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

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Time to Eat the Doughnuts

Posted: March 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bakery, Salem, Ziggy & Sons Donuts | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

We had some business to attend to in Salem this morning, so decided on a whim to pop into Ziggy’s Donuts on the corner of Essex and Webb Streets for a mid-morning treat.

Ziggy’s, which has been owned and operated by the same family since 1964, is a tiny storefront that’s almost lost on the residential street, giving you the feeling you are walking into someone’s home. A cramped space with regulars chatting at the counter, along with bunches of photos and articles stuck to the fridge, compound that feeling—but don’t let it scare you off.

We visited later in the morning, (they open at 6:30) so selection wasn’t huge, but inviting nonetheless. One of our choices was an all-time favorite, the traditional jelly stick. Wow. This is what a doughnut should be: that almost-crisp crunch on the outside and light moist cake on the inside. It was incredibly fresh tasting and delightful. Not at all like those leaden things served up by chain bakeries that you can feel sitting in your stomach all day.

We also tried the coconut, which was excellent, and the coffee roll, which was surprisingly light and not overwhelmed by the glaze. Everything we tasted had a great balance of flavor—none of that fryer-oil aftertaste and just the right amount of sweetness.

So next time you’re up early looking for sinkers to accompany your joe and morning paper, stop in to Ziggy’s and try their hand-made wonders. We’ll be right behind you in line.

Ziggy’s Donuts
2 Essex Street, Salem
(978) 744-9605

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Craving Coffee and Carbs

Posted: March 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Breakfast, Diner, Red's Sandwich Shop, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

A small dog who shall remain nameless woke us up quite early this morning, so Lunch Guy and I made the best of the situation by heading over to Red’s for breakfast. For those not familiar, Red’s is an old-style family restaurant with great food at terrific prices. It’s located on a small side street in Salem, but there’s plenty of parking nearby. Especially at 7:30 in the morning.

Feeling the need for carbs, I ordered blueberry pancakes. The waitress asked if I wanted one, two, or three pancakes, saying they were large. She wasn’t kidding. I ordered two ($5), but since they are as big as a platter, one would have been sufficient. The blueberries were small and tender, and the pancake was fluffy.

Lunch Guy was very pleased with his western omelette ($6), which came with a generous portion of delicious home fries and toast. He enjoyed his side of sausages ($2.50), although they were a bit mild for his taste. The bottomless cup of coffee ($1.75) was topped off so frequently he never came close to reaching the bottom.

That kind of service holds true for lunch, according to Lunch Guy. In fact, the American Chop Suey at Red’s ($6.50) is one of his favorite lunches. Hot, delicious, and served quickly, the portion is so large he often can’t finish it. And there are plenty of other choices on the large and varied lunch menu, all at extremely reasonable prices.

Red’s Sandwich Shop
15 Central Street, Salem
(978) 745-352

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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


New King on the Block

Posted: November 21st, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: A & J King Artisan Bakers, Bakery, Salem | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Up early on a recent Sunday, we decided to forgo the usual healthy breakfast and indulge ourselves. The place to do it? A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem turned out to be an excellent choice. This bakery and cafe is warm and inviting with large bright windows, hammered copper tables, and of course, mountains of crusty loaves and glass cases full of tasty treats. There is a chalk board announcing the seasonal specials (Pumpkin Spice Brown Butter Cakes! Potato Gruyere Flatbread!) and which locally produced ingredients they are currently using. We decided to have coffee and pastry there and then take a few things home to try later.

While the coffee was quite respectable, rich and dark but not bitter, the prices aren’t much of a savings over Starbucks ($2.70 for a Tall Latte, $3.26 for a Grande). My companion chose the pain au chocolate; I could not resist the siren song of the sticky buns. The chocolate croissant ($1.95) was lovely; well made with high quality chocolate, though it paled in comparison with the incredible sticky bun, a much more substantial pastry ($2.10). I am not exaggerating when I say that sticky bun was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. It wasn’t sodden and sugary as so many tend to be, but the perfect combination of flakey buttery layers, pulled away to reveal the wonderful caramelized cinnamon sugar that complemented the pastry but didn’t overwhelm it. While I prefer the female of the species (no nuts), A&J offers both varieties and even if you have to drive out of your way, the sticky buns are worth the trip.

Later in the day, we sampled the baguette ($2.65) we had taken home, and it was terrific; crusty on the outside and yeasty, slightly chewy on the inside. I’d say Iggy’s (my regional favorite) has a real competitor on it’s hands. Needless to say, the loaf was demolished in short order. The final A&J treat sampled was the chocolate bouchon ($2.25), a mini dark chocolate tower-shaped cake. A perfect balance of flavors and texture; dark chocolate with a hint of almond, rich and satisfying without being heavy or cloying.

Using the term artisan to describe Andy and Jackie King’s bakery isn’t just hip marketing. They have truly mastered an art; balancing sweet and savory with taste and texture to create incomparable baked goods.

A&J King Artisan Bakers
48 Central Street, Salem
(978) 744-4881