Friday, May 25, 2012

Barnacle Billy's, Ogunquit, Maine, is a Timeless Dining Tradition

Barnacle Billy's restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine, seems like a rite of passage into the Maine summertime.

Rarely do you find someone in New England that doesn't know about this landmark seafood restaurant specializing in fresh Maine lobster, steamed clams, chowder, lobster rolls, lobster stew, over sized drinks and, well, barbecue chicken (don't laugh, it's really good).

It's not that Barnacle Billy's is better than other local restaurants, specializing in seafood. It's just that Barnacle Billy's has a well-known presence, a timeless tradition, a waterfront location and excellent seafood that results in this dining incumbent constantly being reelected by thousands of visitors and locals every year looking for a trusted, dependable restaurant.

Barnacle Billy's actually has two locations, virtually right next to each other. Barnacle Billy's, Etc., offers more ambiance than the original location, but either restaurant is fine as you get the same outstanding seafood. We do prefer Billy's, Etc., however, as it's a bit more spacious and comfortable, and the views of the harbor and ocean from the expansive sundeck are really spectacular -- especially at sunset. Plus, after lunch or dinner you can explore beautiful Perkins Cove with its quaint little seaside shops as well as walking Marginal Way -- a spectacular mile and a half path along the rocky coastline of Maine. Ogunquit Beach, one of Maine's best sandy ocean beaches, is at the other end.

I've been coming here since I was a kid, and have always had a great meal. Some things never change, and it's nice to see Barnacle Billy's appeal to multi-generations of visitors to southern Maine through the years. Hope you get to experience this slice of southern Maine dining bliss!

Barnacle Billy's is located at 50-70 Perkins Cove Rd. in Ogunquit, Maine. Tel. 1-800-866-5575 

Perkins Cove (photo by Eric)
Marginal Way (photo by Eric)

Related articles and resources: 
Visiting the southern Maine seacoast
Book a hotel room in Ogunquit

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bar Harbor, Maine: Wouldn't You Like to be There Now?

When creating our New England Pinterest pinboards, I came across one photo that I keep coming back to:  a colorful picture of downtown Bar Harbor, Maine.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Bar Harbor is the lively commercial center of the Acadia National Park area. Just minutes from Acadia where the ocean meets the mountains, Bar Harbor has an enviable and impossibly beautiful harbor location with enough shops and restaurants to keep the most insatiable shopper and diner happy throughout the vacation. Tree-lined in many parts and with a relaxing town common, Bar Harbor might be too hectic from Memorial Day to Labor Day Weekend for those in touch with the spectacular natural, pristine setting of Acadia National Park, but let's remember, too, that it's not exactly one of those tacky, souvenir-laden tourist traps. Sure, you'll get elements of that here, but, all in all, Bar Harbor has an attractive, often beautiful walkable downtown with almost all of the shops and restaurants running on a pride of ownership platform. The town also has some amazing historic inns that add a touch of class like the Primrose Inn and Bar Harbor Manor. Bar Harbor is really the perfect companion and foundation for your Acadia National Park vacation.

My favorite downtown things to do? Visiting the West End Drug Store (105 Main St.) for the old-fashioned soda fountain, Island Artisans (99 Main St.) for hundreds of locally-made handmade crafts, Roslie's (46 Cottage St.) for delicious hand-tossed pizza and tunes on the Wurlitzer jukebox, and Testa's (53 Main St.) for delicious lobster, seafood and pasta.

That's just a fraction, however, of what's in Bar Harbor.  You could spend several hours here, but in the name of fair and balanced, I would first get out to see Acadia National Park and then leave enough time to enjoy downtown Bar Harbor. That way, you get the best of both vacation worlds!

Log onto the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce web site for more information on Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and the surrounding region.

Related articles and resources:
Visiting Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park
Exploring Sand Beach at Acadia National Park
Relaxing at Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park
Book a hotel room in Bar Harbor

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nantasket Beach Still Has That Special Summer Feeling

The Paragon Carousel at Nantasket Beach (photo by Eric)
Many people felt like they were being taken for a ride when Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Mass., closed its legendary amusement park in 1984.

The better part of a century brought a joyous beach and amusement scene that exuded a classic New England summer tradition with, to name a few staples, the unbeatable combination of rides, arcades, souvenirs, waves and ice cream. Who can forget that wooden roller coaster or the bumper cars?

Paragon Park's closure gave way to housing development -- great for the people that live there by the ocean -- but sad for us to see Paragon Park and the memories associated with it just drift away. It was so close to home (about a half hour south of Boston, FYI), and really the ultimate day trip.

While we'll probably never see a return of Paragon Park, there are still significant remnants that still make Nantasket Beach a worthy New England travel destination:

The historic Paragon Carousel has been well-maintained. It's a beauty and is as good as ever!

The old clock tower is next to the Paragon Carousel, thus adding a touch of traditional dignity to Nantasket Beach. The clock is also in good condition and brings back such great memories.

The Carousels and Ships souvenir shop and the Dream Machine arcade line the main drag to remind us of those carefree, slightly tacky days gone by. The Fascination site remains -- kind of a mysterious, clandestine place to kids, but well-known to adults -- a destination that sort of mixes a table version of skee ball and bingo.  You can also find at Nantasket Beach a good, huge, gooey slice of pizza at places like Joseph's, ice cream at Carousel Creamery (right next to the Paragon Carousel), as well as play miniature golf at Nantasket Mini Golf.

Today's Nantasket Beach has an added element that didn't exist, as a whole, in the older days -- many high quality seaside restaurants and outdoor cafes are popping up all over the place. I like Jake's Seafood the best -- the water views are nice, the staff is efficient and pleasant, and the seafood always seems to be fresh. No surprise, given that they have a seafood market on the premises.

Yes, we find no "amusement" in Paragon Park being taken away from our kid-like hearts and souls, but Nantasket Beach is still a worthy  vacation destination. It's close to Boston and... oops, I almost forgot (not really, just writing that for effect)... the beach itself is worth a trip. Five miles of sandy ocean bliss, including harbors and bays to boat or fish make this not only one of the best beaches in the Boston area, but in all of New England. The roller coaster of emotions about Paragon closing will perhaps never go away, but the appeal of a great beach town with still plenty to do keeps us coming back.

The beach is simply beautiful -- expansive and with plenty of room for you! (photo by Eric)

You can see the condos on the far right, but the beach still dominates (photo by Eric)

The Dream Machine arcades (photo by Eric)

Carousels and Ships offers a classic gift shop scene to Nantasket Beach (photo by Eric) 

What would the beach be without a good ice cream place? (photo by Eric)

Sunset at Nantasket Beach. Beautiful! (photo by Eric)

Related articles and resources:
Visiting the Paragon Carousel 
Booking a room at Nantasket Beach
Family of four spends only $5 dollars for a day trip to Nantasket Beach
Ten ways to beat the heat on a hot summer day in the Boston area

Monday, May 21, 2012

Commonwealth Barbecue in Wrentham, Mass., Serves Authentic BBQ Cuisine

Ancient New England proverb: when it comes to barbecue food, it's better to have slow cook food than food from a slow cook.

The Boston, Mass., area offers several great places for well-prepared slow cook barbecue foods (definition: utilizing less heat than grilling over a longer period of time), including Blue Ribbon BBQ in Arlington and Newton, Redbone's in Somerville, Mass., and Firefly's in Marlborough. All these dining spots have chefs that clearly know what they are doing, which is great given that there's also a good number of local barbecue restaurants that miss the mark. Real barbecue cuisine does not equate to rotisserie! Often, we can do better on our own with some high quality barbecue sauce and meats bought from the local butcher and proper use of the grill.

It's nice, however, when someone else with a virtual PhD in barbecue cooking does all the work for you. Thankfully, a newcomer to the Boston area barbecue dining scene, brings perhaps the best barbecue foods to this area: Commonwealth Barbecue in Wrentham, Mass. It's located about a mile from beautiful downtown Wrentham and the Wrentham Premium Shopping Outlets.

Employing a south of the Mason Dixon line roadside shack look, this order-at-the-window barbecue joint shows amazing promise from the start with the aroma of smoked barbecue meats permeating the air the minute you step out of the car. Those aromas were born out of a lengthy process: the smoked meats are cooked for several hours over hard woods and that translates into "real" barbecue foods in the form of ribs, pulled pork or chicken, beef brisket and sausage. Another plus is that you can adjust the amount of BBQ sauce you want on your meal as there are large containers of sauces of varying spiciness at the counter. Sides like "cowboy beans," corn bread and southern fried pickles drenched in buttermilk add additional southern food ambiance to this unpretentious, outdoor dining scene at the picnic tables under the pavilion. Yesterday, I had some mouthwatering pulled pork that was just out-of-this-world good -- tender, flavorful and plentiful!

Although it's not a southern staple, soft serve ice cream is a dessert highlight with very low prices and huge portions served for small, medium and large. It's a nice way to end a satisfying, full-bodied barbecue dining experience at this "south" of Boston mom and pop drive-in!

Commonwealth Barbecue is open for lunch and dinner and is located at 659 South St. (Route 1A), Wrentham MA. Tel. (508) 384-9676.

Pulled pork, cowboy beans and butternut squash from Commonwealth Barbecue (photo by Eric)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Four Bike Trails in New England That Are "Wheel" Good

Cape Cod Canal Bike Trail (photo by Eric)
Do you like riding a bike but are afraid of the crazy drivers out there on the road or the awkwardness of passing pedestrians on the sidewalk? Well, the good news is that many bike trails have emerged in New England (a good number of them converted from old railroad tracks), offering paved trails and great scenery. Here are four bike trails in New England that we highly recommend:

Cape Cod Canal Trail The amazing canal water views make this seven-mile trek a  "must-visit" destination for the outdoor enthusiast visiting Cape Cod. Beautifully maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Cape Cod Canal Bike Trail is convenient, too, located virtually at the gateway to Cape Cod. The trail spans from Sandwich to Buzzards Bay. The views of the gigantic Sagamore and Bourne Bridges -- connecting the mainland to Cape Cod -- are worth the visit, too!

Stowe Recreation Path  Forests, meadows, rivers, arched bridges and mountain scenery highlight this 3.5 mile pathway in one of New England's most idyllic little towns. Stowe is a gem of a place with its quaint downtown and beautiful mountain views, so having a bike trail is really a godsend for those that love biking.  Not a long trail, but every second of the way is like a lifetime of scenic Vermont memories. Although we think of summer as an ideal time to bike, fall is also a fantastic time to visit the trail as the foliage is spectacular in Stowe.

Minuteman Bikeway Nice for those living or vacationing in the Boston area, the 11-mile Minuteman Bikeway spans about 11 miles from Cambridge (right next to Boston) to Bedford. Our favorite part is Lexington where you can take a break and explore this attractive suburb that is best known, along with Concord, as the where the American Revolutionary War had begun in 1775. In summer, tours are available to view the historic sites around town (including the Lexington Battle Green, the Lexington Minuteman Statue and Minuteman National Historic Park. Downtown Lexington is also nice for its pleasing mix of mom and pop shops, restaurants and tree-lined streets with historic homes.

East Bay Bike Path This 14-mile bike path spans from scenic Bristol to bustling Providence. Along the way on this well-maintained 10 ft. wide bike path, you'll experience wonderful views of the Narragansett Bay and the chance to experience more of this scenic splendor at the 464-acre Colt State Park.

Related articles:
Bristol, R.I. the all-American town
Cape Cod family summer travel ideas
40 reasons to visit Lexington and Concord
The rebirth of Providence, R.I.
Visiting Stowe, Vt.
Beautiful Colt State Park

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Newport Mansions Offers A "Rich" Travel Experience

Belcourt Castle, Newport, R.I. (photo by Eric)
Touring the Newport mansions in Newport, R.I., might seem like an obvious New England travel attraction, but it's definitely a "rich"  experience worthy of a visit.

Once "summer cottages" to the rich and famous from the Gilded Age (beginning in the mid-19th century), many of the Newport mansions  remain in great shape and available for tours. The Preservation Society of Newport County offers the majority of house tours, including The Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, Marble House and Rosecliff. The tours can take up to 90 minutes, given the size, details and nuances of each home. My recommendation would be to see no more than two homes a day, as the experience can eventually become overkill.  By purchasing a multi-house ticket, you can spread out the visits on different days. Speaking of tickets, you can order online or on site at any participating house. Log onto the Preservation Society of Newport County web site for full details.

You can also take private tours of Newport mansions not owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County, most notably the Belcourt Castle.  The Belcourt is actually my favorite Newport mansion with its combination of old-world, French-style charm and Norman, Elizabethan English and country German design. The home showcases  Gilded Age "King" and "Queen" chairs and Russian crystal chandelier with 13,000 prisms in the main room, stained glass, carved oak wainscoting, grand staircases and a replication of a coronation coach.  Wow! You can request a tour through the Belcourt Castle web site.

Enjoy the tours, it's a definite highlight of New England travel!

Friday, May 18, 2012

What it's Like to be at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Conn.

Two miles of beach, a boardwalk, 558 open camp sites and also extensive open spaces away from the beach to walk: what's not to like about Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Conn.?

Hammonasset Beach is the largest beach in Connecticut, and certainly one of New England's finest. Located on Long Island Sound,  the extremely well-maintained beach is situated on 919 acres with every step of the way a utopia for beach enthusiasts. Not only do you get some beautiful New England ocean beach scenery, but soft sand, relatively warm water in the summer, attentive lifeguards on duty, a concession stand, picnic areas and a nature center as well as walking, biking and rollerblading opportunities within the park. Most importantly, you get a generally well-behaved crowd here -- many families and peaceful types with few showoffs. Perhaps the best way to visit Hammonasset Beach is to secrure a camp site. Why take a day trip when you can spend several days by the coast? That's not to say a day trip pales in comparison: when you have beaches like Hammonasset, take advantage of every moment and feel blessed to experience such an ideal beach -- especially during the Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend timeframe.

I often think that if someone was assigned to build the perfect beach, Hammonasset would be the prototype. No need to, however, as Mother Nature has once again provided us with yet another moment of splendor in New England with this wonderful ocean beach scene -- along with a nice move by the State of Connecticut to create a publicly accessible beach here!

Hammonasset Beach is located at 1288 Boston Post Rd., Madison, CT. Tel. (203) 245-2785

Thursday, May 17, 2012

3 Rhode Island Seafood Shacks to Make You As Happy as a Clam

Evelyn's Drive-In, Tiverton (photo by Eric)
Cape Cod and Maine tend to get most of the accolades when it comes  to the best New England seafood shacks. Let's not forget, however, about the small state of Rhode Island that comes up big with countless outstanding roadside seafood spots. Here are three examples:

Seafood lovers will certainly not feel underwater when visiting Evelyn's Drive-in in Tiverton. This plain-looking seafood shack features an amazing Rhode Island clam chowder (with a thinner broth), mouthwatering clam cakes, the unusual lobster chow mein, huge fried seafood platters, lobster rolls and grilled salmon, to name a few. The atmosphere feels like a coffee shop by the water -- nothing fancy and with quick, to-the-point diner-like service. Located on scenic Nanaquacket Pond, Evelyn's also features a very pleasant outdoor patio dining area where the pond has more of a coastal feel than inland. Evelyn's is so good that the Food Network's Guy Fieri featured this tiny seafood shack on his Diners, Drive-ins and Dives television show!  Evelyn’s Drive-In is located at 2335 Main Rd. (Rte. 77). Tel. (401) 624-3100

George's of Galilee in Galilee (photo by Eric)
What better place to feast on seafood than in a live fishing village where seafood is delivered to restaurants right off the boat? That's the scenario in Gaililee, a Narragansett neighborhood. Here, larger seafood shacks like George's of Gaililee Waterfront Seafood Restaurant and Champlin's constantly bring in the crowds that love a great shore dinner and amazing views of Block Island Sound (particularly nice at sunset). George's is a little bit more built up and has a restaurant feel, while Champlin's has an undeniable seafood shack atmosphere with you order at the window, can sit at long dining tables and buy from the seafood market on the first floor -- and fish that come in right off the commercial fishing trawlers, and off-shore and in-shore lobster boats. George's and Champlin's both have second story outdoor deck and indoor dining with water views while serving some of the best locally caught lobster around as well as New England dining staples like steamers, chowder, whole belly clams, and fried seafood platters. George's extends a bit beyond Champlin's offering more broiled and grilled seafood dinners, an extensive wine list and sushi, but they can't fool us: this is still a classic NewEngland seafood shack! Ice cream lovers should take note, too, that both restaurants have ice cream stands -- always nice after a seafood dinner! George's and Champlins are located right across from each other, the former at 250 Sand Hill Cove Rd. (Tel: (401-783  2306), and the latter at 256 Great Island Rd. (Tel. (401-783-3152).

Champlin's Seafood in Galilee (photo by Eric)

Do you have a favorite Rhode Island seafood shack. Please comment below!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

12 Great Downtown Districts in New England

Do you love a good downtown? We have a few favorites in our region that offer small town New England appeal, stores, restaurant, historical preservation and traditional ways, and an overall welcoming feeling. Without further ado, here are some of those great downtown districts where we'll let the pictures do the talking...

Salem, Mass.
Bristol, R.I.

Keene, N.H.

Mystic, Conn.

Milford, N.H.
Northeast Harbor, Maine

Hanover, N.H.
Chatham, Mass. (Cape Cod)

Wickford Village in North Kingston, R.I.
Newburyport, Mass.
Portsmouth, N.H.

Springfield, Vt.

Do you have a favorite downtown in New England? Tell us a little about it by commenting below. Or, please feel free to comment these downtown districts featured in this post. Happy travels!

City-Like Dining in Suburban Spaces at The Raven's Nest in Walpole, Mass.

Apple goat cheese salmon with asparagus, rice,
and cinnamon and cranberry balsamic glaze from
The Raven's Nest, Walpole, Mass. (photo by Eric)

Driving into the city for a "date night" out can be such a pain -- fighting traffic and rude drivers, paying more for parking and tolls than a meal, and having our car value go down about 60 percent in one night from hitting pothole after pothole.

Fortunately, the past 10 or 15 years have been good to us Boston suburbanites looking for a quality meal, close to home. Many restaurant business types, chefs and entrepreneurs have opened up restaurants in the suburbs closer in concept and quality to those high-profile city restaurants that I think sometimes have more appeal as a conversation pieces than places we'd like to go.

We have found a southwest Boston suburban dining gem called The Raven's Nest Pub and Eatery in downtown Walpole, Mass. Built much like the Irish pubs owner Mark McAuliffe grew up with in this native land, the Raven's Nest is very cool and cozy -- an upscale yet casual dining spot without an ounce of trendiness or pretension.  The comfortable dining room with fireplace, long wall with hand-painted bricks, handsome front-to-back bar, the open air windows, high ceilings, attractive lighting, seven plasma televisions and outside patio create an overall atmosphere that makes for an extremely accommodating atmosphere. Add 15 different draft beers, an extensive wine list and many signature cocktails to its impressive food choices -- along with live Irish music on Sundays from 4-7 p.m. -- and you have a restaurant where it's easy to become a "regular." The Raven's Nest also features a brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Because of the appealing hometown atmosphere, professional but friendly service, and high quality food, The Raven's Nest certainly qualifies as a date night place, but also a family-friendly spot where you don't have to dress up. That's the beauty of the place!

The "contemporary cuisine and upscale pub fare" dishes we have experienced at The Raven's Nest are as good, if not better than at some of the date night restaurants we've tried in Boston. Good news, too, for the "budget-minded": the prices are much lower than many higher-profile Boston restaurants. We would first recommend the mouthwatering apple goat cheese salmon with asparagus, real mashed potatoes (or rice), and cinnamon and cranberry balsamic glaze. Phenomenal! Another fantastic dish is the pistachio chicken, a breast of chicken with roasted pistachios, grilled asparagus, mashed potatoes, pesto cream sauce and balsamic nectar. The Raven's Nest also makes a great baked mac and cheese, steak tips, roasted pork chops (with honey and cinnamon glaze, roasted potatoes, honey-glazed carrots),
Shepherd's pie, eggplant Parmesan, burger and grilled pizza (especially the "Goat Broke Loose" with goat cheese, caramelized onions, roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella). I also have frequent cravings for the delicious pesto chicken sandwich with grilled chicken, basil pesto, roasted peppers, cheddar American cheese and rosemary. I could eat that sandwich every day!

Mark and his wife Maura have been so embraced by this friendly little New England town that they have decided to open a coffee shop called The Coffee Perch a few doors down from The Raven's Nest. As the Walpole community has been in need of a coffee shop for several years, the arrival of the Coffee Perch should also be embraced by Walpole. The Coffee Perch web site describes its soon-to-be-opened coffeehouse as a "place to rest, chat with with friends, escape in a great read, write your first novel, catch up on work, surf the Internet, gaze at beautiful art, sketch your next masterpiece... all while enjoying exceptional coffee, delicious pastries, eclectic music - in a comfortable neighborhood coffeehouse!" Like The Raven's Nest, The Coffee Perch will overlook the beautiful Walpole Town Common -- a great spot to relax after a cup of coffee, or take in the Walpole Farmers Market during the summer and fall on Wednesdays, 2-6 p.m.

We'll let you know at the Weekly New England Travel and Vacation Gazette when The Coffee Perch grand opening takes place.

Back to The Raven's Nest: isn't it nice to have restaurants like this not too far from where you live? Please feel free to share your favorite date night "neighborhood restaurants" in New England by posting a comment below.

The Raven's Nest is located at 998 Main St., Walpole, MA. Tel. (508) 734-9377

Editor's note: for full disclosure, The Ravens' Nest is an advertiser on Its status as an advertiser does not affect our opinion on this Walpole restaurant. We are paying customers that write straight from the heart -- and our taste buds! You will never find a good-review-for-an-advertisement scenario on our web sites. We have too much pride and integrity for that nonsense!



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