New England Eats

Row Home Eats is on vacation!!! We’re spending a week in New England with the in-laws and the dog. A few months after my husband and I started dating, he brought me to Rockport, Massachusetts for a family vacation. His aunt rented a condo there every summer and I had the opportunity to get to know her and the rest of his family. Fast forward seven years (along with one major haircut, numerous job changes, and a little wedding) and his aunt, sister and brother-in-law live in the area and his parents just bought a vacation property.  In fact, we’ll be returning to the area in just over a month to celebrate the marriage of my sister and brother-in-law. I already have an amazing family and have married into one that’s just as great. I feel pretty lucky.

The day at the beach didn’t hurt either

With our impending trip to Gloucester, Massachusetts with a side jaunt to Kennebunk, Maine, we knew that we would be indulging in lots of seafood (with an emphasis on chowder and lobster rolls, YUM!) After a picnic lunch on the beach yesterday (sandwiches, fresh peaches, honey roasted peanuts and homemade pickles, of course) we embarked on our journey into town for authentic New England fare.

We began at the Bean & Leaf Cafe, a little coffee shop/cafe that happens to employee my sister-in-law as assistant manager.

Bean & Leaf is a typical, yet adorable cafe with a phenomenal view of the harbor. I’m kicking myself for missing a picture but I’ll have to get one later. They have an extensive menu of wraps, soups, sweets and beautiful Italian pastries. We opted for the chowder, of course.

I must admit that this is my mother-in-law’s chowder. I wanted to get an authentic shot with oyster crackers, but I choose to abstain so I wouldn’t let her eat until I got a picture. The chowder was warm and creamy with big hunks of potato. It filled me up pretty quickly and I let Jewels finish it off.

After a few slurps, she looked like someone had upended a bowl of chowder on her head. It was everywhere, but she certainly enjoyed it!

After warming our bellies, we headed over to Top Dog, a nearby hot dog shop, to complete our meal. Top Dog, along with Bean & Leaf, is right in the heart of “downtown” Rockport. It’s the central point of town where people come for an evening stroll, a quick bite and some serious people watching. During our short time there, I have already spotted a girl rocking a three-corner hat and the most ridiculously puffy dog I’ve ever seen.

Top Dog (surprisingly) has a dog theme. All of their hot dogs are named after types of dogs–although I’m disappointed there’s no bulldog. Come on, guys, the opportunities are endless!

After perusing the outdoor chalkboard menu, my husband and I decided to go with the “man’s best friend” chili cheese dog. My brother-in-law got the one that was second on my list–the “golden retriever” topped with MACARONI AND CHEESE!

Man’s Best Friend

Golden Retriever

Seriously–how could something topped with macaroni and cheese be anything less than fantastic? They also serve their hotdog on the classic New England spit top roll that looks more like a piece of bread than a roll itself. No roll, however, could have helped contain my fabulously messy hot dog.

I topped my already heaping hot dog with diced onions and relish. I love fixins. And you can never pronounce it with the “g” at the end (fixings) because it just doesn’t have the same effect as “fixins.” I think Top Dog had 4-5 different types of mustard alone. This is my kind of place.

We also went with an order of cheese fries to share. I tend to stay away from cheese fries outside of Philadelphia because they are something of a holy grail to me (please note: Row Home Eats loves anything cheese) but these had some bastardized version of cheez whiz that did the trick. While the fries themselves could have used a little work (twice fried for crispness, please!) the cheez itself was unobjectionable.

I forgot to mention that we ate our dogs outside while sitting on (boo, hiss) Boston Red Sox seats. They also had the game on in the restaurant. Apparently there’s some sort of special if the Sox hit a home run or do something good when you’re in the establishment. Luckily we were not privy to the special. No thanks. Meanwhile, Jewels sat outside proudly rocking her Phillies leash and collar set. That’s MY Top Dog.

After dinner, we headed over to the ice cream shop for some dessert. By this time I was pretty full, but figured I’d make a little room for something. The ice cream shop, located right next to Bean & Leaf, is a cute little shack with a line out the door. I figured it had to be good.

I’m still trying to figure out if it actually has a name besides “The Ice Cream Store.” Maybe it’s kind of like The Philadelphia School or Supper Restaurant. Who knows. Anyway, I ended my evening with a whopping serving of chocolate almond frozen yogurt in a waffle cone. It was decent but I’m still on the search to find ice cream better than Hillside Dairy, the little dairy and store just off the Wilkes-Barre exit of the turnpike and on the way to my parents’ vacation home.

Next up (hopefully) lobster rolls!

Carbo Loading

Recently, my husband and I have both challenged ourselves to doing new things. My challenge has been this blog and I’m feeling pretty good about things thus far. Ironically, while my challenge has been about cooking, eating and sitting on my couch, writing, his has been a little more active.

My husband is one of those people that is notoriously difficult to shop before because he never seems to want or need anything (don’t worry, I balance that out quite well.) The famous story involves a shopping trip when he was a child. His grandmother took him and his sister shopping and told them that they could pick out one toy each. His response: “no thank you grandma, I don’t need anything.” His sister, who is a little more like me, took the opportunity to ask if that would enable her to get two gifts!  For this reason, I always try to note when he says he likes something so that I can add it to my list for birthdays and holidays and so that I can tell others what he would like.

This past Christmas, we decided to keep gifts very low key. After a lovely dinner and small gifts, my father-in-law called everyone into the kitchen for one last gift. I assumed it was something for his wife, but we walked into the kitchen to see a huge, bulky item covered with a sheet. He then announced that he wanted to give his son something that he had not had the opportunity to give him as a child–he lifted the sheet and exposed a beautiful Trek bike with clipless pedals for a serious bike rider. Now, my husband has always enjoyed cycling (and we have numerous bikes and bike parts in our basement to prove it.) His father, on the other hand, is a cycling fanatic. He is in amazing shape and competes in races and triathlons on a regular basis. In fact, he just placed second at a triathlon this weekend. What an inspiration! My husband was extremely touched by this gesture and thus set out to learn how to ride this new style of bike (clipless pedals are the type that you have to buy a special shoe that clips onto the pedals and is supposed to create a smoother and more powerful ride. I’m still not sure why they’re called clipless though.)

This isn’t really reading like a food blog, is it…

Fast forward to this summer. My husband has mastered the clipless technique and has been going on long rides 4-5 days per week. When he saw an advertisement for the Gran Fondo, he knew it was something that he wanted to attempt. Gran Fondo is Italian for big ride and it is an “Italian-style mass ride” with increments of 30, 60 and 100 miles. My husband decided to attempt the 60 mile course. For days in advance, he prepared his body, including hydrating, no drinking and getting plenty of sleep. The night before the ride, it was carbo loading time (cut back to food blogging.)

One of the most amazing pasta dishes I’ve ever made has been a fresh angel hair pasta tossed with local baby arugula, heirloom tomatoes and fresh chevre from Green Aisle Grocery, an awesome little grocery on Passyunk Avenue. If you haven’t been there, check it out! The owners, Adam and Andrew Erace are super nice and the store is dog friendly. You can’t beat that! They’re also the only store in the city at which you can buy Zahav hummus. YUM! Anyway, I was hoping to recreate the pasta dish but didn’t get a chance to stop at Green Aisle before dinner so I made do with what I had.

I started by roasting grape tomatoes in the oven at 400′ with lots of garlic and olive oil for about 30 minutes. The picture isn’t the best, but the caramelization that occurs in the oven is absolutely out of this world (not to mention the smell!) You also end up with a sort of tomato-infused olive oil. I know it’s the height of tomato season so please don’t hate on me for using grape tomatoes that probably came from somewhere far away. We usually eat tomatoes from the Farmers Market only, but there’s something about roasted grape tomatoes that drives me crazy–and the sale at Iovine’s didn’t hurt either.

While the tomatoes were roasting, I boiled water for the capellini and prepared my greens. I used baby arugula and some sort of impulse buy microgreen mix from Iovine’s. Aren’t the microgreens gorgeous?

After draining the pasta, I simply tossed in the greens and mixed until they were slightly wilted.

Then I added the tomatoes

Oh wait, can’t forget the cheese. Goat cheese makes everything taste better.

Top it with a generous splash of olive oil from Fattoria Fibbiano, the amazing agriturismo where we were engaged in 2008, and we were ready to eat!

The next day, my husband woke up early and joined almost 2,000 of his closest friends to ride the challenging 63 mile course. He finished the hilly ride in just over 5 1/2 hours and I couldn’t be more proud.

Goodbye Party

Why is it that I go out to drinks and dinner with my family and end up with three pictures?

My younger brother just got a reporting job with a newspaper in Orlando.  Prior to his departure, my family got together, as we have many times before, for a send-off dinner. My brother, unlike me, is a bit of a traveller. Don’t get me wrong–I love traveling. However, when it comes to settling down, I prefer to be in Philadelphia. My brother, on the other hand, has lived in a Cairo, London, Ohio, Salt Lake City and a small town in Jordan (it’s questionable which of the latter two was more of a culture shock.)

The night before he took off to join a land of Mickey Mice, old folks and (friendly) killer sharks, the family got together for one last hurrah. We began with drinks at Vietnam Cafe with plans to dine around the corner at Vientiane, a little Laotian BYOB on Baltimore Avenue.

When my husband, sister and I arrived, my brother, parents and brother’s friend, Artemis, had already ordered their drinks. I usually flip flop between the lemongrass and the French martinis at Vietnam (this is my favorite restaurant, by the way, and I am quite familiar with the menu) and I decided to go with the French martini. As my martini arrived to the table,

So did this monstrosity.

While the picture does not do it justice, my brother and Artemis had chosen to order the most outrageous drink on the menu–the flaming volcano (the most outrageously NAMED drink, on the other hand, is the suffering bastard…) Once again, I wish I had a better camera so that I could have better captured the capsule of “151” rum in the center that was brought to the table afire, hence the name “flaming volcano.” I will tell you, though, that this drink brought us barrels and barrels of laughter. Suffice it to say, there were rarely less than two people sipping from the punch bowl simultaneously.

The guest of honor enjoyed himself immensely.

After rallying a joint effort to finish this bottomless pit, we sauntered around the corner to Vientiane for dinner. I must say, it was a tease to enjoy a drink at my very favorite restaurant only to be torn away when it came time to eat. Vientiane is fine. It’s good, I suppose. But nothing, in my mind, holds a candle to Vietnam Restaurant.  I don’t have much to write as I forgot to take pictures, but we started with appetizers: chicken satay, crispy spring rolls and fried shrimp. The shrimp and spring rolls were good, if not a bit underwhelming. The satay, on the other hand, won me over. I especially enjoyed the silky mellowness of the peanut dipping sauce.

For entrees, my mother got the mussels appetizer, as she is wont to do (order an appetizer as an entree, that is.) They were a decent-sized dish, although I can’t report on the taste. My husband and sister ordered the Pad See-Eew, which are sauteed wide rice noodles with vegetables and soy sauce. The noodle dishes and curries all come with your choice of protein (beef, chicken, shrimp or tofu.) I believe they went with shrimp and received a less than generous serving. My father and brother ordered the shrimp pad thai, which my brother is addicted to (ah, I did it. I ended a sentence in a preposition.) Artemis and I ordered the curry–green for her and red for me.  I don’t eat Thai (or Laotian) food often and never cook it at home as my husband doesn’t love coconut milk flavors or red curries. I love red curry and was looking forward to my entree. It was good. The milky coconut was definitely present along with big chunks of vegetables (the peppers could have been cut into smaller pieces) and a generous amount of chewy beef. I ate about half and polished it off for breakfast the following morning.

The night got really interesting when Artemis (Disclaimer: she’s Greek and a female. She has nothing to do with the man named Artemis on the show or movie Wild, Wild West) broke out the bottle of tsipouro she brought back from her most recent visit to Greece. Tsipouro, if you haven’t taken the time to click the link I so painstakingly provided, is a distilled alcohol from Greece that tastes nothing like the more well-known, anise-flavored ouzo.  In fact, my dear friend, Wikipedia, tells me that tsipouro is a predecessor of ouzo. Another member of the family is raki, that I’ve been so lucky as to taste homemade by my Cretan friend’s father (true story: I kept trying to spell that “Cretian” and was wondering why it was coming up on spellcheck. You learn something new every day.) Jeez, add this to my affinity for limoncello (which, in case you were keeping track, also comes up as a misspelled word) and I’ve become quite the fan of Mediterranean aperitifs.

Where were we???

Oh right, Artemis brought out the tsipouro and the evening quickly took a turn for the crazy. It ended with the bottle being passed around the table for all to share. The waitress then told my mother than she remembered our family because my father is always, ahem, memorable. There was much storytelling and laughter and we sent my brother off with a bang. It’s funny what a good dose of tsipouro can do to a family function. Good luck in Orlando!