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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Savoring the Tastes of Vietnam

Posted: August 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Asian, Peabody, Sugar Cane | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments »

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As huge fans of Asian cuisine, we’d been meaning to get to Sugar Cane, near Peabody Square, for quite a while. We’re now kicking ourselves for having waited so long.

Aside from one dish we didn’t love, everything we put in our mouths on recent visit was superb, starting with the drinks. We tried a sake-tini, a mai tai, and the zombie. All were delicious, and the mai tai stood out as better tasting than others we’ve had at other Asian restaurants.

While sipping, we studied the menu, which includes both Chinese and Vietnamese dishes for each category, side by side. Since Vietnamese is hard to come by north of Boston, we agreed to order from that side, with the exception of the house pan-fried dumplings ($6), which came with ginger soy and were crispy and light—some of the best we’ve had (and we’ve had a lot).

The small bowl of beef pho ($4) was fine but seemed bland. When we added the hoisin and hot sauces it came with, though, the flavor came alive. We also enjoyed the banh xeo crepe ($8), a large, crisp omelet with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and mung bean. It’s a must-have. The nem cuon summer roll with grilled pork ($6) was billed as a Vietnamese specialty, so we gave it a spin but didn’t like the texture of the meat. More likely our American palates than a miss from the kitchen.

All the entrees we ordered were dishes we would have again, starting with the chicken with lemongrass ($10). Wonderful savory flavor with tender meat and crisp-tender vegetables. The kho salmon with baby bok choy ($13) featured two large fillets, perfectly cooked and topped with a delicious spiced caramel sauce.

The mango shrimp were firm and good sized, with plenty of mango, peppers, and onions to accompany them ($13). Our last entrée was angel hair Singapore style with curry sauce, chicken, shrimp, pork, peppers, and onions ($8), which was spicy but not overly so and really hit the spot. Next time, we may try the tempting option of creating our own stir fry with many options for meat, vegetables, and sauces.

The service was extremely attentive and friendly, with our waiter calling over the manager when he couldn’t understand one of our questions about the drink menu. For those of you who’ve been curious about Vietnamese cuisine, Sugar Cane is a sure bet—and you can go with someone not as adventurous thanks to the Chinese dishes on offer.

Sugar Cane
106 Main St, Peabody
(978) 532-7800
www.sugarcanepeabody.com

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The Grill Most Likely to Succeed

Posted: April 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Butcher, Marketplace, New England Meat Market, Peabody | Tags: , , | No Comments »

It’s that time of year again, when the smell of searing burgers begins to waft through your weekend and Home Depot starts advertising their line of gleaming Webers. With our seemingly endless winters, the beginning of the grilling season is as much a beloved sign of spring to many New Englanders as Red Sox opening day.

For those carnivorous grill masters among us who obsess over creating the perfect burger or the serving the tastiest ribs, the first stop this spring should be The New England Meat Market on Walnut St. in Peabody. This third generation family-owned business, which also has a location on Broadway in Cambridge, is the place to go for fresh beautiful steaks, chops, ribs, and roasts as well as a huge range of house-made marinated steak tips, chicken and lamb kabobs. We recently brought home some of the marinated steak tips ($6.99/lb.), which were phenomenal.

The meat counter is reminiscent of an old-fashioned butcher shop, where the cuts are chosen with care, trimmed to order and wrapped in white butcher paper while you wait. Special orders are encouraged and may be called in ahead of pick up. There are also refrigerator and freezer cases with specialty cuts and imported items. New England Meat Market specializes in American lamb, and their lamb prices are generally a few dollars less than supermarket prices.

In fact, despite the great quality and service, most of their prices remain competitive with supermarket prices and their weekly specials are worth keeping an eye on. This week’s featured lean hamburg at $1.99/ lb. and boneless pork roast at $2.89/ lb.The specials flyer is conveniently available on their website, as are their super saver deals; if you’re planning to feed a crowd or just want to stock your freezer, these packaged deals can save you up to 20%.

The market also carries a fascinating array of foods; they have a wide range of Greek and Mediterranean specialty items, a decent produce section, breads and baked goods from several local bakeries, beer, wine, and standard convenience items as well. In addition there is an extensive deli, which offers sandwiches, sliced meats, and quite a few salads. The prepared foods section is another wonderland: entrees, soups, meatballs, desserts. A new discovery there became an instant favorite—house-made Greek Lemon Chicken Soup; the creamy broth was unexpected, both tangy and savory, with rice and chunks of chicken.

They open at 8 a.m. seven days a week, so if you are planning a backyard cookout or just looking for an excuse to fire up the grill this weekend, a visit to New England Meat Market should definitely be on your to-do list.

New England Meat Market
60 Walnut St., Peabody
(978) 531-0846
http://nemeat.com/

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Breakfast With a Side of Cheer

Posted: April 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Breakfast, Diner, Little Depot Diner, Peabody | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Stepping into a vintage dining car often gives you the feeling of stepping back in time, but that isn’t quite what happens when you enter the Little Depot Diner. It’s more like you’ve stepped into some bright and happy idealized version of the past, and you’re glad you’ve stumbled upon it.

Built in 1929 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, this diner car was moved to its current location in 1950 where it has had a succession of owners, most recently Jim and Judy Miles who re-opened the diner just over a year ago.

A tiny place with no booths and just fourteen stools, waiting for a seat on the weekend looks highly probable. The interior is a warm yellow with the ceiling painted sky blue and accented with clouds. Just below the ceiling is a model train track that runs the length of the car. The black and white tiled floor, reproduction tin signs advertising Moxie, and a small shelf with courtesy books for those wishing to linger over their coffee complete the atmosphere. The background music, hit tunes from the 1930s and ’40s was perfect. (I wasn’t the only one humming along to Judy Garland singing “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart;” the cop on the stool next to me was, too.)

The owner and her sister Terry, wearing vintage-styled waitress dresses, greeted me with smiles and an immediate offer of coffee. When I mentioned this was my first visit, Terry gave me a “train ride” by blowing the whistle and making the little train run the length of its track. This honor is generally reserved for those ordering the All Aboard breakfast, which consists of two eggs, two bacon, two sausage, two pancakes, and homefries or baked beans. ($9)

The menu is small and straightforward, with all the usual diner fare, though I was sad to see they don’t offer waffles, one of my personal favorites. The counter was almost full with locals and regulars chatting, and every meal I saw go by looked generous and tasty. I decided on the little stack of pancakes (2 for $3.75) with a side of homefries ($1.50) and bacon ($2.50) The homefries were a bit bland, but the the bacon was terrific, crisp and plentiful, and the pancakes were large and dense. I opted to try the Special Butter, which turned out to be a brilliant decision. The maple caramel cinnamon butter, whipped together on site, was absolutely delicious on the pancakes.

The coffee is quite respectable, rich and fresh ground, and for those on the run, diner features The Honest Cup of Coffee, a self-serve station for take-out coffee at the bargain price of $1. (They are a cash only business, but there’s an ATM just around the corner.) If you want your breakfast to go as well, take out is available.

On weekdays, the diner serves both breakfast and lunch, open 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. On the weekend, they serve breakfast only and close at 12 p.m.  The lunch specials sounded great, and there’s no doubt you’re in Massachusetts because one of the sandwiches offered is the infamous Fluffernutter.

The Little Depot Diner is a place that just plain makes you feel good. Even without the siren call of that luscious Special Butter luring me back, I’d still return and bring my friends. Welcoming and comfortable with tasty food at good prices, this car is on the right track.

The Little Depot Diner
1 Railroad Avenue, Peabody Square
978-977-7775
http://www.thelittledepotdiner.com

Little Depot Diner on Urbanspoon

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Wrap it Up

Posted: November 23rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Asian, P.F. Chang's, Peabody | Tags: , | No Comments »

Sure, it’s a chain, but we felt compelled to check out the PF Chang’s that just opened at the North Shore Mall. Asian food with a twist is one of our all-time favorites, and Chang’s did not disappoint.

The decor is inviting and comfortable, modern with a nod toward Chinese cultural roots. We found the lighting on the dark side at lunch, however. The menu is well organized and interesting, with old favorites like Peking Dumplings, new items like Chang’s Wedge salad, and desserts that go beyond pineapple chunks to include banana spring rolls and adorable $2 mini desserts in tall shot glasses.

Overall, the food was delicious, obviously made with fresh ingredients by chefs that put an emphasis on flavor. We enjoyed the dumplings and won ton appetizers but went crazy over the chicken lettuce wraps. The filling is chopped chicken and water chestnuts in an excellent sauce that we scooped feverishly into lettuce leaves.

For entrees, we sampled the wok seared lamb, mu shu chicken, and fried rice. The lamb was tender and flavorful, and the fried rice had a wonderful ginger flavor. The mu shu was outstanding–far from the shredded cabbage version we’re used to. This had large chunks of lightly battered chicken and mushrooms, along with a nice selection of crisp-tender vegetables.

On the downside, the prices are fairly high for lunch (the mu shu was $11.50 and the lamb was $14), and the service, although friendly, suffered from severe green-ness. True, we were there with a big group for an office outing, but since the server had not marked which person ordered which dish (and didn’t recognize some of the dishes by sight), getting the food on the table was more comedy act than elegant ballet.

If you’re an Asian food lover and prefer light flavors to heavy sauces, we recommend giving Chang’s a try. Go for dinner, sit in one of the cozy-looking booths along the back wall, and order hot tea–it comes in a beautiful cast iron pot to cheer you and warm your hands on a frigid winter night.

P.F. Chang’s
Northshore Mall
210 Andover St. Peabody
(978) 326-2410
http://www.pfchangs.com/

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