Gina and The Big Dog

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

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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Wicked Restaurant and Wine Bar, Mashpee

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

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The Chart Room, Cataumet

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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

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Bucatino, North Falmouth

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

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Fishers Pub, Middleboro

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.

Fisher’s Pub
360 Wareham Street, Middleboro

 

 

 

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Moby Dick Brewing Co.

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

 

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Eastwind Seafood, Buzzards Bay

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.

Eastwind Seafood

304 Main Street, Buzzards Bay

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Quicks Hole Tavern, Woods Hole

2017-01-27-19-27-38Q. What kind of people would write a glowing restaurant review after eating approximately three square inches of pork belly?

A. The kind of people who got the right seats.

Let us explain. We weren’t all that hungry on a recent visit to Woods Hole, so we decided to stop at the bustling Quicks Hole Tavern on a blustery Friday night for just a glass of wine and light snack. The first floor level was jam-packed, and we made our way up to the second floor where the only two seats available were at the chef’s table, a four-stool bar facing the cooking activity.

Gina ordered a Terra Grande Portuguese blend ($8) and the Big Dog selected a Familia malbec ($9). Both were good wines we hadn’t tried before.

As we perused the menu, waitstaff serving both floors, and likely the floor above us too, dashed in beside us to pick up orders. And 90 percent of them were burgers, even though there was no mention of burgers on our menu.  Burgers on plates, burgers in boxes, veggie burgers with Harvarti, burgers with salads, burgers with little tin cups of crispy fries, etc., etc. — they all went flying by.

We finally asked, and learned that burgers could only be ordered on the first floor of the restaurant. We briefly contemplated calling in an order to go from our seat next to the spot where they were dispensed, but we opted instead for an appetizer they call “pig candy” ($9) four slices of pork belly on a sweet potato puree. They were awesome.

But back to our review.

We watched as the four men in the kitchen braised lamb shanks, grilled steaks, sauteed juliennes of vegetables, pan-roasted chickens, and fried, then filled, little homemade donuts they put in a paper bags. We watched them test beef for doneness with a finger (a trick the Big Dog swears by). We watched them navigate the tiny space with nary a bump, criss-crossing paths as if they had done the dance a hundred times before.

Interestingly, we also watched as the line of cars waiting to board the Martha’s Vineyard ferry started to move, and the anxiety level among the waitstaff increased palpably. Not so the kitchen staff.  If the customer wanted chicken on his kale salad AND wanted to make the ferry, he should have ordered three minutes earlier. The customer knew that too, and shook off the waitstaff apologies as he grabbed his bag of takeout.

Quicks Hole offers an ever-changing charcuterie and cheese board, with three choices for $17, five for $22, and seven for $26. The choices looked interesting on the blackboard, and the board of three we saw looked like a generous serving for two people with all its accompaniments. We’ll likely try that on our next visit.

But watching the professionalism of the kitchen staff, we’re certain we’ll enjoy any selection from any of the restaurant’s menus. We look forward to returning.

Quicks Hole Tavern

6 Luscombe Ave., Woods Hole, MA

 

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Christmas Cheer

cranberry-liqueurWe’ve come up with a fun beverage for adults which makes a beautiful homemade gift, so long as you start now.  As the Big Dog described it, “It’s like Christmas in a glass.”

In a clean, decorative jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine about one part each of clean fresh cranberries, unflavored vodka, and granulated sugar.*  We used a cup of each and put them in a quart jar with a clamp lid. Add one tablespooon whole cloves for each cup of cranberries.

To give an extra boost of clove flavor, simmer some cloves in vodka for 20 minutes and add that to the jar.

Seal the jar and shake it gently, inverting it so the sugar begins to dissolve. Sit the jar on a counter and give it a shake every day or two.  After a week, the sugar will completely dissolve and the liquid will begin to redden.

The cranberry liqueur will be ready to use in about a month.

img_2869We put about an ounce of liqueur in a champagne flute, added a cube or two of ice, and poured soda water over.  Add a few cranberries (but not cloves) for garnish. If you like unsweetened cranberries, you’ll like these. The vodka itself absorbs the color but not the taste of the berries.

*We made our first batches for Thanksgiving: one with your standard commercial sugar, one with organic cane sugar, and one with the mixture simmered together before bottling. The only difference we could detect was that the simmered batch turned red right away.

For Christmas we’re trying a version that uses half the amount of cranberries and sugar. We’ll provide an update in about three weeks!

 

 

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