Newburyport: Home of the Whoopie

Posted: May 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Cafe, Chococoa Baking Company, Newburyport, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Alan Greenspan seems an unlikely person to provide impetus for a small bakery in Newburyport, but a couple of years ago, Alan Mons and Julie Ganong wanted to leave their jobs in financial services and took to heart Greenspan’s advice on improving an existing product.

Mons and Ganong thought long and hard and decided the whoopie pie could use an update. They had fond memories of baking these treats with their grandmothers (Ganong is originally from Maine) and wanted to give this New England favorite a makeover.

Today, the two are churning out between 2,000 and 3,000 mini-cakes a week from their Newburyport location. The cakes contain three types of chocolate, giving them a rich, unique flavor. In between is a layer of decadent buttercream in flavors like vanilla, espresso, and raspberry. The antithesis of junk food, these treats contain no preservatives, are made with natural and organic ingredients, and contain local products like free range eggs from Newbury.

We stopped into the Chococoa bakery over the weekend and found not only the delicious, sinfully decadent whoopie pies, but muffins, scones, cookies, brownies, savory croissants, and quiche, as well as Atomic Café coffee. Ganong told us everything other than the whoopies are supplied by local bakers who have been certified for safe food practices and work with Chococoa on a co-op basis.

At the bakery and in various locations in Boston, Southern New Hampshire, and the North Shore (including Cassis, Green Meadows Farm, and Cider Hill), the whoopies sell for $1.68 each or three for $4.98. In about a month, anyone in the US will be able to order from the company’s Web site (they ship frozen and arrive in two days).

Lately, the company has been seeing increased requests for a unique use for their whoopie pies: birthday and wedding cakes. Says Ganong of this and other twists her life path has taken recently: “It’s been a journey. It’s been fun.”

Chococoa Baking Company
38 Washington St, Newburyport
(978) 499-8889
www.chococoabaking.com

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Coven Promises Fine Foods and Funky Fun in Downtown Salem

Posted: May 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Cafe, Coven, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

What would happen if your playful, sugary-cereal-and-Saturday-morning-cartoon-loving childhood self collided head on with your older, fine-food-loving self? You’d wake up at Coven.

I stopped in yesterday to chat with Jen Vourlos, who created this brainchild along with partner Rob Trezza and is busy training staff and setting up, with plans to have a soft opening tomorrow morning. Not all of the foods and services will be available immediately, said Vourlos, but everything should be in order by the grand opening at the end of the month.

What exactly is Coven–bakery, café, artisanal market? Take all of the above, add vintage toys, games, and a dash of retro rockabilly décor, and you’ve got the idea. This storefront on Essex Street in Salem is a little bit of everything and unlike anything else.

Whether you are looking for gourmet foods, local artisanal cheeses, and fresh produce; indulgent and whimsical baked goods; or a casual place to eat, drink and hang with friends, Coven has got you covered.

Recent transplants from NYC where they owned a small dessert shop, Jen and Rob moved to Salem to be closer to family and create their vision of making “a change to the everyday cafe experience by providing a place where people can unwind while enjoying unprocessed and freshly prepared foods and whimsical desserts.” The treats will range from cakes, bars, and tarts to things like Nutella cannoli and all-natural, homemade versions of Twinkies and Poptarts.

Your inner child will delight in the cereal bar, where you can pour yourself a bowl of anything from Special K to Count Chocula, and the top-your-own-cupcakes with retro favorites like pop rocks. Your date-night self will appreciate a quiet corner to have a glass of wine with a cheese plate and play a favorite board game. Vourlos said she even plans to offer wine and beer dessert pairings. (They have acquired a seasonal beer and wine license and hope to eventually have it year-round.) The gourmet in you will love having a place to buy Richardson’s dairy products, cage free eggs, Voges curry coconut ice cream, or locally made cheese.

Coven will be open from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm, serving baked goods, daily specials, sandwiches, salads, deli items, and prepared foods. Everything is available to take out or eat in, and you may find yourself staying just to check out the vintage Smurf collection. Me? I’m looking forward to trying out some to those homemade Twinkies.

Coven
281 Essex Street, Salem
(978) 741-0500
http://www.facebook.com/CovenSalem
(final website is under construction)

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Serious Sandwiches in Ipswich

Posted: April 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Cafe, Ipswich, Stone Soup Café | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

We had heard good things about Stone Soup Café in Ipswich, so when we found ourselves in the area and in need of nourishment last week, we stopped in. Good thing we were hungry—this place serves up a serious lunch.

The menu is large and includes salads, burgers, dogs, roll ups, specialty sandwiches like grilled cheese and avocado, fried chicken and fish, plus pizzas with gourmet toppings and a selection of house-made soups.

Breakfast items for lunch are a favorite of ours, so we were thrilled to see not only pancakes ($4 for one, $6 for two—and they’re huge) and eggs benedict ($8), but a monster egg sandwich ($7). It lived up to its name: after a cup of excellent spicy lentil soup with sausage ($3), we had to take half of this delicious grilled sandwich home. It featured fried eggs, hash browns, bacon, cheese and sautéed onions.

We also sampled a cup of clam chowder (creamy and full flavored, $3.50) and a reuben filled with pastrami and sauerkraut on grilled bread with melted cheese ($8). And yes, we took half of that home as well.

The service was attentive and friendly, even going so far as to bring us a sample of the lentil soup so we could judge the spice level. The décor is less pleasing; it looks like not much has been done since the restaurant moved from its downtown Ipswich location last spring into what had been Marco Polo, an Italian restaurant.

Stone Soup serves breakfast and lunch every day as well as dinner Thursday to Sunday, with entrees ranging from $9 to $17. A full bar is available for lunch and dinner, including beer from Wachusett Brewing Company in Westminster.

Stone Soup Café
141 High St, Ipswich
(978) 356-4222

Stone Soup Cafe on Urbanspoon

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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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A Taste of Bliss

Posted: January 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bakery, Beverly, Bliss Gourmet Takeout, Cafe, Deli, Marketplace | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

Earlier this week, we happened to be driving though Beverly Farms around lunchtime and decided to stop in to check out Bliss Gourmet Takeout on a whim.

The small storefront was warm, welcoming, and filled with enchanting aromas. There were gorgeous looking baked goods, a deli case with a variety of all-natural prepared foods made that day, a blackboard with sandwich specials, and a refrigerated case with specialty items, many locally produced. Coffees, soups, and salads round out the store’s repertoire.

The sandwiches, which run about $7 are made with Iggy’s bread and sounded enticing, with choices like caprese with prociutto or pork tenderloin with rosemary aoli on ficelle. Knowing we were going to splurge on treats, we went with a piece of the savory bread pudding. It was wonderfully moist and eggy, with browned crispy bits, mushrooms, and a hint of sage.

The baked goods we tried were even tastier. The chocolate cupcake ($1.75) was lush, with rich ganache frosting that wasn’t overly sweet, and the coffee macaroon (the almond meringue variety) half dipped in chocolate was excellent, with the mocha flavor adding depth and the dark chocolate luxurious.

While the prices are not certainly not low, the quality and freshness of the foods and the obvious care with which they are prepared make us wish Bliss was our neighborhood take-out place.

Bliss
36 West Street, Beverly Farms
(978) 922-6612
blisstakeout.com

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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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Get in Line for Wrapture

Posted: August 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Beverly, Cafe, Wrapture | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Foodies know that ingredients are as important as technique—whether it’s an expensive dinner entrée or a sandwich. So it’s no surprise that there’s always a lunch-time line at Beverly’s Wrapture, where the ingredients are fresh and top quality.

On a recent sunny day, we snagged one of the café’s outdoor tables to enjoy some of the bounty. We ordered all wraps on this trip but noted several interesting bowls on offer, including asian, curry, and pad thai (all $7.50 without meat). There’s also a homemade soup that changes daily.

We’re big fans of the burrito with black beans, sour cream, salsa, jack cheese, and rice ($5.25). With the steak and guacamole we added, it was $7.50. The steak had great flavor, the combination was wonderful, and the wrap was big enough for two lunches.

The junior member of our party ordered one of the day’s specials, the turkey club wrap, featuring cheese and crispy bacon. Another satisfied customer.

We also tried the crabcake wrap, which was flavored with chipotle mayo and combined with onion, red pepper, corn, black bean, and romaine ($8.25). The crabcake was warm and tasted great, but we weren’t crazy about the corn/bean addition. The portabella mushroom with goat cheese, baby spinach, red peppers, onions, and roasted garlic puree ($7.25) was a success and a must-try for garlic lovers.

On our way out, we admired two more wraps and were assured they tasted as good as they looked: the middle eastern with falafel and the gyro with tzatziki. We were told they were best on spinach wraps (other choices include plain, wheat, and sundried tomato).

Wrapture, run by the folks who own nearby Soma, is certainly not the most cost-conscious choice for lunch, but if you don’t mind paying a dollar or two more for cooked-to-order, quality ingredients, it’s well worth braving the lunch line.

Wrapture
284 Cabot St, Beverly
www.wrapturebeverly.com
(978) 524-7710

Wrapture on Urbanspoon

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The Gulu-Gulu: Not Your Average Café

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gulu Gulu Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Summer Lovin’: Outdoor Dining Season Begins

Posted: May 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Cafe, Casual/Pub Food, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

outdoor

The weather may not be cooperating just yet, but we’ve pulled out our tank tops and beach cover-ups and officially declared the start of the no-socks season.

To that end, we’ve got a round-up of the best al fresco dining we’ve found on the North Shore, followed by a list of several more we’re hoping to get to before Labor Day.

We’ve just begun compiling this list, so feel free to vote for your favorites from below or add any we might have overlooked. Please note that we’ve purposely left out clam shacks and beach-food places like Lime Rickey’s in Marblehead (we’ll have more coverage of lobster rolls, fried clams, and ice cream as the temperature rises) and a few places that have outdoor seating but may not meet our criteria for good food.

The Barnacle, Marblehead
It’s lunchtime on a sunny day, you’re sipping a bloody mary on the deck of the Barnacle and waiting for your fried clams—you’ve officially hit the seaside dining jackpot. The food at this unassuming pub is good, not great (stick with the chowder, the fried seafood, and the bloodys), but you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer view than Marblehead harbor in the summer, and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed.

Jack-Tar, Marblehead
The patio outside one of our favorite pubs is small but charming, and the food is both comforting and reasonably priced. We’re fond of the generous drinks, the $3 to $5 tapas, and the pizza with pancetta and blue cheese (a selection of pizzas is $5 from 5:00 to 7:00 every night).

The Landing at 7 Central, Manchester
The pubby front rooms at the Landing are great for cozying up in cold weather, but make your way all the way to the back, and you’ll be seated on the comfortable second-story porch. The menu is large and varied, featuring everything from burgers and caesar salad with salmon or steak tips to pepper encrusted duck. We recommend the lobster omelet for brunch.

The Landing, Marblehead
This Marblehead institution is right in the thick of the summer action at the town landing on Front Street. Sitting out on the deck overlooking the harbor you’re likely to see anything from lobster boats unloading their catch to campers returning on the ferry from Children’s Island. As you’d expect the menu offers many summer seafood favorites; ours are the lobster roll and the baked scrod.

Rockafellas, Salem
The place to see and be seen in Salem in the summer, Rockafellas’ entrees are reasonable (honey glazed salmon is $16, bourbon turkey tips are $15), and there are plenty of tapas for those just needing a little something with their cocktails, including quesadillas and catfish fingers. If the wait at Rockafellas is long, there are several options for outdoor dining nearby, including Gulu Gulu Café, Fresh Taste of Asia (best dumplings on the North Shore), and the Lobster Shanty.

The Farm, Essex
Whether you are heading back from the beach hungry or just looking to savor a cold brew on a summer night, a brand new patio with live music and weekly specials like their 35-cent wing night make this new addition to the Essex restaurant scene fun central.

Grapevine, Salem
Sumptuous food is the attraction at this Italian gem, starting with tuna carpaccio over crispy flatbread and proceeding to rigatoni with braised veal or perhaps oven roasted swordfish with lemon-caper sauce. With only eight tables in the outside garden, the atmosphere is romantic and the service is top-notch.

Can’t Wait to Try:

The Lobster Pool, Rockport
This seems to the favorite among foodies for casual outside dining in Rockport. The straightforward menu of seafood (and homemade pie) implies a no-fuss-no-muss attitude, and we’re looking forward to trying the lobster roll this summer.

My Place By the Sea, Rockport
We’ve been hearing good things about the food at this upscale restaurant for years. From the pictures we’ve seen of the outside deck, this is the place to be on a summer night with your sweetheart.

Madfish Grille, Gloucester
Rocky Neck is one of those places that always makes us feel happy, and the Madfish Grille looks like just what we’re in the mood for when eating outside in the summer. Margarita shrimp, crab BLT, panzanella salad, grilled lamb, scampi pizza—need we say more? (Ed. Our review 9/3/09)

Plum Island Grille, Newbury
Creative cuisine and a fabulous sunset: sign us up. This island retreat is at the top of our list to try—if anyone has been recently, please leave your menu recommendations in the comments. (Ed. Our review 11/13/09)

Michael’s Harborside, Newburyport
The Newburyport waterfront is always hopping in the summer, and Michael’s is right in the thick of things. The menu says their lobster roll is famous, we hear good things about their burgers, and the balsamic brown sugar short ribs sound intriguing.

Danversport Grille and Bistro, Danvers
Quite a few North Shore residents have pointed us toward this restaurant, part of the Danversport Yacht Club but open to the public. The menu tends to classic dishes like chicken oscar and prime rib, and the view overlooking the inlet’s docked boats looks spectacular.

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Immovable Feast

Posted: November 25th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Bakery, Cafe, Foodie's Feast, Marblehead | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Tucked into a relatively small space in old town, Foodie’s Feast has a terrific storefront in a gorgeous antique building, with a casual café atmosphere inside featuring inviting cases of bakery items and a changing exhibit of local artists displayed on the walls.

This summer, a friend was staying in Marblehead and we met her there for breakfast. (Our only prior experience with Foodie’s had been a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie on a cold day, and both had really hit the spot.) There are scant few places in this neighborhood to stop in for breakfast or a light lunch, and while the Muffin Shop down the street is something of a local institution, Foodie’s offers quite a bit more.  Prepared foods, baked goods, (mostly their own, but they are also a welcome supplier of Iggy’s bagels) breakfast offerings, soups and sandwiches fill the menu. We ended up ordering coffee and the breakfast sandwich with bacon, egg and cheese on an English muffin. ($4.00) Freshly made and appetizing, it rates well above the standard Egg McMuffin.

Back in old town Marblehead this weekend for a bit of early holiday shopping, stopping in at Foodie’s to refuel was a no-brainer. We sat near the window in the sun, which was very pleasant, and had a great view of the comings and goings on Washington Street. Our food arrived in short order and the hot apple cider was just the thing to ward off the chill of the day. The sandwiches are on the pricey side ($6.85) and come with a pickle and choice of deli side. The one we sampled, grilled panini with mozzarella, tomato, and pesto, was a bit disappointing. The soup of the day, Veggie Chowder ($4.25), was excellent; really quite delicious and would make a great non-traditional first course to your Thanksgiving meal. The baked goods we ended our meal with were tasty but unspectacular, leaving us wondering whether we should have chosen the scones for which they are renowned.  We’ll have to try them next time– skip the sandwiches and go straight for the goodies. That’s what we all want to do anyway, right?

Foodie’s Feast
114 Washington Street, Marblehead
781-639-1104
http://www.foodiesfeast.com/

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