Restaurants In A Pandemic

In “these unprecedented times,” restaurants are in the crosshairs. We at Southcoast Chow encourage you to patronize your local favorites through in-person visits if that feels safe, or getting takeout if not. Our friends in the industry need us more than ever.

Chow is kind of on a hiatus while we do just that, because there’s only so often you can hear about Bailey’s Surf and Turf and their baked stuffed salmon, Stonebridge Bistro‘s fish tacos, or the chicken wings at Fisher’s Pub.

During the pandemic, we have visited a few new spots whose food was delicious and atmosphere enticing… but their COVID-19 protection practices were lax, so we could not in good conscience recommend that you visit. We look forward to returning when the pandemic is behind us.

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Boston Tavern, Middleboro

We could make a pretty good burger at home. We could pour a glass of wine to go with it. We could tune the TV to the Golf Channel. But sometimes we don’t want to do all that ourselves, and that’s when we go to a place like Boston Tavern: to get good food at reasonable prices, and be treated by staff like they are genuinely glad we stopped in. And maybe order something a residential kitchen could never easily produce.

The Boston Tavern is an odd hybrid. There are other restaurants with the same name and logo in Norwood and one of the Bridgewaters but it’s not clear how they are related. The one in Middleboro has the feel of a hometown restaurant, with a relaxed vibe and regulars greeting one another. Conversely, it has that kitschy decor that is so popular with the TGIF and Cracker Barrel types of chains. But upon closer inspection, it’s apparent that the kitsch has an unusual authenticity: a out-of-town design firm wouldn’t get the significance of the James Hook Lobster Co. or a sign promoting a Combat Zone “gentlemen’s lounge.” When they say Boston Tavern, they mean it.

We got a comfortable seat at the bar, and while our bartender never introduced herself (the slip said she was “88”), she was very attentive and accommodating.

We rarely order an appetizer, but we came up with a great new rule: if we review the menu and both of us have an eye on the same app, we’ll get it. Here, it was the fried calamari ($13), and that’s another thing our home kitchen will never produce. This version was outstanding! It was a generous portion of tender rings with a light, crisp batter, tossed with vinegar peppers and olives, and served with a marinara sauce.

The Big Dog ordered a horseradish burger special ($13) cooked medium well, and it was perfect, with a pink center, flavorful beef, delicious sauce, and outstanding crispy french fries.

Gina opted for the Famous Cornbread Croutons ($15): one-inch cubes of to-die-for crunchy cornbread that come with a giant salad topped with fajita spiced chicken. They call it Southwest Chicken Fajita Salad on the menu, but we can imagine circumstances where one might order the salad and only eat the croutons. Not to say the salad wasn’t very good, because it was, with crisp fresh vegetables topped by the chicken and a delicious corn salsa. The croutons reheat well in a toaster oven, but if you want to convince yourself they won’t (and eat them all in the car on the way home), we will totally back you up. We liked the house balsamic vinaigrette better than the honey dijon dressing that comes with the salad and which they gladly swap out for whatever you like.

Gina enjoyed a Josh Cabernet ($7.50), and the Big Dog opted for a fancy coffee-flavored drink special called The Big Chill ($9).

We found the Boston Tavern to be an extremely comfortable spot to hang out for an afternoon, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a low-key place to watch a game, gather with friends, and/or enjoy very good food.

Boston Tavern Middleboro
58 East Grove Street (Route 28), Middleboro

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Cask and Pig Alehouse, Dartmouth

Here’s a classic sports bar with cavernous space and large TVs everywhere. With the Red Sox and the Bruins both doing well, it was a good afternoon to be surrounded by high-def.

The C&P diverges from the sports bar stereotype, however, with an adventurous menu of excellent food, and oddly, an appeal to young couples with toddlers.

Under normal circumstances, we might stop here after some retail therapy at the mall or the Home Depot. The Route 6 location is convenient to UMass-Dartmouth and the medical facilities throughout that area. It’s a few minutes from downtown New Bedford, and a few minutes more from downtown Fall River. We happened to be in the area because Gina was getting her first Covid vaccine.

We figured early afternoon on a sunny Sunday would mean no trouble getting a seat. Wrong! We waited 15 minutes for a distanced hightop beside the bar as parties with reservations streamed in ahead of us.

Kacey, our very busy bartender, set the stage by finding us a pair of cheaters so the Big Dog could read the special beer menu whose expansiveness necessitated tiny type. We sampled a double IPA from Maine’s Banded Brewing Co. and enjoyed its floral hoppiness, but opted for a couple of red wines instead: a Silk and Spice red Portuguese blend ($8) for Gina, and a Mondavi Private Selection cabernet ($9.50). The wine list was interesting, and selections by the glass fairly inexpensive. The craft beer list is clearly a focus, and if Vaccine #2 occurs when the Sox and the Bs aren’t on, we could imagine enjoying a sampler flight out on the very appealing heated patio.

We decided to start by sharing two appetizers. As we placed the appetizer order, we had already decided on our entrees. As we waited and watched other dishes come out of the kitchen, we thought maybe we would ask that to-go boxes come with the entrees. A few enthusiastic fork-waving moments into the appetizers, we decided we would just order the entrees to go and have them for dinner. As we slurped up the last of the appetizers, we were planning our next visit, and deciding we would order the entrees then. The apps were that hearty, and that delicious.

The first item on the menu, under the heading “Start Here,” is Scallops and BBQ Brisket ($13.95), described as pan-seared scallops, BBQ burnt ends, and Asian slaw. If you love scallops, you have to go here and order this. If you hate scallops, you have to do the same, and you will be a convert. They were perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, and untainted by the delicious sauces that adorned the plate. It was a great way to get a sense of the kitchen, and a very good value. The brisket and slaw and BBQ sauce are definitely the restaurant’s wheelhouse, but man, those scallops were really good.

As our other appetizer, we ordered something we’ve never seen before: Peach and Almond Salad ($9.95 for the large, which is way too much for one normal person and a challenge for two, and $6.95 for small). Incredibly crisp mixed greens, carrots, and cucumbers were topped with goat cheese, dried cranberries, slivered almonds with some sort of yummy coating, and sliced peaches, with a sidecar of a fruity yet savory blood orange vinaigrette. The dish had classic feel, like probably everybody but Gina and the Big Dog know about this combination and we need to get out more.

We should not have been surprised by the high quality of the food: this restaurant is owned by the same folks who run the Pasta House in Fairhaven.

The C&P website offers a link to the Open Table reservation site, and we encourage using that – we felt lucky to get a seat even on an off hour. In fact, we have already booked our next visit there.

Cask and Pig Kitchen and Alehouse
780 State Road (Rte. 6), Dartmouth, MA

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Black Whale, New Bedford

Gina rambled on about how the Black Whale has so many of the features we love about dining out: a nice view, delicious food, an expansive menu, unexpected surprises, good Covid protections, broad wine and beer selections, and she finally got to those awesome pocketbook hooks under the bar… when the Big Dog interrupted.

“Everybody has those now.” (Insert eye roll.)

Maybe, but not everybody has the feature that really stands out at the new Black Whale and which is the true indicator of an enjoyable restaurant dining experience: outstandingly pleasant staff. During our visit, we encountered enough employees to know that this is a systemic thing. One sure sign was the uniform: jeans and a stylish checked shirt that looked great on each employee and was worn with pride.

Our Exhibit A was bartender Carolyn, who efficiently walked the line between service and solicitousness. She didn’t intrude on our conversation but quickly stepped in when needed. She detected that we were having a leisurely lunch and so didn’t even ask for a food order until after our appetizer had been delivered. Through the plexiglass, we witnessed a completely different interaction with the French-speaking millennials seated next to us.

The backstory is that the people who own a couple of Not Your Average Joe’s restaurants, including the Dartmouth location we love, bought the Black Whale on the New Bedford waterfront a short time before the pandemic shutdown. They kept the stuff that was great about the old Black Whale, including a lot of the menu, and obviously introduced their whole service vibe.

We began with a bottle of William Hill Cabernet ($36). Before we left, we split a small glass of the “Silk and Spice” red blend from Portugal ($28) to compare with the Cab, and may likely choose that instead next time we visit. While perusing the menu, we were given the complimentary smoked cod dip with crackers that was a favorite at the old Black Whale; after a couple of scoops we put in an order to take home ($6).

Carolyn noticed that we couldn’t see the specials from our seat at the bar and recited them to us. The Big Dog zeroed in on the sushi special: a tiger roll, with tempura shrimp and avocado topped with salmon, as shown above. It was delicious, beautifully presented, and a bargain at $14.

For his entree, the Big Dog chose a seafood lasagna special ($24). It was a generous serving of a bad idea. The flavors were very nice, but we’re not sure how shrimp and scallops baked in a casserole dish of pasta and sauce would ever work.

Conversely, Gina ordered scallops from the “simply grilled” section of the regular menu. A half dozen proteins are available and described as being cooked with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and served with a selection of two sides. The bronzed scallops were delicious, if perhaps a bit overcooked, and our choice of fingerling potatoes and “garlicky” kale were excellent. Hard to not order scallops when the busiest seafood port in the U.S. is like six feet from your seat.

Black Whale
106 MacArthur Drive, Pier 3, New Bedford, MA

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Silver Lounge, North Falmouth

“Wow.”

Gina had ordered a pork chop special with Moroccan seasoning. She has never ordered pork chops in a restaurant and rarely cooks them at home, because they’re usually terrible.

Not so at the Silver Lounge.

The two chops were thin but unbelievably tender and juicy. Bartender Therese said the chef loves that Moroccan seasoning and puts it on everything, and we understood why. But having the chops as a perfectly cooked starting point was truly brilliant. The order ($14.95) came with a big, fresh salad (without onions), a little cup of sweet applesauce, and a perfect foil-wrapped baked potato with a freshly scooped dollop of sour cream and extra butter. The chops had an assertive grilled flavor and were oh so delicious.

We usually don’t tell about specials because it’s unfair to recommend a dish you can’t always buy, but the Silver Lounge has lamb chops on the regular menu and we can only imagine that they are prepared equally well.

Plus, the Big Dog ordered the steamed mussels appetizer ($11.75) and…

“Wow.”

Steamed in wine and butter and served with a chunk of bread for sopping up sauce, these mussels were tender and flavorful. They were possibly the best mussels we have ever had: clean and perfect.

The Big Dog also ordered a bowl of clam chowder ($7.25) which was full of clams and literally thick enough to eat with a fork.

The Silver Lounge bar cheese came highly recommended, so we took an order to go. It’s a creamy concoction containing yellow cheddar, horseradish, and we guess some cottage cheese, perfect for slathering on the Ritz crackers that come alongside in the appetizer version. We’ll admit that we ordered a small container to go ($8.50, with crackers), tested it while cashing out, and were so taken that we ordered another larger to-go container ($9, without crackers).

We were very focused on the food, but it should be noted that the Silver Lounge has a charming, cozy interior – an authentic version of the Cracker Barrel look, right down to the attached country gift shop. Given the folksy appearance, the sophisticated wine list was a pleasant surprise. The Big Dog enjoyed a Coppola cabernet ($9.75), and Gina enjoyed a Silver Palm cab ($10.25).

They seem to be adhering quite strictly to pandemic protocols, which during the time of our visit included the 25 percent capacity limit. Despite that, the staff was cheerful and welcoming, and we look forward to our next visit.

Silver Lounge Restaurant
412 Route 28A, North Falmouth, MA

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The Bog Tavern, Bourne

You’ll come to the Bog Tavern for the panoramic view.

You will return for the clam chowder.

The oversized bowl ($11) comes adorned with littlenecks, steamed open in their shells. The creamy broth contains plenty of chopped clams, and Yukon gold potatoes and bacon. The difference is that each bowl is made to order, so it has an unusual fresh taste.

Where the chowder is The Big Dog’s go-to order at the Bog Tavern, Gina’s is an appetizer called “pig wings” ($14), a trio of easy-to-handle ribs in a dry rub, crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, served with a tart barbecue sauce.

Don’t make the mistake of looking at the menu and deciding in advance what to order, though. The Tavern offers daily lunch specials that are often quite dramatically different from other items on the extensive menu. One day specials included an Italian sandwich (pictured) for $14, another day it was spicy chicken enchiladas ($13).

Better yet, they’ve been doing a three-course lunch for $13, weekdays from 11:30 to 2, with the purchase of any beverage: choose a (delicious) garden salad or (also delicious) soup of the day, add an entree, and select a (to-die-for) made-to-order cannoli or key lime pie.

It’s the kind of place where the chef, Kirk FitzGerald, steps out of the kitchen to ask how you enjoyed the food. And weekday bartender Allison, always cheerful and fun, enthusiastically describes the specials she’s seen coming out that day.

Covid protections are top notch. Tables are spaced, staff are masked, bar seats are separated by plexiglass dividers, and capacity is enhanced by a well-heated tent off the main dining area.

The view? It’s nice. The restaurant is set atop a hill overlooking the Brookside Golf Course, whose lush landscaping rolls down towards Buzzards Bay, visible in the distance. Apparently you can watch ships traveling through the Cape Cod Canal, but we’re always so engrossed in the food that we forget to watch.

The Bog Tavern
11 Brigadoone Road, Bourne

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Estia, Mashpee

Seated in a sunny window at the edge of a sleek dining room, with a view of the bustling Mashpee Commons shoppers on a chilly fall afternoon, we enjoyed a delicious Greek meal at Estia.

We wanted the range of authentic flavors, so we ordered appetizers as our shared entree.

Not being familiar with Greek wines, we selected a familiar one – Cabernet Sauvignon ($14) – from an unfamiliar place: Drama, a region in the northeastern part of Greece. It was unexpectedly smooth and delicious. The wine list is quite extensive with numerous Greek options.

We pondered the menu while polishing off a basket of bread chunks dipped in an olive oil made especially for the restaurant.

We cook rack of lamb at home quite often because it’s so easy, and usually expensive out. At Estia, $20 gets you a generous portion of four meaty, individually grilled lollipop chops with a big bowl of tzatziki, the garlicky yogurt dipping sauce.

With that, we ordered the Estia Sampler ($20), a great way to try a bunch of yummy offerings, without having to make a ridiculous-sounding attempt at pronouncing the Greek words. It featured dolmades (beef- and rice-stuffed grape leaves slathered with a lemony sauce), spanikopita (phyllo triangles stuffed with spinach and gooey feta), loukaniko (grilled sausages packed with herbs and spices), giant slabs of feta, and a mix of olives.

Every aspect of this dish was delicious, but the grape leaves were so outstanding that we found ourselves having to pronounce the word so we could take an order to go ($16). And then, what the heck, we took a big bottle of that olive oil ($22) too.

Estia
Mashpee Commons

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Domino’s

2020-03-22 15.26.31

As we write, we are one week into the coronovirus crisis that has shut down restaurants throughout Massachusetts and beyond. Many of our restaurant industry friends are out of work, and business owners face the heart-wrenching struggle to retool their operations literally overnight to accommodate new realities.

Generally, we did our part by stocking up, in what might say was a somewhat irresponsible fashion, on favorite restaurant experiences throughout the weekend leading up to the shutdown. Leftovers and a surprising home-cook sprint have sustained us since then.

Today, desperate for a change of pace, we picked up the phone. And placed a delivery order for Domino’s online.

So, not one of our locally owned go-tos. Not the restaurant owners who support every local cause. Not the places where we know the majority of the employees by name, the restaurant professionals we worry about the most right now.

The new Domino’s franchise in Wareham is owned by people who aren’t from around here. But they live here now, and in these difficult times, they need our support just as much as our mainstays do. They depend on our need to have someone else cook for us.

So, let us tell you about the food!

First, the atmosphere: Classic nearly-completed kitchen renovation, with a two-year-old PGA tournament replaying on the TV in lieu of live golf, and a cat hollering for attention.

The Big Dog began with the last glass of the 2013 Pietro Sartirano Barolo left over from the previous evening. We belong to the Wall Street Journal Wine Club and periodically get special bottles like this one, which Gina described as having a floral nose, and the Big Dog found unattractive. Gina opened a 2017 Domaine Martin Rasteau, a fresh blend heavy on the grenache.

Gina’s Domino’s selection was the Ultimate Pepperoni, done Brooklyn style, which features the thin crust she prefers, and we ordered it well done. The regular price for a 14-inch Ultimate is $15.99, but we had an online coupon for 50 percent off each pizza. The pizza was crunchy and spicy, and had a generous coating of cheeses as well as tomato sauce.

The Big Dog chose a make-your-own pizza, with sausage and green peppers. His “hand tossed” preparation, also well done, was a classic cheesy presentation ($14.50 regular price).

Both pizzas were delicious and hot upon arrival within a half hour of our order, excellent cold later for those of us who sometimes prefer it that way, and possibly best upon reheating. They paired well with our fancy wines and with a Bee Hoppy IPA.

We are grateful to our new neighbors for bringing us a Domino’s franchise. And we’re wishing all of us good health and financial security and an end to the pandemic that has upended our world.

Domino’s
Online

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Knuckleheads, New Bedford

We recently had a dining experience that reminded us of the adage about not judging a book by its cover.

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.

Knuckleheads
85 MacArthur Drive, New Bedford

 

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Black Whale, New Bedford

black whale new bedford southcoastchowWe 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

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