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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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

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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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End Zone, New Bedford

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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

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Boston Tavern, Middleboro

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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.

Boston Tavern
58 East Grove Street (Route 28)
Middleboro

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