A Guide to My Favorite Things About Boston

 

It has been just over two months since I moved from Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood back to New York City. It’s funny to think I’ve only spent my life so far in two states. Perhaps every four years I’m going to keep trading off, reacquainting myself to all the former environs, having to redo the favorite list.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so what better way to channel nostalgia and a bit of holiday homesickness than writing a guide to things I loved. Places will close and change when I’m away, a kind of sad truth of moving. At least, they’re a way of reflecting on my time spent.

Shop//

Books: 

It is possible that I’ve been to almost every bookstore in Boston during my last four years so this is by far my biggest category of favorites.

The best overall bookstore, a browser’s delight and open later than most things in sleepier than I like Boston, is the impeccable Brookline Booksmith. The delightful Globe Corner in Harvard square closed but gratefully the Booksmith assumed a great deal of their map and travel collection. Wanderlusters, rejoice!

For more travel, lingering, and reading literary magazines without purchasing them I actually admit I love the Barnes and Noble in disguise Harvard Coop. The down the street independent The Harvard Bookstore is not actually a part of Harvard but that doesn’t stop tourists from always asking where the sweatshirts are when they walk in. It is a great all around bookstore though, with strong academic and non-fiction sections as well as a solid used book cellar.

The best place to browse, sip a cup of coffee, or order a tuna melt is by far the dinner meets bookstore meets coffee shop Trident Booksellers. It’s a great spot for a cheap but happening brunch, too.

For used fiction, I’m going to go out on a limb and say there is no where better than Boomerang’s back room in Jamaica Plain. Sure, it’s a thrift store primarily but I’ve come across almost everything on my to do read list there at one point. The Brattle Bookshop wins for the beauty of outside used books browsing in an alley downtown, and for editions of early books full of intricate illustrations. Raven Used Books is the best and smartest used bookstore I’ve ever been to: it’s full of literary and academic gems just calling out to my wallet. You can find it both Newbury Street (better for fiction), Harvard Square (better for academic and non-fiction.), and North Hampton in Western Mass when you start wandering west, you pilgrim.

Odds and Ends:

I have a special spot in my heart for Black Ink in Harvard Square or Beacon Hill for the finding the best offbeat gift, card, or special thing you are lusting after. KitchenWare on Newbury is a go to for the home cook, and Berks in Harvard Square was for all my leather booted needs. Cardullo’s in Harvard Square for fancy provisions and gifts because to this day my mom swears she worked for Mr Cardullo back in her waitressing days and that he was a real piece of work.

Thrift:

Artifactori on Beacon Hill was a go to for browsing. The Goodwill on Comm Ave, is a perfect place to pick up discarded gems by the Boston University youth. Oona’s in Harvard Square is for everything you dreamed your vintage closet could be someday. The Closet on Newbury Street is the best deal for  upscale items on the cheap. Not for the faint of heart but the dedicated thrifter, nothing beats combing the racks of Urban Renewal in Allston.

I also feel it is time to reveal a Massachusetts suburban secret: If you can make it out of the city via plane, train, or automobile head to the Fitchburg Salvation army. That place is a viable mecca and regional landing place for all things wonderful.

Eat//

I tend to always find myself searching for the cheapest of anything that I can eat, so most of my life in Boston was informed by this eternal bargain hunter ethic.

New Saigon sandwich in Chinatown for bahn mi, graciously eaten in the grass of the common. Clover Food lab in Harvard Square has a place in my heart because no matter the multitude of food trucks turned brick and mortar I love that you can sit, drink a beer, and order a fairly cheap falafel plate for dinner with fries. The seasonal salad gets me every time.

The best chocolate croissants are at Canto 6 or Clear Flour on the Brookline-Allston border. And actually the best baguette is at Clear Flour too.

For imbibing, I always ended up at Grendel’s Den to feel like a college kid, Deep Ellum for a fancy cocktail and silent movies, or Tasty burger in Fenway because you can easily eat at the bar while watching Boston sports without being too obvious. Secret sports viewing is vital.

My life blood is coffee so this was my trio: The Thinking Cup for Stumptown to put on airs, Algiers Coffee house because it reminds me of New York City’s Cafe Reggio where I can linger for a long time without buying much and 1369 to read and people watch in Central Square.

At a bit more mid-range, I always found myself gravitating to The Salty Pig so I could build a board of pig parts plus a fancy pizza with more pig parts. Pig is key.

When I was feeling fancy I loved Oleana (of course I’d say this, I got married there!), Neptune Oyster, or Ten Tables.

Places //

There are so many things I love about Boston that are off the tourist beaten track: the Copley library courtyard in summer, that you can walk the emerald necklace through Jamaica Plain all the way to the Common, that part of the esplanade where kayakers come in through this hidden seeming waterway, walking the Mass Ave bridge all the way into Cambridge because you can, movies at The Brattle or The Coolige Corner Theater, the view of the harbor from the ICA at night, that part of the Red Line where it emerges on the Longfellow bridge and everyone is compelled to look out at the Charles river no matter their curmudgeonry, picking just one gallery to spend the day in at the MFA, when you cross from the garden into the common and that particular slope of Beacon HIll sits on the horizon, the certain stretch of Route 2 where the city comes into view for the first time as you’re driving east.

Farther a field: deCordova is a hidden gem of modern art and rolling sculpture park greens, West Concord has the best bread and sandwiches in a cozy shop, and Mass Moca is worth that zip car trip out west. And for the record, I actually love the cold, rocky New England beaches north of the city.

See you soon Massachusetts for the holidays! You’re swell.

 

eat it (Boston): Clover Food Lab

 

I’ve decided to start reviewing local eats in and around the Boston area. The blog will not become dedicated to reviews though; I’m still interested in cooking, thinking, and writing about food in a recipe sharing kind of way. And no, I will not be reviewing anything that is given to me free. It’s just not my style (not to mention why would someone give me anything for free?)

What lead me to writing reviews here is that I’ve been thinking about how the way I like to cook and think about food  is so influenced by all the changing, contradictory tastes of Boston: I’m talking the traditional white fish, old-school New England meets the complicated new Boston of  yuppies, hipsters, food trucks, immigrants, and cooks with grand schemes of saving the world (to name a few.) Not to mention it’s just plain fun to recommend the things I seriously enjoy.

The first review had to be Clover Food Lab because it was the first food truck I tried, back before they’d expanded into a brick and mortar Harvard Square restaurant and before the city’s food truck initiative brought more Clover trucks to the street. When I first tried Clover they were just starting to cause a lot of buzz as a popular lunch spot in the M.I.T. area that did healthy-ish fast food. Since I was working in the suburbs at the time it meant I could never make it to the area before they closed up though. But one Friday, when I’d skipped out of work early, I made it my only goal of the day to race home in my twelve year old Ford Taurus (a car of glory) to get to there. When I finally got to the truck, sandwiched in between the modern architecture of Cambridge’s Kendall Square area, I was a giddy fan girl effusively telling the staff how long I’d been waiting to try it all. I ordered what has become my staple: a chickpea fritter sandwich, rosemary fries, and a homemade soda/Italian soda.

I probably ate it on a bench, or on the curb, in a fit of messy one-handed hunger but I know I was delighted because I’ve been going back ever since. Not soon after that first bite the food truck buzz starting getting louder and louder in Boston; I was clearly late to the party but glad I made it all. Then Clover opened in Harvard Square into a modern, light-filled, futuristic fast food restaurant that features no register, ordering by iPhone, all white decor, and plants growing up the back wall.

Clover is a wonderfully strange place that is full of contradictions: it’s a hugely popular but totally meat-free, it was started by a socially-minded entrepreneurial M.I.T. grad but also fueled by an experienced chef, it’s an expanding chain but it’s dedicated to sustainability (everything is composted in the restaurants). Clover has also been called ambivalent to praise from the local media and yet it’s using social media to its fullest. Clover’s menu is a work in-progress, never overly polished or  inaccessible but also based on a wide range of world cuisine that brings a healthy version of fast food to the masses (of Boston and Cambridge that is.) All these contradictions make it one of the most interesting, popular food spots in the changing Boston culinary scene.

My love of the Clover chickpea fritter has not waned. I do branch out often–my second favorite is the chickpea fritter plate which is like a deconstructed version of the sandwich, or the soy BLT, or the seasonal salads/sides like this one fabulous salad of roasted carrots/pistachios/mint–but I’m still just in love with idea of a bright and creative version of a falafel packed with sweet pickled vegetables, a cucumber-tomato salad, with hummus AND tahini. You must have both present to achieve that level of chickpea fritter perfection. Don’t be afraid to ask for more tahini, either.

Bottom line? Get the chickpea fritter in any incarnation for the first time (and the 40th time too), do not pass up the rosemary fries which are freshly made and tossed with sprigs of rosemary that I eat one by one even after the fries are gone. If you are in the Harvard Square location try the local beers on tap which are usually 3 or 4 dollars. Oh and Friday is Whoopie pie friday! Not to be missed, trust me.

 

Clover Food Lab
various locations around Boston/Cambridge
$/budget/vegetarian

http://www.cloverfoodlab.com/
https://twitter.com/#!/cloverfoodtruck
http://www.cloverpos.com/locations/

(locations from http://www.cloverfoodlab.com/ )

Clover HSQ
7 Holyoke St., Cambridge (Near Harvard Square T stop)
7 Days, 7am – Midnight (breakfast, lunch, dinner)

Clover MIT
20 Carleton St., Cambridge (Near Kendall T stop)
Weekdays 8am – 8pm (breakfast, lunch, dinner)

Clover DWY
Summer St. & Atlantic Ave, Boston (Near South Station T stop)
Weekdays 7:30am – 5pm (breakfast, lunch)

Clover BUB (NEW HOURS)
BU Bridge, Westbound side of Commonwealth Ave (St. Paul T stop)
Wednesdays and Thursdays 8am-7pm, Friday, 8am – 3pm.

BU East (in front of Morse Auditorium)
Mondays and Tuesdays, 8am – 3pm

Clover LMA
Longwood Medical Area, on Blackfan St. near Merck
Weekdays, 8am – 7pm (breakfast, lunch, dinner)

Clover HUB
1075 Cambridge St., just outside of Inman Square
7 days, 7am – 9pm

Clover SWA
SoWa Market, 460 Harrison Ave, Boston, MA
Sundays, 8am – 4pm

Clover GOV
City Hall Plaza
Fridays, 8am-4pm

Clover CLV
Beacon St and Chestnut Hill Ave
Fridays and Saturdays 4pm-9pm

 

 

 

Cheddar, Bacon, and Avocado Grilled Cheese

It’s the lead up to Thanksgiving. I should be blogging about turkey. The truth is I don’t need to cook for that holiday of champions yet. Instead I travel to western New York so that other people can do the basting, the pie making, for me. I’m grateful. Someday I may well have to host a holiday meal on my own, when I will finally have an opinion other than “more” in regards to pie.

So instead of working on the staples of a holiday feast I decided to pay homage to my favorite Boston food trucks: Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, which makes a killer bacon-avocado grilled cheese. The ingredients in this sandwich work for one simple reason: fat makes food taste good.

On the afternoons when Roxy’s Grilled Cheese parks near my office I wait in line, order my sandwich, and yet get irritated like clockwork. Irritated at not getting my sandwich before that guy who came four people after me. Irritated I have to walk back to the office with the sandwich or quickly eat it on the library steps because it is getting cold outside, no longer picnic weather. I fester with quiet work week lunch rage until I’m handed my order of the best grilled cheese in the city. It is greasy. It is cheesy. It is awesome. So thank you, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, for your sandwiches of glory even if I’m that temporary curmudgeon in your line, hovering too close every time an order is called.

p.s. you know what makes a better grilled cheese? Mayo on the outside of the bread instead of butter. I learn something new every day.

Cheddar, Bacon,  and Avocado Grilled Cheese

Makes 1 Sandwich

Ingredients:
2 slices of crusty bread
1 tablespoon (approximately, you be the judge) mayo
1/4 avocado, sliced
2-3 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
2 stripes of bacon, cut into smaller pieces

Steps:

1. Cook the bacon. Blot dry. Cut into a few smaller slices to make sandwich eating easier if you like.

2. Coat one slice of bread with a generous heaping of mayo. Place down on cutting board. Load sandwich with alternating layers of sharp cheddar, bacon slices, and avocado. Top with another slice of bread. Slater the top of that slice with more mayo.

3. Cook on each side until browned in a skillet/fry pan on medium. I’d ball park it as 7 minutes. Grilled cheese making isn’t a science though. Just make sure the sandwich doesn’t burn (unless that is your thing.)

 

Food for Thought Series at Harvard Museum of Natural History

For any Boston area readers, check out these upcoming free lectures at The Harvard Museum of Natural History on food & humans . I’m afraid I won’t be able to get home in time to check them out; maybe I will see how fast I can get through that glorious hour of my life called the rush hour commute. Gosh, I really do loathe my car. I’ve just started working a new job but I’m already dreaming of the day when I can find a better job with a carless commute. I guess this is the reality of the American office worker. Well, at least I have dinner to motivate me. How I love dinner.

Anyway, you can download the program series flier here.

 

Where Our Food Comes From: The Origins of Agriculture

Program with Bruce Smith
Thursday, February 11, 6:00 pm

The transition from hunting and gathering to food production was a seismic shift in human history. With it, we transformed the world. How and when did this happen, and why is it important to understanding the current human condition?  Dr. Bruce Smith, Curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, will discuss his current research on agricultural origins—and how the story is more complicated than expected. Free and open to the public in the Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street.

 

From Cooking Food to Cooking the Planet:
Growing Constraints to Food Production

Program with Samuel Myers
Tuesday, February 23, 6:00 pm

To keep pace with the world’s food demand, it is estimated that agriculture production must double by 2050. Dr. Samuel Myers, Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a practicing physician, will discuss troubling trends, including climate change and increased threats from pests and pathogens that may constrain the world’s resources, requiring new approaches to sustainable agriculture. Free and open to the public in the Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street.

review of savenor’s market in beacon hill, boston ma

 

Although I love browsing small stores that specialize in local, artisan, and hard to find culinary items, I usually don’t buy much when I do stop in to look. When it comes down to it, those little markets charge way too much for almost the same items I can get at the no frills grocery store. Cardullos in Harvard Square is a great example. While they have an expansive selection of world food, most of their Eastern European items can be bought for at least half off at the Russian grocery stores in Brookline, MA. I know this all to well because Brian and I are quite addicted to Polish cookies and we rummage all and any stores in search of them.

Savenor’s in Beacon Hill is a whole different story though. There are actual deals to be had in the midst of all the charm and Vermont aged cheddar. I stopped in yesterday after a determined effort to use my new digital camera out in the environs of Boston. I couldn’t think of a prettier neighborhood to photograph than Beacon Hill.  Even as a Massachusetts native, most of it’s steep back streets are totally new to me. I ended my winding trail near Savenor’s by the Charles river. Having heard multiple times about the store’s location in Cambridge, with its claim to fame being that Julia Child stopped in and out regularly with Jack Savenor as her official butcher, I couldn’t resist. Who doesn’t want to pretend they are Julia Child for a minute, even if there are down to their last twenty dollar?

To my surprise, I found a lot of high quality items at reasonable prices. Most notably organic and grass fed chicken breasts at prices that actually beat my neighborhood grocery store. And if you are me, this is the ultimate high. I love food but I also love saving money, thanks to my penny pinching father. Also nice was Savenor’s convenient smaller sizes of cheese, making it easier for me to indulge in something new (St-Nectaire, to be exact) without emptying my wallet.

There are other reasons to visit Savenor’s, too. They have an awe inspiring range of high quality meats. It was dizzying just staring at the freezer sections below. Whole local chickens, quality cuts of sirloin, and even duck confit are readily available, to name a few. Not to mention a whole slew of jams, glazes, dips, and tapenades that I can’t even imagine what to do with. If I ever need to put on a really killer party, if say Barack Obama decides to eat dinner with Brian and I some night, I would definitely stop here for all the fixings. Until then, I will take joy in finding the bargain priced items and marvel at all the beautiful goods just out of my reach.

Savenor’s Market, Boston
160 Charles Street Boston 02114
Phone 617.723.6328
Fax 617.723.3639
boston@savenorsmarket.com
Hours of Operation
Monday to Friday 11:00 am to 8:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am to 8:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 pm to 7:00 pm