Boston Restaurant Blog -- September, 2012
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Over the past few weeks, I have taken several trips around New England, checking out a number of restaurants along the way. And four dining spots seemed to stand out among the rest, with a couple of them being among the best places I've tried in 2012. One is located out west in the southern part of the Berkshires, with the other three being in Rhode Island, with reviews of all four below.
In August I took a trip to Monterey in the western Berkshires, with stops in Stockbridge and Great Barrington as well, and Great Barrington is where we had a terrific dinner at a microbrewery called the Barrington Brewery and Restaurant. Its location alone nearly made it worth the trip, with peaceful views of meadows and fields behind it, along with views of the hills and mountains of the Southern Berkshires in the background. The interior of this classic farm-to-table restaurant included a rustic main dining area, a slightly more plain-looking front dining room, and an attractive bar toward the back, as well as a large outdoor patio behind the place. We were seated in the main dining area and started out with a sampling of "solar-brewed" beers made by the place (the Vienna was fairly light and sweet, while the pale ale was hoppy and full-flavored) and enjoying a creamy cheddar ale soup and a chowder that was full of fresh seafood. Our meals included a black pepper fettucini that came with a hearty red sauce and a juicy, griddled grass-fed burger that was easily the best burger I've had all year. To finish the meal, I had a deliciously rich-tasting maple pecan pie that included real maple syrup. Service was decent enough, though our server seemed to disappear for long stretches of time, and prices were relatively reasonable, with the burger being around $10 (a steal considering how good it was).
Around the time that I was in the Berkshires, I also made a separate trip to the rural southeast corner of Rhode Island, which is a food and drink lover's dream (farmstands, a vineyard, specialty food retailers, an ice cream stand, etc.). And in the tiny village of Little Compton sits an old-fashioned dining spot called Commons Lunch, which features items that seem to be the "signature" dishes of Rhode Island and the South Coast of Massachusetts (more on this in a minute). The restaurant has a warm and inviting layout, with counter seating and a number of tables inside, and a private-feeling outdoor deck that also doubles as the entrance to a tiny gift shop. Since it was a beautiful day, we sat outside and soaked up the quiet atmosphere of the eatery and Little Compton in general (which may be the most picturesque town in all of Rhode Island). As mentioned earlier, once glance at the menu showed that all of the local specialties were here, including jonny cakes, quahogs, meat pies, and calamari, though much to my dismay, they had stopped serving jonny cakes because the lunch hour had begun. We started with a plate of the calamari, and it was tremendous, with tender rings and tentacles mixed with pieces of banana peppers and a zesty red dipping sauce om the side. Among the meals, the meat pie was every bit as good as the calamari, with it being literally a wedge of pie that was filled with a delightful mix of seasoned beef and pork. Another item we had was the chicken tenders plate that consisted of crispy strips of breaded chicken, and were nothing like the limp, bland tenders you get in your typical local pub. Our server was terrific from start to finish and the prices were very cheap, making our stop at Commons Lunch a fantastic overall experience.
A separate trip to Rhode Island was taken around the beginning of this month, with this one being mostly in the Newport area. And our dining stop here was at an Irish spot just above Newport's main shopping area called the Fastnet Pub. I had been to this cozy bar previously a couple of times for drinks, but never for dinner until this time around, and it was quite impressive; the fish and chips (which they seem to be known for) were lightly battered and fall-apart tender, while the steak tips were marinated in an excellent teriyaki sauce and were also very tender and fairly lean. We also ordered a side of onion rings, and they were good, with a crispy batter and just enough grease to add some extra flavor. Beers included a Boddington and a Newport Storm, and while I have heard that the Fastnet does a nice Guinness pour, we didn't have a chance to try one as we were heading to the nearby Hotel Viking for mixed drinks immediately afterward. Our server inexplicably kept walking out of the pub to wander up the street then come back in, but she seemed to always be there when we needed something, and the prices were good (especially considering that we were in Newport, which can be a very pricey place for good and drink).
The final restaurant is a fairly new one in the College Hill section of Providence, but unlike the others, I had eaten here once before (when it first opened), and also unlike the others in RI, this was actually a stop on the way back from a Connecticut trip. Coco Pazzo is a chic-feeling Mediterranean restaurant and tapas bar connected to a British pub below it called the English Cellar Alehouse. The combination trendy tapas bar/casual pub space is a bit odd, but it somehow seems to work, and as was the case the last time I was at Coco Pazzo, both places were quite crowded. Even though it is considered a tapas spot, Coco Pazzo's signature dish seems to be pizza, with their white-hot wood-fired Mugnaini oven cooking the pies extremely quickly. And the pizzas are good here, though I felt like the pizza on our first visit was better, so much so that I felt it could be in the running for top 10 pizzas I've had over the past couple of years. The pizza was still impressive this time around, but there seemed to be a bit of a dropoff, especially with my bianca with basil, mascarpone, and shaved potatoes, which seemed watery of all things (perhaps from the potatoes). The prosciutto and mushroom pizza with mozzarella and pomodoro sauce seemed better, though still not up to the level of the pepperoni pizza from the previous visit. We did have an excellent small plate while we were there, with the basil-stuffed tomatoes having a wonderful mix of flavors (including a real zing from the gorgonzola). Service was fine from start to finish at Coco Pazzo, drinks were decent (the sangria was above average), and the prices were pretty decent considering the upscale feel of the place.
Out of the four restaurants I tried while on various trips around New England over the past few weeks, I would have to say that Barrington Brewery and Commons Lunch were the standouts, with the grass-fed burger at the former being the best specific dish at any of the places. Have you been to any of these four spots? Let us know via the comments section here, thanks!
Note: Comments have now been closed for this blog entry.