Did You Say Toad in the Hole?

Posted: November 25th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Casual/Pub Food, Old Spot, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

We knew we were in for a treat when the waitress placed a bottle of Heinz malt vinegar on the table after we ordered the sweet potato sizzler appetizer, on her recommendation.

Actually, we were pretty sure we were going to enjoy The Old Spot the moment we walked in. The gas fire on the pub side, the friendly barkeep, and the flirty pig decorations in the main restaurant were the first clues. The 16 beers on tap, juicy burgers, and an opportunity to order spotted dick cemented the deal.

Established almost three years ago across from the Hawthorne Hotel, The Old Spot is, the waitress told us, the owner’s version of a English pub. Traditional fare like ploughman’s lunch ($12), toad in the hole ($8), and fish and chips ($16), along with ½ liter beers, ensure the pub part is on target. The “version” we took to mean more sophisticated menu choices, including delicious seared scallops with butternut squash ravioli in a light cream sauce (a recent dinner special).

Five of us shared the sweet potato fries ($9), which were topped with bacon, cheddar, sour cream, and scallions. Good thing we are all well behaved, or there might have been some elbow-related injuries. The haddock sandwich, fish and chips, and burger were declared a success, although the fries could have been more crisp. The hit of the night was the very slow roasted pork with wow-wow sauce (a vinegar-laced brown sauce with Worcestershire and whole grain mustard). Despite its melt-in-your-mouth qualities, we couldn’t finish the generous serving.

The same can’t be said for the desserts ($6 each), portions of which were left in their bowls. The brownie sundae tried, unsuccessfully, to cover up for the desert-dryness of the brownie with ice cream and whipped cream. A similar fate befell the spotted dick, which turned out to be bread pudding with whiskey sauce. The lemon bars were the best of the lot, moist and flavorful.

In the end, we left sated and happy, with plans to return. The welcoming atmosphere, attentive service, and good pub fare won us over, not to mention our desire to sample some of the cocktails on offer. With names like thickety boo, nancy boy, and peach knickers, who can resist?

The Old Spot
121 Essex St, Salem
(978) 745-5656

Old Spot on Urbanspoon


Immovable Feast

Posted: November 25th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Bakery, Cafe, Foodie's Feast, Marblehead | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Tucked into a relatively small space in old town, Foodie’s Feast has a terrific storefront in a gorgeous antique building, with a casual café atmosphere inside featuring inviting cases of bakery items and a changing exhibit of local artists displayed on the walls.

This summer, a friend was staying in Marblehead and we met her there for breakfast. (Our only prior experience with Foodie’s had been a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie on a cold day, and both had really hit the spot.) There are scant few places in this neighborhood to stop in for breakfast or a light lunch, and while the Muffin Shop down the street is something of a local institution, Foodie’s offers quite a bit more.  Prepared foods, baked goods, (mostly their own, but they are also a welcome supplier of Iggy’s bagels) breakfast offerings, soups and sandwiches fill the menu. We ended up ordering coffee and the breakfast sandwich with bacon, egg and cheese on an English muffin. ($4.00) Freshly made and appetizing, it rates well above the standard Egg McMuffin.

Back in old town Marblehead this weekend for a bit of early holiday shopping, stopping in at Foodie’s to refuel was a no-brainer. We sat near the window in the sun, which was very pleasant, and had a great view of the comings and goings on Washington Street. Our food arrived in short order and the hot apple cider was just the thing to ward off the chill of the day. The sandwiches are on the pricey side ($6.85) and come with a pickle and choice of deli side. The one we sampled, grilled panini with mozzarella, tomato, and pesto, was a bit disappointing. The soup of the day, Veggie Chowder ($4.25), was excellent; really quite delicious and would make a great non-traditional first course to your Thanksgiving meal. The baked goods we ended our meal with were tasty but unspectacular, leaving us wondering whether we should have chosen the scones for which they are renowned.  We’ll have to try them next time– skip the sandwiches and go straight for the goodies. That’s what we all want to do anyway, right?

Foodie’s Feast
114 Washington Street, Marblehead


The Lunch Counter: Salem Super Sub

Posted: November 24th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Salem, Salem Super Sub, The Lunch Counter | Tags: , , | No Comments »

You know those places you drive by and think, “I wonder if that place is any good?” Well, more than likely, Super Sub/Chester Fried Chicken is not one of those places. Located at the intersection of Highland Ave (Rt 107), Essex St, and Boston St, it does not look like much from the outside. But Lunch Guy knows better.

This clean, well-run lunch spot is a hidden gem, especially if you like fried chicken. It is run by a husband and wife team that cheerfully serve up subs, fried chicken, and Lunch Guy’s favorite: the chicken tender combo.

For $5.25, he gets three white breast chicken strips, three potato wedges (about 1/4 of a potato each), and a can of soda. It comes with a choice of dipping sauce (Lunch Guy always goes with the honey mustard).

If you know of a better place for fast, crispy, never-greasy chicken at a good price, Lunch Guy would like to know about it.

Super Sub
One Boston St, Salem
(978) 745-4785


Dish Hearsay: Maddie’s

Posted: November 23rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Marblehead, Seafood | Tags: | No Comments »

Ever since Maddie’s in Marblehead reopened under new management, we have been wanting to check it out. However, word on the street sounds less than promising. NS Dish was chatting with a local resident this week and he mentioned a recent trip to Maddie’s; his scallops were “like rubber” and his wife’s entree bland and unmemorable.

What about about you? Has anyone else eaten there lately and want to share their opinion, pro or con, and let us know if it’s worth a try?


Wrap it Up

Posted: November 23rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Asian, P.F. Chang's, Peabody | Tags: , | No Comments »

Sure, it’s a chain, but we felt compelled to check out the PF Chang’s that just opened at the North Shore Mall. Asian food with a twist is one of our all-time favorites, and Chang’s did not disappoint.

The decor is inviting and comfortable, modern with a nod toward Chinese cultural roots. We found the lighting on the dark side at lunch, however. The menu is well organized and interesting, with old favorites like Peking Dumplings, new items like Chang’s Wedge salad, and desserts that go beyond pineapple chunks to include banana spring rolls and adorable $2 mini desserts in tall shot glasses.

Overall, the food was delicious, obviously made with fresh ingredients by chefs that put an emphasis on flavor. We enjoyed the dumplings and won ton appetizers but went crazy over the chicken lettuce wraps. The filling is chopped chicken and water chestnuts in an excellent sauce that we scooped feverishly into lettuce leaves.

For entrees, we sampled the wok seared lamb, mu shu chicken, and fried rice. The lamb was tender and flavorful, and the fried rice had a wonderful ginger flavor. The mu shu was outstanding–far from the shredded cabbage version we’re used to. This had large chunks of lightly battered chicken and mushrooms, along with a nice selection of crisp-tender vegetables.

On the downside, the prices are fairly high for lunch (the mu shu was $11.50 and the lamb was $14), and the service, although friendly, suffered from severe green-ness. True, we were there with a big group for an office outing, but since the server had not marked which person ordered which dish (and didn’t recognize some of the dishes by sight), getting the food on the table was more comedy act than elegant ballet.

If you’re an Asian food lover and prefer light flavors to heavy sauces, we recommend giving Chang’s a try. Go for dinner, sit in one of the cozy-looking booths along the back wall, and order hot tea–it comes in a beautiful cast iron pot to cheer you and warm your hands on a frigid winter night.

P.F. Chang’s
Northshore Mall
210 Andover St. Peabody
(978) 326-2410


The Lunch Counter: Nick’s

Posted: November 21st, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: American, Beverly, Nick's Famous Roast Beef, The Lunch Counter | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

As a tradesman, our Lunch Guy eats out four or five days a week. Bad for his cholesterol level, good for our readers—he’s scoped out the best places for inexpensive meals in Beverly, Salem, Peabody, Danvers, and more.

Lunch Guy has had it all, from chicken to Chinese, but before we get to that, we have to pay homage to the best fast-food joint in the area: Nick’s Roast Beef. Nick’s is beloved by all in the Beverly/Salem area, and Lunch Guy says it’s for good reason.

For starters, there’s the friendly service and the awesome roast beef. Lunch Guy likes the junior beef three-way (sauce, mayo, and cheese; under $5 with a drink). With Nick’s wonderful, not-greasy fries, of course ($2.50).

But here’s the rub. The cheeseburger plate calls to Lunch Guy every time. It’s a huge burger grilled to order with fries, onion rings, and a salad. At $7, it’s a steal, since it’s more food than anyone can eat.

One more thing—Lunch Guy says get there before noon if you want to get a table.

Nick’s Famous Roast Beef
139 Dodge St, Beverly
(978) 927-6029


New King on the Block

Posted: November 21st, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: A & J King Artisan Bakers, Bakery, Salem | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Up early on a recent Sunday, we decided to forgo the usual healthy breakfast and indulge ourselves. The place to do it? A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem turned out to be an excellent choice. This bakery and cafe is warm and inviting with large bright windows, hammered copper tables, and of course, mountains of crusty loaves and glass cases full of tasty treats. There is a chalk board announcing the seasonal specials (Pumpkin Spice Brown Butter Cakes! Potato Gruyere Flatbread!) and which locally produced ingredients they are currently using. We decided to have coffee and pastry there and then take a few things home to try later.

While the coffee was quite respectable, rich and dark but not bitter, the prices aren’t much of a savings over Starbucks ($2.70 for a Tall Latte, $3.26 for a Grande). My companion chose the pain au chocolate; I could not resist the siren song of the sticky buns. The chocolate croissant ($1.95) was lovely; well made with high quality chocolate, though it paled in comparison with the incredible sticky bun, a much more substantial pastry ($2.10). I am not exaggerating when I say that sticky bun was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. It wasn’t sodden and sugary as so many tend to be, but the perfect combination of flakey buttery layers, pulled away to reveal the wonderful caramelized cinnamon sugar that complemented the pastry but didn’t overwhelm it. While I prefer the female of the species (no nuts), A&J offers both varieties and even if you have to drive out of your way, the sticky buns are worth the trip.

Later in the day, we sampled the baguette ($2.65) we had taken home, and it was terrific; crusty on the outside and yeasty, slightly chewy on the inside. I’d say Iggy’s (my regional favorite) has a real competitor on it’s hands. Needless to say, the loaf was demolished in short order. The final A&J treat sampled was the chocolate bouchon ($2.25), a mini dark chocolate tower-shaped cake. A perfect balance of flavors and texture; dark chocolate with a hint of almond, rich and satisfying without being heavy or cloying.

Using the term artisan to describe Andy and Jackie King’s bakery isn’t just hip marketing. They have truly mastered an art; balancing sweet and savory with taste and texture to create incomparable baked goods.

A&J King Artisan Bakers
48 Central Street, Salem
(978) 744-4881


Ladies Who Lunch

Posted: November 16th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Marblehead, Marketplace, Shubie's Market Place | Tags: | 2 Comments »

Okay, so it’s not The Birdcage in the Boston Lord & Taylor (remember when department stores had restaurants?), but we love Shubie’s market in Marblehead and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch there this past weekend.

If you live on the North Shore and haven’t been to Shubie’s, you should put it on your list. There is an amazing selection of goodies packed into this store, including wine, kitchen gadgets, serving dishes, prepared foods, deli items, and pastries. It’s the perfect place to pick up stocking stuffers, edible and otherwise, for that foodie on your Christmas list.

We began with an inspection of the wine department and were pleased to find a large selection of reds and whites under $15. A number of interesting selections are highlighted with a detailed description, including Boston Globe wine writer Stephen Meuse’s pick for this month’s Plonk (wine for $12 or under). There’s a large section on the back wall with wine pairings for seafood, beef, pasta, and even pizza.

We lingered a bit over the gadgets (do I need onion chopping goggles?) and lusted after the Incanto plate collection from Vietri (www.vietri.com). After a browse through the gourmet food display (olive oils, imported packaged foods, jams, and more), the diverse cheese and deli-meat section, and the prepared foods, we ordered sandwiches and sat at a nearby table.

We sampled the warm cuban sandwich and the vegetarian, enjoying both. The cuban featured pulled pork, ham, gruyere, pickle, and ancho vinaigrette. The bread was toasted, the cheese was melty, and the flavors worked. We asked for the vegetarian on sourdough (there are many breads to choose from); it was spread with delicious hummus and stuffed with roasted vegetables, provolone, and arugula. The sandwiches are on the high side ($8 for the veggie; $9 for the cuban), but they’re made to order, and the ingredients are top-notch.

Adjacent to our table was a freezer filled with Lizzy’s ice cream (made in Waltham, www.lizzysicecream.com), gourmet heat-and-serve hors d’oeuvres from Good Wives (also local, www.goodwives.com), and much more. On the other side was a dessert case filled with mini cakes, brownies, and pastries, not to mention a giant-sized whoopie pie.

Being the kind people we are, we selected a few sweets and brought them home to share with the ones left behind to install the garage-door opener. The mini apple pie looked cute but was altogether bland, more like Table Talk than gourmet. But the mini flourless cake was rich and mousse-like, and the two cookies (cherry white chocolate chunk and chocolate-filled peanut butter) were first rate.

A few more items of note. Shubie’s has an e-newsletter you can sign up for to learn about the frequent wine tastings and specials (sometimes there are e-coupons, too). The service is outstanding, and during past visits we’ve received excellent advice on wine and cheese selections. Last, but not least, Shubie’s has three things you won’t find in many Marblehead businesses: food samples, wi-fi, and parking—all free.

15 Atlantic Ave, Marblehead
(781) 631-0149


A Fish Called Walu

Posted: November 10th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Agave Mexican Bistro, Beverly, Cielito Lindo, Mexican, Newburyport | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

There you are, minding your own business, when it hits—that undeniable craving for warm tortilla chips and a salty margarita. True, there aren’t a huge number of places on the North Shore to indulge your need for Mexican comfort food, but we’ve scoped out two that are definitely worth a visit.

For a welcoming atmosphere, fantastic guacamole, and that comfort-food factor, you can’t beat Cielito Lindo on Rantoul Street in Beverly. Always busy on weekend nights, you will nevertheless be greeted with a smile by the mustachioed host, and before you know it, you’ll be seated in the cozy room digging into a rustic bowl full of avocado heaven ($7.50).

On a recent visit, we enjoyed a delicious bowl of posole in addition to the fresh-made guac. The posole was a special that night and featured red chile, white beans, chicken, and cilantro. For entrees, we had skirt steak fajitas, tilapia in a spicy cream sauce, fish tacos, and mayan style pork enchiladas with green tomatillo sauce. All were reasonably priced, freshly made, and well received.

We sipped our way through a pitcher of margaritas that was, sadly, lacking in the tequila department. Our suggestion—go with the sangria and consider a burrito ($6.95). We saw one go by that was the size of a football. Be sure to nod enthusiastically each time the host  comes by to check on you (we’re assuming he’s one of the owners)—you want to be assured of that warm greeting when you return.

For a slightly more upscale meal—and a seafood treat you would not have expected—check out Agavé Mexican Bistro on State Street in Newburyport. Again, you’ll find a wait on weekend nights, but a buzzing coaster and a drink at the inviting downstairs bar will help with that.

At one of the two dining floors above, you’ll be greeted by a colorful décor, white tablecloths, and the noise of tipsy diners. Do try the margaritas here; the restaurant is, after all, named for the plant that provides us with tequila. There are several gussied up versions, but you won’t go wrong with the basic, which has just the right amount of lime. Tequila connoisseurs may want to try a new brand straight up—the restaurant boasts more than 60.

The menu at Agavé is large and varied, and we’ve never tried anything that wasn’t well prepared and delicious. But the star of the show is walu, a fish we’ve never seen elsewhere (Agavé imports it from Hawaii) and worth raving about. It’s a firm, buttery fish that tastes almost like lobster—$23.95 at dinner with vegetable, mashed potatoes, and house-made mango salsa.

Unfortunately, between the chips, ’ritas, and walu, we’re always too full for dessert. But the menu includes churros served with chocolate and cajeta caramel syrup ($5.00), a treat we’re determined to save room for one of these times.

Cielito Lindo
150 Cabot St, Beverly
(978) 922-4657

Agavé Mexican Bistro
50 State Street, Newburyport
(978) 499-0428