Breakfast With the Stars: Mildred’s Corner Café

Posted: December 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Breakfast, Cafe, Lynn, Mildred's Corner Cafe | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

A reader e-mailed us a few weeks ago to recommend a couple of restaurants in Lynn, and this long weekend was the perfect time to check out one of them: Mildred’s Corner Café.

Boy, are we glad we did. Mildred’s is a charming spot with creative breakfast and lunch offerings, kitschy Hollywood décor, games to play while waiting for your food, and warm, attentive service. The tiny seven-year-old café, which is only open Friday to Sunday, is clearly a labor of love by Jan McLaughlin-Muirhead, who describes herself owner, cook, waitress, chief dishwasher on the menu.

We had been seated for approximately five seconds before being offered coffee, which came in large, colorful mugs. Tea is also available—19 types of loose tea, a fact that surprised and delighted us. After studying the menu and relaying our choices, we sat back to admire the movie-star posters and test our knowledge of silver-screen trivia.

Along with the usual breakfast offerings like omelets and French toast, Mildred’s large menu has seasonal specialties like pumpkin pancakes, gourmet items like a wild mushroom omelets, and light fare in the form of fat free yogurt with granola and fresh fruit.

We tried the crabcakes benedict ($11), which came with a generous portion of both hollandaise sauce and home fries. Everything was well seasoned and tasty, although the potatoes could have been more crisp. We also enjoyed the English breakfast ($6), featuring a small cup of baked beans, two delicious sausage patties, and grilled tomato slices along with fried eggs.

The huevos rancheros ($9) was a winner, combining flavorful refried beans with large chunks of sautéed tomatoes/peppers/onions, a generous scatter of ripe avocado, and two fried eggs. The junior member of our party declared her crispy bacon the best she’d ever had, enjoying it along with her scrambled eggs, pancake, and Go-gurt ($5).

It was a great way to start off a Sunday, and we look forward to returning to explore more breakfast items and interesting-sounding sandwiches like the avocado egg salad. We hear that there is often a wait for tables, so we were glad to see a small counter with stools as well as a separate waiting area with couches and a television playing (you guessed it) classic movies.

Mildred’s Corner Café
45 Lewis St, Lynn
(781) 595-4600
Open 7:30 to 2:00 Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

Mildred's Corner Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Plum Island Grille’s Menu is as Captivating as Their View

Posted: November 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Newbury, Plum Island Grille, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Last weekend the weather was so gorgeous that we just had to get outdoors. On a whim, we decided to head to Plum Island for a walk along the beach and marshes. By the time we got ourselves out there, it was almost noon, and we were in need of a meal before anything else. The logical choice was of course the Plum Island Grille, which opens for a jazz brunch at noon on Sundays.

The restaurant has rustic beach feel with both a pretty dining room and a great enclosed porch with an incredible view, which is where we were seated. One look at the menu tells you that despite the casual atmosphere, the food goes far beyond ordinary beach fare. Both the brunch and dinner menus have lighter fare, more substantial meals, and a good range of starters, all with reasonable prices.

We started with an obligatory bloody mary, the wild mushroom turnovers ($12), and the fresh PEI mussels ($10). The turnover was filled with organic wild mushrooms in a light sauce and served with truffled gouda sour cream and tomato salsa. While quite tasty, the deep fried wonton like shell was a bit incongruous; a baked pie crust pastry would have suited it better. The mussels, simmered in a Thai green curry and coconut milk broth and finished with fresh cilantro and mint, were delightful. The freshness of the herbs enhanced the curry, and the broth didn’t overwhelm the shellfish.

For entrees, we chose the swordfish burger with tapenade and aioli ($15) and the duck confit served with warm goat cheese, trumpet royale mushrooms, and lardon with a poached pear jam ($16) The swordfish, which was served with fries and field greens, was expertly grilled; tender and juicy with the tapenade lending a bit of a piquant kick. The duck was absolutely delicious, rich and savory. In combination with the sautéed bacon and mushrooms, it was downright luxurious. The warm goat cheese turned out to be a fried ball, but it wasn’t heavy or greasy, and the pear jam offered a lovely accent.

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The restaurant faces Sunset Boulevard, and aside from conjuring up visions of Norma Desmond, there is a reason for the street’s name. It runs along the salt marshes that line the western side of the island, over which the setting sun provides a spectacular vision. Plum Island Grille overlooks this idyll, making it not only a good stop for terrific food, but one of most memorable places on the North Shore to relax with a drink and watch the sun go down.

Plum Island Grille
2 Plum Island Blvd, Newbury
(978) 463-2290
www.plumislandgrille.com

Plum Island Grille on Urbanspoon

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November: A Month of Mouthwatering Events

Posted: October 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Drinks, Essex, Event, Italian, Lynn, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Snow storms and seventy-degree temps in the same week? Welcome to October in New England. Even though we’ve had some beautiful days lately, the weather is getting colder, and all those wonderful outdoor fall food events are coming to an end. The good news is that as we head indoors, so do some upcoming chances to eat, drink, and be merry.

102209Starting things off, Matt O’Neil at Blue Ox is offering another cooking demo and dinner on Tuesday, October 27. Just in time to wow your Thanksgiving guests, the class is on making spicy pumpkin soup. A three-course tasting menu with the soup as the first course will follow the demo. If you haven’t been to one of Matt’s classes, they are worth checking out. You may recall we had a ball learning how to make gnocchi. The dinner is $29 per person, and reservations are required. Past demonstrations have sold out quickly, so if you’re interested, call soon.

On November 5, Italian vintner Matteo Ascheri will take you on a tour of the Alps with a Piedmontese wine dinner hosted by Sixty2 on Wharf. Chef Tony Bettencourt will inspire your senses with his food pairings designed to complement each pour. If you’re like us, one look at this menu and you’ll be drooling.  Tickets are $85 per person. To reserve your seat, contact Jonathan at (978) 744-0062 or e-mail him at jbrackman@62onwharf.com.

A few events we previously mentioned but are included here for the sake of completeness: Cooking with Sweet Sloops at Harbor Sweets on November 7 and the November 12 Grand Wine Tasting hosted by Salem Wine Imports.

If you’re a food history geek, The Essex Shipbuilding Museum has just the thing for you. On November 13, go back in time to experience Tavern Fare in 18th and 19th Century New England with Bean Supper, featuring noted food historian Joseph Carlin. The dinner will include baked beans, fish cakes, cole slaw, and desserts by Laurie Lufkin, and the discussion will center on what and how early Americans in the area ate. Admission is $12 in advance or $15 at the door.

102209cIf beer is your beverage of choice, you’ll be happy to hear that it, too, receives the gourmet dinner treatment in November. Check out this terrific Burgers and Brews dinner coming up on the 17th at Finz. Each course features a beer from a different country and is accompanied by an inventive “burger and fries” pairing, ranging from a hearty Black Angus American to an inventive French burger made with beef and duck confit, brie, melted mushrooms and leeks, and truffle fois gras aioli. Tickets are $40 per person for this little trip around the world.

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North Shore Food Finds

Posted: October 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Asian, Bakery, Beverly, Bistro, Deli, Gloucester, Marblehead, Marketplace, Peabody, Revere, Rockport, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Everyone has their favorite restaurants, from the one you look forward to visiting on special occasions to the one you turn to when you can’t even think about cooking. But what about those favorite dishes and treats you’ve discovered in your neighborhood or on your travels? We’ve put together a list of ours in the hopes that readers will be inspired to respond in kind. If you’ve got a North Shore food find to add to the list, let us know in the comments, and we’ll be sure to check it out.

Bouchon, A&J King
Talk about addictive. This little cake looks simple, but it’s not. It’s rich and not too sweet with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and a wonderful hint of almond. One of the best chocolate experiences on the North Shore. Oh, and they have great bread, too. ($2.25)

House Dumplings, Sugar Cane
We love dumplings of all sizes and shapes, but these are our favorite. The dough is thin and wonderfully crispy, the inside is flavorful, and the accompanying ginger soy sauce puts these little gems over the top. ($6)

Tiger’s Tears, Floating Rock
This dish has it all: spice, citrus, and crunch. Thin slices of marinated beef are served cold and paired with sliced red and green bell peppers, onion, basil, red pepper flakes, and ground roasted rice. If you like spicy food, you will love this—but don’t be scared off, we found the balance of heat and citrus just right.

Chicken Salad, Henry’s Market
We’re picky when it comes to chicken salad—no large chunks or odd ingredients, thanks. Henry’s makes it just the way we like it: finely ground, super fresh, and perfectly seasoned. We like it made into mini-sandwiches on the top-knot rolls baked fresh in the store daily.

Guacamole, Cielito Lindo
Made fresh and served in a molcajete (a stone bowl for grinding), this guac is the perfect antidote to a long day and just one of the things we love about this often-overlooked Mexican restaurant in Beverly. Grab a tortilla chip and dive in—you’ll be amazed at how quickly the generous serving will disappear. ($8)

Fresh-Baked Cookies, Shubie’s
These are the kind of cookies you could easily pass off as homemade (not that we would ever do that, of course). They’re baked fresh in the store every day, and while the peanut butter and oatmeal raisin ($8/pound) are terrific, the larger kitchen-sink cookies are the stuff of dreams, packed with dark and white chocolate and cranberries ($1.75 each).

While you’re in the store, be sure to check out the cheese counter, which has one of the largest selections of New England cheeses we’ve seen. Selections include several from Vermont Butter & Cheese, Cabot clothbound cheddar, Jasper Hill blue, Blue Ledge Farm crottini, Ploughgate Creamery willoughby, Spring Brook Farm tarentaise, Maplebrook Farm mozzarella, Shy Brothers Farm Hannabells, and cheddars from Shelburne and Grafton Farms.

Strudel, Helmut’s Strudel
What is it about apples and pastry that makes us swoon? We don’t know, but this place is the gold standard for the combination. Sweet, gooey apple filling and a crunchy, flaky not-too-sweet shell come together for the perfect mouthful. Folks, there’s a reason this tiny Bearskin Neck shop stays in business selling nothing but strudel and croissants. ($4 per slice)

Hot Cookie Dough Topping, Terry’s Ice Cream
If you like your cookies just barely cooked and hot from the oven, you get the idea here. Even better than hot fudge on top of ice cream, this is decadence in a cup. Go ahead, indulge; we’ll never tell.

Toasted Iggy’s Bagel, Foodie’s Feast
If you’re a fan of Montreal-style bagels (thinner and more flavorful than New York style), you’ve got to try Iggy’s, which are very similar. Our favorite way to enjoy them is to let the nice counter folks at Foodie’s toast one up and serve it alongside a steaming mug of joe. They’re also available at Whole Foods in Swampscott.

Truffle Paté, Crosby’s
This mousse-like spread is the perfect addition to your holiday cheese platter. We like to serve it on lightly toasted baguette slices or water crackers. It’s so good, you may want to buy two for your next cocktail party and forget to put the second one out.

Ribs, Smokin’ Jims
If you’ve never heard of Smokin’ Jim, you might be tempted to drive right by his parking-lot location on East Main in Gloucester. But these ribs are the real deal: smoked on oil-drum cooker until they just about fall off the bone. Side dishes like cole slaw, beans, and corn bread are available, too. There are picnic tables nearby, or you may want to drive over to Stage Fort Park. Hours vary seasonally, so check the Web site before visiting.

Marissa’s Salsa, Whole Foods
You’ll never want to go back to that stuff in the jar once you try this fresh version, packed in ice in the produce section and featuring a heavenly balance of heat and cilantro. Even better, it’s made in small batches by Nahant resident Marissa Salomon.

Potato Chips, Mandrake
We like the well-built drinks, reasonably priced food, and friendly bartenders at this downtown Beverly spot. Add the freshly made potato chips served as bar snacks, and you’ve got the start of a beautiful relationship.

We had a lot of fun putting this post together, and we look forward to hearing from readers who try one of our “finds” and those with a special treat to contribute…

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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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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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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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Sonoma Misses the Mark

Posted: August 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Casual/Pub Food, Salem | Tags: , , | 5 Comments »

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On the recommendation of some folks on Chowhound, we had dinner last weekend at Sonoma, a gastropub that opened at the beginning of the summer on Congress Street in Salem, about six blocks from Pickering Wharf.

The place looks terrific, with an attractive bar and a freshly painted interior. The menu looked good, too, with many tapas selections and some interesting sounding entrees. Unfortunately, our meal did not match the surroundings.

The flatbread pizza ($10) was the only good selection of the night: crisp and flavorful with shrimp and pesto. They were out of the shrimp and avocado salad, the chorizo was fine but nothing special, and the torta espanola had no flavor at all. Appetizers run $8 to $10; hot and cold tapas are $6. We sampled a cosmopolitan and a drink special with vodka, chambord, and pineapple ($10); both could have used more booze and less mixers.

Neither of our entrees was a success. The thick-cut pork chop was tender but the sauce and everything else on the plate was bland ($19). The duck pasta in wine sauce was worse, with stringy, flavorless meat and pasta cooked to mush ($18).

With only eight tables, Sonoma is quite small, but it’s still more than one waitperson can cover. Although our waitress was nice, she was completely overwhelmed. Water glasses stayed unfilled, and used dishes sat on our table for most of the evening. Judging by how long we waited for our main meal, the small kitchen was also struggling to handle the Friday night crowd.

We give the folks at Sonoma credit for opening a restaurant in this economy and for getting creative with the menu. Hopefully, the kitchen will begin focusing more on quality than variety and the front of the house will solve its staffing issues.

Sonoma
75 Congress Street, Salem
(978) 607-0140
www.sonomasalem.com

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Gone to the Dogs

Posted: August 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Beverly, Boston Hot Dog Co., Fred's Franks, Gloucester, Kell's Kreme, Popo's Hot Dogs, Rockport, Rondogs, Salem, Swampscott, Top Dog, Wakefield | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

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This time of year, the media is full of summery stories on the best fried clams, lobster rolls, and ice cream, and we at the Dish are no exception. Last weekend, we set out to find the tastiest hot dogs on the North Shore, risking our arteries and our families’ patience by visiting six vendors in two days.

Given the variety of available products and everyone’s personal taste, it would be folly to attempt to declare a single “best” dog, but we found some tubular treats definitely worth working into your summer itinerary.

All the dogs we tasted were well above average quality, and all but one was served on a buttered, grilled New-England-style frankfurter bun. A few bare-bones dogs ran $2.50; the rest averaged $3.50 to $3.95. Also, we appreciated that several vendors offered the Ipswich Ale Mustard made by local Mercury Brewing Company.

First, we needed to solve the Popo’s (pronounced POP-oh’s) mystery. Having occupied a storefront in Swampscott for several years, we assumed they’d left when the space was taken over by Kell’s Kreme. A quick search revealed they had moved to a location in Gloucester. But it turns out that Kell’s negotiated a licensing deal and still sells Popo’s hot dogs out of this location.

Kell’s has an ice-cream-parlor ambiance: super clean, well lit, and staffed with friendly college kids who were helpful and attentive. On offer were kosher beef, natural casing, and veggie dogs with a plethora of toppings, some complimentary, some at an extra $.50. Our favorite was the Boston Dog, served with baked beans, caramelized onions, and diced real bacon bits. Rich and savory, it was a meal on a bun.

Still curious about the “original” Popo’s, we headed to Gloucester where we met founder Mark Scaglione, a terrifically nice guy who told us his story while prepping our dogs. A lobsterman from Nahant, Scaglione opened the Swampscott location in 2004, and it quickly became known for delicious dogs. With an eye toward the future, he partnered with his friend, Ed Williams from New England Restaurant Brokers and Brighams Ice Cream, to create a new venture: licensing (not franchising) Popo’s hot dogs. The Gloucester location isn’t just a great place to grab a dog, it’s a model for potential investors.

One thing that sets Popo’s dogs apart is attention to detail. We ordered the slaw dog, and Scaglione mixed the cole slaw on order, so it was light and fresh rather than swimming in day-old mayo. We have to admit that although on a quest for dogs, we ordered one of Popo’s famed lobster rolls, which was again mixed to order. This is the first time we have ever been asked how we wanted the lobster salad prepared! The small size was plenty big, chock full of fresh meat, and quite delectable.

Kell’s Kreme
168 Humphrey Street, Swampscott
(617) 599-9900

Popo’s Olde Fashioned Gourmet Hot Dogs
6 Rogers Street, Gloucester
(978) 239-9994
www.poposhotdogs.com/Home_Page.html



Boston Hot Dog Company (a bit of a misnomer as it exists only in Salem), is a unique experience, due in large part to owner Frangoulis, a grinning, energetic man with a boundless personality. He chats, he eats, he addresses everyone rapid-fire and tosses off jokes like a borscht-belt comedian. It’s like low-rent dinner and a show.

Boston offers both beef kosher and natural casing dogs, as well as Italian sausage, three flavors of chicken sausage, and a whopping five flavors of veggie sausage. But the clear favorite here is the quarter pound black angus beef dog. (shown at the top of this post) Whoa, baby, that is one big meaty meal with flavor to spare.

Like Popo’s, Boston offers a Frank Sinatra dog (have it your way) with a long list of available condiments. The best one we tasted was the sweet-but-tart homemade onion relish; we regretted not picking up a jar to bring home ($6).

Boston Hot Dog isn’t the largest or tidiest place we visited, but it’s got a loyal following among Yelpers and Chowhounders, along with the rest of the world. Behind the counter are a US map and world map studded with pins. Downtown Salem is a tourist magnet in the summer, and Frangoulis, who’s been in business five years, makes it a point to mark visitor’s hometowns—people from Alaska to Zimbabwe have chowed on these dogs.

Boston Hot Dog Company
60 Washington Street, Salem
(978) 744-2320



(Editor’s Note 7.21.11: Rondogs has been replaced by The Scotty Dog)

Rondogs, a two-year-old Beverly drive-up made local news this summer when multimillionaire Red Sox owner John Henry made a highly publicized pit stop there on the way to his impending nuptials. We arrived with much less fanfare, but were treated with prompt and perky service just the same.

Although not as charming as a drive-in restaurant from the ’50s, Rondogs’ carhop service is fun and unique. (There are picnic tables if you don’t want to eat in your car.) Like the others, Rondogs serves a variety of dogs, and it’s the only place we visited that offers rippers (that’s deep fried dogs to you and me).

We were disappointed that they were all out of grilled mushrooms and settled for the sauerkraut, which was quite respectable. The dogs were tasty, but the gourmet dogs seemed pricey. The ¼ lb. Rondog is $3.50, and the toppings are mostly .50 each, so at $5.95 for four or five toppings, it’s definitely pricier than the other loaded dogs we tried. It makes the ¼ lb. cheeseburger with four toppings look like a bargain at $3.95.

With a location on busy Rantoul Street at a traffic light, some may not enjoy the view and noise, but the kids will love the served-in-your-car experience, and Rondogs is open until 1:30 a.m. on weekends, making it a good destination for late-night snacking.

Rondogs
437 Rantoul Street, Beverly
(978) 922-3647
www.udine4less.com/rondogs



Top Dog, a Rockport favorite, has also seen its share of famous visitors of late. We heard that Adam Sandler and company, filming in various North Shore locations this summer, have stopped in several times for a hot dog fix.

It’s a fun and funky spot out on Bearskin Neck catering to families and tourists with self-serve condiments, free drink refills, and even free Top Dog tattoos for the kids. There is more indoor seating than most of the places we visited and chalk boards to doodle on while you wait.

The dogs are basic, but there are plenty of toppings to choose from. We couldn’t resist the Golden Retriever, a mac-and-cheese dog, just for the fun of it. It was surprisingly good and drew longing gazes from several five-year-olds as we sat eating it outside. The German Shepherd was also worthy; the sauerkraut was fresher and more flavorful than at Rondogs, if a bit skimpy. Top Dog is known for their fried clams as well, but we’re waiting for another visit to try them.

Bearskin Neck is always packed with tourists in the summer, so expect a line around meal times, but it moves at a good pace, and the friendly wait staff is dedicated to service.

Top Dog
2 Doyle’s Cove Road
Bearskin Neck, Rockport
(978) 546-0006
www.topdogrockport.com



Last but far from least, we couldn’t complete this epic journey without a stop at Fred’s Franks. Wakefield doesn’t fall into our usual definition of North Shore (being north but not shore), but so many people had recommended Fred that we felt compelled to pay him a visit, and he did not disappoint.

Fred is located right on the rotary at exit 40 off Rt. 128, with a beautiful view of the lake. Here Fred hangs out with his cart and his big green egg, a fabulous giant charcoal grill. Yes, these were the only dogs we tasted that were grilled to order over a charcoal flame, and they were awesome.

Fred uses Pearl all-beef natural-casing franks in three sizes; regular (1/8 lb.), jumbo (¼ lb), and a ½ lb. monster the likes of which we’d never seen. He also offers kielbasa, chorizo, and linguica and works that grill like a maestro, snapping it open with a custom pully system he devised.

The condiments are self serve, though Fred will happily make suggestions, and he offers a few of his own creations, like habanera mayo and habanera barbeque sauce. Our favorite was the homemade sweet-and-sour chopped cabbage, which added a tangy crunch. Fred doesn’t grill his buns, but they are fresh baked and generous, in various sizes for the different meats. With such incredible dogs, this spot is destined to become a favorite stop on any road trip, long or short, from now on.

Fred’s Franks
Exit 40 off of Route 128, Wakefield
www.fredsfranks.com

Rather than the heartburn we expected from this weekend, we found wonderful people, stories, and an unexpected local passion for this American classic. Not to mention some darn fine franks. One note of caution: several of these vendors close for the winter, and their hours vary greatly, so check out their Web sites or call ahead to avoid disappointment. Now, go eat some hot dogs. And let us know who serves up your favorite!

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Mandrake Does Bar Food Right

Posted: July 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Beverly, Casual/Pub Food, Mandrake | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

We’d been by Mandrake in Beverly many times but had never ventured in. To be honest, we were a bit put off by Mandrake’s curtained windows and dark exterior. Don’t make the mistake we did—Mandrake’s interior is warmly lit and welcoming, the service is outstanding, and the bar food is reasonable and delicious.

Sitting down at the bar last weekend, we were immediately served glasses of water (we love when that happens) and a large paper cone of house-made spicy potato chips and asked if we wanted to see menus. After a long day of yard work, we did.

Between the appetizers and sandwiches, Mandrake has a great selection for those in the mood to snack rather than dine. (There are plenty of entrees we may return for, along with several specials that looked good, all in the $20 to $25 range.)

We almost went for the nachos grande ($11) and later wished we had, as it looked great. We tried the olive/hummus plate ($7) along with a couple of sandwiches. The large portion of hummus had good texture, the olives were plentiful, and the pita was warm and crispy.

The surf and turf sliders—one crabcake, one petit filet—are a good dinner value at $14, served with a mound of crispy sweet potato fries. Both sliders were excellent; the crabcake was tender inside and crispy outside, and the perfectly cooked beef was topped with béarnaise aioli. The generous, crispy Gloucester fish sandwich, also with sweet potato fries, was only $10.

We were well attended by the bar staff all evening, starting with an immediate offer of a taste when we asked about one of the white wines (followed by a full pour of our selection). The sidecar we ordered came with an assurance it would be remade if unacceptable, since it’s not a popular request. Although it wasn’t right (on the rocks rather than straight up), we somehow managed. We were pleased at the price of the 40 cl Stella Artois ordered later: only $3.50.

A couple of final notes. Mandrake offers select menu items for half price every day except Saturday from 5:00 to 7:00. Also, the Web site seems to be under construction, and the menus aren’t available at the moment.

Mandrake Bar Bistro
252 Cabot St, Beverly
(978) 922-0663
www.mandrakebeverly.com

Mandrake Bar Bistro on Urbanspoon

P.S. If you’re walking along Cabot Street after dinner and are tempted by the authentic-looking gelato at Trevi Coffee & Tea, don’t be fooled. For $2.75, we received a small cup of what tasted like ice milk.

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