Monday, February 19, 2018

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

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

Visiting the Charming 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.

These towns can serve as a nice antidote to the increasingly loud, congested world we live in -- that is, away from the worst traffic, over-hype 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

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

L.L. Bean in Freeport Maine Features an Amazing Seven-Acre Retail Campus

L.L. Bean flagship store, Freeport, Maine
(Photo credit: Maine Office of Tourism)
Many outdoor stores leave us out in the cold with their mixed bag of merchandise, but not the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, Maine.

This is the grandaddy of all outdoor stores -- including the L.L. Bean retail and outlet stores across the country --  in business more than a century, more than three million visitors a year and open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With its famous big boot out front (see picture) and an incredible, organized variety of clothing and outdoor recreation equipment, this 200,000 sq. ft. store and seven acre campus is like the Disneyland of outdoor recreation stores. You'll find separate buildings for hunting and fishing, biking, boating and skiing, and an outlet store.  An L.L. Bean home goods store opened across the street in 2009.

In addition to the classic, well-made merchandise that made L.L. Bean famous, it's also quite entertaining at the Freeport location with events throughout the year, a trout pond in the middle of the store and a 3,500-gallon freshwater aquarium that replicates a 25-ft. long section of a streambed.

The L.L. Bean campus also features the 1912 Cafe, Coffee By Design coffee shop,  a courtyard and Discovery Park, summer concerts and various outdoor events.

With all the expansion, one would think that a store like this would lose the "personal touch." Not so, at L.L. Bean in Freeport. They still run it like a small business -- that is, attentive to customers with that patented wonderful customer service and the knack of making you feel almost like a family member.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, L.L. Bean used to be virtually the only store in Freeport. The once sleepy, small town had a isolated feel that, with the exception of L.L. Bean, rolled up the carpets at night. Now, lively and thriving Freeport has a large number of outlet stores and dining options. It almost seems like L.L. Bean would be the "anchor" if the town was a mall.

I'm not totally on board with a sleepy small coastal Maine town becoming a tourist destination, but will always have a place in my heart for the Freeport L.L. Bean. There's simply no better clothing and outdoor recreation store in my retail travel book, anywhere!

The  L.L. Bean flagship store is located at 95 Main St., Freeport, Maine. Tel. (877) 755-2326

Unusual, Offbeat Looking Restaurants in New England

Article and Photos by Eric H.

If you're tired of dining at those box-shaped restaurants that all look the same (and often offer the same tasting things), then we suggest taking a look at some of the photos below. Every once in a while, there's a restaurant that stands out from the others -- unique in appearance and usually with an endearing gimmick. Before briefly describing each restaurant, we present to you the photos:

Prince Pizzeria, Saugus, MA

Beef Barn, North Smithfield, RI

Tex Barry's Coney Island Hot Dogs, Attleboro, MA

Milk Bottle Restaurant, Raynham, MA

The Traveler Restaurant, Union, CT (look at all the books!)

The Lyndon Freighthouse, Lyndonville, VT

The Western Hotel, Harrisville, RI

The Prince Restaurant, in Saugus, MA (517 Broadway, Route 1 South, Tel., 781-233-9950) with its "Leaning Tower of Pizza" structure, features some wonderful Italian-style pizza and pasta with homemade sauce. The Beef Barn, in North Smithfield, RI (1 Greenville Rd., Tel. 401-762-9880), showcases a huge silo just minutes from the City of Woonsocket, brings back dining prices from 20 years ago and specializes in delicious roast beef. Tex Barry's Coney Island Hot Dogs, in Attleboro, MA (31 County St., Phone: 508-222-9787), is quite noticeable with its giant hot dog sign (seemingly larger than the tiny restaurant) and some amazing, low-priced hot dogs. The Milk Bottle In Raynham, MA (785 Broadway, 508-822-6833), is famous for its towering milk bottle structure, some very friendly service and excellent lunches and breakfasts. The Traveler Restaurant in Union, CT (Rt. 84, exit 74, Union, CT. Tel. 860-684-4920), looks rather generic from the outside, but inside, the booths and tables are surrounded by a virtual library of books. Each customer is allowed to take home a book after dining at the Traveler! The Lyndon Freighthouse, in Lyndonville, VT, (1000 Broad St., Tel. 802-626-1400) is a full-service restaurant (excellent organic breakfast, lunch and dinner selections), gift shop, railroad museum, coffee shop, ice cream parlor and information center, all set within a historic, former freight house! The Western Hotel, in Harrisville, RI (610 Douglas Ave., Tel. 401) 568-6253), is a former 1700s stagecoach stop and looks like something out of the wild west -- they happen to serve great Rhode Island clam chowder, steaks and bar pizza.

Where To Live In Connecticut That Has A Small Town Feel?

Noank, Conn.
Editor's note: We recently received an email from one of our readers looking to possibly move to Connecticut. Here is her inquiry, followed by our response...

Hi, my name is Courtney and I found your website completely truthful and helpful. I talked to my cousin who lives in the northern part of the east coast and she described exactly what you did! I am currently in Orange County, California, and don't like the "ingenuinity" (we're assuming the word is"disingenuous") and mindset of the people. I have found that Connecticut is a place with great weather and has a lot if cities with a small town feel. I was wondering if there was any way that you could help me specify my search in CT? I would like a city with a small town feel where your neighbors are sweet, but it still has a high quality of life. Essex and Stonington caught my eye, but I've never been so I can't say! Thank you for your time.

Thank-you for your inquiry. We do write straight-from-the-heart here and glad you appreciate that!

My response here will be no exception as we will mention a few Connecticut towns that move us the most and that make us feel great because of their small town feel and friendliness. Granted, we don't live in the towns that are about to be mentioned, but these are the places we would consider if moving to the "Constitution State."

I'm not sure about a city in Connecticut that has a small town feel. West Hartford might be the closest to that description, with its developed downtown but pleasant downtown and tree-lined streets with beautiful homes. It's pretty expensive there, but if you can afford it West Hartford might be worth a look.   I noticed that you mentioned Stonington Borough and Essex, so maybe you meant "towns?"  If so, I can tell you about small, friendly Connecticut towns with attractive neighborhoods and/or a strong community feel  In order, they would be Guilford, Mystic, the Noank section of Groton, Pomfret and with a few reservations, Putnam.

Guilford has one of the prettiest town commons in New England. It is really the centerpiece of the downtown -- large and shaded with benches to take in a quintessential New England way of life. Cute little shops, cafes and restaurants surround the "village green." The friendliness of the town, however, has been most pleasing about our visits to Guilford. People walked by and say "hello" to you on the streets. We once struck up great conversation with one of the locals at a "hometown" type restaurant. The local said that he loved Guilford and felt safe enough there to never lock his home or car doors. I still have trouble with that concept no matter where you live, but we got the message loud and clear that Guilford is a safe town. Although situated on the coast, Guilford, to us, feels more like an inland town -- perhaps because the downtown is away from the water. Still, you have the best of both worlds -- inland and coastal New England beauty. You're not isolated from everything, either, as Branford -- a bigger, quite impressive town with good historical preservation -- is right next door. New Haven, a mid-sized city, and home to Yale University, is about minutes away. You're also about 15 minutes to Hammonasset Beach, one of Connecticut's best public ocean beaches.

Mystic, Conn.
Mystic, located on the southeastern Connecticut coast is best known as a tourist town. The summers get busy with its myriad travel attractions like Mystic Seaport (a "living history museum consisting of a village, ships and 17 acres of exhibits depicting coastal life in New England in the 19th century), the Mystic Aquarium, Old Mistick Village shops, and a vibrant downtown. That thriving downtown makes it all worthwhile, in our opinion, for someone wanting to move to Mystic. You have shops and restaurants of all kind without losing that small town feel. There's a beautiful developed riverwalk, downtown, too, and a nice networks of sidewalks to stroll -- many with water views. If you love seafood, you'll never find a shortage in downtown Mystic. Some restaurants like S and P Oyster Company have outdoor waterfront seating in the summer. We personally love the independent book and toy stores, the famous Mystic Pizza that is not the tourist trap you would think it is, Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream for some wonderful homemade ice cream, and the huge Mystic Drawbridge. The 21 ft. long bridge has a counter weight of 230 tons each and moveable span length of 85 ft.!

Find a home near the downtown, and you'd have access to, really, one of the nicest small town downtown districts in New England. You're also less than a half-hour from myriad public beaches in the Westerly, R.I. area. This area certainly affords a wonderful quality of life for those that like a thriving small downtown by the sea. It's very friendly, too!

So, no matter how busy Mystic gets in the summer, there's a feeling of peacefulness in the air. But if it gets to be too much in the thick of the tourist season, we love to drive five minutes down the road to Noank. Part of the town of Groton, Noank seems like the little village that time forgot. Tree-lined side streets meet beautiful coastline for a truly scenic, idyllic setting. There's a little grocery store and country store, a bakery, big old homes overlooking the sea, and the famous seasonal Abbott's Lobster in the Rough restaurant with the most delicious lobster (overlooking the water, too). Last time we were in Noank, we struck up a nice conversation with an older lady walking her dog. Although Noank is a "money" town, she had no pretenses about her and her love of the village was overflowing with enthusiasm. We got that feeling, overall, in Noank. It's a nice escape, but yet so close to Mystic and Groton's central district. This would be a nice place to call home for anyone looking for a quiet setting.

Putnam, Conn.
Pomfret, with its big town common and rural ways, is beautifully situated around the rolling hills of northeastern Connecticut -- otherwise known as the "Quiet Corner." The feeling of the town is simply great. The Vanilla Bean Cafe, in a restored 1800s farmhouse, is a community gathering place, of sorts, serving made--from scratch breakfast, lunch and dinner items. They also feature some great entertainment, including local folk singers. Route 169 is one of the most scenic byways in New England and the old farmhouses, classic white churches, big open skies and fresh air are quite rejuvenating. Nearby are more quintessential New England town likr Woodstock and Brooklyn. Neighboring Putnam is known as the "antiques capital of New England," with more than 50,000 square feet of antiques. While some areas of Putnam are rundown, the downtown district is impressive with the antique stores, restaurants and, truthfully, one of the friendliest vibes we've experienced in New England. No pretensions here, it's sort of like an industrial village version of Mayberry RFD. Some people might scratch their heads and ask why I would would pick Putnam when there are so many perceived prettier towns in Connecticut. I just believe that you can't judge a book by its cover and I would choose to pick a place where I feel a connection. I have that feeling in Putnam, more so than the more hyped, polished and gentrified towns that some travel guides feature.

While Putnam serves as the commercial center of the "Quiet Corner," it's certainly not a big town. Worcester, Mass., the second biggest city in New England, is about 40 minutes away, and features a growing restaurant and cultural scene, 13 colleges and universities, and an overall authentic city feel. Worcester gets knocked around as not the greatest place, but I personally think it has more going for it than most other mid-sized New England cities. In a way, Worcester is more a series of neighborhood and you'll find unique character in each section. It's pretty fascinating and you'll find some real hidden gem restaurants in each neighborhood.

You had also mentioned Essex and Stonington (Borough). They are great-looking areas with classic New England presences. Both are certainly worth a look, but they don't move us the same way the aforementioned towns do -- that is, in terms, of if we were to ever consider a move. This is certainly not to deinigrate Essex and Stonington Borough; they could certainly be idyllic for someone else. Again, we just go with our hearts when visiting a town and ask ourselves: is it an interesting town with friendliness, community spirit, visual appeal, and a good vibe?  I know that Essex and Stonington Borough pass with flying colors on each of the criteria, but on a personal level, Guilford, Mystic, Noank and Putnam (with some few caveats) draw me with their true New England spirit.

Courtney, you had also mentioned that you heard that the Connecticut weather is great. With all due respect, I guess that all depends on who you talk with. Like all New England states, the winters can be rough (but certainly not like New Hampshire or Vermont), so that is something to keep in mind. We're also not sure of your budget, but all of the towns we suggested are relatively affordable by Connecticut standards (it's generally an expensive state with high taxes when compared to the rest of the country). Putnam is probably the most affordable of the towns with Pomfret, Mystic and Guilford having a high concentration of high-priced homes with a few that are more affordable.

Additionally, there are some areas in New England where it might take some time to build relationships. But if you choose the right community -- and once people accept you -- you'll have friends for life.  Although we are native New Englanders, we chose a good town where strong relationships didn't happen right away. But because it's a good town (translated, good folks live here!), the relationships eventually grew in a truly meaningful way.

Hope this helps, Courtney. If you have any follow-up questions, please write us back and we'll offer some more suggestions. Readers of this blog, please feel free to comment with your own suggestions on what Connecticut communities that you think Courtney might want to research. Thanks!

Eric from



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