Tuesday, March 24, 2009

We Will Miss Tom's Tavern in Wrentham, MA

Article by Eric H.

Tom's Tavern, a long-time favorite local restaurant in Wrentham, MA, for the past three decades, closed its doors last Saturday, according to the Attleboro Sun Chronicle.

A classic roadside restaurant/bar, Tom's Tavern looked slightly menacing from the outside -- with its dive-like, rather drab look and motorcycles out front -- but once inside, everyone from the drinking crowd to families coexisted peacefully with the very friendly staff. Fresh seafood and a good variety of beer were signatures at Tom's Tavern, along with the knack of making a fantastic burger. It appears that the closing had more to do with management and debt conflicts rather than a poor economy, according to the Sun Chronicle. Tom's still drew a great crowd despite the recession.

We will miss this great local restaurant and bar -- and the air hockey game, too! Thanks for all the years of dining excellence, Tom's Tavern.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Wealth of the Newport, RI, Sea at Ocean Drive

Article and Photo by Eric H.

Newport, RI, is best known for its spectacular mansions and, to an ever-so-slightly lesser degree, shopping, waterfront dining and lodging, the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

I'll take the Newport sea any day, however, especially where the Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean on Ocean Drive.

Driving the several miles of winding roads on Ocean Drive, affording spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, reminded me of the innate purity of Newport -- the reason so many wealthy New Yorkers flocked here in the 1800s to connect and relax by the magnificent ocean.

Rhode Island is the country's smallest state, but more significant is its nickname, the "Ocean State." Here on Ocean Drive, the enormity of the sea elevates this tiny state to an incredible, although familiar discovery: big things come in small packages!

Whether a spectacular sunset, a breezy spring or summer day, or a clear, crisp chilly fall day (and let's also add a stark, gray New England winter day to the mix), Ocean Drive represents the best of New England coastal travel. Additionally, don't forget to visit Brenton Point State Park on Ocean Drive with more spectacular Atlantic Ocean views and the chance to fish, hike, picnic. It's a beautiful place. Gooseberry Beach is also another ideal Ocean Drive travel destination with its family-oriented swimming beach open to the public during the summer.

Of course, just driving this stunning stretch is enough to fall in love with the Rhode Island sea, with many eagerly-awaited happy returns in the near future.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rating Barbecue Restaurants in Eastern Massachusetts

Article and Photo (of Memphis Roadhouse) by Eric H.

Recently, City-Data.com featured an interesting post on the best barbecue restaurants in eastern Massachusetts. Readers could not come up with many quality places, although a few dining spots really received high honors.

I concur with much of the City-Data feedback, and came up with a ranking below of barbecue restaurants. My criteria for a great barbecue restaurant is that "barbecue" is the specialty of the house, that they slow-cook the food to bring out the best flavors, that there's kind of a dusty, rural informal feeling to the place, and that the chefs try their best to recreate what Memphis, Kansas City and other famous barbecue city and town destinations do so well. Not that I've been to these famous barbecue places out west or down south, but as one who always asks questions, I have been able to ascertain through people in the business and those who have been to Memphis, Kansas City and other barbecue havens what makes an authentic barbecue restaurant.

Here is the list in order of quality, from best to just "OK," largely based on barbecue chicken and ribs:

1. Blue Ribbon Barbecue, Arlington, MA (910 Massachusetts Ave.
Arlington, MA 02476. Tel. 781-648-7427)

2. Memphis Roadhouse, South Attleboro, MA (383 Washington St.,
Attleboro, MA 0270. Tel. 508-761-5700)

3. Firefly's, 350 E. Main St, Route 20, Marlborough, MA 01752-5422. Tel. 508-357-8883)

4. Redbone's, Somerville, MA (55 Chester Street, Somerville, MA 02144 Tel. 617- 628.2200)

5. Clyde's, Walpole, MA (642 Providence Highway, Route 1, Walpole, MA 02081. Tel. 508-660- 2206)

Note that there's a real drop-off in quality after Firefly's. While Redbone's and Clyde's are capable of creating a good dish or two, the overall experience -- including some inconsistent service -- results in these two dining spots faring nowhere as well as the top three. Blue Ribbon is far and away the best of the bunch, creating slow-cooked barbecue dishes over oak and hickory hardwoods that people I've talked with say rival the best of Memphis. It's the smallest-sized restaurant of the restaurants mentioned here -- almost more of a take-out place -- but who cares when you have what has been called by some as the best barbecue food north of the Mason Dixon line? The Memphis dry-rubbed ribs, North Carolina pulled pork, the Texas brisket and Kansas City burnt ends are simply amazing!

The Memphis Roadhouse (an independently-owned restaurant) fares quite well, too, a notch below Blue Ribbon, with a large Outback Steakhouse-like dining room and a real wood fire pit that turns out some superb ribs and chicken. Firefly's is very good, too -- the winner of many barbecue awards, but my taste buds tell me that the food is not quite up to par with the Blue Ribbon and Memphis Roadhouse. The loud and cramped Redbone's used to be right up there with Blue Ribbon, but the dried-out chicken I had the past few times suggests this once terrific place is resting on its laurels (and perhaps Hardys). Clyde's is merely average -- there's really no hint of a slow-cooked barbecue meal here, at least not the way Blue Ribbon does it.

Of course, my favorite barbecue restaurant in the northeast is a big, loud fun family-friendly place in Oneonta, NY, called Brooks' House of Bar-B-Q where the barbecue chicken and St. Louis ribs are phenomenal. Brooks' also features, reportedly, the longest indoor barbecue pit in the country at 38 ft. in length!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Delicious Dives: Tee T's Restaurant and Lounge in Walpole, MA

Article and photo by Eric H.

Everyone is an expert on life at Tee T's restaurant and lounge in Walpole, MA. Customers and staff talk about the economy, politics, social issues (mostly women), sports, and the direction of their hometown, sometimes with more clarity and sincerity than your local radio talk show host. It's a place where one can talk about the good old days of playing sports at Walpole High School while wearing your now tight-fitting varsity or junior varsity sports jacket.

The conversation flows as well as the beer. The news on the television further elicits strong comments about our society where some Tee T's customers pointedly talk back at the television. Tee T's is indeed Moe's Tavern (from the Simpson's) come to life. And without the music ever playing, you can hear "Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen blaring in your head as the unofficial soundtrack for Tee T's.

On one visit, three older men talked about their health woes, one, unfortunately, having recent bypass surgery. They talked about trying to become healthier, and then proceeded to order burgers, fries and beer. What's more, it always seems like there are as many people smoking outside the restaurant as those inside eating and drinking.

Tee T's ambiance is low on the HGTV decor chain with one long, narrow worn-out bar and one long, narrow worn-out dining room separated by a long, narrow, worn-out thin wall, Tee T's will certainly never be mistaken for your trendy, upscale dining spot with an attitude. Oh, you do get some attitude here, but it's mainly in the form of a gruff but sincere "What would you like, honey?"

It's nice when real people serve real food -- like oversized meatloaf dinners, prime rib, chicken sandwiches with mounds of cheese, burgers, perfectly done french fries, and, somehow, a very good iceberg salad. Of course, beer is a signature item at Tee T's. You won't find anyone drinking Romanee Conti Red Burgundy here.

I usually dine at Tee T's when my car is being fixed (so, lately, I've been going to Tee T's more often). The result is always good, as I leave with a satisfying all-American meal and a taste of Walpole in its true "townie" form.

Tee T's
943 Main St
Walpole, MA 02081
(508) 668-9855

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Abbott's Frozen Custard is the Cream of the Crop

Article and Photo by Eric H.

Great Plain Ave. in Needham, MA, has brought a very flavorful touch of Rochester, NY, to southwest suburban Boston, with the recent opening of Abbott's Frozen Custard.

Abbott's, with its tasty concept initiated in 1902 and first store established at Ontario Beach in Rochester in 1926, enjoys legendary status in the "Flower City" with its phenomenal frozen custard. Richer and creamier than your typical soft serve ice cream, Abbott's custard also has less air than soft serve and self-proclaimed "special recipes" that clearly place its frozen custard in a class of its own.

The 30 flavors change daily and include chocolate, vanilla, chocolate almond, blueberry, strawberry cheesecake and peach cobbler. I recently sampled the chocolate frozen custard -- absolutely superior to soft serve ice cream!

The proof of Abbott's greatness is in its continuous business expansion, with stores in Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York state. The Needham store is very small, has a outside walk-up window and a small inside where we imagine it will be absolutely packed in the summer!

To slightly twist a few famous Abbott and Costello lines: Hey Abbott's, now we know 'Who's on First" when it comes to great tasting frozen treats!

Abbott's Frozen Custard
934 Great Plain Ave.
Needham, MA 02494
Tel. 781-444-9908

A Beacon of Shopping Fun at the Lighthouse Depot in Wells, Maine

Article by Eric H.
One of the bright lights in southern coastal Maine shopping is the Lighthouse Depot on Route 1 in Wells, Maine. To no one's surprise, the theme here is lighthouse gifts, including clothing, lamps, furnishings, rugs, books, prints, kitchen accessories, dinnerware and collectibles. If you like lighthouses, the place is absolutely fascinating, fun and sometimes even downright educational; you're almost sure to find a lighthouse gift amongst the hundreds of lighthouse items sold in this two story building. Every time we shop here, it brings a smile to our face, and a validation of our love of lighthouses.

Visiting the Lighthouse Depot is a wonderful travel destination set within the heart of a region with myriad fun things to see and do -- beaches, lobster dinners, and oh yes, lighthouses!

The Lighthouse Depot
U.S. Route 1 North, 2178 Post Rd., Wells, Maine
Tel. 1-800-758-1444

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Review of Boston Magazine's Best Places to Live 2009

Article and Photo (Scituate) by Eric H.

Boston Magazine recently published its Best Places to Live 2009, including lists for "10 Recession-Proof Towns," "10 Spots Holding Steady" and "Top Burgs for Bargain Hunters." All in all, we felt Boston Magazine's evaluations were spot-on, especially the bargain section that focuses on Norman Rockwell-types towns that we personally like: Medfield, Scituate, Easton and Westford.

The "10 Recession-Proof Towns" section includes more personal favorites like Hingham, Lexington and Winchester, while the "10 Spots Holding Steady" section includes more fine towns like Arlington, Duxbury and the underrated Merrimac.

We heartily recommend reading the Boston Magazine article for the well-written and researched specifics!

We'd also like to add a few of our personal favorites that weren't listed in the Boston Magazine article:

Walpole, a southwest Boston suburb, with a lot of community spirit, close-knit neighborhoods, strong schools (90 percent of grads go onto college) open spaces like the 89-acre Bird Park and 250-acre Adams Farm, homes with good-sized lots, and a real downtown (although too many empty storefronts, at this point). It's generally affordable, with some starter homes available at $350,000.

Maynard, a western Boston suburb, that is small, safe, and has a great Mayberry RFD-like downtown (with the legendary Maynard Outdoor Store as the unofficial anchor). The downtown features several restaurants and even has a movie theater! The schools are good, the overall feeling of the town old-fashioned, and like Walpole, close-knit. Also like Walpole, nice starters homes can be bought around the $350,000 range.

Holliston, a Metro West Boston suburb, features beautiful tree-lined neighborhoods and a small but quaint downtown with a general store, gift shop, independently-owned market and several small-town service-oriented stores. The high school is amongst the best in the region, we've been told many times by several people. Solid, basic homes can be bought in the $350,000 range.

Additionally, we, at VisitingNewEngland.com, have a popular section called "Best Places to Raise a Family in the Boston Area," that should give you additional insight on affordable places to move in the Boston area if you have a family.

Best wishes in finding the right town for you!



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