Secret Specials: A guide to infrequently-offered or off-the-menu local dishes

New England travels south and arrives in the form of the happy-hour lobster roll at Public Fish & Oyster. Photo: Tom McGovern New England travels south and arrives in the form of the happy-hour lobster roll at Public Fish & Oyster. Photo: Tom McGovern

By Meg Irvin

Certain dishes and meals around town are elusive—available only during particular hours, on a specific day of the month, or exclusively by request. But with a little planning—and some insider info—you can indulge in these delicious off-the-radar items, from a New England staple to a belly-filling hangover cure.

Most regulars at Ace Biscuit & Barbecue know about the chicken and waffles, the sausage gravy, and the fried green tomatoes. The Dirty Waffle, though, is another story. Not listed on the regular menu, the only way to know about it is, well, to know about it. The dish adds sausage gravy, pimento cheese, and pickles to the standard chicken and waffles. “There’s a lot happening with The Dirty Waffle,” says Andrew Autry, the Ace Biscuit manager who’s also known as Wolf. “It’s the best secret hangover cure.”

Every Saturday starting at noon, cult-favorite butcher J.M. Stock offers a different sandwich selection. Most make a one-time appearance, but a few, like the Italian and the Smoked-Chicken Bacon Ranch Salad, have been popular enough to be brought back a time or two. Sometimes, the weekly special can be found on social media, but calling or showing up is the easiest way to find out what the team is making. Sandwiches are available until they sell out, which can be as early as 1pm, but usually the goods are available until 2pm or later.

The Hellboy Pizza at Lampo is on the specials menu about 80 percent of the time, but its absence doesn’t go unnoticed—the restaurant regularly fields questions about the availability of this particular pie. Spicy, sweet, and salty, the Hellboy pays homage to Paulie Gee’s in Brooklyn, where Lampo got the inspiration for the pizza that brings the heat. Soppressata and housemade mozzarella top the inventive pie, which is finished with a generous drizzle of honey infused with scorpion pepper oil.

“It’s rough to source soppressata, and it’s hard to keep up with the demand we have for the Hellboy, which is why it’s not always available,” says Loren Mendosa, co-owner of Lampo. No Hellboy when you visit? The next best bet is to ask for that special honey on top of the Diavola pizza.

On the last Sunday of every month, Mas tapas opens its doors for brunch from 11am-2pm. You’ll always find something sweet, like French toast or orange rolls, alongside Mas favorites like the papas bravas and chorizo. Selections change with the seasons—new dishes pop up as local produce becomes available. Since Mas doesn’t take reservations and there’s often a line for the regular dinner service, the once-a-month brunch is a great opportunity to indulge with less risk of a long wait.

The lobster roll at Public Fish & Oyster (market priced, but usually around $25) is one of the best things on the restaurant’s menu, but the item is only available during the daily happy hour from 4-6pm, alongside other specials like raw Virginia oysters for $1.25 apiece. The special sandwich is made with a fresh supply of Maine lobster, served on a buttered split-top brioche roll, and offered both Maine style (chilled, with mayo) or Connecticut style (warm, with butter). Lobster rolls aren’t known for being a steal, but it’s a treat that’s well worth the price tag. Don’t dilly-dally, though. “Because we only use fresh lobster, there are days where we run out,” says owner Daniel Kaufman.

So, now you know!