Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Wicked Good Boston Vacation Travel Guide Video

Faneuil Hall, Boston, Mass. (photo by Eric)
Finding a good Boston, Mass., vacation video is about as difficult as navigating its narrow, one-way streets, but we have found an excellent one created by Expedia. In Boston language, it's "wicked good!"

A narrator with a classic Boston accent provides the foundation for a comprehensive video that informs and entertains on history, culture, attractions and sports. Although only five minutes long, this Boston vacation travel guide video seems to cover the most vital basics that, we think, will he, help you greatly with your Boston trip planning.

Kudos to Expedia for producing this excellent Boston video!

Related resources:
Boston hotels
North End of Boston food destinations
Boston vacation and travel ideas
Swan Boats of Boston
Visiting Faneuil Hall

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Norwood Mass. Town Common and Church Winter Scene

The New England winter can be so brutal but the scenes that come out of it can be so soothing and scenic.  Case in point: the Norwood, Mass., town common surrounded by the United Church of Norwood (left) and Saint Catherine of Siena Parish (right).

Norwood center -- about 15 miles southwest of Boston -- looks nice any time of the year, but seems to look best in the winter. The blanket of snow surely adds that extra scenic depth to most New England scenes!

Related articles: 
A beautiful traditional New England winter scene
Meredith NH in the winter
How to save money on ski lift tickets in New England

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Favorite North End of Boston Italian Food Destinations

The North End of Boston is a vibrant, colorful interesting Italian neighborhood that also happens to be regarded as one of the most popular dining destinations in the Northeast United States. I've never had a meal or dessert here that I didn't like, so it's hard to create a "best of list." Nevertheless, here are six superb North End food destinations that come to mind...

Italian Meal -- Benevento's
Casual and cozy with a marble bar, tin ceilings and lots of wood, Benevento's is so welcoming that its atmosphere alone would be worth the visit. Lucky for us that it is owned by the famous al Dente restaurant next door and serves some of the freshest pasta imaginable along with chicken and veal dishes and brick oven pizza. See more on Benevento's

Italian-Style Pizza -- Regina Pizzeria
This is the original Regina Pizzeria that started serving its one-of-a-kind brick oven pizza back in 1926. The atmosphere is plain but fun and lively, and the owners go to great lengths to secure the very best food sources possible to ensure the pizza maintains its high standards. See more on Pizzeria Regina

Italian Bread -- Bova's
This landmark bakery has been in business since 1932. The Italian bread aromas coming out of this place will warm your heart, the taste of these loaves pleasing the taste buds to the highest degree possible. Bova's, however, goes beyond bread with  wonderful baked goods and the Spuckie -- an Italian word for sandwich. In this case, that means a sandwich absolutely packed with meats, cheeses, whatever you choose to fill in the sandwich that is on the menu. See more on Bova's

Cannolis -- Mike's Pastry
Mike's is kind of like the baked goods version of Hall and Oates. The snobs will say because it is so popular that it can't be the best. But like Hall and Oates, there is a true artistry here that others would love to replicate. The frequent lines of people out the door confirm the greatness of the wide variety of cannolis -- sort of like Hall and Oates selling millions of records. OK, enough of the Hall and Oates analogies,  See more on Mike's Pastry

Italian Coffee Shop, Grocery Store -- Polcari's Coffee
This old world coffee shop and grocery store has been around since 1932 and is a popular spot with a great variety of coffees and teas, as well as selling Italian candies and other snacks, spices and herbs, extracts and oils, legumes, and other basics. Nice to know there are places in the North End like Polcari's where the world seems to slow down, just like it probably was in the 1930s. I love this place as it has a lower profile than many North End food stops, but delivers just as much satisfaction in its own unique way! See more on Polcari's

Italian Dessert, Drinks Cafe -- Caffe Vittoria
What would the North End be without a dessert destination, or better yet an Italian dessert place? Caffe Vittoria is known as Boston's first Italian cafe, established in 1929, by serving up the most delicious pastries along with great coffee and adult beverages including the "Caffe Vittoria" coffee with kahula, brandy & tiramisu liqueur. Although almost always crowded and noisy, there's almost a romantic feel to Caffe Vittoria -- probably like being in an authentic cafe in Italy.I would recommend the delicious chocolate gelati, spumoni, ricotta pie, tiramisu and chocolate cannoli, for starters. See more on Caffe Vittoria

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Lake Massapoag Sunset in Sharon, Mass.

Lake Massapoag sunset, Sharon MA

Lake Massapoag in Sharon, Mass., might be best known as a summer spot with its swimming beach, and boating and fishing opportunities, but the winter scenery has its own equally special personality.

I recently did a double take when recently driving past Lake Massapoag around 4:15 p.m., as the combination of unique-looking clouds and the way the last glimpses of sun played off the ice was nothing short of spectacular.

Don't make a long-distance special trip to see the sunsets here, but if you are in the area and the potential for good color in the sky seems possible, then Lake Massapoag is surely worth a visit.

Lake Massapoag is located along Massapoag Ave. in Sharon, Mass.

Other points of interest in the Sharon area:
Borderland State Park, Easton
Old Country Store and Emporium, Mansfield
Historic North Easton
Hall at Patriot Place, Foxboro
Bird Park, Walpole

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Turner Pond Offers an Amazing Winter Ice Skating Experience in Walpole, Mass.

Turner Pond, Walpole, Mass. (photo by Eric)
A local well-known television reporter once covered the Turner Lodge at Turner Pond in Walpole, Mass., for a nighttime segment and told me: "If I lived around here, I'd be out here every night."

Turner Lodge and Pond have that effect, being so close to Boston (18 miles) but coming across as a place you'd expect to find on vacation in, say, Vermont or New Hampshire.

The Turner Pond Lodge (photo by Eric)
The scenic pond, just outside Walpole center, is ideal for ice skating and the cozy, rustic red-colored lodge features sofas, a fireplace, television, books, board games, snacks, hot chocolate and a dining table where locals bring in, and sometimes share, home-cooked meals. There's really a great community feel at this little cabin situated by the pond and alongside beautiful forest land. The experience is especially incredible at night (when officially open) as locals of all ages skate along with the cold, crisp air under the stars with a hint of wood burning in barrels to provide some warmth near the benches.

Not too long ago abandoned but fortunately brought back to life by Walpole volunteers, Turner Pond is now a much-needed Boston area winter destination, bringing in hundreds of "Walpoleans" and non-residents that, up until recently, had no really good choices for supervised pond ice skating. There's enough room set aside on the 17 acre pond for the hockey players, figure skaters, beginners and others looking forward to this idyllic ice time.

Ice skating at Turner Pond is only open when the thickness of the ice is deemed at an acceptable level by onsite managers and volunteers are available for supervision. Walpole residents can sign up for $20 a season, non residents $30, by downloading and signing forms ahead of time. For more information, log onto the Walpole Ponds Facebook page.

The rustic, cozy Turner Lodge (photo by Eric)

Related article:
Visiting Walpole, Mass.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Zagat Writes about Anticipated 2015 Boston Restaurant Openings

Scott Kearnan, of Zagat, just wrote an informative post about "Boston's Most Anticipated Restaurant Openings of 2015."

Perhaps a sign that the economy is finally coming around, the myriad Boston restaurant openings  should add diverse dining options to the "Hub of the Universe." Restaurants serving upscale pizza, contemporary American, farm-to-table, as well as a brewery and Japanese pub are amongst those many options.

I am especially looking forward to Blackbird Doughnuts -- with its chocolate covered treats -- scheduled to open at 492 Tremont St. in Boston!

Related articles:
Sullivan's coming to Hingham?
Wahlburgers set to expand
Student Prince and Fort Reopens in Springfield
Jimmy's Steer House in Arlington, Mass., not closing

How to Find the Latest New Hampshire Alpine, Nordic Ski Conditions

If you're looking for the latest New Hampshire ski conditions, SkiNH offers a terrific online resource for Alpine and Nordic skiing destinations.

Updated frequently, SkiNH not only posts on ski conditions, but also features a weather forecast resource and weather blog, as well as resort webcams. Some webcam locations include Bretton Woods,  Cannon Mountain, Cranmore, Dartmouth Skiway, Gunstock Mountain Resort, Mount Sunapee Resort,  Pats Peak and Waterville Valley.

We are quite impressed with the comprehensive nature of the site, in general, and recommend it as a prime New Hampshire ski trip planning resource.

Related articles, resources:
Purchase New England ski lift tickets in advance and save
The best New England ski resorts for kids
The top winter vacation destinations

Obnoxious Boston Sports Fan Writes on Sledding at Robbins Farm Park in Arlington, Mass.

The Obnoxious Boston Sports Fan wrote an absolutely fantastic article on about the joys of sledding at Robbins Farm Park in Arlington, Mass., and the importance of never banning this revered winter pastime.

Full of humor and wonderful memories while focusing on the timeless fun of this activity, the Obnoxious Boston Sports Fan also crafted this post with a cautionary tale about political correctness potentially impeding this recreational rite of passage into the winter. Some communities have banned sledding, feeling that physical harm outweighs kids and families just enjoying the great outdoors in this form.

Whether you agree with this article -- and, in general, the Obnoxious Boston Sports Fan's innate conservative perspectives -- this "real" journalist has the rare ability of hitting a home run with each article.  He often draws the reader into his articles by employing laser sharp focus on the matter of hand, writing in descriptive detail, and not wavering from his true beliefs.  The "sledding" post might be one of his best, in my opinion.

I hope you get the read the article, it's really a journalistic gem!

Related article:
The best sledding in New England

Friday, January 9, 2015

Romantic Dining at the Top of a Newburyport Mass. Lighthouse

The Phantom Gourmet has a terrific presentation on a most unusual food experience: dining at the top of Newburyport Lighthouse in Newburyport, Mass.

Greeted outside by a waitress, guests then climb the 55 stairs through the hatch to the 8X8 sq. ft. glass enclosed dining room that yields incredible panoramic views of the Merrimack River Valley, Atlantic Ocean and Downtown Newburyport. Visitors get to choose their high-end, gourmet meal from several local restaurants that service the Newburyport Lighthouse. It's not cheap and you have to reserve several months in advance, but neither comes as a surprise -- where else can one dine in such a setting?

Yankee Magazine summed up the Lighthouse dining experience very nicely: "If you're romantically inclined, it doesn't get much better than this...the dining room at the top of the lighthouse is a glass-encased love nest...that feels like the top of the world."  

The Lighthouse Preservation Society originally created this novel dining out idea as a fundraiser but the idea really took off and has remained wildly popular to this very day -- and open year-round.  Profits from the dining experience help save and preserve the Lighthouse.

The Newburyport Lighthouse is located at 61 1/2 Water St.,  Newburyport, MA. Tel. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-727-BEAM

Sullivan's Castle Island Food Stand Seeks Second Location in Hingham

Sullivan's comfort foods. Photo credit:
The Boston Herald is reporting that the legendary Sullivan's food stand at Castle Island in South Boston, Mass., is looking to expand into Hingham, Mass.

Sullivan's, which has been in business since 1951, is in talks with the Hingham Bathing Beach Trustees about possibly opening a second seasonal location at Hingham Bathing Beach that would offer "the same food and affordable prices as in Southie," according to the article. Brendan Sullivan hope that if all goes well, he'd like to open Sullivan's in Hingham by the end of next summer, although hinted that "might be pushing it."

While the original Sullivan's is known for its rock bottom prices on tasty hot dogs and hamburgers, Sullivan's goes well beyond that dynamic duo with other good-value-for-the-money comfort foods including lobster roll, fried clam strips, clam chowder, fish sandwich, egg and cheese sandwich, fries and onion rings, soft serve ice cream, Hoodsies and Richie's Italian Ice.

Opening Sullivan's at the Hingham Bathing Beach would be a great addition for local beach goers, so hopefully negotiating a lease and permit will result in this landmark food landmark's first expansion. Stay tuned, we will update you as soon as we hear more information!

Related articles:
Hingham-based Wahlburgers expansion
Stars on Hingham Harbor restaurant
World's End scenic walking trails, Hingham, Mass.
Richie's Italian Ice, Everett, Mass.
Kelly's Roast Beef, Revere Beach, Mass.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New England Ice Cream Stands That Stay Open During the Winter

New Englanders have a true love for ice cream. How else could one explain several ice cream stands remaining open during the frigid New England winter?

To top it off, you wouldn't believe the steady traffic these ice cream stands get even during the coldest days.

When ice cream is great, it's great and when it's bad, it's still pretty good. Here, however, we will only focus on the top New England ice cream stands that remain open during the winter because you deserve the best for putting up with the freezing temperatures!

Gray's Ice Cream (photo by Eric)
Gray's Ice Cream, Tiverton Four Corners, R.I. Gary's has been in business since 1923 and is open 365 days a year -- the reason being, as they state, "Because ice cream is good everyday!" Featuring more than 40 flavors, as well as some excellent sundaes, Gray's is one of the few places in Rhode Island to make its ice cream on the premises. You can never go wrong with chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, but we strongly recommend cherry vanilla, strawberry cheesecake, pistachio, ginger and frozen pudding (how appropriate for a cold winter day!). USA Today once featured Gray's in its USA's best ice cream parlors.  Hours vary during the year, so call ahead at (401) 624-4500.

Gray's is located in a pastoral farm setting in the Rhode Island FarmCoast region at  16 East Rd., Tiverton.

Ice Cream Machine flavors.
Click to enlarge.
(photo by Eric)
Ice Cream Machine, Cumberland, R.I.  The Ice Cream Machine might just have the best tasting ice cream we've sampled in the region, so it's nice to know that this classic ice cream stand remains open, year-round. Located across the street from Diamond Hill Park in a semi-rural section of Cumberland, the Ice Cream Machine offers some really wonderful flavors like cinnamon, key lime pie, raspberry truffle, s'mores, and cherry chocolate chip. Winter hours, at this writing, are Wednesday-Friday 12 p.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

The Ice Cream Machine is located at 4288 Diamond Hill Rd., Cumberland RI. Tel. (401) 333-4513

Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar
(photo by Eric)
Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar, Sharon, Mass. Once ranked as one of the top 10 ice cream places in the world by National Geographic, Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar features some rich-tasting, truly amazing flavors -- especially black raspberry, toasted walnut fudge, peppermint stick, coconut and one of the best tasting vanillas anywhere. Hours, at this writing, are 11 a.m.-6 p.m., seven days a week.

Crescent Ridge Dairy Bar is located at 355 Bay Rd., Sharon MA. Tel. (781) 784-2740

Peaceful Meadows, Whitman, Mass. Going to Peaceful Meadows is like having a comforting, best friend. Perhaps the busiest of the ice cream stands in the winter mentioned here, Peaceful Meadows is also the most welcoming and friendliest from order to window delivery. Most importantly, the ice cream is as good as ever. This ice cream stand that has been around since 1962 is located in a farm setting, and turns out frozen gems like coffee, coconut chocolate almond, maple walnut, and grapenut. They also offer huge sundaes, and you can design your own.  Like Gray's, Peaceful Meadows make its ice cream on the premises. and the farm setting is scenic and, well, peaceful, any time of the year. Peaceful Meadows winter hours, at this writing, are from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week. 

Peaceful Meadows is located at 60 Bedford St. (Route 18), Whitman MA. Tel. (781) 447-3889

Editor's note: we do recommend calling ahead before visiting these ice cream stands to ensure consistent hours of operations.

Related articles:
Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream, Mystic, Conn.
Abbott's Frozen Custard, Needham, Mass.
The Best New England Ice Cream Stands
Kimball Farm Ice Cream, Westford, Mass.
Kool Kone, Wareham, Mass.
Bubbling Brook Ice Cream, Westwood, Mass.
Ben and Jerry's Factory Ice Cream Tour, Waterbury, Vt.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Going Green in Walpole, Mass., at Three Downtown Irish Pubs

If you can't get to Ireland any time soon,  try downtown Walpole, Mass.

No, you won't find any low lying mountains, lush vegetation, rolling green pastures or sea cliffs in this small, often quaint southwest Boston suburb, but three authentic Irish pubs within a few hundred yards of each other will surely conjure up visions of the Emerald Isle.

Three pleasant native Irish gentlemen with brogues of varying degree own Finnegan's Wake, The Raven's Nest and Napper Tandy's Walpole. It's impossible to compare one Irish pub with another, as each has its own special personality, but, ultimately, they are all superb pub destinations.  Walpole, with nearly 60 percent of its population of Irish descent, has more than a few people that know Ireland well, and tell me that Finnegan's, The Raven's Nest and Napper Tandy's would all fit in quite well if located in Ireland.

Finnegan's Wake, Walpole, Mass. (photo by Eric)
Finnegan's Wake is located in the basement of an old former foundry building on a hard-to-find side street. Cozy doesn't even begin to describe the bar and dining areas as the lower level setting, ambient dim lighting and a casual, mellow vibe makes Finnegan's seem like one's own private discovery. It's a great place to watch the game, or enjoy a quiet conversation farther away from the bar. Owner Tom Kirwan, who used to own Kirwan's Kitchen breakfast restaurant on Main St., took over the former Rebel bar several years ago, and put his own stamp on the place with a pub straight out of Ireland. He works a lot of hours, but always remains kind and sincere -- and often personally making sure the customer is having a good experience. He also gives so much back to the community. Kristen Smith is a business partner and the long-time chef, and really has a firm grasp of mastering every dish available to customers. Together, Tom and Kristen and a generally well chosen staff (especially the young man also named Tom who works there) help make Finnegan's such a special place.

The look of Finnegan's Wake is rather understated -- certainly not one of those over-the-top Irish pubs that are more cartoon-like than authentic. Finnegan's has lots of character, a few characters at the bar, and an overall demeanor that is family-friendly.   There's more of an accent on Irish fare here including fabulous, true-to-tradition shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, Gunness Beef Stew (unbelievably good!) and toasties. The roast turkey dinner, steak tips and fish and chips are, also, recommended, too. The beer selection is great, the pizza surprisingly good, and there are enough televisions to comfortably watch the game. What a hidden gem! Finnegans Wake is located at 7 Glenwood Ave., in Walpole MA. Tel. (508) 668-1189

The Raven's Nest. Photo Credit: The Raven's Nest
Mark McAuliffe and his wife Maura took the former Paddock and Barleycorn restaurants -- or perhaps dives would be a better word -- and transformed the place into a design that would even make Restaurant Impossible host Robert Irvine proud. Mark had each brick on one wall handpainted, and created an incredibly, picture-perfect attactive bar and dining room that looks like something out of a movie with large windows that open up in the summer and views of the beautiful Walpole town common. Mark has told me, with the utmost pride, more than a few times that The Raven's Nest offers the "coziness" and "warmth" of traditional Irish pubs in his native land. Mark should know, being from County Cork and as a veteran of the restaurant scene as he also owns The Mad Raven in Waltham, Mass. He and Maura also own The Coffee Perch, a few doors down -- really a fabulous little coffee shop. I love the casual, friendly atmosphere at The Ravens' Nest, and can't say enough about the excellent contemporary cuisine and pub fare like pistachio chicken, apple goat cheese salmon, beef and bacon chili, mac and cheese, steak tips with bourbon marinade, grilled pizza, mac and cheese, fresh chicken pesto sandwich, roasted wings, and mouthwatering burgers. Have no fear, though, if you think The Raven's Nest doesn't have enough Irish fare: the flavorful Shepherd's pie and chicken curry dinner confirm the owner's culinary roots. Add plenty of large TV screens to see the game, 15 different draft beers, an extensive wine list, many signature cocktails, live music on weekends, and an outdoor patio for those laid back summer nights, and The Raven's Nest seems like the prototype for a classic pub. This brings up the following question: why put up with the hassle of driving into Boston for just a meal when you have a place in the suburbs that is as good, if not better, than some of the higher profile, more expensive urban spots -- and with plenty of parking spaces in the downtown district? The Raven's Nest is located at 998 Main St., in Walpole MA. Tel. (508) 734-9377

Napper Tandy's Walpole. (photo by Eric)
Like Kirwan and McAullife, Napper Tandy's Walpole owner John Jacob is from Ireland -- Kildare to be exact. He is an extremely hard worker and a personable sort that enjoys a good conversation and has an ambitious nature that makes him a well respected local restauranteur. His wife, Niamh, is a co-owner, thus making Napper's Walpole a true family-run business.

In the past several years, John has opened Napper Tandy's in Norwood and Roslindale, and Eugene O'Neill's in Jamaica Plain. The Walpole location is the newest and my personal favorite. There's a strong focus on the food and the atmosphere is so much fun: 10,000 square feet that includes a charming pub with oak bar and high top tables, a large dining room/lounge with a beautiful mahogany bar, and a downstairs pool hall with nine pool tables, four dart boards, a jukebox and full bar. The food quality is almost always outstanding including some one of the best burgers I have ever tasted, sirloin Shepherd's pie, tenderloin steak tips, fish and chips, edamame stir fry and baked Haddock Nantucket with herb breadcrumbs and New England clam chowder served with rice and sauteed broccoli. Napper's also offers some excellent pizzas, salads with fresh greens and an impressive appetizers menu including coconut curried mussels, fried calamari, fried onion petals, wings, and fried pickles. The drinks selection is outstanding with all the usual suspects, plus a great selection of craft beers including several IPAs on tap.

Napper Tandy's Walpole is certainly large in size, but that doesn't take anything away from the intimate, cozy charm of the restaurant. The upstairs bars and dining areas truly have a quaint and relaxed yet vibrant feeling and the historic cottage exterior adds further layers of personality. Napper's Walpole also offers a patio for outdoor seating during the summer and, at this writing, free pool on Monday nights, paint and sip bar nights on select Tuesdays, and trivia night on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Napper Tandy's Walpole is located at 1065 Main St., Walpole MA. Tel. 508-668-1191

So, which Walpole pub would I recommend? The answer is "All of the above." It's almost unheard of to have three pubs with an Irish feel so close to each other in such a small town, but their presence not only helps make downtown Walpole a nice destination, but gives locals some very appealing dining options.

Related articles: 
O'Connors Restaurant and Bar, Worcester, Mass.
Best Irish pubs from Boston to Worcester
Google Virtual Tours of Irish pubs in New England
Visiting Walpole, Mass.

Prisoners Create Wood Products for Sale at the Maine State Prison Showroom in Thomaston, Maine

If you feel imprisoned by a world of generic faceless shopping destinations, then the Maine State Prison Showroom in Thomaston, Maine, will surely free you from these retail constraints.

Maine inmates from the Maine State Prison get to acquire valuable job skills while creating unique wood products, including furniture, toys, wooden model sailing ships, jewelry boxes, chests, desks, dressers, wardrobes, birdhouses and more.

Maine State prison personnel and inmates run the showrooms, which features several hundred items. The prices are reasonable and many online reviewers postitively comment about the quality workmanship of many of the products for sale..

The Maine State Prison Showroom is part of the Maine Department of Corrections Industries which "highly regulated program enables participating prisoners to earn money which goes toward reimbursing the state for their room and board expenses, as well as paying victim restitution and child support," according to the Maine Department of Corrections Web Site.

The Maine State Prison Showroom is located at 358 Main St. (Rt. 1) in Thomaston, Maine. Tel. (207) 354-9237

Why the Generations Love Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant in Meredith NH

Hart's Turkey Farm roast turkey dinner. Photo credit: Hart's Turkey Farm
Hart's Turkey Farm should be called Hearts Turkey Farm because the Meredith, N.H., restaurant has plenty of it.

This is one of those old school restaurants that makes you feel good all over. Simplicity is the catalyst: serve great turkey dinners in big portions, be good at creating all other meals, always prioritize customer service and have customers dine in an atmosphere that feels warm, inviting and traditional without a hint of trendiness. While the name says "turkey," people I have known through the years have experienced an equal love affair with the whipped potatoes, gravies, fresh vegetables chowders, soups, homemade pies and its own ice cream.  The older generations love telling friends and family about Hart's, and I suspect the younger generations will have stories to tell, also, as they get older. It's heartwarming to find a restaurant that seems to please all ages levels.

Hart's certainly has succeeded as a landmark Lakes Region restaurant, in business since 1954 and on a busy day, serving one ton of turkey, 40 gallons of gravy, 1,000 lbs. of potatoes, 4,000 dinner rolls and more than 100 pies, according to its web site. They also have a very nice gift shop that sells everything from gifts and souvenirs to turkey pies and ice cream.

Hart's Turkey Farm. Photo credit: Hart's Turkey Farm
Back in the day, the now-closed Green Ridge Turkey Farm in Nashua, N.H. and Hart's battled it for the best turkey farm restaurants in New Hampshire. The quality was nearly identical between these two restaurants, but Hart's always seemed to have that extra edge, in my opinion. I actually never got to Hart's as a kid because the Green Ridge was closer to my hometown --  -- so glad to have been a latecomer by discovering it in young adulthood!

Meredith, N.H., offers several excellent dining options, but if it came down to choosing one, the choice, for me, would be Hart's Turkey Farm. The emotional attachment is certainly a factor, but the overall traditional dining experience, with all that great turkey and comfort food, results in something that you just can't find all that much, anymore. Especially on days that aren't Thanksgiving!

Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant is located at 233 Daniel Webster Highway, Meredith NH Tel. 603-279-6212

Monday, January 5, 2015

Eagle Trading Company Sells Old, Rare, Out-of-Print Cookbooks in Assonet, Mass.

If you love unique independently-owned book stores, here's one of the best kept secrets in New England: Eagle Trading Company, a small bookshop that sells cookbooks in the Assonet neighborhood of Freetown, Mass.

Chuck, the gracious owner of Eagle Trading Company, possesses an amazing selection of old, rare and out-of-print cookbooks. His store is open on Mondays and Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., so you'll have to make a phone appointment at (508) 644-9880 if looking to visit any other time of the week. Still, I would call even before embarking on a Monday or Tuesday trip just to make sure the book store is open.

Eagle Trading Company is located at 4 Elm St., Unit 1, in Assonet MA about 10 minutes outside Fall River on the Southcoast.

Editor's note: do you have a best kept New England travel secret? Write us and we'll consider your feedback for inclusion at the New England Travel and Vacation Gazette.

Related articles:
Montague Bookmill, Montague, Mass.
Park Street Books, Medfield, Mass., the largest children's book store in New England
The Book Bear, West Brookfield, Mass.
The Traveler Restaurant, Union, Conn., offers three free books with each meal
Assonet Inn restaurant, Assonet, Mass.

Maine Bed Racing, Whoopie Pie and Lobster Festivals in 2015

Bed Races in Bar Harbor.
Photo credit: Maine Office of Tourism
New England has its share of unique public festivals with Maine arguably leading the way in creativity. Bed races on a main street, the Maine Lobster and Whoopie Pie Festivals and help prove the point.

These traditions are thankfully scheduled to continue for 2015...

The 21st annual Early Bird Sales and Bed Races will take place on Nov. 7 in downtown Bar Harbor. Local merchants offer shopping from 6 a.m.-9 a.m., at the attractive Village Green while the traditionally silly yet fun bed and pajama parade and race begins at 10 a.m. on Cottage St.

Maine Lobster Festival parade.
Photo Credit: Maine Lobster Festival
Over in vibrant downtown Rockland, the 67th annual Maine Lobster Festival is scheduled for July 29- Aug. 2 with 20,000 lbs. of lobster on the premises, a lobster crate race, the Main Eating tent with lobster dinners, lobster rolls, lobster Caesar wraps and lobster Caesar salads, professional cooking contests, a parade, a road race, fun run and walk, arts and crafts and coronation of the Maine Sea Goddess. The Lobster Festival has become a world-renowned event and is not only a fun time, but also helps support hard-working local businesses.

Maine Whoopie Pie Festival.
Photo credit: Maine Whoopie Pie Festival 
The Maine Whoopie Festival started as an idea tossed around the kitchen that turned into an incredibly popular event, thanks to Patrick Myers, founder and organizer. This year's festival will take place on June 27th in downtown Dover-Foxcroft with local bakers selling their versions of whoopie pies, as well as competing in contests where judges determine the best whoopie pies. Several thousand are expected to attend this fun festival that also features 25 cent samples, music, merchandise for sale, and the Whoopie Pie Festival Mascot, Sweetie Pie.

FYI, the whoopie pie is the official state treat as the Maine Legislature wrote this into law in 2012 (Maine blueberry pie is the official state dessert). Who would have known?

Editor's note: if you know of a unique Maine event, please email us! Additionally, please check for updates on each web site to ensure these events will happen.

Related articles and resources:
All about the Maine whoopie pie
Hotels in Rockland
Hotels in Dover-Foxcroft
Hotels in Bar Harbor

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Top Picks for Best Lobsters Rolls in Massachusetts, Year-Round

Once the colder New England weather arrives, it's like all the good lobster rolls go into hibernation.

A silly rationale, of course, as it is obviously the myriad local seafood shack and restaurants that close for the off season. As the summer brings virtually endless choices for great lobster rolls, the winter often puts a deep freeze on this popular local dish's availability.

Not all hope is lost, however, as some phenomenal lobster rolls can be found during the off season. While traveling Massachusetts, for example, two informal roadside shacks come to the rescue with tasty lobster rolls that have lobster meat packed to the gills within a tasty roll and with little to an acceptably moderate amount of mayo.

Kelly's Roast Beef at Revere Beach (and several suburban Boston locations), and Wood's Seafood at Plymouth Harbor in Plymouth make exceptional lobster rolls, year-round. While Kelly's is best known for its roast beef, they might just make the best lobster roll of the two, but Wood's is certainly not far behind!

If you dine out with someone that doesn't like lobster rolls and you anticipate respectful or infantile resistance, don't fear: Wood's has an extensive seafood menu -- including full lobster dinners -- while Kelly's, in addition to roast beef and lobster rolls, serves up fabulous clam plates,  fish and chips, New England clam chowder, salads, burgers, hot dogs, and various other sandwiches and wraps.

If you know of any Massachusetts destinations with great lobster rolls -- or anywhere else in New England, for that matter -- please use the comment box to share your favorites.

Editor's note: before embarking on a trip to the Kelly's Roast Beef or Wood's, please call to ensure they are open -- although with Kelly's at Revere Beach, it is always a good bet that they are open until the wee hours of the morning!

Related articles: 
Three classic Rhode Island seafood shacks
Barnacle Billy's, Ogunquit, Maine
Warrens' Lobster House, Kittery, Maine
Markey's Lobster Pool, Seabrook, N.H.
Best New England seafood restaurants

Commander's Mansion in Watertown, Mass. Becomes Site for Social, Corporate Events

Commander's Mansion, Watertown (photo credit:
Commander's Mansion web site
I remember quite well the commander's quarters, now called the Commander's Mansion that today specializes in weddings, special events and meetings, in Watertown, Mass.

The late Col. Donald Kenny, my boss in the late 1980s, lived at this grand installation home while commanding the U.S. Army Materials Technology Lab -- otherwise known as the Watertown Arsenal. After his retirement in 1989, the living quarters became increasingly unoccupied, leaving it open for public and private tours, upon request.

Framed by the Charles River, a grape arbor, tennis courts,  landscaped open space and gardens, and a stately historic brick office building, I, as a civilian employee, always loved giving tours here as the bracketed style mansion with hip roof, Victoria veranda, marble fireplaces and one-of-a-kind moldings created this wonderful, old world charm, and plenty of fascinating architectural nooks and crannies within the 26 rooms. From congressmen and dignitaries to curious local residents and media, they all loved the tour.

Long story short: then Capt. Thomas Rodman (inventor of the Rodman gun at the Watertown Arsenal) commissioned a commander's quarters to be built during the American Civil War. This 12,700 sq. ft. home became one of the largest commander's quarters of any U.S. military installation. Congress expressed displeasure over the wasteful spending ($63,478.65) but, nevertheless, eventually promoted Rodman to brigadier general at Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. Guess what he did there? Why, he had built an even larger commander's quarters! File this one under, "Do we ever learn from history?"

The commander's quarters was eventually placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in  January 30, 1976, and included in the Watertown Arsenal Historic District in 1989.

After the U.S. Army closed the installation in 1995 from a Base Realignment and Closure mandate -- and during the last stages of an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund cleanup project -- commercial entities eventually moved into the with one of the most notable being the Commander's Mansion. Now it is a showpiece for social and corporate events.

I am so happy to see this property put to such good use. The mansion had sadly fallen into disrepair when I was giving tours, and it impeded the innate beauty of this home. On one hand, visitors were awed by the enormity and charm of the home, but somewhat mystified why the commander's quarters wasn't, at least, well-maintained.

Now it is once again a central attraction that retains its glorious origins while staying up to date with what people look for at a wedding, event and meeting site. I strongly encourage any interested parties to check it out -- the building is unique, charming, fully restored, and convenient, too,  within minutes of Boston. This is clearly not your typical cookie cutter venue site and one with such a storied history!

Commander's Mansion is located at 440 Talcott Ave., Watertown MA. Tel.  (617) 926-7755

Related articles:
Seven New England restaurants beyond 100 years old
A wedding and reception at a Newport, R.I., mansion
Dining at the historic Salem Cross Inn, West Brookfield, Mass.
Longfellow's Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Mass.
Clay Hill Farm, Cape Neddick, Maine

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Best New England Diners That Rarely Make the 'Best of' Lists

New England has its share of outstanding diners, and the ones that constantly make the "best of lists" almost always deserve landing on the media's dining out dean's list.

Diners like The Maine Diner in Wells, Maine, Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, N.H., the Agawam Diner in Rowley, Mass., and Modern Diner in Pawtucket, R.I., get lots of press, but what about those other diners that inexplicably tend to fly under the radar? Often, in their own unique ways, those diners are every bit as good as the more popular ones.

Here are four of my favorites...

Patriots Diner (photo by Eric)
Patriots Diner, Woonsocket, R.I. This neon and chrome beauty located just outside downtown Woonsocket gets high marks from us for a dedication to home-cooked meals, a big menu that has something for everyone, huge portions, and convenience for being open 24/7. Whether breakfast platters, three egg omelets, French Toast, pancakes, waffles, soups, burgers, triple decker club sandwiches, Greek and Italian specialties, steak and chicken dinners, fried seafood platters or gigantic desserts, it's all good. We have never had a bad meal here and almost always, an excellent one. My favorite dishes include pastichio (baked macaroni and ground beef, topped with a creamy cheese sauce), the Monte Christo, baked meatloaf dinner, fish and chips, Greek salad with a heaping amount of feta cheese, and the New Englander -- apple/cinnamon pancakes topped with apples, cinnamon and whipped cream. Like all great diners, the service is down-to-earth and dependable. The Patriot Diner is located at 65 Founders Drive, Woonsocket, R.I. Tel. (401) 765-6900

Dave's Diner (photo by Eric)
Dave's Diner, Middleborough, Mass. This southeastern Massachusetts diner looks like a classic diner with all its neon and chrome, but was actually built in the 1990s. Some traditionalists might be put off that the diner wasn't built in the mid 1900s and doesn't creak and look slightly worn, but that would be a mistake: locals that know their diners consider this one of the best. Sticking to the basics -- and then improving upon them -- elevates Dave's Diner to our "best of list."  Popular dishes like the roast turkey dinner, fried chicken, the King Kong's Waffle with strawberries, bananas, chocolate chips, walnuts & whipped cream and The Hungry Harry with three eggs with home fries, two bacon strips, two sausages, two pancakes and toast will make you a believer. Dave's Diner is located at 390 West Grove St. in Middleborough MA. Tel. (508) 923-4755

Carl's Oxford Diner. Photo Credit:
Urban Spoon
Carl's Oxford Diner, Oxford, Mass. Constructed around a Worcester dining car, Carl's Oxford Diner features staff that could have had second careers as comedians and delicious breakfast and lunch food that goes beyond big portions -- case in point, the Bacon Special with 10 strips of bacon, three eggs and a mountain of home fries. Certainly not a diner for anyone with a dedicated dietary New Year's resolution and the need to immediately improve cholesterol readings, Carl's, nevertheless, could very well serve as the prototype of everything good about a diner. The service is down-to-earth, the place looks like a real diner, and no one goes home hungry. If fact, the owners can often be heard asking the customers if they've had enough food. Although done with sincerity, it's kind of a ridiculous question given the portions here and favorites like the pastrami and cheese omelet, the gigantic kielbasa plate, the bacon cheeseburger, and double stacked strawberry waffle pancakes. I haven't had this happen to me but heard that if you don't finish your food, one of the lady employees will write "Real Big Wimp" on your take-home box and paint one of your fingernails red!  Carl's Oxford Diner is located at 291 Main St., Oxford MA. Tel. (508) 987-8770

Putney Diner (photo by Eric)
Putney Diner, Putney, Vt. You've got to love a diner that uses real Vermont maple syrup, carves its turkey fresh, and serves maple walnut pie for dessert. Sure, the Puntey Diner is good sticking with the basics like eggs, pancakes, burgers, and mac and cheese, but the extra touches make it a wonderful choice as a top echelon Vermont diner. Additionally, while most "real" diners offer friendly service, the Putney Diner seemed a bit friendlier treating each customer, during my visit, like an old friend. While the Putney Diner looks more like a small restaurant than a classic Worcester dining car, the atmosphere says "diner." The food definitely says "diner!"  The Putney Diner is located at 128 Main St. in Putney VT. Tel. (802) 387-5433

How to Purchase New England Ski Lift Tickets in Advance and Save

Liftopia, a novel platform for ski resorts in North America, is offering discounts on New England lift tickets up to 79% off, at this writing, when purchased in advance.

Whether a one-day lift ticket or multi-day package, we are finding some amazing deals at major ski resorts in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut (yes, contrary to popular belief, those last two states do have ski destinations!).  Because New England is compact, many ski resorts are within driving distance from New England cities like Boston, Providence, Hartford and Portland

Some of the major ski destinations found on Liftopia, at this writing, include Mount Snow, Attitash, Killington, Gunstock, Smugglers' Notch, Wildcat Mountain, Cranmore, Jiminy Peak, Wachusett and Bretton Woods.

File this one under "Isn't 21st Century online technology amazing?"

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year's Travel Resolution and Promise: Visit the Small Towns of Coastal Rhode Island

Jamestown, R.I. (photo by Eric)
For a small state, Rhode Island has so many interesting, beautifully low-key small coastal towns. Sometimes getting overlooked because travelers opt for busier Newport or Cape Cod, these underrated communities are certainly worth discovering.

My 2015 New Year's resolution and promise is to visit these quieter Rhode Island towns more as initial visits have generated much more  personal interest and excitement than many of the higher profile New England coastal destinations. The resolution refers to resolving a travel wish that hasn't been truly fulfilled in the past while the promise focuses on definitely following through!

Additionally, these towns can serve as a nice antidote to the increasingly loud, congested world we live in -- that is, away from the worst traffic, overhype and tackiness that can impede the more familiar New England travel spots. Peace and quiet is a good thing, and much-needed elements to reconnect to the New England land that we love!

Although these Rhode Island towns are optimal to visit during the summer and early fall with all businesses open, any time of the year will do just fine. A nice winter weather day with snow blanketing the back roads and main streets, and spring offering a warm reawakening of the senses after a long-cold winter are certainly nice times of the year to visit, too.

Here are some of those Rhode Island destinations that fit the more humble version of New England quite nicely...

Wickford Village (photo by Eric)
Wickford Village This charming section of North Kingstown acts like a low-key version of Dock Square in Kennebunkport, Maine -- that is, without as many shops and restaurants but still enough to keep things interesting. The real draw of Wickford Village, however, is to just get out of the car, walk, and enjoy the scenic water views, the classic New England older homes on tree-lined Main Street and take in the refreshing, welcoming, relaxing coastal environment. It's a great place to kayak, also, as Wickford Harbor provides a wonderful setting for such recreation. For breakfast try the Wickford Diner, lunch the Beach Rose and dinner Tavern-by-the-Sea (the last two have water views) Read more on Wickford Village

Pawtuxet Village (photo by Eric)
Pawtuxet Village Virtually unknown to any travelers outside Rhode Island, Pawtuxet River spans two cities -- Cranston and Warwick -- and abounds with some of the nicest small town charm in the six state region. One of the earliest settlements in the United States, Pawtuxet Village retains its historic look well,  features some nice specialty shops and is currently enjoying a growing restaurant scene.  There's also a beautiful public park by the water on the Warwick side. It's a great walking town! Read more on Pawtuxet Village

Jamestown (photo by Eric)
Jamestown Beautifully situated on the Narrgansett Bay, Jamestown borders Newport but without the crazy traffic and crowds. Jamestown's leisurely feel is a welcome change from the ever evolving hustle and bustle of New England tourist destinations. With its hilly downtown leading to the sea, it almost feels like a little country town that was fortunate enough to be born by the coast. Although the shopping scene is just "OK," a good choice of restaurants -- some with outdoor seating -- and some amazing views of Narragansett Bay and the Verrazano Bridge prove that low-key places can make for the most memorable times. Away from the downtown, Beavertail State Park, with its lonesome, sweeping coastal views and an old lighthouse, makes for one of the nicest state park visits in all of New England. Additionally, Jamestown Town Beach spans a half-mile with calm waters -- often ideal for summer swimming.  Read more on Jamestown

Bristol RI (photo by Eric)
Bristol Although Bristol has drawn more crowds than in the past, this mid-sized town is still vastly underrated and, sadly for many, just a stop along the way south to Newport and north to Providence. Bristol has a wonderful waterfront park, 464 acres of open space at coastal Colt State Park, the beginning of the 14-mile East Bay Bike Path, a vibrant dining scene with more than 40 restaurants and breathtaking views of the Narragansett and Mt. Hope Bays. The tree-lined downtown with its historic homes and shops, restaurants and cafes is quite impressive. Quaint bed and breakfasts like the Williams Grant Inn offer wonderful downtown lodging ambiance.  Bristol is also home to the oldest continuously running Fourth of July Parade in the United States. Read more on Bristol

Tiverton (photo by Eric)
The FarmCoast Farms meet the coast in this truly unspoiled, often beyond scenic section of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. On the Rhode Island side, Tiverton and Little Compton make the FarmCoast special with its rural, coastal scenes, isolated beaches (like Fogland Beach, also known as Tiverton Town Beach) wineries, johnnycakes for breakfast at local restaurants, seafood (like the seasonal Evelyn's Drive-in), ice cream at Gray's Ice Cream Stand and farm stands turning out delicious produce.  The quintessential small town New England look is firmly intact, especially at Tiverton Four Corners -- with some nice antique stores -- and the center of quiet Little Compton. Perhaps the most impressive area of the FarmCoast is Sakonnet Point with its incredible Atlantic Ocean views, often set to an absence of crowds. Read more on the FarmCoast

Related articles, resources:
Visiting Scituate, Mass.
Idyllic Northeast Harbor, Maine
Rhode Island travel suggestions

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Author to Open Bookstore in Plainville, Mass.

Construction in downtown Plainville, Mass., where
new bookstore will open (photo by Eric)
Jeff Kinney, author of the popular children's book series, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," and his wife Julie will be opening a bookstore in a new building that is sure to change the look of downtown Plainville, Mass.

Construction at the corner of 2 East Bacon and South Streets is well underway with the new three-story building taking over the former Falk's Market site, which through the years, turned from a beloved landmark into an out-of-business eyesore. That suburban blight is now a past chapter with a new story unfolding as a historical Federal architectural style can be already be witnessed driving by this central Plainville location.

The Sun Chronicle is reporting that the bookstore, along with plans for a cafe on the first floor, could be open by the spring 2015. Specific plans for the rest of the building are yet-to-be-determined but there is office space available.

I believe that this new building will be a game changer for downtown Plainville.  The district already has some wonderful elements, including Don's Diner and Norm's  Seafood, Purple Rooster Cafe, an old-time independently-owned pharmacy, a nice public library, terrific town park and very attractive tree-lined streets with beautiful older homes off the main drag. Adding an independently-owned bookstore and cafe within a nice-looking new building that blends in well with the look of this small town will surely potentiate the good bones of the downtown.

Kinney and his wife reside in Plainville, so this is really a wonderful way of them making their hometown even better. Kudos to them!

This is what the final project should look like:

2 East Bacon St. project. Photo credit: 2 East Bacon Facebook page
It is indeed a very exciting time for Plainville. Stay tuned, as this corner of Plainville is about to have a long-awaited makeover!

For updates on the building, log onto the 2 East Bacon Facebook fan page.



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