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Boston Restaurant Blog -- August, 2011

Below are blog entries from August, 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.)

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August, 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Dinner at the Gas Lamp Grille in Newport, RI

I try to get to Newport, RI about three or four times a year, including New Year's Eve, which seems to becoming a bit of a tradition now. And along the way, I have gotten to some very nice restaurants, including Sardella's and Mamma Luisa, as well as some fun watering holes (O'Brien's, Fastnet Pub, Pour Judgment Bar and Grill, the lounge at the Hotel Viking). A few days ago, I tried a dining spot I had never been to before--a place on Thames Street called the Gas Lamp Grille--and while the food won't make me forget about some of the dishes at Sardella's, it was a pleasant spot that definitely had a few things going for it.

photo of Gas Lamp Grille, Newport, RI Located in the heart of Newport's bustling downtown area, the Gas Lamp Grille is one of countless eateries on or near Thames Street. It is a small place that is a bit unassuming from the outside (especially compared to some of the more popular dining establishments and bars in the area), but it is quite a charming spot inside, with its huge gas lamps lined up in the middle of the place, an old wooden floor that has lots of scruff marks, and a low ceiling with hanging lights and exposed pipes. A tidy bar is found to the left, while the dining area is mostly to the right, with some window tables allowing for some great people-watching. Cuisine at the Gas Lamp Grille seems to lean a bit toward Italian, though its menu could also be classified as classic American with a nod toward seafood.

We happened to go to the Gas Lamp Grille around the time that Hurricane Irene was just starting to make its presence felt in Southern New England, so some restaurants were closed while others were jam-packed and still others were nearly empty. When we arrived at the Gas Lamp Grille, it was probably closer to empty, though it did fill up as the night went on. We were seated at one of the window seats (a nice little breeze was coming from the open window, as the winds from Irene weren't quite ramping up at that point) and were greeted by our server, who was extremely friendly and probably smiled more than any server I can remember in recent memory. She brought us a round of drinks, including a deliciously spicy Innis & Gunn Rum Cask beer and an equally good Unibroue La Fin Du Monde Belgian-style brew that had a fruity and sweet taste, then she came back to take our order. The appetizers soon came, with the excellent thin-broth clam chowder having a lot of kick from the spices added, while the Caesar salad's dressing didn't have much in the way of taste. Halfway through the salad, we were asked by the server if we were ready for our meals, to which we responded no, not yet, and the minute the salad was finished, our meals came. The sausage and broccolinni ravioli plate was the star here, as the filling had a delightful mix of spicy and bitter flavors coming from the veggies and meat, while the white wine sauce was enhanced by crushed red pepper, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and parsley. The lobster pizza was not quite as impressive, as it was overloaded with cheese and had only a bit of lobster sherry sauce between the cheese and the crust. The crust itself was unusual in that it was flaky and not greasy at all (though not really like a flatbread, either), and as for the lobster meat on top, well, there was plenty of it, but there were also several pieces of rock-hard cartilage that made me worry about chipping a tooth. About three-quarters of the way through the ravioli, our server asked if we were done with that plate, and again, she was told no, not yet. Finally, we finished our meals and decided to skip dessert, partly because it seemed a good time to leave Newport before the weather really started to go downhill.

It is tough deciding what kind of rating to give the Gas Lamp Grille; while the atmosphere was quaint and appealing and the folks who worked there were friendly, the food seemed a little inconsistent and there were certainly some issues concerning service. Prices were pretty good, however, especially considering how expensive meals can be in downtown Newport, and the clientele at the restaurant seemed to be mostly a mellower, older crowd, which is a nice alternative to some of the high-energy spots nearby. I guess in the end, it is hard to see myself coming back here anytime soon, mainly because there are so many good options within walking distance, including Sardella's, which is a bit of a walk from this part of Thames Street, but very much worth it.

If you are looking for the address for the Gas Lamp Grille, here it is: Gas Lamp Grille, 206 Thames Street, Newport, RI, 02840. Phone: (401) 845-9300.

Related Blog Entries: Newport restaurants, Rhode Island restaurants

Friday, August 26, 2011
Five of the Best Food Dishes of 2011 (So Far)

photo of Sicilian pizza from Galleria Umberto, Boston, MASo 2011 is about two-thirds of the way done, and in the eight months since the start of the year, I have tried countless dishes, including some that really stand out above the others. It is nearly impossible to choose which food item has been the absolute best of this year so far, and almost equally difficult to narrow it down to five, but the ones in the slideshow here (including the Sicilian pizza from Galleria Umberto in the North End, which is shown at right) are certainly among the best of the best for 2011.

It should be interesting to see what the three remaining months of the year bring for good food. We do have several highly-rated dining spots on our short list, so chances are there will be at least a few more items that will compete with the five here--as well as some of the other top ones from 2011 that aren't shown--so expect another slideshow to be posted in December.

And now...on to the slideshow. The link below will take you to the pictures of the five items.

Slideshow for Five of the Best Dishes of 2011 (So Far)

Related Blog Entries: slideshows

Friday, August 19, 2011
Comfort Food at Cruisers on Main in Walpole

Other than Area Four in Cambridge (which is excellent, by the way), I haven't been to many new restaurants over the past few months, mainly checking out established spots in and around the Boston area. But I did get to a new place in Walpole called Cruisers on Main recently, and it was quite an interesting spot, with a quirky comfort food menu that may be getting even more interesting soon (more on this later).

photo of Cruisers on Main, Walpole, MA Cruisers on Main, as its name implies, is located on Main Street in the heart of Walpole Center. It has only been open for a short time, taking over the space where a general store used to be, and it indeed has a bit of an old-fashioned feel inside that almost seems left over by the general store. The front of the restaurant has a cozy dining area on the right and an attractive bar on the left, while the back of the eatery (via a short walk down a hallway of sorts) has a few more tables and is a quieter option for diners. A jukebox next to the bar contains a mix of country, soul, and rock music, and across from the jukebox is a cart that supposedly will feature Olneyville NY System wieners, which are quite popular in Rhode Island.

A large group of us checked out Cruisers on Main, and we tried a wide variety of items there. Starters included some meaty and substantial chicken tenders that we ordered with a medium-hot sauce, with the sauce being tasty albeit a little mild. While on the subject of sauces, I jokingly asked if they used ghost chilis for their very hot sauce (called "Holy Red Lips"), and the owner said no, but she might be able to get them and sell me a bottle of sauce made with the white-hot peppers, which immediately boosted this place up a notch or two in my eyes. For our meals, we tried the fried chicken, which was crispy on the outside and moist on the inside (as it should be), and tasted suspiciously like that of the now-closed Fontaine's in West Roxbury, which may make sense, actually, as an article in The Walpole Times indicates that the recipe is indeed from that former landmark. The grilled chicken breast sandwich was another decent dish that was also a fairly healthy option, especially compared to an interesting version of a grilled cheese sandwich that was ordered here. Called the "Biddie," this grilled cheese was stuffed with French fries, which may not sound appealing to some, but the combination of cheese, potatoes, and Texas toast seemed to work nearly perfectly in this case. (The grilled eggplant slices that came with the sandwich were rather bland, unfortunately.) I really wanted to try the Olneyville wieners, but the cart was not up and running just yet. Service was very friendly and mostly efficient (though just a bit shaky at times, as the place still seemed to be getting up to speed), and prices were about average for most of the dishes.

Fried chicken, grilled cheese stuffed with fries, Olneyville wieners (soon), and ghost chilis (possibly) all add up to a potential winner in Walpole Center. Now if only Cruisers could give people an indication that they actually exist (the signage at the place is nearly invisible), the place could become a popular restaurant in a town that has quite a few decent dining spots. I know that I'll be back, especially once that wiener cart gets up and running.

If you are looking for the address for Cruisers on Main, here it is: Cruisers on Main, 944 Main Street, Walpole, MA, 02081.

Related Blog Entries: Walpole restaurants

Thursday, August 11, 2011
First Visit to the Pearl Street Station Restaurant in Malden

I feel that I know Malden pretty well by now, having visited the city countless times over the years to see friends and to dine out at various eateries. But there's a little sliver of Malden near the downtown T station that I had somehow never been to, which is why I briefly got lost when trying to find the Pearl Street Station Restaurant recently, with the confusion being exacerbated a bit by the fact that the restaurant is not actually located on Pearl Street (it moved to Summer Street some time ago). But I did eventually find the place, and ended up having a very nice lunch there.

photo of the Pearl Street Station Restaurant, Weymouth, MA Located in an old train station that was built in the 1800s, the Pearl Street Station Restaurant has a lot of charm, with cozy booths, lots of wood throughout, and a high ceiling in the bar area with one of those rustic wagon wheel chandeliers that you don't see very often these days. In addition to the bar and the dining room, there is another section that is apparently used for karaoke, and on the day that we went, it was set up almost like a mini-theatre, with rows of chairs set up in a semi-circle surrounding a stage area.

It was pretty tough to choose what to order at The Pearl Street Station Restaurant, mainly because I have heard good things about a number of items there, including the steak tips, the turkey tips, the seafood, and the pizza. After studying the menu for a few minutes, we decided to order the turkey tips and the pizza, with the turkey tips being very tender and nicely marinated with a moderately zesty sauce. The pepperoni pizza seemed to be somewhere between Italian-style thin crust and bar pie, and it had a delicious house-made sauce as well as a slightly puffy yet tasty crust. Drink choices were rather limited--definitely not much in the way of craft beer here--and we decided to go with Michelob, which isn't my favorite beer, but all right in a pinch. Our server was a friendly woman who seemed like she had probably been at the place for a long, long time, while prices were bordering on dirt cheap, with the bill being well under $30, including drinks.

Although it was my first time there, I felt quite at home at the Pearl Street Station Restaurant, as it seems to be a completely unpretentious spot that gives off a feeling of being instantly familiar, especially if you tend to frequent local neighborhood joints as I do. The only thing I regret is not getting their steak tips, which does appear to be their signature dish. But there will certainly be a next time at the Pearl Street (and now I actually know where it is), and I'll surely be trying the tips when I return.

If you are looking for the address for the Pearl Street Station Restaurant, here it is: Pearl Street Station Restaurant, 53 Summer Street, Malden, MA 02148. Phone: (781) 322-6410.

Related Blog Entries: Malden restaurants

Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Beer and Pub Grub at the Union Brewhouse in Weymouth

As most beer lovers know, not all beer bars are alike. Some border on upscale (and are perhaps more in the "gastropub" category) while others are "beer-geek" hangouts where folks take their beers very seriously. And then there are places like the Union Brewhouse in Weymouth. Part beer bar and part townie roadhouse, this South Shore spot is much different from the likes of the Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square, the Publick House in Brookline and Deep Ellum in Allston. But a common thread does exist, namely a beer list that goes on and on, which is perhaps the sole reason why my visit to the Union Brewhouse a few days ago probably won't be my last.

photo of the Union Brewhouse, Weymouth, MA Much like the nearby Italian restaurant Martini's, the Union Brewhouse has the look of a rough-and-tumble juke joint from the outside, and inside, that feeling continues to an extent. The layout is a simple one, with a bar to the left and an L-shaped seating area taking up the rest of the space (a fenced-in outdoor patio out back increases the capacity of the place during the warmer months). The low ceiling with wooden beams and recessed lighting, the high-top bar tables, and the dark carpeting all give the interior of the Union Brewhouse a bit of a dive bar feel to it, and, at least on the night we went, the abundance of inebriated folks downing beer and shots at a rapid pace seemed to support this overall vibe.

When we first walked into the Union Brewhouse, we had our choice of sitting either inside or out, and though it was indeed a beautiful evening, it looked like several people were smoking cigarettes and cigars out on the patio, so we opted to sit inside toward the back. Our server came over immediately and we ordered a couple of drinks to start--a Thomas Hooker Watermelon Ale and a Woodchuck Private Reserve Barrel Select. The watermelon beer was light and sweet (but not too sweet), making it a perfect summertime drink, while the Woodchuck was a delicious cider that had been aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, giving it a bolder and more smoky taste than a typical cider. We ordered a couple more drinks as our food came, and these beers were nearly as good as our first drinks. The Southampton Biere de Mars had a slight hoppy bitterness mixing with a nice caramel taste, while the Julius Echter Hefe-Weiss was a light-tasting wheat beer with a bit of citrus that brightened things up even more. As for our food, well, it didn't match up to the drinks; the pizza had the overall look of a South Shore bar pie, but it seemed to be almost all gooey cheese, overwhelming the taste of the sauce and crust. The boneless buffalo fingers were all right, though the coating was a tad bland and not overly tasty, while the fries were dried out and basically your classic Sysco variety of crinkle cuts. Service was good overall (our waitress was both friendly and funny) and prices for both the food and beer were slightly lower than your typical beer bar or gastropub. As for the overall atmosphere, it was almost disturbing at times, with folks stumbling through both the dining area and the outdoor patio, and some x-rated talk between males and females near us.

Based on our first visit there, I feel that the Union Brewhouse will not be a place I'll be frequenting as much as, say, the Publick House, partly because the food didn't seem all that memorable, and also because of the out-and-out drunkenness which, oddly enough, I don't tend to see much of in beer bars or gastropubs. But it's tough to argue with the beer list at this place, which makes me think that perhaps I'll be back on a rainy Sunday afternoon or on a weeknight early on in the evening, enjoying some of the terrific adult beverages that they have.

If you are looking for the address for the Union Brewhouse, here it is: Union Brewhouse, 550 Washington Street, Weymouth, MA, 02188. Phone: (781) 340-0440.

Related Blog Entries: Weymouth restaurants