Below are blog entries from July, 2011. Use the links in the left column to do a quick search of blog entries, or to see blog entries from other months. And feel free to use the "Comments" links under each blog entry to reply to us; your comments just might end up in our Boston restaurant blog! (Note: This page is part of our restaurant features section.)
Thursday, July 28, 2011
A July Weekend in Vermont
We recently headed up to Vermont to spend some time at the Vermont Cheesemakers' Festival in Shelburne (see blog entry: Photos from 2011 Vermont Cheesemakers' Festival), and while we were up there, we spent some time around Stowe, Jeffersonville, Waterbury, and Waitsfield, trying some restaurants along the way. Nearly all of the meals we had were good ones, but one spot in particular really stood out, making for one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had at a restaurant (more on that later).
On the way up to the Stowe area (where we were staying), we stopped at The Norwich Inn in Norwich for lunch, having a leisurely meal at Jasper Murdock's Alehouse, a pub within the place. The alehouse was classic Vermont, located in an historic structure that had much in the way of charm, and it felt a little like we were in someone's private home. The pub itself was a bit small with a tiny bar and a handful of tables, though outdoor dining added a bit to the capacity of the place. We decided to eat inside, as it was a hot day, though we soon regretted that as the interior was nearly as hot (and stuffy to boot). Other than that, however, our experience at Jasper Murdock's was a very positive one, with excellent meals and terrific small-batch beers made on the premises. Our food included a delicious pulled pork sandwich with big chunks of meat and a house-made BBQ sauce made with red ale, and a plate of crunchy, golden-brown Asian potstickers stuffed with ground pork. We tried a couple of their beers, with the wheat beer being refreshingly mild and the Dark Humour (a Beligan dark ale) being spicy and slightly dry. Our server was a bit sassy but friendly overall, and prices were moderate. I'm glad we found this place, as the restaurants around nearby Quechee and Woodstock can get awfully crowded, making this a good alternative for lunch while heading up north.
We arrived in the Stowe area around mid-afternoon, making the rounds to some favorite places (including the wonderful Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury Center), then settling into the Jeffersonville area on the other side of Smugglers' Notch, where we had dinner at a place called Stella Notte. I had some trepidation about going to this place, not because I've heard bad things about it (quite the contrary, actually), but because it replaced one of my favorite Mexican restaurants for many years, a homey spot called Cafe Banditos. But while not quite making me forget about Banditos, Stella Notte was quite impressive, with good food, a decent beer list, nearly flawless service, and reasonable prices. We ate on the scenic outdoor patio (which has views of the massive wall of mountains making up Smugglers' Notch off to the east), which in retrospect may have been a mistake, as the bugs were out in full force that evening, but it was almost worth it for the cool breezes and the scenery. Our food included a tasty brie appetizer, a zesty farfalle Tuscano with sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and chicken in a mild cream, and a hearty chicken and sausage risotto with loads of meat throughout. Drinks included a Switchback Ale, which is kind of a "cult" beer that is generally only found in Vermont and is one of my personal favorites. We decided to hold off on dessert, instead visiting I.C. Scoops in Stowe, where we enjoyed some maple walnut and mocha almond ice cream.
Sunday morning was mostly spent at the cheese festival, and oddly enough, even with all the cheese, chocolate, and cured meats that I tried there, I was pretty hungry by the time we left early in the afternoon. We soon found ourselves in Waterbury, stopping at a restaurant and bar called Arvard's in the center of town. I've heard mixed reviews on Arvad's from people I know, but our lunch was actually pretty good, though service wasn't quite as warm and fuzzy as other places we tried while on the trip. When we arrived, the restaurant wasn't all that crowded, so we were able to sit on the comfortable outdoor porch overlooking Main Street. The first thing we noticed was that the beer list was very impressive, with brews from all over the world as well as a large selection of local beers. After some tough decision-making, we settled on an Arvad's Ale (a bit too mild for me, but a nice summer drink) and a Trapp Golden Helles Lager (a well-balanced beer from the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe). Our meals included a delectable roast beef sandwich with cheese and mayo and a grilled bacon cheeseburger made with local beef that, while fresh-tasting, was coarsely ground and included some hard bits of bone in it. Prices were ok, and as said earlier, service wasn't exactly friendly, but was efficient from start to finish.
After lunch, we spent some time at Cabot Cheese and Cold Hollow (again) in Waterbury as well as the always-interesting Stowe Mercantile, then relaxing by a wooded pond in Jeffersonville before reversing direction and driving down Route 108 to Route 100 south to our next destination, namely American Flatbread in Waitsfield. Now I have had more than a few people tell me that this place is a must when visiting Vermont, but never did I expect it to be the utterly memorable experience that it turned out to be. First, the setting: Imagine an old barn in a deep valley that is so quiet that your ears seem to ring. Now imagine the smell of wood burning not only from a primitive wood-fired pizza oven inside the barn, but also from fire pits outside that are near an outdoor dining area in a verdant field. Sound good? Well, it was, even though the pizza, while excellent, didn't seem any better to me than that of the Flatbread Co., a kind of offshoot of American Flatbread that no longer has any affiliation with them, and that has locations in Somerville and Bedford in the Boston area. No, this was more about the overall experience than just the pizza, feeling almost like a communal spot where strangers talk to one another while eating pizza in the field out back and servers are laid-back and friendly and clearly seem to enjoy what they are doing. We soaked this all in while munching on pieces of white pizza (with asiago and grana padano cheese and herbs as well as bacon on one side of it) and a pepperoni mushroom pizza (which featured a truly fantastic red sauce), and, eventually, a decadent brownie sundae that was every bit as good as the pizza. Prices for the pizza were a little high, but the pizzas were probably big enough for two people, and we indeed packed up a good amount of it for the road. Bottom line: This was easily the best dining experience that I have had in 2011, and perhaps the best I have had in many years, even beating out places such as Mulino's in White Plains, NY, and Auberge La Goeliche in Ste-Petronille, Quebec, which is saying a lot.
It would be hard to beat American Flatbread in Waitsfield, so it was kind of fitting that this would be our last full meal of the trip, other than breakfast on Monday, that is. And breakfast was quite nice, actually, as we hit an offbeat little place within the Grey Fox Inn in Stowe called the Dutch Pancake Cafe. As the name implies, this comfortable spot in a corner of the inn features Dutch fare, including crepe-like Dutch pancakes that are prepared in a skillet. I tried a maple walnut version of the pancake, and it came not with maple syrup (well, it did, but it was already on the pancake), but with something called Stroop, a molasses-like syrup that isn't quite as sweet as maple syrup. The combination of Stroop and maple syrup nearly put me into a food coma, but the dish was a good one, with an ultra-thin pancake about a foot in diameter that definitely tasted more like a crepe than a typical pancake. Other highlights of our meal there were the excellent coffee and the slightly sour-tasting (but delicious) hash browns. Service was a bit reserved but friendly, and prices were decent.
The main focus of our trip to Vermont was to cover the cheese festival, but the rest of the trip was great, as the beautiful scenery, low-key locals, and impressive food all helped make for the type of trip that I would gladly do again and again. Now if only American Flatbread in Waitsfield were a little closer to Boston....
Related Blog Entries: Stowe VT restaurants, Vermont restaurants
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on July 28, 2011.
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Thursday, July 21, 2011
First Visit to Teriyaki House in South Boston
We have been going to a lot of sushi bars over the past several months, including some truly excellent ones (Toraya in Arlington, Sato in Waltham, Village Sushi in Roslindale, etc.). Some of the places have been rather expensive, but when it comes to sushi, it is definitely worth paying a bit extra to make sure the food is well-made and fresh. Proof of this was a recent trip we took to South Boston, where we ate at a Japanese and Chinese eatery on W Broadway called Teriyaki House. While it wasn't bad, the standards didn't seem to match those of Toraya and the like, and this extended to the non-sushi items as well. There were some pluses, however, which will be touched upon momentarily.
Teriyaki House (which has another spot on Boylston Street along the western edge of the Back Bay) is located in a bustling part of South Boston near the Broadway T stop and just east of the Broadway Bridge that leads into Boston proper. It is one of several restaurants in this section of Southie, and one that seems particularly popular for takeout. When we were there, it seemed that nearly all of its business was from folks picking up their dinner and bringing it home or to the office, which makes sense because this is a tiny spot with only three tables inside (and the tables are rather long, which makes them geared toward communal dining). It is a pretty loud spot and the lack of carpeting doesn't help, furthering the case for takeout rather than dining in. The sushi bar and open kitchen to the right is a busy spot, with a number of workers making everything from sushi to teriyaki dishes to rice and noodle plates and much more.
We tried a variety of items at the Teriyaki House, running the gamut from Japanese to Chinese to Korean. In the latter category, the kimchi was fiery hot but also too watery, with a virtual puddle of liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Chinese fare was limited to a decent house fried rice that seemed fresh and wasn't browned, dried out, or gloppy, though it was just a tad bland and perhaps could have used more garlic or onions. The very large portion of chicken teriyaki had a lot of gristle with the meat, and the rice seemed to be overcooked while the sauce wasn't all that zesty or sharp-tasting, making this dish that was tough to finish. As for the sushi, much of it was on the sloppy side, with the spicy sauce literally oozing out of the salmon, and both the tuna and the avocado maki were loosely packed, not holding together very well. Drinks were outstanding, however, with both the peach bubble tea and the mango smoothie being perfect for a hot summer evening. Prices were quite cheap overall, and service was friendly and always on hand if we needed something.
Our dining experience at Teriyaki House in South Boston wasn't a very memorable one, with the place feeling perhaps like a step up from some of the Chinese and Japanese restaurants that you might find in a mall food court, though not a really big step up. Maybe it is indeed best for quick and cheap takeout, unlike dining in for a full dinner as we did, but I'm not sure I'll be heading back here anytime soon, unless for a quick, simple meal to bring over to nearby Castle Island on a nice evening.
For those who want the address for Teriyaki House, here it is: Teriyaki House, 32 W Broadway, South Boston, MA, 02127. The phone number is (617) 269-2000.
Related Blog Entries: Chinese restaurants, South Boston restaurants
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on July 21, 2011.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Five Restaurants in the Middle of Nowhere
Last year, some of you may recall that we posted a blog entry on five very hidden Boston-area restaurants. And while these dining spots are indeed more physically "hidden" than many that are featured on this site, they are still in the Boston area, which means they are mostly in or near busy areas and easy to find if you know that they are there. Well, some recent visits to the Dudley Chateau in Wayland got me thinking about more rural out-of-the-way spots that seem to be well off the beaten path, yet are still not too far from the Boston area. A number of places came to mind, including the five described below, all of which are within an hour or so of the Greater Boston area (if not Boston proper).
1) Boxford Community Store, Boxford
In a way, Boxford is one of the most remote-feeling communities inside of Route 495, in part because much of it is in that vast, mostly rural area between Routes 95, 495, and 93 north of Boston, making it a place that you generally don't go to on the way to somewhere else. In the tiny center of this peaceful town is a cozy little family-run "store" that serves breakfast, lunch, and (on weekdays) dinner with such items as coffee, omelets, sandwiches, and pizza offered, mainly to locals, since no one else seems to know about this place. Boxford Community Store, 7 Elm Street, Boxford, MA, 01921. Phone: (978) 887-5632.
2) Fireside Tavern at Sharpe Hill, Pomfret, CT
High up in the hills of Pomfret in Northeast Connecticut (and not far from the Massachusetts border) is a vineyard that is located in about as bucolic a setting as you'll find within an hour (or so) of the Boston area. Indeed, Sharpe Vineyard is rather tough to find, but worth seeking out if you are a wine lover, or a food lover for that matter, since an upscale restaurant is also on the premises. And the Fireside Tavern is every bit as rustic as the rest of the vineyard, and it is certainly one of those "special occasion" spots. The eatery, which is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, features such dishes as lamb chops, delmonico steak, Jamaican chicken, and Creole shrimp. Fireside Tavern at Sharpe Hill, 108 Wade Road, Pomfret, CT, 06258. Phone: (860) 974-3549.
3) J's at Nashoba Valley Winery, Bolton
Another restaurant located at a winery, J's is a bit like the Fireside Tavern (see above) in that it is a good place for a special meal. Situated on a scenic hill above the center of Bolton, J's feels like it is a million miles away from Boston, but really is on the outer edge of the Greater Boston area. The rustic dining spot, which resides in an old farmhouse, offers a prix-fixe menu as well as a regular dinner menu, a lunch menu, and on weekends, a Sunday brunch menu. Items available at J's include stuffed squash, wild striped bass, jambalaya, and iron-roasted spring chicken. J's at Nashoba Valley Winery, 100 Wattaquadock Hill Road, Bolton, MA, 01740. Phone: (978) 779-9816.
4) Rye Tavern, Plymouth
A newcomer on the restaurant scene, the Rye Tavern is located on the outskirts of the Pinehills section of Plymouth, a quiet golf course community in a heavily wooded area a few miles west of the ocean and a short distance east of the vast Myles Standish State Forest. The setting of the restaurant is distinctly rural, with the dining spot being located in an historic tavern that has been around for since the Colonial Era. The Rye Tavern focuses on seasonal and locally grown foods, including dishes such as maple-smoked salmon omelettes, a curried chicken salad, steamed mussels, grilled hanger steak, baked cod, and pulled pork empanadas. Rye Tavern, 517 Old Sandwich Road, Plymouth, MA, 02134. Phone: (508) 591-7515.
5) The Tap Room at the Stone House, Little Compton, RI
The Sakonnet section of Little Compton, RI, feels a bit like the end of the world, as it is located on a main road (Route 77) that simply dead-ends at a particular wild and remote section of the Atlantic Ocean. Just before the road ends, it takes a sharp right, and if you look to the left as you take the turn, you'll see what looks like a seaside mansion. This is the Stone House, a former estate that is now a country inn. Within the inn is a cozy little restaurant called The Tap Room that has a whole lot of character (it may have been a speakeasy during Prohibition, according to the inn's website). The dining spot and watering hole focuses on upscale comfort food, with such items as clam chowder, lobster rolls, burgers, pulled pork, lamb chops, braised short ribs, and buttermilk fried chicken available. The Tap Room at the Stone House, 122 Sakonnet Point Road, Little Compton, RI, 02837. Phone: (401) 635-2222.
As always with these lists, there are so many other spots that we could have mentioned (including the aforementioned Dudley Chateau, of course). If you know of any other restaurants fairly close to Boston that seem to be in the middle of nowhere, let us know in the comments section here, thanks!
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on July 12, 2011.
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011
July 4th Lunch at Al Mac's Diner in Fall River
I have to admit, I don't know a whole lot about the restaurant scene in the Fall River/New Bedford area, other than the fact that there are a number of dining spots in both cities that get high ratings among restaurant critics and diners alike. But other than Estoril in the Flint Village section of Fall River, I'm at a bit at a loss when it comes to the area. That's why it was nice to try another spot in Fall River recently, as we went to an historic diner on Route 6 called Al Mac's that has been around for more than 100 years (including nearly 60 years in its current structure).
Located in a rather nondescript shopping center a bit north of downtown and just east of where the Taunton River opens up into Mount Hope Bay, Al Mac's Diner resides in a classic stainless steel structure that is included on the National Register of Historic Places. The interior of the diner holds few surprises, with some booths and counter stools to the left, and a few more booths and counter stools to the right, along with some tables. The interior is colorful but not in an overly garish way, and the clientele seems to be almost completely local (except when politicians visit the place), giving Al Mac's an authentic "townie" feel to it. Because it is almost a stone's throw away from Route 79 (a divided highway that goes through the city), Al Mac's is one of the easiest restaurants to get to in Fall River, though you do need to know that it's actually there, since it doesn't stand out prominently from the highway. The place is open for just breakfast and lunch Sunday through Wednesday, though it is open for dinner on Thursday nights and is continuously open day and night from Friday morning through Sunday afternoon.
Al Mac's was mostly empty when we arrived, so we had a number of seating options available to us. We decided to grab a window booth along the left side of the diner, and were promptly greeted by our server, who took our drink order of raspberry lime rickeys (highly carbonated, with just about the perfect mix of raspberry and lime flavors). We also ordered a side dish as an appetizer, and it isn't really one that you see all that often anymore, even at diners. And yet there it was on the menu--SOS on toast. And what does SOS stand for? Well, it's a term for creamed chipped beef on toast, and is an abbreviation for "s--t on a shingle." (Aren't you glad you asked?) Their version of it was all right, though there wasn't quite enough beef and perhaps just a little too much white sauce, and believe it or not, it actually needed salt, as there wasn't enough added to the dish. Once the SOS was polished off, our meals arrived, with the tuna club being excellent (loads of white-meat tuna and not an excessive amount of mayo) and the meatball sandwich being nearly as good. The latter dish featured highly spiced meatballs (almost tasting more like meat loaf) on a hamburger roll with a slice of provolone cheese and a dab of tomato sauce. The fries that came with both meals were just ok, tasting a lot like your basic Sysco brand. Service was friendly throughout, prices were very reasonable, and the clientele was a mix of old and young, families, friends, and couples, and a few solo diners at the counter.
Based on the meal we had at Al Mac's, I don't think I would include it among the best diners in New England (the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown and the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, NH, are two such places that come to mind), but it was very good for the most part, and the authentic atmosphere and sheer history of the place definitely bring it up a notch or two. I still have many restaurants to work through in Fall River (and New Bedford), so I'm not sure when I'll get back to Al Mac's, but if I happen to be in need of a quick, convenient stop on my way to Newport or Bristol, RI, Al Mac's Diner will definitely be on my short list.
For those who want the address for Al Mac's Diner, here it is: Al Mac's Diner, 135 President Avenue (Route 6), Fall River, MA, 02720. The phone number is (508) 679-5851.
Related Blog Entries: diners
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on July 5, 2011.
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