Tasty Thai at Wakefield’s New Red Sugar Café

Posted: February 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Asian, Red Sugar Cafe, Wakefield | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Although Wakefield is a bit outside our usual stomping ground, last week I had an appointment there and decided to do lunch beforehand. Not sure where to eat, I shook the Twitter Magic Eight Ball to see what would come up. Several people suggested Red Sugar Café, a Thai place that has only been open a few months, and I took the hint.

A friend who works in Lynnfield met me at the small storefront, and we were seated at one of the eight tables and given a steaming mug of tea to warm us as we perused the menu.

All of Red Sugar’s prices are very reasonable, but their lunches are particularly so, accompanied by seaweed soup, an appetizer, and steamed rice.

I chose the chicken mango curry with gyoza as the starter ($8). The small, tender dumplings were savory and excellent, and the ginger dipping sauce was divine. The curry was beautiful, with lots of crisp-tender veggies, including red pepper and broccoli, in addition to the chunks of chicken and tangy mango. The sauce was hot and lush but not overwhelming. It was one of those meals I couldn’t stop eating, even though half of it would have been sufficient; it was just too delicious.

My companion opted for the drunken noodle dish and the Thai crab rangoon appetizer ($9). The rangoons were tasty, and the sweet apple dipping sauce was unusual. The hefty portion of pan-fried wide noodles mixed with chicken veggies and basil leaves was another winner—spicy and satisfying.

It is clear that the lunch menu just scratches the surface of what Red Sugar offers, and a return for dinner is in order to experience the full range of dishes. Given the great prices, exceptional service, and delicious food, Red Sugar should be on everyone’s must-try list.

Red Sugar Café
24 Vernon Street, Wakefield
(781) 587-0348
www.redsugarcafe.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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