Archive for category Inexpensive Dining
Imagine you’re planning a celebratory Friday lunch at a nice Portuguese restaurant in New Bedford. You pull up and take the very last available parking space in the lot. You’re seated quickly by a window, and an attentive waitress brings you a glass of the brand of wine you favor. The menu offers many delectable-sounding choices, and your selections turn out to be ample and delicious, and at a price far less than you expected to pay. Happy dining day, right?
Now, imagine that you find yourself in a bar called Knuckleheads. You make your way past a lunchtime crowd of f-bomb-dropping workers in hoodies to the last unstable round hightop and move the ketchup and mustard bottles onto the windowsill so you’ll have space to eat. The waitress pours your wine from one of those tiny plastic bottles, and you anxiously choose a couple of dishes that total less than what you might have paid at the Honey Dew Donuts next door, as an argument breaks out among your barmates. Scary dining day, right?
But it was the same day! A friend recommended that we try Knuckleheads and we trust him, so we gave it a shot. While the atmosphere was not for the faint of heart, the food was outstanding and the service was very good.
Gina chose a grilled salmon special ($15.99). The big hunk of properly cooked fish came with a garlicky-buttery topping, a large portion of buttery mixed vegetables, and a baked potato with extra butter and sour cream. We understand how some people might be going out to a restaurant and think that bland steamed broccoli might be a good dining choice but… actually, no, we don’t. We think that vegetables deserve the same treatment of sauces and seasonings that the main entree gets, and we weren’t disappointed here. The fish was great, but the vegetables were the highlight of the dish.
The Big Dog ordered the Junior Portuguese Steak Sandwich ($12.99). It was the traditional preparation, with red bell peppers and a fried egg. He ordered the steak medium, and it was slightly pink the middle, just as we think medium should be. Served on a Portuguese roll, the serving was enough for another meal a few days later.
The Dog opted for the “round fries” as an accompaniment, and we were both glad. These Portuguese potatoes were just a scosh thicker than commercial potato chips, and addictive.
The wine, by the way, was Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon, which we order often. Here it was $5 a glass, and yes, it came from one of those little plastic bottles. And, by the way, a surprising number of the hoodie-wearers at the bar were drinking wine, not the Bud Light we would have expected. More proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
85 MacArthur Drive, New Bedford
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
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
The next day, we did something silly but kind of interesting: we ordered the exact same thing at the Hideaway Restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall in Middleborough. And it was delicious.
In fairness to White Tablecloths, we love their food, and they were clearly having an off night, because none of the four of us was happy with our meal. Chicken piccatta was bland, a blackened salmon over ceasar salad was too salty, and pork chops topped with vinegar peppers dish was weird.
The Hideaway is as far from white tablecloths as you can get. Gina and the Big Dog sat at a corner of a bar which winds around the interior of the room. Its worn formica surface was soon covered with paper placemats advertising, among other things, a gun shop and Big Dog Plumbing (no relation). One of the Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne movies was playing in our corner, and something funnier was airing on the opposite side of the room, judging by the occasional laughter we heard.
The chicken parm ($9.99) was as far as you could get from the white tablecloths’ version, too. White Tablecloths featured chicken breasts pounded to paper-thinness, coated in a bland breading, and overcooked, served on mushy room-temperature linguine, with a lifeless tomato sauce and no discernible cheese. Granted, that version came with a house salad (also off) and bread, but for the same amount of chicken and pasta, it cost more than twice the Hideaway price.
By contrast, the Hideaway chicken was fork-tender. The linguine was cooked al dente and served in a separate hot casserole dish. The breading was slightly crisp and kept the chicken moist. The tomato sauce was rich, and the dish was bathed in mozzarella. What a treat in an unexpected setting!
That was Gina’s lunch. The Big Dog ordered a build-your-own burger. It was very good, and it was a bargain at $6.70, plus 50 cents for the addition of lettuce, onion, and American cheese (and Dog’s usual combination of mayonnaise and mustard, both served in little plastic cups on the side). As they say, it was all that and a bag of Lays chips. He asked for it to be cooked medium and it came out more like well done, but he was happy with it.
He was equally happy with his margarita, a refreshing blend of Cuervo and the usual other ingredients ($7.25). Gina had a forgettable cabernet ($6.50).
At White Tablecloths the four of us split two bottles of good cabernet, and we enjoyed the evening out with friends we don’t see often enough. At the Hideaway, we got engrossed in the Jason Bourne movie and it was really just a quick pit stop on our way back from an errand.
The two experiences represented an interesting contrast. White Tablecloths felt like a disappointment, especially unsettling because we’d only gone there because we know it’s so dependable. The Hideaway felt like a great value and a surprisingly good experience. We were delighted and will return with higher expectations.
The Hideaway Restaurant
9 Station Street, Middleborough
Spend enough time in the Southcoast region of Massachusetts, and you almost become an honorary Portuguese citizen. Most local restaurants have kale soup and some sort of Mozambique dish on their menu. We like traditional Portuguese dishes and the zing that the colonies, notably Cape Verde and Brazil, have introduced.
That said, we must acknowledge that we’re a coupla pale-skinned Irish kids, and no Avo ever made us bacalhau. That can be good and bad when visiting an ethnic restaurant like Antonio’s. On the plus side, it means that we didn’t grow up with a single preparation of a traditional dish and find all others just plain wrong. Conversely, we don’t know when something has strayed so far from the traditional preparation as to be offensive to some.
Antonio’s has a very good reputation, and we’re pretty sure it doesn’t stray from tradition. It has been around for 25 years. At 2 p.m. one recent Saturday, every seat in the house was filled, which is weird — as you know, that’s our favored lunchtime, and we have never, ever, had to wait for a seat at that time anywhere, until we visited Antonio’s.
We were joined by Gina’s mom, brother, and sister-in-law, for a late Christmas get-together and gift exchange. They all live in the New Haven, CT, area, where ethnic restaurants are so common that you can choose not just the continent of origin, but the specific country — if you don’t care for the Ethiopian style of sambusa, you can find a Somalian restaurant instead, for example. But apparently New Haven doesn’t have any Portuguese restaurants, so our choice was simple.
The beer and wine list set the tone. Gina chose an Esporao Reserva from the Alentejo region of Portugal, while the Big Dog and Gina’s brother chose a Buzzards Bay Brewery IPA from the Westport region of Massachusetts. Everyone was happy with their selection.
For those new to Portuguese cuisine: It is carb-intensive. Most of our entrees came with a yummy yellow rice AND potatoes. AND a delicious bread basket of fresh rolls and bread slices. AND we ordered soups thickened by potato and/or beans. AND we ordered dizzyingly delicious custards in puff pastry for dessert. We were all ready to run a marathon the next day, and we’re sure some people do that.
The kale soup ($2.99) was delicious, but Avo would probably be opposed. Most of the preparations we’ve seen feature an oily beef broth with red kidney beans, sliced kale leaves, and hunks of chourico. This soup base was velvety, creamy, and thick, unlike anything we had seen. There were white AND red beans in evidence. AND macaroni. AND we’re sure there were some potatoes involved in the broth, all carrying on the carb tradition. This version had some strips of kale leaves, but the unusual addition of cabbage, cut from the stem end in a manner that invited the curly leaves to hang together in a very appealing way. We loved this soup, and will go back just for that.
We’ll hope for bread with our soup. The overflowing basket included some slices of white bread, and a half dozen “pops,” the Portuguese rolls officially known as papo secos.
Gina’s mom ordered the Chicken Algavaria ($14.99), and it stole the show. We should have known what was in store when the affable waitress brought the rest of us silverware, and Mom a shovel. The dish arrived in an aluminum vessel the size of a child’s wading pool. It was chock full of shrimp, littleneck clams, and chunks of boneless chicken tossed with saffon rice. We’re kidding about the shovel and the wading pool, but after Mom ate her portion and shared oversized tastes with the rest of us, she asked for the leftovers to be divided into two separate to-go containers, and the one we took home weighed four pounds. Four pounds! This was A BIG PORTION. At lunch!
Gina ordered the grilled swordfish ($13.99) which came with hunks of peeled white potatoes and broccoli, and took more than 60 percent of the fish and potatoes home. Big Dog ordered a lamb skewer ($13.99) which came with the saffron rice and a delicious salad, and took 70 percent of the lamb and rice home. Gina’s brother ordered Steak Tips Diane ($15.99), a creamy preparation that came with rice and french fries of which he took home 55 percent. Slim sister-in-law ordered a crab cake dish ($9.99) and managed to finish it, which made us assume it was an appetizer portion.
Bottom line: the five of us ended up with 13 meals averaging less than $6 apiece.
We all ended the meal with a Nata Custard Tart, a special for $1.25 apiece. We’re thinking it was a puff pastry pressed into a muffin tin and filled with a thin custard. When we come back for our kale soup and pops, please add one of these to our order. It was delicious and fun.
The decor at Antonio’s is pleasant and clean but not fancy. The service is suited to a white tablecloth setting, not the stacking-chair-and-paper-placemat scene we got. Overall, we felt our expectations were exceeded throughout our visit, and there is no higher compliment to a restaurant.
267 Coggeshall Street, New Bedford
Their original restaurant in Taunton is always packed. A newer outpost in Easton is bustling. At the start of the new year, they opened a restaurant in Seekonk. And in February, they’ll be opening on Main Street in Wareham.
“Everyone” includes the Big Dog’s little sister, who had told us about the Taunton location years ago. So it seemed fitting that when we went to the original for research purposes, she and her family would join us there.
The Big Dog and his brother-in-law each began with a Presidente margarita ($9.50), which they liked. Sis ordered a mojito ($6.75) when our server, Isabella, let her know that fresh mint was available, and it was delicious. Gina ordered a serviceable house cabernet ($5.25) and particularly liked the colorful glass, which was very thick.
While we reviewed the extensive menu, we augmented the complimentary chips and salsa with an order of guacamole ($8.50), made tableside in a stone pot and more than enough for the five of us. The chips arrive warm, with far less salt than any version that comes from a bag.
Niece Kaiya, who is in third grade and very knowledgeable about food, recommended the carne asada ($14.95). Knowing that she was going to order it and would probably share, we made other choices, but this was definitely a good one. After Kaiya carefully moved aside the scallion garnish, the strips of skirt steak were flavorful and tender.
Sis ordered the fish tacos: grilled cod wrapped in flour tortillas, accompanied by a do-it-yourself slaw, so you could add as much cabbage and dressing as you like, and a mound of white rice. This is probably the healthiest option on the El Mariachi menu.
Seeking the traditional Mexican restaurant experience, Gina opted for the combo plate which featured two choices ($13.75, including a dollar extra for sour cream) from among enchilada, burrito, chimichanga, chile relleno, tostada, tamale or taco, any of which can be filled with ground beef, shredded beef, shredded chicken, shredded pork or cheese. The cheese enchilada and shredded beef burrito were good choices. Like most of the entrees, this came with yellow rice and refried beans on an enormous plate.
Brother-in-law enjoyed arroz con camarones ($15.75), a generous dish of shrimp tossed with vegetables in a red sauce.
The Big Dog choose pork carnitas ($13.95), which was the only slight misstep of the evening. The pork was kind of dry, which would not have been noticeable had he wrapped it in the flour tortillas with accompanying red sauce and guacamole. But there was no evidence that assembly was required, and in any case, that would have taken away from the very good taste of the pork. He took home nearly half of the very large portion, and it was excellent from the food processor rolled into the tortilla with a little mayonnaise the next day for breakfast.
Kaiya talked us into trying the churros ($4.75), delicious little strips of fried dough served with fruit topped whipped cream, melted chocolate, and caramel for dipping. They were a perfect end to a very good meal, and we look forward to Kaiya giving us guidance during future restaurant visits.
Our very attentive servers spoke with Mexican accents and dressed in festive clothing you associate with Mexico. The decor in this storefront restaurant is warm and welcoming, with walls adorned with colorful Mexican artifacts. A darker bar in the space next door, accessible from inside, looked like a great place to watch a football game. While we were there, three people got the birthday treatment, which here involves singing and having an oversized sombrero placed on your head.
One warning for the budget-conscious: the portions here are big but not super-sized, and most of the prices we noticed are $1 to $2 more than what is shown on the on-line menu.
We understand the Lopez brothers, who own and operate the growing restaurant chain, are from Mexico, and seek to replicate an authentic Mexican dining experience. We’ve never been to Mexico but we’ve been to Taunton, and we’re looking forward to an El Mariachi opening closer to home.
44 Taunton Green, Taunton
This is not one of those stories. Riccardi’s was delicious and beautiful and we were delighted with our experience there. But it was no surprise; we’d been stalking them for months.
The Big Dog remembered going to Riccardi’s in New Bedford as a kid and wasn’t sure we would like it. We explored their website and were uninspired. Gina did a drive-by and was unenthused. We called for reservations one night and hung up before anyone answered the phone. We bid on a silent auction package at a Boys and Girls Club fundraiser because it included a $15 Riccardi’s gift certificate, and we figured that would push us over the edge and make us go.
And finally, mid-afternoon on one raw and rainy Wednesday, we went.
And we loved Riccardi’s.
Before we get to the deliciousness and beautifulness, we should comment on the service. We enjoy going to restaurants where the waitstaff is well trained, polite, pleasant, and competent. We also enjoy going to restaurants where the waitstaff pull up a chair and tell us about themselves. But we’re always most comfortable in establishments where the employees have an innate understanding of when polite-and-reserved is going to make for a better dining experience than convivial chit-chat. The staff we met at Riccardi’s had it. In our case, there was literally a moment when our bartender transitioned from “Server #41” to “Shelby,” and that was a good thing.
Not to belabor the point, but just as a clean restroom suggests a clean kitchen, and a great house salad portends a great meal, the bartender’s handling of a request to change the TV station is kind of a bellwether. Often they say they’ve been told they can’t (meaning management doesn’t trust the staff). As often, they claim ignorance (pretend-stupid is as bad as stupid, in our book). At Riccardi’s, after looking around to make sure our choice wasn’t likely to offend other customers, Shelby offered us the remote — a good move — but then checked back to make sure we’d figured it out — a great move.
We sat at the six-seat granite-topped bar at one edge of the dining area and marveled at the space: forests of lush philodendrons dangled from high ceilings, ample windows and skylights let in plenty of natural light but with landscaping that protected us from the view of the parking lot. Booths lined the room, with those at the front end of the restaurant — opposite the take-out area where we entered — were slightly elevated. The space felt both newly renovated and long-established. When we arrived, a fitting Frank Sinatra song was playing. Brought in blindfolded, you never would have guessed you were on Route 6 in Fairhaven.
So. We started with a great bottle of wine, a Banfi chianti, for $28. It was light yet substantial and seemed like a great bargain, and paired nicely with a basket of dense and slightly sweet bread.
Gina selected the “Venice Feast” ($9.95) and will order it next time too. It includes two manicotti stuffed with a heavenly creamy cheesy spinachy concoction, two slices of eggplant fried in a light eggy wash and dabbed with cheese and tomato sauce, and a giant scoop of ziti (you can opt for linguine instead) topped with an earthy marinara.
The Big Dog’s pick was off what we guessed was a specials list, although the list was laminated, making it seem very permanent, and unlabeled. His seafood risotto ($17.95) included a base of arborio rice cooked with chunks of tomato and onion and a hint of shellfish broth, then topped with an artfully arranged display of tiny littlenecks and mussels, interspersed with lightly pan fried scallops and shrimp. The shellfish were outstanding, and the rice had a decadently rich buttery flavor.
As an aside, we should say that the Venice Feast came with a side salad and the Big Dog’s risotto included, for a $1 upcharge, a generous bowl of minestrone, and we didn’t care for either. The Dog thought the soup was okay but too far from traditional minestrone to bear the name, and you frankly don’t want to hear Gina’s tirade about lettuce that tastes like chlorine. But that really seems like quibbling, given how fresh and delicious the balance of our meal was.
Mid-afternoon on a rainy weekday, we had the waitstaff’s full attention, with only two other parties in the dining room, and we can imagine that the atmosphere changes dramatically on a weekend night, but the structure seems to be in place to accommodate a large crowd.
We definitely recommend Riccardi’s and are looking forward to returning.
Riccardi’s Italian Restaurant
38 Sconticut Neck Road, Fairhaven
Confession time: Gina and the Big Dog have been holding out on you. We’ve been telling you about all these great restaurants in the Southcoast region, but not about the one near the very top of our list.
We love Not Your Average Joe’s, a small regional chain whose closest restaurant to us is on Route 6 in Dartmouth. We go there whenever we find ourselves west of New Bedford. Or north of New Bedford. Or near New Bedford. We bought a Jeep from a dealership across the street, only because we could envision long delicious lunches while we waited for oil changes.
Last summer we managed to convince ourselves that Route 6 in Dartmouth was on the way to Foxborough (it is not) so we could stop for lunch on our way to the Patriots’ training camp. Let’s do a review! we exclaimed. This is delicious! we raved. What a wonderful spot! we enthused.
But for you… nothing. No commentary on cilantro-laced corn garnish, no photos of succulent scallops. Frankly, here’s the problem: we don’t want any more competition for a seat at the comfortable bar. But we do feel kinda bad about holding out, so here are reparations.
Not Your Average Joe’s is a wide open space, from dining room through bar area and into the kitchen. Clever Southwestern-inspired decor makes it work, and even at a crowded happy hour, conversation is comfortable. The center of the bar provides an entertaining view of the pizza prep area and wood-fired oven.
Our most recent visit was for a late lunch on a cold and drizzly day, and we were pleased to see that the menu had changed subtly with the season. Gone were the sunny avocado slices, replaced by warming butternut chunks.
With a basket of delicious chunky bread served with a peppery parmesan oil, we dove into a bottle of Clos du Bois cabernet ($30), a bottle we like enough to buy for evenings in The Doghouse.
The Big Dog ordered a Backyard Burger ($9.99) with cheese, and yes, it tasted like something that might have come out of our Weber, but for the accoutrements — a gleaming soft bun, a sliver of pickle, a soupcon of mustard. He choose greens as an accompaniment in lieu of fries and earned an entire pint of salted caramel ice cream points, redeemed later at home. The burger was perfectly cooked and delicious.
Gina started with a Not Your Average Salad, $3,99 with entree: a melange of young greens with the unexpected addition of hunks of blue cheese and blobs of dried tomatoes in oil. Love either and you’re in heaven. Hate both, like Gina does, and you’re still extremely happy with the remaining fresh salad.
For an entree, Gina picked the chicken enchiladas ($11.99). Two rolled corn tortillas arrived atop yellow rice with black beans, and under an outstanding herb-y poblano crema sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. The enchiladas were meaty and delicious throughout, but each roll’s crunchy end was particularly delightful.
The folks next to us at the bar ordered what we’re guessing was the raspberry sorbet ($6.99, like all desserts) and we apologize for not being able to take a photo of the beautiful presentation, for fear of seeming totally creepy. Take our word for it — the dessert was surrounded by piles of fresh fruit and poufs of whipped cream and looked outstanding.
So, to summarize: the food’s okay, the atmosphere is okay, and you probably shouldn’t go here. Especially when Gina and the Big Dog have a reason to be in Dartmouth, or anywhere near there.
Not Your Average Joe’s
61 State Road, North Dartmouth
Gina and the Big Dog are notoriously particular. People know that if they recommend to us that we try the chicken wings at some remote location in rural Rochester, those chicken wings had better be outstanding.
In this case, our friend Timmy the plumber was not an entirely trustworthy reference, so we did some additional research before making the journey. And honestly, the awful reviews for this place made us intrigued. “Totally forgettable”? “Portions were a little small”? “Service was terrible”? “Food is meh”???
Having had a week of horrific restaurant experiences, starting with a Saturday night debacle with our friends Mary and Jim at the East Bay Grille in Plymouth that was inexcusably awful, we were kind of psyched up for another train wreck. You, our loyal Chow readers, hear about our good experiences, but to avoid libel and profanity issues, the bad experience stories are related verbally to a small group of insiders. And those are fun too.
We found Matt’s Blackboard in the antique strip mall that constitutes Rochester’s sole commercial activity around 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday. At that hour, we were surprised to find groups of diners already seated, and others arriving shortly after we did. We took seats at the bar, whose elevated height obscures its essential diner vibe, with an expansive view of the kitchen.
They’re not kidding about the blackboard thing. The restaurant has a serviceable menu of pedestrian offerings, but the blackboard offers an intriguing window on a culinary imagination that made us want to sit and sample all afternoon.
We started by sharing a house salad. We believe, as you know, that the quality of the house salad is almost invariably an indication of the quality of the food overall. This salad was extraordinarily good. It consisted of crisp, mild mesculun greens, slices of English cucumbers, sliced red onion, and sliced small cherry tomatoes, with what we guessed were chunks of delicious house-made bread turned into croutons. The salad was good, but the dressings were outstanding. Our server brought out little containers of both the balsamic vinaigrette and the roasted garlic parmesan dressing, to avoid any fisticuffs among us; Gina tucked away her leftover parmesan to bring home, and the Big Dog slid his balsamic across the bar, to make sure it went home too.
We both ordered blackboard specials for lunch.
Gina chose the lobster roll and clam chowder ($15.99). The chowder was good, but the lobster roll was the most delicious non-Connecticut (hot and buttered) version she’d ever had. A light hand with the mayonnaise, a strong knife on the celery, and a good fistful of fresh parsley, tossed with delicious fresh lobster chopped to a manageable size, made a salad stuffed into a buttered and grilled hot dog bun. Textbook — cookbook — perfect. Add your lettuce or capers or tarragon if you want, but this pristine version of the classic can’t be beat.
The Big Dog selected a fried clam plate ($16.99). He said the whole-belly clams were chewy, but interestingly, they all disappeared pretty quickly, and Gina thought they were delicious, especially with the silky house-made tartar sauce. The Big Dog said the cole slaw was too liquidy, but interestingly, Gina didn’t get even a bite. The french fries were okay and there were lots left over.
Seats in the small dining area are likely nice. The half dozen bar seats, as we witnessed, may provide a bit too intimate view of the kitchen.
We thought the food was great, the service was very good, and the atmosphere was very pleasant on a Friday afternoon., We will definitely return to Matt’s Blackboard.
And it’s an important lesson for all of us. Cranky diners are the ones who tend to comment on the internet, and they aren’t always to be believed.
565 Rounsville Road, Rochester, MA
Elisabeth’s feels like a diner when you enter, largely because of the chrome trim around its 15 or so tables. It is part of chilly gray/silver motif accented with an occasional nautical artifact. At the far end the skeleton of a rowboat hovers above the open kitchen, adorned with twinkling blue lights. At the entrance of the long, narrow room is a bar which, during daylight, feels more like a diner’s tall lunch counter.
There the diner comparison ends, as Elisabeth’s food is far more sophisticated, while prices are quite reasonable. Lunch entrees are in the $10 to $14 range, and slightly larger dinner portions topping out at less than $20. We think people would pay a bundle more for this delicious food.
We’d just made a rainy Friday afternoon jaunt to the fish market in New Bedford, so were inspired to sample Elisabeth’s scallop choices. When they arrived, we quickly realized that we had each ordered a dish the other of us would prefer, so we swapped.
Gina ended up with a selection off the regular menu, Sauteed Sea Scallops Espinage, a word we suspect someone believes is French for “spinach.” The dish, at $10.95, was described as “roasted garlic and spinach pesto with wine and cream on rice with tomatoes and asparagus, garnished with Buzzards Bay scallops.” We’ve posted a photo because it was as beautiful as it was tasty, and Elisabeth’s description, as well as anything we might come up with, could not do it justice. Under the deftly carmelized scallop pieces was a scattering of whole baby spinach leaves; the sauce on top was a delicious lemony, creamy concoction.
The Big Dog tucked into a daily special, Sauteed Scallop Chunks with tomatoes, lemon-basil pesto, fresh penne noodles, white wine and cream, again with the Buzzards Bay scallop garnish ($9.95). The penne had the telltale jagged edge and chewiness of a freshly made batch, and the dish had a generous dusting of parmesan cheese.
This followed a bowl of clam chowder ($4.95). Elisabeth’s version is an unthickened cream broth piled high with clams and potatoes. We’d also asked for a bread basket because everyone else had one, but the impenetrable sourdoughiness probably wasn’t worth the calories.
With our lunch, we enjoyed glasses of Genesis Meritage and Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon, each tasty enough to prompt us to look for bottles at our local wine shop. Our pleasant waitress, Amanda, told us that Margaret’s, a restaurant located two doors down, shares ownership, staff, and many menu elements, but Margaret’s is a BYOB joint that also serves breakfast.
Some might find the small portion size here to be an issue. Each of our dishes could have been bulked up with as extra scoop of rice or pasta, but to what end? We’d rather have top quality ingredients prepared well in small quantities than a giant pile of cheap carbs. We felt that the lesser quantity emphasized the quality and we liked that.
Overall, we found Elisabeth’s to be a very good experience with great food, and we look forward to returning.
1 Middle Street