Blog Off at Mandrake: North Shore Dish v. Good Morning Gloucester

Posted: May 31st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Beverly, Casual/Pub Food, Mandrake, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 22 Comments »

The thing about Joey C. (seen here sporting his new geek chic glasses) is that it’s virtually impossible to say no to him. Which is how we found ourselves at Mandrake last Thursday night eating, drinking, carousing, and wearing paper bags over our heads.

A few weeks prior, Joey C. (Ciaramitaro) and Patrick Ryan of Good Morning Gloucester fame had challenged us to a blog-off in which we’d meet on neutral ground (i.e., not Gloucester), dine together, and post about our experiences on the same day. The post that gets the most comments ensures bragging rights as the most awesome North Shore blog.

It was not our usual anonymous meal, that’s for sure. But despite the paper bags (a humorous nod to our standard under-the-radar dining) and Joey’s antics (he befriended everyone in the place and set up his tripod anywhere he pleased), we had a great time, and the food was right up our alley.

We started with the hummus and tapenade plate, accompanied by soft pita ($7). It was good, but totally eclipsed by the calamari, which were very tender and accompanied by a delicious aioli ($10), and the crab cakes, which were good sized, flavorful, and exceptionally light ($14). The only cocktail we tried was the Islander, which tasted like summer in a glass ($8).

Our entrees were all good, with a couple of standouts. The steak tips were cooked to our requested medium rare and accompanied by a huge amount of garlic mashed potatoes ($18). The baked scallops had great flavor, and the scallops were moist ($17). The horseradish and dijon crusted salmon was perfectly cooked and sitting on lyonnais potatoes, a nice change from the usual ($19).

The yellowfin tuna was very tender and fresh, perfect with just a sear on the outside. The sides were spot on in flavor: a salty seaweed salad and a bright asian coleslaw ($19). The best of the night was the seafood mac and cheese, which managed to be rich but not heavy. The cream sauce was delicious, the portion was huge, and the seafood was not overcooked ($24).

Thanks to Joey’s gregariousness, we were treated to dessert—a huge plate of fried dough topped with cookie dough ice cream, whipped cream, and caramel sauce. It sounds like carnival junk food run amok, but it was actually a unique indulgence that quickly disappeared.

We had been to Mandrake only for cocktails and bar snacks, and we’re glad we got a chance to return for dinner. The decor is cozy, the service is extremely friendly (and not just to Joey, we observed), and the atmosphere is the relaxed kind we tend to gravitate to.

We had a boatload of fun that night, and want to thank the staff for putting up with us. Of course, we could never seriously compete with Joey and Patrick, who get hundreds of hits a day due to their loving coverage of all things Gloucester, not to mention the photos of albino lobsters and LOLseagullz, but let’s give them a run for their money. Whether you’ve been to Mandrake or not, if you’re a loyal North Shore Dish fan, please comment on this post so we can show the boys of GMG that not only are we good sports, but we know what great local blogging is all about.

And no, we weren’t kidding about the paper bags, Joey’s got the evidence.

252 Cabot St, Beverly
(978) 922-0663


Topsfield’s Main Street Market Features Local Favorites

Posted: May 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Main Street Market, Marketplace, Topsfield | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

For a while, Main Street Market in Topsfield had residents wondering if it would ever open, but it finally opened its doors last October, and we think it was worth the wait.

Owner Terry Lee Carabillo closed the previous incarnation, New Meadows Market, in the fall of 2008 to develop the property and construct a new building for the market. The process took much longer than anticipated due to construction frustrations and setbacks, but that’s now ancient history.

Main Street Market has an welcoming layout reminiscent of an old-fashioned general store, piled high with fresh local goods that read like a list of Dish favorites; milk and ice cream from Richardson’s Dairy, bread from A&J King, Taza chocolate, cookies from Lark Fine Foods, Grillo’s Pickles, Boxford Bakehouse granola, and Topsfield’s own Valley View goat cheese. Select meats, including grass-fed beef, and produce are also on hand in the cold cases.

Toward the back is a counter that offers fresh brewed coffee drinks and teas, salads, and sandwiches made to order from 11:00 to 3:00 daily and ice cream by the scoop. Cookies, muffins, and other house made treats are available as well.

Adjacent to the counter are beautiful stainless vats containing Ariston Select olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can fill your own stoppered glass bottles and return for refills, which lightens the load on both your wallet and your recycling bin.

The market also offers a terrific array of wine and craft beers. Thoughtful selections in a range of prices as well as beers from local brewers such as Ipswich, Cody, and Clown Shoes fill the shelves. Next to the beer and wine, a fun aisle filled with funky gift items lends a festive feeling and rounds out the store.

With inventory like this and genuinely helpful staff, Main Street Market is the sort of place we wish was our local corner market. Their website is minimal, but they do list daily specials and keep current information on their Facebook page.

Main Street Market
17 Main Street, Topsfield
(978) 887-2005


Weekend Picks, May 20–22

Posted: May 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Lynn, Marblehead, Newburyport | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

It’s a good thing the weather is finally clearing up (fingers crossed) because there are some great outdoor activities this weekend.

First, we’ll tell you how to start the weekend off right. Head over to Lynnway Liquors in Lynn this afternoon and say hello to the effervescent Emily O’Brien. She will be on hand from the Urban Wine Project, and will be pouring tastes of their brand new Oxford Street Pinot Noir and Central Square Chardonnay from 4:30 to 6:30.

On Saturday from 11:00 to 2:00, The Food Project is holding its second-annual Lynn Farm Fest. There will be a plant sale that includes seeds and garden supplies, a workshop on planning and planting a raised-bed garden (at 11:00 and again at 1:30), and you can sign up for CSA shares, which start on Monday. More CSA info is here.

From 1:00 to 5:00 on Saturday, you can get your sugar fix at the Newburyport Chocolate Tour. Pick up your ticket ($15) and goodie bag at the Unitarian Church (26 Pleasant St.), then walk the downtown route and partake in delectable chocolate treats from more than 20 participating vendors.

Shubie’s Food and Wine Festival will take place from 1:00 to 5:00 in Marblehead regardless of the weather, and it promises to be a doozy. There will be more than 40 wines for tasting, and purchasers will receive 20% off a case or 25% off two cases. There will be many food samples, including a Olympic extra virgin olive oil, Sailor’s Swagger pineapple hot sauce, and Chef Lynne’s papas fritas (hand-cut fries). The one we’ll be checking out is an exclusive debut of a new Jasper Hill cheese, Conundrum. It promises to be a cross between the Winnimere and the Moses Sleeper; spoonable, slightly sweet, slightly woodsy. We’ll try not to swoon.

And as usual, we’ve got links of interest from our pals in the North Shore Blogger’s Consortium:

Madman Seth has a weekend chock full of fun outlined in Lynn Happens.

Rob and Laura range farther afield for with some great ideas at The Two Palaverers.

And while our friend Jane Ward lists several events, but the most exciting by far is her own book author reading at Jabberwocky Bookshop, Newburyport. Stop in and see her tomorrow night!


Café Zabaglione Charms Us Into a European-Style Lunch

Posted: May 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Café Zabaglione, Cafe, Ipswich, Italian, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

We’ll admit it: it was the dessert case that drew us into Café Zabaglione. It holds a huge variety of Italian and American desserts, including some luscious looking cakes. Often, authentic Italian pastries are an indicator of high-quality, European-style food, and that is definitely the case here.

We thoroughly enjoyed our leisurely lunch last weekend, which included genuinely warm service and great tasting sandwiches. The vegetarian in our group enjoyed the Italian, which consisted of fresh mozzarella cheese and marinated vegetables on focaccia ($8.50). The ham and cheese croissant with a side salad ($6.50) was also very well received.

The large chicken caesar wrap was filled with tender breast meat and crisp lettuce, fresh and delicious ($8.95). The meatball panini was enough for two (maybe three)—hand-made meatballs with great texture, chunky sauce, and fresh bread, with delicately breaded eggplant on the side ($8.95). The escarole soup was filled with vegetables, pasta, and flavorful meatballs and accompanied by a huge slice of fresh bread ($4.95). The café is an offshoot of the well-respected Zabaglione Restaurant around the corner on Central Street, and it clearly benefits from the same attention to detail.

It was fun to peruse the many cakes, pies, and other pastries in the case, and we finally settled on the mile high chocolate cake and the chocolate mousse torte ($7.95 each). The mousse was rich but not heavy, and it was surrounded by melt-in-your-mouth chocolate meringue. Still, it was upstaged by the cake, which had five layers of moist cake, intense chocolate filling, and even richer frosting. The price for a slice may seem high, but that’s only until you see it. This is clearly a two-dessert portion, and the quality is top-notch.

Café Zabaglione
1 Market St, Ipswich
(978) 356-6484

Zabaglione Cafe on Urbanspoon


Weekend Picks, May 13–15

Posted: May 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Event | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

It’s the weekend for tastings, with everything from ice cream to oysters being served up around the North Shore. It starts on Saturday with the folks from Batch visiting Shubie’s in Marblehead from noon to 3:00 with their super-premium ice cream made in Jamaica Plain. We tasted some this winter at a blogger event, and it was fantastic.

The decadence continues up the road at Busa Wine and Spirits in Salem. The Loire Valley Wine Bureau is taking the area by storm for the month of May, pairing muscadet and oysters at several Boston restaurants. North Shore residents can check out this duo on Saturday from 2:00 to 5:00, with free muscadet samples and freshly shucked oysters. Busa says: “This unpretentious wine from the Loire Valley has dry, mineral flavors and acidity that pair perfectly with Boston and New England’s cuisine of oysters, fried clams, and lobster rolls.” Tastings on Saturday include two muscadets and a sancerre.

If you’re not into oysters, you may want to head west on Saturday afternoon. Wine ConneXtion in North Andover is holding its Grand Tasting from 1:00 to 6:00 with 50 wines being poured and food for pairing from Tommy Grella of “The Next Food Network Star.” Several preferred wines such as malbecs, amarones, and unique grape varietals will be offered at a one-day discounted price.

Beer lovers will want to make it to Pamplemousse in downtown Salem. We’ve heard a lot of buzz lately about the new Notch Session Beers, and brewer Chris Lohring will be on hand from 2:00 to 4:00 to pour samples and tell you all about this newcomer to the North Shore brewing scene.

Saturday evening, head up to Newburyport’s historic city hall for a huge wine tasting to support Yankee Homecoming, from 6:00 to 9:30. You’ll have the chance to taste 100 wines courtesy of Leary’s Fine Wines & Spirits as well as brews from  Mercury Brewing Company. The beverages will be accompanied by cheese from Cabot of Vermont and hors d’oeuvres created by local chefs and restaurants. Tickets are $30 ahead of time or $35 at the door.

You’re even allowed to start drinking early on Saturday. (not Tuesday as previously reported) From 8:00 to 11:00, Ipswich Ale’s Tapmobile will be on hand to pour fresh brews during the 5.5 mile Essex River Race. Enjoy the gorgeous river views from the Essex Shipbuilding Museum on Main Street.

And as usual, here are some terrific weekend picks  from some of our pals in the North Shore Bloggers Consortium. We’ll add more as they get posted.

Media giant Seth gives up the best of Lynn at Lynn Happens.

Kimmy has done is again on Lighter and Local, with an insanely tasty looking recipe along with her picks.

And the unstoppable Rob and Laura always have great ideas at The Two Palaverers.


Weekend Picks, May 6–8

Posted: May 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Event | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

No plans for the weekend? We’ve got you covered. Start things off right with some local wine. Isaaks of Salem owner Ian Bennett will be handing out samples from 4:00 to 7:00 tonight at Shubie’s in Marblehead. Try all three varieties: Dry Honey, Popp Road Raspberry, and Sweet Tooth Honey. If you’re a fan of the Vineyard Road, you may want to return to Shubie’s between 12:00 and 3:00 on Saturday for samples from their portfolio.

Also on Friday are two farm openings: Cider Hill in Amesbury and Smolak Farms in North Andover. Cider Hill has spent months renovating their store, including updating the bakery to a full-scratch operation. Owner Glenn Cook says the new offerings will include bread baked from grain ground right before the bread is made. The peach trees are blooming, the apple trees are next, and the chickens are arriving around lunchtime.

Smolak Farms is sporting a renovated animal and playground area and says the farm stand will be getting a makeover to have more of a café feel. There will be espressos, lattes, chai, and lunch specials to accompany their pies, muffins, and donuts. Opening day activities include free hayrides, free crafts and games for children in the barn (10:00-2:00), and cider donuts for half price.

Sunday is Mother’s Day, of course, and if you haven’t already made plans, head over to Wine ConneXtion in Andover on Saturday from 12:00 – 5:00 for ideas on treating mom to breakfast in bed. They’ve teamed up with Salem’s  A&J King Bakery and Ocean Spray Juice for a tasting of wine, champagne, juice, and baked goods. Offerings include chocolate bouchon, caramel bread pudding, and seasonal tarts with farm-grown berries and sweetened ricotta. Best of all, donations from the event will benefit the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

And if you’re looking for last minute brunch ideas, take a look at our Mother’s Day round up.

And as usual, here are some terrific weekend picks  from some of our pals in the North Shore Bloggers Consortium:

The lovely lady of Lighter and Local, Kimmy Bingham, gives us tasty recipes and her picks  here

Media giant Seth gives up the best of Lynn at Lynn Happens.

Find out what’s happening all over New England with the Two Palaverers.

Jane Ward talks chocolate as well at weekend picks at Food and Fiction.


Only the Best for Mom

Posted: May 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Event | Tags: , , | No Comments »

With Mother’s Day less than a week away, we’ve rounded up a list of restaurants serving up celebratory menus to honor everyone’s favorite parent. We’re happy to report we’re not the only ones promoting North Shore restaurants for the occasion; both 62 Resaurant and Wine Bar and Ceia Kitchen + Bar show up on on Zagat’s 10 Mother’s Day Reservations to Book Now list.

First up on our brunchtastic tour of the North Shore is 15 Walnut in Hamilton, which is offering a special brunch menu from noon to 6:00. Bloody Mary’s, mimosas, egg skillet dishes, and petite filets are all on offer, plus the regular lunch menu. Call (978) 468-2434 for a reservation.

Newburyport’s 10 Center is serving a brunch buffet from 11:00 to 3:00 for $45 per person (kids six to 12 are $15, and under six eat for free). Clearly for those with hearty appetites, there’s a bread basket, a raw bar, a salad station, eggs and breakfast meats, sides like chive mashed potatoes and mac ’n’ cheese, a carving station with turkey breast and roast prime rib, desserts like mini lemon mousse parfaits, and a sundae bar for the kids. (978) 462-6652 for reservations.

Salem’s 62 Restaurant and Wine Bar is serving brunch from 10:30 to 2:00 and dinner from 1:00 to 9:00. They’re not revealing much about the menu, but we’re sure Chef Bettencourt will be cooking up a storm. Call (978) 744-0062 to reserve.

The Blue Ox in Lynn is going all out for mom with appetizers like baked stuffed brie and lobster tacos, grilled filet mignon or stuffed suckling pig for entreés, and mascarpone cheesecake or fudge brownie gelato for dessert. Served from noon to 6:00, the price is $34 per person for three courses, and reservations are recommended at (781) 780-5722.

Ceia Kitchen and Bar in Newburyport has added a special brunch service for mother’s day with tasty sounding a la carte offerings like the lobster omelet for $14 or scallops with ramp & cucumber vichyssoise for $24. Reservations available from 10:00 to 3:00, call (978) 358-8112.

Emerson Inn’s grand brunch buffet runs from 10:00 to 3:30 in Rockport and costs $49 for adults and $24 for kids ages three to 10. The menu is extensive and includes four salads, breakfast pastries, artisan breads, grilled salmon, boursin scrambled eggs, applewood smoked bacon, eggs benedict with lobster hollandaise, oven roasted pork, eggplant ratatouille over spinach quinoa, and a viennese dessert display. (978) 546-6321 to reserve.

If your mom loves to be outdoors, head for the Garden Café at the PEM in Salem. A $36 prix fixe brunch will be served from 11:00 to 3:00 (kids under 12 are $15.95, and members receive a 10% discount). After brunch, exchange your voucher for a free gift for mom in the gift shop. Call (978) 745-9500, ext. 3157 for information and reservations.

At Salem’s Hawthorne Hotel, the extensive buffet includes everything from belgian waffles with strawberry sauce to butternut squash souffle, baked haddock with corn crumbs, spanish style seafood stew, and a carving station with prime rib, honey-baked ham, and roasted turkey. Desserts include mini pastries, pecan bourbon pie, and raspberry cream torte. It runs from 10:30 to 6:00 and costs $40.95 for adults and $16.95 for kids 12 and under. Call (978) 825-4311 for reservations.

Victoria Station in Salem has some interesting items on their brunch menu. Alongside baked goods, fresh fruit, assorted quiche, and rice pilaf are bacon butter fried cauliflower, garlicky home fries, mediterranean shrimp, and a chorizo, jack, and egg scramble. It’s being served from 11:00 to 3:00 for $32 per person, with live music from 12:00 to 3:00.

Finally, several areas restaurants and bakeries are participating in Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer from May 2 to 8, in which participating sponsors donate a percentage of the purchase of a featured baked good or dessert to breast cancer research and care. North Shore participants include 62 Restaurant, A&J King, Cakes for Occasions, Cassis Bakery, Duckworth’s Bistrot, and Mission Oak Grill.