I remember the red velvet curtains, the huge dining room but most of all fried clams!. So smitten was I that when the waitress came over to ask if we wanted desert my grandfather turned to me and asked “would you like anything else, Jim? My reply was instantaeous: “yeah Papa. . MORE FRIED CLAMS!” And I got them! The waitress brought over a saucer filled with them.

  7. Hi Aline, my name is Valentina Pieroni, I am the great-granddaughter of one of the Pieroni brothers (Amedeo). It is very nice that after so many years the Pieroni brothers and their cuisine are still remembered with so much affection.I am looking for postcards and old menus, but unfortunately there is not much on the web.
    Best wishes.

    • Hi Valentina. I have an old, rather rusty looking small bell that is inscribed with “Pieroni’s” with “Boston” written under the name on one side, and “Season’s Greetings” inscribed on the other side. It looks like a token gift that might have been handed out at the holidays- or perhaps something that was sold in the restaurant. Let me know if. you have any interest in it.

  8. Pieroni’s is the first restaurant I remember going to where I had to sort of dress up (outside of wedding banquets) right around 1959 or 1960, when I was still in grade school. My mom’s brother was visiting from Montreal, and we went to Pieroni’s. My dad worked just down the street at 600 Washington at the time. I had scallops for the first time (fried), and scallops have been one of my favorite seafood dishes ever since. My first taste of those sweet scallops is burned into my memory, and every time I have scallops I think of Pieroni’s. Terrific article about the history. Had no idea the restaurant was that big.

  9. What a wonderful article, which told me a lot about Pieroni’s! I recall eating at Anthony’s Pier 4 in 1970, and it was a big event in my late teenage life. The meal was as good as I hoped for too. I also ate at the Fisherman’s Grotto in the mid 1960s as it was my dad;s orather than Jimmy’s. I collect restaurant china and have a piece marked Pieroni’s with the same lobster logo if you will. It was made by Greenwood of Trenton NJ and that company was closed up and auctioned off in 1933. I would be happy to send photos is you are interested. Thanks!

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