New England

eastside-grill-logo.jpgWhile back home in Massachusetts for my father's 70th birthday – which is so hard to believe – my husband, older sister Sue and I wanted to take him out one night for a first-class, adult meal before the nieces and nephews descended and the backyard grilling began. We tried to get him to choose a place he wanted to go, but he wasn't in the mood to decide, so he left it up to us. He was thrilled we were there – it's been a year since we were together – and glad for a night out, but the occasion was something he would rather have ignored. I can't say I blame him.

Since I haven't lived in the region for two decades I deferred to my sister, who's had her whole life to scope out the area. Having just come off a 5-day seafood bender while on Cape Cod – with no complaints mind you – we were in the mood for something a bit heartier. Plus, we had to please the parents, which is not always an easy task. Dad will eat just about anything. Mom is a bit more selective. Sue's choice of the Eastside Grill fit the bill perfectly.

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berkshire1The 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.

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 Latitudes at Wentworth by the Sea

This is a fish story about Latitudes at the Wentworth Hotel. It starts with a beach tour so I get to learn about the real New Hampshire since what I know is negligible. We are driving the coast at a leisurely pace. Most New England coasts are remarkably similar and this reminds me of the Cape with busy beaches and of Maine's isolated coves.

As a guest at a seaside grand hotel, chefs know you're captive since who wants to drive around who knows where looking for who knows what? In my experience, these hotels are good dining. I was in Kennebunkport years ago at a place overlooking the water. We're checking in and someone asks: "Do you have lobster?" And the desk man, who must hear this 100 times a week, says: "Ma'am, you can have lobster three times a day." (Ma'am, even a zillion years ago.) The food was very good.

Latitudes is on a dock, so cruise up to the marina on the Piscataqua River that runs from Maine to the ocean in nearby Portsmouth. It's as scenic as you expect. Some tables have umbrellas but they're taken so we're inside and we don't mind since they're genuinely happy to see us. Roseanna's having California A by Acacia chardonnay, the least oaky she can find. Our server wants to know if we want bread. Yes, if we must and of course it's warm rosemary focaccia. With butter. This is so, so unfair. If bread is verboten, this is the place to inhale at length. We assure each other one bite does not count and can be taken sitting down.

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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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maggiesfamrToday'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.

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