Friday, September 20, 2013

New Favorite Brunch Spot - The Neighborhood

Ok, first of all, credit where credit's due, friend of the blog Alicia's been telling me about this place for a long time and I sort of just "yeah, whatever"ed the recommendation. The reason being that most brunch places are pretty much the same. I mean this one's got really good toast, and that one does almond joy pancakes, but the overall experience of going out to brunch is pretty much the same no matter where you choose. 

Except I was SO WRONG not to insist on going to The Neighborhood the first time Alicia brought it up. This place has reinvented brunch.

First of all, you don't sit in a tiny cramped little hole in the wall dining room (at least not in the summer), you sit at a picnic bench under a grape arbor in the fresh air outdoors. What? It's amazing.

Second, you don't have to choose sweet or savory for your brunch. The combinations on their menu let you get a mix of all the stuff you actually want. And don't worry, you'll get more than enough of it.  This two pictures are the food that was included in my $10 breakfast -- plus juice, coffee, toast, and fruit. (pictured are pumpkin pancakes, corned beef hash, potatoes and fried eggs)

If I haven't already convinced you that you need to eat here, I don't know what to tell you. I guess your absence at least makes the line shorter for the rest of us.

The Neighborhood restaurant is at 25 Bow Street in Union Square, Somerville.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New Whole Foods in Arlington Center

A new supermarket is big news in a small town, and this year in Arlington we've gotten two new ones. Last year, when Jonnie's Foodmaster closed all locations, it left an open space on the Alewife Brook Parkway that's since been filled by Stop & Shop.  But we were also left with a hole in the prime space on Mass Ave right in Arlington Center. Today, a brand new Whole Foods just opened there.

I think we were all a little surprised to see a new Whole Foods store coming in when there are two Whole Foods locations less than 2 miles away. But one thing that's nice about Whole Foods is that they carry different selections of products in different areas. So, we might have access to some items at this store that we can't get in the other two. I stopped in today to get a look at the new store and see what I'll be shopping for there in the future.

On first entering the store, I saw the small produce section and the fish counter. I was surprised to see as much space dedicated to fish as fruit and vegetables, but I guess it makes sense for them to feature a good selection of seafood since the Stop & Shop up the street doesn't. Whereas Stop & Shop has a good selection of local produce, which I don't think Whole Foods is very good at.

After a quick walk through the aisles (there were only about 4, it's a small store!), I found myself at the Fromagerie. Ok, that was an exciting moment for me. Trying all the delicious cheese samples is my favorite part of visiting Whole Foods. In addition to cheese, the Fromagerie counter offered fresh sliced charcuterie and pasta cut to order. I couldn't resist getting a little whole wheat pasta and some spicy salami.

This Whole Foods also offers a good selection of pre-made foods. I could definitely see us stopping here to pick up a healthy dinner to go instead of ordering restaurant take-out. 

Overall, I was impressed with the selection at this new supermarket in my neighborhood. On the way to the registers I stopped by the bakery and even found a few item I'd never seen before in a Whole Foods -- cronuts and macarons.  This is a supermarket that understands me.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Birch (Providence)

Dear Eaters,

We are pleased to have friend of the blog Anthony with us to share his recent visit to a new spot in Providence.  Anthony is always up on what's happening in Providence, and we're always looking for an excuse to have another great meal down there, so we're lucky he's here to dish out the latest!

Guest Post by Anthony Penta

Providence is the most beautiful city in New England.  Go stand on the corner of Benefit and Planet -- the kaleidoscopic center of a whirlwind made of brightly painted colonial homes and brick Victorian buildings -- and tell me I’m wrong.

After World War II, Providence couldn’t afford to tear down all of that frilly, fussy Victorian architecture, so the residents covered it up with stucco, paved over the river, and put up chain link fences.  Then in the 1980s the restoration boom began.  The chain link fences came down, the river was brought back, and homeowners realized there were some valuable antique properties underneath all that mummifying plaster.

Most of those properties are plaque houses now.  Take a stroll down Arnold Street and you will feel transported back in time.  All that’s missing is the clop of horse hooves on pavement.  College Hill, a huge cluster of Victorian houses and university buildings owned by Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design, is like one big wedding cake looking down on the city.

Lately another sea-change has quietly transformed the city.  A few years ago, boutique restaurants began sprouting up in obscure corners.  Chez Pascal on Hope Street.  La Laiterie at Farmstead in Wayland Square.  The foodie boom crept into Providence slowly, like a low-lying fog.  Now every neighborhood seems to have its own designer kitchen.

Traditionally, the nice restaurants in Providence, the special date restaurants, are places like Al Forno, Mill’s Tavern, Pot Au Feu, and Capriccio.  Those restaurants are still heavyweight champions.  Bastions of old-world finery, they proudly display huge rooms full of white linen and exposed brick.  They fit the antique atmosphere of Providence.  I still like to go to the Capital Grille, with its openly confrontational raw beef display behind glass.  I still crave the occasional giant wedge of iceberg lettuce drizzled with ranch dressing and bacon bits.  Who doesn’t?

But the new boutique kitchens have put those old restaurants in a new perspective.  Birch, North, and Flan Y Ajo are small, exciting, and most importantly, casual.  Casual in a Dwell Magazine kind of way. They’ve ditched the white linen for a new, artfully crafted look, and of course the designer aesthetic extends, perhaps originates with, the food.  The list of ingredients on menus in these restaurants reads like witchcraft.  Yarrow, Bronze Fennel, Rosehips.  No giant salad wedges or ribeye steaks here.

Birch, one of the newest boutique restaurants in Providence, is in the old Tini location, across from the Trinity Repertory Company on Washington Street.  Tini was just that -- super small.  One bar like a thrust stage and fifteen seats around it.  Birch has revamped the interior and now serves designer food instead of designer cocktails.

Benjamin and Heidi Sukle are the founders.  Benjamin went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales and spent time in the kitchens of The Dorrance and La Laiterie at Farmstead.  The small Birch menu is presented in four courses.  You can opt to go your own way a la carte, or pick one item from all four for $46.  I decided to pick and choose.

I chose just the Heirloom Salad, the Point Judith Catch of the Day (which was skate) and a glass of red wine -- the “Angeline” pinot from Sonoma. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Angeline had all of the plummy, spicy, dark fruit characteristics I expected from a pinot.  Like many wines on the Birch list, I was not familiar with the producer, so I read through the list again and made a mental note to stop by another day to sample a few more.

While I was waiting, one of the kitchen staff brought out a sample of lightly fried plantain in dill sauce, topped with a crisp of salty, charred spinach.  It was a grenade of unusual, complimentary flavors, and was a glimpse of things to come.

I’ll just say outright, to avoid an excess of fawning, adjective-laden description, that the heirloom lettuce salad with crème fraîche and shaved vegetables, topped by cured egg yolk shavings, is perhaps the best salad, certainly the most interesting salad, I have ever eaten.

That’s right, those are flowers on my fork.  Flowers blooming on my fork.  The salad was an explosive combination of shaved vegetables, herbs, and tiny flowers.  Beguiling vegetable flavors chased themselves across my palate, and I struggled to identify them.  Fennel, romaine and mesclun greens, dill, carrot.  The whole assortment was topped by a salty, creamy snow of shaved, cured egg yolk.  I asked the woman behind the counter to elaborate.  Apparently the chef cures a raw egg yolk in salt and sugar, then when it is hard, grates it like cheese.  Extraordinary.  With shame I thought of the giant wedge of iceberg lettuce I once adored at the Capital Grille, drizzled with ranch dressing and bacon bits.  How could I ever go back there?      

I will admit I have never eaten skate.  I was not sure what to expect.  It’s a stingray-like fish, and for this preparation a wing was very lightly pan seared and served with charred summer cabbage, sweet corn, tomatillo and miso.  In truth, it looked a bit like a special effect from a science fiction film, but it tasted lovely, and was as pliant and flaky as any perfectly cooked cod I have ever eaten.  I’m surprised not to have seen skate on more menus.  The whole dish was light bodied and tasted fresh, which is an achievement for seafood.    

So ended my brief visit to Birch.  It was WaterFire night, where at sundown the city burns wood in metal bowls along the river and music plays in the open air.  I had a friend to meet.  I would gladly have stayed at Birch for another course or glass of wine, but there were more little menus to visit that night.  I think I like the new Providence even more than the old Providence.    

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Just Crust

Hey Eaters,

I initially liked the Upper Crust.  It was right across the street from my work and it was one of the first places in Harvard Square where you could get wheat pizza.  But I started to feel guilty eating there cause of all the shady stuff I'd hear they were into, like exploiting immigrant workers and stealing employees' overtime wages.  I resolved to stop going, but I'm ashamed to say I had relapses.  Then they filed for bankruptcy protection and closed a bunch of locations, including the Harvard Square one. 

But now the Harvard Square site has become the Just Crust.  Basically, the lawyer who represented the wronged workers against Upper Crust has bought the lease on the Harvard Square location.  She is hiring back Upper Crust employees and supposedly giving them partial ownership.

So with a clearer conscience, I recently ordered this Mixed Greens salad:
It was all kinds o'greens with roasted chicken breast (add-on) and jam packed with cucumbers, peppers, and mozzarella.  It was 12 bucks or so with the added chicken, but I got two very good meals out of it.  Very fresh and tasty, and pretty to look at too.   I wouldn't get it every day but I would get it again. 

I've also tried one of their dessert pizzas - nutella, whipped cream, and strawberries.  So far the place compares favorably in the food department with its evil twin.  I'll undoubtedly be going back for more pizzas.  I'll update you.  

You can read about the whole deal here and here.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gourmanding at Home with Plated

Greetings Eaters,

This is a somewhat unusual review for us because it's not a restaurant. Plated is a meal delivery service that puts together dishes with healthful, seasonal foods and send you a printed recipe card along with all the necessary ingredients.

We've been taking advantage of this service off and on for the last few months (one of my favorite things about Plated is how easy it is to "opt out" for weeks you don't want deliveries, or to cancel your membership altogether. I hate getting trapped paying for an extra month of a service I don't want)

I decided to post a few pictures from a recent Plated meal for our Gourmanding readers and to share a free trial off with you.

This week we made herb and mustard roasted salmon with a summer vegetable salad.

This is how the ingredients look straight out of the box. Everything is clearly marked and pre-measured to fit the recipe. 

We decided to split up the recipe with me slicing the vegetables...

And Greg making the salmon.

The skill level and prep time of Plated recipes varies, but we found this one to be particularly quick and easy.  In about 15 minutes we had our finished dish and were ready to eat.


You can check out Plated and get two free plates by signing up at

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bronwyn in Union Square

Living in Boston, I don't often get to indulge in my love of German food. It's a shame because there's no better summer cuisine than cold beer with a bratwurst and a freshly baked pretzel.

So, you can imagine my delight when I opened up the most recent issue of The Improper Bostonian and discovered Somerville's gained a new German restaurant.

The night after I read the article, Greg and I went to check out Bronwyn, the new Union Square restaurant from the team behind T. W. Food, and invited our friends Alfredo and Laura, who live nearby in Inman Square. It was a drizzly night, and when we learned the wait to get in would be at least 30 minutes (on a Wednesday night!) we considered going elsewhere, but we quickly decided it looked worth the wait. In the end, the wait was nearly an hour as the lucky diners indoors couldn't seem to part with their tables until they'd savored every dish on the menu. Bronwyn's greeter apologized for the delay and hooked us up with glasses of champagne (alcohol which was probably partly to blame for the ordering frenzy we went into when we finally sat down).

The restaurant is composed of two rooms; the front bar which includes stools, standing area and two long benches, and the back dining room which has a darkened medieval atmosphere and high-backed chairs that make everyone look like royalty. The men in our party especially got a kick out of sitting in the Games of Thrones style chairs.

The guys ordered the Bronwyn Hausbier (house beer, in case you can't understand my accent), which was a light very drinkable beer, and Laura had the unusual, but very tasty, grapefruit beer. The beer and wine list at Bronwyn was extensive. Now I'm really dying to come back on a night when I don't have to drive so I can try a few.

We decided to start our meal with a Brot Basket (bread basket) and a Giant Haus Bretzel. The pretzel was in fact pretty giant. I'm not even sure we finished it among the four of us.

Our waitress said that many of the dishes on the menu were served shareable tapas style, so we decided to order a bunch of items for the table. We ordered four types of sausage; bierwurst (pork), currywurst (viel, pork & curry), kielbasa (not sure) and knacker (beef, pork and sauerkraut).

 I was surprised by how different each of the sausages were. By the time the food arrived, the alcohol had set in and we were all a little hazy on which was which, but there really wasn't any we disliked. Personally, I wasn't crazy about curry mixed with German flavors, but I think someone else at the table said that was their favorite.

In addition to the wursts, we shared two other sides; Reibekuchen (horseradish potato pancakes with garlic scapes) and Knodel (bacon bread dumpling). If I could please eat Knodel every day for the rest of my life, that would be wonderful. It was somehow more bacony than bacon. Mmmmmmmm....

For dessert we shared the Chocolate Cake which was a rich flourless cake. An important fact I learned that night is that the "German chocolate cake" with coconut-pecan frosting I was expecting isn't from Germany. It's named for Sam German who invented the baking chocolate used in the recipe.The flourless cake was good, but I was a little disappointed because of my own confusion.

Overall, our experience at Bronwyn was overwhelmingly positive. For a restaurant that had just opened, I was blown away by the quality of food and service. I can't wait to come back for another bretzel and another chance at that beer list.

Bronwyn Restaurant is located at 255 Washington Street in Union Square, Somerville. Its website is

Boston Whoopie and Real Pops at the Davis Square Flea Market

Last Sunday we met up with our friends Jonnie and Sarah in Davis Square to check out Cupcake Camp. Have I ever told you all about my event planning skills? Cool story, I suck at it. So by the time we got to Davis Square all the tickets to Cupcake Camp were sold out and we had to find something else to do. Whoops.

Luckily, we found the Davis Square Flea Market just across the street with a few tasty surprises from local vendors.

First, we discovered Boston Whoopie.

Readers of this blog know we love a good whoopie pie, so when founders Alex Cadoret and Jillian Karlson (pictured above) offered us a free sample of their raspberry coconut whoopie pie, we had to take them up on it. I'm usually a chocolate girl, but Sunday was hotter than blazes, and I found the light coconut cream and raspberry jam really light and refreshing. We bought another raspberry coconut whoopie pie to take home, and later I was kicking myself for not getting an extra to try one of the other flavors they had on offer; original chocolate, chocolate chip (one of their best sellers), peanut butter cup, and oreo cookie.

I still really love Wicked Whoopies in Maine, but freshness is paramount with a whoopie, and Freeport is a heck of a drive away, so I'm delighted to discover a great local purveyor. Also, I loved the unusual pairing of coconut and raspberry. I'd love to see what other unique flavors they can come up with outside the standard chocolate & cookie flavors (though I do love me some pb cup).

Boston Whoopie doesn't have its own store front yet, but you can find them at the Davis Flea each week, and at the Mass Ave Diner in Cambridge. They're also expanding into more area restaurants soon. Check them out on Facebook at or at (website coming soon). I think these guys are going to be really big.

Next, I found myself drawn to the siren ice cream cart of Real Pops. As I mentioned before, Sunday was hot. Like, seriously hot hot. I couldn't think of anything I wanted more than a super-chilled ice pop and then, there they were!

Real Pops offers Mexican style fresh fruit pops made with local produce (except I believe the hibiscus was imported from Mexico), fair trade sugar and no artificial colors or preservatives. Owner Dewey Cyr used Kickstarter to start up the business last year on just over $7000.

I was impressed with how inventive the flavors of the pops were. Greg had a hibiscus raspberry, which is what would be on my tombstone (you know, if people put their favorite iced tea flavors on their tombstones), but I decided to branch out and try the rhubarb elderflower, which was a tasty mix of sweet, tart, and vegetabley (in a good way). Even more unusual were the two flavors we didn't try; sweet corn coconut and roasted red plum.

The Real Pops were delicious, but the best part was that they were beyond cold. Cyr stores them in dry ice,  and they're so cold your tongue will stick unless you give them a few seconds to thaw. It was the absolute most refreshing option for a hot day.

You can find out more about Real Pops at on twitter @reallyrealpops or on facebook at

Anyway, despite some poor planning on my part, we ended up discovering some really great new local foods. And, of course, after our whoopie pies and ice pops we hit up Kickass Cupcakes to get a cupcake fix too.  All's well that ends in cupcakes.