Boston Restaurant Blog -- June, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
After a nine-month break, we returned to the road once again, going on a food trip through Northern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire this week. And this may have been the best overall trip since the very first one about three years ago (a truly memorable trip through Connecticut).
Our first stop was for an early lunch at a fairly well-known pizza place and sub shop in the Pawtucketville section of Lowell. Suppa's, a plain-looking joint with an old-fashioned brick front and some formica booths inside, is located near UMass Lowell in a rather congested, mostly working-class neighborhood. It has made a name for itself with its fat chicken sub (chicken parm with mozzarella sticks and French fries layered within it) and its steak stick (steak and cheese inside deep-fried pizza dough). Since we were to hit several places in a relatively short period of time, we skipped the fat chicken and opted instead for the steak stick. And it was pure heaven, with a slightly greasy, rough-textured crust and high-quality steak and gooey cheese inside. This may have been the best individual food item of the trip, though not by much as you will see later. By the way, the name "steak stick" seems to confuse some people, but think of it as basically a deep-fried steak and cheese calzone.
From Suppa's, we took a short drive west on Pawtucket Boulevard (Route 113) to a pleasant-looking restaurant and ice cream stand across from the Merrimack River called Heritage Farm. I had read earlier that Heritage Farm seemed to be known more for its ice cream than for its food, and after trying both, I would tend to agree; the cheese dog came with a grilled bun and was decent enough but nothing really special, while the fries were very basic. The cheeseburger wasn't bad, as it was griddled and greasy, with a high fat content giving it some nice flavor. But the ice cream stole the show--the moose tracks ice cream that I tried was firm, rich, and filled with a terrifically flavorful fudge. Perhaps the nicest part of our whole experience at Heritage Farms, however, was the atmosphere, as we sat at a picnic table on the shaded front porch and enjoyed the views of the river and green space across the street.
We left Lowell after finishing up at Heritage Farms, continuing on Route 113 west into more rural areas. Eventually we made it to Pepperell, stopping at a tiny little roadside food place called Sandy's Lunch Box. This was the type of place that road trips are made for, as it is in the middle of nowhere, has picnic tables along the side, a pond out back, and features cheap comfort food. Sandy's serves a number of items including chili, fries, egg salad sandwiches, burgers, and a chicken melt. It really seems to be more of a hot dog stand than anything else, though, with knockwurst, kielbasa, and an interesting variety of dogs, including a chili dog with a moderately hot mix of ground beef and beans, a cheese dog, and something very unique--a decadent deep-fried hot dog wrapped in bacon (and with a cheese option as well). The combination of flavors was almost too good to be true for this latter item, since deep-fried hot dogs are so delicious to begin with. Of all the places we went to on this trip, Sandy's Lunch Box was a true hidden gem, and one that may be featured on our site very soon, so check back to find out more about this great little roadside spot.
We had a bit of a ride from Pepperell to our next stop, a hot dog joint in Merrimack, New Hampshire, called The Dowg Shack. First impressions weren't that memorable, as the place is located in a generic strip mall and the dank, cavernous interior of the spot indicates that it might have been a liquor store or convenience store in a previous life. But The Dowg Shack was anything but generic, starting with the outgoing, affable person behind the counter who was apparently the owner. He described a number of the options, asked if we had any questions, and was an overall pleasure to deal with from start to finish. The dogs themselves were good to outstanding, with the Southwestern Dog (chili, cheese, sauce, onions) having so much on it that the taste of the hot dog was lost a bit, but the classic grilled foot-long cheese dog was about as good as you'll find, with the Old Neighborhood frank having a very slight snap and an incredible amount of taste. The corn dog was also a big hit, with about as much flavor as the foot-long, and a corn batter that was pretty impressive. The foot-long hot dog was certainly up there with the steak stick at Suppa's, making this a place that is easily worth a repeat visit.
Usually the law of diminishing returns applies to food trips, as all the tastes, atmospheres, etc., start to blur together, but on this trip, it seems that the best was saved for last in some ways. Indeed, the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, NH, was the complete package, with outstanding food, service, and atmosphere. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration for me to say that it was the best diner I have ever been to (and I have been to some good ones). So yes, there is a reason why politicians, musicians, actors, and so many others come here, and restaurant-wise, I actually felt like I was in the presence of greatness, much as I felt in my first visit to the transcendent pizza joint Pepe's in New Haven, CT--it was that good. We arrived at the Red Arrow around mid-afternoon, so we were able to grab one of the few window booths in the front of the diner, rather than sitting at the rather cramped-looking counter. We ordered a few items, including an American chop suey that Guy Fieri from "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" fell in love with, and so did I. Unlike other versions of this dish, the macaroni was tender and not dried out, the meat was fresh, and the peppers, onions, and tomatoes were bursting with flavor (the herbs and spices definitely helped). Another dish--the macaroni and cheese--was not made the way I typically like it (boiled pasta with cheese sauce rather than baked), but it was a buttery-tasting extravaganza that made me want to bring a quart of it home. The Monte Cristo sandwich was also something special, with real turkey used, and a lot of it. Finally, the homemade twinkie was a hit, with a sweet, non-chemical taste, and the one I tried had a raspberry filling that was rich but not overly so. Our server was funny and friendly, and the total price was tough to beat. Overall, going to the Red Arrow Diner was a great way to end a nearly perfect food-based road trip.
There are more food trips planned over the coming months, with perhaps a South Shore bar pizza trip in the works, and perhaps another Pioneer Valley journey, with this one concentrating on the Springfield area. So stay tuned, as we should be hitting the road once again shortly!
We just posted a featured review of Sandy's Lunch Box in Pepperell. If you would like to see it, the link is: http://www.hiddenboston.com/SandysLunchBox.html
Posted on 6/19/09
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