Helen’s Roast Beef & Pizzeria exceeds reputation as late-night student hangout
Restaurant Review | 3 out of 5 stars
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 03:04
Roast beef is a pretty generic item when you think about it. What cut of the cow is it? Are we talking sirloin, flank, brisket or some nether region that doesn’t see the light of day? Also, for how long is the beef actually roasted? When was the last time you were asked if you wanted your roast beef medium-rare or well-done?
These questions are rendered moot at Helen’s Roast Beef & Pizzeria. Its merciful proximity to campus, extended hours and reasonable prices make Helen’s the top choice for ravenous, insomniac Jumbos.
This family-owned restaurant has served the Medford/Somerville community for many a semester. The Italian and Greek influence of the cuisine is obvious after a cursory view of the menu. For every generic submarine sandwich, there is a plate of pasta.
Looking at its exterior, you might not expect such an expansive menu. After all, the neon lighting and Formica tables leave a lot to be desired. But Helen’s has no desire to be Bistro 5. If decor is a major deal-breaker, then have your meal delivered. The emphasis here is on the food, not on ambience.
And the food does not disappoint. The roast beef strikes the perfect balance on the price-value scale. I would be hard-pressed to name a more satisfying sandwich for under six dollars. The roast beef sandwich comes in three different sizes. There’s the Junior, the Big Beef and the Super Beef. The moist beef is sliced into thin ribbons and sandwiched between pillow-like buns; make sure to order it with the works — mayonnaise and horseradish.
It may surprise many Tufts students that Helen’s features much more than its name might suggest. The dinners, for instance, include New Zealand lamb tenderloin as well as fried clams and scallops. For those of you craving a late-night snack, beware — seafood service stops after midnight. In the wee hours of the morning, Helen’s only offers sandwiches, pizzas and calzones.
Perhaps the most coveted item on the entire menu is the Blue Zone calzone. Buffalo fingers, a medley of three cheeses — mozzarella, provolone and cheddar —and a heavy ladling of blue cheese sauce make up the molten bowels of this carbohydrate cavern. A quick public service announcement: when I say molten, I mean it. Nothing is worse that melted cheese scorching your hard palate, so be patient. A mouthful of hot cheese and you might as well be chowing down on napalm.
The dough for the pizzas and calzones is made fresh daily, and it shows. Unlike the corrugated crusts of some of its competitors, the yeasty crusts crackle and crisp with each and every bite. Of the pizzas, the Mediterranean pizza and pesto & chicken kebab pizza are particularly good. One must commend Helen’s for its use of free-range chickens, as well as its deference to Kalamata olives rather than their generic, salty brethren. However, Helen’s proud enumeration of ingredients oftentimes raises more questions than it answers. The ham, for instance, is “imported Prima ham,” while the salami is described as “old neighborhood cooked.” This ambiguous menu can confuse guests and, even worse, invite culinary criticism.
The service at Helen’s is good at certain hours. Unfortunately, the late night service can be dodgy. On a Saturday night, the staff, swamped by the debauchery of students, is unable to serve the food in a timely manner. Seeing as convenience is a major draw, this slowdown comes as quite a disappointment.
Helen’s may never escape its reputation as a late-night delivery option for Tufts students. That’s unfortunate, though, because this eatery has much more to offer than cheap pizza to get you through finals. Try to visit sometime before midnight to enjoy one of the generously portioned — and priced — meals.