Gina and The Big Dog
We’re Gina and The Big Dog, people who live in southeastern Massachusetts and who like to eat.
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.
98 Cove Street, New Bedford, MA
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.
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.
736 Ashley Boulevard
Posted in Quick Bites on November 18, 2021
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
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
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.
674 West Center Street
West Bridgewater, MA
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.
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.
1082 Davol Street, Fall River, MA
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
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