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.
To travel to Boston is to be transported into a world juxtaposed between modern and historic. Gleaming contemporary architecture sit by centuries-old brick structures. Monuments to fallen heroes live side-by-side with Hubway bikes. It is a city that has carefully preserved its history yet is undaunted by the future. Always striving to move forward yet never forgetting where it’s been.
Much the same can be said for its cuisine. Classic dinning establishments are revered all the while new innovative eateries are championed. The art of good eating is a vital component of Boston. On my latest jaunt, I acted as if I had been suddenly dropped into the epicenter of this vibrant city and I set off on a little culinary adventurism. Determined to discover old as well as new heroes.
OTTO Pizza how do I love thee? I love thee purely, I love thee freely. You have won my heart. This is what pizza pie is supposed to taste like. Slender and crisp crust daringly topped with what seems like nonsensical ingredients. Butternut squash? Cranberries? White beans? Mashed potatoes? It’s unusual, creative and madly delicious. And it’s what sets it apart from other joints. I dream of one day living near an OTTO and indulging on mashed potato-bacon-scallions pizza every single day. One could be so lucky. OTTO Pizza I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life. Till we are together again.
229 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA
Butternut Squash, Ricotta and Cranberry
Spinach, White Bean and Roasted Garlic
Mashed Potato, Bacon and Scallion
Saus elevates the humble potato to a fine art. Belgian style fries, hand cut daily and served with your choice of condiment are their specialty. And they whole-heartedly believe in the power of the condiment, which is why they offer over 15 unique sauces, not including homemade mayo, ketchup, and gravy. Try the Ole Chipotle (chipotle in adobo, lime juice, fresh cilantro, mayo), the Sweet Bill’s BBQ (onions, cider vinegar, spices, mesquite smoke) or the Bacon Parm (applewood smoked bacon, Parmesan). Just around the corner from Faneuil Hall, check out Saus at 33 Union St.
Depending on who you talk to, Regina is seen as the best pizza in Boston. At 80 years and counting, it’s a genuinely old-school joint, filled with wooden booths and photos of local celebs. As for the pies themselves, the crust is crunchy-chewy perfection and the sauce is light and tangy with a signature drizzle of garlic oil. I can’t not have a slice while I am visiting the city. You shouldn’t either. Pizzeria Regina is at 11 1/2 Thacher St. in the North End and in Faneuil Hall.
I go to Boston to see my beloved Red Sox play. Fenway is the happiest place on earth. It’s amazing to me that though generations have come and gone, Fenway Park remains, much like it did the day it opened on April 20, 1912. Fenway Park is a place where dreams are made, traditions are celebrated and baseball is forever. Williams, Yaz, Fisk and Rice all played here. How cool. There’s plenty of food at Fenway but Fenway Franks is my must-have when I’m at the park. These signature blended franks are meaty, juicy with a touch of smoke and garlic tucked into a steamed New England Style split top roll. This dog has the right spice balance, perfect juiciness and the best flavour. Perfection!
The best salad I ever had, hands down, was at Flour Bakery + Cafe. Quinoa, tofu mixed with roasted cauliflower, carrots, portobello mushrooms, diced celery, fresh edamame beans, a handful of baby spinach all coated in a ginger scallion dressing. This salad will turn even the most anti-tofu/anti-quinoa customer into a fan.
Gooey, cinnamony, warm and soft with layers of brown sugar-honey goodness. Pecans sprinkled on top add a touch of crunchiness. Yeah, I’m talking about Flour’s Sticky-Sticky Bun. I have them every time I am in town, as you should. So if you stop by for a Sunday morning treat, run. And make sure you call ahead. They run out quickly.
New Salad! Quinoa, roasted veggies, tofu, portobellos, spinach, ginger scallion dressing. I could eat this salad every day. Actually, make that: I eat this salad every day. We roast tofu and mix it with roasted cauliflower and carrots and portobello mushrooms. We add diced celery and some fresh edamame beans and a handful of baby spinach. The salad is dressed with a ginger scallion dressing that you’ll want to put on everything. It’s the protein punch! Quinoa is the new superfood and this salad will turn even the most anti-tofu/anti-quinoa customer into a fan. This salad is vegan as is. – See more at: http://flourbakery.com/news/summer-2012#sthash.2zKeld0B.dpuf
New Salad! Quinoa, roasted veggies, tofu, portobellos, spinach, ginger scallion dressing. I could eat this salad every day. Actually, make that: I eat this salad every day. We roast tofu and mix it with roasted cauliflower and carrots and portobello mushrooms. We add diced celery and some fresh edamame beans and a handful of baby spinach. The salad is dressed with a ginger scallion dressing that you’ll want to put on everything. It’s the protein punch! Quinoa is the new superfood and this salad will turn even the most anti-tofu/anti-quinoa customer into a fan. This salad is vegan as is. – See more at: http://flourbakery.com/news/summer-2012#sthash.2zKeld0B.dpu
I stayed at one of the most historical hotels in all of America and I can’t recommend it enough. Opened in 1855 by Harvey D. Parker and located on School Street near the corner of Tremont, not far from the seat of the Massachusetts state government, the Omni Parker House Hotel has long been a rendezvous for politicians.
John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for Congress at the Parker House in 1946 and also held his bachelor party in the hotel’s Press Room there in 1953. That must have been quite the party. Ho Chi Minh worked as a baker at the hotel from 1911 to 1913. Malcolm X, then going by the name Malcolm Little, worked as a busboy at the hotel in the 1940s.
The hotel was home to the Saturday Club, also referred to as the Saturday Night Club, which consisted of literary dignitaries such as Charles Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Sr. Charles Dickens resided in the Parker House for two years in his own apartments and first recited and performed “A Christmas Carol” at the Saturday Club at the Parker House. The Parker House currently holds possession of Charles Dickens lock and key to his apartment door and also his mirror.
The Parker House perfected the Boston cream pie, which is more of a cake than a pie. Created by Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian at Boston’s Parker House Hotel in 1856, this pudding and cake combination comprises two layers of sponge cake filled with vanilla flavored custard or crème pâtissière. The cake is topped with a chocolate ganache.
The Parker House roll was also invented here during the 1870’s. Made by flattening the center of a ball of dough with a rolling pin so that it becomes an oval shape and then folding the oval in half, they are made with milk and are generally quite buttery, soft, and slightly sweet with a crispy shell. The story of their creation has several variations, but they all involve an angry pastry cook throwing unfinished rolls into the oven, which resulted in their dented appearance.
The joint effort of a former Californian and a Boston chef, Dorado brings authentic Mexican to Boston’s Brookline area. Dorado tacos are the real deal. Made with soft homemade tortillas, they’re stuffed with your choice of grilled sirloin steak, marinated chicken or perfectly charred veggies. I went for the fish taco ensenada. Beer-battered Atlantic whitefish, cabbage, salsa fresca, pickled onions and Baja crema. Its the crunch of the fish and all those flavours that make this tacos irresistible. I’m still thinking about it weeks later. I also tried the house-made chorizo taco with guacamole and salsa fresca which was equally as delicious and flavourful. And for less than six dollars for two gourmet tacos, how could you go wrong?
Now that Shake Shack is in town, there’s really no reason to go anywhere else for burgers and fries. Located in historic Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard Square Shack’s menu features all the Shake Shack classics (I had the ShackBurger) along with the MInT Chocolate concrete (chocolate custard, mint marshmallow sauce and chocolate truffle cookie dough), the Crimson Red Velvet (vanilla frozen custard blended with a slice of crimson red velvet cake from South End Buttery Bakery) and the Lobstah Shell concrete (Vanilla custard, lobstah tail pastry shell from Boston’s North End, strawberry puree and ricotta cream). Good times in the Commonwealth!
How could you not love a place where everything on the menu is $5 or less? This place I love is called Clover and I frequent it every time I’m in town. They serve a simple menu that changes daily. Clover relies heavily on fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, and boasts on its website about the fact that the restaurants have no freezers. The kitchen is expected to get orders out within an average of 3½ minutes. Fresh, organic food, fast. Try the breakfast sandwhich. A sous-vide egg in a warm pita, with sliced tomatoes, a piece of Grafton cheddar, and a dash of salt and pepper. THE perfect healthy breakfast.
In May of 2014, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe announced that it was closing at the end of June, ending its 87-year run. Though I had never been to Charlie’s, I decided to pay my respects.
Located in Boston’s South End, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe is a neighbourhood diner known for its breakfasts. Charlie’s has been open since 1927 and has no bathrooms. There are only 32 seats, 13 of which lie along a counter across from wooden refrigerators purchased in 1927. For 32 years, the restaurant operated seven days a week, 24 hours a day. When Charlie’s finally decided to close on Sundays, the owners had to call a locksmith because no one had a key to the front door.
Though its story is in many ways about food, the diner is steeped in rich history. Charlie’s is known for serving African-American jazz musicians during the era of segregated hotels. The walls of the diner are adorned with pictures of customers like Sammy Davis, Jr., Vice President Al Gore, various former Red Sox players and managers, Governor Deval Patrick and President Barack Obama. As a child, Sammy Davis, Jr used to tap dance in front of the restaurant for change.
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe has won numerous awards over the years (most notably for its turkey hash), culminating in the reception of a James Beard Award in 2005.
I’m glad I went. Throngs of people came and went to wish the owner good luck. Asked what he was going to do when the shoppe is closed, he was overhead saying, “I’m going to sleep in.” Very well deserved, I say.