A Slice of (Foodie) Heaven in Newburyport

Posted: September 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Deli, Grand Trunk Imports, Marketplace, Newburyport | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

On our recent trip to Newburyport, we were introduced to Grand Trunk Imports by Kim Gobbi of Newburyport Today. The store is not new, but somehow we had completely missed it on previous trips. Now that we know about it, we can’t wait to go back.

Husband and wife team Jeremy and Angela Kirkpatrick have stocked their small space with a treasure trove of gourmet food, microbeers and wine, and accouterments. One wall is filled with imports like chutney, pasta, and olive oil, plus unusual items like orange flower water and roasted chestnuts.

At the back of the store, a large blackboard lists available wines by category, and the cheese case is full of interesting selections. A separate case holds bowls of olives and cured meats like sopressata and paleta iberico (dry cured Spanish ham).

Nearby is a selection of imported European beers and local microbeers, including Haverhill Brewery, as well as sandwiches like blue cheese with apricot and honey. The sandwiches are made fresh each day on artisan bread that’s also available by the loaf.

The front of the store features interesting non-food items, including gorgeous European cheese knives, sexy black slate cheese boards, and handcrafted cutting boards from New Hampshire Bowl and Board.

The next time you need picnic fixings or an interesting pre-dinner spread, we suggest giving Grand Trunk a try. Or you may want to time your visit to coincide with their wine tastings, held Fridays from 3:00 to 6:00 and Saturdays from 2:00 to 6:00.

Grand Trunk
53 Pleasant St, Newburyport
(978) 499-4441
www.grandtrunkimports.com

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The Driftwood Serves Up Local Charm on Marblehead Harbor

Posted: September 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Breakfast, Diner, Driftwood, Marblehead, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Driftwood Restaurant has been a Marblehead institution for so long we’re surprised it hasn’t been granted official historic landmark status. And while its reputation has gone up and down over time, and earlier this year it was closed for a while due to a tax issue, it remains a local favorite and still boasts a line out the door on weekend mornings.

The interior décor is diner meets clam shack, with nautical doodads and work by local artists adorning the counter area and walls. The small tables covered with red and white checked vinyl cloths are set pretty close together, and on a busy day, you may end up chatting with your neighbor as you chow down. The crowd includes everyone from crusty old locals who all know each other to young families and summer tourists.

On a recent visit we decided to try a breakfast special that included two eggs, two pancakes (we chose blueberry), bacon or sausages, and tea, coffee, or juice for $7.75 as well as a mushroom cheese omelet ($6.25) with a side of corned beef hash ($3.75)

The coffee arrived quickly, and while it’s never going to threaten the local coffee house business, it was respectable. The omelet was decent, and we liked the wide range of breads on offer for toast. The waitress warned us ahead of time that the corned beef hash was cooked to order so it could take longer, but the wait wasn’t noticeable, and the hash was quite good—savory and not greasy.

The breakfast special was definitely satisfying, with crispy bacon and eggs cooked to order, and the winner of the morning was the blueberry pancakes. Fluffy, golden, and studded with fresh berries, they were delightful. The waitress was quick to refill our coffee and didn’t rush our check, two things we appreciate anywhere, but especially at a busy diner.

The restaurant is primarily known for its breakfast, as it opens at 6:00 a.m. and closes at 2:00 p.m. We hear the lunch menu features a pretty good lobster roll, though we haven’t tried it yet, and the famed fried dough served only on weekends and holidays sounds inviting as well.

Like a weathered old wharf rat sitting at the town landing, the Driftwood may be rough and tumble to look at, but it’s full of salty charm.

The Driftwood Restaurant
63 Front Street, Marblehead
(781) 631-1145

Driftwood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Newburyport’s Port Tavern Aims for Comfort

Posted: September 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Casual/Pub Food, Newburyport, Port Tavern | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

On our recent trip to Newburyport to visit the farmer’s market, we decided to stop at Port Tavern for a late lunch. This is just our kind of place—lots of comfort food selections, an excellent burger, and a comfortable atmosphere. Our visit was marred by poor service, but we’ll assume that’s not the norm, as others in the restaurant appeared well tended to.

We thoroughly enjoyed the fish and chips ($13), which had a generous portion of fish and steak fries that were crisp on the outside and creamy inside. We also liked the shepard’s pie ($12), which had robust beef flavor and a creamy potato topping.

The aforementioned burger ($9) was juicy and had great charred flavor, a good bun, and fresh lettuce/tomato on the side. Sandwich orders come with a choice of 10 sides, including garlic mashed potatoes and onion rings. We went with the baked potato, but it came completely plain, which was odd. (We weren’t asked about toppings when we ordered, and none came on the side).

We also ordered the white truffle mac and cheese, which turned out to be gemelli in a terrific, cheesy/earthy sauce. But the parmesan breadcrumb crust on the menu description somehow turned into a few crushed crackers sprinkled on top.

We liked the fact that diners are given lots of choices, including those sides (which you can order on their own for $3) and four types of bread for panini sandwiches like the grilled chicken and pear ($8). We didn’t like paying $2.50 for coffee or waiting more than 45 minutes for our food.

We’re guessing our waitress forgot to put in our order since nearby diners received their food in reasonable time and she ignored us the entire time we waited, refusing to meet our hungry gazes. All that was needed was an apology and a basket of bread, but neither were forthcoming.

We recommend giving this place a try when you’re in the area, just be aware that service may be spotty, so if you find yourself neglected, don’t hesitate to ask for the manager. (We chose not to since we keep a low profile when eating at a restaurant we plan to blog about.)

Port Tavern
84 State St, Newburyport
(978) 465-1006
www.theporttavern.com

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Autumn Events: Farms, Clams, and Celebrity Chefs

Posted: September 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Essex, Event, Gloucester, Hamilton, Ipswich, Newburyport, Rockport, Salem | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

91709Sadly, Salem restaurant week ends today. But fear not, intrepid foodies—there’s no shortage of taste-bud-tempting events on tap to keep you busy, including yet another restaurant week and not one but two clam festivals.

Tonight brings two terrific opportunities. The first is The Taste of Cape Ann, at Cruiseport in Gloucester, which features tastings from many of the area’s top restaurants and vintners, as well as Gloucester Brewery and Ryan and Wood Distilleries. Tickets are $35 per person, and all the proceeds go to fund children’s programs at the Cape Ann YMCA.

Also this evening is the first of the Celebrity Chefs Best Local Food Series, which takes place at the Inn at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate. This series of four dinners invites area chefs to be as creative as possible with fresh local produce, seafood, and meats. The four-course menu, with two wine pairings, cocktails, and hors d’oeuvres, including tips and taxes, is $135 per person.

The series features the following chefs:
9/17  Chef Robert Grant and Cheese Director Stephanie Santos of The Butcher Shop
10/1  Chef Paul Callahan from High St. Grill in North Andover
10/22  Chef Richard Morin, executive sous chef at Eastern Standard
11/12  Barbara Lynch, the force behind No. 9 Park, B&G Oyster, The Butcher Shop, and Sportello

On September 22, Sixty2 on Wharf will host a Farewell to Summer wine dinner that has us salivating already. The evening promises “a seafood-centric menu paired with wines from the prestigious Alois Legeder vineyards in Alto Adige, Italy.” Tickets are $85 per person; reservations are required. Click the link above to check out the terrific menu.

Friday September 25 brings a unique multi-farm-to-table dinner experience with the Farmer’s Market Dinner at historic Spencer Pierce Little Farm. Newburyport area restaurants will be paired with various local farms to create a wide range of inspired tastes. There will be live music, tours of the farmhouse, hayrides for the family, and free admittance (pay per dish and drink).

IpswichIf you haven’t filled up at the farm the night before, head over to Ipswich on Saturday the  26th from 12:00 to 3:00 for the annual Ipswich Clam Festival. For $10, you can taste chowders from many local restaurants and vote for your favorite. Plenty of family activities will be on hand, along with Mercury Brewing Company with their popular sodas.

And speaking of Mercury Brewing Company, they will be hosting the Ipswich Ale Harvest Fest at Green Meadow Farms on October 3. They will have a wide selection of Ipswich ales, Stone Cat ales and lagers, as well as Mercury soda pop and bubbly waters available, alongside food by Ipswich Clambake and live music.

CARWOctober 18 to 23 marks the return of  Cape Ann Restaurant Week, which features three-course meals for only $22.09 per person. (Drinks, tax and tip not included.) Restaurants from Gloucester, Rockport, Essex, and Manchester are participating, so what better excuse to take a scenic drive, ogle the foliage, and explore the coast? Click the link above for a list of the participating restaurants.

No one will argue that the lowly bivalve is one of the biggest draws in bringing people to Essex, and where best to experience it than the Essex Clam Fest? Now in its 27th year, this local festival takes place in Memorial Park in downtown Essex on October 24 and boasts 40 to 50 food, craft, and local product vendors and a clam chowder competition.

So even though the days are getting shorter and the air cooler, take heart—the eating season is just heating up!

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A Night to Remember at Cider Hill Farm

Posted: September 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Amesbury, Cider Hill Farm, Event | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments »

The weather did not cooperate this past weekend for the last of this year’s farm-to-table dinners, put on by Sarah Pike of Good Tastes Kitchen. But no one in the large, happy crowd seemed to mind in the least—we were cozy under the well-lit tent and enjoying the freshest, most delicious food and beverages imaginable.

We began the evening with a tour conducted by the farm owners, Glenn and Karen Cook. The Cooks could not have been warmer or more forthcoming, and before the rain began, we learned some astounding facts about the 145-acre Amesbury farm, including that they grow 70 varieties of apples, 20 varieties of peaches, and often have strawberries well into September thanks to an everbearing variety grown in stacked baskets.

When we returned to the dinner tent, the party was in full swing thanks to local vintners Turtle Creek Winery (Lincoln) and Jewel Towne Vineyards (South Hampton, NH), along with Mercury Brewing Company. We sipped the citrusy Turtle Creek Aurora and the Jewel Towne cabernet franc while sampling cheese dip served in pumpkins and vegetable sliders.

After being officially welcomed by Sarah, the meal began with a harvest corn cake topped with lobster salad and accompanied by tomato chili jam. The corn cake was dense and moist, the salad was lightly dressed, and the jam was intensely delicious. Each element was good, but when eaten together, the flavor was incredible.

Next up was a salad with greens and grilled peaches from the farm, goat cheese from Valley View, and a balsamic reduction. It was a perfectly balanced combination of sweet fruit, tangy cheese, and tart vinegar.

The main course was pork shoulder from Kellie Brook Farm braised in local cider and Ipswich Ale served over polenta and topped with sautéed apples, leeks, and carrots. This dish was comfort food at its finest, with the sauce from the pork soaking into the polenta to create wonderful flavor.

Dessert also hit a high note: a rich cake topped with spicy/sweet plums. (Sarah—would you be willing to part with the recipe?)

Between courses, we heard from an American Farmland Trust representative, the beverage suppliers, and the farm owners, each giving insight into their business and expressing their pleasure at being able to participate in such a lovely event. All of the diners we talked to felt the same way, and it was a diverse crowd in terms of age and location. Many of the participants were from the Amesbury area, but we met folks from as far away as Somerville.

At $80 per person with unlimited wine and ale, this meal was well worth the cost. The chance to eat in this setting (a bluegrass band played in a nearby barn in front of Karen’s beloved red hens) and gain a culinary understanding of peak-season produce combined with other local ingredients was priceless.

Glenn and Karen deserve many thanks for sharing their passion and making the evening possible. We hope that Sarah brings this program back next year, and we strongly encourage you to sign up for a dinner (or two) if she does.

Cider Hill Farm
45 Fern Ave, Amesbury
(978) 388-5525
www.ciderhill.com

Good Tastes Kitchen
(978) 518-5300
www.good-tastes.com

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Eating Our Way Through the Newburyport Farmers Market

Posted: September 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Marketplace, Newburyport, Newburyport Farmer's Market | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

We had a great time last Sunday at the Newburyport farmer’s market—with 27 vendors and a jazz band, the place was hopping. Along with the bountiful vegetables, there were baked goods to sample, all-natural sausages cooking, and crafts galore.

Our pick for best farm stand was Middle Earth, which had a beautiful display of onions, turnips, tomatillos, and watermelon. Watermelon was also present at the Heron Pond Farm stand, which had great looking eggplant and a trailer full of corn picked that morning ($.60 an ear).
 
Other produce of note included gorgeous heirloom tomatoes from Arrowhead Farm and regular and golden raspberries ($4 for a ½ pint) from Applecrest Farm Orchard, which also had delicious cider donuts ($.75).

The aforementioned baked goods were from Blue Egg Baking Co., which had cookies and scones for sale, along with whole grain cake and brownie mixes that are formulated to be made with vegetables like beets or zucchini. We tried a small square of each, and they definitely do not taste like they’re good for you.

The sausages were from Kellie Brook Farm in New Hampshire, where they raise all-natural veal, port, chicken, turkey, and beef. There were chicken pot pies for sale ($15), quarts of chicken chili ($12), and ½ pints of chicken liver pate ($5).

For those still looking to munch, there were samples from Me and Goji, a design-your-own-cereal-or-granola company as well as smoothies, wraps, and chai from White Heron Tea.

If you live in the area or feel like taking a Sunday drive, we highly recommend stopping into the market, which is held at the Tannery Marketplace (about four blocks from the main square).

If you’re there on September 20, you’re in for a treat: Toyota’s Farm to Table tour is sponsoring a special event featuring nine local chefs paired with farms to showcase local offerings. There will be a chance to win a culinary prize and free rides in a Prius or Highland Hybrid.

The market runs through October 25th, and founding director Shari Wilkinson says she’s looking at ways to continue it into the winter months.

We’d like to give a big shout-out to Kim Gobbi of Newburyport Today, who met us at the market, talked with us about the local food scene, and introduced us to some terrific people and places. Definitely check out her site if you’re headed up that way, and if you’re not, take a look at the What’s For Dinner? section of Newburyport Today, featuring delicious recipes using local products.

Newburyport Farmer’s Market
Tannery Marketplace, Newburyport
thenewburyportfarmersmarket.org

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Nine Elm Makes Danvers a Dining Destination

Posted: September 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Danvers, Nine Elm American Bistro | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments »

The dining scene in Danvers Square has seen quite a revitalization over the past year, and the leader of the pack is Nine Elm American Bistro, which has garnered a loyal following since Matt and Jean Sanidas opened the doors last September.

We decided to see what all the buzz was about and headed there for dinner recently. The cozy dining room was inviting, with warm lighting, wooden tables, chalkboard specials, and the smell of garlic wafting from the kitchen. An adorable bar lines one wall, though only beer and wine are served. (Danvers only accommodates nine full liquor licenses, so new restaurants are often granted a partial one.)

Our server was friendly, attentive, and quite happy to let us linger over the menu. After ordering a bottle of wine, we settled on the Prince Edward Island mussels, sautéed with parsley, lemon, garlic, and white wine ($8) and the summer vegetable tart baked with goat cheese and ricotta ($8) to start.

The tart was unexpected; instead of the sautéed veggies we imagined, it was a pastry shell with a cheesy, almost quiche-like filling. While tasty, it lacked a certain oomph. The mussels, however, were a memorable standout— lush and delicious. The shellfish was fresh and the jus perfect; it deserved to have every drop sopped up with the wonderful grilled bread that accompanied the dish.

For entrees, we chose the pan seared sea scallops with spinach-basil risotto and sweet corn butter sauce ($24) and grilled filet mignon with yukon gold mashed potatoes, blue cheese butter, and a red wine reduction ($26).

Once again, the seafood was fresh and cooked perfectly. The scallops were expertly seared, and the risotto had a wonderful light pesto flavor that tasted of summer. The steak was marvelous with a slightly smoky grilled exterior and melt-in-your mouth interior. Matt Sanidas’ secret to making red wine reduction is mystery, but with a taste like that, I bet the recipe is kept under lock and key.

We didn’t really need dessert, but we were having such a lovely leisurely meal that we decided to prolong it by ordering the flourless chocolate torte with vanilla bean ice cream ($6) The torte was rich and dense and quite good, though we regretted not ordering the profiteroles when we saw a delectable trio of them served to an adjacent table. Oh well, next time.

And where Nine Elm is concerned, there definitely will be a next time. Some may find the idea of an upscale bistro in Danvers Square a bit surprising, but with meals like these, it’s certainly worth investigating.

Nine Elm American Bistro
9 Elm Street, Danvers
(978) 774-9436
9elm.com

Nine Elm American Bistro on Urbanspoon

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Lunch With a View at Madfish Grille

Posted: September 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Casual/Pub Food, Gloucester, Madfish Grille, Seafood | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

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We were in the mood for a relaxing lunch by the water, and Madfish Grille offered both a stunning view and an interesting menu. We found a lot to like at this Rocky Neck spot, including a funky seaside décor, delicious sweet potato fries, and a variety of sandwiches to choose from. There were a few drawbacks, but on a sunny day overlooking Gloucester Harbor, we’re willing to forgive quite a bit.

A large step up from many seafood restaurants in the area, Madfish’s appetizer menu includes PEI mussels, potstickers, and a braised short-rib quesadilla. We decided to share one of the day’s specials, iron seared U-10 scallops with roasted cipollini onions, rendered bacon, and a maple butter sauce ($12).

They were perfectly cooked with that great balance of savory bacon and sweet sauce, making us wish there were more than two on the plate. To be fair, our waitress told us there were only two or three per plate, but four scallops for a $12 shared appetizer is really not too much to ask.

The lunch menu runs the gamut from pizza to burgers, cuban sandwich to fish and chips ($8 to $19). We went with the crab and avocado BLT ($10), which was good but not great; could have used more avocado and a better roll. The grilled eggplant sandwich with spinach, tomato, fresh, mozzarella, and balsamic spread ($8) was delicious except for the roll, which again was too sweet and too soft. As mentioned, the sweet potato fries were hot, crispy, and plentiful.

Service was a mixed bag: friendly and never rushed but lacking some basic niceties like plates for our appetizer and an offer to wrap the remains of our sandwich. All in all, Madfish is a spot worth knowing about, and we’re thinking of returning to sample a few of the more pub-like items, maybe on a night when a band is playing in the outdoor bar.

Madfish Grille
77 Rocky Neck Avenue, Gloucester
(978) 281-4554
www.madfishgrille.com

Madfish Grille on Urbanspoon

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