Archive for the ‘Best in Class’ Category
Location: East Boston, MA
The Foodie: Strongly Recommends
I’m actually pretty ashamed that I claim to run a Boston-themed food blog and have never tried Santarpio’s….until now, dear readers – until now.
Indeed, Santarpio’s has to rank up there among the most Bostonian things about Boston…such as:
- The Sawx/Fenway Pahk
- Mayah Menino
- The “T”
- Fanieul Hall
- The Chah-les
- The Marathawn
It took me well over 100 years to get my ass over to Eastie and order a few slices since these guys opened in 1903.
I think the main reason that kept me away was the fear of long, winding hoards of people and the maddening maze of Red, Green, and Blue subway switches to get over to a station appropriately named “Maverick” given the fact that it is so seemingly removed from the rest of the city.
Turns out that by car, it ain’t that big a deal. Parking was plentiful, and there was no line at all at 6pm on a summer Saturday eve.
Stepping inside, the place looks like the kind of spot where they would have found Whitey Bulger holed up – basically just simple wooden booths, a bar, dim lighting, and an intimidating large guy manning the door.
But I don’t want to spend too much time setting the stage for what was without question the best traditional, “pizza-parlor-style” slices to be found in Boston.
Upon reflection, I was having difficulty classifying the style of pie that Santarpio’s serves…but stumbled upon a great article on “Slice” – a cyber-column hosted by the Serious Eats family of websites.
Amongst a long list pizza styles found across the US of A, “pizza-parlor” was defined by Serious Eats writer Adam Kuban as:
“any place that has been opened since the ’50s, still has the same family running it, and hasn’t really changed much since then”
Well, given the fact that Santarpio’s has been open since the ‘00s and is family-owned, I’d say they basically fit this description.
SO, HOW WAS THE FRICKIN’ PIZZA NICK?!?
Yup. We ordered a “half ‘n half” pie that was split between plain cheese and homemade sausage and garlic. Here is a slice centerfold:
- The first thing you notice is that this has gotta be one of the juiciest slices of pizza ever created. The first bite you take literally catapults wave after wave of oozy, cheezy, tomatoe-y goodness forcibly upon every single taste follicle within one’s mouth.
- The next thing you notice is that the ingredients are pretty damn good quality – the cheese, tomatoes, dough, and oil employed in the creation of this pizza have gotta be of a certain caliber to pack such flavor.
- Speaking of the dough…the crust is this delightful chewy-crunchy texture and has to be some of the best I’ve ever had.
- The sausage slice has the same ability to launch flavor missiles at close range onto your taste buds.
- Those from the New York/New Jersey area – easily the snobbiest bunch when it comes to pizza – will give Santarpio’s the props they deserve. To prove it, I took a Jersey girl here for verification. It was so good, she gained 5 pounds in one sitting, folks. Definitely her favorite slice in Boston.
- As mentioned previously, the type of pizza is traditional in that they are not touting gourmet flatbread or Neapolitan-style with thin slices of mozz. This is a family-owned, local spot that is Italian-American in technique and could best be described as ‘pizza-parlor’ in design.
When you encounter moments in life that can change your entire worldview, you need to pay attention. I’ve been talking some smack lately about the pizza scene in Boston, and a trip to Santarpio’s was exactly what I needed to shatter my preconceived notions and conditioned responses.
Thank you, Santarpios – you’ve made me a better man, and a better Bostonian.
Location: Cambridge, MA
The Foodie: Recommends
Like Northeastern college kids pre-gaming on a Saturday night, New Englanders have always been into southern comfort.
For as long as I can remember, restaurants in the Boston area have been pounding out grits, smoking BBQ, and mixing up gumbos trying to introduce a little drawl into the dining scene around here.
Some have tried (and in my opinion) failed, while the successful few have lived on as beloved neighborhood staples that inspire the hearts and minds of local occupants.
Tupelo is one of the latter, y’all.
Over the years I’ve had my fair share of dry and burnt fried chicken, bland attempts at roasted trout from out the ‘crick, and bad deep-fried things of all sorts (with the gut to prove it).
But one brave pastry chef-cum-genius, the owner behind Petsi Pies, decided a few years ago to open a spot that proudly served the food of ‘Nawlins and the deep south with an eye for authenticity and quality.
This is a review of her flagship Cajun-seasoned enterprise a few years into operation.
HINT: Oh, it’s still on in the Tupelo kitchen.
Here’s a run-down of some of my favorite dishes here:
- Pan-fried catfish – a well-seasoned cut of meow-steak over creamy grits and accompaniments that I’ve ordered many a time and always enjoyed thoroughly
- Fried oysters – the perfect snack to enjoy with an Abita brew while waiting for them to clear your table and seat you.
- Pork belly corn-dog – Dear arteries, I’m sorry for accelerating the process through which you will eventually clog up and writhe in pain, however, the organ further south in my abdomen (belly) and taste buds up north schemed with my brain to order this amazing creation. My taste buds said that the slab of pork belly was ever-so-tender on the inside and coated with sweet, soft goodness on the outside with a l’ull kick added by some nice spicy aioli. My stomach willingly received the calorie-laden treat and broke down the glutens and proteins with glee. Yes, it’s true, one Guy Fieri was right when he dubbed this bad boy a “Perfect Storm” on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
- Crawfish etouffee – A more recent add’y to the menu, this deep rich stew is jumping with the slightly meatier, smaller cousin of the shrimp. This dish is complex, spicy, and a joy to eat.
- Cajun gumbo – Have I mentioned that Tupelo is best enjoyed with an appetite? If your pork belly corn-dog appetizer isn’t enough, the etouffee and gumbo will offer generous bowls of goodness that will warm your soul. Tupelo’s gumbo includes pulled chicken, Andouille sausage, and okra.
- Desserts – This is one joint where you will not want to skip the sweets…the post-dinner treats here usually feature goods from Petsi Pies and local ice-creameries.
For my money, Southern-inspired food doesn’t get much better than this in the metro Beantown arena.
So as freshmen hammer down shots of SoCo in their dorm rooms across the river, I’m digging in to my version of down-home comfort – at Tupelo.
Yes, I will join the tide of food writers listing off their top meals and restaurants of the past year. Yes, I will continue a tradition I started last year. Yes, you will be happy eating at any of these five wonders of the local food scene – as selected by the Hiram Bingham of culinary exploration – which is of course, yours truly. I travel by “T” though rather than donkey.
Whereas the defining theme of last year’s Top 5 list was “Gimme Something New and Different,” 2012’s top eats were more balanced between zany new creations (i.e., grilled romaine and braised oxtail salad at Strip T’s, house-made XO sauce at Journeyman, lamb belly w/ orange and moxie at Puritan) and insanely good renditions of classic dishes (i.e., roasted bone marrow at Puritan, fenugreek-smoked duck at Herb Lyceum, the ramen at Yume).
Interestingly, this list seems to also touch upon Contemporary American, Farm-to-Table, Snout-to-Tail, Classic and Modern Asian cooking. These trends are already the zeitgeist in the food world, and I hope they do continue into 2013.
- The Herb Lyceum | I can’t keep a secret very long – the true identity of my recent “Mystery Review”
- Strip T’s | Three cheers for one the most eclectic restaurants I’ve ever eaten in.
- Puritan & Company | This newcomer to the food scene definitely makes my short list.
- Journeyman | One of the most inventive, creative, scrumptious meals you’ll have on either side of the Charles.
- Yume Wo Katare| One bowl of ramen was all it took to solidify their spot on this coveted list.
Location: Burlington, MA
The Foodie: Strongly Recommends
- Fish and seafood balls of assorted sizes and colors
- Pickled radishes
- A super-size vat of kimchi
- Spicy squid
- Shabu-style beef
- Crispy dried salted baby sardine snacks
- Seven bags of frozen dumplings
- Huge sack of rice
- Udon and vermicelli noodles
- Bok choy
- Shrimp cracker
- Whole fish
- Legit green tea
Every time the words “H-Mart” have been uttered in conversation with Asian friends, their eyes light up with a sort of twinkle and they describe their experiences with this huge suburban market with fondness and glee. I have resolved for years to travel East by driving West of Boston to Burlington to see what the 幸福 was all about.
My first encounter with the Asian market started where most curious white people would go – Super 88. Grab a bubble tea and take a ride through another culture while picking up some cheap fruit and noodles.
But over the years I’ve expanded my culinary horizons to some of the items on the list above (though I’ve never fallen for the salty baby sardines) and loved every minute of it. My local Reliable Market in Union Square somehow manages to pack half the inventory of a large Asian grocer into a store 20 times smaller and for that I applaud them.
The all-powerful H-Mart really does take it to a new level though. Their parking lot is insane on weekends but once you navigate to a spot and enter the automatic doors you encounter Asian food heaven. They rock the following:
- A legit little bakery (red bean bun anyone?)
- A food court slinging all manner of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisine (check my dumpling centerfold pic above)
- Huge fruit and veggie section with lots of shrooms, greens, bean sprouts and more
- A noodle aisle that stretches from here to Beijing
- Section of their “famous” BBQ beef
- One of the largest fish counters I’ve seen anywhere with everything from live lobster to whole monkfish head
- More sauces than you could count
- Think I saw an industrial-size rice cooker in there?
In the end, true to the word of many hungry mouths – I left H-Mart feeling like this:
Location: Somerville, MA
The Foodie: Strongly Recommends
Like political views, sexual fantasies, and spiritual orientations, burgers are a personal thing.
They mean something different to each individual, and one’s definition of the “best” is often a matter of debate. So let me tell you what a truly amazing burger means to me, and why RFO is in the know.
Hell, I definitely get hot for specialty gourmet balls of prime beef that sell for up to $20 – throw some marrow in your burger, top it with a fried oyster, kick it up with some nice aioli or unique sauce, rock the double-patty with slaw, or top it with VT Cheddar – and I’m game.
But in the world of burgers, the gourmet funky fling is my mistress and the down-home quality comfort is my life partner.
For me – the truly transcendent burger is a simple thing. It is selfless, it is generous, it is kind. It is the Buggha. The all-knowing, reincarnate, most comforting comfort food that holds the power to soothe and ease and make anything warm.
What R.F. O’Sullivan’s has that none other has matched for me is the feeling. There is something about their towering, ball-shaped, high-quality burgers that makes them a little more juicy, a little better seasoned, a little more comforting than any other. That secret lies with O’Sullivan himself (if there is such a man).
Walk into O’Sullivans and peruse a menu that is clearly focused on the art of the burger. A whole single page of variations on the theme screams out to you while a separate page of special renditions strikes your fancy. My ultimate favorite order is the Blackjack (a very well seasoned patty topped with a spicy Creole mojo sauce, cheese, and the usuals) cooked medium-rare with onion rings on the side and a good pint of Guinness….
Essentially the meaning of life boiled down to a bun. And that’s why RFOS is my top of the top in the Boston area. Anyone who says differently – read another blog.
It’s yer lucky day.
After much reflection on the past year of eating, Nick the Foodie has selected his best five meals in the Boston area of 2011. A soon-to-be-coveted list of near-and-dear best-in-class restaurants that are sure to blow up on the national scene any moment. You are one of the first to see it, so count yourself among the fortunate few.
The list spans Japanese, French, South American/Caribbean, and Contemporary American cuisine, but one common thread weaves these culinary treasures together: their ability to give eaters something they’ve never experienced before. New flavors, new combinations, never-seen-before dishes that just work. For me – all these restaurants have provided my taste buds with something they’ve never noshed – read sea snails and smoked milk foam, thyme and buttermilk ice cream, REAL wagyu beef, “veal popcorn”, a dessert called “scotch and cigars,” octopus and chorizo, baby goat (AKA cabri), Puerto Rican “doughnuts,” ceviche three ways, kumamoto oyster with aioli and squid ink bubbles…This type of unique cooking is a tough feat that requires both creativity and talent.
If you eat anywhere in the next year – try at least one of these world-class spots and consider yourself among the enlightened.
Location: Cambridge, MA
The Foodie: Strongly Recommends
As the self-proclaimed consummate foodie, I have rarely been a “regular” anywhere, people.
At Simon’s, they know me as the “Friday triple medium latte guy,” I’ve spent enough to put one of Simon’s kids through college, and I’ve become buddies with many a barista.
Nick the Foodie rarely gets all sentimental on the personal aspect of dining out (I’m really first and foremost a food guy) but Simon’s and I have a close relationship spanning three different apartments, multiple women, and several jobs. That’s devotion folks.
The one thing that remained constant was the loving touch with which the espresso drinks here are produced.
Sure, they use a La Marzocco machine and some of the best roasters (think Barismo and Terroir), but the transcendent quality here is the care and attention unrivaled by anyone else. I swear the lattes are just a little sweeter, slightly smoother, a bit more refined than anywhere else.
Call it brand affinity, call it loyalty, call it a coffee-crush, but Simon’s delivers something special.
- Triple medium latte (my signature bev)
- Cappuccino (si)
- Espresso (bold, ballsy, beautiful)
- Yerba Maté Latte (beautiful grassy herby flavor sweetened with a little honey)
…And I keep discovering more with my friend Simon. Take my recent eureka about the fabled “Gibraltar.” They serve espresso with a bit of milk and foam in a small glass suitable more for a shot of whiskey than a glug of caffeine. A perfect afternoon portioning of espresso with a nice balance and great overall flavor.
I can go on and on about the goods, but Simon’s is one of the few neighborhood spots left where you can look people in the eyes and connect on a personal level…where they’ll remember your birthday, your upcoming vacation to France, the fact you’re getting married, and that you’re embarking on a new step in life. They actually care.
As someone recently said to me, “good coffee isn’t magic.” Good people are not magic, they’re real, and they’re rare.
Simon’s – thanks for being there for six years and making my mornings better.
Location: Cambridge, MA
The Foodie: Strongly Recommends
Few things in life are as comforting as a good burrito.
When your job sucks, when the economy is imploding, when you’re feeling down and out – there’s always a bundle of tortilla-wrapped goodness out there with your name on it.
Nick the Foodie has surveyed a broad range of the more well-known burrito joints across the [refried] Bean and would like to lay down a summary of the results for you right here:
- Olecito (Cambridge and Brookline) – The lovechild of nearby upscale Mexican eatery Olé, Olecito has been serving the best burrito in Boston for a while now. You can see that the street food progeny of Olé takes after its mother with some of the amazing flavor you get here. The standard carnitas burrito means something totally different at Olecito. The meat is perfectly cooked and seasoned, the flavors come together delightfully, and their picante sauce is out of this world good (and hot). Bring your appetite and order a baja taco to start, a carnitas burrito, and a carbonated apple beverage.
- El Pelon (Fenway R.I.P., now in Brighton) – The El Guapo burrito here (steak, rice, beans, lettuce, jack cheese, fried plantains, etc.) was a rising star on my burrito scene before the Fenway locale burned to the ground *tear* and is still the #2 that I’ve tasted in the Boston area. I promised to meet El Guapo again at the new location in Brighton which appears to be doing well, see here.
- Anna’s (Everywhere) – Anna’s will always hold a special place in my heart as this spot has fed me for at least six years. As many an anna’s-goer will tell you, it is a no-fuss burrito packed with all the standard goods. This is a solid go-to in my book and I’d highly recommend a super carnitas with gauc, beans, jalapenos, and hot sauce. For something different, try their HUGE cheesy quesadilla.
- Felipe’s (Harvard Square) – I swear I’ve recognized the same members of the burrito-slinging staff at Anna’s in this place before. That might be why they are comparable. Consistency is not quite as solid here as at Anna’s so I’ll knock them down a spot but still worthwhile.
- Chipotle (Everywhere) – OK, I know, this is a chain. But I’m not the kind of Foodie that will only give props to local spots. Let’s admit, their burritos are tasty. My real beef though is that the creations here are so huge they’re almost over the top and you leave with that “I’m American fast-food full” feeling in your stomach.
- Boca Grande (Porter Square, Fenway, elsewhere) – Oh, Boca. The notorious “competition” with Anna’s, I personally find these guys to be a far leap from my lady. These days I only turn here when there’s nothing else edible around and find their burritos utterly boring. It says something that flavor-wise they fall below a national chain.