Posts Tagged ‘Food’

Roslindale During the Holidays

November 25, 2008

I wrote up a holiday piece about Roslindale Village for the Roslindale Village Main Street organization. I found out a little bit more of the history of Dianne’s Bakery:

Robert Anderson has been baking at Dianne’s Bakery since 1964. During that time he perfected a New England favorite, the butter roll. Rather than paint butter onto dough, Anderson devised a method of layering butter between levels of dough and baking it in a muffin tin. “They go big around holiday time,” Anderson says. “I consider them a must for slopping up gravy.” Dianne’s also offers a collection of holiday pies, apple, pumpkin and sweet potato (from a recipe he adapted from an African American colleague decades ago).

At Boschetto Bakery, customers can find an array of fine cakes and European pastries from baker Joe Murphy. While the bakery sells two kinds of apple pie it is also offers up desserts that can dress up the dinner table, including the intricate and lovely apple tart, the shadow cake, a combination of chocolate and gold cake half-covered with chocolate ganache, and the Boston Cream cake.

Kathy Lacher, co-owner of the Boston Cheese Cellar, which will celebrate its second anniversary in December, recommends a trio for Thanksgiving. “People usually want a soft cheese, a hard cheese, a blue cheese or a goat cheese,” she says, citing Piave Vecchio (a hard cheese,) Nancy’s Camembert (a soft cheese from New York) and Great Hill (a blue cheese from Massachusetts. Lacher customizes cheese baskets as gifts.

Food for the entire Thanksgiving dinner and the rest of the season can be bought at The Village Market. Olives and feta cheese are available at the Roslindale Fish Market. The small plates of hummus or baba ganoush – known as “mezzes” – from Droubi Brothers offer an easy and affordable appetizer option for holiday parties. Organic turkeys can be ordered in advance at the Quality Meat Market. Tony DiBenedictis of Tony’s Market can ready a roast, chops or leg of lamb for a holiday dinner. Vouros Bakery is about more than baklava; its cookies are great for a party. Solera Wine Shop and Alex’s Liquors recommend American wines for Thanksgiving.

Arepas and Kabobs at Washington and Grove in West Roxbury

November 24, 2008

Ask most Bostonians about the Grove neighborhood of Boston and you’ll likely be met with blank stares. I didn’t know about it until I attended my first tree lighting with the city. This neighborhood — not to be confused with Grove Hall in Roxbury — constitutes the far west boundary of Boston at the West Roxbury-Dedham line on Washington Street. The closest landmark is the Dedham Mall.

Amazingly, this foreboding little stretch is blessed with wonderful food. I had been curious about Viva Mi Arepa for some time before checking it out a couple years ago. Over time, I’ve ordered the empanadas, arepas and even the roasted chicken the chef prepares. And, I do mean the chef. The owner-operator is a highly-trained culinary expert for emigrated from Haiti to Venezuela. While cooking at a high-end resort in Venezuela, he also picked up the national cuisine.

When my car was in the shop with transmission trouble at nearby Lee Myles, I gingerly brought up the subject of Viva Mi Arepa. I didn’t know what these old-school guys would think of this Venezuelan food. “That guy…” said one of the Lee Myles staff members somewhat loudly prompting me to worry that he was about to launch into a tirade. “That guy can really cook,” he concluded. He told me that Viva Mi Arepa even offers a special paella every Sunday for customers.

Just down the road from Viva Mi Arepa is the newly-expanded Cristelle’s Restaurant. From the outside this restaurant that now occupies the site of the old Sahara Pita Bakery, looks like an ordinary sub shop. Inside, it’s not just a sub shop but a Middle Eastern paradise. I’ve long been surprised that for a neighborhood with such a strong Lebanese and Syrian presence, aside from Samia’s in West Roxbury, which closes too early to order for dinner most nights, there’s a scarcity of Middle Eastern food. Until now.

Cristelle’s offers up not just outstanding hummus, baba ghanoush and falafel, it purveys the rarest of commodities, the classic Mediterranean breakfast. These are such dishes as a warm chickpea or lentil and olive oil foul, a flat meat-pie. Cristelle’s serves these with an array of pickles, radishes, hot peppers, tomatoes and red onion. Last time I stopped in around lunchtime, I saw a couple men gorging on delicious-looking kabobs on skewers. Unbelievable!

Don’t get me wrong. They sell steak and cheeses, pizza, and even pancakes and crepes for breakfast. But I believe their Middle Eastern food is really special.

Also of interest in the Grove is what is going on at Jeha’s Meat Market. Jeha’s is a great place to get beef or lamb sausages. He also offers hot sausages. For larger orders, I’d call ahead.

With the holidays upon us, I’ll be posting a little more on local food to provide a respite to those overtaxed with cooking festive meals.

A Mediterranean Hidden Jewel in Dover, NH

September 6, 2008

Now that New Hampshire is very much in play in the presidential election, large numbers of field organizers, door knockers and reporters will be sure to be heading up. For these hungry masses, I have a food find.

My friend, ONE activist Michael Castaldo, told me about a food find in New Hampshire that seemed hard to believe. He described to me a gas station on the Dover-Somersworth line, 20 minutes from Portsmouth, which offered the best hummus he had ever had. For Castaldo, who’s an expert chef with training in some of San Francisco’s finest kitchens as well as a tireless advocate for fighting global poverty, to say this made me take notice.

Yesterday during a reporting trip on which I’ll have more to say later, I took the opportunity meet Castaldo for lunch and find out for myself. Castaldo gave me directions that did not seem promising: ” ‘Citgo: Quick to Go’ — off the Spaulding Turnpike’s Exit 9.” I made my way to the aforementioned location, and it did not seem right. Sure enough, though, I found a Citgo station. When I went in I found Castaldo waiting near a simple table in the middle of what looked like a convenience store. Behind a counter to his left, a woman, whose name I learned was Michelle, was putting food into aluminum to go containers. We sat down at the table, and food started to arrive.

I met the first dish with trepidation. Kibbe. But unlike the usual somewhat dry ground meat, this was raw (though drizzled in extra virgin olive oil.) Castaldo tore off a piece from a fresh piece of pita and dug in. I was reluctant, but Michelle’s husband Amir urged me to give it a try. He said he gets fresh kibbe meat, in this case lamb, from Butcher Boy, and uses it the day of the purchase. I tasted a bite, and before I could come up with an excuse to not eat any more (I’m no Tony Bourdain when it comes to raw meat) other plates were placed before me. While I was impressed with the taste, freshness and shear ingenuity of this dish, I wanted to direct my appetite for those foods I cherish — hummus, baba ganoush, shwarma.

To say these Middle Eastern dishes exceeded expectations would be an understatement. They exceeded expectations exponentially. The organic hummus was so fresh it seemed to be an entirely different food than what people buy in the grocery store. The creamy baba was also superb. But the mezze that wowed me the most was the tabouli, a dish I always pass over at the salad bar. Not this tabouli, made from fresh parsley and lightly seasoned. Michelle also brought out grape leaves. Unlike most grape leaves, which are overpowered by the taste of dill, these combined the flavor of the vegetable with cooked kibbe and rice inside. Simply outstanding. I also enjoyed her mix of rice, chicken and pine nuts, another dish often overdone in many Lebanese restaurants. Here the chicken was moist and filled with flavor.

Michelle also brought out two superior condiments. I’m a hot sauce lover, but can really vouch for her homemade hot sauce prepared with Lebanese chiles. Even better was the creamy garlic sauce. If you ate it you would swear there would have to be mayo or egg in it. Michelle said she made the sauce with only garlic and water. It would improve any chicken, turkey or roast beef sandwich.

But then Michelle took the meal to a whole other level. She made up two rolled up sandwiches — shwarma and pasterma. One of my long standing pet peeves relating to food is going to a place which offers a gyro or shwarma sandwich and then being served a few pieces of ground meat sliced off a formerly frozen chunk from Kronos or some other national meat purveyor. I will interrogate food servers to make sure I’m getting something made on the premises. At Citgo Quick to Go there was no question. The shwarma meat was tender and tasty. Michelle prepared the sandwiches with all the appropriate condiments including her exquisite garlic sauce. An even greater surprise was the pasterma, a spiced, pastrami-like dried meat popular in Turkey and the Middle East. It was eye-openingly good.

As we ate, Michelle and Amir told me a bit of their story. They are both from Lebanon and came to America to escape the violence and strife in that country. Michelle was a chef in Beirut. When Amir bought the gas station, Subway had a store on the premises. When Subway ultimately moved out a few years ago, Michelle sensed an opportunity and bought its kitchen equipment, including the oven used to bake rolls. She bakes meat pies and other Mediterranean offerings on Fridays.

She also is sure to use organic vegetables. “It’s healthier and it tastes better,” she said. The spices are imported from Lebanon. They are also getting into catering and gaining a reputation. She told me a chef from Boston had heard of the place and drove up from Rye Beach to try it that day.

When I left completely full and carrying my leftovers in a bag, I thanked Castaldo for turning me on to the place. It’s a must visit for food lovers or anybody passionate about Middle Eastern food. I’ll have to have the falafel, made fresh, next time.

Quick To Go is located at 196 Tri-City Plaza. The phone number is (603) 740-9410. Call ahead for catering or just to make sure you’re going to hit it on the right day if you’re making a special trip.

A Taste of America’s Cities

August 27, 2008

The National Conference of Democratic Mayors sponsored an event that highlighted one of the great strengths of America’s cities — food. The group gathered the cuisines of 8 American cities and allowed attendees to taste what they had to offer. The cities were Boston, Chicago, Denver, Louisville, Philadelphia, Providence and Seattle.

What a perfect event for me! I love cities and I love food. I’m obviously partial to Boston, which offered Legal Sea Foods clam chowder and giant shrimp cocktail as well Boston Cream Pie. Numerous guests told me how much they liked the shrimp, the chowder and Mayor Menino who was in attendance. 

Boston aside, here’s my view of the other cities’ fare.

Philadelphia — Philly offered only one simple dish, the Philly Cheese Steak. When Dan Kennedy and I were down in Philadelphia for the Republican Convention, both of us were bitterly disappointed with the dry, stringy steak offered to us at the vaunted Jim’s Steak. I remember thinking what’s the big deal, I can get a better sandwich at many sub shops in Boston.

What I got to try from Tony Luke’s completely dispelled my earlier perception of the signature Philadelphia sandwich. The meat was incredibly tender, and the hoagie — as its called down there — was lovingly made. Tony Luke was on hand with his son personally making the sandwiches. He said he made a personal commitment to Mayor Nutter to create the best food possible.

It’s interesting that while not gourmet in any way, Tony Luke’s fresh, crafted sandwich really stood out. Tony Luke told me his business really took off since defeating Bobby Flay in a Throw Down. He’ll be on Dinner: Impossible in September.

Providence — Mayor Cicilline, who is now the head of the NCDM, welcomed me and pointed me over to the Providence station. I sampled both a Sloppy Guiseppi (a version of a Sloppy Joe) and veal stew, which I noted would make for a hearty meal when the weather turns cool in a few weeks. The food was from the Old Canteen on Federal Hill, which offers a tremendous value menu, salad, main dish, dessert.

San Francisco — When I walked by San Francisco’s station, I almost passed right by. I saw a menu that looked like it came right from a public health agenda, heirloom tomatoes, peaches with a fresh mozzarella-like cheese and dungeness crab (which I didn’t get to try.) When I put some cheese and tomatoes into my mouth, I had a taste explosion. The tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and a few sprinkles of sea salt, were filled with flavor; the cheese’s freshness enhanced both the taste of the tomatoes and the peaches.

Mayor Newsom showed up and was far more inquisitive when meeting guests than I thought he would be. He gets a lot of national press, which is understandable. 

Denver — Here the Rocky Mountain Trout Confit stood out. I was less impressed with the Buffalo “Loose Meat” sandwiches.

Louisville — I didn’t know what to expect from this Kentucky city. I wasn’t a big fan of their Hot Browns sandwich. I did like the Derby Pie, a pecan pie with chocolate added. The bourbon whipped cream was a little too bitter although their booth also offered a collection of Kentucky bourbons.

Seattle — Something of a disappointment. I was so excited to sample some poached wild Washington salmon. But then when I took a bite it lacked punch. Many guests, however, were raving about the more than 30 wines from Washington State available for tasting. I counted three guests ask for pinot noir only to learn that that grape is not a specialty of Washington state, cabernet and syrah are.

Chicago — Chicago set up several different cheese cakes. It made for a solid dessert, but I think they would have been better off with Chicago Dogs and Italian Beef.

Summer Food: Cucina Mia and Windy City Eats

August 18, 2008

A Chicago Dog

It’s the summer, and I’ve been heading south in recent weeks. Not the Deep South or even Cape Cod, but the South Shore. On my way down to Nantasket Beach in Hull, I’ve made two extraordinary food finds.

The first is Cucina Mia on Washington Street in Quincy. From the outside, Cucina Mia resembles any one of a number of sub and pizza shops that line Washington Street and Route 3A. Inside, it is a lively Italian café and salumeria with a focus on fresh ingredients.

The signature sandwich is the muffaletta. A muffaletta is a traditional Sicillian sandwich with genoa salami, prosciutto, mortadella, provolone, capicola and olive spread. I first encountered the muffaletta at the Central Grocery in New Orleans. Cucina Mia breaks from the Central Grocery orthodoxy in an important way. The co-owner Debbie Mignosa presses the sandwich. When I visited she told me that pressing the sandwich like a panini allowed the oils to properly accent the meats and the bread. As for differences with the vaunted Central Grocery, Mignosa says her recipe comes directly from Sicily, by way of her grandparents, not from New Orleans.

“If you give a good product, people will enjoy it, come back and tell somebody else,” says Mignosa, whose family once owned “The Egg and I” in Quincy.

I am also very excited about Windy City Eats in Weymouth. I was checking out the crowd at Donut King on Middle Street one recent Saturday when I happened to spy a sandwich board hawking a Chicago-style hot dog nearby. I made my way into a hole-in-the-wall. To my delight, I discovered native Midwesterner Grady Carlson selling authentic Chicago dogs.

I ordered his Chicago dog special. Carlson services it in the traditional fashion: poppy seed bun, mustard, bright green relish, onions, tomato, pickle, celery salt and jardinière, sortof a hot pepper relish.

While not an aficionado of the Chicago Dog – I love Pearl hot dogs and Speed – I do remember the foray the Chicago dog made into two locations back in the early 1990s, both of which I frequented – Harvard Square next to Charlie’s and Wollaston near the Clam Box. I also make sure to visit Superdog in Chicago with my brother-in-law who quizzed me on the authenticity of Windy City Eats when I told him about it. “Do they use a poppy roll? Do they have jardinière?”

To my amazement, Carlson was very knowledgeable about his craft. He was in close contact with Vienna, the Chicago-company that makes his all beef hot dogs, and knew everything about his predecessors.

I didn’t get a chance to try his Italian Beef, a roast beef sandwich dipped in juice, but I’m eager to sample it next time. He also has tasty, lightly fried french fries.

Eat in Roslindale

July 16, 2008

I file a column for the Roslindale Transcript about the neighborhood’s great eateries in my capacity as a Roslindale Village Main Street board member.

“Due to exorbitant energy costs and the low dollar, folks with a zest for interesting food and travel have few options these days other than watching “No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.”

Fortunately, Roslindale Village provides a roll of restaurants, bakeries and food shops, which itself reads like something out of a travel guide. There are specialty shops to purchase fresh meat and cheese, more than five bakeries to procure warm bread, pastries and cakes and restaurants to dine indoors or outside along with a wine shop.

The Boston Globe captured the gastronomic spirit of the neighborhood recently, writing, ‘The village is a food lover’s paradise, with ethnic markets, inviting restaurants, and a belt-straining six bakeries. Here, you can find burritos, baklava, bibimbop, pizza, paella, and pho.’

The unique quality of Roslindale Village goes far beyond offering a diverse set of sumptuous offerings. The neighborhood offers a captivating collection of the old and new, a balanced blend that makes for great eating.”

Boston’s Memorial Day Food Treats

May 23, 2008

As we fire up our grills for Memorial Day, a few thoughts about food are in order.

I got a chance to sample Fenway’s new kosher hot dog on Sunday. The Globe gets the process about right with its write-up this week. “When a customer puts in his or her money, it triggers a chain of events that carries the hot dog to an oven, where it cooks and rotates for 28 seconds. At the same time, a bun is carried into a bun warming oven. Then the hot dog is dropped into the bun, together they slide into a cardboard sleeve, and you open the door and pull them out. Mustard and relish are released from a separate door. Digital prompts tell the customer what is happening, as in, ‘Your hot dog is grilling,’ and ‘Please take your condiments.’ ”

You can also try a potato knish. I didn’t get a chance on Sunday. I’d give the dog a B grade. The problem lies not so much in the taste of the dog, but in the method of preparation. There’s a limit to how good an automated dog can taste.

For those who favor all beef hot dogs, but don’t keep kosher, Boston’s best weekday option is Hot Speed’s cart in Newmarket. I stopped by on the way home from downtown this week. As always, it was outstanding. Speed, a former track star, gives you a giant hot dog, bigger than what we typically think of as a knockwurst. It’s slathered with special sauce; you can get it loaded with onions and chili too. Speed, who’s now in his 80s, wasn’t there the day I showed up.

Last year, I met a guy in the schvitz in Norwood who purported to have given Speed his start in the business. He told me that Pearl began making these giant dogs especially for Speed. He recalled that at that early stage Speed even took his wagon to country fairs in Vermont. At first, he met trepidation. But as soon as he gave out one free dog, word spread. He always sold out.

You can read more about Speed here.

Finally, what is Memorial Day without ice cream. If you live in the Southwest part of the city or Canton, Milton or Norwood, you have to try Ron’s Ice Cream. Ron’s been quietly producing the area’s best ice cream since the advent of Steve’s and is finally getting noticed for it. His main location is on Hyde Park Avenue, which also is home to a bowling alley, in Hyde Park. He’s got an another place in Dedham Square.

Few can believe how good Ron’s ice cream is. I get it for my out-of-town guests and served it at my son’s 1-year birthday party. National Geographic listed it as one of the top ten ice cream parlors in the world. I once asked for documentation. The staff reached behind the counter to hand me “The Ten Best of Everything, The Ultimate Guide for Travelers” to the world. It listed Ron’s above a gelateria in Rome as well as a number of stellar ice cream places worldwide.

I asked Ron about how he got into the business. He told me how an interested representative from Hood Ice Cream encouraged him to start making his own. This was again at a time when homemade ice cream was something novel. Ron’s primary interest, back then, was changing the character of the bowling alley, which at that time was getting seedy.

He did all that and more. Good Morning America has named Ron’s one of the top four ice cream shops in America.

Viewers are welcome to vote for their preference. Vote for Ron’s here.

Roslindale Rant

April 26, 2008

Missing From Globe Take Out

The Boston Globe chose to focus on Roslindale as a prism through which to view the economic downturn. It’s a bit of an unusual choice, considering Roslindale’s not being particularly hard hit by mortgage foreclosures as are some communities on the 495 ring or in Southern New Hampshire, where I spent much time last fall. But the neighborhood is a vital, but often unnoticed, part of city life. I suppose the choice to center on Roslindale makes more sense with the recognition that several major executives at The Boston Globe, including Al Larkin and Brian McGrory, grew up in Roslindale.

Stephanie Ebbert, who’s been reporting on Boston since she came to the Globe from Pennsylvania some eight years ago, certainly nailed one major attribute of Roslindale Square, the food.

“The village is a food lover’s paradise, with ethnic markets, inviting restaurants, and a belt-straining six bakeries. Here, you can find burritos, baklava, bibimbop, pizza, paella, and pho. Casually chic restaurants mingle with unadorned postwar markets whose owners seem to see no need for upgrades.

“The storefronts of Greek markets dangle candles ribboned and bedecked with toys for Orthodox Easter, while the broad window at Fornax Bread Co., maker of artisanal breads, is draped with artfully mismatched aprons.

“Unlike most urban centers, Roslindale Village still feels completely real, dominated by locally owned businesses and traversed by people and a wide array of races and incomes.”

But overall I felt this take out had an arbitrary feel. For example, she makes a big deal out of the fact that Bob’s Pita Bakery has admittedly disappointedly stopped baking its own bread. (In fact, with the departure of the Near East Bakery on Washington Street in West Roxbury, there’s no place to get freshly baked pita, where previously there were two bakeries nearby.) But she neglects one of the most welcome recent additions to Roslindale Village, the Boston Cheese Cellar. Of course, a write-up of such a high end, sophisticated food shop, which has experienced an uptick of growth this year in the face of tough economic times, would have directly contradicted the “neighborhood in crisis” notion being promulgated in  Ebbert’s piece. 

When I drove through the Village last night, the neighborhood was buzzing with couples and families walking to dine at one of the many fine local restaurants.

Perhaps I’m too sensitive on this. I’m a neighborhood property owner as well as a new member of the Main Streets board. It’s great that the world has finally noticed what we have here. It’s too bad it’s taken a downturn to get them to take note.