Monday, June 30, 2008

The Double Cheeseburger King!

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Charlie's Kitchen in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, has been called many things in its 40-plus years of operation: a dive, a clean dive, a dive with great food, a beer joint, a college hangout, a Harvard Square landmark, tacky, loud, fun, and a general source of irritation.

What sticks out most in my mind about Charlie's is that it is "The Double Cheeseburger King," and a restaurant that offers a good value. A long-time favorite of Harvard University students, professors and families who chose not to take the vegetarian route, Charlie's has all the comfort foods that any hungry person, looking for a lively time, could ever want: burgers, beer from around the world, and, at times, loud rock and roll music blaring on the jukebox. While you can get a good salad here, meatloaf dinner, spaghetti, or a lobster roll, Charlie's reputation for being "The Double Cheeseburger King" is accurate and most important here. If there's any doubt, there are two signs out front that state they are "The Double Cheeseburger King." While there might not officially be a king in the kitchen flipping burgers, the taste of these gems is the ultimate in artery-clogging hamburger delight. The forty years in business validate the greatness of Charlie's cheeseburgers, with hopefully many more years of providing this valuable, albeit unhealthy menu item to this otherwise cultural mecca called Harvard Square.

Charlie's Kitchen, 10 Eliot Street, Cambridge, MA. Tel. 617-492-9646

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Quintessential Small New England Town

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Essex, CT, has all the small town bells and whistles required to make it a special vacation destination: a tree-lined downtown with specialty shops and restaurants, big old historic homes up near the sidewalk,, and a pleasing park with gazebos and picnic benches leading to wonderful, relaxing views of the Connecticut River.

A former shipbuilding town dating back to the 1600s, Essex looks refined and perfectly manicured today, but that polish doesn't take anything away from its authentic small town look and feel. With the old, sprawling Griswold Inn (one of the oldest continuously operated inns in the country) as one of its "anchors," Essex has a timeless quality that hasn't pandered to modern chains and cookie-cutter architecture. What's more, there are 14 miles of sidewalks that allow you to stroll through this relaxing, picturesque community. Nearby, you'll find the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Ride, combining train and boat riding through some truly scenic countryside along the Connecticut River. The Gillette Castle in East Haddam is another worthwhile attraction -- a stunning castle with 24 rooms, 47 unique doors, white oak woodwork and carvings, stone stairways, built-in couches, a movable table on tracks, and an inside porch fountain. The Gillette Castle is accessible by ferry or by automobile.

Author Norman Crampton named Essex as the best small town in America in his book, "Best Small Towns in America.. Mr Crampton is a very smart, perceptive and accurate person, indeed!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cozy, Connecticut Dining at the Vanilla Bean Cafe

Article and Photo by Eric H.
If you're looking for a cozy restaurant serving comfort food in the northeastern Connecticut countryside, then the Vanilla Bean Cafe in Pomfret, CT, might just be your favorite, future dining tradition in this genre.

Beautifully situated at a quintessential New England town common, the Vanilla Bean's charming post and beam farmhouse structure dates back to the 1800s, but the food, staff and entertainment is wonderfully 21st century. Breakfast, lunch and dinner combines the best of comfort foods (soups, chili, wraps, sandwiches, baked goods, etc.), dishes from around the world and chef- inspired dinner offerings (the smoked mozzarella and basil ravioli and teriyaki chicken & vegetables are great). Add a kid's menu, fresh salads, coffee, teas, some wonderful night folk entertainment, outdoor dining, and a beer and wine menu, and you have something for everyone.

What elevates the Vanilla Bean Cafe to a high level of quality dining resides in its dedication to creating fresh food, as well as its unique, lovely, ultra-comfortable atmosphere. As a result, we just can't get enough of the Vanilla Bean Cafe, one of our favorite, most-beloved, restaurants in New England.

The Vanilla Bean Cafe, Corner of Routes 44, 169, and 197, Pomfret, CT., Tel. 860-928-1562

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The Eighth Best Ice Cream Place in the World

Article and Photo by Eric H.
National Geographic's "An Ultimate Guide for Travelers" ranked Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar in Sharon, MA, in 2007, as the eighth best ice cream place in the world. That's great news for New Englanders, as other top 10 ice cream places would have required a trip, for example, to Florence, Italy, or Paris, France (actually, a good excuse to travel).

Crescent Ridge does have some truly great ice cream, including the current special S'Mores, and orange pineapple, peppermint stick, ginger, fudge ripple and the old standbys of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. While we wonder how a list of best ice cream places in the world could be narrowed to ten, the reality is that, from a local's perspective, Crescent Ridge is slightly better than the other top-tiered ice cream stands in New England. It all comes down to freshness, and Crescent Ridge somehow comes through better than most. What's more, Crescent Ridge represents the classic New England ice cream stand at its best with a truly bucolic, relaxing setting -- a farmhouse in the scenic distance, a field with cows, and picnic benches. Along with Kimball Farm in Westford, MA, Carlisle, MA and Jaffrey, NH, the Ice Cream Machine in Cumberland , RI, Four Seas in Centerville, MA, Brown's in York Beach, Maine, the Black Cow in Millis, MA, Bubbling Brook in Westwood, MA, and Peaceful Meadows in Whitman, MA, Crescent Ridge ranks with our current favorite ice cream places in New England.

Crescent Ridge Dairy, 355 Bay Rd., Sharon, MA. Tel. 781-784-2740

Read more about the Best Ice Cream Stands in New England and Reader's Favorite Ice Cream

A Wealth of Vacation Attractions in Newport, RI

Article by Eric H. Photo, courtesy of Travel Guide of America
Newport, RI, has always been known for its lifestyles of the rich and famous and their mansions, but is it a good vacation destination for the mainstream?

The answer is a definitive "yes and no!" We don't mean to skirt around the issue, but as a variation of the pharmaceutical ad moniker, Newport "might not be right for everyone." You'll find crowds, traffic, obnoxious cheap souvenir shops, annoyingly pretentious boutiques, and overly expensive restaurants.

The reality is, however, that most vacation destinations are becoming this way. It's just a little more pronounced in Newport. If you can get past some of the annoyances, you just might find yourself touting Newport as a place you'll always return. The good points to this city are too compelling to think otherwise.

We recommend you get in touch with the scenic and historical purity of the community where a little peace and quiet, along with visual delights, help create the Newport you were hoping for. Take for example, Easton's Beach, a great stretch of sand and surf that's as nice as any New England beach. There's even a carousel on the premises, as well as a branch of the New England Aquarium. The Cliff Walk is surely another one of New England's travel highlights, providing a wonderful stroll above the sea that afford amazing Atlantic Ocean views. Ocean Drive is exactly that, a nice stretch of road providing more coastal views, this time from your vehicle. Then there's Ft. Adams State Park, with panoramic perspectives of Newport Harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, and famous for its folk and music festivals.

What would a trip to Newport be without touring the mansions? Fortunately, the tours focus on just the mansions and not on ripping you off or sucking you into buying some other products. It's hard to believe that people once lived in these "summer cottages!" We always enjoy paying close attention to the detailed architecture (there's plenty of it) at, for example, the Breakers, The Elms and the Rosecliff. The Breakers (the Vanderbilt's home), by the way, is a 70-room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Not exactly the place you'd want to downsize!

Newport has its share of fine restaurants (Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant and the Black Pearl, as examples) and plenty of shopping all over town (like at the Brick Market Place with its four acres of shopping). There's also the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport Art Museum and Art Association and the Museum of Newport History as worthy tourist and cultural attractions. But it's really the scenic and architectural beauty of the area that magnetizes us. Once you sift through the sources of tourist irritation and into the "real Newport," then, no doubt, Newport may be right for everyone!"

Find Newport, RI, Hotels

Enjoying the Middle of Nowhere at Brookfield Orchards

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Brookfield Orchards in Brookfield, MA, might sound like a place just to pick apples, but actually offers that proverbial "everything but the kitchen sink."

Located in the middle of nowhere in central Massachusetts, the isolated but scenic Brookfield Orchards appears to be, from the outside, a farm stand with perhaps a garage or an apple producing operation attached. Once inside, however, this mammoth network of retail rooms seems bigger than tiny North Brookfield itself.

Upon entering, there's a snack bar with the most delicious homemade apple dumplings. Add some ice cream and you're in snack heaven. The snack bar also serves apple pies, apple cakes, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies, and in September and October, hot dogs, hamburgers, chili and macaroni and cheese. September and October, are, of course, the time to pick apples on its 80 landmark apple orchard acres. During apple season (beginning around Labor Day Weekend), the views from the hilly terrain are priceless and fun abounds with wagon rides, crafters, and entertainment.

As they say on those television informercials, "But wait, that's not all!" Brookfield Orchards also features a country store with jams, jellies, maple products, Vermont cheddar cheese, candy, books, maps, crafts, antiques and collectibles. It's a charming scene with displays of old tools, spinning wheels, cider presses, a waterfall and a large assortment of memorabilia.

Brookfield Orchards takes us back to the day when a snack bar was a snack bar, a country store was a country store and an apple orchard was an apple orchard, meaning that there's no pretense, or over commercialism. The help is nice and graciously advanced in age, the layout is plain but offering plentiful merchandise and the apple dumplings the best snack food on the planet. It's always so pleasant coming to Brookfield Orchards at any time of the year.

Brookfield Orchards, 12 Lincoln Rd., North Brookfield MA 01535. Tel. 508-867-6858, 877-622-7555

Read more neighboring West Brookfield, MA

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fast-Food, Naturally, at O'Naturals!

Article and Photo by Eric H.
O'Naturals offers food that tastes as good as fast food, but with the wholesome ingredients that are commonly found in your local health food store.

O'Naturals, originated by "Gary and his wife, Meg" at Stonyfield Farm, prepares its food without additives and names of ingredients you can't pronounce. The result is some amazing tasting organic and naturally-raised food, including a build-your-own-salad, soups, flatbread pizzas (after 4 p.m.), stir fry noodles, muffins, croissants, and some incredible tasting flatbread sandwiches (chicken, soy, steak, seafood and veggie offerings)! The wild prarie-raised "Wild West" bison meatloaf with red peppers, cheddar and mustard is our favorite -- unique, succulent and abundant. The flatbread bread really complements the sandwiches' filling, baked to near perfection with its organic, unbleached and unbromated flour with germ, honey, sea salt and yeast. As a example of a complete wholesome meal, add a sesame spinach salad and green peas lemon herb soup (available on Tuesdays and Fridays) and you've got a meal that will make you forget about the other fast food chains. There's also a children's menu including a great grilled cheese flatbread, mac and cheese, and antibiotic-free turkey sandwich.

The food at O'Naturals is nothing like its no-longer-in-business restaurant predecessors who were ambitious but usually turned out health food with the taste of a brick. This is comfort food at its best, served fast, and in a environmentally-friendly, visually-appealing atmosphere (lots of recycled elements to the restaurant construction and furniture).

The Acton, MA, location is closest to us, but there are other O'Naturals in Falmouth, Maine, Portland, Maine, Wichita, Kan., and Orlando, Fla. It is our hope that this brilliant restaurant concept will become a household name when it comes to fast food dining.

O'Naturals, 149 Great Rd. (Brookside Shops), Acton, MA. Tel. (978) 266-0222

A Diner That Goes Beyond Comfort Food

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Whether it's a meatloaf "blueplate" special or tofu vegetable stir fry, the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown, MA, has the knack for appealing to every walk of life.

Looking like a classic diner with its stainless steel, counters and booths and neon and acting like a restaurant with a chef who should be working somewhere in the upper-echelon Boston dining spotlight, the Deluxe Town Diner represents the best of the modern diners -- and the best of the old school diners! Perhaps that's why you'll see everyone from blue collar types to college kids, all looking for a good bargain, mind you.

The breakfast, lunch and dinner menu is quite diverse, including virtually any kind of breakfast item (pancakes, waffles, eggs any style, potato pancakes, breakfast burritos, etc.), soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches, and "blueplate specials" like meatloaf, roast turkey, mac and cheese, frank and beans, and fish and chips. For breakfast, the chocolate chip pancakes are phenomenal, full of chocolate chips and made-from-scratch pancakes. For lunch, we loved the Asian noddle chicken salad, although "Mom's chicken noodle soup" the Falafel appetizer plate, apple curry turkey burger and meatloaf sandwich looked very tempting, also. For dinner, we especially liked the meatloaf dinner -- plentiful and with a homemade taste.

While you'll feel quite familiar with the Deluxe Town Diner's classic diner decor and its comfort foods, it's quite an unfamiliar feeling to walk into a diner and be able to order beyond "comfort food." We heartily recommend this unusual concept, rare in the diner genre.

Deluxe Town Diner, 627 Mount Auburn St., Watertown, MA. Tel 617-926-8400

The Rise of Portland, Maine

Article and Photo by Eric H.
File Portland, Maine, under "Most Improved City" in New England.

This isn't one of those personal honors that found 1/20th of the city to have improved significantly, or eating at a memorable restaurant that used our appetites to think favorably of Portland. This is an honest-to-goodness, first-hand traveler's account of one who once couldn't wait to leave Portland, but who now can't wait to leave for Portland.

Portland's renaissance is the real deal. While no city is immune from the urban blight that has us running for for the green suburbs or a rural spot getaway, Portland has improved enough to the point where we can safely say that it is a legitimate urban vacation destination.

Always perfectly situated on picturesque Casco Bay (and between rugged coastline to the east, north and south and scenic countryside and Sebago Lake to the west), Portland has always possessed a small-town charm within its big city leanings. The trouble was, the city seemed more possessed with a dark feeling -- empty storefronts, shady people standing in the alleyways, bad Chinese restaurants serving as the leaders of the local dining scene, and hotels in need of renovation so badly that even HGTV would give up on them (if they were around back then).

Now Portland is vibrant, with its "anchor," Old Port Exchange, offering several historic blocks of cobbled streets, beautifully restored Victorian brick buildings with many fine restaurants, cafes, microbreweries, art galleries, boutiques, upscale souvenir/gift shops, the famous Stonewall Kitchen, antique stores and much more. It is the perfect place for a trip-back-in-time stroll, with views of Casco Bay.

The cultural scene has painted an artistic sheen to to Portland with seemingly endless opportunities including the Portland Museum of Art, the Arts District with many art galleries, Portland Ballet, the Children's Museum and, the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

Portland's waterfront has also undergone an impressive renovation -- much like Boston's ambitious project -- with many new stores and restaurants. For dining, we enjoy Dimillo's Floating Restaurant, residing in a huge converted car ferry on the water. Specializing in fresh seafood, Dimillo's also offers great outdoor dining on the deck in the warmer weather.

On the recreation side, there's sailing on Casco Bay as well as minor league baseball and hockey teams (Portland Sea Dogs and Portland Pirates, respectively) for the sports enthusiast.

When staying in Portland, we enjoyed the Holiday Inn Portland by the Bay. This Holiday Inn seemed to be well above the norm with attentive service, elegant decor, very well-appointed rooms, a terrific indoor swimming pool, saunas, a fitness center, a restaurant going way beyond bland "hotel food," and most importantly, a short stroll to Portland's best attractions (like Old Port Exchange).

Portland certainly meets all the criteria you'd want in a city -- attractions, dining, hotels, etc. All these city features are great, indeed, but what gives Portland an edge is its tree-lined brownstone streets, fine old homes, wide-open spaces and an overall understated, quaint historical look. At times, when walking through neighborhoods in Portland, it's almost like strolling through a quiet village.

Another Portland gem: the Eastern Promenade offers a two-mile oasis that leads to Easter Enf Beach and incredible views of the White Mountains in New Hampshire!

With close proximity to boating, kayaking, skiing, golfing, mountain climbing, and biking opportunities, Portland really seems like a great foundation point for a Maine vacation. Ten minutes from downtown Portland in Cape Eliazbeth is For William Park, home of the Portland Head Lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country -- and with stunning ocean views, to complement this classic Maine coastal scene. Twenty minutes north of Portland is Freeport, Maine, where you'll find the original L.L. Bean Store and more than 170 outlets stores, designer shops, boutiques, bed and breakfasts, hotels, and restaurants! About 20 minutes from Portland is Old Orchard Beach, a little bit cheesy but fun with its arcades and amusement areas, an amazing stretch of sand beach on the ocean and a wide choice of dining options. About a half hour from Portland is Sebago Lake where the 1,400-acre Sebago Lake State Park offers a pristine lake scene and includes swimming, boating and a 250-site campground.

How many times have we read in the press about a renovated city, only to go there and say "What in the world were they talking about?" While Portland is like any other city with its areas of questionable elements, Portland is unlike most other cities in its small-town-meets-big-city presence -- and with the renovation to make it really work as a fine urban vacation destination.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Castle in Connecticut!

Article and Photo by Eric H.
The Gillette Castle in East Haddam, CT, looks so authentic in its larger-than-life stone, medieval fortress construction that you'd expect Cinderella to be walking out of this grand structure -- perhaps, in this day of age, en route to the local Payless Shoe Store.

Gillette Castle, located in scenic Gillette State Park, is the former home of famous actor, director and playwright William Hooker Gillette (1853-1936). The home -- or, should we say, castle -- has been wonderfully cared for, as evidenced by the informative and entertaining tour that left us realizing that those 2,500 sq. ft. "McMansions" in our hometown aren't as big a deal as we thought. With sweeping views of the Connecticut River way down below, this castle-on-a-hill features 24 rooms, 47 unique doors, white oak woodwork and carvings, stone stairways, built-in couches, a movable table on tracks, and an inside porch fountain. Outside, you'll find walking paths with near-vertical steps, and trestles as high as 40 ft. There's also a goldfish pond and a vegetable cellar on the premises.

This was Gillette's semi-retirement home, bought in the early 1900s for $1M. And to think, that could buy you a modest-sized ranch home in Weston, MA, today!

In addition to taking a tour of the castle, Gillette State Park offers camping, food concessions and a visitor center. It's really a beautiful area, not only for the incredible castle but for its wooded lands and fine views of the Connecticut River. Nearby are ferry rides across parts of the Connecticut River, and the beautiful town of Essex, CT -- often cited as one of America's greatest small-towns with its perfectly-manicured, tree-lined streets, big homes, interesting shops and ideal presence on the Connecticut River.

Gillette Castle State Park, 67 River Road, East Haddam, CT 06423. Tel. (860) 526-2336

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Best Fried Clams: We're Just Wild About Harry's

Article by Eric H. Photo, courtesy of Boston's Hidden Restaurants
Restaurants like Woodman's in Essex, MA, the Clam Box in Ipswich, MA, and Kelly's Roast Beef in Revere Beach, MA, get a lot of well-deserved press for their great fried clams, but perhaps the best of them all is at Harry's, a tiny, old restaurant stuck in time on Route 9 West in Westboro, MA.

Harry's has many good menu items that we recommend but its signature fried clams tops the list, getting high marks for its full-bodied, slightly greasy taste, and value for the money -- you get quite a few clams at a price lower than most competitors.

Founded in 1946 in nearby Shrewsbury and in its current Westboro location since 1968, Harry's brings in crowds to its restaurant (that looks like a diner, but they don't like to be called a diner) with its down-to-earth, plain atmosphere with counter and stools included, old tile floors, salt-of-the-earth waitresses, funny cartoon signs on the wall promoting their food selections and a menu seemingly as big as a Tolstoy novel. Whether it's those great fried clams or breakfasts, burgers, turkey or meatloaf dinners, club sandwiches, monte christos, fried chicken-in-a-basket, lean pastrami, crab-stuffed haddock, pesto stuffed salmon or a mammoth hot fudge sundae, Harry's is all about the food, the whole food and nothing but the food, especially those wonderful fried clams!

Harry's Restaurant and Dairy Bar, 149 Turnpike Road (Route 9), Westboro, Mass.(508) 366-8302.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Bridge of Flowers Will Help Blossom Your New England Travel

Article and Photo by Eric H.
The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne, MA, is one of New England's most unusual attractions, sure to please horticulturalists and probably even those who don't like flowers at all.

There's no denying the vibrancy of this tourist attraction, as visionaries helped transformed a rusted-out western Massachusetts bridge into a colorful travel destination with 500 varieties of flowers, shrubs and vines as well as great views of the Shelburne River. The bridge connects Shelburne with Buckland, the former featuring a wonderful downtown with a mix of old-time "It's a Wonderful Life" types stores and restaurants with more modern, upscale boutiques, galleries and cafes. Buckland is brief, but also quite diverse with the earthy McCuskers Market (a food coop) with lots of organic foods, the working class Buckland House and Pizza, and the hip Mo's Fudge Factor where homemade fudge, Bart's Ice Cream, candies and 12-pound candy bars, pleases the sweet tooth.

Near the transportation bridge between Buckland and Shelburne Falls is a fascinating series of 50 or so glacial potholes ranging in size from six inches in diameter to 39!

Located in the foothills of the Berkshires Mountains, the Bridge of Flowers and the pleasant downtown of Shelburne Falls makes for one of the more pleasant -- and interesting -- travel destinations in Massachusetts.

Read more about Massachusetts travel ideas

Lemonade, Rhode Island-Style!

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Del's Lemonade taps into an old cliche about being at the right place at the right time. Just as the hot, New England summer sun is just about the squeeze the last amount of your energy, Del's Lemonade always saves the day with its arsenal of lemonade trucks that seemingly has a honing device to detect thirsty people.

Starting as a lemonade stand in Cranston, RI, Del's has actually expanded worldwide but has remained true to its Rhode Island roots with its lemonade available at local franchise shops, markets, and restaurants. It's the trucks, though, that provide the most valuable service. Everytime we seem to be on the verge of dehydration, there's a Del's Lemonade truck at key travel destinations like downtown Newport, Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett, the East Bay Bike Path in Bristol and Block Island.

Del's goes beyond just plain lemonade with flavors like watermelon, peach mango, cherry lemon burst, blueberry and kiwi. We prefer the classic lemonade, quite possibly the best we've ever tasted.

Visit the Del's Lemonade Web Site
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Burlington, VT: Mountains, Water Views and Big City Amenities

Article by Eric H. Photo by Skye Chalmers from Vermont Vacation
Someone from up above blessed Burlington, VT., with one of the greatest city locations in New England. Beautifully situated on Lake Champlain with stunning views of the New York State Adirondack Mountains, this very liberal "college" town also features enough attractions and events to create a great urban vacation.

Home of the University of Vermont, Champlain College, Community College of Vermont and Burlington College, Burlington comes across as a what some call a mini-San Francisco with it hilly streets leading to the shores of Lake Champlain. Church Street Marketplace makes the downtown special with its colorful, four-block pedestrian area of shops, restaurants, bars, cafe, galleries, shops and street vendors, entertainers and festivals. The lakefront area is another jewel with scenic walking and biking areas, dining, a park, the stunning Burlington Community Boathouse, sailing charters, and a wonderful seasonal ferry ride to Port Kent, NY. The sunsets are simply amazing!

You really get the best of both worlds in Burlington: the rest and relaxation around the lakefront and the city life of the downtown. The result is a highly recommended New England travel destination.

Find hotels in Burlington, VT

Going Green: Finding The Best Town Commons in New England

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Some New England traditions never grow old. Take, for instance, the village green, or town common, that dates back to the Colonial days. Traditionally located in the center of a community, the town common has often been used as a meeting place for community events and public ceremonies. Fortunately, these wide-open parcels have stood the test of time -- remarkable in this day of age where commercial, industrial and residential developers have their eyes set upon any remaining unused land.

Besides serving as a community meeting place, the typical New England town common offers classic New England aesthetic beauty with its wide-open, green spaces. In a typical New England town, the village green is often framed by white churches with tall steeples, and well-maintained older homes -- perhaps the prototype of what you'd expect a New England community to look like.

All village greens in New England look great. Some look even better. My personal favorite is the West Brookfield, MA, town common (pictured in this blog). Located in central Massachusetts, this expansive, picturesque village green has nice walking paths, benches, old trees with plenty of shade, a beautiful bandstand, the stately Rice Memorial Fountain built in 1886 and restored in 1986, and is surrounded by old homes and churches that are part of the entire center's placement on the National Register of Historic Places. The West Brookfield town common truly follows the tradition of being a community meeting place with its flea markets, little league games, concerts, fall festivals and holiday tree lighting ceremony. You really can't get more "New England" than the West Brookfield town common!

Do you have a favorite New England town common. Please let us know by posting a response.

Read more about the beautiful New England town

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Dining, Family-Style, in Westwood, MA

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Several years ago, Vello's came to the rescue to the family dining-starved southwestern suburbs by opening a restaurant offering well-prepared food with flair at affordable prices and friendly service.

Owner Victor Servello worked his tail off, spending much of his time at Vello's (which he still does), enjoying his work and making sure he hired help that was interested and content working at his restaurant -- very much opposite to the detached, self-entitled, "How can I not help you?" staffs we have dealt with at other restaurants.

What's more, Servello made sure to create dishes that are well above than what you'd expect from a family restaurant. The menu consists of eclectic/New American dishes with a heavy dose - and homage to -- the best traditional American foods. The clam chowder special could give renowned seafood restaurants a run for the money for the best chowder in the area. The shrimp risotto rivals any dish you'll find in the North End. The same goes for the homemade Italian-style pizza with ample toppings! The tasty, ample chicken Caesar salad wrap and panini sandwiches belong in the "Sandwich Hall of Fame (a theory, as there is no Sandwich Hall of Fame, at this point)." The over-baked salmon is also a real winner, too, cooked perfectly to bring out a tender taste with just the right seasonings.

Vello's also serves amazing sweet potato fries, burgers, fajitas, burritos, fried clams and mixed greens salads for lunch and dinner. They serve breakfast on the weekend and have a "Kids Eat Free" night on Wednesdays! Formerly Bergson's Ice Cream, you can see the restaurant's ice cream parlor past, transforming a Friednly's template dining room into a casual but hip small dining room atmosphere. Thankfully, Vello's hung onto some of the dining room's storied past by offering a full service ice cream menu, yet another reason to call this the number one family restaurant in the region!

From the finicky urban diner to the family looking for a great bargain, Vello's is a terrific dining spot. If only every town had a restaurant like Vello's!

Vello's, 679 High St., Westwood, MA. Tel. (781) 461-2440

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Southwick's Zoo: More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

Article and Photo by Eric H.
If you're feeling "caged" in to a dull summer routine,
we suggest escaping for a day trip to Southwick's Zoo
in Mendon, MA (east central Massachusetts, 20 minutes
east of Worcester).

Along with Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, RI, Southwick's Zoo stands as a premier New England zoo. More than just a zoo with caged animals, Southwick's has committed itself to environmental and animal ecology issues through the educational, on-the-premises, non-profit EARTH Limited. Southwick's overall mission is "To provide environmental and conservation education with an emphasis on animal ecology, endangered species and threatened habitats."

Earth awareness and betterment is in style and quite necessary these days, but what about going to a zoo to see animals? Isn't that the point of a zoo? Well, the news is good on that front --Southwick's houses hundreds of animals, including giraffes, lions, tigers, monkeys and kangaroos, as well as lesser-known species like pygmy goats, ankole bulls and Nilgai antelope. There's also many birds and reptiles at Southwick's.

Southwick's also features an area where children can ride elephant's, camels, and ponies. The "non-animal" rides includes a long slide and a recycled play structure made from 2,424 plastic containers, 27, 608 aluminum cans and 10 car tires!

Southwick's is the only zoo that has kept my attention for a few hours. Usually, I take the Homer Simpson route by getting excited about a day at the zoo, and then lose my attention span within five minutes of arriving. Here, it was different, perhaps stemming from Southwick's commitment to animal care, creatively laid out, free-range cage areas, the scenic land, actually interesting exhibitions, a nice staff that answers questions and makes education fun, and...mmmm... good junk food at the zoo's Zebra Cafe!

If you're a fan of zoos, then we strongly recommend with confidence that you'll have a great experience at Southwick's.
Southwick's Zoo

Southwick's Zoo, 2 Southwick Street, Mendon, MA. Tel.: 508-883-9182
Outside MA (800) 258-9182

Read more about Massachusetts Travel attractions

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Our Summer Romance with Brown's Ice Cream Stand

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Brown's Ice Cream, in York Beach, Maine, captures the essence of the quintessential New England ice cream stand by garnering crowds, and serving wonderful homemade ice cream into the increasingly comfortable summer twilight. After a day of beach, zoo and amusement park attractions two miles down the road at downtown York Beach, it's especially satisfying and rewarding to enjoy the moment of going to Brown's. After all, the "moment" isn't there the majority of the seasons, as the boarding up of Brown's signifies the end of summer vacation and the beginning of hibernating.

Our favorite Brown's flavors include the blueberry-packed Wild Maine Blueberry, whole-bodied black raspberry and the loaded cookie dough. While the ice cream ranks as some of the best we've sampled in New England, the experience goes beyond the ice cream. It's a way of life to eat ice cream at Brown's, something that dates back to our childhood and remains passionately in our ice cream stand affections from adults who remain youthful.

Read about the Best Ice Cream in New England and York Beach.

Old-Fashioned Shopping in Maynard, MA

Article and Photo by Eric H.
The Maynard Outdoor Store in Maynard, MA, brings us back to a gentler, closer time when personalized service, quality merchandise and reasonable prices all came together in a trip-back-in-time interior store design, probably not looking much different than when the store opened more than 50 years ago. It's a wonderful experience shopping here, not only for the old-fashioned feeling, but to buy up-to-date clothing, shoes, sneakers, jackets for all seasons, hiking boots, baseball gloves, and winter gear. Brand names sold here include Woolrich, Nike, New Balance, Levi's, Pacific Trail and Timberland. The previous-era window front displays, the red and white tile floors and original tin ceilings add to the overall charm.

Shoppers know that what they can buy at the Maynard Outdoor Store, they can buy somewhere else, but they also know that the experience is more pleasant here. That's why this current generation has followed their parents and grandparents' cue to shop at a store where everyone knows your name and the long-time management and hired help act as an unofficial second family who just happen to help you buy their high quality merchandise. The Maynard Outdoor Store is not your cookie-cutter store -- it's a local cultural retail phenomenon, thankfully surviving in this "superstore" world.

Maynard Outdoor Store, 24 Nason St., Maynard, MA. Tel (978) 897-2133

In Search of Comfort Food Outside Fenway Park

Article and Photo by Eric H.
The Great Sausage Company, located at the corner of Brookline Ave. and Yawkey Way, stands as one of the classic outdoor food stands in Boston. With some of the best sausage in the region, a surprisingly good Italian-style pizza, hot dogs that require ordering beyond a quantity of one, steaks tips as good as restaurants that charge twice the amount, and the much-needed-on-a-hot-summer-day soft serve ice cream, the Great Sausage Company goes well beyond its name. We love to sit outside Fenway Park and eat the great Sausage Company comfort food -- one of the more classic summertime things to do when it comes to eating less-than-healthy, but delicious food in the City of Boston.

Berry Picking at Jane and Paul's Farm, Norfolk, MA

Article and Photo by Eric H.
One of the great joys of a New England summer is the fun and nutritious activity of picking berries. In New England you'll find many farms that grow their owns berries and allow you to load up on these tasty fruits, usually at a low price. One of our favorite Boston-area places to pick berries is the 110-acre Jane and Paul's Farm in the southwest suburb of Norfolk. Jane tells us that strawberry picking has begun on their two-acre berry field and will last until approximately July 4th. Then, blueberry picking will start, lasting until the end of August. Each years differs in regards to how long the season lasts, so call ahead at (508) 528-0812 to get the latest updates.

Besides being a fun activity, the ellagic acid in strawberries and anthocyanins in blueberries are just a few of the myriad compounds in these revered fruits that may offer health promoting properties. Some scientists believe that blueberries might encourage improved memory function, so don't forget to pick some berries here this summer!

Looking ahead, apple picking typically starts at Jane and Paul's Farm around September 10, until everything is picked. Pumpkin picking starts in the the last week of of September and lasts into the first two weeks of October. It's a fun experience going on the tractor ride into the beautiful fields and finding the best pumpkins.

Quietly tucked away in this typically pleasant New England small town, we enjoy this scenic farm for its relaxing, non-tourist-trap atmosphere. Many other farms have become overcrowded and overcommecialized. Jane and Paul's Farm reminds us of the old-fashioned, down-to-earth, family-owned farms that we grew up with, but are currently harder to find in the Boston area.

Jane and Paul's Farm also has a small animal area with rabbits, goats, and hens, some marvelous plants and fresh produce including seasonal corn, lettuce, red and green peppers and tomotoes.

The overall experience at Jane and Paul's Farm is great -- it's a place that makes you feel like you made your own discovery -- and an enjoyable one, at that -- berries, produce, flowers and more!
Jane and Paul's Farm, 33 Fruit St. Norfolk, MA 02056. Tel. (508) 528-0812

Do you have a favorite New England place to pick berries? Please let us know through this post!

Summer Travel Fun in Boston Without the Expense

Article by Eric H. Photo,of Swan Boats Ride, courtesy of MOTT

A visit to Boston sometimes requires a second mortgage, but, upon closer inspection, there are many ways to spend time in the "Hub of the Universe" without giving away too much of your hard-earned money.

WODS-FM (Oldies 103.3) is once again presenting the Oldies 103.3 2008 Free Summer Concert Series at the DCR Hatch Shell Memorial in Boston. This year's lineup includes David Cassidy with the Firth Dimension (June 21), the Guess Who with John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band on July 21 (the latter from Rhode Island), Felix Cavaliere's Rascals ("Good Lovin'", "What a Beautiful Morning") with the Cowsills ("Indian Lake") on July 26, and the legendary K.C. and the Sunshine Band on Aug. 16 (I'll be there!). We applaud Oldies 103.3 for bringing these fun affordable concerts to Boston, and also for its on-air commitment to keeping great music alive, as well as the presence of legendary DJs like Dale Dorman, J.J. Wright and Harry "Bud" Nelson.

Boston will be celebrating the Fourth of July from July 1 to July 6! The famous Boston Harborfest event features an opening ceremony on July1, Children's Day on July 2, concerts with the Flounders and Mad Sweet Pangs on July 3, concerts with the Royal Hospital School Band and Dan Lawson Band on July 4th, a concert with the Dramatix and a "party on the plaza" on July 5, and the famous Chowderfest on July 6. Our personal "best bet" recommendations are the Children's Day with free educational and entertaining activities and visits from the USS Constitution Museum, Historic New England and the New England Aquarium; and the Chowderfest with competition for the "Best Boston Chowder" features local restaurants like Christopher's in Maynard, MA, the Daily Catch in Boston, Farmer Browns in Middletown, MA, Parkers Restaurant at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston, the Chicken Bone in Boston, the Daily Grill in Boston, MA, the Oceanaire in Boston, and the Quarterdeck in Falmouth, MA.

City-wide, there will be myriad events, including the Fourth of July on the Esplanade with Keith Lockhardt and the Boston Pops Orchestra and a traditionally spectacular fireworks show to follow. Visit for more information!

No trip to Boston would be complete without a ride on the Swan Boats. A 120-year-old tradition, a Swan Boats ride offers a fun and relaxing ride through the Boston Public Garden's natural, oasis-in-the-city setting -- as well as the novelty of the over sized fake swans attached to each boat. You will see real swans, however, in the waters, as well as beautiful flowers and amazing city views throughout the Boston Public Garden.

A trip to Boston would also not be complete without a walk through the 2.5 Freedom Trail walk, which includes educational, entertaining and informative stops by the Boston State House, Old Corner Book Store, Park St. Church, Old South Meeting House, site of the Boston Massacre, the Paul Revere House and Faneuil Hall. It's free and a great chance to learn about America's Revolution. You can take a guided tour or "go it" on your own.

Filene's Basement, temporarily located at 497 Boylston St. (the original Downtown Crossing location is undergoing renovations and should be open in the spring of 2009) is another local landmark. Established in 1908, Filene's is famous for being the first discount clothing store. There are legendary stories about customers fighting over clothing, given the amazing bargains (seems kind of silly, doesn't it?).

Castle Island in South Boston is free to visit and features water views, swimming, a network of walking trails for walking, hiking or jogging, biking, fishing, picnic opportunities and Sullivan's hamburger stand.

Historic Faneuil Halll offers more than 100 shops and restaurants at this renovated historical series of buildings, so the potential is there to spend lots of money. We're just as content going the cheap ordering a hot dog from the local vendor, a slice of pizza from Pizzeria Regina, a cup of clam chowder from Boston Chowda, or a chocolate chip cookie at the Boston Chipyard. It's just nice to soak in the atmosphere of this "heart of the city," walk around, or just sit on a bench in this special area.

The AMC Boston Chapter Local Walks Committee is a great resource to learn and participate in day hikes in eastern Massachusetts, ranging from three to 20 miles. Info on Bosto area hikes includes the Boston Harbor Islands, Mount Auburn Cemetery (nearby Watertown), Fresh Pond Reservoir (neighboring Cambridge) and Charles River Greenway (Watertown/Newton). Visit the AMC Boston Chapter Web Site for more information.

Looking for a cheap meal? Then we heartily recommend the landmark Santarpio's Pizza in East Boston, at 11 Chelsea St., Tel. (617)- 567-9871. Informal on the inside with lines often going out the door, we rank Santarpio's as having some of the best thin-crusted pizza we've sampled in New England. The pizza uses a fresh blend of cheese and tomato unlike any other we've tasted with elements of crunchiness, chewiness, a sometimes slightly burned breading, ample toppings and the potential for the whole slice to cave in. The perfect seasoning lends an additional flavor to these amazing pizzas. If, however, you're looking for a diverse menu at Santarpio's, please know that the only other items offered is are barbecued lamb and sausage -- with amazing, charcoal-fired flavor.

For an extensive list of "hidden Boston restaurants" for the budget-minded, check out It's a tremendous resource for "cheap eats" and beyond that price category.

Are there any cheap, but quality hotels in Boston? If you're not prioritizing marble-floored lobbies with gold-plated restrooms, then you will find a few viable lodging options that won't break the bank. You might want to research some of the following, less-expensive Boston hotels, perfect for the budget-minded:
Best Western Roadhouse Suites
Boston Days Inn
Holiday Inn Logan Airport
Midtown Hotel
John Hancock Hotel and Conference Center
Chandler Inn Hotel
Best Western Terrace Inn

If you know fo any affordable Boston events or attractions, please feel free to post here!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Visiting an Authentic Rhode Island Fishing Village

Article and Photo by Eric H.
The Galilee section of Narragansett, RI, isn't exactly the glamour child for New England travel, but therein lies its strength. This imperfect, but scenic and interesting authentic, working-class fishing village combines fishermen working hard at their craft on some very weathered boats and a tourist industry that features some great seafood restaurants and the presence of a great ocean beach named Salty Brine Beach. With water view seafood restaurants like Champlin's (256 Great Island Rd, Narragansett, RI, Tel. (401) 783-3152) and George's of Galilee (250 Sand Hill Cove Rd., Narragansett RI, Tel 401-783-2306) bringing you seafood straight from the adjacent boats and the wonderful stretch of sand at Salty Brine, an imperfect place never seemed so perfect. Galilee is one of our favorite New England summer coastal destinations because it is so real and... so really fun!

Read more about Rhode Island at

Search for hotels in Rhode Island.

The 1761 Old Mill Restaurant, Westminster, MA

Article and Photo by Eric H.
The 1761 Old Mill restaurant in Westminster, MA (north central Massachusetts), serves as kind of a greatest hits collection of everything good about rural New England. Outside is a waterfall, covered bridge, beautiful pond with ducks swimming, scenic vistas, and hiking trails. Inside this former sawmill are post-and-beam ceilings, a roaring fireplace, a downstairs gift shop with nooks and crannies in its stone architecture, and, yes, delicious Yankee fare. Particularly good are the chicken vegetable pie, roast country duck, New England clam chowder and for dessert, the apple crisp a la mode. The Sunday morning brunch is quite impressive, too, with homemade corn fritters, pecan rolls, scrambled eggs and bacon and various chicken, beef and seafood dishes.

It's a rarity for a restaurant to not only serve great food, but also serve as one of rural New England's most scenic attractions. The 1761 Old Mill certainly delivers, being much more than a place just to eat. It's ultimately a delightful rustic, New England travel attraction.

1761 Old Mill, Rte. 2A, Westminster, MA 01473, Tel. 978-874-5941

Find hotels in the Westminster, MA, area

Your Favorite New England Lodging With Ocean Views?

Article and Photo by Eric H.
One of the best ways to enjoy your New England vacation is to connect with the sea. There's really nothing quite as enjoyable, travel-wise, than visiting the many quaint, coastal towns in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire (very limited coastline) and Rhode Island.

We'd be interested in hearing about your favorite places to stay by the ocean in New England. For us, we enjoy the Katahdin Inn in York Beach, Maine (pictured in this blog post), a small but cozy, friendly, affordable Victorian-by-the-sea with nice rooms (a few with private baths) and right across the street from lovely Short Sands Beach. It's the ultimate wide-screen ocean view!

Please feel free to post your personal favorite New England ocean view inns, hotels, motels, resorts and bed and breakfasts. Happy travels!

Find hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, resorts and motels with ocean views in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island at

The Traveler Restaurant: Three Free Books With Your Meal!

Article and Photo by Eric H.
The Traveler Restaurant is "literally" the most unique restaurant we've been to in New England -- you get three free books with every meal.

Just over the central Massachusetts line on Route 84 in Union, CT (near Southbridge and Sturbridge, MA), the Traveler's previous owner needed to reduce his extensive book collection, so he shelved them at the restaurant and the idea was received with "great reviews" by dining patrons. Approximately, 100,000 books are given away each year!

The book idea is all well and good, but what about the food at the Traveler? The overall "book" on the breakfast, lunch and dinner selections is a hearty "thumbs-up," with home style meals like tender strip steak , tasty, full-bodied pancakes, fresh tossed salads, an excellent New England clam chowder and for dessert a rich chocolate overload cake. It's diner food at its best, but in a cozy, dimly-lit restaurant setting. We highly recommend "booking" some time at the Traveler, as a very good family-style restaurant and a great alternative to your local library!

The Traveler Restaurant, Rt. 84, exit 74, Union, CT. Tel. (860-684-4920

Book a room at Union, CT, area hotels (Sturbridge, MA).

Short Sands: One of Maine's Best Beaches

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Short Sands Beach, in York Beach, Maine, might be small in size at a quarter mile long, but comes up big as a perfect Maine family beach. Framed by the famous rocky Maine coast on one side and spectacular Victorian homes on the other side, the low-key Short Sands Beach seems like your own travel discovery (even with crowds as well as a bowling alley (!) and arcade at the beach. As well could be expected, the Maine ocean water at Short Sands Beach is chilly for swimming (warmest at the end of August), so many people choose to be perfectly content sunning on the soft sand, taking walks, and just breathing in the salt fresh air. There's also a charming gazebo where concerts take place, a playground, and lots of York Beach shops, restaurants and the York Kingdom zoo/amusement park all within a few minute's walk.

Sunsets at Short Sands Beach can be spectacular, giving this beloved southern Maine beach another endearing personality. Whatever the time of the day (or season) for that matter, Short Sands Beach represents the best of Maine ocean beaches.

Read more about York Beach at

Make reservations at York, Maine, area hotels

Our Favorite Maine Lobster Roll

Article and Photo by Eric H.
The Tan Turtle Tavern in Northeast Harbor, Maine (Acadia National Park), serves an amazing 1 1/2 lb. lobster roll that is not only ample, but high on the taste quality meter. At this writing, the Tan Turtle Tavern lobster roll costs a reasonable $16.95 (subject to change, of course) -- not a bad price for the best lobster roll we've tasted and in this day of age where everything seems more expensive. With many restaurants cutting back and offering lobster rolls that are just a "shell of itself," the Tan Turtle Tavern gets high marks from us on bringing more of what we like (lobster) to the table. If, by the way, you don't like lobster rolls, the Tan Turtle Tavern offers just about everything under the sun on its extensive menu, including a phenomenal steak dinner, mixed greens salad with salmon, and a wonderfully creamy, New England clam chowder.

Tan Turtle Tavern, 151 Main St., Northeast Harbor, Maine. Tel. (207) 276-9898

Read a dining review of the Tan Turtle Tavern at

Please tell us about the best lobster roll you've tasted in New England by posting a comment on this blog!

Providence: More Than Just a TV Series

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Providence, RI, has transformed in little time from a city to pass by quickly to one of New England's most impressive cities. With former Mayor Buddy Cianci helping pave the way to his city's renaissance, Providence quickly saw its skyline grow and its cultural, shopping and dining scenes turn into a viable travel alternative to Boston -- and a city with parking! Additionally, the Providence TV series didn't hurt the city, either, by making it the trendy place to visit. Providence, however, goes way beyond being trendy, given its historical preservation and recent political and citizen visions to make the city a place for all walks of life to enjoy.

Providence always had potential, given its charming, tree-lined, somewhat quaint College Hill area (home of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design), the Italian-flavored neighborhoods and restaurants of Federal Hill, the mile of Colonial homes of Benefit St., and the Roger Williams Zoo -- one of the best in New England. Additionally, the Rhode Island State House has always been an amazing sight, built in 1904 with its dramatic neoclassical architecture and with one of only four self-supported marble domes in the world.

Providence's growth has filled out some of the rougher areas, helping create a city worth visiting. Providence Place Mall not only has anchor stores, but sort of anchors the city with its huge presence right off Route 95. With 160-plus stores on three levels of grand, modern architecture, Providence Place Mall surely stands as one of NewEngland best shopping malls. By the way, those anchor stores include Macy's, J.C. Penny, and Nordstrom.

Waterplace Park is an exemplary model of what can happen when citizens and politicians work together, as this four-acre oasis in the heart of the city features a scenic one-acre pond, cobblestone promenade, an amphitheater with events and entertainment, arched Venetian-style bridges over the water and charming, authentic gondolas and water taxis.

The arts in Providence have always been intact, but now greatly enhanced by small to large companies bringing more culture to this once famous "jewelry city." Some cultural attractions include the Tony Award-winning Trinity Repertory Company, Providence Performing Arts Center, the Rhode Island Philharmonic, the Museum of Art/Rhode Island School of Design and alternative theater and dance productions.

The Children's Museum (100 South St., Tel. 401-273-5437) is quite, special, too, featuring all the interactive bells and whistles you would expect from a children's' museum, but with some added features: Waterways, where children can "build fountains, float boats and explore the swirling, whirling ways of water"; and an interactive "Rhode Island" section that informs and entertains on Rhode Island history. The museum also seems a tad more colorful than others on this genre!

Providence also features many fine hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts, ranging from the modern to the charmingly renovated. You'll also find a great diversity of restaurants, rivaling bigger cities in terms of quality and quantity. We particularly like the Federal Hill area for a nice Italian meal or pizza. Camille's (71 Bradford St., Tel. 401-751-4812) is a great spot for a slightly upscale homemade Italian meal, while Sicilia's (181 Atwells Ave., 401) 273-9222) has thin and deep crust, Chicago-style pizzas that are hard to beat!

Ultimately, Providence has something for everyone. It's a city definitely worth visiting, something we couldn't have said 15 years ago. Now, Providence is a city we look forward to visiting and sometimes prefer to Boston -- a wonderful city, one of the best in our country, but sometimes overwhelming in regards to expense, traffic and still getting lost. Providence is compact, there always seems to be a parking space, and you'll never be bored given its amazing diversity of things to do -- the way a city should be.

Read more about Providence at

Research, compare rates, and book a hotel in Providence, RI.

Brimfield Antique and Flea Markets Show, July 8-13, Sept. 2-7

Article by Eric H.
The 2008 Brimfield Antique and Flea Markets Show in Brimfield, MA, will take place from July 8-13 and Sept. 2-7. Antique lovers, unite!

Antique shopping never grows old at the Brimfield Antique and Flea Market Show. Having been around since the 1950s, It's regarded as one of the biggest outdoor antique shows in the United States. More than 5,000 antique dealers and 250,000 visitors flock to this six-day show, according to

I always remember my aunt and uncle, both passionate and dedicated antiques aficionados, from Rochester, NY< making a special yearly trip to the Brimfield Antiques Show and never coming back disappointed! In addition to the shows, Brimfield is a nice place to visit -- a small, quintessential small New England town surrounded by farmland with apple orchards and framed by rolling hills.

Brimfield Antique and Flea Market Show 2008 Schedule

Check hotel availability in the Brimfield area (Sturbridge, MA) for your visit to the Brimfield Antique and Flea Market Show.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Heads-Up for September: The Big E is Coming To Town!

Article by Eric H.
The Eastern States Exposition (The Big E) in West Springfield, MA, has been a favorite New England attraction of ours for the past several years. With a seemingly endless offering of agricultural events, a petting zoo, horse riding competitions, musical entertainment, amusement rides and arcade games, junk food and regional shopping, the Big E is sure to bring a smile to even the most dour person. This year's (2008) event will run from Sept. 12 to the 28th. Musical groups Sugarland, new country sensation Ashley Gearing, and former Monkee Mickey Dolenz are just a few of the musical headline acts.

We recommend checking out the Big E Web Site for a complete list of information.

Make hotel reservations in the Springfield, MA, area.

Enjoying the Historic, Renovated Charm of Newburyport, MA

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Newburyport, MA, might not be every one's cup of tea, but we strongly recommend visiting this small North Shore city to see "what's brewing."

Lovingly restored throughout the years with its brick sidewalks, old-fashioned street lights, charming alleys, and renovated historic buildings that house restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, clothing stores and more, Newburyport is surely one of New England's most attractive coastal communities. Unlike other similar towns and cities, there's a minimum of rough areas and a plethora of old sea captains homes, as well as other stately and elegant Federal styles along High Street and nearby tree-lined neighborhoods in this once prosperous fishing and trade settlement. For dining, we especially like the Grog, a famous neighborhood restaurant and bar where locals and visitors can feast on steak, seafood and chicken dishes done better than most other places in the community. Fowle's variety store is a real sight to behold with its "soda and cigars" sign -- an interesting juxtaposition to the more upscale elements in the city. Newburyport, ideally located on the south bank of the Merrimack River at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean, also features several quaint inns and bed and breakfasts -- with a nice synergy to the feel of this city, which, by the way, feels more like a small town.

Some might object to perhaps a too-polished, slick, calculated look, but we say that's better than the countless downtrodden towns and cities in Massachusetts with a lack of vision, funds, or politics getting in the way. Newburyport looks like they accomplished exactly what they wanted to do. To us, the look and the feel of the city is as close to an idyllic coastal community that you'll find in New England. Additionally, for those seeking quiet, natural places, the nearby Parker Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island provides several miles of unspoiled beach area (not for swimming, but plenty of beach space nearby) with great opportunities to bird watch, hike and commune with nature.

Read more about Newburyport at the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce Web Site

Search for hotels in the Newburyport, MA, area.

Rossi's in Millis, MA, Reopens!

Article and Photo by Eric H.
When Rossi's closed last year, we were so sad that we wanted to make ourselves feel better by going out for a nice dinner. That was impossible, however, as Rossi's closed!

Fortunately, the original Rossi's owners took over this esteemed but somewhat "hidden gem" restaurant and reopened in April 2008. With its several quaint dining rooms within this stately Victorian home and outdoor dining on the veranda, the wonderful American regional cuisine with European influences, and a romantic feel, locals like us are ecstatic about Rossi's returning as a dear dining friend.

Recommended dish: Seafood All' Apassionata, with fresh linguine sauteed with lobster, shrimp and scallops, tossed with bacon, plum tomatoes, garlic, butter and ripe olives. Rossi's also serves a global variety of wines from lesser known vineyards!

Rossi's Restaurant, 270 Exchange St., Millis, MA. Tel. (508) 376-1004 (located about 45 minutes southwest of Boston, MA

Why We Recommend Wolfeboro, NH, as a Great New England Travel Destination

Article and Photo by Eric H.
Someone forgot to tell Wolfeboro, NH, to be loud, obnoxious and overly commercial. Unlike other well-known New England vacation destinations that have become a shell of its former charming self, Wolfeboro remains true to its original billing of being "America's oldest resort community."

Not that Wolfeboro is an isolated tourist destination with nothing to do. Sure, Wolfeboro has many pleasant downtown clothing, boutique and gift shops, dining options, and crowds. That's very different, however, than being overwhelmed by amusement parks with water slides, cheesy souvenir chops and people who always seem to be yelling at someone or something. Wolfeboro, on the other hand, keeps it small-but-developed downtown in relatively peaceful check. The presence of Lake Winnipesaukee in the "backyard" of the downtown (with a classic gazebo), the grace of the renowned 1812-constructed Wolfeboro Inn, grand mountain views, the fresh mountain air, and the general civility of the crowds makes Wolfeboro a highly recommended vacation destination on the more quiet eastern shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.

Please tell us about your travel experiences in Wolfeboro by posting a comment on this blog!

Read more about traveling to Wolfeboro at

Make Hotel Reservations at the Wolfeboro Inn

Carmella's: A Hidden Dining Gem in Walpole, MA


Article and Photo by Eric H.
Sometimes, it's hard to find a normal restaurant, anymore. Everything seems "gourmet," "infused," hand-rubbed," or other monikers that translate to higher dining prices. Just what we need during tough economic times!

Carmella's in Walpole, MA, on the other hand, keeps things simple. It's like walking into some one's dining room with its small eating area and friendly "local" service, complete with Boston accents and lifelong roots. There's even an outdoor patio area, almost as big as the indoor dining room! Carmella's offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, has an ice cream stand, charges reasonable prices, and makes you feel good about dining out by treating you well. What more could you ask for when you're looking for a "home dinner" away from home? Whether it's omelets with home fries, tuna melts, lobster rolls, pasta, root beer floats, milkshakes, or ice cream, Carmella's is a nice place to be any time of the day. It's a true hidden gem, perfect for a down-to-earth, value-based meal when visiting the southwest Boston suburbs.

Carmella's, 2090 Main St., Route 1A, South Walpole, MA. Tel. (508) 668-1824

A Grand 4th of July Celebration in Bristol, RI

Article and photo (downtown Bristol, RI) by Eric H.
Looking for a great fourth of July celebration? Then try the 4th of July celebration in Bristol, RI, America's oldest continuously-running 4th of July celebration. This year's parade begins at 10:30 a.m., at the corner of Chestnut Street and Hope Street (Rt. 114) and ends on High Street, between State Street and Bradford Street. Special events are planned throughout the day, with a fireworks display at 9:45 a.m.

I attended a few of these celebrations many years ago, and remember it as one of the best I've ever been to -- no surprise, given Bristol's dedication to patriotism, small town living and maintaining and enhancing its town's big, old homes and stately buildings.
What's more, Bristol is close to Newport, RI, known for its spectacular mansions, ocean beaches and myriad shopping, lodging and dining opportunities. Bristol, however, is a great travel destination in its own right, with a classic downtown with nice locally-owned stores, lots of great restaurants, a beautiful bike path and the amazing Colt State Park --on Narragansett Bay with great water views and places to walk and fly kites.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better 4th of July event in Bristol. The town prides itself on this special event. Once you're there, you'll know why!

Visiting the Bristol Fourth of July Official Web Site
Read more about Bristol, RI, at

Please post some of your favorite New England Fourth of July Celebration Parades!

The Best Clam Chowder in the Boston Area?

Article and Photo by Eric H.
The Red Wing Diner in Walpole, MA, seems like an unlikely place for what we feel is the best clam chowder in the Boston, MA, area. It's a rather ugly, red-colored shack on commercial, generic-looking Route 1, about 20 minutes from the ocean. Once inside, however, it's a clean place with a plain-looking cafeteria-style dining room and a 1933 dining car, incorporated into the restaurant as a bar. The Red Wing Diner has lots of good things going for it -- pizza, fried clams, lobster rolls, fresh roasted turkey carved daily off the bone, homemade pudding -- but the New England clam chowder stands out as the best item on the menu. With full clams, fewer potatoes and a perfect creamy base, we found the Red Wing Diner version to be better than expensive coastal restaurants that tell you how good they are.

File this under "What's a great clam chowder like you doing in a place like this?" On closer inspection, however, it's all about the food at the Red Wing. Thank goodness there are still places like this left that don't rely on high prices and annoying, deceitful marketing. The locals love the Red Wing and its clam chowder. To outsiders, consider this one of the great hidden gems, surely a worthy dining destination while traveling in New England.

The Red Wing, 2235 Providence Highway, Route 1, Walpole, MA. Tel. (508) 668-0453

Read a dining review on the Red Wing Diner at

Locavore: New Word, Old Tradition for Seeking Locally-Produced Food

Article and Photo (Tangerini Spring Street Farm, Millis, MA) by Eric H.
The New Oxford American Dictionary recently declared the word "Locavore" as the 2007 word of the year. Simply put, a Locavore is "Someone whose diet consists of food grown or produced within an area most commonly bound by a 100-mile radius of their home. Locavores usually shun large supermarket chains, opting for farmer's markets and local gardens instead. It is also a current trend for many high-end restaurants as well."

We're really not into trends or people who "go green" just because it's popular, but we do like the idea of shopping locally for food in New England. It's many times cheaper, the food is usually more nutrient dense as it's fresh off the local farm, and often void of chemicals. In the Boston area, we really enjoy finding fresh produce at Jane and Paul's Farm in Norfolk (seasonal), Belkin Lookout Farm in Natick, Wilson's Farm in Lexington, Verrill Farm in Concord, Tangerini's Spring Street Farm in Millis (seasonal) and Big Apple Farm in Wrentham (seasonal). As examples, we enjoy picking blueberries at Big Apple Farm in July and August, apples at Jane and Paul's Farm in September, and shopping for meats and seasonal produce year-round at Wilson's Farm and Lookout Farm. Sometimes, these farms might not be all "local," so label read carefully and don't be afraid to ask the owners and hired help questions.

While we will never call ourselves "Locavores," we welcome the new word to our language. More importantly, we always welcome fresh, locally produced food to our dining table!

We'd love to hear where you shop for locally-produced food. Feel free to post!

Read more about healthy New England at

Prince Pizzeria in Saugus, MA: A Timeless, Fun Dining Tradition

Article and photo by Eric H.
On the outside, Prince Pizzeria in Saugus, MA, captures your attention instantly with a huge, "Leaning Tower of Pizza" sign -- a takeoff on the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. Inside the restaurant, Prince Pizzeria captures your attention even more with delicious Italian-style pizza and pasta, colorful dining rooms, a friendly, attentive staff and very reasonable prices. Our favorite pizza isn't even listed on the menu: the "Margarita," a tangy blend of cheese and tomato that was popular in the 1970s and 1980s at Prince that you can still order today. A timeless tradition since 1961, it's easy to see why the children of grandparents and parents continue the tradition of eating at the Prince. We are one such family that not only loves the "Leaning Tower" sign and the pizza, but also the feeling of eating at a restaurant that maintains it old-fashioned values, prices and atmosphere. Prince Pizzeria is simply one of our favorite places to eat in the Boston area. We heartily recommend dining here during your New England travel, especially families looking for a fun place to dine!

Prince Pizzeria and Bar,
517 Broadway, Saugus, MA. Tel. (781) 233-9950

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