Monday, April 30, 2012

One the road part 4: Pilgrim's progress; The original Hot Pocket

Waking up on Day 3 of our road trip we were greeted with another sunny day. The weather gods were smiling upon us so we took advantage and made our way to one of the highlights of our trip, Plimoth Plantation. Plimoth Plantation is a recreation of the original Plimoth Colony in Plymouth, MA. It features the "plantation" or settlement, a Wampanoag homesite and artisans who work in in the style of the 17th Century. The settlement and homesite feature actors in period dress playing historically accurate characters. To be honest, everyone was excited about it. The kids had all studied it in school and Karen and I had both read Nathaniel Philbrick's fantastic book "Mayflower." To a person, adults and kids, we were all looking forward to it.

The only thing I wasn't looking forward to was eating there. We have all been to enough museums and cultural institutions to know that their food is, in general, terrible. That is why I believe the single best part of the MOMA renovation was the Cafe on 2. More on that in a later post.

I had done a little research and had scoped out a few potential lunch spots in the town of Plymouth. But the timing did not work out in my favor. We got a later start than expected, and the trip took a little longer than expected, so that by the time we arrived it was close to noon and the natives were getting restless (and hungry). I jockeyed for a run into town, but our friends were driving back to New York after our visit and they did not want to get a late start. I looked at my wife and said, trying my best to keep my language clean, "OK, let's look at the food here. But if it is just chicken fingers, pizza and crappy Chicken Ceasar Wraps we are out of here."

We looked at the menu. Chicken fingers. Pizza. Mac & Cheese. Hamburgers and Hot Dogs. Oh no. I was about to revolt when I spotted this section on the menu:






A Taste of History. Traditional food of the Wampanoag and Pilgrims. Now, I can't say I had high hopes. But I figured it had to be better than the standard fair and would at least get me in the spirit of the day. So we stayed and ordered. The kids ordered what kids order. No surprise. Karen joined me in the culinary adventure and ordered the Succotash. I rolled the dice twice and went with The Patuxet and the Peasecod.

First, Karen's Succotash. If you had asked me before this lunch what, exactly, succotash was, I couldn't have told you. Of course I knew that it was a part of Sylvester's favorite phrase "suffering' succotash" (Daffy said it occasionally as well). If I had thought about it, I would have guessed that succotash was some kind of squash. It turns out succotash is a hearty stew. The Plimoth version has beans, corn, potatoes, chicken, corned beef and spices. It was hearty and tasty.





Karen was very happy with it and I was happy she shared.


Next up was the Patuxet. Two large stuffed quahogs (clams) with a side of Three Sisters rice and squash.







The stuffed clams were huge, overflowing with stuffing. It was mostly breading and seasoning but there were enough clams in it to give it a satisfyingly briny taste. They weren't the best stuffed clams I have ever eaten, but they were good and filling and I enjoyed them. Better than an ice cold Chicken Caesar Wrap any day. The side of rice was nice and Karen enjoyed the squash.

(Editors note - I find zucchini to be the most vile, inedible so-called "food" imaginable. Yellow squash is a close second. I do not mean to offend anyone. This is actually a great loss to Karen, who enjoys both and never gets to make either at home. So I was, in fact, being a good husband letting her have mine.)


Last up was the Peasecod.








We have a winner. A Peasecod is a hand pie. Chicken, currants and dates are chopped and mixed with spices then wrapped and baked in a pastry shell. This is the original Hot Pocket, and unlike the Hot Pockets of today, it was delicious. The spice blend had a surprising South Asian flavor to it. It mixed well with the sweetness of the dates and currants and resulted in a sweet and savory pie that I truly enjoyed. I would recommend it if was sold from a store front on 1st Avenue, so on a visit to the Plimoth Plantation consider it a must try.


Fully satiated from our lunch we headed out to enjoy some living history. The first stop was the Wompanoag Village. We learned how the they made boats, cooked and lived. We had a great host in the long house who answered all the kid's questions.





Next up was the Craft Center where a potter was at work and well as a craftsman making a traditional bow and arrows. Finally we made our may to the Plantation. Sitting on a hill, with the view of water, you can really get a feel what it was like for the early settlers.






You can enter all the houses and talk to the actors who are playing actual settlers, like Miles Standish, from the original Plimoth settlement. They are knowledgable and will answer all your questions.






As you wander through Plimoth, you can imagine the hardships the Pilgrims went through. That they ultimately survived and prospered is remarkable. It took great courage and conviction to travel so far from home to start a new life. It also required help from the Wampanoug people.  I do take comfort knowing that, once settled, they were able to build a new life and enjoy the fruits of their labor. After a day's hard work they could settle into the comfort of a home they had built with their own hands and enjoy a nice bowl of succotash or a peasecod.

Plimoth Plantation is a great destination for families or anyone interested in American history. Even the most jaded of us cannot help but be captivated by it. It makes you realize just how far we have come as a people and as a nation. Today's Hot Pockets not withstanding.

Plimoth Plantation - 137 Warren Avenue - Plymouth, MA

www.plimoth.org






Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bea Arthur, sea salt and ice cream: Big Gay Ice Cream Shop


Forgive the the momentary detour from the Boston travelogue, but my wife Karen just told me she has been dreaming about Big Gay Ice Cream. "Bea Arthur. I want a Bea Arthur," she said, with a far off look in her eye. "Me too," I replied.

If your are scratching your head, if you are confused or concerned, do not worry. I will explain. On a recent, beautiful Sunday afternoon I took Karen and the girls to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop shop for, of course, ice cream. It was, in a word, fabulous!

Big Gay Ice Cream began in 2009 as a food truck. Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff envisioned the BGIC truck as a fun experiment, offering soft serve in a classic Mr. Softee setting but with more creative and unique toppings. Nilla Wafers and Dulce de Leche  were on the menu along with olive oil and sea salt. Served with humor instead of attitude, the truck was a big hit. This success lead to a permanent storefront, the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.

The shop on East 7th Street is a small one. On warm days there is a line to get in, but do not be deterred. It moves quickly and they limit the number of people in the store at once which actually makes it a better experience. You are warmly greeted upon entry, and are immediately set at ease by the welcoming presence of that most magical of creatures, the Unicorn.





Unicorns abound, but stay focused on the mission at hand, the ice cream. Soft serve, shakes and ice cream sandwiches make up the bulk of the menu. Coffee and a few other sweets are available. The toppings list runs the gamut from toasted curried coconut and wasabi pea dust to pumpkin butter and key lime curd. If you are one of those people that loves non-tradition sweets, loves the cayenne pepper in chocolate craze, then BGIC Shop is a must.

But what if you are more of a traditionalist? What if the sound of a Mr. Softee truck gets your taste buds going. Well my friend, the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop is definitely for you. And I would recommend, on your first visit, focusing on the specialty cones.

Tongue planted firmly in cheek, each specialty cone is given a funny or risqué  name. How about a Salty Pimp (vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt and chocolate dip)? A Cococone (vanilla ice cream and toasted curried coconut)? As a huge chocolate dip fan I went for the American Globs on our visit.






Consisting of vanilla ice cream, pretzels, sea salt and chocolate dip, American Globs improves on something I considered perfect, the chocolate dip cone. The pretzels add a crunchy bite and with the sea salt they add balance to the sweetness of the ice cream and chocolate dip. Happy happy.

I didn't think it could get better than the American Globs. But then I tasted the Bea Arthur.





When two gay men start an ice cream shop and name a cone after Bea Arthur, it had better be damned good. BGIC Shop's Bea Arthur is better than good, it is perfection in a cone. The Bea Arthur has three ingredients; vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche and crushed 'nilla wafers. This may be the Holy Trinity of ice cream. There is a hint of homage to the Good Humor Toasted Almond Bar here, but it surpasses that classic treat. Delicious vanilla ice cream is drizzled with dulce de leche then coated in 'nilla wafer dust. This is the cone my wife's dreams are made of. Mine too.

(Please note that, once again, a bite was taken of the Bea Arthur before I could take a snap shot. It stands a bit taller when you get it, but not for long.)

I will be back, and back again for the Bea Arthur. And there are so many more treats I want to try. The Monday Sundae (twist ice cream, Nutella lined cone, dulce de leche, sea salt and whipped cream) has my name written all over it.


There may not be anything better than riding a unicorn over a rainbow, but the sweet treats at the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop come close.






Big Gay Ice Cream Shop - 125 East 7th Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, NYC - www.biggayicecream.com

Sunday, April 22, 2012

On the road Part 3: A coffee pit stop at Thinking Cup


Fully stuffed from the Parish Cafe Lobster Roll, I found myself on a mad dash with the family across Boston Common. Karen was on a mission to get on the 2:30 tour of the Freedom Trail. We made it just in time to join Bob the Patriot, resplendent in his three cornered hat and period garb, as he began a journey back in time.

Don't get me wrong. Bob was very entertaining and well informed. An expert in 18th century decorative arts by trade, he was really, really into being a tour guide through the foundational history of this country. From the two graves of Paul Revere to the Boston Massacre and beyond, Bob did a yeoman's job. But the one hour twenty minute tour ran to two hours and by the time we arrived at Marshall Street we were all tapped out. We stopped in Faneuil Hall Market looking for some sustenance and then started the walk back to the car.

When we had initially parked the car and started our day in Boston, a sign had caught my eye. "Stumptown Coffee." It was in front of Thinking Cup Coffee Bar on Tremont Street. If you are familiar with this blog, then you know I was stopping into Thinking Cup before we got the car.

Thinking Cup is the first coffee shop in Downtown Boston to serve Stumptown coffee. They offer coffee, pour over, espresso and everything else a self-respecting coffee shop has today as well as a nice selection of organic tea. For breakfast they offer a number of fresh breakfast pastries and other breakfast options. For lunch they have a half dozen sandwiches. Dessert pastries also have pride of place, which we took advantage of.

Thinking Cup is a long, deep room, divided in half. On the right, coffee, food and pastries at a counter that runs the length of the room. On the left, ample seating with a banquet that runs the nearly the length of the room. When we stopped in around 4:30 in the afternoon nearly ever seat was taken, many of them with laptops open. If someone told me I was on the Lower East Side or parts of Brooklyn I would have believed them. I guess "Stumptown" is a magnet for the modern day coffee shop dweller, no matter what town you are in. It is fine with me. I had a well made Stumptown cappuccino in my hand so I had no complaints.

We were heading to dinner with family after our day on the Freedom Trail and we did not want to arrive empty handed. That is where Thinking Cup's pastries came in. They offer an enticing array of sweets and we picked up a nice sample for our dinner.






We settled on two chocolate eclairs, two fruit tarts, a mini Boston Creme Pie and a mini cheesecake. They were a big hit at our family dinner. I would have been happy with just my cappuccino but the pastry selection at Thinking Cup turned out to be a big bonus. I would be happy to return and sample some of the other pastries, breakfast or dessert, with my coffee.  It may not have a particular "Boston" flavor, but Thinking Cup was a welcome refueling spot right in the heart of Downtown Boston. It has all the comforts of home a coffee snob like myself could want.





Thinking Cup Coffee Bar - 165 Tremont Street, Boston - www.thinkingcup.com


Friday, April 20, 2012

On the road part 2: Lobster Rolls and beer in the heart of Boston

After a great meal in Mystic we made our way north to our hotel. We weren't staying in Boston proper. We were staying in Lexington at our favorite hotel, Aloft. The hotel is right off of 95 so it is an easy trip to the various points around Boston. After a good night sleep and a swim in the pool we were ready for our first day in Boston. We headed into town for a classic activity, walking the Freedom Trail.

We parked off of Boston Common and got our bearings. It was another beautiful day. We walked through Boston Common and Boston Garden, letting the kids run and taking some family vacation snapshots. Karen and our friend Carolyn were on a mission to get on one of the guided tours of the Freedom Trail with someone dressed in period garb. Knowing that this would be the perfect combination of fascinating history and child torture, I suggested we have lunch before we embarked on a journey back in time. Of course, I had just the place in mind.

The week before we left I had read a fun piece in the New York Times by Ben Shpigel. He wrote about his experience as a baseball writer and discovering great food in the baseball towns he travelled to while covering the Yankees and Mets. In Boston his go to spot was The Parish Cafe. That was where we were headed.

The Parish Cafe is located right off the Boston Public Garden on Boylston Street. It has a lovely, raised outdoor patio out front for eating and people watching on nice days. Inside it is a large, long room with some seating up front, a long bar dominating the middle of the restaurant, and the main seating area in back. The restaurant can easily handle large groups. We were a group of seven and there was a group of seven behind us and they had us all seated within ten minutes.

The Parish Cafe opened in 1992 and has been voted best sandwich in Boston almost every year since. The concept is a unique one. The owner approached a number of famous Boston area chefs and asked each to design a sandwich for the menu. The result is a deep list of sandwiches, most of which are unique takes on classics. These are not your standard deli fare. These are sandwiches of note and renown. The menu also has a number of appetizers, salads and main courses on offer as well, but the sandwiches are the headliners.

Seeing as how we were on vacation, a nice beer at lunch seemed a good place to start. The Parish Cafe has a good and interesting selection of beers on draft and in bottles. Carolyn and I opted for the Victory Prima Pils, a nice crisp pilsner out of Pennsylvania.




Karen went with a Notch Session Ale. Notch is a local brewery out of Ipswich, MA that specializes in "session" brews. Session brews are traditionally beers lower in alcohol than your standard beer. Notch defines anything with a 4.5% or lower alcohol by volume a "session" beer. There is no real definition of a "session" brew and there seems to be a heated debate over this in the craft beer world.
I wont bother you with details. You can read more about it here: www.notchbrewing.com

Just know that Notch Session Ale Karen had was delicious. Rich, with a deep amber color, this ale is malty with a little chocolate and will satisfy any fan of darker ales. And it is only 4% ABV to boot.





Beers in hand it was time to order. The kids ate what kids ate. Karen and Carolyn shared The Harrington salad:


Chopped romaine, fresh mint, diced cucumbers, sliced red onions, Kalamata olives and feta cheese tossed with a fresh lemon-olive oil dressing and served over grilled Syrian bread

And they shared the Eggplant Milanesa sandwich created by Jamie Bissonnette, chef and owner of Copa and Toro in Boston. Description here:

Thin sliced breaded and pan fried eggplant on a sesame torta roll with slow roasted black beans, chipotle aioli, avocado, and Oaxaca Mexican cheese. Served with chipotle Mexican slaw.

They enjoyed both of them. I knew I wanted to try the Bowl-O-Rings, homemade, beer battered fried onion rings with a chipotle aioli on the side. I did, and I was pleased. Thick cut onions, lightly battered and fried, they were what you always hope onions rings will be when you order them. The chipotle aioli was rich and spicy and will make you banish ketchup as a onion ring condiment forever.






I had a hard time deciding on my sandwich. Tim Cushman of o ya had great looking Spicy Tuna Burger. But I kept coming back to the same choice. A well regarded New York chef told my wife that when you are in Boston, you can never go wrong eating any where Barbara Lynch is involved. And sure enough, there on the menu, was the B&G Lobster Roll created by Barbara Lynch, Executive Chef and owner of B&G Oyster Co.. Boston + seafood +lobster roll + Barbara Lynch = winner:





I love lobster. I love lobster rolls. And I have been spoiled because I have spent quite a bit of time in Downeast Maine with my in-laws. I have bought lobsters from the back of a lobster boat in Corea, ME. So it takes a lot for me to get lobster south of Portland because I have been spoiled.  I am happy I took the plunge here.

As you can tell from the photo, this is no ordinary lobster roll. It is, in fact, two lobster rolls. Decadent. I can't tell you how many times I have eaten a lobster roll and wished I could eat another one. My wish came true. Two lobster rolls with a side of Cap Cod Chips. Perfect.

However, there is more than meets the eye here. These are not quite your traditional lobster rolls. The do have some of the keys to a great roll. Big chunks of lobster, barely touched by mayo. Buttered and grilled split hot dogs buns, in this case they are twice the size of a normal hot dog bun. What you cannot see is what is underneath the lobster. Chopped romaine lettuce, tomato confit, Hellman's mayo, and applewood smoked bacon.

In a nutshell, what you get is an oversized toasted hot bog bun with a BLT on the bottom and a lobster roll on top. And you get two of them. And chips. It is, to coin a phrase, wicked awesome.

Two meals, two (actualy three) fantastic seafood rolls. I was on a roll (yeah, I know, I know. At least I didn't make a "brewhaha" joke before). We were ready for a good walk, a history lesson, pushing the tolerance level of our kids. Boy, did we get it.

The Parish Cafe is a must when you are in Boston. Great location, great food, great spot to refill and recharge. Perfect for the whole family.




The Parish Cafe - 361 Boylston Street, Boston - www.parishcafe.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A good start; Scallop Rolls in Mystic

I am a bit of a believer in good omens. After a great Easter/Passover weekend on the East End of Long Island the family headed off to Boston. The weather forecast was not promising. Chance of rain everyday. We started our trip on the ferry from Orient Point to New London, CT. It was a wonderful ride. The sun was out, the seas were relatively calm and the you could see all the way to the Connecticut coastline. On the ride we saw seals, porpoises and, as we came into New London, the Coast Guard escorting a submarine into port. We couldn't have asked for more.

We docked in New London around 12:30 pm. We had some good friends joining us on the trip. They were in Mystic at the aquarium awaiting our call. K had done some research and found a spot where we could rendezvous for lunch. Kitchen Little in Mystic.



Kitchen Little has been serving breakfast and lunch on the water in Mystic, CT for over 25 years. As the name indicates, it is a tiny place. The dinning room holds maybe 24 people and the heated back patio another 30. We sat out back, with a view of the water.



Kitchen Little is renowned for both their breakfasts as well as their seafood. We arrived for lunch, and because we were officially in New England I had one thing on my mind, seafood. After considering my options I settled on a cup of Flo's Famous Clam Chowder and the Bomster Sea Scallop Roll.

The chowder was tasty. It had a nice light broth with a clean flavor and healthy portions of chopped clams and potatoes. Definitely a good start. But the home run of the meal was the Bomster Sea Scallop Roll.



Full disclosure, I love scallops. I have since I was a kid. The two weeks in the fall when the bay scallops come in is one of my favorite times of the year. So I had high hopes for the Bombster. It was beyond my expectations.

The scallops are not some pre-fried and frozen dreck from a bag. These scallops are fresh off the boat from the Bomster family in Stonington, CT. They are lightly breaded and delicately fried to perfection. Thick and juicy, they almost melt as you eat them. These are some of the best scallops I have ever had. They come served on a split hot dog bun (as it should be) with tartar sauce and a lemon wedge on the side. A light squeeze of the lemon and just a touch of the tarter sauce is all the scallops need, if that. The fries are an after thought. All you can focus on are the remarkably succulent scallops on your plate. I do not exaggerate.

But wait, there is more. Because Kitchen Little serves fresh seafood, and prepares it to order, you can get the scallops, fish sandwich or any of the seafood prepared how you like it. Hearing this, K ordered the Bomster Roll but with the scallops sauteed instead of fried. I know what you are thinking. Sacrilege! This is a roadside seafood restaurant. The scallops should be fried. Normally I would agree. But I tried K's sauteed Bomster Roll. Oh Man.




Now, I am not saying I don't prefer the fried scallops. But the sauteed scallop roll was fantastic as well. It makes sense. Take some of the best, fresh scallops you have ever eaten, lightly sauteed them and serve them on a split hot dog bun (as it should be) with a little tartar sauce and lemon. You cannot go wrong. No matter which way you prefer it, the Kitchen Little Bomster Sea Scallop Roll should be in the seafood roll hall of fame. It is the kind of dish you go out of your way to find.

As the joke goes, I have good news, and I have bad news. First the bad news. On April 23, after more than 25 years in business, Kitchen Little is closing. Apparently their neighbor bought the property, jacked up the rent, and so no more Kitchen Little. Same old story.

Now the good news. On April 26 Kitchen Little opens in their new location at the Mystic River Marina just down the road. Of course you always worry when something like this happens. Will the spirit, charm and great food of the old location be gone? You never know. The positives here are that Kitchen Little will live on, they will have more seating (so less waiting), and there is even talk of serving dinner. Sounds good to me.

The good omen of our Ferry ride proved true. The first meal on our vacation was one to remember. I had high hopes for the rest of them, and the rest of our break.





Kitchen Little - Until April 23 (run, don't walk) - 135 Greenmanville Road (RT 27), Mystic, CT
Starting April 26 - The Mystic River Marina - 36 Quarry Road, Stonington, CT
                      
kitchenlittle.org


Monday, April 16, 2012

Big Poppa hits the road.

My apologies for the radio silence. Passover, Easter and the kids' spring break all lined up this year so the past ten days have had me on the road with the family. The downside is I have not had a chance to post. The plus side (I think) is I now have a lot to write and post about. Hopefully the flood gates will open.


This year we stayed fairly local and made a trip up to Boston to see family, friends and a little bit of history. Because this was a family trip with the kids I did not have a chance to hit every spot I wanted to try. That said, we had some great meals, and for those of you with kids, what follows are some great spots where the whole family (especially the adults) will be happy.


Don't have kids? How do scallop rolls, lobster rolls, a great update on prosciutto and melon, the Pilgrim's original hot pocket, grilled cheese and tomato soup and a nice cappuccino with a home made candy bar sound? As I said, something for everyone. Coming up first, scallop rolls in Mystic, CT. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Drop in: Brindle Room


Sometimes you just want comfort food. Nothing fancy. Just good, satisfying food well prepared. And really well done comfort food can be as satisfying as any high end cooking. Saturday night was a comfort food kind of night. My sister and I went to see "Safe House." This is Hollywood's version of comfort food, and in this case it was well done. Denzel Washington, as always, was in fine form. Ryan Reynolds got the job done and a strong supporting cast (Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, Vera Farmiga and Ruben Blades) made for entertaining popcorn fair. A solid, smart action thriller. Comfort food.

After watching Denzel Washington kick ass for two hours I was hungry for some real comfort food. I headed for the Brindle Room. I have written about the Brindle Room before. A full review of the Brindle Room is overdue. But based on the fact they make some of the best doughnuts in the city and that I went there for their fried chicken, you know you need to check it out.

I sat at the bar and and ordered a beer. The Brindle Room rotates its beer selection. It is a small but well curated list and I have never been disappointed by any brew I have had there. This time I ordered a beer I had never heard of, a Pinkus Organic Pilsner. Crisp and clean, with a nice medium body, the Pinkus Pils is delicious. Pinkus is a German brewer based in Munster. Their pilsner comes in a 16.9 oz bottle and is one I am going to search for and find for my home fridge.






As to the fried chicken, it can stand toe to toe with any in the city. The dish comes with four pieces of fried chicken. The skin is seasoned with a nice balance of herbs and spices. The chicken is fried to perfection, the meat tender and juicy. The skin is not overly crispy and the chicken is not greasy in anyway. A side of honey accompanies the chicken for dipping. The licking of fingers will occur.

This being the Brindle Room the sides are not an afterthought, they are part of show. Greens are sauteed with garlic, complimenting the spice of the greens without overwhelming them. The greens are tangy without any bitterness. Mashed potatoes are smooth and hearty, with a rich, chunky white gravy that blends in with the potatoes and surprises with its depth of flavor. This is comfort food of the highest order.




The Brindle Room never fails to deliver. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch. It is one of those restaurants you can always count on. Kind of like Denzel.



The Brindle Room - 227 East 10th Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A - www.brindleroom.com