Mon 3 Aug 2009
If you’ve ever attempted a vacation with friends, you know there are some people you can travel with easily and others with whom you just don’t click. Last weekend, Elizabeth and I met up with The Jer and Madam Librarian for a vacation in Boston – our travel style definitely complements theirs, so we were glad to have the opportunity to get together with them again.
It’s probably a good thing we don’t live in the same city as they do; we have way too much fun when we’re together. This trip was no exception. Over the course of a three-day weekend, we walked the line and soaked up some Revolutionary-era history along the Freedom Trail; we hung out with some wicked smaht kids at a bah near Harvard in Cambridge; we crossed paths with the guys from Inter Milan as they saw the sights before playing AC Milan in Boston on Sunday; and we watched the Sox knock off the Orioles in Fenway Park.
Oh…and we definitely enjoyed some good eating while we were in town, too. In fact, we reached out to Boston-based food blogger Cave Cibum before we left, seeking an insider’s recommendations. We ended up splitting our time between touristy must-trys and off-the-beaten-path local joints, to delicious results.
Cheers - For most visitors to Boston, this watering hole “where everybody knows your name” is a great way to marry pop culture, history and drinking…it’s practically Boston in a nutshell. For us, it was literally our neighborhood bar – we rented an apartment about a block and a half away on Beacon Street. We made this one of our first stops after settling in and were waiting with beers in hand when The Jer and Madam Librarian arrived on Friday afternoon. They’ve stopped using the bar’s original name (the Bull & Finch Pub), capitulating to the masses who simply called it “the Cheers bar.”
We were pleased with the service at the bar despite the unceasing waves of visitors who poured into the place over the course of the few hours we were sitting there. With several varieties of Sam Adams on tap alongside national and local favorites (including a surprisingly refreshing Wachusett blueberry beer), it was easy to pass the time. The menu was nothing special, but nor was it particularly overpriced for what they served. The chicken sandwich that Madam Librarian enjoyed was moist and flavorful, and The Jer’s fish and chips were well received. Appetizers tend toward the fried, but they come out hot and hit the spot after a few beers.
More of our trip – including a neighborhood spot with a breakfast worth a 40-minute wait – after the jump.
Union Oyster House – It’s a running joke in our house that I’m such a big fan of walking tours when we’re on vacation that I’ll read up on them in guidebooks ahead of time and then recreate them as we go. This has the benefit of allowing us to see the sights without having to bury our noses in a map or shuffle along as part of a tour group. In Boston, they’ve rendered me all but obsolete with the Freedom Trail, a literal red trail bricked and painted into the ground that runs from Boston Commons all the way to Bunker Hill.
The Freedom Trail passes Faneuil Hall and then heads down Union Street as it makes it way into the North End, running right past the entrance to the Union Oyster House, which claims to be the oldest restaurant in continuous operation in the United States. As you might expect from the location, the Union Oyster House does a brisk tourist trade, and we were originally inclined to pass it by in favor of a less traficked Italian establishment further along the trail. Thankfully, the Bacon Terrorist assured me that the restaurant really does have good food…it just happens to be a tourist magnet, as well.
Our wait was only twenty minutes despite the throngs of people entering in front of us and behind us, all of whom wanted lunch. We were shown upstairs to a room with exposed beams in the ceiling and paintings of revolutionary-era scenes on the walls. Soon after we were seated we each got a delicious hunk of warm, sweet cornbread that whet our appetites for things to come.
Seafood was the order of the day (big surprise, right?). I had been dying to get some authentic clam chowder, and the version served by the Oyster House hit the spot. It was creamy and thick, with lots of clams and potatoes throughout. A salty, bacon-y flavor made it even more enjoyable. I followed the soup with a fried oyster sandwich that was hot and crisp. Elizabeth, on the other hand, decided to be a bit healthier and chose a cold seafood sampler from the raw bar that included local oysters, cherrystone clams and cocktail shrimp – briny and satisfying.
The Union Oyster House definitely exceeded expectations, leaving us full and happy as we headed out to finish the Freedom Trail.
Union Oyster House
41 Union Street
Tamarind Bay – As it turns out, the Union Oyster House left us a bit too full and happy – we were beat as we finished seeing the Old North Church, so we decided to head back to home base. After regrouping at the apartment (read: taking a nap), we felt ready to take on another part of town so we walked to the T and caught a train to Harvard Square. We walked around campus, getting an appreciation for just what it means to have gone to school “in Cambridge.”
After walking the grounds for a while, we started to get hungry and decided to seek out something a little bit different for dinner. We walked the area around Harvard Square for a while before coming across Tamarind Bay, an Indian restaurant that boasted menus that change with the season and no artificial ingredients. Hungry and up for an adventure, we decided to check it out.
We got off to something of a rocky start, with a server whose responses to our questions weren’t exactly helpful and a drink order that took a surprisingly long time to fill. After that, however, we found ourselves marvelling at the quality and the flavor of the various dishes we ordered.
We tried lazeez tikka masala (spiced chicken and onions), kabab-e-kohat (coriander-dusted lamb wrapped with chicken and skewered), achari jhinga (shrimp cooked in Indian ‘pickle’ spices) and lalla mussa dal (black lentils simmered overnight in spices). Each had its own unique character that showed through and asserted itself nicely. The shrimp and the lamb were spicy in every sense of the word, while the lentils offered a rich and dusky flavor that begged to be scooped up with naan.
Despite our early misgivings and so-so service, Tamarind Bay certainly came through on flavor and helped us scratch that itch for something out of the ordinary. We were ready for a night of Cambridge bar-hopping after laying in this savory base.
75 Winthrop Street
Paramount – Our evening of bar-hopping in Cambridge ended with a brisk walk back to the T, thanks to a timely inquiry of our bartender regarding the last train of the evening and when it would pass through Harvard Square (answer: soon). So we stopped off at Cheers and had one more beer on the way home. Needless to say, we opted to sleep in a bit on Sunday morning.
When we were awake and packed, I suggested we take a walk past Cheers to grab brunch at a restaurant that Cave Cibum had reviewed – the Paramount. Everything I had read about the Paramount warned that you could expect to wait in line for as long as an hour to get food from this slice of short-order heaven. Their pancakes and omelets seemed to inspire a pretty faithful following and we hadn’t heard any more compelling arguments to try someplace else, so we went for it.
The Paramount runs like a lunch counter if you pulled up the stools and cleaned up the place. True to form, we ended up waiting almost 45 minutes for our food, but it gave us plenty of time to watch people and to figure out exactly what we were going to try. I opted for the mushroom ham and cheese omelet (a long-time personal favorite combination for me) and found it to be technically well-executed and tasty. The breakfast potatoes were forgettable, but the omelet and the fresh-squeezed carrot juice I picked up to chase it were terrific. Elizabeth went with a pair of pancakes made with fresh fruit (blueberries in one, apple in the other) and she had nothing but compliments for both.
It should be noted that the Paramount is EXCEPTIONALLY popular on weekends, and lines out to the door (or beyond) are not unheard of. In our case, we knew we had the time to kill with the waiting, and we were eager to check it out. Fans of Ray’s Hell Burger will fit right in with the Paramount’s seating policy – place your order and get your food before sitting down at one of the eighteen or so tables in the crowded restaurant. This allows them to regulate the flow of traffic, as they strongly discourage patrons from saving seats before their food is ready. And somehow, it works for this diner-like venue where space is at a premium.