A Successful Fish Tale: Gloucester’s New Fish Festival

Posted: June 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Gloucester, Seafood, The Lunch Counter | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments »

fishfest

Seafood lovers, including us, were in heaven at last week’s New Fish Festival at Gloucester House. For $30, we sampled from a huge array of appetizers and entrees featuring fish and shellfish. The idea behind this event, now in its 24th year, is to introduce people to new types of seafood and new ways to prepare already familiar fish. It was created and is co-sponsored by the Gloucester Fisherman’s Wives Association (GFWA), a non-profit promoting the New England fishing industry.

The main room at the all-you-can-eat extravaganza was crowded, but everyone was in good spirits, and we found a spot at the bar away from the noise. (The weather prevented people from sitting outside, which would have eased the seating arrangements.)

We made frequent trips to the buffet for appetizers from Gloucester House and GFWA.  The seafood pizza was a winner, and we enjoyed the monk fish soup and the sicilian shrimp and orange salad.

Our favorite entrée was GFWA’s sicilian baked fish, a wonderful mixture of cod, bread crumbs, grated cheese, tomato, onion, garlic, and oregano. A close second was the grilled salmon fillet from Lobsta Land. It had a lush lemon sauce and was served with creamy five-onion risotto.

Not everything was a hit; we were underwhelmed by Gloucester House’s seafood mac and cheese, and the cinnamon chili dry rub on the butterfish from Passports was interesting but not entirely successful.

But with 12 entrees, there was truly something for everyone, and the event provides the perfect setting to try fish dishes you might not usually order, including skate wing in garlic sauce and a wonderful trip back to old New England with Gloucester House’s fish cakes and beans.

One of the simplest looking dishes, the filet of sole with spinach in a mornay sauce from Emerson Inn by the Sea, turned out to be flavorful and perfectly cooked. As a bonus, sheets with the recipe were there for the taking.

We’re not surprised this event was well attended—for the price of one seafood entrée at most restaurants, diners can fill their plates with a variety of fish and experience cuisines from around the world.

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North Shore Farmer’s Markets

Posted: June 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Marketplace, North Shore Farmers Markets | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

For your produce perusing pleasure, here’s a round-up of times and locations for nearby farmer’s markets. These are up and running unless otherwise noted. Please let us know of any we’ve missed and feel free to recommend your favorite vendors in the comments.

Gloucester
www.capeannfarmersmarket.org/
Thursdays 1:00 to 7:00
Harbor Loop of Roger Street, Rte 127
(Begins July 9)

Ipswich
Saturdays 9:00 to 1:00
Ebsco Parking Lot on Estie’s Street
(Begins July 11)

Lynn
Thursdays 11:00 to 3:00
Exchange and Washington Streets, Central Square
(Begins July 2)

Peabody
Tuesdays 1:00 to 6:00
Railroad Ave., behind courthouse
(Begins in July)

Topsfield
Saturdays 7:00 to noon
Topsfield Fair Grounds, Rte 1
(Begins July 11)

Newburyport
www.thenewburyportfarmersmarket.org
Sundays 10:00 to 2:00
Parking lot of the Tannery Market Place

Our highlights of the Newburyport market are here

Marblehead
www.marbleheadfm.com
Saturdays 9:00 to 12:00
Marblehead Veterans Middle School
217 Pleasant St (enter from Vine St)

Our highlights of the Marblehead market are here

Salem
www.salemfarmersmarket.org
Thursdays 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Derby Square, Front St

Our highlights of the Salem market are here

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Harbor Sweets Chocolate Factory: No Golden Ticket Required

Posted: June 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Harbor Sweets, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

We didn’t see any Oompa Loompas, but there is a working chocolate factory just a few blocks from Salem center, complete with vats of chocolate, copper kettles full of hot sugar, and a (small) waterfall of white chocolate.

Many North Shore residents are familiar with Harbor Sweets, makers of the famous sailboat-shaped Sweet Sloop: a triangle of almond buttercrunch covered in white chocolate and dipped in dark chocolate and crushed pecans. But few are aware that the company offers free tours of the factory on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 to 12:00. The company is also happy to accommodate groups (like Girl Scout troops) almost any time with a reservation.

One of the great things about the tour is that despite having been in business for 36 years, Harbor Sweets is still a very small operation. So rather than viewing production from a catwalk above a factory floor, you get an up-close look at the cooking, tempering, molding, wrapping, and packaging of the company’s sweet treats, which is done mostly by hand.

Our tour started in the best way possible, with a platter of rich chocolates to sample. Sweet Sloops are in the middle, at the bottom are Sweet Shells (dark chocolate with an orange crunch), and around the edges are a sampling of Dark Horse molded chocolates. While munching, we watched a short film about the company, which Ben Strohecker began in his basement—he challenged himself to create the best piece of candy in the world, regardless of cost.

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We progressed on to a room filled with vats of melting chocolate (dark, milk, and white) and saw where batches of caramel for Sand Dollars and almond buttercrunch for Sweet Sloops are mixed by hand in copper kettles as they cook. The caramel is dispensed in dollops on large table, and when the temperature is perfect, a ringing ship’s bell calls all nearby workers to quickly press on pecan halves before they’re completely cool.

Another room holds the production line for finishing their signature candy. Triangles of cooled almond buttercrunch receive a coating of white chocolate top and bottom, and the sail is created by hand with an iced tea spoon. Finally, the pieces are dipped in dark chocolate and crushed pecans to become Sweet Sloops.

Finished chocolates are fed into one of three antique foil wrapping machines and packaged into bags or boxes by hand. The tour ends at the factory’s small store where you can purchase boxes of chocolates as well as individual bars, ice cream toppings, and Sail Mix.

Not only are Harbor Sweets’ chocolates something special, the people behind the candy are as well—warm, welcoming, and very enthusiastic about creating a quality product. Everyone we met was happy to share the experience with us.

Production varies due to season (late fall through Easter is the busiest time), so if you go during the summer, we suggest calling ahead to find out what’s happening on that day— although the facility is fascinating to see any time and truly a New England original.

Harbor Sweets
85 Leavitt Street, Salem
(978) 745-7648
www.harborsweets.com

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Dish Scoop: Caffe Italia to Open Italian Market

Posted: June 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Italian, Marblehead, Marketplace | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

Curious about some recent renovations at Caffe Italia in Marblehead, we spoke with Donna Oliviero, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband Anthony. Oliviero told us the right-hand side of the restaurant space will soon be converted into a market featuring prepared foods and Italian imports. More tables will be added to the bar side to accommodate diners.

Oliviero is understandably excited about the new venture, which will open in early August. For one thing, although she’s been in the restaurant business for 27 years, she has never tried a retail component. For another, this will be the only Italian market of this type in the area.

A large variety will be on offer in the market. Prepared dinners for one will be made fresh and ready to be heated at home ($7.95 each). A selection of à la carte prepared foods will also be available, including stuffed artichokes, stuffed peppers, and arancini.

Bakery items will include Italian bread, the restaurant’s popular dinner rolls, and biscotti. Two sandwiches will be made on the premises-baked bread every day: a daily special and the restaurant’s signature prosciutto, basil, and mozzarella.

Grocery items will include specialty jams, Italian sodas, and dried imported pasta. The restaurant’s pasta will also be available fresh and frozen, along with its tomato sauce, bolognese sauce, and pesto. Pasta and chicken dishes will be available for catering orders to feed anywhere from 10 to 40 people. And last but not least, prosciutto parma, parmesan reggiano cheese, and romano cheese will be sold by the pound.

Oliviero promised to keep us apprised about the exact opening date so we can report back with a review of the food and pictures of the new space.

Caffe Italia
10 School St., Marblehead
(781) 631-5700
http://caffeitaliarestaurant.com/

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Summer At Last: Marblehead Farmer’s Market

Posted: June 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Marblehead, Marblehead Farmer's Market, Marketplace | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

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Saturday was opening day for the Marblehead Farmer’s market, and we were thrilled to see a good turnout, especially since produce is not exactly abundant at this time of year. Fortunately, the Marblehead market has plenty to see and buy other than produce, including Thai food from Sticky Rice, baked goods from A&J King (almost sold out at 11:00, so go early), meat from Stillman’s Farmssalsa from Pam, lobsters courtesy of our favorite lobsterman, Paul Crowell, and interesting craft and community vendors as well.

The Marblehead market is located behind the Veteran’s Middle School (the old high school for us old-timers). It runs from 9:00 to 12:00 every Saturday, and there is plenty of parking.

There were lovely looking strawberries, of course, along with herbs, fresh eggs, honey, lettuce, and flowers. Having just been to the grocery store on Friday, we kept our purchases to a head of butter lettuce from Cider Hill Farm and a log of goat cheese from Crystal Brook Farm. The lettuce was fine but more bitter than we’re used to (not sure if this is due to the variety or the time of year); the cheese was wonderfully creamy and tangy.

Throughout the summer, we’ll be visiting many North Shore markets and reporting on our food finds. If you frequent your local market, please let us know of stands or edibles you recommend by leaving information in the comments or e-mailing us at email@northshoredish.com.

For more information on the Marblehead market and a complete list of vendors, go here.

And don’t forget your sun hat!

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The Gulu-Gulu: Not Your Average Café

Posted: June 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Cafe, Casual/Pub Food, Gulu-Gulu Cafe, Salem | Tags: , , | No Comments »

I’ll be honest with you, when I first drove by Gulu-Gulu Café in Salem, I imagined it to be a coffee house hipster hangout populated entirely by the under-30 set. But the more I heard about it, the more I was intrigued, and looking at the events calendar made me realize this was more than just another trendy café. Any restaurant that shows the silent films of Buster Keaton during its weekly movie night is okay in my book.

So when I had a recent opportunity to meet up for a drink with local Salem blogger, Sarah Landry of Hot Pants for Shuffleboard, Gulu-Gulu was the spot. Despite the large room and high ceilings, there was a warm, almost cozy feeling, and the waitstaff, while definitely young and hip, were happy and helpful.

The room is casual and fun with funky furniture, a revolving showcase of local artists’ work on the walls, and a stage for live events. A long bar along one wall features towering blackboards listing drinks and specials. The patrons range from young to old and include individuals, families, and groups of friends.

We sat at the bar, and the luminous Ms. Landry ordered a sauvignon blanc ($6) and the JackMax’n Cheese, which is baked with cheddar, goat cheese, and roasted peppers and comes with a side salad ($7). I ordered the Argentinean malbec ($6) and the Cheese and Meat Coalition, your choice of any three served with toasted ciabatta bread ($8).

The cheese choices were fairly standard, lacking any blues or stinky cheeses, but there were a few interesting tastes, most notably the Czech-style marinated brie, which was delicious. The generous quantity of toasts accompanying the plate was a welcome sight, as restaurant cheese plates are notorious for skimping on the crackers or bread. The mac and cheese looked terrific, and Ms. Landry reported it was tasty, savory, and just a bit chewy around the edges.

Our small tastes were only the tip of the iceberg where the menu is concerned. It includes everything from snacks to meals, breakfast to dinner, coffee to cocktails. And the beer menu, for which Gulu Gulu is well known, is truly impressive. Inspired by the Prague café of the same name where the owners (Steve Feldmann and Marie Vaskova) met, there are plenty of Czech specialties on offer as well.

One begins to understand that Gulu-Gulu is more than a restaurant, serving as a meeting spot, entertainment venue, strong supporter of local arts, and the perfect place to interact with your community. Hearty food, live music, movies, and art are all good reasons to check it out. And who knows, maybe you’ll even get to hear someone play the didgeridoo—we did!

Gulu-Gulu Cafe
247 Essex St., Salem
(978) 740-8882
www.gulu-gulu.com

Gulu Gulu Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Blue Ox’s Matt O’Neil Knows His Gnocchi

Posted: June 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Blue Ox, Event, Lynn | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Potato gnocchi, pea puree, ham, mint, mascarpone. Sound like spring on a plate? It was, and it tasted even better than it sounds. This was the main event at last night’s cooking demonstration at The Blue Ox in Lynn.

Chef/owner Matt O’Neil charmed an audience of about 40 with both his cooking advice and his food at this special event ($29). We had expected more of a stand-around-watching-the-chef type of demonstration and were pleasantly surprised when we were led to a table and handed a wine list along with the night’s menu and several recipes to take home.

We tried the house white ($5.50), a dry blended wine that’s very good for the price, while snacking on an antipasto of sopressata, prosciutto de parma, fresh mozzarella, shaved parmesan, roasted peppers and asparagus, grilled artichokes, and aged balsamic.

Then Chef O’Neil began demonstrating the gnocchi recipe on a large table at the front of the room. While he worked, he gave us tips on many of the ingredients he uses in the restaurant along with things to avoid when making gnocchi.

Here are a few take-aways from the chef:

  • Use kosher salt or sea salt that has not been iodized. The iodizing process changes the salt, preventing it from drawing out moisture from food you are trying to sear.
  • Splurge on a bottle of aged balsamic. You only need a few drops in a salad or antipasto, so a small bottle will last quite a while.
  • Likewise, spend the money to get a good bottle of fruity olive oil, not for cooking but for salads and adding to pasta or gnocchi. O’Neil uses one from Greece.
  • With the right ingredients, it’s easy to “doctor up” something like a jar of roasted peppers. Just sprinkle with lemon juice, good olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • For gnocchi, use Russet or Idaho potatoes, bake them in the oven, and rice them while they are hot.
  • For extra flavor, O’Neil drizzles a tablespoon of good olive oil into the gnocchi dough when he adds the eggs. He also adds a small amount of freshly grated nutmeg.
  • He cautions never to overwork the dough. It should still be bit rough when you begin rolling it out, or the final product will be chewy rather than fluffy.
  • After rolling the gnocchi (O’Neil uses a fork for this), place them on a sheet pan sprinkled with semolina flour. All-purpose flour would get absorbed into the dough and make it gummy.
  • To freeze the gnocchi, put them in the freezer still on the tray. Once frozen, you can pack them in a plastic bag or container.

At the end of the demonstration, we were invited to try rolling out dough and forming the gnocchi up at the front table, and then we were served a steaming bowl with the aforementioned sauce and ham. The gnocchi were tender, the sauce was to-die-for delicious, and the mint puree drizzled on top added incredible freshness. The main course was followed by a cannoli with a crisp shell and an extra-creamy filling.

O’Neil, a Swampscott native who now lives in Nahant, is clearly one of the area’s top culinary talents. We look forward to returning to sample the dinner menu, which the chef describes as American style with a twist. The main dining room features a handsome bar area and the gorgeous art of Martha’s Vineyard-based painter Traeger DiPietro. There is a free parking lot a few yards away from the front door.

After seeing Chef O’Neil in action, we’re also hoping for more cooking demonstrations. Eating, drinking and learning—the perfect way to spend an evening.

The Blue Ox
191 Oxford Street, Lynn
(781) 780-5722
www.theblueoxlynn.com

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The Lunch Counter: Lunch Guy Meets Five Guys

Posted: June 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Swampscott, The Lunch Counter | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments »

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Even before the hype of President Obama’s recent Five Guys run, Lunch Guy was looking forward to trying out the franchise’s new branch, which opened this past Monday in Vinnin Square, because he’s a sucker for a good burger.

After navigating the full parking lot, the long order line, the mysterious menu board, and the even longer pick up line, Lunch Guy finally grabbed a seat in the small, noisy restaurant to enjoy his burger and fries. The first surprise was that the Cheeseburger ($5) was actually two stacked burgers. The Little Cheeseburger ($4) is a single. While they charge extra for bacon or cheese, all other sides are free.

burgerThe burger itself was quite tasty, quality fresh ground beef in real patties, grilled and assembled with precision by the cast of thousands crammed in behind the counter. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to be served in a pub, not a storefront burger joint.

Despite only Coke and Sprite being shown on the menu, the free-refill fountain drinks ($2) offered a range of sodas. The fries ($2.79 small, $4 large), advertised as hand cut daily and cooked in no-cholesterol peanut oil, were not Lunch Guy’s favorite. While certainly fresh tasting, they were closer to the boardwalk style, and he prefers them crispy.

5guys1Lunch Guy says the paradox is that it’s a sit-down burger experience in a fast-food environment, and the bottom line is that even though he enjoyed the burger, Five Guys isn’t likely to become a regular habit for him. He has a limited time for lunch and wants to relax while eating. With all the time spent waiting in line, (eight minutes from door to order, 10 to 15 to receive the order) he’s not going to have too much left to eat, and relaxing is out of the question with the noise and surging lunchtime crowd. The craziness and crowds should subside once the novelty wears off, but Lunch Guy leaves us with this tip: call in your order ahead or try grabbing lunch after 1:00, when the crowds have abated a bit.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
980 Paradise Rd., Swampscott
781-595-1300
http://fiveguys.com/

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Foodie Offerings at Local Festivals

Posted: June 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Marblehead, Salem | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Two upcoming arts festivals have culinary components worth a look. The first is the Salem Arts Festival this weekend. It starts tonight at 5:00 at the Old Town Hall with an art exhibit and live music.

On Saturday, there are cooking demonstrations at Pickering Wharf restaurants throughout the day as follows:

11–12 Capt’s. The Art of Salad: Chef Raphael Liberty demonstrates how to turn the common garden salad into a work of art

2–3 Victoria Station. Dessert Flambé

3–4 Finz. Oysters Inside & Out: what you need to know about oysters

4–5 Capt’s. The Art of Salad

www.salemartsfestival.com

The second event is the Marblehead Festival of Arts Champagne Reception on Sunday June 28 from 5:00 to 7:00 at Fort Sewall.

Along with champagne and reggae/carribean music from Señor Perfecto & The One Drops, tastings will be available from more than a dozen local restaurants. The lineup includes Le Bistro Café & Grill, Café Italia, Capt’s, Foodie’s Feast, Jack-Tar, Ladycakes, Manhattan Sandwich Company, Marblehead Café and Chowder Company, Starlight Creatives, Sticky Rice, Sweeney’s Retreat, and The Landing.

To attend the reception, you must donate to the festival, which can be done by mail or online at the donations section of their Web site. A $65 contribution gets you one invitation; a $150 donation gets you two.

www.marbleheadfestival.org

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Take the Cygnet Challenge

Posted: June 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Beverly, Cygnet | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cyg1We’ve got a challenge for all you foodies on the North Shore: go to Cygnet and try not to have a good time. Having spent an extremely enjoyable evening there last weekend, we don’t think it can be done.

It starts with the bar, which has got to be the best looking north of Boston, or close to it. And its beauty is more than skin deep: our Kettle One martini was large, chilled to perfection, and accompanied by crunchy olives. Likewise, the Lemon Drop ($11) was perfectly mixed, and the margarita on the rocks was so good we could hardly taste the tequila (but we sure could feel it).

It continues with the comfortable dining room—thick carpet, wood paneling, fun artwork, upholstered settees paired with comfortable single chairs—and the terrific service. Our waitress was energetic without being annoying, happy to leave us alone as we enjoyed our cocktails and perused the menu.

We finally settled on the duck spring rolls ($13, good but not great) and the corn crab cakes (also $13 and a must-have: crunchy, tender, and highly satisfying). We briefly thought about soup, but at $8 a bowl (!) decided to pass.

The star entrée of the evening was a wonderfully tender beef filet with a cabernet reduction. Cooked beautifully, it had perfect texture and was complimented extremely well by the sauce. We also enjoyed the soy-glazed sea scallops; they were large and meltingly tender, but the saltiness of the glaze needed to be cut by some acid or sweetness. The fish in our fish and chips was generous, fresh, and lightly breaded, and the fries were just right.

All of the entrees were in the $20 to $30 range (exact prices not recorded—blame those drinks), and we loved the fact that we could choose any two sides from a selection of about 10. The outstanding choice was the creamy sweet corn risotto.

We really didn’t need dessert, but we were having too good a time not to try the warm chocolate cake, which was accompanied by a fantastic scoop of hazelnut ice cream.

Located on winding route 127, Cygnet is off the beaten path for many, but if you feel like a relaxing drive on a warm summer evening, the excellent food and intimate atmosphere make it a great destination.

Cygnet
24 West Street, Beverly Farms
(978) 922-9221
http://cygnetrestaurant.com/
Cygnet on Urbanspoon

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