Gloucester’s Fort Square: Familiar Faces at Breakfast

Posted: February 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Breakfast, Cafe, Fort Square Café, Fort Square Cafe, Gloucester | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The ever-so-charming Joey C. of Good Morning Gloucester steered us to Fort Square Café last weekend when we were looking for a casual place for breakfast. Not surprisingly, he was right on the money. With great food, local specialties, and counter staff that greets you like a long-lost sibling, this place is right up our alley.

2262010bThe breakfast menu at tiny Fort Square is extensive and served all day. It includes eggs, omelets, and pancakes served with various breakfast meats and choice of hash browns or home fries. We tried two specials that day and loved them both. Crispy french toast ($5.50) was coated in crushed Honey Bunches of Oats and perfectly cooked. A side of bacon was crispy and flavorful. The tasty Portugese scramble with peppers, onions, and chorizo, home fries, and toast is $8.50, but we guarantee you won’t need another meal that day.

We also sampled mudiga steak, a local favorite consisting of thin slices of beef that have been breaded and fried. For fisherman, or those who like to eat breakfast like one, the steak is served with eggs, hash browns, and a toasted roll. Those not quite as adventurous might enjoy it more for lunch. We saw a steak sandwich with roasted peppers and melted provolone go by that looked delicious. Many other sandwiches are available for lunch ($4.50 to $6), and we’re hoping to return to check out the chowder.

Fort Square Café
29 Commercial St, Gloucester
(978) 281-3100
No Web site, open Mon-Sat 7:00 to 3:00, Sun 7:00 to 1:00
Fort Square Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Class Act in Newburyport

Posted: February 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Newburyport | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Learning something new about food is always a pleasure, and the fun didn’t stop there Friday night at Jewett Farms Studio in Newburyport, where Mary Reilly of The Savory Kitchen was teaching a class of eight how to cook Thai food at home.

When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by Reilly and Jewett’s Elena Bachrach and offered beer, wine, or limeade. Being a Thai-themed evening, the beer was Singha, and the wine was a Covey Run Riesling from Washington, chosen by Bill at New England Wine and Spirits to go with the meal.

We gathered around the soapstone island in the store’s demonstration kitchen while Reilly, a personal chef, began simultaneously preparing Tom Yum soup and giving us a wealth of information about where to find Thai ingredients locally and what to substitute for hard-to-find items. We learned about green papaya, banana blossoms, jicama, red curry, coconut milk, and more. Reilly is a born teacher, relaying food history and kitchen techniques in a relaxed tone and happily fielding all of our questions. It was more like being in a friend’s kitchen who happens to know a lot about Thai food than a class.

0220BBAfter Reilly prepared a salad of jicama, pineapple, and watercress, another of green papaya, and set the red curry pork to cook, we sat down to taste the soup. The chicken broth had been flavored with lemongrass, ginger, lime, chiles, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Served over jasmine rice with tiny, fresh Maine shrimp and optional extra chiles and herbs, it hit all the notes that make Thai food so addictive, according to Reilly: hot, sweet, sour, and salty.

Reilly returned to the kitchen for a bit more prep work while we chatted about food and other topics. The group was diverse in age, but everyone was friendly and clearly excited to be eating well and learning. Reilly called us over to watch her make pad thai (in two batches so as not to crowd the pan), then we sat down to a Thai feast.

0220CXThe curry had just the right amount of heat, tender meat, and lots of vegetables like cauliflower and sweet potato. The salads were full of unusual flavors and textures, the perfect foil for the rich curry. The pad thai was outstanding, with perfectly cooked noodles, fried tofu, salty peanuts, and, once again, those salty and sour notes.

Dessert was deceptively simple. Reilly set out vanilla ice cream and mango sorbet. We helped ourselves, pouring on a luscious banana ginger sauce that everyone swooned over. All of the recipes were bound together in a neat booklet that included make-your-own versions of things like roasted chile oil for those who don’t want to hunt down Asian convenience foods.

The class was the first in a series Reilly is doing this winter/spring. The next class is bread, on March 13, followed by food of Northern Italy on March 19 and fresh ways with seafood on April 16. Classes are $90. More details are the Savory Kitchen site. All classes are held at Jewett, by far the most appealing kitchen showroom I’ve been in.

Mary Reilly
The Savory Kitchen
978-500-5643
www.thesavorykitchen.net

Jewett Farms & Co
58 Merrimac St, Newburyport
(978) 961-1538
www.jewettfarms.com

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Our Valentine’s Crush: The Blue Ox

Posted: February 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Blue Ox, Lynn | Tags: , , | No Comments »

We had planned to take a night off from reviewing when we headed to dinner on Saturday night for a Valentine’s Day treat. But we had such a great meal at The Blue Ox that we’d be remiss not to tell you about it.

Feeling in a celebratory mood, we chose Matt O’Neil’s $39 prix fixe menu, which included two options for each of the three courses. The cauliflower soup was outstanding: creamy and smoky with a generous serving of bay scallops. Not loving frisee, we were skeptical about the salad but wanted something light before the pasta entrée. As it turns out, we don’t mind frisee one bit when it’s dressed in a maple vinaigrette and accompanied by fantastic duck prosciutto, tangy blue cheese, sweet apricots, and salty pistachios—an incredible combination.

Our main courses were also highly satisfying. The grilled filet mignon was properly cooked to medium rare and kissed with a flavorful port wine glaze. A heaping serving of mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus were perfect accompaniments. Just as good were the firm but light potato gnocchi with a generous portion of lobster and a wonderful sauce of butternut squash, mascarpone, and parmigiano.

Yes, we were too full for dessert, but we had to at least sample the mascarpone cheesecake (to die for) and the decadent chocolate layer cake with whipped-cream filling.

Given that it was Saturday night on Valentine’s Day weekend, we half-expected to run into kitchen missteps and/or harried waitstaff. We’re happy to report this was not the case. Despite a very crowded dining room, our waitress was smiling and calm throughout, and we never felt rushed or neglected.

With O’Neil’s obvious talent and reasonable prices for this quality of food (entrées run from $15 to $19), the crowds are no surprise. Still, opening this type of restaurant in downtown Lynn was a risk, so we’re glad to see that diners are not letting the location get in the way of a terrific meal.

Next Tuesday (2/23) at 7:00, O’Neil is holding a demonstration on deboning a chicken and preparing a chicken roulade. The cost is $35, which includes a three-course meal of escarole soup, the chicken roulade, and almond cream cake. We attended an earlier demonstration and found it informative and fun—you can read about it here. Call if you want to reserve a spot, as these tend to sell out.

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

The Blue Ox on Urbanspoon

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Ryan & Wood Releases Folly Cove Rum

Posted: February 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Drinks, Gloucester | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

The North Shore’s own small batch craft distiller, Ryan and Wood, today announces the premiere bottling of their newest spirit, Folly Cove Rum.

When we visited the distillery in August, Bob Ryan was carefully developing the new rum, experimenting with various batches, and using the finest quality molasses to create the perfect balance of smoothness and taste. We sniffed and tasted a few and were incredibly impressed with the science behind such rich flavor. Now his final recipe has had it’s chance to age in charred American white oak barrels and today will be bottled by hand and released to the public.

Folly Cove is a small cove on the northeast tip of Gloucester, known for its shipwrecks and for the smugglers who landed there back in the day, and thus the name evokes both the sea coast and an air of mystery. The quality produced by this local gem is no mystery, though, and if rum is your spirit of choice, today is a day to celebrate.

Ryan & Wood distribute to many local liquor stores, and they can help you find the source closest to you. They also keep a Facebook page where you can find out about upcoming events or tastings.

Joey from Good Morning Gloucester interviewed Bob Ryan on what makes his rum so special, and you can check it out here.

Ryan & Wood Distilleries
15 Great Republic Dr., Gloucester
(978) 281-2282
www.ryanandwood.com

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Super Saturday

Posted: February 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Drinks, Event, Marblehead, Newburyport, North Andover, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Never mind the Super Bowl on Sunday—it’s Saturday we’re interested in. Of all the weekends to be out of town, we had to pick this one, but the rest of you have a myriad of taste treats in store. We’ve put together a quick list for your perusal.

Did you know that Shubie’s in Marblehead has been around for 62 years? It’s true! And to celebrate their anniversary on Saturday, they are going all out with food sampling, wine tasting, product demos, and a 20% off sale storewide.

If you haven’t already got tickets to the chocolate and wine tasting that kicks off the Salem’s So Sweet Festival, you’re out of luck, because it’s sold out. However, there is still plenty of fun to be had, with gorgeous ice sculptures and local businesses offering tasty specials. You can download the brochure here.

If you’re looking for other ways to indulge your sweet tooth on Saturday, head over to Cherry Farm Creamery in Danvers where they have proclaimed National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. (Hmmm…why didn’t we think of that?) They will feature special menu items like coffee and donuts ice cream and cereal mix-ins, with all proceeds from 8:00 to 2:00 being donated to the North Shore United way.

Also on Saturday, the Wine ConneXtion in North Andover is hosting a Grand Tasting from 12:00 to 5:00. They will not only have more than 50 wines to sample, they will also feature Tom Grella from the Food Network’s “Next Food Network Star,” who will be on hand to cook up tasty bites for you.

Both Grand Trunk Imports in Newburyport and Foodie’s Feast in Marblehead will also be pouring the wine on Saturday. Grand Trunk will feature new arrivals in the “value department” (excellent wines for under $12 a bottle) and will be opening up bottles from Spain, France, and Italy from 2:00 to 6:00. Foodie’s is spotlighting the Chateau Haut-Sociondo Cote de Blaye, which they are pouring from 12:00 to 5:00 on Saturday and offering at 10% off all weekend.

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Local Flavors Shine at Hamilton’s 15 Walnut

Posted: February 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: 15 Walnut, American, Bistro, Hamilton | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

With a focus on local food and a frequently changing menu, the bistro called 15 Walnut is a terrific addition to Hamilton’s dining scene, which leans toward pub-style restaurants. It’s also beautifully decorated in warm, inviting colors with exceptional art work and a large bar.

We sampled two sandwiches and two salads, with all four dishes clearly focused on top-quality ingredients. The Cuban sandwich ($10) was decadent and melty, with crisp grilled bread and pulled pork along with house-cured ham. The crispy haddock burrito ($11) was surprisingly light for a fish sandwich, a wrap with a perfect mix of fish, vegetables, and salsa fresca.

The 15 Walnut salad features red oak lettuce, Valley View goat cheese, candied walnuts, and fried shallots ($8). The wood oven beet salad mixes arugala with beets, almonds, and a very light aioli ($15 with chicken). We liked that the salads can be accompanied by steak ($7), chicken ($5), or scallops ($6), but we were surprised by the portion sizes, which were closer to side salad than entrée.

Since we were there for a quick lunch, we didn’t have a chance to sample any cocktails or desserts, which sound intriguing. For example, the Endless Summer is made with fresh-squeezed orange juice, orange vodka, cointreau, and splash of sour, and the honey crème brulee and the apple crisp are made with local honey and fruit. The entrées also sound good (especially the marinated skirt steak and the lobster mac and cheese) and seem reasonably priced at $17 to $22 with two sides.

Open from 11:30 am to 11:30 pm every day, 15 Walnut is definitely making it easy for us to return to sample more creative food with a local emphasis.

15 Walnut
15 Walnut Rd, Hamilton
(978) 468-2434
www.15walnut.com

15 Walnut Local Bistro on Urbanspoon

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Adventures in Saké at the Wine ConneXtion

Posted: February 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Drinks, Marketplace, North Andover, Wine Connextion | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments »

North Andover is slightly outside our usual territory, but we heard about a kikishu, or saké tasting, at the newly opened Wine ConneXtion and headed there on Saturday to see what it was about.

The tasting was hosted by local blogger Richard Auffrey of The Passionate Foodie, and it quickly became obvious that one of the things Rich is passionate about is saké. He had eight bottles available for tasting, and he expertly explained the ingredients and processes involved in making each.

We enjoyed exploring the surprising range of tastes provided and learning the differences between the Ginjo, Daiginjo and Honjozo. If your only experience with saké is sipping it warm at a Japanese restaurant, it’s time to take another taste.

The sakés we tried ranged from earthy to crisp and clean, some akin to a very dry white wine that would pair exceptionally well with any seafood. Most of them were subtler on the palate than the nose would lead you to believe. Favorites included the Kurosawa Jun-Mai Kimoto ($16), which was earthy and hinted at mushrooms, and the Ichishima Honjozo ($22) which was bright and crisp.

LaRosa’s in Andover provided quite a spread of finger foods, and the crowd favorite was definitely the wonderful arancini. You might not initially think to serve a Japanese wine with Italian food, but some of the offerings paired quite well.

2110Whether you’re a casual wine drinker or a serious enthusiast, the Wine ConneXtion is definitely worth investigating. Owners (and siblings) Sam and Tina Messina, who have been in the business for more than 20 years, really know their stuff, with Sam finding unbelievable deals and Tina streamlining the operation to make sure those deals get passed along to the customer.

It’s a large, clean, well-lit warehouse-style space with fantastic inventory and unbeatable prices. Unlike many wine stores, where the only information is a simple price tag or a glossy ad provided by the distributor, each and every wine here is informatively labeled. Uniform, well-designed signs listing price, origin, taste, and body of the wine take the mystery out of comparing vintages and make it easy to find new bottles to try.

Sam and Tina are working on getting their inventory online; in the meantime, they will happily take orders over the phone to ensure the bottles you want are waiting for you on arrival. And if the idea of saké has piqued your interest, Sam is carrying a range of bottles, several half-sized, for you to investigate. You can also find a wealth of saké information, and if you scroll down a list of  links, here on Rich’s site.

We’re glad we took the time to venture off the beaten path this weekend, since it led us to discover both the world of saké and a great new place to shop for wine.

Wine ConneXtion
117 Main Street North Andover
(978) 965-8000
www.wineconnextion.com

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