New England

atkinsapples.jpgLiving 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.

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CapitalCapital Grille is fine dining in Providence. It seems like they've been around forever and it's 25 years, so it is forever. It opened in 1990 and this is the original store tucked behind old Union Station. Historically, I find it intriguing that a place that was of its time then is still good at being contemporary years later. I went looking for an old menu to see what they served in 1990 but there are no clues for what used to be. I really want to know.

I don't have to tell you how hard it is to pick a place to eat. It's not like I didn't have any notice. We knew months in advance that I had to find the right spot for dinner in a place I don't know, that I can't find without a GPS and that's open Monday. There are places you can starve on Mondays and Providence is one. At the visitor's request, it must be: "A place you've never been that will break the bank, and that you can write about." Or what we call a regular working dinner. Years ago, in their Newton, MA store, I sat at the bar with beer and a wedge salad. That was when I was still allowed to have blue cheese, bacon and sour cream all on the same plate. Surely that doesn't count and so, of course, I don't tell. It's not like I'm going to have it again though I could. It's on the menu just as I remember.

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AmberRoadCafeAmber 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.

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atriamarthasMartha’s Vineyard in the Fall is the secret treasure of Vineyarders. The “summer people (some are not)” have returned to their sophisticated rat races, leaving perfect weather and fabulous restaurants to the people who really love the Vineyard – those whose families have been living in Martha’s Vineyard since, well, the 17th Century.

It is a time of weddings, fishing tournaments, sunny days and starry nights.

My favorite Vineyard restaurant, Atria, centers its activities, neither in its elegant upstairs restaurant nor its garden pavilion, but in the basement pub with its naked Marilyn Monroe photo by the bar. Now we know winter is nearby and the robust clam chowders and slow braised potpies begin to appear on the menu.

While this restaurant is local, its owner chef isn’t! Trained by our wonderful Wolfie – Wolfgang Puck, Chef Christian Thornton and his gorgeous wife, Greer Thornton have made Christian’s gourmet training and the Vineyards fresh local flavors and organic produce a marriage of perfection.

However, in the basement pub with its cool jazz on the weekends, “gourmet” is hidden among what at first glance seems ordinary comfort food – The Burger!

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riflosIf 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.

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