Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Five Massachusetts Candy Houses for Your Valentine's Day Sweetheart and Sweet Tooth

There's nothing like an old-fashioned candy house to warm the nostalgic heart and satisfy when trying to think of Valentine's Day gift -- or as one has a craving for something sweet.

These candy houses in Massachusetts have been around a long-time and always seem to draw crowds during any time of the year but especially Valentine's Day, as well as Christmas and Easter:

Hebert's Candy Mansion, Shrewsbury, Mass. This famous travel attraction is located in -- you guessed it -- a big Tudor stone mansion and manufactures just about any candy category imaginable. In business for more than a century, Hebert's genevas, white chocolates, and classic boxed assortments continue to be of high quality and created out of a small batches manufacturing process -- crucial to a great final product.  Hebert's is located at 547 Hartford Turnpike in Shrewsbury MA. Tel.  508) 842-5583

Watson's Candies, Walpole, Mass. Watson's draws a local crowd and has a growing online presence, but still has to be one of the most underrated candies houses in Massachusetts. The minute you step into this warm and inviting candy house that has been in business the better part of a century, the vibe is nostalgic and feels like the prototype location for a candy maker to create magic. Although a little higher in price than some other chocolate manufacturers, the prices are well worth it as the taste of the chocolates is exquisitely rich and full bodied. Watson's also houses Scoops, a popular ice cream stand during the summer. In the winter, Watson's brings the ice cream indoors with a charming, Victorian-like dining room to enjoy your favorite flavor. Go for the assorted chocolates or incredible fudge here! Watson's Candies is located at 761 Main St. (Route 1A) in Walpole MA. Tel. (508) 668-2324

Hilliard's Chocolates, Easton, Mass. Hilliard's is also located  in a large house and is my personal favorite, getting things done absolutely right when it comes to fine chocolates and specialty candies. This fourth generation family business, located on  a busy stretch of Route 138, focuses on the art and science of candy making as they turn out consistently delicious sweets while never taking on a corporate vibe -- that is, their craft has become a lifestyle, also. Any homemade chocolate will do, but do consider the homemade truffles, bark, and almond toffee crunch and brittles. Hilliard's Chocolates is located at 316 Main St., Easton MA. Tel. (508) 238-6231

Furlong's Cottage Candies, Norwood, Mass. In business for more than 80 years, Furlong's Cottage Candies -- located in a welcoming cottage -- might just be the last step-back-in-time business on a stretch of Route 1 that is dominated by auto dealerships, chain stores and restaurants. Old-fashioned and friendly with great customer service, Furlong's hits a home run on with virtually everything they sell including homemade chocolates, fudge, roasted nuts and mints. The chocolate nut patties and chocolate covered Twinkies are a definite highlight!  Furlong's Cottage Candies is located at 1355 Providence Highway (Route 1) Norwood MA. Tel. (781) 762-4124

Trappestine Quality Candy at Mt. Saint Mary's Abbey, Wrentham, Mass. Nuns make chocolate at its candy facility and sell them at the gift shop in this beautiful Cistinerian monastery located in a quiet, semi-rural section of Wrentham called Sheldonville. Profits help the nuns be self-supporting while giving back to those in need. Great value, truly polite and helpful service (of course!), and some of the best tasting assorted chocolates we've tasted. You won't find any artificial flavors or colors, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup or any other chemicals in these lovingly-made sweets. I like best the milk and dark chocolate squares and chocolate covered toffee with nuts! Mt. Saint Mary's Abbey is located at 300 Arnold St., Wrentham MA. Tel. (508) 528-7306

Catman Cafe in Mansfield, Mass., Makes an Amazing Burger with Cheese, Bacon, Mushrooms, Fries on the Side

Let's get this out of the way before all those New Year's resolutions take place: sometimes, you've got to have a great burger with fries.

Whether it's the trendy celebrity burger joints or the local restaurant, pub or even dive, diners have more options than ever to find a great hamburger. My personal preference is to find the local place that serves a quality burger -- not only to please the taste buds but to support independently-owned businesses.

The Catman Cafe in Mansfield, Mass., is one of those places. Initially, the Catman seems like a bit of a dive with a rather drab dark look, but that first impression quickly changes with very friendly service and a community chatter amongst townies that lends authenticity. Specializing in bar food, the Catman makes one amazing, huge cheeseburger cooked to perfection with bacon, mushrooms and cheese as well as a heaping pile of tasty fries on the side.

Keep this place in mind when shopping at Mansfield Crossing and the Old Country Store and Emporium, taking in a summer concert at the Comcast Center, watching a sporting or music event at Gillette Stadium, or playing golf at the Norton TPC Golf Course. Despite its dive tendencies, it is also family friendly!

The Catman Cafe is located at 16 Old Coloy Rd., Mansfield MA. Tel. (508) 339-0038. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dog Sledding Tours in New Hampshire: a Great Way to Enjoy the Dog Days of Winter

Valley Snow Dogs LLC left a tip on our VisitingNewEngland Facebook fan page that they offer dog sled rides and tours in some of the most scenic areas of New Hampshire.

Led by a group of experienced guides and powered by huskies, this is really a unique way of experiencing New Hampshire as a fun alternative to hiking, downhill or cross country skiing. Areas where you can take a dog sled ride or tour include the White Mountains, Squam Lake, Thornton and Waterville Valley Resort.

What a great way to enjoy the dog days of winter or have your New Hampshire vacation turn to "mush!"

For more information including seasonal hours, log onto the Valley Snow Dogs LLC web site, (603) 340-2390, or email at

Wilson's, Greenfield, Mass.: One of the Last Family-Run Department Stores in the U.S.

Walking into Wilson's Department Store in Greenfield, Mass., reminds us of a simpler, more community-oriented time where we knew businesses owners by name and when the chance to shop and buy local was the only way we knew how to shop.

One of the last family-owned and operated department stores in the United States, Wilson's features 20 departments on four floors, which can be accessed by long-narrow staircases and an older-style elevator.  Completely different than a 21st superstore, the scene looks like a retail version of a townie coffee shop with customers and staff conversing about life in Greenfield and families, little old ladies with blue hair, college students, and all walks of life, for that matter, finding everything they need under one ancient roof. You see, Wilson's has been in business since the 1880s and, to so many, is truly a national treasure!

It's hard to believe a department store like this still exists in an often impersonal, generic day of age, but we're sure glad it does! Each department has excellent, updated selections with many name brands and, often, sales racks. Departments include women's accessories, women's sportswear, women's coats, dresses, intimate apparel, juniors, alternative sportswear for women, men's, young men's, children's, shoes, cosmetics, jewelry, luggage, domestics, housewares, toys, stationery and candy.  Wilson's is especially popular when Santa arrives for the Christmas season and the Easter Bunny for Easter.

What feels best about Wilson's is that you don't feel lost here like it can in big box stores or shopping malls. The friendly, non-pushy helpful employees and the nostalgic feel within a well laid-out, organized setting creates a wonderful ambiance that suggests that the retail world got it right the first time.

Wilson's is part of an unusual but heartwarming small town downtown that features an increasing number of locally-owned and operated businesses including an indie movie theater, food coop, bakery, and book, furniture and music stores.  I encourage you to read my article on downtown Greenfield to get a true feel for this very nice western Massachusetts small city.

Like it states in that article, though, start at Wilson's!

Wilson's Department Store is located at 258 Main St., Greenfield MA. Tel. (413) 774-4326

Local Bank Surprises Bedford, N.H. Pizza Shop with Makeover, Seth Myers Pays a Visit

I just read an incredibly beautiful story in the Union Leader about the generosity of a local business that helped out a Bedford, N.H. pizza shop owner truly in need.

Eastern Bank chose Pizza Bella in Bedford, N.H., for its "Good Things Happen to Good People" project, based on Deedee Zgonis' community involvement, donating food, sponsoring local organizations and taking over the Pizza Bella business after the death of her husband, John, in 2012, at age 53.

The article states that Eastern Bank sent Zgonis on a Florida spa trip, so volunteers could work on a surprise free makeover of the 23-year-old restaurant just in time for Thanksgiving. John had owned the restaurant with a co-partner for 21 years.

What's more, comedian and "Late Night" host Seth Myers -- who used to work at Pizza Bella in his youth -- visited with his family to "say hello," and "pick up their favorite salami pie."

That Christmas Eve day, Myers had tweeted about the video, stating, "A tear jerkingly great video about my one time employer Pizza Bella."

You have to see the video below! It's a beautiful story and shows that caring businesses like Eastern Bank can make a difference in this world. Most importantly, it puts a well-liked and respected community-oriented individual, going through tough times, back on her feet again.

The video is moving and inspirational, but I also recommend giving Pizza Bella a try for some pizza, subs or  dinner combinations. At this writing, Pizza Bella has a five-star rating amongst dining reviewers on Google+.  It's a staple in the Bedford area and I'm sure they would be grateful for your business!

Pizza Bella is located at 178 New Hampshire 101 in Bedford NH. Tel.  (603) 472-8560

Deluxe Depot Diner Opens in Framingham Mass. at Former H.H. Richardson Train Station

The Deluxe Family of Fine Diners is reporting that it has recently opened a third diner, the Deluxe Depot Diner at a former H.H. Richardson designed train station from 1885 in downtown Framingham, Mass.

Retaining many of the trademark H.H. Richardson architectural styles along with a "post modern Victorian whimsy" for ambiance, this extensively restored National Historic Site property seats 220, is open seven days a week, serves breakfast all day, lunch, and then dinner after 4 p.m., The restaurant also features a full bar.

The diner's opening is great news for Metrowest residents, as this suburban Boston region could use a few more good diners and will clearly be the beneficiary of a proven entity as the menu is similar to the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown and Deluxe Station Diner in Newton. Those two diners are absolutely fantastic, the latter also located in a train station of the past and the former housed in a classic dining car with all its stainless steel and neon glory.

Downtown Framingham has been revitalizing as of late, and this is one more reason to go!

The Deluxe Depot Diner is located at 415 Waverly St. in Framingham MA. Tel. 508-359-6404

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Logee's in Danielson, Conn.: Not Your Garden Variety Home and Garden Store

Musa ‘Veinte Cohol"  a fast fruiting banana
found at Logee's
Many people think of Danielson as the name Mr. Miyagi called the kid hero in the Karate Kid movie but it's also a pleasant small town in northeastern Connecticut where you'll find Logee's, one of the most unusual home and garden stores in New England.

Logee's features an incredible variety fruiting, rare, exotic and tropical edible and non-edible plants including trees that produce bananas, lemons the size of grapefruits, Japanese persimmons, unique begonias and hard-to-find hibiscus.  The experience goes way beyond that, however, as it's almost like a shopping mall version of plant inventory. Those that have been to Logee's five greenhouses and retail store know this longtime business as a seemingly never ending wonderland of colors and scents that should pique the interest of anyone even remotely interested in purchasing unique-to-familiar plants for the home and garden.

Logee's is a family-run business that has been around since 1892 and while well-known to gardening fanatics is not exactly a household name to the casual New England gardner (it should be, though!). Through the years, media has also recognized Logee's, including Martha Stewart who featured the store on the Martha Stewart Show.  They also offer a well-developed online store and catalogue, but if you are traveling in the area or live within an hour of Danielson, the trip is well worth it. We first recommend taking a look at the Logee's online retail store map to give you an initial taste of the enormity of this store.

Logee's clearly isn't your garden variety home and garden store!

Logee's is located at 114 North St. in Danielson CT. Tel. (888-330-8038


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Apple Dumpling with Vanilla Ice Cream at Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield Mass.

Brookfield Orchards in North Brookfield, Mass., is tucked away in the hills of rural Central Massachusetts, but the drive for an apple dumpling with vanilla ice cream or cheddar cheese is well worth the day trip.

The dumpling is huge and flavorful, the vanilla ice cream thick and creamy. Simply amazing, no other words to describe the combo!

While many make a beeline for the apple dumpling and ice cream, others prefer the dumpling with cheese. This might seem like an odd duo but somehow it works. Knowing that it's not always easy to find a quality cheddar cheese, I personally prefer having it with the dumpling.

Either combo works and the good news is that unlike many other local farms, Brookfield Orchards is open year-round 9 a.m.-5 p.m. You can eat the apple dumpling on a bench in the welcoming garage-like main retail room, although the fall time features an outdoor snack bar.

Known primarily as a fall apple picking destination, Brookfield Orchard also features an excellent country store, which is also open throughout the whole year. If all this sounds good, we recommend reading our feature story on Brookfield Orchards for more information. Hope you to get to go there, it's really a wonderful slice of New England retail, enhanced by the incredible apple dumpling!

Brookfield Orchards is located at 12 Lincoln Rd. North Brookfield MA. Tel (978) 867-6858 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mike's Pastry Opens Second Location in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass.

Mike's Pastry cannolis (photo by Eric)
The Mike's Pastry Facebook fan page is reporting that its second location, this one in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., recently opened.

Mike's Pastry, a classic North End of Boston, Mass., Italian bakery now has a second spot at 11 Dunster St. that began operation in mid-November. It's new storefront is a logical expansion that brings a much-needed local bakery presence to Harvard Square. Surprisingly, Harvard Square has only a few bakeries. Finale, Insomnia Cookies and Market in the Square do have excellent baked goods, but Mike's brings a unique, time-tested Italian bakery business to the Harvard University area and surrounding residential neighborhoods. Since Harvard Square is so densely populated -- especially during the academic year -- Mike's arrival adds another sweet layer to the baked goods scene without encroaching upon the few baked goods shops with their own unique identities.

Mike's new business here helps tip the scales in the right direction -- that is, shop local, buy local! One ongoing complaint I've had with Harvard Square is that it's becoming more distant from its local neighborhood vibe that made it so special in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Recently, many food and retail chains have saturated Harvard Square, and while some of them are of high quality, the one-of-a-kind feeling has gone. Yes, Mike's could now be called a chain with a second location, but is still small enough to be defined as more local than corporate. Even if it was more the latter, there's no denying the greatness of its cannolis, biscotti, torrone, cakes and cookies.  The Harvard Square location is also convenient, too, as the North End parking situation can be a real bear. Harvard Square parking is no day at the beach, either, but there always seems to be a way to find a spot.

On the downside, Mike's in Cambridge is not open 24 hours like the North End location. Hours posted on Yelp state it's open until 10 to 11:30 p.m. depending upon what day of the week. Still, the hours are good enough to pick and choose the time of the day to indulge in one this areas best selection of Italian baked goods!

Mike's Pastry is located at 11 Dunster St., Cambridge MA. Tel. (617) 742-3050

Santa Spotted Bicycling in Stoughton, Mass., on Christmas Day!

Santa biking in Stoughton on Christmas day (photo by Joan H.)
Yesterday while driving to my sister-in-law's in Brockton, Mass., for a Christmas dinner, we spotted Santa Claus riding a bicycle in Stoughton, Mass.  Perhaps the reindeer were under the weather?

We did an Internet search and found that the distance from Boston to the North Pole is 3,291 miles. Stoughton is about 20 miles south of Boston, so the challenge would be even greater if bicycling to the North Pole!

Hopefully, this Santa was also traveling to his sister-in-law's in Brockton, which would make the ride a tad easier. With that Routes 27 and 24. intersection, though, we are not so sure.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wenham Tea House, Wenham, Mass., is One of the Oldest Tea Houses in the U.S.

If you love warm New England traditions, the Wenham Tea House in Wenham, Mass., might just be your cup of tea.

As one of the oldest tea houses in the United States dating back to 1912, the charming decor and ambiance along with some old-fashioned hospitality remains true to its original form -- albeit with a twist of 21st century servings on the side.

This cozy North Shore tea house still specializes in a wonderful afternoon tea but also offers breakfast, lunch, a Friday night dinner, Sunday brunch, bakery, gift shop and take-out service. It's a great place to go as part of a day trip or as part of a vacation near Salem, Rockport, Gloucester, Newburyport and Ipswich, but also as a destination for group parties. They also have a children's tea.

Some of the lunch items include sandwiches, soups and salads, mac and cheese, lobster bisque, chicken pot pie,  roasted turkey dinner, homemade crab cakes while Friday dinner currently includes duck breast, tenderloin of beef and stuffed sole.

The philanthropic Wenham Village Improvement Society owns the Wenham Tea House, so profits go to improving this already beautiful North Shore town  "through scholarships, summer programs, and other philanthropies." So, dining here creates a mutually beneficial scenario: you get to dine or just have tea in an absolutely wonderfully, unique, time-tested setting, and Wenham benefits in the process. We'd rather spend our money here in this cozy, humble little spot than just some restaurant in it for just the money!

Wenham Tea House is located at 4 Monument St. in Essex MA. Tel. (978) 468-1398. We recommend visiting its web site to check for hours and special events.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Olneyville NY System, Providence, R.I., Mentioned in Forbes 15 Most Memorable Meals of 2014

Olneyville classic mini wieners recently featured Olneyville New York System in Providence, R.I., in its 15 Most Memorable Meals of 2014 article.

Contributing writer Larry Olmsted went worldwide to find the best meals, and certainly showed accuracy and good taste bud genes when writing about Olneyville's "mini wieners" topped with onions and chili -- otherwise known as wiener sauce. They are truly delicious!

This isn't the first time Olneyville has been recognized beyond the local media. The James Beard Foundation, a well-known proponent of American food cuisine, awarded Olneyville the 2014 America’s Classics Award for "regional establishments, often family-owned, that are treasured for their quality food, local character, and lasting appeal."  The Food Network, The Daily Meal and Travel Channel have also found fast food bliss at Olneyville by praising this fourth generation fast food restaurant.

I first met co-owner Greg Stevens last summer when working on a Google Maps Virtual Tour for
"All the way" wieners with fries and coffee milk
Olneyviile and can attest to the greatness of this Providence dining gem. Stevens and his sister Stephanie Stevens Turini really run an extremely well-run business with a friendly long-time staff that are skilled, often funny and treat their employment as not just a job but also a lifestyle. While they do serve burgers, tuna melts and other comfort foods, the wieners are the go-to meal here, along with fries and a locally legendary glass of coffee milk. Not sure if Olmsted had this exact version, but I especially love the "All the Way" signature wiener with ground beef, yellow mustard, onions, celery salt, special spices and soybean oil on a steamed bun.

This is a no frills restaurant, open from late morning until the wee hours, definitely worth trying in Rhode Island or even an hour away in Boston.

Congrats to the Forbes mention, and kudos to writer Olmsted for getting it right when including Olneyville!

Olneyville New York System
18 Plainfield Street
(401) 621-9500 
Mon – Thu: 11:00 am – 2:00 am
Fri – Sat: 11:00 am – 3:00 am
Sun: Noon – 2:00 am

Editor's note: you can get a Google Maps Virtual Tour for your business by signing up here for more information

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gillette Stadium Views, Television History Fun at CBS Scene, Patriot Place, Foxboro, Mass.

CBS Scene at Patriot Place, next to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., scores a dining out touchdown with its one-of-kind restaurant and bar.

The 15,000 sq. ft. CBS Scene seems larger than life with three levels of lunch and dinner dining, and 135 SONY Plasma, LCD and graphic projector displays (including table side televisions) playing the best of 75-plus years of CBS radio and television entertainment, sports and news programming.

It's a great place to watch the New England Patriots through the window less than 100 years away or on television, but for old-time TV nuts like us, we enjoyed watching "I Love Lucy" while chowing down on delicious grilled meat loaf sandwiches, New England clam chowder, wood fired heart oven pizza, crispy fries and mac and cheese. Additionally, the huge bar specializes in specialty drinks, beers, white, red and dessert wines, and cognac, port, sherry. In the warmer weather,  an outdoor terrace provides additional commanding views of Gillette Stadium.

With those incredible views of Gillette Stadium, a retail store selling CBS merchandise and a 60-foot spiral staircase structure in the shape of CBS's trademark eye connecting everything, CBS Scene is quite a scene!

Although CBS Scene is popular with comfort food offerings (steak tips, fish and chips, nachos, BBQ pork ribs, lobster BLT etc.), the chance to go upscale is here, too, with, as examples, maple glazed, cedar-planked roasted Scottish salmon; and citrus scallop salad.

Although cynics (that haven't even been here!) suspect it's a tourist trap, the truth is that CBS Scene serves excellent food -- much of it locally-sourced, including the seafood.

All in all, the great location, appealing design and ambiance, and terrific food help land CBS Scene in the Superbowl of  fabulous local restaurants.

CBS Scene
200 Patriot Place
Foxborough, MA 02035
Tel. (508) 203-2200

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Jimmy's Steer House to Stay Open, Kane's Donuts Boston Update, and Other New England Restaurant News

Jimmy's Steer House, Arlington, Mass. (photo by Eric)
Jimmy's Steer House has been near and dear to my heart for the past 30 years, so when I heard the rumors of this Arlington, Mass., dining landmark closing, I felt a great sadness.

Happily, Jimmy's Steer House will not be closing, according to a Jimmy's employee I spoke with today. The employee told me that they are not sure where the rumors started, but Jimmy's going out of business is "certainly not the case," and that business will proceed, as usual.

Great news, as this is one of the best steak houses in the Boston area -- affordable and with quality approaching some of the more expensive, high profile restaurants in this category.

Conrad's Restaurant, renowned for its mouthwatering steak tips, plans to expand beyond its Norwood, Mass. and Walpole, Mass., locations with a third restaurant in Sudbury, Mass. Diane, at the Walpole location, tells me that they plan to open Conrad's in Sudbury some time in mid-February 2015.  The restaurant will be located at the former Bistro 20 restaurant at 120 Boston Post Rd. (Route 20).

Kane's Donuts, a legendary donut shop dating back to 1955 in Saugus, Mass., had plans to open its second location in Boston in the middle of January but will most likely be closer to February 2015, according to co-owner Maria Delios. Maria told me that they everything "has to be perfect" at its 2 High St., International Place, Boston location before opening. "It's really going to be special!" said Maria, of the impending Boston opening.

Red Stripe, a well-known and outstanding American brasserie at Wayland Square in Providence, R.I., just opened its second restaurant at 455 Main St. in East Greenwich, R.I. Congrats!

Landing at the New England Ski Museum, Franconia Notch State Park, N.H.

What, there's actually a ski museum in New Hampshire? Snow way!

Yes, it's true. The New England Ski Museum at Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park has been going "downhill" since 1982 with permanent and revolving exhibitions pertaining to the history of skiing.

Just one look at the equipment, art,  artifacts and videos confirm that skiing has a rich history as deep as the New Hampshire winter snow. That history actually dates back 8,000 years with its prehistoric roots! The New England Ski Museum's permanent exhibition, From the First Tracks to the Fall Line: Eight Thousand Years of Skiing details the beginnings all the way up to 20th and 21st century history, including the advent of the shaped ski in the 1990s, the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division (created in 1943 for mountain combat), landmark events at Cannon Mountain (like the aerial tramway which opened in 1938), and the career of local world-class Olympic skier Bode Miller.

The New England Ski Museum might not be as popular as skiing itself, but does have more than 1,500 members across 35 states and 11 countries. Unlike the expense of skiing, museum admission is free!

The New England Ski Museum is located by the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, Franconia Notch State Park NH. Tel. (603) 823-7177. For more details, including hours, log onto the New England Ski Museum web site

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wright's Farm: All-You-Can-Eat Family-Style Chicken Dinners in Harrisville, R.I.

Wright's Farm Restaurant in Harrisville, R.I., seats 1,200 people, employs more than 180 locals and serves approximately 14,000 lbs. of chicken to about 12,000 visitors each week. It's amazing they can fit all that into Rhode Island, the smallest state in the country.

The 45,000 sq. ft. restaurant with six dining rooms specializes in family-style chicken dinners that include all-you-can eat chicken, rolls, salad with tasty Wright's Farm salad dressing, crispy fries and pasta shells with homemade marinara sauce. Everything is delicious and plentiful, but the real star of the show is the moist, fall-off-the-bone chicken -- slow-cooked, baked in whole, and then cut up when served. The deal is amazing: $12.75 for adults, $7.25 for kids 10 and under, at this writing.  You can also order steak, although that is not an all-you-can-eat item and not quite up to par with the chicken, although very good. Dessert includes traditional vanilla and chocolate ice cream roll and ice cream pie, the latter made by the Ice Cream Machine in Cumberland, R.I. (one of the best ice cream stands in New England!)

In business since 1972, Wright's is open Thursday and Friday from 4-9 p.m., Saturday noon- 9 p.m. and Sunday noon-8 p.m.  The wait can be very long but to make time go by faster, there's a 4,000 sq. ft gift shop on the premises that features clothing, gifts, books, toys, penny candy, homemade fudge, specialty foods and home and garden accessories. It's really a terrific gift shop with a diversity of interesting and often tasty merchandise, thus trumping tackiness that can be experienced at so many tourist gift shops.

Wright's Farm can get very loud and the huge parking lot can look like the mall at Christmas time, but that's part of the overall experience. Yes it's one of the largest restaurants in New England and should end up on the radio and TV traffic reports, but that doesn't take away from the amazing family-style dinners that are certainly anything but "fowl!"

Wright's Farm is located at 84 Inman Rd., Harrisville RI. Tel. (401) 769-2856

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Muffin House Cafe in Medway, Mass., Recreates Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin Magic

If you miss the famous, delicious blueberry muffins from the now defunct Jordan Marsh department store, no more need to feel sad: the Muffin House Cafe in Medway, Mass., has created a spot-on version of the beloved New England muffin.

The Muffin House delivers that magical mix of blueberries in every moist muffin bite with an extra amount of sugar on the top. If Jordan Marsh was still around today and outsourced to the Muffin House for blueberry muffins, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the original and this loving cover version.

During the past several years, we had to wait for the seasonal Enchanted Village Christmas Display at Jordan's Furniture in Avon, Mass., to buy Jordan Marsh-style blueberry muffins. Caloric challenges aside, now they can purchased any day of the week, thanks to the Muffin House Cafe! It sure is convenient, too, not having to experiment with trying to duplicate those online Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin recipes. Who has the time or dedication to following specific recipe directions that never come out quite right, anyway? Thankfully, the Muffin House does all the work for us.

Far more than just a blueberry muffin place, the Muffin House Cafe serves breakfast and lunch sandwiches, wraps, paninis, chowder, soup of the day and an excellent variety of coffee and teas. The baked goods section is exceptional with turnovers, danish, scones, pies, tarts, cakes, cupcakes, cookies, brownies and frozen dough. Some other muffin highlights include coffee cake, cinnamon apple, orange cranberry and banana chocolate chip.

The small dining room is cozy with tables, a wide scree television, electric fireplace and free WiFI. It looks like a slightly more updated version of an old-time townie restaurant

Medway is a cute little town, full of traditional New England charm, about 25 miles southwest of Boston. The Muffin House is definitely worth the drive if you have a love for a Jordan Marsh-style blueberry muffin!

The Muffin House Cafe is located at 116 Main St. (Route 109), Medway MA. Tel. (508) 533-6655

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Enchanted Village, a Boston Christmas Tradition, Now at Jordan's in Avon, Mass.

Enchanted Village, Jordan's Furniture, Avon, Mass. (photo by Eric)
Enchanted Village proves that great Christmas traditions span the generations with equal enthusiasm.

Once a landmark at the former Jordan Marsh department store at Downtown Crossing in Boston, Mass., Enchanted Village is now a suburban Boston staple at Jordan's Furniture in Avon, Mass.

Truly spectacular with its life-like yuletide scenes and animated figurines created by a 1930s Bavarian toy maker, Enchanted Village is simply an instant memory. While furniture stores aren't exactly known as Christmas destinations (other than shopping, of course), Jordan's has wonderfully carried on the tradition by allotting 8,000 sq. ft. of space to this amazing Boston attraction. Of course, Santa is there, too, to meet and greet kids that are frequently in awe of the whole Enchanted Village experience. True to tradition, also, admission is free.

Just as good news: the legendary Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins are sold at the Enchanted Village
Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin (photo by Eric)
entrance. We don't know what exactly makes the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin better than others, but one taste confirms why this baked good has household-name status in the Boston area.

Thank goodness for Jordan's Furniture resurrecting, in 2009, this important part of Boston history. It was born in the late 1950s, closed in the early 70s, and reopened from 2003-2006. All that closed time dampened many a Boston's Christmas spirit, but the times when operating in Boston created memories that could never be taken away.

Now Enchanted Village is back with a strong private company and all displays well maintained or enhanced. What's more, the holiday magic has expanded with Enchanted Ice -- a 4,000 sq. ft. indoor ice skating rink with artificial ice and a changing light scheme. It's just $5 to skate.

If you had to pick one Christmas event in the Boston area, this would be it. Time-tested, creative and full of holiday cheer that cannot fully be described, Enchanted Village is truly special.

Enchanted Village runs through Jan. 4, 2015. For Enchanted Village and Santa's hours, log onto the Jordan's Furniture web page.

No Beef with the Chili from The People's Pint, Greenfield, Mass.

I always prefer a bowl of chili to contain ample amounts of beef, but the People's Pint in Greenfield, Mass., changed that mindset instantly.

This well-known Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts brewery and restaurant spices up the traditional chili approach by forgoing the beef and instead offering a smoked chicken chili. The taste is absolutely incredible with a perfect mix of applewood smoked chicken, organic red kidney beans,  onions, peppers, tomatoes and  Farmer Brown Ale      (and chips on the side). Ask your server to have the chef add some bubbling, browned jack cheese on top, and the result is pure chili magic. I have never tasted any chili this good!

A generously served bowl comes in at $7.25 (jack cheese is $2 extra) -- certainly worth the price for this meal that you probably won't find anywhere else -- or that good.

The People's Pint is located at 24 Federal St., Greenfield MA. Tel. (413) 773-0333. 

Related article:
Visiting downtown Greenfield, Mass.

Chutters, Littleton N.H., Features the Longest Candy Counter in the World

Chutters in Littleton, N.H., holds the world's record for longest candy counter at 111 ft. and 11 inches -- certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

 The choice of candy is truly amazing, featuring jar after jar of hard-to-find sweets like Malo Cups, Necco Wafers, Hard Rock Candy, Laffy Taffy, Bottle Caps, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Fireballs, Mint Juleps, Sour Balls and just about every other candy imaginable. It's like walking through a candy museum.

The penny candy section is most impressive with more than 60 jars of candy that still costs a penny for each item. There's also a colorful M&M candy dispensing machine the size of a soft drink machine, as well as gourmet and traditional jelly beans, sours and gummies!

Chutters also features a chocolate covered candy counter (no, the counter is not covered with chocolate!), homemade fudge, gifts, soaps, candles, home furnishings and some gourmet foods, but it's really the candy counter that "sweetens" the visit at this most unique store where it appears that the adults have as much interest as the kids in loading up on sweets you thought you'd never find again! It's really like being a kid in a candy store at this unusual New England travel attraction.

43 Main St.
Littleton, NH
Tel. 603-444-5787

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pump House Indoor Waterpark, Jay Peak Resort, Jay Vt.

Jay Peak Pump House Waterpark (Photo Credit: Jay Peak Resort Media Office)
The Pump House Indoor Waterpark at Jay Peak Resort in Jay, Vt., in is not your basic, garden variety waterpark.

We all know that water parks can "slide" in quality and innovation very rapidly, thus suddenly becoming "lame" in the eyes of kids and "a bad value" from an adult perspective.

With its state-of-the-art waterpark and other attractions, Jay Peak has found a new life in the past 15 years by actually investing into its idyllic property with a 21st century mindset --- unlike many other waterparks and resorts resting on their laurels.

The huge Pump House features chutes, tubes, surfing-like opportunities, a river with rapids. indoor and outdoor hot tubs, poolside bar,  and a kids play area with a play structure and maple sap tipping bucket filled with real Vermont maple syrup (only in March). Additionally, you'll find arcades and a snack bar,  as well as a gift shop with merchandise relevant to the waterpark experience.

It all looks like a giant candyland for aquatics! Another nice element to the Pump House Waterpark is that there was significant life before this attraction -- that is, Jay Peak Resort has a grand reputation as a ski, golfing and spa destination. They also offer several restaurants, an ice skating rink, fitness center and summer tram rides.  It's truly what you could easily call an "all-inclusive resort."

Jay Peak is located at 830 Jay Peak Rd. in Jay VT. Tel. (802) 988-2611. Log onto the Jay Peak Waterpark page to start, and explore the rest of the site to see all that Jay Peak has to offer.

Christo's Brockton is Gone, Christo's to Go Arrives in Whitman, Mass.

Christo's in Brockton, Mass., had been a local dining legend for more than four decades. Some called it "Cheers South" -- South of Boston's version of the famous Boston restaurant.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis once dubbed Christo's "The Greek Salad King." Thousands of customers each week called Christo's their "go-to" local restaurant. I personally remember family gatherings -- whether it be for happy times like birthdays and Mothers Day or  for sadder times when loved ones gathered after a funeral. Christo's just seemed like a best friend -- loyal, committed and friendly.

The Greek salads, famous salad dressing, baked lamb, bar-style pizzas, the large four color coded rooms (especially the Gold Room with that huge golden floor-to-ceiling fountain), and the welcoming day and night presence of late owner Christos Tsaganis helped shape Christo's one-of-a-kind restaurant personality. Unfortunately, family chose not to continue operating Christo's not too long after Tsaganis' passing, and the announcement to close Christo's came as a shock for many who thought it would be around forever..

Massasoit Community College recently bought the property and will be building a new Allied Health and Science Building. Great for academia, bad for our Christo's embedded taste buds.

Although this fabled of version of Christo's is gone forever, all is not lost. Recently, owners Gigi Johnson and Maria Samson -- daughters of Tsaganis -- opened Christo's to Go in Whitman, Mass. Clearly a fraction of the size of Christo's and strictly take-out, the look is still familiar with about 20 former Christo's employees, and signature dishes like the Greek salads, famous salad dressing, baked lamb and bar-style pizzas still there to please the local public.

You won't find any larger-than-life Gold Room fountains, or 450 seat environs, but hopefully the magic remains in what Christo's did best: serve consistently good Greek-American fare that made the former East Side restaurant a wonderful tradition for so many years. Stay tuned for dining reviews here, as, over time, I get to sample Christo's to Go.

Christo's to Go is located at 785 Bedford St., Whitman MA. Tel. (781) 523-7932

Maine Whoopie Pies and Lobster

Classic Maine Whoopie Pies Dessert Gift Package

Forget the fruitcakes, South Beach Diet cookbooks and Ugly Christmas sweaters: Maine whoopie pies are the way to go for an appealing, and, in this case, mouthwatering holiday present -- or to consume for oneself. What's not to like about a combination of rich chocolate cake with creamy white filling?

The Maine Whoopie Pie is Maine's official state treat. Several local companies produce these delicious desserts. Grocery stores, bakeries and restaurants are the most common places to buy Maine whoopie pies, but you can even find them at some gas stations and even a Dover-Foxcroft hardware store! There's even a summer Maine Whoopie Pie Festival with whoopie pies for sale, competitions, contests and live entertainment.

We're not sure what makes the Maine whoopie pie better than others, but we love Maine and can't get enough of whoopie pies -- those emotional responses are enough to make these versions irresistible.

Lobster Gram sells a 12-pack of Maine whoopie pies, which should hopefully last more than a few days.  Want a nice food pairing to go along with your dessert? Since it is Lobster Gram, how about starting off with a Lobsterpalooza meal with live Maine Lobsters, Lobster Bisque, Lobster Cakes and Lobster Ravioli?

Lobsterpalooza! Live Maine Lobster Dinner Gift Package

And maybe some lobster mac and cheese balls?

Lobster Mac 'n Cheese Balls

But I digress. Those Maine Whoopie pies are the subject matter at hand here, and are they ever delicious!

Related article: 
All About the Maine Whoopie Pie

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Student Prince and Fort Cafe Reopens in Springfield, Mass.

MassLive is reporting that the Student Prince and Fort Cafe has reopened in Springfield, Mass., after being closed temporarily.

The famous German-American downtown Springfield restaurant nearly closed for good after the Scherff family "could no longer sustain the financial losses and declining business and looked to retire,"according to the MassLive article. Peter Picknelly, chairman and CEO of Peter Pan Bus Lines, saved the restaurant as a buyer, enlisting other investors to renovate the Student Prince, which has been around since the 1940s. After being closed several months, the Student Prince celebrated with a grand, invitation-only reopening on Dec. 3.

The lunch and dinner menu has changed slightly, but long-time favorites like Sauerbrate, Hungarian beef ghoulash and the Wurst Plate sausage remain on the menu, as well as, of course, plenty of German beers on tap -- including the Student Prince Pilsner!

The Student Prince is located at 8 Fort St. in Springfield MA. Tel. (413) 734-7475 

Wahlburgers Restaurant Set to Expand Across Massachusetts, United States

The Wahlburgers web site is reporting plans to expand with new nationwide restaurant openings, including Massachusetts in the Fenway section of  Boston and in Lynnfield. This expansion comes just three years after the original Wahlburger's opened at the Hingham Shipyard in Hingham, Mass.

A popular burger joint founded by executive chef Paul Wahlberg and celebrity brothers Mark and Donnie, Wahlburgers agreements have been made for 20 locations in Florida and seven in New York City -- six in Manhattan and one on Coney Island. The Florida and New York locations will also include full-serve and quick-serve dining options, take-out and a full bar. The Brookline Ave. Fenway and MarketStreet Lynnfield locations will have the same format with expected openings some time in 2015, according to the press release.

Franchise agreements have also been made in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Philadelphia, Penn., area. Canada has one Wahlburgers with its November 2014 opening in Toronto.

Wahlburgers is known for its ground beef burgers, but also specializes in pure beef hot dogs, crispy fries, onion rings, tater tots, signature salads, and specialty frappes for lunch and dinner.

One advantage Wahlburgers has over other local or chain restaurants is that the restaurant has been featured in more than 18 episodes, to date, in the A&E Network's reality show, the "Wahlburgers."

“These agreements put us closer to our vision of making Wahlburgers a happy part of people’s lives across America and around the world. Donnie, Paul, and I appreciate the support of our fans and all those who love great burgers,” said Mark Wahlberg, in the press release.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

TripAdvisor Acquisition of Massachusetts-Based Vacation Home Rentals is Great News

3br - WATERFRONT WITH BREATHTAKING VIEWSWe are delighted that TripAdvisor recently acquired Vacation Home Rentals, a Massachusetts-based vacation rentals business.

I have always been impressed by Vacation Home Rentals with its excellent variety of vacation rentals, but feel that a great thing just got better with Vacation Home Rentals becoming part of  TripAdvisor.  By leveraging the power of TripAdvisor, Vacation Home Rentals can only get better with its offerings. That is really excellent news for the vacation rental customer and those vacation rentals owners wanting to list their properties.

Time to start searching for a Cape Cod vacation rental now! I just checked the selection and it is really awesome -- and it is nice to see that TripAdvisor logo right there alongside Vacation Home Rentals.

Many of you might not know this but TripAdvisor is also a New England based company, operating its brand new main office out of Newton, Mass.

Congrats to both companies, especially to Vacation Home Rentals Founder Tom Gilmore who has come a long way since creating his company is 2004!

2015 Red Sox Tickets On Sale Now for Spring Training, Regular Season Games

Fenway Park, Boston MA (photo by Eric)
The New England Travel and Vacation Gazette has learned that 2015 Boston Red Sox spring training and regular season tickets are now on sale at Ace Ticket in Boston, Mass.

The spring training season begins on March 3, 2015, with  games scheduled against Northeastern University and the Boston College Eagles at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Mass.  On March 6, the first spring training game against a Major League Baseball team takes place against the Miami Marlins, also a JetBlue Park.

On April 13, The Red Sox will kick off its regular season home opener at Fenway Park in Boston against the Washington Nationals.

Ace Ticket is a licensed Boston based ticket broker in business since 1979 that also has several store locations throughout the Boston area. Ace Ticket is a member of the  Better Business Bureau, the National Association of Ticket Brokers, and the Brookline Chamber of Commerce.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Bostonia Public House in Boston MA Gets Google Maps Virtual Tour

The Bostonia Public House, a superb newcomer to the Boston, Mass., restaurant scene, recently had a Google Trusted Photographer create a Google Maps Virtual Tours that showcases the attractive two-floor layout.

The casually upscale American restaurant, located in the Financial District, features a historic spirit with its Mayors of Boston wall and local historical pieces throughout the sleek but welcoming, unpretentious dining rooms.

You can take the Bostonia Public House Google Virtual Tour below, or on Google Maps. Enjoy stepping up to the log handsome bar, getting cozy at a window side table and checking out the Boston ambiance!

A growing number of New England restaurants are using Google Virtual Tours to showcase the unique looks of their businesses, while attracting future customers. VisitingNewEngland works with providers of Google Virtual Tours  -- businesses can sign up at the New England web site.

View Larger Map

Six Flags New England Wicked Cyclone Triple Inversion Coaster Scheduled to Debut in Summer 2015

The Los Angeles Times reports that a 1983 Cyclone wooden roller coaster will be transformed, at Six Flags New England in Agawam, Mass., into an "intense" triple-inversion Wicked Cyclone wood-steel hybrid. The coaster, inspired the original Coney Island, N.Y., classic, is set to debut in summer 2015.

Although shorter than the original, the new version will be significantly faster and descend from a 120-ft. tall lift hill to a 78-degree first drop before going through a 120-degree overbanked turn, according to the Times.  Along the way, the rider will experience many twists and turns including an outward-banked airtime hump, traveling through a 200-degree stall element,  an airtime-filled triple downhill descent and a double-reversing baked hill element.

Six Flags, no doubt, will be "riding" on this one to be a big success!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Christmas by Candlelight, Old Sturbridge Village MA

If you dream of celebrating a traditional New England Christmas, then Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass., is probably the greatest travel gift of the local holiday season.

Set in an expansive 1830s New England living history museum, Christmas by Candlelight stays true to time warp form by sticking to authenticity. You'll experience sleigh rides, roasting chestnuts, gingerbread making, cider mulling, yule logs, holiday magic and puppet shows, a display of a miniature New England village, and  Christmas carol sing-a-longs and Victorian Carolers. Of course, the kids will have a chance to meet Santa (not the mall kind, more true-to-life), -- he will even perform readings of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. OK, Rudolph and The Grinch are not from the 1830s, but the spirit of Santa reading classics is timeless!

The Old Sturbridge 2014 Christmas by Candlelight takes place 4-9 p.m., Friday Saturday and Sunday evenings, Dec. 5-7, Dec. 12-14, and Dec. 19-21. For more information on this classic New England event, log onto the Old Sturbridge Village web site.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lighting of the Nubble Lighthouse Christmas Event, York Beach, Maine

The lighting of the Nubble Lighthouse in York Beach, Maine, truly shines like a beacon during the Christmas season.

The friendly Parks and Recreation folks up in York have taken one of New England's greatest lighthouses and made it even better. The lights really define the beautiful shape of the lighthouse while the frigid Maine air almost seems to warm up to the incredible illumination.

The 2014 Lighting of the Nubble takes place on Sat., Nov. 29, at 5 p.m. Holiday music entertainment, Santa, cookies and hot chocolate are traditionally part of this classic New England Christmas season event.

Log onto Nubble Light web site for updates on the 2014 Lighting of the Nubble. Or call 207-363-1040 for more information.

A Christmas Stroll on Nantucket

Anyone who tells you that coastal New England isn't compatible with Christmas celebrations is clearly out to sea.

A grand holiday tradition dating back to 1973, the Christmas Stroll on Nantucket features historic walking tours, tree decorating, caroling, craft shows and artist displays, raffles, cookie decorating and music events, just to name a few. Merchants often take the extra effort to make the holiday season special with warmly decorated stores, one-of-a-kind gifts, and discounts.

What started as an event to keep locals from leaving the island to holiday shop on Cape Cod is now a renowned event that brings in people worldwide. Cheers!

This year's Christmas Stroll on Nantucket stroll will take place Dec. 5-7. Log onto the Christmas Stroll on Nantucket web site to keep updated on what the 2014 season will bring.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Seven New England Restaurants Beyond 100 Years Old

Wayside Inn, Sudbury MA
Given that about 60 percent of restaurants fail in their first year of business, it's amazing to come across New England dining spots in business for more than 100 years. Their longevity is almost always due to keeping the food quality intact, focusing on great customer service and keeping intact unique architecturally historical elements. It also doesn't hurt to have historical icons or celebrity as customers along the way, as well as possessing some unique anecdotal stories that just add to the legend!

With that in mind, here are seven noteworthy New England restaurants that go beyond 100-years-old...

Griswold Inn (1776), Essex Conn. The Griswold Inn stands as one of the the oldest continuously running  taverns in the United States, having served notables from George Washington and Albert Einstein to actress Katharine Hepburn. Originally offering lodging and food and spirits that catered to shipbuilders, the Griswold today retains its rustic, creaky charm in an exceptionally well-maintained setting. With three different dining options offering excellent traditional American fare and 33 charming guest rooms, the spirit of traditional New England resonates so proudly here.

Morin's Hometown Barn and Grill (1911), Attleboro, Mass. Once a dining cable car, Morin's has turned into a bustling 250 seat restaurant featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as weekly buffets. This Attleboro restaurant remains rock solid as a downtown business with some recent national attention: Guy Fieri featured Morin's French meat pie and fisherman's stew on his Diners, Drive-ins and Dives television show on the Food Network.  Two of the Morin's sons continue to run the business with clear pride of ownership and a knack for turning out some amazing comfort foods served in heaping portions. Read our Morin's dining review here

Union Oyster House (1826), Boston, Mass. Located on the famous Freedom Trail, the Union Oyster House stands as the oldest restaurants in Boston and the oldest restaurant with continuous service in the United States. In this building dating back to the 1600s, Daniel Webster once"drank his tall tumbler of brandy and water with each half-dozen oysters." The Kennedy family has also been known to frequent the Union Oyster House.  And how about this for a rather fascinating, or perhaps dull anecdote, depending on how you look at it: the first toothpick was used here.

Today, the Union Oyster House remains incredibly popular -- a tourist attraction and local favorite. It's amazing, too, that there have been only three known owners since its 1826 inception!

Woodman's (1914), Essex, Mass. Known as the birthplace of the fried clam, Woodman's perhaps represents the classic New England clam shack better than any in the region. The unpretentious atmosphere and delicious fried clams and other fresh seafood dishes truly brings one into the heart of New England's seafood scene. Read our Woodman's dining review here as part of our New England's Best Seafood Restaurants and Clam Shacks article.

Lafayette House (1784), Foxboro, Mass. Gen. Lafayette, Gen. Washington and Benjamin Franklin frequented this sprawling yet cozy restaurant with fireplaces and the oldest stand up bar in the country. The traditional American cuisine and authentic colonial atmosphere -- originally a tavern and inn -- make for an experience one wishes was more common amongst the local restaurant scene. Read our Lafayette House dining review here as part of our Best Colonial Style and Traditional New England Restaurants in Massachusetts article.

Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Mass. Known as Howe's Tavern from 1716 to 1861, this historic landmark is best known as the setting for a group of fictitious characters congregating at the tavern in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's renowned 1862 book of poems, "Tales of a Wayside Inn." Howe's Tavern eventually changed its name to Longfellow's Wayside Inn -- a legendary dining and lodging establishment listed on on the National Register of Historic Places. The traditional New England fare here is tremendous! Read our Wayside Inn dining review here

Ye Olde Tavern (1760), West Brookfield, Mass. Beautifully situated off the idyllic West Brookfield Town Common, the Ye Olde Tavern today is more of a local watering hole that specializes in brick oven pizza -- it is now known as Pleasant Street Pub and Pizza at Ye Olde Tavern. The handsome colonial building, however, remains intact with a former clientele that included George Washington (boy, he liked to eat out a lot!), President John Adams  and Daniel Shays, the well-known leader of Shays' Rebellion.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

12 Reasons to Love Central Massachusetts

Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Mass. (photo by Eric)

Central Massachusetts represents the heart and soul of New England quite well with its quaint small towns, winding country roads, hills and valleys, and a pace of life that is generally much slower than Boston. The region also features Worcester, an impressive city that keeps getting better each day through its major revitalization projects and a strong cultural and academic base with nine colleges and many cultural institutions.

I've found Central Massachusetts to be a home away from home with an appealing quality of life as well as attractions and events that provide a nice respite from our suburban Boston residence. For starters, here are 12 great Central Massachusetts travel destinations:

Ecotarium, Worcester The Ecotarium, an indoor/outdoor science and discovery center, has a bucolic, campus-like presence that feels a million miles away from the urban bustle of Worcester, New England's second largest city. The museum is modern, clean and features such educational gems like a planetarium, animal educational classes and displays (including bald eagles!), geology presentations, and memory and perception exhibits. There's also an express train, taking you through a wild habitat with red fox, red-tailed hawks, and if you're lucky a glimpse of Kendra the polar bear. The Ecotarium also features The Tree Canopy Walkway where you can experience what it's like to walk at the tops of the trees! More on the Ecotarium...

Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield More than just one of New England's best apple orchards, Brookfield Orchards has a wonderful country store, as well as serving up some amazing apple dumplings with vanilla ice cream and cheddar cheese. The best part of visiting Brookfield Orchards, to us, is enjoying the scenic countryside, rolling hills in the distance and some of the sweetest smelling air you'll find in these neck of the woods. More on Brookfield Orchards...

Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge As mentioned in the previous post, Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) is a true-to-life outdoor living museum that wonderfully depicts rural New England from the 1790s to the 1830s. The appealing village layout includes 59 historic buildings on 200 acres, three water-powered mills and two covered bridges.  The knowledgeable New England historians in costume really know their subject matter, so don't be afraid to ask any questions! At Sturbridge Village, you can also ride in a stagecoach, view antiques, heirloom gardens, meet the farm animals, and take part in hands-on crafts.  Visitors have been coming to Old Sturbridge Village since 1946. I have fond memories of OSV as a kid going on school field trips, but I can tell you that Sturbridge Village is even better today with so many more attractions. More on Old Sturbridge Village...

Brimfield Flea Market, Brimfield This is the biggest flea market in New England, held annually in May, July and September. You'll find more than 5,000 vendors from all over the country come to this tiny, quintessential New England town! More on the Brimfield Flea Market...

Salem Cross Inn, West Brookfield If you're looking for a restaurant that captures the spirit of traditional New England, the Salem Cross Inn will surely satisfy. With part of the building dating back to the 1700s, this charming restaurant with beautiful hardwood floors, post and beam ceilings, a huge fieldstone fireplace and scenic countryside over 600 acres, the Salem Cross Inn also happens to serve some wonderful Yankee fare. We recommend the New England chowder of the sea, chicken pie, Yankee pot roast, and baked New England haddock. The Salem Cross Inn also hosts several special events a year that re-enact colonial history and cooking. More on the Salem Cross Inn...

Quabbin Reservoir, Belchertown The largest man-made reservoir in the United States is also a naturalist's dream with designated access areas for fishing (restrictions apply), hiking, limited bicycling, walking trails, bird watching (we've heard many reports of eagle sightings here), snowshoeing, picnicking and generally, endless scenic views. We recommend visiting the Quabbin Reservoir at 485 Ware Rd. (Route 9) in Belchertown, or calling (413) 323-7221. More on the Quabbin Reservoir....

Southwick's Zoo, Mendon Along with the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, Southwick's Zoo is, in our opinion, the go-to zoo in New England. Having grown tremendously over the past couple of decades, Southwick's Zoo features a large display of well-known and lesser-known animals, the Safari Skyride where you can view animals from above, a walk-through aviary, a petting zoo, live animal presentations and educational classes and the really impressive Purple Peacock Gift Shop! The zoo is exceptionally well-kept. More on Southwick's Zoo...

Howard's Drive-In, West Brookfield A classic summer destination, Howard's is the place for heaping portions of ice cream at dirt cheap prices, as well as offering great BBQ chicken, lobster rolls, ribs and fried clam plates. Such a nice place -- you order at the window, find a picnic table at the picnic groves and enjoy the feeling of letting someone else create a backyard family-like gathering for your dining pleasure.  More on Howard's...

Davis Farmland and MegaMaze, Sterling This family-run working farm showcases the largest sanctuary of endangered livestock animals in the United States. It's a pleasing, wholesome family-friendly destination that also happens to be a lot of fun. Some highlights includes meeting the farm animals, figuring out the enormous corn maze, taking a pony or "safari" ride, a zero depth "spray  ground" to cool off on hot days, and Adventureland where you can dig for dinosaur bones, or drive on the pedal car track. There's plenty more to see and do here, and it's easy to spend a whole day at the farm! Here's more on Davis Farm Land... 

Worcester Art Museum, Worcester There is life beyond the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, when it comes to art museums in New England. The Worcester Art Museum is one great example, featuring more than 35,000 works of art including  European and North American painting, prints, photographs and drawings as well as Asian art, Greek and Roman sculpture and mosaics and contemporary art. I remember going here are as kid in the 1960s, and can tell you that the multiple expansions since then have made it truly one of the premier art museums I've been to in the six-state region. The Museum also is part of an underrated arts, culture and education scene in Worcester. Think about it: the city has nine colleges and universities, six museums, and more than 20 music, theater and dance organizations, including the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra. But I digress and recommend starting with the Worcester Art Museum! More on the Worcester Art Museum..

Dean Park, Shrewsbury What an absolutely beautiful park! Graced with a scenic pond, pleasant walking trails, and lots of tree shaded areas, idyllic Dean Park features a terrific playground, sports fields, basketball and tennis courts, a bandstand and picnic pavilions. A well maintained and attended spot, Dean Park is the prototype for what a park should look like. More on Dean Park...

The Book Bear, West Brookfield For lovers of independent bookstores, the Book Bear is a great read. With more than 90,000 used, rare and out of print books, this pleasant store with wonderful old-fashioned customer service and a warehouse look is one of the best bookstores we've been to in New England. More on The Book Bear...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Greater Gardner Furniture Outlets Features More Than 200,000 Sq Ft. of Furniture

OK, please be seated: the Greater Gardner Furniture Outlets in Gardner, Mass., features three family owned and operated  furniture stores offering more than 250 names brands in more than 200,000 square feet.

The Factory Coop, La Chance Furniture Showroom and Rome Furniture Center comprise the Greater Gardner Furniture Outlets. The experience is amazing, offering a fantastic variety of furniture while coming across as authentic. Sometimes, those heavily-advertised furniture stores with the bombastic radio and television commercials seem like they have lost their personal touch. The Greater Gardner Furniture Outlets, on the other hand, comes across more true to their roots -- being born many generations ago in a sometimes gritty city that has held onto community pride through the furniture industry, an ongoing interest in town revitalization, and some of the nicest residents you'll ever meet. I know, having worked with many Gardner residents at one point.

The first time visiting the Greater Gardner Furniture Outlets blew me away, given the enormity of the collective furniture stores, the excellent variety of every genre of furniture, and that employees treated us like family. Purchasing some bar chairs from La Chance was a breeze, and the sturdy quality of the furniture remains intact several years later.

Billed as the "Furniture Capital of New England," this is an apt description for the Gardner Greater Furniture Outlets. While Gardner is not exactly a vacation destination, the Greater Gardner Furniture Outlets stands as a fabulous New England, north central Massachusetts travel attraction.

Find out more information about the Greater Gardner Furniture Outlets.

Lobster Chow Mein at Evelyn's Drive-in, Tiverton R.I.

We had to travel all the way to the Far East to sample some lobster chow mein -- the Far East of Rhode Island, that is.

Evelyn's Drive-in serves this most unusual yet delicious dish. What sounds like a potential culinary disaster actually combines exceptionally well to result in a tasty mix of generously served lobster and noodles. Food icon Guy Fieri took notice of the lobster chow mein by featuring this meal on his Diners, Drive-ins and Dives  Food Network television show.

This unpretentious, seasonal clam shack overlooking Nanaquacket Pond has been in business for about 45 years, specializing in fried whole bellied clams, Rhode Island clam chowder, clam cakes and fried seafood platters. You'll find this type of restaurant all over New England, but Evelyn's seems to turn out higher quality meals while also getting creative with their dishes -- with lobster chow mein at the forefront!

Evelyn's Drive-in is located at 2335 Main Rd. (Route 77) Tiverton RI. Tel. 401-624-3100



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