Amber Road Café's breakfast is worth getting up for. Lunch warrants standing on line. Dinner? Amber's not open for dinner. Bummer. We find ourselves here for lunch and the only reason there's no line and we're seated is because we're late. Not far too late and not a moment too soon.
What to have? For openers, omelets, pancakes, waffles, crepes, oatmeal, French toast, eggs Benedict, yogurt, fruit, lox and bagel and blintzes! I'm not sure this is kosher but it is unexpected. Around noon, ease into salads with grilled vegetables; eggplant and feta; lobster and bacon; beets and goat cheese. Sandwiches: tuna melt, New England with turkey and stuffing; grilled cheese, avocado and bacon. Wraps take in vegetables, shrimp ceviche, chicken Caesar, chicken and cranberry. Best kitchen thrill since my Mexicans gave me the Ninja® last year, panini: chicken, eggplant, Cuban, Brie with chutney; and California with chicken, bacon, avocado, cheddar and chili sauce. Take note.
Today's adventure begins as I leave Boston over the Tobin Bridge to Route 1 North to Middleton. I go by giant box stores and chain restaurants I've only read about. Although people drive fast in the city, outside the city they're worse. When you slow down to pull off, you're lucky they don't take you out although sometimes they do. People love shopping here, I can tell, and it's enchanting because parking is free and there's so much of it.
It's hard not to notice that the word "eatery" is big along Route 1 and we're not being snippy. As I pull in to Maggie's Farm parking lot, I see the Sol Bean Café next door and yes, here's another sign that says not just eatery, but 'healthy eatery.' Anyway, I've arrived much too early. Sadly, there's no bookstore, no market, no place to window shop, so I drive back a couple of miles to Home Depot. I manage not to buy anything. The parking is intoxicating.
Maggie's Farm: Bob Dylan wrote a song by this name in 1965. While I like '60s tunes too, the surfing ones like 26 Miles and Surfer Girl, the lyrics to Maggie's Farm describe a sad worker scrubbing floors, underpaid and fined. I'm sure Maggie's owner Mark McDonough knows something I don't. Anyway, I thought it might be farm-ish if not an actual farm but it's not, although their logo has a sheep wearing sunglasses. On their site it says they purchased "a classic 1953 International Harvester tractor to become the icon of the restaurant" but I didn't see it. What is certain, however, is that I'm very, very near a farm.
The road to John Andrews Restaurant twists and turns through woods and farmlands. We arrived at dusk while there was enough light to sit outside on the wooden deck that backed up against a grassy hill.
What looks like the decayed remnant of a hundred year old shed leans perilously to one side. Inside, the restaurant has the cozy feeling of an English road house. The floor to ceiling windows in the dining room open out onto the deck and hill in back.
Visitors come to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts to escape the heat and congestion of the city. Offering opportunities to relax and catch up on your reading, a string of small towns with B&Bs cuts through the expanses of woods and farmlands.
With music at Tanglewood and dance at Jacob's Pillow, historical sites like Edith Wharton's home, the Mount, the Berkshire Botanical Garden and innovative exhibits at MASS MoCa in North Adams, there's plenty to keep you occupied.
Restaurants aren’t supposed to be real. Real you can get at home. Restaurants are for fantasy of one kind or another. A shot-and-beer bar with sawdust on the floor can fulfill a fantasy or bolster an ego as well as an elegant French dinner with all the trimmings. It just depends on who you want to pretend to be at the moment.
All this comes to mind because Jill and I went to a restaurant that belies everything I just said. There’s not a drop of fantasy in the package. It’s simply what it is and it does what it does and it’s been doing it at the same location for thirty-six years.
Bloodroot is a self described vegan/vegetarian/feminist restaurant that was created all those years ago by Selma Miriam and Noel Furie. Selma runs the kitchen and Noel holds down the front of the house. They’ve perfected their act and they do it exactly the way they want to do it. Your fantasies are not the issue.
When you walk in, Noel instructs you to look at the menu listed on the wall. You tell her your choices and pay up front.
“They’ll call out your name when your food is ready and then you get yourself a tray and carry it to your table.”
If you've come to the area to enjoy great food, there's more to Rhode Island than just Providence. Hop in your car and head south. Everywhere you go, you'll be rewarded with wonderful meals in beautiful settings. During the summer, stopping at a clam shack when you're at the beach is a guilty pleasure not to be denied. In the coastal towns ringing Narragansett Bay and Block Island Sound, you'll find plenty of opportunities to eat yourself silly.
If you're in Newport, try Flo's Clam Shack across the street from First Beach (4 WaveAvenue, Middletown, 401/847-8141) or better yet head up to Bristol a few miles north and stop at Quito's Seafood Restaurant (411 Thames Street, Bristol, 401/253-4500) where chef Frank Formisano and his mom, Joann, serve up clam strips, fish and chips, fried calamari, lobster rolls, fluffy and light clam cakes, sandwiches with fried fish, clams, shrimp, crab, or scallops, fried oysters, raw clams and oysters, baked clams, casseroles with fish, shrimp, lobster or scallops, French fries, hot dogs, hamburgers, Cole slaw, and clam chowder--red, white, and, because this is Rhode Island, clear as well.
On our recent summer "vacation" to the East Coast, we had one day to ourselves. Blissfully alone, with only each other to have to worry about and please. Instead of the unending stream of family that we were happy to see, but the all-at-once, all-or-nothing nature of the company had left us a bit weary. There was only time for one dinner out. One dinner that didn't revolve around a porch and a grill and the constraints of many others picky palates. Don't get me wrong, I love grilling, but I was looking for something crafted with genius and care that required a fork.
Unfortunately it was a Monday night. All my top Boston choices were shuttered for the evening. And don't even get me started on how expensive the hotel prices are. For one night. Like New York pricey. So we choose to stay in Portsmouth, NH, a destination new to both of us and on the road between Bangor and Boston. Our hotel choice was a total cinch. The Ale House Inn. Sounded like it has something to do with beer. And it does. It's located in the historic Portsmouth Brewing Co. building, which dates back to 1880. That may be considered old in most cities in the country, but not in Portsmouth which the English "founded" in 1653. The 10 rooms are masterfully appointed (Keurig/iPad/flat screen/fridge), if a bit small, but since we were just sleeping there we didn't care. The free micro brew they give you at check-in was a lovely surprise and a nice touch on a hot summer day.
Why did I love our dinner at this place so much? Could it be that The Dream Away Lodge is rumored to have been a brothel during the Depression years, which speaks of a rich history of satisfying and unburdening the cares of its clientele? Could it be that it’s so tucked away in the woods around Becket, Massachusetts that your GPS will not get you there — so that its current owner, Daniel Osman, refers to it as “Brigadoon” – a place that may exist only in a dream?
Jill and I dined there the other evening with three young and exuberantly attractive actors, who if you added up all their ages together would still be younger than me. And it didn’t matter — not at The Dream Away, where time has no sway.
Chef Amy Loveless’s menu is delightfully all over the place — as is the table setting — no plate, no fork, no spoon is like another. Thai Beef Salad; Korean Short Ribs; Moroccan Chicken; Armenian Grilled Lamb; Black Pepper Tofu and Sticky Rice; Grilled Vegetable Terrine with Quinoa Tabouleh and Olives; their self-proclaimed Famous Meat Loaf.
I hail from New Haven, although I've frankly never in my life hailed, even for a taxi cab. It's simply not my style. I visit the Elm City (although I'm not sure why it's nicknamed thus as all the elms died in a blight decades ago and are just coming back) a few times a year because my sister and I have bestowed our adorable mother on a fine new home, shared by three hundred other beloved parents, each compartmentalized in lovely little one and two bedroom lives with shared common rooms. All human needs are provided. It's like living on a space station.
Whitney Center is located just outside the Yale community and many professors and Ivy League elders retire there. Hence, the level of conversation, dining and entertainment is four star. The only complaint Mom's ever had about the place is that she feels she must dress up for dinner, lectures and screenings at, what she so brightly calls "The Finishing School." Sis has outfitted her in Lord and Taylor's finest, which she now even wears to the laundry room.
When I visit as winter thaws, however, she is eager to leave campus plainclothes and give her
perpetually parked car a little workout -- it's generally sat sedentary most of the winter. Our favorite local lunch place is called Claire's Corner Copia, at the corner of Chapel and College, at the edge of the Yale campus.
Living in Los Angeles, we know it's Fall by looking at our calendars not by the weather. October is usually one of our hottest months with no colorful, falling leaves, frost or crisp, cool days to be found. While I don't miss Winter, after two decades of living in the California sun, I still desperately yearn for the sights and smells of Autumn.
Since traveling is rarely an option, I have begun to enjoy the season by living vicariously through pictures and blogs I find on the Internet. The current crop is all about apples. The visions of pies, tarts and cakes, as well as piles of this fresh fall fruit have left me craving one of my childhood's sweetest and simplest joys: the Atkins Farms Cider Donut.
My grandmother was obsessed with them and subsequently, so were we. It was her way of treating us, without breaking her bank. (They cost a quarter a piece then, now still a steal for 50 cents.) Once harvest season began, we'd head out to Atkins to indulge in their – now famous – baked goods...and fresh-pressed apple cider. Heated to take the chill off the morning.
They bake the donuts fresh every day, infusing them with the cider and liberally dusting them with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. The recipe hasn't changed in over 35 years with good reason. In 2008, they were rated by Saveur Magazine as one of the 12 best donuts in the country. Something I – and most of Western Massachusetts – have known since 1972. Well, 1976 for me.
In the mid-1970s, when I lived in Providence the food wasn't very good. Sure there was great local seafood, especially clams and lobsters, but if you wanted to eat out, your choices were pretty much limited to diner food and and Mafia Italian.
To get decent food I would travel to New York to buy ethnic ingredients, read cook books and taught myself how to cook.
Recently I had the chance to return to Rhode Island to write a series of food and travel articles. I spent two weeks traveling around the state, eating in a great variety of settings, from diners and beach-side clam shacks to upscale bistros and fine dining restaurants.
I discovered a lot has changed in Rhode Island. The state is now home to dozens of passionate chefs with incredibly smart palates.