Gina and The Big Dog

We’re Gina and The Big Dog, people who live in southeastern Massachusetts and who like to eat.

Carmines at Candleworks, New Bedford

You could have a delicious, fancy dinner at Carmines, including a glass of an interesting Italian wine, for less than twenty bucks a person. You could easily enjoy the lovely rustic ambience, the Rat Pack soundtrack, and the pleasantly formal service for far less than what you’d expect. There are six-ounce pours of each wine by the glass, hearty appetizers, salads with proteins, sandwiches, and pizzas, any of which would make for an awesome special occasion dinner. The trick is to not let the $39 filet mignon freak you out.

Gina and the Big Dog took a broader approach for research purposes, choosing instead to try several appetizers and entrees. Our splurge was thanks to Big Dog Jr. and the Lovely Jen, who got us a gift card for Christmas.

The Big Dog started with the Zuppa Toscana ($5.99). The creamy broth was thick and loaded with Italian sausage, kale, and potatoes.

Gina ordered rolled eggplant ($12.99). Three slices of thin, breaded eggplant were rolled around spinach and ricotta, and topped with tomato sauce and parmesan. It was hearty, delicious, and beautiful. If you’re doing the under-20-bucks thing, this is a good choice, especially for vegetarians. (Who, by the way, are well accommodated here, and numerous dishes are or can be prepared in a gluten-free manner, including the pizzas.) We hadn’t even ordered entrees yet, and our efficient bartender, Rebecca, was already bringing us a box for one of the eggplant rolls.

Along with the appetizers, we selected from an extensive menu of mostly Italian wines, with many choices available in six-ounce or nine-ounce pours, and prices for a glass ranging from $6.50 for American favorites to $15 for something special. Gina ordered a Barbera d’Asti and the Big Dog chose a fine Italian syrah. We savored these while reviewing the menu again.

Gina’s choice, a braised pork shank served over cheesy polenta ($22.99), was the superstar of our visit. The Flintstones-sized shank was tender and flavorful, and the polenta was spectacular. Leftovers yielded two additional meals, so the whole thing was a great value.

Which leads us to the one small misstep of our dining experience: Carmine’s offers six a la carte sides, and Gina opted for the vegetable of the day ($5.99), mostly to find out what six bucks worth of green beans looked like. When you think it through, this was very unlikely to have a good result. The garlicky, buttery, beans were adorned with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and pretty good, but… they were a serving of green beans. And some of them had their stems still attached. For the same price, we could have doubled up on the heavenly polenta.

Or, for even less ($4.99), a side caesar salad, as the Big Dog ordered. He wished it came with anchovies, but instead, it was a big, crisp plate of romaine with a rich, creamy dressing.

The Big Dog’s entree was the lasagna with meatballs ($21.99). It was a very generous serving of food with that excellent tomato sauce. The Big Dog described it was a pasta omelet, with pasta on the bottom and top, with the gooey, flavorful filling, all topped with a thick layer of mozzarella. Beyond the unconventional construction, the dish had a tang to it that we failed to identify.

If you like to dine at the bar, as we do, this is an outstanding spot for it. You’ll look out over the main dining room and the centuries-old stone walls and hand-hewn beams while enjoying attentive service and excellent food.

Carmine’s at Candleworks
72 North Water Street, New Bedford

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QUICK BITE: Fried Broccoli at Ella’s

“Broccoli” and “deliciously decadent” in one sentence? Let Ella’s Wood Burning Oven Restaurant make you a believer! This appetizer is a majestic mound of broccoli, fried in a very light batter to a crispy crunch, in a tangy pool of aioli, dusted with parmesan. At just $13, it’s a delicious treat.

Ella’s website and from our archives

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Sagamore Inn, Bourne

Looking for very good, fresh, yet inexpensive food in a homey setting in the Upper Cape region? Look no further than the Sagamore Inn. It’s an off-season favorite of locals, and a time-honored tradition for summer folk.

Let us cut to the chase on this one. Gina ordered the veal parmesan ($14.99) and a few minutes later, we heard a distinct pounding noise from the kitchen. “There’s your veal,” whispered the Big Dog. Joanne, our charming and efficient bartender, confirmed when she emerged with our soups. How often does that happen? We’re pretty sure that in most kitchens, the pounding happens in the morning, or maybe even the previous night, or more likely, at Sysco a month before the veal was shipped in frozen vacuum-packed portions.

Previously, the Big Dog ordered a bowl of the soup of the day ($6.99) — zuppa toscana — and asked for two spoons. Joanne suggested that she just bring us two cups of the soup for the price of a bowl. How often does that happen? The soup, which came with a basket of warm bread made for the Sagamore Inn by a bakery in New Bedford, was chock-full of big sausage chunks, potatoes, kale and added vegetables in a thin cream sauce.

The tender veal came topped with a thick layer of mozzarella and a side of spaghetti with meat sauce. It was delicious. Gina also got the house salad ($7.99) which contained a whole bunch of vegetables: romaine, red cabbage, red onion, chopped red peppers, celery, carrots, and more. It’s a house salad, and the house dressing is a thick and tangy balsamic vinaigrette which comes on the side.

The Big Dog ordered the Sagamore Angus Burger with cheese ($11.99). It came with a side of cole slaw which had a pleasant fruitiness which we suspect was from a tiny bit of pineapple juice or something similar. It, and the burger, were both very good.

Gina ordered an Irony cabernet from Napa Valley ($12) and the Big Dog enjoyed a Ketel One and soda ($10).

The bar is pleasant and comfortable, if a bit chilly at lunchtime on this snowy Friday. The dining area offers warm and comfortable private booths. The whole vibe is very homey, and we can imagine regular visitors to our beloved Upper Cape region believing that their summer vacation or fall excursion is not complete without a stop at the Sagamore Inn.

Sagamore Inn
1131 Sandwich Road, Bourne

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Alianca, New Bedford

We discovered another great spot for authentic Portuguese food in New Bedford recently, but we admit that we almost passed it up.

Alianca sits on a corner at the edge of a gritty residential neighborhood, across from a vacant lot in one direction and a boarded-up package store in another. The exterior looks startlingly different from the portrayal on its snazzy, professional website. Dare to open the door (during our visit, its sign was flipped around to display “CLOSED”) and you’ll feel like you stumbled upon a private party to which you were not invited. The regulars look up, and when you sit at the odd little bar, you’ll feel like you’ve taken someone else’s seat. A soap opera is playing loudly on a giant TV. You’ll realize that you’re the only people, patrons or staff, not speaking Portuguese. If that makes you uncomfortable, this is definitely not the place for you.

But get past all that, and you will be glad you did, because you’re in for a feast of Portuguese specialties, very large portions at reasonable prices, with flavors designed to appeal to the region’s large population of Portuguese, Azorean, and Cape Verdean emigres, and not watered down for American tastes.

Let us tell you about the wine first, because that was fun. Alianca offers some Portuguese wines – their reds are still the great value that Spanish reds were a decade ago – by the glass, half bottle, or bottle. We ordered half bottles ($9 apiece) of two red blends, each featuring aragonez, the Portuguese name for the tempranillo grape. We’ll be watching for these wines, Monte Velho and JP Azeitao, the latter of which had a higher percentage of syrah and thus was preferred by the Big Dog. We don’t pretend to be wine experts but these tasted good, and seemed to be an excellent value.

The Big Dog started with a generous cup of Portuguese soup ($3). It was your typical kale soup, but so much richer and heartier than what you get at some places.

Gina ordered a “pork steak” with a garlic sauce that made it “Alianca style” ($12.95). The meltingly tender pork came topped with a fried egg and slice of vinegar red pepper and a fistful of whole garlic cloves. The flavorful sauce was delicious when scooped up with the side of rice or the crusty bread that came with the meal. It even made the mixed vegetable side seem special. Where we would normally each take home half our lunch entrees, it was quickly apparent that this outstanding dish was not going to make it home.

The Big Dog ordered the Portuguese burger ($10.95), a special that day. It came with a fried egg and slices of either mild chourico or spicy linguica, and yummy crisp french fries. The burger was excellent, and the half we took home was tasty when reheated.

We really enjoyed our food, and importantly, we felt like the waitstaff and someone who came out from the kitchen to check on us were glad that we did. Where at first we felt like we were in a private party to which we were not invited, we left feeling like honored guests.

Alianca Restaurant
98 Cove Street, New Bedford, MA

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QUICK BITES: Sushi at Fishermen’s View

Remember when sushi used to be exotic and just a little bit scary? Nowadays, even the ichthyophobics among us can find something that feels safe on the sushi menu, and you can buy a California roll at the local supermarket.

But you don’t have to. You can buy your California roll ($17) at the Fishermen’s View in Sandwich, where the crab comes off the boat just a few feet away from your table. And it’s real Jonah crab, not the crab “sticks” you get elsewhere.

Fishermen’s View website and from our archives

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Pub 6T5, New Bedford

Without a doubt, this odd little roadside pub dished up one of the best meals we’ve had in recent months. Rich flavors, top-notch ingredients, a great balance of traditional and innovative dishes – Pub 6T5 had it all.

So let’s focus on the food.

Faced with a large and interesting menu, we decided that we’d choose some appetizers and entrees and plan on boxing if we were overwhelmed. We sat at the bar hoping that some other dishes would come out before we ordered to give us inspiration, but our fellow bar patrons were focused on pizza. Looked good, but that was not our jam on this particular Wednesday.

So Gina ordered the soup of the day ($4.99): fish stew, and two spoons. The Big Dog ordered the caprese salad ($12.99) and two forks. The salad was really good, with pesto dressing and shredded basil leaves, and hearty slices of tomato and mozzarella.

The fish stew, on the other hand, was outstanding. It was the kind of dish you talk about years later: a great big bowl with a flavorful tomato base, a bit spicy, big chunks of fish, and vegetables. It tasted like fish, but not fishy fish. Where we’d been side-eying our fellow patrons’ pizzas, now all eyes were upon our soup, and some asked what we’d ordered and got their own.

From the regular menu, Gina ordered the quinoa grain bowl ($11.99), mostly because she’d never seen anything like that on a menu in a setting like this. It was delicious quinoa and rice tossed with grilled corn and pico de gallo drizzled with an avocado poblano cream sauce. We got the sense that most people add grilled chicken but it was great without.

The Big Dog ordered the cacoila sandwich ($9.99), subbing a very good green salad for the fries that normally come with it. The sandwich was pretty simple: the traditional Portuguese pork served unadorned on a Portuguese pop roll. Like your vavo makes… except a hundred times better. A thousand. The roll was perfectly puffy, the pork meltingly tender, the sauce rich. As we pushed the grain bowl aside (it was excellent the next day) and devoured this sandwich, we decided to order another to go.

But then we got waylaid by the bread pudding ($6.99). We rarely order dessert, but this caramelly, ice-creamy, whipped-creamy beauty was a worthy splurge. As on several other dishes, the menu attributes this one to someone in the kitchen named Fatima.

So, yes, the food was spectacular. The service was distracted. The wine choices were limited and one mixed drink tasted like City water. The decor was part fraternal hall, part insurance agency office, part dive bar, part exotic high-end restaurant. The whole thing is one big room, and if the crowd on this Wednesday afternoon was any indication – all commercial scallop fishermen from different boats who were fascinating to eavesdrop on – Vavo better be prepared for some salty language.

Despite all that, we would see this as a future special occasion restaurant, a favored place to go when we are celebrating. We’re not much into fancy linens or valet service or other trappings of high-end dining, but the food here is so distinctive that the experience is sure to be memorable.

Pub 6T5

736 Ashley Boulevard
New Bedford

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QUICK BITES: Desserts at Alden Park, Plymouth

Alden Park has an adorable, elegant, and inexpensive solution for those of us who didn’t save room for dessert but want something more than a fistful of mints on the way out the door: Small Bites.

For just $2, you get your choice of seven desserts served with tiny spoons in a shotglass. On a recent visit, we chose Mandarin Orange and Chocolate Cake. Delicious and fun! It’s a great way to end a meal, or a fun accompaniment to cocktails.

Alden Park website
and from our archives

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Bailey’s Surf and Turf, East Wareham

For Gina and the Big Dog, Bailey’s was our safe go-to spot during the pandemic, and our favorite destination for an afternoon beverage or a reliable lunch in the ensuing months. It’s our Cheers: Everybody knows our (real) name.

So imagine our surprise when we realized we have never posted a Chow review of Bailey’s. We set out to rectify that on a recent Thursday night.

Bartender Dylan, who is professional and personable, mixed the Big Dog’s favorite Ketel One and soda ($8) and poured Gina a serviceable Woodbridge Cabernet ($8.50). He brought us a shrimp cocktail ($14.95) as we perused the menu (again). The four oversized shrimp are always fresh and crisp, served in a cool aluminum martini glass with house-made cocktail sauce.

We followed that up with a crock of French onion soup ($6.95), for which Dylan brought us two spoons. It may not be a traditional preparation, but it’s hot and cheesy, loaded with plump onions, and great on a cool evening.

The Big Dog ordered a special: chicken Picatta ($18.95). The lightly battered chicken cutlets come bathed in a lemony garlic butter tossed with capers and sliced mushrooms. His dinner came with a big house salad.

Gina ordered her favorite: baked salmon. The lunch portion is huge, and the dinner portion ($24.95) is easily three meals worth of fish. It’s topped with Bailey’s extraordinary seafood bisque as a sauce, so in addition to the tender, juicy, thick slab of salmon, you get a kind of Newburg-ish sauce loaded with tiny Maine shrimp, scallops, and some lobster. For her two sides, Gina chose mashed potatoes (they are red potatoes with the skin on, which some love and others do not) and steamed broccoli.

We prefer dining at the bar, here and everywhere, but Bailey’s offers several comfortable options, including booths by the gas fire in the pub, and a traditional dining room, along with an overflow space used for functions.

Another particularly welcome characteristic of Bailey’s: owner Diana is almost always there to greet you at the front door, and her husband Rich is almost always in the kitchen. They’ve created a team of loyal and capable staffers that is likely the envy of Southcoast restaurant owners.

Bailey’s Surf & Turf
3056 Cranberry Highway
East Wareham, MA

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Barrett’s Alehouse, West Bridgewater

Take it from Gina and the Big Dog: very often, good food and excellent value can come from a place where you’d least expect it.

Barrett’s Alehouse is a great example of this. First impression: it’s on the highway, it’s enormous, it’s furnished and lit like a Motel Six, it’s lined with giant TVs. Worse, it’s got a whole sidecar space filled with supersized electronic games that would delight your adolescents.

So when on a Thursday afternoon we bellied up to the Corian bar, our expectations were low. Street corn dip with corn chips ($11) to start? Sure, whatever.

But O-M-G, what a delightful appetizer. It’s a baking dish filled with corn kernels alongside corn chips. The corn is bathed in a cilantro cream with a sprinkling of queso fresco with a scoop of pico de gallo on top. But above all, it’s a baking dish full of corn, and it will make you wonder why more restaurants don’t feature cheesy, salty, delicious snacks whose primary ingredient is a vegetable.

To go with, The Big Dog had our attentive and capable bartender, Nicole, mix up some fancy margarita ($11) and he was happy with it. Gina ordered a serviceable William Hill cabernet ($10).

The Big Dog’s lunch entree was even better than the appetizer. He selected the Pork Schnitzel sandwich ($15), admitting that he just enjoyed saying “schnitzel.” (Try it!) The oversized portion of pork was lightly coated and fried, extending way beyond the pretzel bun, topped with a fistful of arugula, and slathered with a flavorful dijonnaise sauce with tons of garlic and capers. It was one of the best sandwiches we’ve encountered in a long time.

Gina chose miso salmon ($21). The salmon was a generous portion, perfectly cooked and seasoned. It was served atop a clump of bok choi, sliced sauteed mushrooms, and “steamed white rice” that we didn’t care for (we’re rice snobs).

On a Thursday mid-afternoon, the cavernous space seemed virtually empty. But we could easily imagine it packed with patrons on a Friday night, or a Sunday afternoon during football season.

And let us add a note about our server. Nicole had that rare balance: friendly, chatty, but not in our business; attentive but not clingy. Kudos to Barrett’s for either excellent training, or having an eye for good young bartender talent.

Barrett’s has three locations and we recently enjoyed lunch at the Fall River location. They definitely have found the recipe for culinary excellence in a fun sports bar setting.

Barrett’s Alehouse
674 West Center Street
West Bridgewater, MA

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Cisco Kitchen & Bar, New Bedford

Have you seen that commercial for Haribo Gummy Bears, where a group of adults in a formal meeting room talk with delight about gummy bears in little kids’ voices?

We found a place that will make you feel like that.

Cisco Brewers New Bedford would be a cool spot anywhere: seven indoor and outdoor bars, live music, and concessions cleverly set up in shipping containers alongside a huge sandy patio with umbrellas shading wooden tables.

Now, put that spot literally right on the water, true waterfront dining being an amenity in short supply throughout the Southcoast.

Mix in a pleasing array of craft beers, spirits, and wines made by the people who own the place.

Then add some of the best food around.

Recipe for success? You bet!

Your visit begins, as some of life’s best moments do, with a doorman putting a paper wristband on you. The place gets wicked busy, we were told, and the armband signifies that you’ve been carded (not literally, for the aging Gina and the Big Dog) by the door staff.

On a drizzly Wednesday afternoon, we figured “busy” wouldn’t be an issue. Wrong! We were given the choice of fending for ourselves at the downstairs indoor bar, or taking the last available table inside. We chose the bar and found a nice spot amid a fairly diverse assemblage of tourists, tradesmen, twenty-somethings, ladies lunching, and professionals.

We started with an order of steamers ($16), a large portion of clean clams served in a broth with drawn butter and another more flavorful dipping sauce with a little bit of red pepper flakes and other unidentified but nicely flavored seasonings.

Gina selected the swordfish kabobs ($18). The six large chunks of grilled swordfish were described as being “spice crusted,” which is kind of like describing the Taj Mahal as a “stone building.” The dusting of exotic seasonings gave the dish a rich, Middle Eastern flair. The fish was cooked perfectly and was served atop a salad of spinach with halved cherry tomatoes and delicious pickled red onions. The swordfish chunks were separated by grilled red onion slices.

That sophisticated cadence, of ingredients treated differently in a dish, was even more noticeable in the Big Dog’s Brisket Wedge ($18) (shown). Smokey bacon on the iceberg lettuce? Check. Giant slabs of smokey beef brisket alongside? Double-check! Sliced beefsteak tomatoes? Yep. A scattering of multicolored sweet cherry tomatoes under a generous serving of blue cheese? Wow! Chef definitely knows how to take a classic dish and give it a spin.

And speaking of homage, the swordfish kabobs came from a section of the menu called “Davey’s Locker,” a nod to the worn but timeless restaurant which used to occupy this space. In between was a spot called The Edge, from which Cisco inherited some decor improvements before making more of their own. Some favorites among many in the Cisco space: surfboards suspended from a drop ceiling, and shelving displaying retail items against a shiplap wall supported by heavy nautical rope knotted to cleats on the wall.

Our bill identified our server as Jessica, although we think that was the name of a woman who headed up a large team of friendly and attentive servers, any number of whom stopped in to see how we were doing or to bring us stuff.

We admit to skipping the Cisco-branded beverages, opting for the more standard bar fare inside. Gina selected a Rufo Portuguese red blend ($12 for a 9-ounce pour), and the Big Dog enjoyed his usual Ketel Citron and soda ($10).

Stepping back to the sense of delight one feels upon arrival: whether the display of Cisco-branded garb catches your eye in one shipping container, or you’re drawn by the colorful vending of specialty cocktails, or you wonder what’s coming next on the giant Peavey amps, or the waters of Buzzards Bay appeal, or you just want to perch at a hightop under an umbrella at a sleek wooden table, this space is expertly designed.

A sure sign that Gina and the Big Dog really enjoyed a new spot: we plan our next visit while we’re still there; better yet, we plan friends to bring along next time. This was one of those spots – we look forward to becoming regulars and sharing this special spot with people we like.

Cisco Kitchen & Bar
1482 East Rodney French Boulevard, New Bedford, MA

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