We could all use a little less sugar in our diet. Some need to lower sugar intake for health benefits, and others are baking for their children, who should be discouraged from worshipping sugar. I, for one, am not ready to totally ditch the sweet stuff. Thankfully there’s Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery + Cafés in the Boston area. In her latest book, Baking with Less Sugar, she has completely reformulated Flour favourites with much less or zero refined white sugar.
The book’s five chapters tackle 60-plus recipes using minimal or no refined sugar. You’ll find the famous Flour banana bread made with only six tablespoons of refined sugar. Using natural sugar alternatives such as honey, maple syrup, chocolate, and fruit, make for more complex flavours and bring deeper, more interesting elements to the desserts. Keith’s Super-Snappy Gingersnaps derive some of their spicy snap from the bite of molasses, and a carrot layer cake is sweetened with apple juice. An entire chapter is devoted to chocolate, most intense when not tempered by the addition of sugar.
There is some inexplicable and subconscious comfort in being around good friends. Especially ones that are full of generosity, good humour and affability. Friends who will honour your birthday with a night centered around your favourite team even when it is not theirs.
Recently, I was feted with a Boston-themed soiree by these friends of mine and treated to a meal of staggering proportions, a ‘Best of New England’ menu accessorized with Red Sox napkins, balloons, plates and cups. The crab salad was fresh, fragrant, zingy, crunchy with equal parts sweet and creamy. The chowdah was the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve had plenty. The broth was clean and allowed the palate to fully access all the flavours of the ingredients with the corn and the chives providing a boost of flavour. The risotto was decadent and flawless. Hefty chunks of perfectly cooked lobster surrounded by tender rice in the most tasty of broths accented by a side of fresh greens.
Seafood is essential to Boston’s very being. Living near the ocean affords you to have plenty of digs brimming with the catch of the day. But only one place turns fresh-from-the-ocean fare into a history lesson: Ye Olde Union Oyster House.
JFK ate here. Already, I’m sold on the place. The American president and icon (and personal hero of mine) loved to feast in privacy in the upstairs dining room. His favorite booth “The Kennedy Booth” has since been dedicated in his memory.
Billed as the oldest restaurant in Boston and the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the U.S., the doors have been open to diners since 1826. The building itself was built around 1704 and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. Before it became a restaurant, a dress goods business occupied the property. In 1771, printer Isaiah Thomas published his newspaper, The Massachusetts Spy, from the second floor. The restaurant originally opened as the Atwood & Bacon Oyster House on August 3, 1826.
During the revolution the Adams, Hancock, and Quincy wives, often sat in their stalls of the dress goods business sewing and mending clothes for the colonists. In 1796 Louis Philippe, king of France from 1830 to 1848, lived in exile on the second floor. He earned his living by teaching French to many of Boston’s fashionable young ladies. America’s first waitress, Rose Carey, worked there starting in the early 1920s. Her picture is on the wall on the stairway up to the second floor. The toothpick was said to have been popularized in America starting at the Oyster House.
Along with great history comes good food. Take a seat at the raw oyster bar on the main floor or try the dinning room which serves up rich and creamy clam chowder, sweet scallops and live Maine lobsters as well as poultry, baked beans, steak and chops.
As popular with locals as it with tourists, the Union Oyster House is ripe with history and awash in seafood standards. It’s a mandatory stop to complete your authentic New England experience.
“Boobs slathered in whipped cream are great, but money is better. If you want to do well in your business, you should think the same way.” –Steve DiFillippo, It’sAll About the Guest.
I love this guy. I’ve yet to meet him, but I am already quite fond of him. How could that be? It’s All About the Guest: Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life, the Davio’s Way is no less all about the reader than it is about the guest, and I came away from the book feeling confident that he and I could be bona fide old chums.
DiFillippo is a great raconteur. In the book, his “character” leaps off the page, and you can’t help but cheer for his obsession with food and admiration for people. You are left with the sense of a man who has given himself totally to this world and who has an insatiable appetite for life.
He’s an all-in type of guy, one who shows reverence and a profound commitment to his family, friends, guests and his people. He’s inextricably bound to his upbringing. “Warm and comforting memories,” he calls them. In the book, he recounts how he grew up in the kitchens of his mother and his aunts—both Portuguese and Italian. From his Nana (grandmother) he learned that food mattered, and how it was prepared mattered. “I’m not sure where I’d be today if it wasn’t for Nana.” From his dad, he learned that it was all about having good people in your life. “You can’t get anywhere without them. And you have to treat them right. Then watch, they treat you right.” It’s clear that both his dad and Nana have had a profound effect on how he runs his business and conducts his life.
DiFillippo’s instincts and deepest beliefs are on full display in his book. His narrative shifts as he recounts the highs and the lows from childhood fat-camp, to coffee clerk, to head chef, to a multimillion dollar brand. Part The Art of the Deal, part Kitchen Confidential, with cherished recipes and practical wisdom thrown in for good measure, It’s All About the Guest is a story-driven, passionate chronicle of what it takes to triumph in the restaurant business.
But, this isn’t just a story about how to make it in business. It’s All About the Guest is a tale of DiFillippo’s personal, passionate pursuit to own and operate a successful restaurant, a quest that began when he was a young boy growing up in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. It’s a story of lessons learned along the way, and it provides a recipe for success for young entrepreneurs.
DiFillippo is a model of what it means to be focused and doggedly determined. “If you want to thrive for decades, you can never let up. Not even when a topless server flings whipped cream in your face.” Well put Steve, well put.
“It’s All About the Guest: Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life, the Davio’s Way” by Steve Fillippo is available at Amazon.com and Chapters.Indigo.ca.
Is there anything more associated with baseball than hot dogs? Cracker Jacks have their place but there’s nothing like having a hot dog at the ballpark while watching your favourite team play. Have you ever been to Fenway and tried the Fenway Franks? BEST. HOTDOG. EVER. IMHO. Perfect flavouring, boiled then grilled and served on a New England style bun. Nothing like it.
Here’s a short video from Boston.com on the making of Fenway Franks. If you live in the New England region, you can also get them at your local grocery store. Since I’m 7.5 hours out of Boston, (Ottawa, Canada) I’ll have to wait for my yearly visits to Fenway.
During my time in Boston, I had full well intended to sample the many food trucks that line the streets. But it’s raining. ALL THE TIME. I did manage to try the BBQ Smith truck. It was parked near the library just outside the Copley T station as I was running for one thing to the next. Within minutes I had my hands on a Slawwhich. Smoked chicken with BBQ sauce, slaw and garlic pickles on a soft roll. The piled high smoked chicken was flavourful, the sauce was tangy and the pickles and coleslaw added a nice crisp touch. This sandwich was very reasonable priced at $6.
I’m not an lobster roll aficionado. But Neptune Oyster‘s lobster roll has been touted as the best in New England. So why not try it? It came on a toasted brioche with whole pieces of tail and claw drenched in buttery goodness accompanied by a mound of fries. It was wicked tasty. Next time I’ll try the more traditional cold version mixed with mayo. And I should have sampled the Oysters for Pete’s sake. It’s called Neptune Oyster. Not sure what I was thinking.
Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem Street, North End, Boston, MA
I must confess that I’m a bit obsessed with Boston’s Clover Food Labs. The Harvard Square one in particular. Being treated like family is such a cliche but I’m unable to find a better way to describe what I feel when I’m there. They make me feel welcomed and at home.
Clover is an interesting business model. Part start-up, part high tech firm, part experimental cuisine. They use local, fresh ingredients don’t even own a freezer. And it wasn’t until my third trip there that I noticed the the menu was vegetarian (I’m a little slow but in my defence, they do make the place approachable even for a burger chomping, Julia Child worshiping guy like me). Clover uses their customers as a testing lab (It’s not as painful as it sounds). If we don’t like a sandwich, it’s gone. If we do, it stays the course. White boards serve as menus, which makes for quick edits if items change or run out. I’m impressed by their use of Twitter to announce their daily offerings. I’m mostly in Ottawa when they tweet about whoopee pies coming out fresh from the oven. Don’t think I haven’t fantasized about making the drive down just to get me some hot whoopee pies. Although by the time I got to HSQ they wouldn’t be hot. But I bet if I asked, the nice folks at Clover would bake me a whole new batch of pies on my arrival. That’s how fantastic they are there.
Clover’s low-key vibe made it a perfect place to start my mornings. I even ventured there for lunch once or twice. Check out the pics below to see what I had to eat.
Popover, pickled zucchini, tomato and cheese. Oatmeal with fruit compote and fresh squeezed OJ.
Chickpea plate: Tomato cucumber salad, humous, pickled cabbage salad, and chick pea fritters. There’s a pita bread but I guess he was to shy to make a photo appearance. Cold home made iced tea to wash it all down with.
The ultimate breakfast sandwich. A soft-boiled egg, tomato and cheese in a whole weight pita. Blurriness not included.
It was raining. It was cold. I needed chowder. I just happened to be at the most opportune place to fill my craving: Quincy Market. For those of you who have never been to Boston, Quincy Market is near Faneuil Hall and houses an endless food court filled with pizza, seafood, BBQ, sweets and tons more. I went to Boston Chowdah, a pretty reliable source for authentic New England chowder. Except on this occasion, someone must have dropped a box of cornstarch into the cauldron cause this chowder was barely edible. Thick, floury and kinda gross. I scooped up the seafood chunks and dumped out the rest. On a more positive note, the oyster crackers were pretty delicious.
I made it safe and sound. It had been a while since I’d driven to Boston and driving here is probably not something that I will repeat anytime soon. It was a long and dull commute. But enough about how I got here. Lets get to the important stuff. Food!
When I think of Boston. I think of a few things. Red Sox, Harvard and Upper Crust Pizza. UC is a boston based pizzeria with the badest sickest pizza there is. Everyone thinks they know who has the best pizza and let me tell you, if they don’t say Upper Crust, they’re wrong. Fresh ingredients, sweet sauce, thin crust all made to order makes for one tasty pizza. The people at UC work hard and help give the place a great vibe. Whenever I get to Boston, I run to Upper Crust.
Little slice of pepperoni pizza heaven at Upper Crust Harvard Square