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Boston Restaurant Blog -- October, 2011

Below are blog entries from October, 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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October, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
An Autumn Weekend in New Hampshire

Several of us took a trip up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire recently, and this was my first trip to the Glen/Jackson area in awhile, since I have been traveling in Vermont and Maine a lot over the past couple of years instead. It was nice to get back to the region, and certainly nice to hit two of my favorite restaurants (more on that in a minute). As far as the other dining spots we went to, well, there were definitely some ups and downs, with a couple of Jackson restaurants that are next door to each other especially reflecting this.

First, the two places I was looking forward to trying again....On our way up to the area, we stopped by the Pizza Barn on Route 16 in Center Ossipee, and once again, the pepperoni pizza was terrific, with what seemed like a pound of meat on the large pie, and a nice balance of rich sauce and nutty cheese on a relatively crisp crust. And on the last night of the trip, we went to the Thompson House Eatery in Jackson and had a superb overall dining experience, with the artichoke dip, mushroom ravioli, sirloin steak, and veal marsala all being top notch. Service was flawless, and prices, while high, accurately reflected the quality of the food. (Read earlier reviews on these two places here: A Mid-Summer Weekend in Jackson, NH)

photo of the Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Company, North Conway, NH On our first night in the White Mountains, we had dinner at the Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Company, a place I had been to a few years back and liked very much. This time, my meal at this sprawling multi-room restaurant was not up to snuff, with the pulled pork burrito having nearly tasteless meat that was helped just a little by a slightly spicy Kansas City BBQ sauce. The other dishes seemed mostly better, with the tender meat loaf and meaty sliders being the highlights, and the spinach salad with goat cheese being just ok. Beers were excellent, however, with the blueberry, Octoberfest, and Czech pilsner all being crisp and fresh-tasting. We did return to the Moat for lunch a couple of days later, sitting in the bar area this time around. And this time around, unlike our gruff but friendly server from a couple of nights earlier, our server at lunch was unfriendly and abrupt, making for an almost uncomfortable experience at times. The beers were great once again, but the food was pretty basic, with my roast beef quesadilla being rather rubbery with the cheese overwhelming the meat. My trip to this restaurant a few years back had been a more pleasant one, with the food, service, and beer all being very good, so I was a bit disappointed this time around, though the beer somewhat made up for it.

photo of Yesterdays, Jackson, NH For two of our breakfasts, we went to a homey little place in Jackson Village called Yesterdays. I had heard a lot about this restaurant from various friends and acquaintances over the past couple of years and, as it turns out, for good reason--the place was wonderful, with outstanding house-made pancakes, French toast, corned beef hash, homefries, and more, and service was friendly and efficient both times we were there. The hash in particular was something special, with shredded pieces of lean and tender corned beef mixed with just the right amount of peppers and onions. Atmosphere was simple yet attractive, with some counter seating by the entrance and a handful of tables scattered throughout the main dining area, and prices were about average for breakfast. Based on our two meals at Yesterdays, I can see this place being my regular spot for breakfast on any future trips to the Jackson area.

photo of the Wildcat Tavern, Jackson, NH In addition to lunch at the Pizza Barn and Moat Mountain, we also had lunch at a spot in the village of Jackson called the Wildcat Tavern. This is a place I had been to a few years back for drinks and music, and I recalled it being a cozy and comfortable spot with a rustic feel to it. Well, it is still cozy and rustic, but this time, we were seated at a window table that was basically made out of a couple of chairlifts, and it was anything but comfortable. This would be the least of our problems at the Wildcat that day, however, as everything seemed to go wrong here. First, two of us ordered macaroni and cheese off the children's menu (they allowed us to do this) and were served what amounted to small portions of Kraft macaroni and cheese (or something remarkably like it) for $7.00 each. Also, a cheeseburger that had been ordered took more than a half hour to arrive, with the server mentioning after about 20 minutes that the original had been overcooked (well done instead of medium), so they were cooking another burger at no charge. The second burger came to our table, and it was also cooked well done instead of medium. We left the restaurant saying "never again," which is too bad because the Wildcat does have a very nice atmosphere.

photo of the Red Fox Bar and Grille, Jackson, NH Sandwiched in between our two breakfasts at Yesterdays, we tried the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at the Red Fox on Route 16 in Jackson (just south of Jackson Village). The place was enormous, with the exterior of the restaurant, combined with the parking area, looking more like a tourist information center than a dining spot, but the interior was relatively attractive and comfortable. We grabbed seats up at the bar and proceeded to make multiple trips to the buffet tables, including an omelet station, a carving station, a table with hot meals, and a table with mostly pastries, fruit, and baked goods. There weren't really any surprises at the Red Fox, with mostly serviceable food that filled our bellies. The omelets and homefries were probably the highlights here, with the rather crunchy and bland doughnuts being at the other end of the spectrum. To me, the buffet at the Red Fox was one of those "It is what it is" experiences, being a good option for families on the go or people looking for lots of food at a low price.

photo of the Shannon Door Pub, Jackson, NH Our last night in the White Mountains took us to a popular local watering hole in Jackson called the Shannon Door Pub. As with some of the other places mentioned here, I had been to this spot a few times over the years, but not in recent memory. The Shannon Door has always been one of my favorite places in the region, with its backwoods charm (it resides in a rickety old house on a hill above Jackson Village), good live music, and cheap pizza and beer. And pizza and beer is the way we went at the pub, downing several pies along with a few rounds of beer in our three-hour visit there. As always, the individual pizzas were simple, basic, and satisfying (kind of a mix of bar pie and traditional thin-crust pizza) and the live music was a lot of fun. And as is often the case with the Shannon Door, service was spotty at times, though I have come to expect that over the years here. I've always said that if the Shannon Door Pub were in the Boston area, I would be there quite often, but as it is about three hours from the city, I'm unable to get to this entertaining spot nearly as much as I would like.

So our New Hampshire trip had some real highlights for dining experiences as well as at least one real lowlight and some average meals, but the food we had at the Thompson House Eatery and Yesterdays more than made up for some of the lesser experiences that we had. I'm not sure when I will be getting back to the White Mountains, but when I do, these two restaurants will likely be places I will be going to at some point.

Related Blog Entries: New Hampshire restaurants

Thursday, October 20, 2011
Five Great Macaroni and Cheese Dishes in the Boston Area

photo of macaroni and cheese from The Publick House, Brookline, MAContinuing our photo slideshow series, we now have a slideshow featuring another favorite food item, namely macaroni and cheese. This latest slideshow (which is our fifth since beginning these in August) looks at five of the best mac and cheese dishes we have tried in the Boston area, and while it was difficult to narrow it down to only five, the ones here do tend to stand out a bit over the others. Photos include a short rib macaroni and cheese from a diner in Roxbury, a plate of mac and cheese with truffle cream from a beer bar in Brookline, and three others.

More slideshows will be coming up soon, so check back using the "slideshows" tag below over the coming weeks and months. And if you have a suggestion for a slideshow, please let us know, thanks!

Here is the slideshow, featuring five great mac and cheese dishes from around the area.

Five Great Mac and Cheese Dishes

Related Blog Entries: slideshows

Thursday, October 13, 2011
A Couple of Restaurants along Route 9 in Southern Vermont

It seems like every year I find myself in Vermont during foliage season, usually doing some leaf-peeping in Central Vermont (near the Ludlow area) or Northern Vermont (Stowe and Jeffersonville). Well, this year, it was all about Southern Vermont, and I got to try two restaurants along the way--both of which are on Route 9 (the main east-west road through the southern part of the state) and one of which I had been to a few times years ago.

photo of Papa Pete's, Bennington, VT After several stops to look at the leaves around Brattleboro, Marlboro, and Wilmington, we continued west into Bennington, where we had lunch at a cozy little place on the eastern edge of town called Papa Pete's. Set up like a classic greasy spoon diner, the restaurant had a good amount of tables and counter stools inside, with the added bonus of outdoor seating on its sunny deck to the left. Since it was such a gorgeous day, we took one of the outdoor tables, having just enough shade from the attached umbrella to keep things comfortable (it was unseasonably warm that day). Our server greeted us after a few minutes and took our order, and though she seemed very affable and funny, I could tell that she was a bit stressed. We soon found out why--one of the cooks was not on the job that day, leaving only one other to do all the work, and being that it was a foliage weekend, the place was pretty crowded. We sipped our drinks and waited nearly 45 minutes for our meals to come, with the server repeatedly coming back to apologize. And while no food is worth that kind of wait, it was quite good, actually, with the open-faced roast beef sandwich having a delicious dark gravy and lean meat, and the turkey sandwich being more than adequate. The handcut fries were very tasty, and the aforementioned beers (a couple of pumpkin ales) really hit the spot on this warm summer day. I had read that the breakfasts at Papa Pete's are excellent, so perhaps I can try the place again earlier in the day--or when I'm in the mood for pancakes or waffles at lunchtime--and hopefully there won't be as long a wait for the food the next time around.

photo of the Chelsea Royal Diner, Brattleboro, VT From Bennington, we partially retraced our steps, heading back east to Wilmington, then north to Grafton to stop at the always-terrific Grafton Village Cheese. Then we wound our way back down to Brattleboro, where we had dinner at the Chelsea Royal Diner. It was great getting back to this wonderful spot, which is partly housed in a vintage 1938 diner car (and the newer part has just as much charm, with its well-worn tables and old-fashioned counter seating). The diner's menu is a bit offbeat, with a mix of classic diner fare, authentic Mexican food, pizza, and ice cream, but I've always stuck with the first and last of these, and this most recent visit was no exception. Much like Papa Pete's earlier in the day, our server was friendly and humorous, but unlike the Bennington spot, we didn't have to wait for any of our food. We started with a decent--though not outstanding--clam chowder and a fantastic house-made split pea soup with shredded ham, then quickly received our main dishes. The macaroni and cheese with a foot-long hot dog really hit the spot, with the mac and cheese containing real Vermont cheddar (a big plus) and the hot dog being a perfect complement to the macaroni. The "Buffalo Bill's Feast" was a mixed bag, with the meaty buffalo hot dog being one of the best dogs I've had in recent memory, and the fries being excellent, but the bison burger was a bit dried out and had little in the way of taste. Our desserts were impressive, with the pumpkin ice cream having just enough pumpkin flavor to make it interesting, and the carrot cake being moist and sweet. Prices were very cheap, especially for the main dishes, which were both under $10.

It was nice getting back to Southern Vermont, and it was certainly nice getting back to an old "friend" (the Chelsea Royal Diner) as well as trying out a new spot (Papa Pete's). I'm not sure when I'll be back in that area, but when I do return, both of these restaurants will surely be on my short list of places to go to for dining.

Related Blog Entries: diners, Vermont restaurants

Thursday, October 6, 2011
Six Great Pizzas in the Boston Area

photo of pizza from Denly's, Weymouth, MAOur slideshow series continues with a new one that focuses on great pizza in the Boston area. The pies that are shown here range from Sicilian to bar pizza to classic Neapolitan, and to be honest, it was so difficult to narrow it down to just five that we added one more photo, making it six.

There will be more slideshows coming up later this fall and into the winter, including one on burgers at some point. If you have any suggestions for slideshows, please let us know, thanks!

Below is a link to the pizza slideshow:

Slideshow for Six Great Pizzas

Related Blog Entries: slideshows

Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Dinner With a View at Pearl in Wellfleet

For such a small town, Wellfleet seems to have a lot of good restaurants. A few places I've been to in this charming village on the Outer Cape include P.J.'s Family Restaurant, the Bookstore and Restaurant, the Flying Fish Cafe, and the Duck Creeke Tavern. And this past weekend several of us went to a place by the harbor that might have topped them all in the food department and definitely topped them when it comes to scenic views (although the Bookstore and Restaurant comes close). And while Pearl Restaurant might not exactly be a true hidden gem, it doesn't exactly seem to be a household name, either.

photo of Pearl Restaurant, Wellfleet, MA Located at the corner of Commercial Street and Kendrick Avenue by Wellfleet Harbor, Pearl resides in what has to be one of the most scenic spots on the entire Cape. To the east and south are water views, with the town pier being a stone's throw away and Mayo Beach being not much further than that. And Pearl takes advantage of its stunning location, with an upstairs deck that affords diners memorable views, including the rare chance (on the East Coast, anyway) to watch the sun go down over the water. Pearl has a good amount of indoor seating in its cozy and rustic interior, and a rear deck with a raw bar adds more room outdoors during the warmer months. (Note: Pearl is not open year around; it is best to call them in advance if you are thinking of coming in the fall or spring.)

Pearl is mainly a seafood restaurant with New American influences; indeed, the menu seems a bit more upscale than some of the other dining spots in Wellfleet, and definitely higher end than most of the seafood shacks that line Route 6 in both Wellfleet and neighboring Eastham. Our group went almost exclusively with seafood items on our visit, starting with a thick and outstanding clam chowder that was absolutely loaded with clams. Another starter--and one of the only non-seafood items of the night--was the Portuguese kale soup, which came with kale, carrots, potatoes, onions, beans, and plenty of deliciously crusty chorizo sausage. Our meals were universally good, with the fried calamari perhaps being the highlight, as it was tender enough to cut with a fork and had a tasty batter that was not greasy at all (a minor gripe is that the calamari appetizer comes with banana peppers while the calamari dinner does not--it would have been nice to have those peppers mixed in). The grilled salmon was a high-quality cut of fish, and the sun-dried tomato pesto sauce that was ordered with it added a complex mix of tastes to the salmon. Every bit as good as the salmon was the order of steamers that came with a seasoned broth and drawn butter, while the plate of fried scallops greatly impressed, with some of the most tender scallops I have had anywhere, though some of the fries that came with the scallops were a little undercooked. Prices were fairly high throughout, but considering the quality of the food and the incredible views from our table on the upstairs deck, it was certainly worth it. Service was solid and dependable throughout.

Awhile back, I had friends rave about Pearl, saying it was a can't-miss restaurant for anyone traveling to this part of the Cape. Well, after our dinner experience there a few nights ago, I can't say I disagree. I don't think I'll have a chance to get back to the restaurant before it closes for the season, but I'm positive that as soon as they reopen in the spring, I'll be making plans to head back there, hopefully on a mild enough night to enjoy that wonderful deck.

For those who want the address for Pearl, here it is: Pearl Restaurant, 250 Commercial Street, Wellfleet, MA, 02667. The phone number is (508) 349-2999.

Related Blog Entries: Cape Cod restaurants, seafood restaurants