Eyes on the Pies at the Agawam Diner

Posted: January 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Agawam Diner, American, Diner, Rowley | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

As regular readers know, we often interact with friends of the Dish on Facebook and Twitter. Just before the holidays, one of our Twitter pals, Liz Polay-Wettengel  (@LizPW) and her husband Dave (@Kromedome), tweeted us in search of the best pie on the North Shore.

Terrific bakeries abound in the area, but most are known for cakes or pastries. Pie is more esoteric, and we are the types that bake our own, so we were stymied. We put the question to the public, and while several suggestions came back via both Facebook and Twitter, the destination most mentioned was the Agawam Diner.

Curiosity piqued, we decided this required an investigatory road trip, and asked Liz and Dave if they’d like to join us. Finally able to synchronize our schedules last week, we made the trip up Route 1.

The Agawam has been a family business since they opened in 1940 and has been in its current building since 1954. It’s a terrific vintage dining car with lots of chrome and vinyl, right up our alley.

The staff was pleasant and welcoming and had no problem with us staking out a couple of booths till the other half of our party arrived. We sipped coffee and perused the menu and were soon joined by Liz and Dave and their adorable and amazingly polite four-year- old son.

We started off with lunch, which was hearty and respectable, but relatively standard diner fare. The coffee was decent, strong enough to stand up to the creamer and good accompaniment for the pie.

Ah, the pie. Where to start? The selection was staggering. At each end of the diner counter was a large glass case full of pies, and we were invited by our waitress to peruse them after she rattled off a seemingly endless list of varieties. What to choose: banana cream, chocolate cream, lemon meringue, cocoanut cream, custard, apple, blueberry, squash, or something else?

The most intriguing was the angel pie, which turned out to be vanilla custard in a dark chocolate cake baked into a pie shell and topped with whipped cream. Yes, you heard it right; pudding in cake in pie. Brilliant concept, and one of our favorites.

We ended up ordering various slices ($3.95 each) and sharing all around, so we got to check out an array of tastes. The cream pies were beautiful but so overloaded with whipped cream that we were full after just a few bites. The banana cream was quite good, edging out the coconut, and the chocolate was surprisingly rich.

The custard pie was eggy and tasty, and the lemon meringue was served warm from the oven. So warm, in fact, that the waitress was upset it had fallen apart on the plate. She shouldn’t have worried because the warm gooey topping was reminiscent of toasted marshmallow and a perfect foil for the lemon. The blueberry pie didn’t let us down either, sweet and tart with a flaky crust.

What you have at the Agawam is a near-perfect diner experience. No, these are not gourmet pies. Some of the crusts are better than others, and I’m sure not every ingredient is made from scratch. But they are tasty and hand-made on site, rotated out to the case piping hot and generously served up on heavy china with a mug of coffee by friendly staff.

And isn’t that what you’re looking for when you pull off the road at a gleaming chrome diner and sit down at that long formica counter?

Thanks to Liz and Dave for inspiring this outing and a reminder to all pie lovers out there; this sunday January 23rd is National Pie Day.

Agawam Diner
Route 1 & 133 Rowley
(978) 948-7780

Agawam Diner on Urbanspoon

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Summer Bounty, Coming Up!

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Beverly, Gloucester, Ipswich, Lynn, Marblehead, Marblehead Farmer's Market, Marketplace, Newburyport, Newburyport Farmer's Market, Peabody, Revere, Rowley, Salem, Salem Farmer's Market | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

Sure, this gorgeous spring has been wonderful for walking and biking, enjoying the flowers, and getting a head start on our tans. But let’s face it: the best thing about the recent weather is the bounty we’ll soon find at the various North Shore farmers markets. To that end, we’ve got a list of the markets, their opening dates, their locations, and their hours, plus links to our FM posts from last year. Enjoy!

Revere Beach, Thursdays 12:00-6:00
Revere Beach by the William G. Reinstein Bandstand
Opening day: July 23

Lynn, Thursdays 11:00-3:00
Union St and Exchange St
Opening day: July 2

Marblehead, Saturdays 9:00-12:00
28 Vine St, behind Veteran’s Middle School
Opening day: June 12
Summer At Last: Marblehead Farmer’s Market

Salem, Thursdays 4:00-7:00
32 Derby Square
Opening day: June 17
Greens Galore at Salem Farmer’s Market

Beverly, Mondays 3:30-6:45
Veteran’s Park, Rantoul St and Railroad Ave
Opening day: June 28

Peabody, Tuesdays 1:00-6:00
Central St and Railroad Ave
Opening day: July 1

Gloucester / Cape Ann, Thursdays 3:00-6:30
Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center
Opening day: June 24

Rowley, Sundays 8:00-1:00
Rowley Town Common, Rte 1A
Opening day: July 11

Saugus / Cliftondale, Tuesdays 10:00 – 3:00
Cliftondale Square off Rte. 1 at Jackson Street
Opening day: July 6

Ipswich, Saturdays 9:00-1:00
Ebsco Parking Lot on Estie’s Street
Opening day: July 10

Topsfield, Saturdays 7:00-12:00
207 Boston St, Topsfield Fairgrounds
Opening day: July 10

Newburyport, Sundays 9:00-1:00
The Tannery Marketplace, 50 Water Street
Opening day: May 2
Eating Our Way Through the Newburyport Farmers Market

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Rowley’s Secret Revealed

Posted: March 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Rowley, Seafood, Steakhouse | Tags: | No Comments »

Editor’s Note 5/1/09

We are sad to report that Sidney and Hampton didn’t make it through the recent economic upheaval and has closed it’s doors. Any outstanding gift certificates will be honored by the Sylvan Street Grill, either at the Peabody or Salibury locations.

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When friends who live in Ipswich suggested we go to dinner in Rowley Saturday night, our first thought was Rowley, huh? What’s there? The answer came back: Sidney and Hampton. We duly Googled the place, and came up with scant mention, aside from their own Web site. Curiouser and curiouser; now we felt compelled to check it out, if simply to clear up all the mystery.

While the name might sound like a law firm, it turns out that Sidney and Hampton is the newest incarnation of the old Eagle House on route 133. Acquired three years ago by Ernie Tremblay, owner of the Sylvan Street Grill restaurants, it has obviously gained a loyal following; both the bar and dining room were packed when we arrived.

Our table wasn’t great (I hate sitting near the door), but we had only made our reservation that morning. Still, the rooms were much more warm and inviting than the slightly antiseptic photos on the Web site led us to expect. The exposed beams, crackling fire, and well-chosen light fixtures created a level of comfort to accompany the food, which leans toward reasonably priced upscale country dining with a few twists.

The mixed drinks looked terrific, nicely sized with a lengthy martini menu, most priced around $10. However, having cocktailed earlier, we ordered a bottle of Pinot Noir from the wine list, which was quite respectable.

The appetizers were all generous portions and arrived in good order. The oysters on the half shell ($13 for ½ doz.) hailed from Virginia this time of year and earned high marks from those who tried them for freshness and taste. The fried calamari ($10) was excellent; light, crispy, and tender. Chef Jameson Donlan, whom we met later in the evening, told us he uses graham cracker crumbs in the coating mixture. The lump crabcakes ($12) were moist and tasty with a tangy chive remoulade.

Last but not least, we tried a house favorite, the popover salad. ($8) Being a fan of any excuse to incorporate baked goods into the meal, the idea of mixed greens, fresh mozzarella, plum tomatoes, sliced apples, and balsamic vinaigrette served in a fresh baked popover sounded intriguing to say the least. Both the salad and the popover tasted pleasant, but somehow the combination wasn’t spectacular. Perhaps it’s our preconceived notion that popovers should be served piping hot and slathered with butter, which we couldn’t quite shake.

With all of the appetizers, you’d think we’d have been sated by the time the entrees arrived, but we soldiered on. Our waitress, when asked about the baked seafood risotto ($28) said, “What’s nice is that it’s not an archeological dig to find the seafood,” and upon its arrival, we noted that she was spot on. The risotto was creamy with great texture, and the chunks of flavorful shrimp, scallops, and Maine lobster meat were large and abundant.

The salmon picatta ($24), fresh Atlantic salmon with capers, artichoke hearts, and a lemon white wine butter sauce, was a bit ho-hum, probably the least interesting entrée of the evening.

Both the New York sirloin and the frenched New Zealand rack of lamb were trimmed in-house and grilled to order, served with house potato and vegetable. Each cut of meat was tender and juicy, ensuring no need for a doggie bag. The sautéed green beans were of note, tasty and bright with a bit of crunch, and the garlic mashed was lovely as well.

By this point, we had been sussed out as food bloggers, (must learn to be more discrete!) and our waitress very kindly brought out Head Chef Jameson Donlan to say hello. An attractive young man with an obvious enthusiasm for his job, Donlan is relatively new to the position and refreshingly without attitude or ego. He had an honest interest in what we thought of his food, and after shaking hands and chatting a bit, he retreated to the kitchen.

After that, we couldn’t leave without at least tasting a few desserts we had seen displayed at other tables, along with espresso. The ubiquitous crème brulee and chocolate flan were fine; the standout was a special that evening, a Guinness cake with Bailey’s icing. The cake, created by Chef Donlan, was rich, dense, and tasty and well complemented by the icing, which had just the right amount of sweetness.

It’s obvious that the solid country steakhouse menu and reasonable prices will have locals returning on a regular basis, but it will be interesting to see, as Chef Donlan evolves, if his youthful creativity can blossom and turn Sydney and Hampton into a destination restaurant.

Sidney and Hampton has a pre-fixe menu, a first seating menu, and two function rooms available in the fully-restored New England barn, built in 1880.

Sidney and Hampton
87 Haverill St. (Rt.133), Rowley
(978) 948-6666
www.sidneyandhampton.com

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