Below is a transcript of a live online panel discussion on regional food items, which took place on Thursday, January 19, 2012. As always, the panel included some panel members, with food writers and media people participating. The hour-long chat included talks with the panel about such food items as bar pizza (South Shore), roast beef (North Shore, jonny cakes (RI), and more. And once again, the chat included some viewer participation. [Note: The original discussion can be replayed at the following link: http://www.hiddenboston.com/online-discussion-0112.html and please go to the restaurant discussions link to check out our other chats.]
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Hello, all!
Aaron K./Eater Boston: Hi!
Marc H.: Good afternoon, Aaron! Welcome back!
MC Slim JB: Hey gang! I write about budget-priced restaurants for the Boston Phoenix, fine-dining restaurants for Stuff Magazine, and bars for Serious Eats. Links to all my professional reviews are on my blog: http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/, and I tweet as @mcslimjb.
Marc H.: Hey, MC! Thanks for being here as always!
Aaron K./Eater Boston: Always a pleasure.
rocket: hello all
Marc H.: Hi, rocket!
Marc H.: We're still waiting for a few more folks on the panel, including at least a couple who might be wandering in and out over the course of the hour.
Marc H.: By the way, this is our 18th discussion and as always, we have a few panel members (including those coming a bit later) who you might have heard of. Why don't we start with some introductions? (MC, I see you already did!) I'll begin--I'm Marc, the founder and owner of Boston's Hidden Restaurants as well as the news-based blog Boston Restaurant Talk. http://www.bostonrestaurants.blogspot.com
MC Slim JB: You'll also find me gabbing about restaurant and such on the Boston boards of Chowhound and Yelp.
Donna Garlough: Hello all!
Marc H.: Hi, Donna! Welcome to the chat! Feel free to introduce yourself!
Donna Garlough: I'm Executive Editor here at Boston mag. I oversee our food and lifestyle coverage.
Aaron K./Eater Boston: Hey all: Aaron Kagan here. I'm the editor of Eater Boston and have also written about food and drink for the Globe, Stuff and several others.
Marc H.: Welcome, all! So we have Donna, MC, and Aaron on the panel, along with upwards of three or four others, it looks like, who may be coming a bit later. We can give them maybe one more minute before we start.
Marc H.: While we're waiting, any of you been to any good restaurants lately?
Marc H.: I made my first journey over to the new Grillo's Pickles in Cambridge this week. Truly amazing stuff at that place....
Donna Garlough: I finally checked out the lunch at Trade last week. Man, that place is BUSY!
Marc H.: I've walked by Trade a few times and each time it was packed. They definitely seem to be doing well.
Laura Ciampa: Greetings. Laura Ciampa is here. I'm 1/2 of The Two Palaverers.
Marc H.: Hi, Laura! Welcome!
Laura Ciampa: Thanks for inviting me. Nice to meet everyone.
Aaron K./Eater Boston: Had a great meal at Strip T's recently: fennel with grapefruit and bacon, banh mi with eggplant and fried tofu, roasted cauliflower with chorizo and cotija, fries and an egg cream.
Marc H.: So I think we can get started, as we are still waiting on a couple of others...
Marc H.: So today's discussion centers around regional dishes, and I probably need to clarify this a bit! I'm not talking about regional cuisine that you might find in a higher-end restaurant, but more in the way of dishes that you tend to find more of in certain areas, for instance, bar pizza on the South Shore or roast beef on the North Shore. We'll be covering areas mainly in Eastern Massachusetts, but will also journey into Rhode Island for a bit (and possibly other areas, depending on time). And part of this talk will include finding places outside of the given regions that also have these types of foods--for instance, Monte's, a North Shore spot that is in Lynn, has good bar pizza.
Marc H.: And to our viewers: Feel free to chat with us at any time during the discussion, but for the most part, we will be talking first with the panel, then we'll open up the discussion to all of you if you would like to ask or answer any questions.
MC Slim JB: Loving Strip-T's long time lately. Good dinners at Kika Tapas, Brick & Mortar (though cocktails are why most people go), and Vee Vee in JP.
Marc H.: Yes, I've been a huge fan of Strip-T's, even before the changes there.
Marc H.: All right, on to our first topic...
Marc H.: Why don't we start with a popular South Shore food? Namely, the aforementioned bar pizza. For those who don't know what bar pizza is, by the way, it is usually a small-sized pan pizza that is typically served in old-school bars and goes very nicely with beer. :-) And it sometimes tastes a little like Greek pizza, though the two are definitely different.
Marc H.: Any South Shore favorites for bar pizza? I personally love the Lynwood in Randolph and the Venus Cafe in Whitman, along with the Alumni in Quincy.
MC Slim JB: I think the closest I've come to bar pizza is the one they serve at J.J. Foley's Cafe in the South End. Nuttin' fancy.
Marc H.: Actually, I was going to also ask if any of you have found any good bar pizza outside of the South Shore. I had mentioned Monte's in Lynn earlier, and there are also places such as La Hacienda in Somerville.
MC Slim JB: It has that pie-pan kind of crust, but thinner than Greek-American pizza.
Marc H.: Sounds a bit like the pizza at Christo's in Brockton, MC. I can't figure out whether their pie is bar-style or Greek. It seems to be right in between the two.
MC Slim JB: La Hacienda used to be a favorite after-work spot, so I guess I have had the real thing.
Marc H.: La Hacienda is borderline bar pizza--almost a bit more like traditional, especially when comparing it with the classic bar pies of the South Shore.
MC Slim JB: It's one of those places that feels like it stepped out of a time machine from 1973.
Donna Garlough: I've heard of some people referring to Santarpio's as bar pizza (Serious Eats did), but I don't think it is
Marc H.: It's borderline bar pizza, much like La Hacienda is. I honestly don't know how to categorize the pizza at Santarp's, actually, even though I've been there hundreds of times.
Laura Ciampa: Santarpio's isn't what i'd classify as bar pizza either.
Aaron K./Eater Boston: Don't think you want to hear about most of the pizza I've eaten in bars.
Marc H.: Oh, well now we have to hear about it, Aaron. :-)
MC Slim JB: Marc, I think you're the lone expert on this subject here. I've got to spend more time on the South Shore!
Marc H.: Hah, well, I haven't been to them all (yet), and one place I have been trying to get to for bar pizza is one of the last places where you would expect it: http://www.yelp.com/biz/amvets-post-no-51-randolph
Marc H.: I'd ask if anyone has been, but my guess is no.
Donna Garlough: Is it really a South Shore thing? Or is it more of a "my bar needs to serve food so people can keep drinking, and this is cheap and easy" thing?
Marc H.: It tends to be a South Shore thing. For instance, very few bars north of Boston have the type of pizza you might find at, say, Poopsie's in Pembroke.
MC Slim JB: I have bent an elbow in an Amvets or two, myself.
rocket: I've had Alumni in Quincy , but for me bar pie quality was always in direct relation to the amt of beer I had drank ... Sober it just seems like a greasy mess
Marc H.: Definitely a good point, rocket. Especially when you're talking about the more basic bar pies.
Donna Garlough: well we all know that drunk-good pizza is different than good-good pizza
rocket: not saying that a greasy mess is necessarily a bad thing!
Donna Garlough: and yes, I love both.
Marc H.: Before we move on to the North Shore (hint hint), do any viewers out there have any favorite places for bar pizza?
Marc H.: So does anyone know what the next topic will be? Did the hint give it away?
MC Slim JB: Mmmm, roast beef sandwiches.
Marc H.: Yup. Next up are the classic roast beef and seafood joints north of Boston. While nearly every sub shop in the Boston area has roast beef, the North Shore and the northern suburbs of Boston seem to be especially good places for roast beef sandwiches, with some places turning it into an art form. Any favorites?
Marc H.: And also, are there any spots outside of the northern suburbs that have particularly good roast beef sandwiches? I have yet to find one that compares to a place like Nick's in Beverly or John's in Lynn, actually.
Laura Ciampa: Nick's in Beverly is good.
Marc H.: Great minds think alike, Laura. :-b
MC Slim JB: I have a few standbys there: Roast Beast in Allston, an excellent repurposing of a former head shop; Liberty Bell in Southie, which gets my prize for Ugliest Exterior in Boston; and Royal Roast Beef in Eastie, which like many of them also does nice fried seafood, too.
Marc H.: MC, I once asked about good roast beef joints that also have good seafood. One that I like for both is Zaleks in Wakefield.
Donna Garlough: I second Roast Beast
MC Slim JB: Kelly's invented it, but its chain outposts strike me as depressing, too fast-food-y. Getting takeout from the Revere Beach original, and fending off seagulls from your fries, is the only way to go there.
Marc H.: I always love the old Steve Sweeney joke about the seagulls grabbing sandwiches from people's trays at Kelly's, then yelling down, "HEY, WHERE'S THE TAH-TAHHH SAUCE?"
rocket: I had a random stop last summer at Prime Roast Beef and Seafood in Lexington and it was very good
Marc H.: I agree, rocket. Excellent roast beef. TERRIBLE parking situation, though.
Aaron K./Eater Boston: It's been years, but Chick's in Gloucester used to do it for me.
Marc H.: Chick's? Is that in the downtown area?
Laura Ciampa: Harrison's in North Andover is ok. A bit inconsistent depending on what time of the day you go.
Marc H.: I used to go to Harrison's all the time. It was usually good, but sometimes, as you say, nothing special.
Donna Garlough: For a fix closer to the city, some of my coworkers love Skampa in East Cambridge
Marc H.: I wish my fellow food pal Rich O was here today. He raved about Skampa. And he knows his roast beef.
rocket: and is there anyone out there that agrees that while some of the menu additions at Kelly's are tasty, the roast beef in general has gone slightly downhill
Marc H.: I've never been a huge fan of the roast beef at Kelly's. I tend to get the burgers and dogs there instead.
MC Slim JB: Roast Beast also features Wickles Pickles, a nice bonus.
Patrick Maguire: I saw Steve Sweeney at Castaberti's (that's what we used to call the leaning tower joint on Route 1) a few years ago, and he's still doing the same jokes he did when i saw him in the 70's. Talk about tired...
Marc H.: Hey Patrick! How goes? Feel like introducing yourself? :-)
Donna Garlough: For a fix closer to the city, some of my coworkers love Skampa in East Cambridge
Marc H.: Hmmmmm, is Wikipedia back up?
MC Slim JB: They're both a local specialty that tourists look for, maybe?
Aaron K./Eater Boston: Re: Chick's - yup, downtown, though not on the main drag. Like I said, it's been a while so I don't know that I could vouch for it now.
rocket: Used to be a big fan of Mimi's Roast beef in Waltham Ctr, but have not been there in a while... i thought their onion rings were off the charts
Joe G: Going back to bar pizza just for one minute. When North Shore folks think of bar pizza, it's more of a Greek-style mash up with plenty of orange pepperoni grease and a thicker crust than South Shore. I've lived on both sides for 20 years and definitely notice the difference.
Marc H.: Orange pepperoni grease....I'm not sure if that made me suddenly hungry or suddenly queasy.
MC Slim JB: Orange Pepperoni Grease might make a good mantra.
Donna Garlough: Or a new condiment
Joe G: You always wanted the pepperoni that held the most grease in little puddles.
Marc H.: I think we'll move on to the next topic in a minute, but anyone else have any favorite places for roast beef? Any South Shore favorites for it? I'd really like to find just one good one in that area.
Joe G: Brothers in Weymouth is a decent North Shore-esque stab at it.
Marc H.: I may be around Weymouth this weekend--maybe I'll give it a shot, thanks!
Marc H.: How about heading south of Boston again, this time looking at jonny cakes (also spelled jonnycake, johnnycake, johnny cake, etc.). For those who have never had one, a jonny cake is a cornmeal pancake that has a long history, beginning with the native peoples of the region. Today, it seems to be popular along the South Coast of Massachusetts and in Rhode Island. Have any of you tried jonny cakes? If so, where did you have them and do you have any faves from any eateries?
Joe G: I have never had a johnny cake, though I remember they made a splash on the Sopranos.
Marc H.: Ha ha, that was a good series of episodes for the show.
MC Slim JB: I'm a huge jonnycake fan. My favorite has always been at Commons Lunch in Little Compton, RI. They do the East of Narragansett Bay style, which is thinner and lacier-edged than the thicker, more polenta-cake-like West of Bay style.
Marc H.: For those who have never been to Little Compton, it is definitely a road trip worthy area. Absolutely beautiful there.
MC Slim JB: Locally, I get my breakfast jonnycake fix at Deluxe Town Diner. It's good, but it's the thick kind.
MC Slim JB: Most amazing creative variant I've had is an app at Neptune Oyster: topped with honey butter, smoked trout tartare and Little Pearl caviar.
Marc H.: Whoa.
rocket: "johnnycakes" always reminds me of The Sopranos
MC Slim JB: It was a special at Neptune, but it's on the regular menu now.
Laura Ciampa: Little Pearl is gone.
MC Slim JB: Neptune must have a stockpile of Little Pearl.
Laura Ciampa: They seem to be more popular and widely available in RI.
Joe G: Definitely. Little Compton and Tiverton are great. Then you can scoot over to Westport and grab some drinks and stuffies at Back eddy. It's a nice little drive.
Donna Garlough: If you want to go fancypants, the Gallows in the South End makes a nice version
Marc H.: Nothing wrong with fancypants jonny cakes...
Marc H.: I had a type of jonny cake at Grumpy's in East Dennis on the Cape while back. But they were pancake-sized, which made them seem a bit less traditional, I suppose.
MC Slim JB: That Neptune one is $16, but worth it.
MC Slim JB: I may have to go get another one after this chat.
Marc H.: I may have to make some after this chat! Either that or another Jucy Lucy (talk about a regional food).
Joe G: Expense account!
MC Slim JB: I need to restock on white flint cornmeal at home.
Marc H.: So before we move on--actually we aren't moving on, as we're staying south of Boston--any other places for good jonny cakes? Any in Providence?
MC Slim JB: Anyone know where I can buy Gray's jonnycake meal at retail locally?
Marc H.: Gray's in Westport? I may be in the area this weekend if I do Providence Restaurant Week. Not sure where it can be bought around here.
Joe G: I've seen it at Formaggio
Laura Ciampa: Formaggio Kitchen may sell Gray's
MC Slim JB: Gray's Grist Mill is in Adamsville, RI. It's one of the canonical sources of stone ground white cap flint corn meal for jonnycakes.
Marc H.: Hmmmm, I wonder what their winter hours are...
Marc H.: So staying south of Boston, let's move on to quahogs, which perhaps is known to many as the town in the show "Family Guy," but in the food world, it is basically a hard clam. And stuffed quahogs are very popular in the same areas as jonny cakes are, namely place such as Providence, Bristol, RI, Fall River, New Bedford, Buzzards Bay, etc. Where have you had them? Any favorite places for them?
Marc H.: One of the best I've had is at a little diner in Falmouth called Betsy's. Also had a good one at Eastwind in Buzzards Bay.
Laura Ciampa: I like the stuffed Portuguese quahogs at the Back Eddy in Westport.
Marc H.: Is the Back Eddy open year round, Laura? I have heard so much about the place.
Laura Ciampa: I believe they are.
Joe G: I think they're closed from Jan to the end of March.
Laura Ciampa: They are closed Jan through late March.
Marc H.: Thanks. (Darnit)
MC Slim JB: I grew up eating stuffies. A few favorite sources: Jack's Family Restaurant in Warren, RI. A fancier version at Back Eddy in Westport, MA, near Horseneck Beach. Closer to home, the Stockyard, a modest steakhouse in Brighton, MA.
Joe G: Boy, talk about a food item that can be fantastic or a leaden disappointment. The ones at Back Eddy are my favorite because they go light on the breading and let the clam and chourico shine through. (Or choo reeecho as some TV personalities pronounce it)
Marc H.: MC, the ones at the Stockyard are good, huh? Never thought to get one there.
MC Slim JB: Let's say the ones at the Stockyard are traditional, i.e., more stuffing than clam.
Aaron K./Eater Boston: Had some tasty stuffies at Seven Seas in Warwick last fall. Note: I said "tasty," not "quality."
Marc H.: Ha ha! There is a difference sometimes, Aaron.
Marc H.: So we have about 5-10 minutes left, and I was going to finish with one final "South of Boston" food item, but if you would like to talk about other regional items briefly, feel free to bring them up.
Marc H.: The item I'm thinking of is calamari tossed with hot banana peppers, which seems to be quite popular in RI and the South Coast. Any favorite spots for this dish? And again, any other regional foods you'd like to mention?
Marc H.: By the way, the calamari with banana peppers at Pearl in Wellfleet is out of this world. I wish they were open year round, but sadly they are not.
MC Slim JB: Chow mein sandwiches. I never see them anymore. You tell me if that's a loss. But I got a box of Hoo-Mee Chow Mein Mix, made in Fall River for Xmas. That's the real deal for making those!
Marc H.: That's a nice present.
MC Slim JB: Coney Island hot dogs, similar to NY System Weiner in RI. My favorites there include Tex Barry's in Attleboro, Roger's in Fall River, and George's in Worcester.
Marc H.: Ah yes, I was going to bring up the Olneyville NY System. I love George's for Coney Island dogs.
Joe G: I think that's the only way to serve them fried is with those peppers. No need to dipping sauce.
Marc H.: The peppers make that dish, IMO.
Joe G: Almost got a chow mein sandwich at Evelyn's last year........almost!
MC Slim JB: Clam cakes are another relative rarity. I fondly recall George's in Galilee, RI for these. Have had them more recently at the Clam Box in Quincy.
Marc H.: I think I tried clam cakes at the Clam Box as well. Or was it Tony's Clam Shop? Very similar places.
Laura Ciampa: Summershack in Cambridge does a good RI style calamari.
Marc H.: They do a lot of good seafood. Love their corn dogs, too.
Joe G: another item where some places make you think you're eating a giant hush puppy rather than a clam cake. I like the Clam Box's version, too.
Joe G: Whoops.....thinking of a clam fritter
MC Slim JB: Iggy's Dough Boy in Warwick, RI and Narragansett, RI: also good clam cakes.
Laura Ciampa: My favorite calamari is from Eastern Standard. I believe it was served with an aioli.
Marc H.: Sad to say that it is 4:00 and time to end the chat. Thanks so much for participating! There's definitely a lot of good info to go over here. Have a good evening, all!
Joe G: Thanks, Marc. Fun stuff as always.
MC Slim JB: That was great, Marc: some fine nostalgia for New England eating in there!
Laura Ciampa: Thanks Marc.