Gina and The Big Dog

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

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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Barrett’s Waterfront, Fall River

If your rice bowl came with a side of fries… you must be in Fall River, MA.

This beautiful seaside city has a rich Portuguese heritage. For diners, that means the freshest of seafood and gently seasoned dishes. And layers upon layers of carbs: it’s not unusual for a single restaurant dish to feature rice, potatoes, and bread.

The Barretts’ restaurant group so popular in southeastern Massachusetts typically has kind of a pubby feel and menu. Their acquisition of this waterfront restaurant, formerly owned by beloved Red Sox second-baseman-turned-announcer Jerry Remy, promised a continuation of that theme. They kept the giant – no, billboard-sized – TVs above the bar within the cavernous industrial space.

But happily, they added homage to the area’s culture.

On a recent lunchtime visit, most patrons were outside on the patio, but we sat at the bar alongside a group of what appeared to be construction workers who added a nice contrast to the mostly business-casual crowd.

A lunch special called Spicy Texas White Bean Chili Mac & Cheese ($15) caught our eye, and we decided to split it as an appetizer. Our bartender, who never gave us her name, told us the head chef is a butcher and all the house made sausages, including the “spicy Texas” one in this dish, were genuinely made in house. Our advice: if a special says “house made,” order it. This dish was an oversized portion of spicy, cheesy deliciousness. The ground sausage lended a subtle depth.

The Big Dog ordered a half dozen oysters ($16). We were told they were from Duxbury, which could mean from a number of farms. One was perfectly shucked, the rest not so well but all tasted great.

Gina selected a Mozambique Bowl with shrimp ($21). If the cavatappi pasta in the chili mac and cheese weren’t enough, this dish put us in carb overload. The classic mozambique sauce had the traditional tang and rich butteriness, and the extra large shrimp were clean, crisp, juicy, and perfectly cooked. Meaty onion slices were tossed in the sauce with banana peppers, and the whole thing came atop saffron rice with a fistful of house cut french fries dunked into the sauce.

We boxed more than half of each dish, which justified a rare foray into dessert: a peach cobbler ($8). Crisp peach slices were baked in a dish with a cinnamony crust and topped with ice cream and whipped cream.

Our advice: If you’re looking for an authentic Fall River dining experience, don’t overlook what might seem to be a chain experience. Este é um excelente lugar para comer.

Barrett’s Waterfront
1082 Davol Street, Fall River, MA

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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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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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