JT Farnham’s: New England Fried Clams at their Best

We spend time in New England a few times a year, visiting my husband’s family in the fisherman’s town of Gloucester, MA (made famous by The Perfect Storm and, more recently, fishing shows Wicked Tuna and Swords: Life on the Line.) During each trip, it’s our goal to eat as much fried seafood, lobster rolls and clam chowder (chowdah) as possible. We’ve hit most of the famous spots such as Woodman’s and the Clam Box. However, we had never made it to JT Farnham’s in Essex, just 15 minutes from Gloucester. The first full day of our vacation started off dreary and rainy so we thought it would be a great day to visit my husband’s grandmother and grab lunch at Farnham’s. My ulterior motive, of course, was to stop at the cripplingly cheap Ipswich Bottle Shop to stock up on (cash only) spirits.

By the time we made it to Farnham’s, just down the road from its rival, Woodman’s, the weather had cleared. A rule of thumb in New England is that often the shabbier-looking the place, the better the seafood.

We stepped inside and got into line.
While lobster rolls are usually our fave, Farnham’s is known for their fried clams so we figured we’d go with the house special (aptly named “Our Famous Fried Clams”) of fried clams with onion rings and french fries. In our neverending search for the best bowl of clam chowder, we got an order to share. I ordered a large and had a humorous interaction with the counter lady whose iteration of “large” is much different than mine.

We headed outside to grab a slightly damp picnic table overlooking the salt marsh.

Don’t feed the waterfowl, by the way.
My husband brought our food to the table. Lots of greasy, fried goodness stared us down.

Check out the butter swimming in the creamy chowder. Unfortunately, the chowder was completely bland. The same went for the fries and onion rings. But the clams, oh the clams. Dipped in a vat of their homemade tartar sauce and gazing out over the salt marshes, there’s pretty much nothing better. If you go, stick to the clams. You’ll leave full and happy.

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The Happy Taco or Why I Love Food Trucks

Upscale food trucks are THE in thing these days and you know what? I’m very ok with that. What could possibly be better than freshly made, mobile and low-cost food? As a Philadelphia resident, I’ve been eating at food trucks for years. Luckily, we live in a city lush with carts, a city that beat the recent trend with its line of specialty trucks along Spruce Street on Penn’s campus. Trucks like Le Anh and Magic Carpet have been there since I can remember. In fact, there are so many, I recently (like, just now) learned that there is a website devoted to Penn food trucks–PennFoodTrucks.com. How cool is that?!

Philadelphia, along with many other big cities across the country, has fallen hard for food trucks. Recent, hip additions to the scene include Tyson Bees, La Copine Brunch Truck, Sweetbox Philly and, of course, Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Guapos Tacos. Many of these trucks have twitter accounts so their hungry followers can locate them with the click of a keyboard. Somehow, the mobile nature of these trucks makes it all part of the game.

My husband and I travel to Gloucester, Massachusetts a few times a year to visit family. Gloucester is a sleepy little Portugese and Italian fisherman’s town that is best known for the movie The Perfect Storm, Gorton’s Fisherman and this guy. While The Perfect Storm is a fairytale that falls far outside the understanding of most Northeasterners, the story hits a little too close to home for many fishermen’s families in the area. Each June, the city shuts down for the Festival of St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen.

For the visitors to Gloucester and other coastal New England towns, lobster is a delicacy. To these fishermen and their families, it is their livelihood. Because I love to support the local economy, we do our very best to eat lots of lobster when we’re in the area. From rolls to benedict to boils, we don’t discriminate. In fact, it’s not uncommon for us to eat a lobster roll for lunch followed by a lobster dinner that night. At prices lower than a half-decent steak, how can you NOT eat lobster?

But then…

My fabulous sister-in-law, who recently moved to Gloucester with her husband, had some news that she just couldn’t wait to share. “Guess what?! There’s a FOOD TRUCK in Gloucester!!!” I was shocked to learn that a taco truck had recently popped up in town. I just had to try The Happy Taco.

After a fun day of shopping at an hour way too close for dinner, we decided to take the plunge. I love the friendly yellow truck with a literally “Happy Taco” logo.

We called my husband and cousin because we didn’t want them to miss out on the fun and ended up with two sirloin asada, one fish (recommended by the owners) and one pulled pork burrito. The owners were beyond friendly and accommodating. They were even nice to the woman behind us who thought she was at a Taco Bell.

We also grabbed a couple local Mercury sodas made by the nearby Ipswich Ale Brewery.

After a slightly too long wait–I’m hoping they’re just working out the kinks–our burritos were ready to go. Unfortunately, we had to resist digging into them until we met up with the guys but the smells permeated the car. Drool.

When we finally tore into them, they were worth the wait.

The sirloin asada (my order) was great. Tons of flavor and lot of crunchy lettuce. It was a touch heavy on the rice, though. It’s difficult to find the perfect balance in a burrito. To me, it’s about having a variety of flavors but also textures and a wet: dry ingredients ratio.

As promised, the fish was excellent. The battered cod played its role perfectly in creating that perfect balance in the burrito.

Check out that flaky fish!

And the pulled pork.

The pulled pork definitely wins for the most flavor-packed dish of the day. Besides, this guy likes it.

The Happy Taco is a great addition to Gloucester’s waterfront. The affordable prices create accessibility for a variety of customers and the fresh and nutritious food will keep them coming back. With a little tinkering here and there, The Happy Taco has the potential to be a serious contender–not just for the fishermen but on a national level.

Lobster Dinner

When one goes to New England, one must engage in typical New England behavior such as devouring enormous amounts of lobster and forgetting how to pronounce the letter “r” at the end of words such as chowder (chowdah) and bar (bah.) It’s truly a cultural experience. Although we have yet to indulge in lobster rolls (waiting for our side trip to Maine,) we perpetuated the tradition of a family lobster boil. It didn’t hurt that lobster (lobstah) currently stands at $4.99/lb which is UP one dollar from last week!

My husband and I volunteered to pick up the lobsters from one of the multitude of lobster retailers along the bay. We were directed to Captain Joe’s by my father-in-law. This is after we stopped to stock our cooler with ice and get cash from the ATM because the lobster shop was cash only, of course.

It was nice to have some sort of direction because there were tons of viable options along the bay, including a place that lured people in with the alluring scent of a smoker–a respectable side business. When we pulled into Joe’s, there were empty lobster pots stacked around the parking lot. Can’t get much more authentic than that.

We walked up to the garage-like building that butted the harbor.

Unassuming, right? And I didn’t even notice the Porta-Potty until I posted the picture. How appetizing. The structure had openings at both ends and you could see where the lobster boats unloaded right into Captain Joe’s garage. We walked towards the back of the room, wondering if we were doing the right thing. You don’t want to look like an outsider or tourist at a place like this. At the very back, right hand side of the room, sat about a dozen lobster tanks and two men occupying themselves with something, obviously lobster-related. I was trying to fit in and all so I didn’t blatantly take a picture of the set up, although I did take a quick shot of the “price list.”

It’s hard to read, but I kid you not when I say that the lobster were $4.99/lb. That’s right, kids. They were cheaper than steaks and even some fancy, Whole Foods chicken breasts. Lobstah!?!

OK, I lied. Apparently I took one quick picture of the lobster containers. This ain’t fancy, folks. The lobsters were divided by size and stored in these long containers.

Here is a view from the dock where they “receive” the lobster–I literally stood in the edge of the dock.

Because I’ve been trying to write this post for about a month now, I’m not going to get into the lengthy argument, ahem, conversation we had about the preparation of the lobster. I will say two things, however, There were a few strong opinions and one too many cooks in the kitchen. My husband’s aunt had recently read an article in Yankee Magazine with a different technique of cooking lobster. They advocated steaming them in a couple inches of very salty water instead of boiling them.  The recipe came from Bertha Nunan, owner of the Nunan’s Lobster Hut in Kennebunkport, Maine and my husband’s aunt was very emphatic that we try it. Bertha Nunan believes that boiling the lobster leaves the crustacean too soggy, while steaming it allows for the perfect consistency. As a former vegetarian who has a terrifying lobster slaughtering experience, I wasn’t a fan of steaming them. I was a fan of the quick and dirty boil–we’d put those little suckers out of their misery in a snap–but realized that there were two many opinions and retired to the deck with a book in hand.

A few minutes (and lots of talking, pots clanging and timers beeping) later, my father-in-law emerged with this:

The Nunan method was a success! The lobster was perfectly cooked and the heavily salted water imparted just a hint of ocean flavor to the meaty lobsters. We pounced on them with dishes of butter by our sides and this beautiful tomato salad compliments of my sister-in-law. We had corn too, but I was too busy with my lobster to grab a photo.

Lobster Rolls Galore

One of my very favorite things about New England is LOBSTER. In fact, my husband and I rarely eat shellfish–lobster, in particular, is made solely on New Year’s Eve each year. Whenever we go to New England, however, we both do our best to eat as much lobster as possible. During our most recent visit, it was a few days into the trip until we were able to fulfill our lobster fix with a lobster steam (not boil) dinner at his aunt’s house (to be blogged about one of these days.) It was not until we got to Maine that we were able to dive headfirst into our lobster eating bonanza.

We started in Kennebunkport at the The Clam Shack, a complete tourist trap at the entrance to the small town of Kennebunkport (made popular by our dear friends, the Bushes.) It sits right before the bridge that welcomes you to town.

And you’ll almost always encounter a line–expect a decent wait during lunch hours.

We waited in line for a few minutes behind a surprisingly large number of foreign tourists. While most of the conversations surrounding us centered on what folks were going to order, we knew what we were getting without any conversation. When we got to the window, I quickly ordered two lobster rolls and clam strips. I felt like any regular at Tony Luke’s ordering a cheesesteak whiz wit. Unfortunately, I got knocked off my high horse when he asked me if I wanted butter or mayo on my lobster rolls. Butter or mayo? I dunno. Just make them taste good. I settled on butter because, well, it’s butter.

A poor shot of the menu. They have sandwiches too, and even some chicken–although who orders chicken from the Clam Shack?

After waiting about 10 minutes, our number was called and I picked up our food while my husband staked out our bench. There was a warning sign posted–“The seagulls love our food as much as you do. Please be careful.”

We took our seats on a picnic bench overlooking the water.

We eagerly tore into our lobster rolls first, but not without admiring the chunks of claw and tail meat loaded onto the hamburger-style bun. Unlike the traditional split-top hot dog roll that carries most lobster rolls, the ones at the clam shack were a little more sandwich-like.

How cute is that claw hanging over the side?! I couldn’t resist and grabbed a quick bite before taking a close up shot.

That’s what I’m talking about!

The clam strips are my personal favorite. Nice meaty chunks of clam breaded and fried. Honestly, I think my true affinity is for the tartar sauce. The clam strips aren’t half bad though.

Look how big and meaty they are! The Clam Shack was also giving out coupons to their ice cream shop that day, but mine must have disappeared (which is probably a good thing after all those clam strips.)

I learned something interesting during this meal. My epicurean dog, Jewels, does not care for lobster. I gave her a small piece that she tried and spit out. Because it had been in her mouth and on the ground, I tossed it into the water. As soon as the lobster bit broke the surface of the water, a striper that had to be at least 3 feet long attacked the tasty morsel and just as quickly retreated. Our neighbors (some people who had the bright idea to share our small bench with us…) were impressed and the four of us spent the next few minutes throwing in (a little more) food–not lobster–and watching 3 large fish lurking below. When we went kayaking in the same waters the next day, I was petrified that I was going to run into one of those big guys. Not my finest moment.

The next day we went looking for a dog-friendly lunch spot in the area. A shop owner suggested a few places in Cape Porpoise, a short drive from the area. My husband had biked to Cape Porpoise the previous day and agreed that it would be a great place to have lunch and sightsee. We drove past the Bush Compound which is a surprisingly magnetic attraction, regardless of one’s political inclinations, about ten minutes to another working harbor, Cape Porpoise. The Cape Pier Chowder House is an unremarkable building at the end of a scattered parking lot.  There is some signage on your way in, but it is actually facing the water so you do not see the House until you are on top of it.

A line is never a bad thing. It speaks to the popularity of the place which usually, but not always, correlates with the quality. DiNic’s Roast Pork in the Reading Terminal is a good example, while Pat’s and Geno’s are not.

The place had an interesting set up. It was completely open on one side and all of the seats were outside. The only things that took place inside were the ordering, condiment collection and preparation of food. It was neat to watch the woman (all women, by the way!) weighing and preparing the lobsters to order. ou can’t get much fresher than that!I didn’t get to snap a picture because I was, quite honestly,  a bit intimated by these hard working women. YBecause it was a little more off the beaten path than the Clam Shack, lobster rolls were a few dollars cheaper (having an affinity for lobster can certainly add up!) Instead of saving money, we decided to take the opportunity to order even more. A few minutes after putting in our order, this was brought to our table.

That’s right, folks! We had two lobster rolls, clam strips, a cup of clam chowder AND a humongous ear of buttered corn. It was delicious and fresh and everything you could possibly want a lunch to be. The tartar sauce was good too. While I give the edge to the clam strips at the Clam Shack, the Chowder House takes the cake for the lobster roll with the traditional split top bun and option for corn. Although we didn’t indulge, they also have a liquor license and an icy cold beer could have been mighty tasty with this meal.

Afterwards we took the dog to frolic in the water a bit and enjoyed the scenery.

Fannie Farmer’s Peach Cobbler

On the way back from Kathy’s Cafe on Friday, my husband and I stopped at Dincher’s Roadside Farmstand in Tivoli, PA to grab a few tomatoes for dinner. Fifteen dollars later we left with a a carton of tomatoes, half a dozen ears of corn, garlic, lemon, nectarines and a bushel of peaches. OK, it probably wasn’t a bushel and I’m not even entirely sure what a bushel entails, but let’s just say we bought a lot. For some reason, my non-baking self smelled the peaches and became immediately inspired to make peach cobbler. We were busy making a tasty pasta meal for dinner that evening (oh yeah, have to blog that one) so I figured I’d save the cobbler for the next night when I had a little more time.

The next day was a gorgeous, sunny Saturday–one of the last beach-worthy days we’ll get up in the mountains as the temperature tends to run 10 degrees cooler than here in Philadelphia. I spent most of the day lounging at the beach and sailing with my father, an activity that deserves a non-food related post all to itself. As a side note, I spent the weekend reading The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway. Erway spent two years “not eating out” in New York and blogging the process. More about this later.

Mid-afternoon I tore myself away from the beach to run home and prep the peaches for the cobbler. Marion Cunningham (p.s. Wikipedia gives Marion NO love!) told me that I can peel peaches by dipping them briefly in boiling water and then removing the skins with a sharp knife. This technique has always scared me for no good reason. Hence my permanent face off with tomato sauce, or any recipe that involves peeling tomatoes, for that matter. Much to my surprise, this technique was SHOCKINGLY easy. I dipped the peaches in the water for 15-30 seconds and drained them with minimal splash burns to my arms and torso. I then brought them outside to the back deck and peeled them with my fingers. I don’t need no stinkin’ knife! The skin slipped off like (insert a cheesy simile here.) Aren’t they gorgeous?

I set them aside for later that evening. We were making these little guys,

so I wanted to time the cobbler so that we were able to eat it hot out of the oven. I’m not sure why the picture’s sideways but you get the idea.

Fannie Farmer’s Apple Cobbler (I substituted peaches. Marion told me it was ok)

Ingredients

12 tablespoons butter, melted

3 cups peeled and sliced apples (I used peaches, duh)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 375′. Pour 4 tbsp of the butter into the bottom of the pan and spread the peaches over it (I felt as if 4 tbsp was a ton of melted butter and only used 2-3 tbsp. It was still a lot)

Before I continue, let’s remember two things–I am not a baker. I don’t do well with recipes that require, um, following. In something like peach cobbler, say, one tbsp of baking powder is a heck of a lot different than zero tbsps. Remember this for later.

Mix 1/4 teaspoon of salt with 1/4 cup of sugar and sprinkle over the peaches. This is where my problems start. I think I need to do a blog post on something I’ve recently deemed “OPKs” or “Other People’s Kitchens.” I’ve done a fair amount of cooking in OPKs lately and always seem to encounter a problem. In this situation, I discovered that my parents did not have any sugar. After pitching a minor fit, I found a rock solid box of brown sugar in the fridge. My mood improved as I especially love brown sugar. After watching me dangerously saw hunks of sugar off of the larger mass, my mom told me that I could microwave the sugar to soften it. That didn’t work too well.

I returned to my hacking ways and got enough brown sugar chunks to equal 1/4 cup or so.

Pour the remaining butter into a bowl, add the milk and egg and mix well.

Mix the flour, baking powder, remaining 6 tbsp of sugar (somehow I missed that she gave this measurement and channeled my 7th grade math class to figure out 2/3-1/4)  and remaining 1/4 tsp of salt in a bowl. It was about this time that I realized that my parents did not have any baking powder. I frantically paged through the cookbook trying to find another recipe–a crumble, a brown betty???–that did not require baking powder, and ordered my husband to start reading recipes to me. It was at that moment that my mother saved the day and recalled that there was baking powder in the pantry. Mom to the rescue! By that time, however, I had already added the flour to the egg/milk/butter mixture with a big old dash of what the hell. I never understood why baking makes you mix things in separate bowls anyway. How picky and unnecessary. I then glopped the batter onto the peaches, tossed it in the oven and prayed.

Look at the sugar chunks. Ridiculous.

Bake the cobbler for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown. OK, apparently you’re supposed to cook until a toothpick inserted in the cobbler part comes out clean. I didn’t do that, mine just looked done. While it was baking, we enjoyed these little fellas (which took a little longer than expected, but that’s another story)

If you have never tried beer can/beer butt chicken, please do. It’s the easiest thing in the world and the result is a lovely tender meat with a crispy and well-spiced skin.

The cobbler had a slightly cobbled appearance with a lovely golden brown top.

And we enjoyed it with a scoop or two of vanilla fudge ice cream from Hillside Farms, the best dairy in the whole wide world.

Kathy’s Cafe

My family has been vacationing in Eagles Mere, a small mountain town in Pennsylvania nicknamed “the town that time forgot,” for over twenty years now. We began coming when I was a wiry tomboy who rode my bike recklessly to the beach and athletic field during the day and the ice cream and penny candy shop, The Sweet Shop, at night. Each year the five of us spent the first two weeks of August biking, swimming, hiking and competing in a “sports week” in which there were various semi-competitive events such as chin ups, nail driving and cannonball contests. As I grew older, the summers were spent sleeping the day away and learning how to be a teenager at night….whatever that entails…

In my early twenties, my parents made the impulsive decision to purchase a house in Eagles Mere. Suddenly we moved up a notch in the world–we were no longer renters, we were owners. Now we were a few steps higher in the local pecking order. Ever since they bought the house, we have had the opportunity to experience Eagles Mere throughout the year rather than solely the first two weeks of August. We have been there for snow storms and beautiful autumn breezes and have enjoyed many games of Scrabble before the heat of the wood stove. In June 2009, my husband and I celebrated our love for one another and for this special place as we had a memorable wedding weekend in Eagles Mere.

Planning a wedding in Eagles Mere could only be described as a unique experience. While I live in Philadelphia, a metropolitan city in which I need not look far for anything I need, all of our wedding vendors were located in the nearest “big town,” which was 45 minutes away. Williamsport is known for the Little League World Series, which, coincidentally, culminated this weekend.  Congratulations, Japan.

On the way to Williamsport is the small, blue-collar town of Hughesville, Pennsylvania. About two years ago, my parents mentioned that they had heard about a little cafe in Hughesville that served up unique, organic fare. They checked it out and we were intrigued yet skeptical when they mentioned that my dad had enjoyed a shot of wheatgrass. Folks don’t eat or drink wheatgrass in Northeast, PA, home of “Welcome Bowhunters” signs and hunters’ breakfast specials. However, my parents enjoyed it and we decided to check it out. Well, I don’t really remember our first meal there, but I will say that we now try to visit Kathy’s Cafe each time we’re in Eagles Mere.

I have an admission to make. I’m a mixer. I love eating a number of food items mixed together into an unidentifiable and toothsome glob. One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving leftovers is taking a little mashed potatoes, coleslaw, gravy, corn and a splash of cranberry sauce and mixing it all up for breakfast the next morning (or maybe a little late night snack.)  Kathy’s has embodied this secret love of mine in breakfast form and it’s called the Scromlet. The etymology of “scromlet” is pretty decipherable. It’s a mix between a scramble and an omelette. ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  The scromlet is comprised of two eggs scrambled with hashbrowns and veggies and topped with cheddar cheese. I should clarify that I am referring to the “Sarah Scromlet,” which I order every single time I visit Kathy’s–including twice this weekend.

Kathy’s is fashioned to look (and sound) like a 1950s soda fountain. The booths and chairs and red vinyl and the walls are decorated with posters and albums from the era including Elvis, The Beach Boys, Marilyn Monroe, The Platters and Sam Cooke. They also have a number of license plates from various states that, coincidentally, all have our wedding date on them.

I was in the mood for poached eggs on Friday but chose to abstain because my parents would be coming into town and I knew I could talk my dad into making his famous poached eggs for breakfast Saturday morning (I ended up going to Kathy’s again, but that’s another story.) I ended up ordering the Sarah Scromlet and wondering why I even bother looking at the menu.

Kathy’s is a bit of a dichotomy (or tri/quadotomy) While it presents itself as a 1950s cafe, the the menu is full of fresh and local ingredients. The waitresses are old and slow, yet extremely friendly, although I’ve heard a mispronunciation of the word “heirloom” more than once.

Kathy’s also lists the source of many of their ingredients without looking pretentious as many restaurants tend to do. I ordered the Landis farm turkey sausage (okay, I order that every time too.) My husband ordered a glass of the fresh squeezed grapefruit juice because they were out of apples. The only problem that arises in ordering these fresh squeezed juices is the fact that they actually are fresh sqeezed. If there’s only one waitress on duty and the table in front of you orders a  juice–worse yet, FOUR juices–don’t expect coffee any time soon.  Luckily, we were the only ones ordering juice and our drinks and food came quickly. The Sarah Scromlet was as good looking (and tasting) as ever.

I’m a really nice mom because I always take home a hunk of sausage to my dog, Jewels, even though I could demolish the entire patty myself. My husband had the original scromlet with eggs, hashbrowns, ham and velveeta cheese. This is the truth.

I cannot even begin to describe the pleasure of biting into a scromlet. Imagine all the best things about breakfast. Now imagine them together. Then make it taste a little better. There’s a scromlet. If you are ever, ever in the area of Hughesville, PA, Kathy’s Cafe is a do not miss.

p.s. When I went with my mother the next day, she told the waitress that I was writing a blog post on Kathy’s. The waitress didn’t know what a blog was. Did I mention how much I love this place?

The Kennebunk Inn-Academe

I will preface this post with the subtitle–“A Tale of Two Restaurants.”

A few years ago, I fell hard for former New York Times food editor and (then current) Gourmet Magazine editor, Ruth Reichl.  I read a number of her books, which would fall under the increasingly growing sub-category of “food memoir,” but became particularly smitten with Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl discusses her tenure as Times restaurant critic and the costumes, meals and emotion involved in the job. The book is an easy yet interesting read, divided into chunks that centered on the restaurant she was reviewing and how that fit into her life at the time.

Two interesting side notes to this book. First, my best friend borrowed the book shortly after I finished it. She, too, enjoyed it immensely, but owned up that she had spilled red wine on my hardback copy and had gotten me a paperback replacement because that was all that was available at the bookstore. Instead of taking the new book, I opted for my increasingly tattered and now wine stained book because every tear, wrinkle and stain tells a story. The other story is a bit more serious. Five years ago, my father was in the hospital for a month with an undisclosed lung infection that necessitated a medically-induced coma. I sat faithfully by his bed each day until he shocked the medical world (true story) by turning the corner and is in impeccable shape today. Because I was so distraught by his illness, it was difficult for me to concentrate on anything serious. Instead, I spent hours reading and rereading Garlic and Sapphires, allowing Reichl’s words to take me to another place with Bob Dylan and the Band on repeat on my ipod.  I saw Ruth Reichl at a reading at the Free Library of Philadelphia a year or two ago and became emotional when I had the opportunity to meet her. It’s amazing to think how much someone can have an affect on your life without even knowing.

But I digress yet again.

In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl is often faced with the dilemma or wrapping her head around the “meaning” of her job. Although she held a lofty position and had the opportunity to have red carpet treatment at every restaurant in the City, she wanted to be sure she was able to truly and honestly critique the restaurants for “the people.” She wanted every Tom, Dick and Harry to understand what his experience would be like should he opt to eat at Le Cirque, for example, rather than having them read about her amazing meal only to come and be treated like a (gasp) normal person or worse. To combat this concern, she had different personas that came complete with wigs and costume overhauls so that she truly got the everyman’s dining experience.

Although we did not wear costumes at The Kennebunk Inn’s Academe Brasserie in Maine, we had the unique opportunity to do something we’ve never done before–eat dinner at the same restaurant two days in a row. Let me back up a bit. My husband and I were planning a trip to New England to visit his aunt, sister and brother-in-law. We decided to take a side trip up to Kennebunkport, Maine, which is only about an hour north of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In googling “dog friendly hotels Kennebunk” (more budget friendly lodging than the ‘Port as locals call Kennebunkport) I came across The Kennebunk Inn. It turns out we stayed at The Kennebunk Inn three years ago when we were last in Maine. According to the dog-friendly website and a confirmation call to the hotel, dogs were not only allowed, but we would be able to leave her in the room if we wanted to partake in any dog-unfriendly activities in Maine. Score! Many of the supposed dog-friendly hotels will not allow you to leave your dog in the room unattended.

We got into Kennebunk mid-day on Wednesday and went immediately to Kennebunkport for a lobster roll and clam strips at the Clam Shack and a stroll around town. Stay tuned for my lobster roll post. We went back to the hotel room and I found a local pet supply store while my husband explored the area on his bike. When he returned, we took Jewels to the beach for her first experience with waves. She loved it!

The weather was lovely and we decided that we would have dinner at the Inn that evening. We headed to the private courtyard and made ourselves comfortable (despite the wicked Maine mosquitoes) while waiting for our martinis. For $7.50 and $8.00 for dirty Absolut and Beefeater martinis respectively, we got a great deal. Especially considering the mini shaker that came with another half a martinis worth on the side.

The martinis were fine although I still haven’t found one that holds a candle to James or Le Virtu’s skilled bartenders. We enjoyed them while we perused the vast menu. I had already checked out the menu online and couldn’t help but be drawn to the chicken croquettes. Why? I’m not sure. However, I couldn’t peel myself away from them. I decided to be piggy and go with the chicken croquettes and the lobster pizza. When in Maine, right? My husband ordered the specials–haddock chowder and an intriguing scallop dish.

Our appetizer arrived we tore into after the deliciously moist and fresh out of the oven rolls. My croquettes were larger than expected.

The order came with three substantial croquettes surrounding a heap of crunchy romaine, cucumbers and tomatoes with ranch dressing. Where shall I even begin…The chicken was smooth and creamy, yet chunky enough to grasp the freshness of it. The cool crunch of the salad played perfectly with the warm creaminess of the croquette and I loved the light breading on the outside. Although these were phenomenal, I only ate 2/3 (well, a little less with tastes by my husband and the dog) and brought one back to the room for a midnight, Top Chef watching snack.

The Haddock chowder was creamy and flavor rich with huge chunks of Haddock. We had a fair amount of chowders on this trip and Academe’s haddock chowder stands out as one of the best–heavy on fish, light on filler.

Look at those big chunks of haddock!

Our entrees came out rather quickly afterward, although we had some interesting dialogue with both the chatty folks at the next table over and the quirky and absent-minded yet friendly and eager-to-please waitress. My lobster pizza had a nice combination of freshly picked claw and tail meat.

I would have liked to see a little more of the truffle flavor and less of the roasted tomato. In my mind, lobster warrants a white pizza and while this one did not have sauce, the chunks of roasted tomato confused my eager palate.

My husband scored big time with the scallops

The dish was complex and well thought-out. There were four nice sized diver scallops pan seared with roasted figs and tomato carpaccio topped with pancetta and a reduction of grapes from their garden. On the end of the plate sat a large goat cheese ravioli. I am not, unfortunately, a scallop eater, due to a nasty bout of food poisoning the night before the Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance, but my husband enthusiastically devoured them and gave them two thumbs up. I had a small yet satisfying bite of the ravioli which had a thin and tangy goat cheese filling.

We finished the evening with a glass of port and decided to forgo dessert although they had really interesting sounding desserts including a reverse root beer float that had vanilla soda over root beer flavored ice cream. They also allowed for moderation portions, which are smaller portions of any of the desserts for an affordable $3.50. This is my kind of place.

If you want to read an awesome review of an amazing meal, stop reading now. If you want to read the full story, please continue.

The next day we had a bit of a snafu with the dog-friendliness of the hotel. This is a food blog so we’ll leave it at that, but I will say that I am out $35 for a kayak trip that I was unable to take. Instead, I shopped with Jewels who was admired by many. After my husband returned from his solo trip, we drove out for more lobster rolls, chowder and clam strips (ah, life is good) and then returned to the hotel where I shopped and he went for a bike ride until 5pm when the beaches are open to dogs. Because we were having such a nice time, it was 7pm before we left the beach and the three of us were tired and hungry. Due to the bark nazis at the hotel and the fact that we greatly enjoyed our meal there the previous night, we decided to just return to Academe.

We got to the restaurant around 7:40. I waited in the courtyard with the dog while my husband went inside to get us seated. He came out shortly afterwards with two menus in his hand saying that the hostess had asked him to seat himself. This should have been our first warning, but we practically didn’t notice. After ten minutes had passed (and I had difficulty deciding because I wanted to hear the specials) with no server in sight, I went inside to speak with the hostess. Our conversation went as follows:

Me: I just wanted to check to see if anyone knew we were outside?

Her: Um. Probably not. I’ll tell them

Me: **A little confused** OK, thanks

I went back outside and we waited another 5-7 minutes. I got up again, much to my husband’s chagrin. I tracked down the hostess and tried again.

Me: I was just wondering if anyone was going to come outside

Her: Oh, no one has given you anything?

Me: No

Her: No water, no nothing?

Me: No, and I am staying here at the Inn and I ate here last night and right now I’m pretty unhappy.

Her: OK, I’ll have someone come right out.

I turned around on my heels, absolutely furious at this point. It took another 3-5 minutes for a waitress to come out, followed by the hostess hurrying to fill our water glasses. The waitress sat down and I expected to hear wholehearted apologies from both of them. Instead we got hurried apologies and a recitation of the specials, while our waitress got a comfortable seat.  We ordered our drinks which came out slowly and put in our food order.

I am a bit ashamed to say that I did another thing that I have never done before. Not only did we eat at the same restaurant two nights in a row, but I also ordered the same thing–chicken croquettes. They were so darn good the night before that I decided to have them again. I also ordered the other pizza I had been eying the previous night–shaved beef with mashed potatoes. Interesting. My husband went with the iceberg salad and the surf and turf.

While we were waiting, waiting, waiting for our appetizers (and our waitress disappeared time and time again) we heard the kitchen banter through the screen connecting the kitchen to the outdoors. I enjoyed hearing the orders being fired and the working chatter of the kitchen. I did not enjoy hearing out waitress ask about rolls only to hear her response–“oh shit.” Shortly thereafter she brought out our appetizers with no silverware. When I asked for rolls she said “we’re working on that” and returned with some lukewarm crusty bread that may have otherwise been good, but was no replacement for the luscious rolls. Apparently they had run out.

Luckily, the croquettes were just as good as the night before. Yes, I took another picture.

You’ll notice that the picture quality is not quite as good. This is was getting progressively darker during this long, long meal. My husband got the simple yet refreshing iceberg salad. He was hoping for a wedge, but this was probably our fault for not reading the menu carefully enough.  The salad was tasty and refreshing with all the crunch that iceberg offers. Besides, there was a healthy sprinkling of bacon on top, so he couldn’t really complain.

Our entrees were good, yet didn’t quite reach the first night’s success. I enjoyed the interesting flavors of my pizza–beef, mashed potatoes and a vanilla port reduction, although I didn’t love the pizza itself. This is my fault for ordering pizza two nights in a row–oh yeah, and for ordering pizza in Maine period. It was still an interesting dish and made for some tasty late night, Jersey Shore watching snacking.

The surf and turf was interesting. The beef was extremely tender–no detectable chewiness whatsoever–and was cooked perfectly. The lobster corn croquette, on the other hand, was overpowered by vanilla while there was not nearly enough lobster. We had both been eying the dish since the previous night, so I’m glad he ordered it. It was just underwhelming.

Although we were planning on getting desserts, the mosquitoes were killing us and we could not bear to sit outside for another moment after the interminable meal. It took me 15 minutes to even get the bill and pay while my husband retreated to our room with the dog. When I got the bill, I noticed that we were charged full price for everything. I do not own a restaurant and thus would never tell someone how to run their business, but I will say this–unhappy customers should be appeased in some manner. I felt as if the apologies we were given were fruitless and nothing more than lip service. I would have asked to speak to the owner(s) had I not known that they are both chefs. Last time I had a poor experience at a restaurant, they bent over backwards to apologize and make up for the errors that I will certainly be returning. The next day the hostess (who was also working the front desk) apologized and told me that they were overwhelmed with diners that evening. Well, after they’re on the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” for their lobster pot pie, I hope they’re ready, because this ain’t gonna cut it. The Academe Brasserie is an excellent example of a place that has tons of potential but needs some fine tuning in the front of the house to counter the interesting and just plain fun things that are going on in the kitchen. Best of luck to them and here’s hoping it’s just growing pains.

Gloucester Brunch

My sister-in-law and brother-in-law both had the day off yesterday so we set out for a family fun day of brunch followed by the beach. There are a number of tasty brunch spots in town, but we selected Lee’s, a blue-collar diner-esque place just across from the working harbor. There was a short wait for a table of six, so we sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine.

We were finally called inside and the six of us stuffed ourselves into the booth. I immediately ordered a cup of coffee.

Lee’s has an extensive breakfast menu with a vast array of omelettes, scrambles, pancakes and more. My sister-in-law and  had difficulty deciding, while my in-laws zeroed in on the “big breakfast” of 4 eggs, homefries, bacon, sausage, toast and a gigantic blueberry pancake. (EDIT: My mother-in-law wants me to clarify that they split the breakfast. She is not a trucker.) They got a grilled corn muffin on the side, which Lee’s is apparently known for. The muffin came to the table split and nicely charred. I had a small bite which filled my mouth with corny goodness.

My husband, who has an affinity for hollondaise sauce, ordered the eggs florentine which came to the table with fresh spinach that slowly wilted under the hot eggs and sauce.

I had difficulty deciding what to eat, but was prompted to hurry up by my very hungry father-in-law. I wavered between the “Julie” which was a southwestern-style scramble with cheddar, tomato, mushroom, pepper, onion and jalapeno and the “Irish omelet” which was an interesting combination of corned beef, swiss and hollandaise. I couldn’t decide if the latter would be a delicious gooey mess or an absolute disaster–so of course I decided to order it! I’m weird about my omelettes. I like the ingredients to be mixed so that I get a little bit of everything in each bite. I don’t like them to be too eggy–I like the filling better than the egg itself. The omelet arrived to the table and looked rather unassuming.

Much to my delight, it was the perfect ratio of filling to egg–not too disgustingly overstuffed, yet I didn’t get any bites of egg and egg alone. The saltiness of the corned beef was balanced by the mild nuttiness of the swiss cheese and smooth creaminess of the hollandaise. I mean, come on. Hollandaise is so damn good, regardless of Anthony Bourdain’s warnings that it tends to be festering with bacteria. The house made wheat bread was a great addition to the meal, yet I barely put a dent into the al dente and under seasoned potatoes.

Other items were a short stack of gigantic, plate-sized blueberry pancakes and the Portugese, chorizo-like linguica, which is a local favorite. We were underwhelmed and missed the pop of blueberry in our mouths with each bite when it came to the pancakes.  I don’t generally eat pork, but tried a tiny bite. My dining companions raved about the subtle spice and wanted to come back for more.

Pancakes

Linguica

Lee’s was a great way to start a day of sunbathing, paddle ball and beach reading–and it was heavy enough to tide us over until our lobster dinner. Stay tuned!

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!