Imagine you’re planning a celebratory Friday lunch at a nice Portuguese restaurant in New Bedford. You pull up and take the very last available parking space in the lot. You’re seated quickly by a window, and an attentive waitress brings you a glass of the brand of wine you favor. The menu offers many delectable-sounding choices, and your selections turn out to be ample and delicious, and at a price far less than you expected to pay. Happy dining day, right?
Now, imagine that you find yourself in a bar called Knuckleheads. You make your way past a lunchtime crowd of f-bomb-dropping workers in hoodies to the last unstable round hightop and move the ketchup and mustard bottles onto the windowsill so you’ll have space to eat. The waitress pours your wine from one of those tiny plastic bottles, and you anxiously choose a couple of dishes that total less than what you might have paid at the Honey Dew Donuts next door, as an argument breaks out among your barmates. Scary dining day, right?
But it was the same day! A friend recommended that we try Knuckleheads and we trust him, so we gave it a shot. While the atmosphere was not for the faint of heart, the food was outstanding and the service was very good.
Gina chose a grilled salmon special ($15.99). The big hunk of properly cooked fish came with a garlicky-buttery topping, a large portion of buttery mixed vegetables, and a baked potato with extra butter and sour cream. We understand how some people might be going out to a restaurant and think that bland steamed broccoli might be a good dining choice but… actually, no, we don’t. We think that vegetables deserve the same treatment of sauces and seasonings that the main entree gets, and we weren’t disappointed here. The fish was great, but the vegetables were the highlight of the dish.
The Big Dog ordered the Junior Portuguese Steak Sandwich ($12.99). It was the traditional preparation, with red bell peppers and a fried egg. He ordered the steak medium, and it was slightly pink the middle, just as we think medium should be. Served on a Portuguese roll, the serving was enough for another meal a few days later.
The Dog opted for the “round fries” as an accompaniment, and we were both glad. These Portuguese potatoes were just a scosh thicker than commercial potato chips, and addictive.
The wine, by the way, was Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon, which we order often. Here it was $5 a glass, and yes, it came from one of those little plastic bottles. And, by the way, a surprising number of the hoodie-wearers at the bar were drinking wine, not the Bud Light we would have expected. More proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
85 MacArthur Drive, New Bedford
We first visited The Black Whale on New Bedford’s charming state pier shortly after they opened in 2014. We were horrified. Mind-boggling acoustics, insufficiently trained staff, lackluster food — just a bad all around experience.
Enormous improvements have been made since then, and we highly recommend this restaurant now. And we have a secret to share: there is no better example of lunch being a better value than dinner. At night, The Black Whale is busy and pricey. Lunchtime prices are significantly less than the same dishes on the dinner menu. If they’re a correspondingly larger size at night, you’re going to need a bigger boat.
You know how if you go to an ethnic restaurant and there are people of that ethnicity dining there, you feel more confident in the food? Well, we’ve found after a handful of visits that this seafood restaurant is patronized by real live fishermen, and that makes ordering seafood dishes a no-brainer. That, and the fact that you park among fishing boats.
We sat at the bar, of course, on a recent Wednesday afternoon. This is one of those bars that’s perfectly suited for dining, with the bar top and stools at comfortable heights, and plenty of depth to spread out. Our attentive bartender, Zachary, brought us a bottle of Chasing Lions Cabernet ($39) and the complimentary cone of toasted bread and crackers alongside their delicious codfish dip.
Gina started with a house salad ($9.99), an enormous plate of pristine red and green lettuce with cucumber, tomato, and a scattering of sunflower seeds, with a lightly sprinkled citrus vinaigrette. It was perfectly simple and plenty for two.
The Big Dog ordered a bowl of the soup of the day ($6.99), a thick and zesty tomato soup garnished with goat cheese and chunky croutons. We liked it a lot.
For her main course, Gina ordered the pan roasted monkfish, described as being served with littlenecks, chourico, white beans, escarole, and white wine garlic butter, and topped with two grilled slices of rustic bread. At lunch, this dish is $12.99, and an enormous amount of very good food. At dinner, it’s $24.99, and probably still worth every penny. There was a little grittiness to it the sauce, which might have been from what we suspected as spinach rather than escarole, or maybe from the half dozen sweet clams. Gina regretted polishing off the bread with the cod dip earlier, because the somewhat spicy sauce was outstanding despite the grit.
The Big Dog selected linguine and clams ($14.99 – five bucks more at night), which also came with six clams. He found them to be a tad overcooked and chewy.
As mentioned, on our previous lunch visits, we’ve always noticed fishing professionals among those at the bar. On this particular stop, we saw one who literally wore an actual eye patch, and another was talking about bridal gowns with what appeared to be a granddaughter or niece. A lot of these guys come in to The Black Whale with hoodies and boots, but most of us would feel more comfortable there dressed a notch or two above that. In the summer, the restaurant offers a nice tented outdoor space looking out over the fishing boats docked a few feet away.
The Black Whale
106 Pier 3, New Bedford
Gina and the Big Dog have been at this for six years, having been inspired by our realization that we’re pretty good at sniffing out good dining experiences in unlikely places, and our desire to spread the word about these spots. Our first review was of a sports bar. And here we are again, with an even better hidden jewel disguised as a sports bar.
The End Zone is surrounded by a neighborhood that’s best described as “gritty.” Enter via the Coggeshall Street side and your first view is of the rectangular bar, with a slightly formal dining room to your right. Arrive via the Belleville Avenue entrance and find yourself amid a family-friendly layout of booths that the Big Dog likened to church pews.
Either way, once inside, you’ll find yourself in a delightful family restaurant specializing in outstanding renditions of Portuguese and American dishes. They have TVs displaying sports, and that’s really the extent of the “sports bar” thing.
This is a place where you’ll feel comfortable bringing Mom, even if Mom is a rabid Yankees fan who vexes you with daily texts about obscure sports news. Bring the kids. Bring a hot date. Bring your buddies to watch the Sox game. Bring your BFF to watch World Cup Soccer.
The Big Dog ordered a Moby Dick IPA ($6), and Gina called for a Pavao Vinho Verde ($5). If you’re visiting from out of town, these are outstanding choices. The beer is produced a mile or so away in a delightful brew pub and references New Bedford’s literary highlight. The wine, a tart yet fruity white served ice cold, will open your eyes to the world of Portuguese wines.
After putting in our order, Gina called for a side salad, which is $3.99 on its own, but $2.99 as an add-on to an entree. It was a really good, very big salad, with a mix of greens shredded carrots, cucumbers, red onion, and delicious house-made croutons. Our server, Jodi, brought us a basket of the outstanding Portuguese rolls from which those croutons were likely made.
Gina ordered the Cacoila Plate ($12.99), struggling with the local pronunciation, like “caserla.” It’s a mildly spicy dish of pork chunks and shredded pork, here served over a generous serving of delicious saffron rice and an equally generous portion of tasty french fries. (For the uninitiated, Portuguese-American food is a layered carb experience, where scooping up rice with delicious bread is not weird.) The pork chunks were a tad dry, but the shredded pork was not.
The Big Dog ordered a special: Portuguese Style Sirloin ($16.99). He ordered the steak medium well, and it came out perfectly medium, as he’d hoped. The steak was tender and flavorful, topped with a fried egg and ham as is typical for this dish.
Both entrees came with lively red pepper strips that were delicious, even when reheated the next day, and the day after that. Yes, our reasonably priced order included plenty of food.
If you love Portuguese food and live near New Bedford; if you have a young family and have reason to pass through New Bedford; if you’re a sports fan and live near New Bedford… then you probably already know about the End Zone.
If you don’t fall into any of those categories, don’t let the name or the neighborhood dissuade you; we strongly encourage you to give it a try. You will be pleasantly surprised and will likely consider making this a regular spot.
The End Zone
218 Coggeshall Street, New Bedford
Rarely have we gotten such an enthusiastic recommendation as we received for the 20-ounce ribeye at Boston Tavern.
A friend — we’ll call her “M” — owns our favorite hair salon — we’ll call it “Mad Cutter, 430 Shore Road, Monument Beach”* — and while getting a trim, talk often turns to dining. M has pushed us to make the trek up Route 28 to Boston Tavern not once but at three separate stylings. Order one and split it, she encouraged. It’s the best steak dish around, she enthused. You won’t believe it, she marveled.
M got that part right. We’re wary of restaurants with cutesy themes, and Boston Tavern is one of those. It’s filled with old-fashioned-looking business signs that may reflect Boston icons. The paper placemats feature photos of local sports heroes with a space for us to fill in their names if we know them. And of course the menu has headings drawn shamelessly from the most cliched travel guide: “Freedom Trail Favorites”? “Boston Fish Pier”?
But we have learned to trust M, so we ordered the 20-ounce ribeye ($23.99). At the risk of sounding like we don’t trust her entirely, we also ordered the shrimp and chicken pesto ($17.99).
Both were delicious (and just as good the next day).
Gina laid claim to the ribeye and was glad, because that entitled her to poke around the entire crunchy, fatty exterior of the medium-cooked meat for the most flavorful parts. “Medium” here means a little more pink than usual.
The pesto dish was equally good. Served over a generous serving of penne, the pesto was the deconstructed kind, with coursely chopped basil, parmesan slices, and hunks of garlic and pine nuts.
The latter arrived solo. The ribeye was accompanied by our choice of a complicated listing of sides, some of which had a $1.49 upcharge. We also got a house salad ($3.49) which was good.
Overall, we enjoyed our dining experience. The bar was a comfortable place to eat. Noise level was reasonable, service was team-style, with multiple bartenders providing service (but not their names, that we recall). The decor, while kitschy, was kind of interesting.
58 East Grove Street (Route 28)
We found ourselves in Mashpee on a wicked hot weekday afternoon, and we were wicked hungry. We were skeptical of Wicked Restaurant’s strip mall setting and silly name, but we were rewarded with an ultra-cool atmosphere and very good food composed of extraordinary ingredients.
We sat at the bar, as we almost invariably do, and our tender was a gentleman whom your tab will identify as “Rager” and who looks and acts so much like Gina’s brother that we were a little creeped out. His real name is Kevin, and he’s been with the restaurant since its opening a decade ago, he said. By the end of lunch, we were swapping restaurant and pub suggestions with him and other patrons as if we were regulars.
But this is not a neighborhood bar. This is the kind of place at which serious, international Mashpee Commons shoppers and serious golfers refuel. The silly name, and the silly names for some menu items, is inconsistent with the sleek vibe.
The Big Dog started with an appetizer of “wicked meatballs” ($7.50), alongside a vodka and soda made with Green Mountain Lemon Vodka, an organic offering from a Vermont craft distillery ($8.50). He enjoyed both and took a photo of the vodka label so we could track it down at our local retailer.
Gina started with a Nero D’Avola ($11.50 for a 9-ounce pour) and a fork, to assist with the meatballs. We agreed they were dense but delicious, and particularly liked the tomato sauce in which they floated. Two young men seated near us at the bar ordered the same dish immediately upon getting a whiff.
Gina’s entree was a special: caesar salad with steak ($17). The flavorful, abundant, and properly medium cooked steak tips were served over fresh romaine and tossed with roasted red peppers, black olives, and grated parmesan. Two triangles of flatbread — think naked pizza — garnished the dish, and the whole thing was topped with house-made croutons and a light dressing that we think contained a welcome hint of anchovy. The combination was excellent.
The Big Dog ordered the “Chubby Sicilian” pizza ($19 for a “full size”). We’re not sure how big the pizza was, but it was so loaded up that it could likely feed four. Toppings included house-made sweet Italian sausage, sliced meatballs, pepperoni, spinach-ricotta, marinara sauce, and mozzarella over baked penne pasta. On a pizza. This is one pizza. With penne. It was really good for lunch, and excellent the next morning reheated for breakfast.
Here’s how the pizza section of the lunch menu is introduced: “Our pizza dough is made with Non GMO Italian Caputo Flour, purified water, and natural wild yeast baked in a 600 degree stone hearth oven. Wicked pizzas are carefully designed by our chefs; we ask you to avoid the temptation of substitutions in order to experience the pizzas as the chefs intended.” The cognoscenti will look at the highly descriptive menu, in the pizza section and elsewhere, and recognize true quality and high value. The restaurant uses local and/or organic ingredients wherever possible. That was evident throughout our meal, but most striking in the steak on Gina’s salad.
We would have to call Wicked Restaurant a hidden gem, but it’s hidden because of a name that makes it seem like a tourist trap, a location where excellent food is unexpected, and a website that doesn’t tout its best qualities. We can assure you that you will be pleasantly surprised.
Wicked Restaurant and Wine Bar
680 Falmouth Road, Mashpee
The Chart Room is located at the Kingman Marina in Red Brook Harbor. We went there by boat on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in July with friends.* The nautical approach probably halved our travel time from the mainland, and made for a fun — and exceedingly civilized — adventure, where the food far exceeded our expectations.
After slicing across the Cape Cod Canal, we motored into the harbor and queued in behind an orderly line of boats entering the marina. Our friend radioed in that we were in need of a lunchtime slip and refueling. A team of college students home for the summer graciously guided our vessel to the dock. For a moment we were Kennedys in Camelot, and surprisingly, that feeling remained through our visit.
The Chart Room waiting line involves claiming a circle of adirondack chairs on a sunny crushed shell patio rimmed with a fragrant beach rose hedge looking out over the marina. They’ll come out and get you to bring you to your table. Our estimated wait was 15 minutes, even on this busy afternoon, and that didn’t give us time enough for our nominee to return from the outdoor bar with drinks. We were quickly guided to the restaurant’s open air porch.
Our friends had raved about the lobster salad roll. Yep, it’s 29 bucks. And yep, it’s enough for two. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story. The restaurant happily puts the sandwich on two plates and splits the sides. And one of our sandwich-sharers couldn’t even finish his half.
We all have our thing that we like to order AND see as an indication of a restaurant’s capabilities. For the Big Dog, it’s a chicken salad sandwich. Here, it was $10, and came with delicious potato salad (or choose chips or cole slaw). He got it on Portuguese bread and had plenty left over for dinner. The salad was deliciously rich.
Gina ordered the gazpacho ($5, and we’re not sure it’s always on the menu) and the avocado salad ($9). Gazpacho aficionados will relish the sour cream or creme fraiche float, the onion and pepper dice garnish, and the rich tomato flavor. The avocado salad was full of frisee, with hearty hunks of avocado. The Italian dressing was a couple of ticks up the sweetness scale from the Ken’s Italian Gina likes — if that’s your standard too, you’ll be okay with this.
Our friends had a young teen in tow (who piloted the boat much of the way home) and he ordered a bacon cheeseburger ($10). He enjoyed it, but couldn’t finish it. We can think of no truer evaluation of portion size than a dish that defies a 13-year-old.
The Chart Room and marina seem to employ hundreds of Cape teenagers during the summer, and they are well trained and pleasant. The food is great and the atmosphere is unique. We know from experience that it’s just as enjoyable after an off-season drive.
*We were there with friends, but the occasion was the result of an auction gift they had generously offered to the Boys & Girls Club of Wareham. Want to support the Club? Click here.
The Chart Room
1 Shipyard Lane, Cataument, MA 02534 | (508) 563-5350
It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon at the start of summer, and we’re on Cape Cod. We’re in a lovely restaurant recently opened by a highly regarded restaurant group. We’re about to enjoy some delicious food and wine at reasonable prices. We battled some significant traffic to get here.
And we are alone.
Regular readers will recall that Gina and the Big Dog deliberately avoid restaurants at typical meal times, preferring a late lunch as a way to avoid the lax service and unpleasant atmosphere that peak times can bring. We braved Bucatino at 12:30 anyway, mostly because we happened to be in the North Falmouth neighborhood. And inexplicably, we were the only ones there.
It’s a wine bar, so we started with wine. Larissa, our pleasant bartender, offered a taste of anything on the menu. We shared samples of a California Cabernet Franc, “Writer’s Block” (on special for $10), and a Barbera, “Marchisi di Barolo” ($9), and quickly ordered one of each.
We started with an order of the steamed mussels ($12), imagining multiple courses to follow. Its arrival coincided with that of a house-baked bread basket with olive breads, red pepper breads, and some plain rolls, all of which augmented the grilled bread slice that came with the mussels for dipping in the rich buttery sauce. The mussels were briny and clean, and the tasty breads went well with the sauce.
The expansive lunch menu included two intriguing-sounding soups, so again we ordered one of each (cups for $5). The one called Vongole e Fagioli (clams and beans) is a creamy delight that will not disappoint purists looking for clam chowder. The “escarole and white bean” is a classic presentation in a thick, creamy tomato stock. We enjoyed both.
When we arrived, we envisioned salads, sandwiches, and pasta entrees as sides. We would order grilled pizzas, we imagined, and perhaps share a panini.
But no, we were sated with the soups and mussels, and those dishes carried us hours into the evening, when we told a friend about our wonderful experience at Bucatini. “I heard it was expensive,” the friend said. We shared that our delicious, inventive, filling lunch totaled $22 for food: truly a bargain for a lovely restaurant on a beautiful Friday afternoon at the start of summer on Cape Cod.
Bucatino Restaurant and Wine Bar
7 Nathan Ellis Highway, North Falmouth, MA
When we visited Fishers Pub for a late lunch recently, the restaurant had been open for five days. Our expectations were not high, especially when we pulled into a packed parking lot. Surely a brand-new restaurant could not accommodate a crowd of this size.
But we quickly realized that while this location, the site of the former Shooters, was brand-new, little else was. Some of the staff and customers may have been transplants from the pub owner’s other Middleboro hotspot, Harry’s Bar and Grille. We were handed a menu that was Harry’s “and then some,” our cheerful bartender, Kim, said.
Sure, there were challenges to work out. We sat under an air conditioning vent and an employee spent much of our visit trying to regulate the temperature. But we can’t think of any other hints that this place hadn’t been open for years.
Like Harry’s, Fisher’s has an airplane theme. It looks like a big hangar from the outside. Dishes have cute airplane names. The walls are adorned with air travel paraphernalia.
But what really struck us about the restaurant design was how it seems, at the front of the house at least, to reflect how restaurants really function. Behind the spacious U-shaped bar, there is enough space for two bartenders to pass, even with plates and buckets of ice. Takeout ordering and pickup has a dedicated area. A quiet dining room is separated completely from what is likely to be an animated bar. If you’re in the industry, you’ll be jealous.
Our food was really good, reasonably priced, and served professionally.
We started with a Harrier Jet Combo ($11.99), selecting from several choices three of Harry’s famous chicken wings and a third of a rack of ribs. The ribs were somewhat dry and the Big Dog didn’t care for the barbecue sauce, while the wings — we always get the garlic parmesan version — were their usual delicious selves. The plate alone fulfilled our recommended daily requirement of protein.
But we didn’t stop there.
The Big Dog selected a cheeseburger salad ($12.99), a cheeseburger patty slapped on top of a serviceable green salad with a yummy hunk of garlic bread. The dish was good, and held up surprisingly well six hours later when we had the considerable leftovers for dinner.
Gina ordered the roast beef dinner ($15.99), and admitted doing so just to get the day’s vegetable, hearty slices of cooked carrots. They did not disappoint, nor did the mashed potatoes with delicious gravy. The serving of beef seemed like it might have been an opening-week error, as it was easily enough for three meals.
Gina also loved the sweet cakelike cornbread that came with her roast beef. The Big Dog claimed indifference but somehow managed to eat half of it.
Fisher’s Pub is located in an underserved area, with plenty of options to the north, but no restaurants for eight-plus miles to the south. At 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, every seat in the bar was taken, most by pairs or trios of guys who’d likely spent the week framing a garage together, or laying a flagstone patio. When they’re working north of Middleboro or out Route 18 they’ll continue to go to Harry’s, but when work takes them closer to the Cape, they’ll get off 495 at Exit 3 and drive a mile north on Route 28 to Fisher’s. Either location will feel like home.
360 Wareham Street, Middleboro
We stopped recently for lunch in one of New England’s most vibrant cities, a place shaped by a beautiful working waterfront, historic sites, unique and world-renowned museums, and a thriving cultural scene. Boston? Providence? Portsmouth? Portland?
Nope, New Bedford. And if you haven’t been there recently, you need to visit.
Here’s a good reason: the Moby Dick Brewing Co., an authentic brewpub which recently opened on Union Street, one block from the Route 18 artery, and two from the state pier in one direction, and the famed New Bedford Whaling Museum in another. The food is delicious, the service excellent, and the space is a thoughtfully restored old building.
But let’s talk about the beer. Park on the South Water Street side and walk up and you’ll see the beermaking equipment, smartly separated from the restaurant so the odor doesn’t permeate. We had the good sense to do a flight of four each, so we could sample each of the seven beers on offer that day, five weeks after the restaurant opened. The range and variety of beers was remarkable, from a pale yellow unfiltered wheat to a frothy and nearly black Irish stout. Name any mass-produced beer, and the bar staff will match you up to a Moby Dick brew. Gina, not a beer drinker, liked the amber Ishm-Ale, and the Big Dog enjoyed the hoppy Sailors’ Delirium, a double IPA. All of the beers were good, though, and it was just a matter of personal preference.
A tray of four five-ounce pours is just $10, which felt like a very good value. And non-beer-drinkers shouldn’t feel left out — they have an excellent wine list, and we spotted some very special liquors on the shelf above the bar.
The lunch menu is short but wide-ranging, with a little bit of exotica balancing out the standards, and the dinner menu is as well. (The website, we notice, does not include prices, but don’t be alarmed — we noted prices to be on the low side of reasonable.)
Gina started with a sweet potato and apple soup ($5), a thick and spicy blend topped with toasted sesame seeds. The Big Dog chose the salt cod chowder ($6), a very good twist on the standard chowder.
We split the marinated beet salad ($10): thick slices of beets that were likely roasted, then arrayed over what they call a whipped ricotta, mixed with shallots, which would have been outstanding on toast. The whole thing was topped with chopped cashews and microgreens and looked as good as it tasted.
But the star of the show for us was crispy fried fish sandwich ($12). A buttery bun was piled high with pickles, tartar sauce, lettuce, and a giant pouf of fried fish. If you’ve sworn off French fries, these need to be the ones for which you make an exception. The whole thing was a messy, high calorie treat, plenty for two.
We think that a well-designed space can really enhance the experience of dining out, and the Moby Dick vibe is truly outstanding. Every detail, from the beam over the bar from which bulbs dangle, to the iron pipe toilet paper dispenser in the restroom, to the subway tile behind the bar, celebrates the history of the building, and the oversized windows are a textbook tactic for enlivening a city block while connecting the people inside with the world beyond.
Combined with the great food, delicious beer, and good service, Moby Dick Brewing Co. offered a great special occasion experience, and the reasonable prices make it a sensible regular spot for a meal. We look forward to returning.
Moby Dick Brewing Co.
10 South Water Street, New Bedford
Seafood dining in Buzzards Bay recently became quite complicated. As we understand it, the chef at standby Eastwind Lobster left, for good reasons, to start his own restaurant, which he calls Eastwind Seafood… on what is essentially the same street in the same town. Like the original, it’s on the rotary, just a different one. Like the original, it has a seafood market.
It was ironic, then, that one recent Saturday afternoon, we went to Eastwind Seafood looking for boiled lobster and they didn’t have any. We left happy, however, having had a very good lunch and tried something new. We’ve been there several times and enjoyed every visit.
Eastwind Seafood, as any local will tell you, is the one behind Way Ho, the Chinese restaurant on the Bourne rotary. They have a small bar which is a fine place for a meal. We started with a Casillero del Diablo cabernet ($8, the price for which you can frequently find a retail bottle of this charming Chilean), and our second glass came courtesy of our one fellow bar patron (whose Sambuca, also $8, was on us).
Bartender Brenda learned, on our behalf, that Chef would prepare the fried skate wing special as an appetizer for us ($11.99) so we could try it. We’d always heard of skate as a cheap substitute for scallops and also as a great sustainable seafood choice. Gina found it salty, and the Big Dog didn’t care for the slightly stringy texture, but we were glad we had tried it. We observed that pretty much anything is delicious if served with good tartar sauce, as it was. Despite our reservations, we polished off the entire large portion.
So no boiled lobster, but Gina was able to get a lobster roll ($17.99 that day). It was perfect: big chunks of lobster meat tossed with mayonnaise andb a leaf or two of lettuce on a buttery toasted bun. Better yet, they cheerfully substituted green beans for the French fries that normally come alongside.
The Big Dog ordered the two-way combo with fried shrimp and oysters ($17.99). The oversized portion got a rare “delicious” rating from the Dog.
The other Eastwind has a better view, but we really enjoyed our visit to Eastwind Seafood. The atmosphere is pleasant, and the food and service were both worth a visit.
304 Main Street, Buzzards Bay