While I occasionally make a few exceptions to this rule, I generally don’t review cocktail bars that are just cocktail bars. And indeed, that’s the case with Drink. Located in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood, downstairs from Sportello (which I reviewed in 2012, and is owned by the same folks), Drink is primarily a cocktail bar, but they do have a limited bar menu. And while that bar menu has a few gems, that’s not why I’m reviewing them; instead, it’s one particularly off-the-menu item that drew my attention.
My extended weekend in Boston also provided me with a good opportunity to check in on a fairly recent discovery of our: Coda, in the Back Bay neighborhood (a short walk from Back Back Station). Coda is basically the little sibling of the more recognized The Salty Pig around the corner. While the Salty Pig focuses on “Salty Pig Parts of All Varieties”, with other menu items, burgers, and cocktails also available on the side, Coda is more relaxed, and is basically a “cocktail bar with a decent food menu.” Indeed, we first discovered Coda when rendezvousing with relatives in Back Bay, wanting to seek out a nice cocktail while we waited, and Coda was the find. But seeing the food emerging from the kitchen, I figured it was worth a revisit for some food.
One of my annual traditions is volunteering at one of the local FIRST Robotics competitions, usually as a Robot Inspector or a Judge. This year’s volunteer assignment was for the New England District Championship at Boston University’s Agganis Arena, and that gave me another opportunity to check out some of the Brookline area dining options. One particular place had caught my eye since I had walked by it several times on last year’s “Death March” (my annual tradition of walking ~20 miles through an urban area, exploring neighborhoods and eateries that I normally wouldn’t visit). That place is right in central Brookline in the basement of a building: Roast Beast.
There are all sorts of famous rivalries out there in existence, especially in the food world. Geno’s vs Pat’s in Philly (although I’m more of a Tony Luke’s guy myself). American Coney Island vs Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit. Pepe’s vs Sally’s in New Haven. The rivalries go on everywhere. The Boston equivalent that I run into the most often involves cannoli, with the two most-celebrated places being Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry, located within sight of each other. After my last two visits to the North End involving a stop at Mike’s, I figured it was time to check out Modern as well.
While my primary goal at Offbeat Eats is to document the obscure and unusual places out there, sometimes I still get to be a tourist. And when it came to finding a place to take several of my fellow walkers on our “Death March”, most of whom hadn’t spent a lot of time in Boston, for me the choice of venue was fairly obvious: Durgin-Park, one of Boston’s venerable restaurants, serving up Boston schrod, seafood, and steaks since 1826. Named after Messrs Durgin and Park who were the original owners of the place, it’s located in Quincy Market at 340 Faneuil Hall (North Market), a location its been inhabiting since it opened, albeit with some (minor) renovations (the plumbing in the men’s room appears to be date from the late Victorian era). One of the very notable things about Durgin-Park is that it’s one of those time capsule restaurants. Aside from a few (very few) tweaks to the menu, and obviously higher prices, the experience at Durgin-Park is almost exactly the same that I remember from my first visit in the late ’70s (and my visits in ’95, ’99, and ’01, for that matter), although the service doesn’t seem as surly as I recall from some of my previous visits (some of that is probably my getting used to the general surliness of Boston in general, to be honest). I’m sure that if you go back far enough in time you’d find a different experience, but the current Durgin-Park ambiance and menu harken back to at least the 1950s and the era of white-shirted servers and red-checked tablecloths. And that’s one of the reasons I like to go there, since it’s one of the oldest restaurants in the country, and one of the old respected seniors of Boston dining (along with nearby Jacob Wirth and the Union Oyster House, the latter of which goes back to the colonial era).
The next stop on our Boston March was the Super 88 in Allston. Super 88 is a regional chain of Asian grocery stores (now part of the larger Hong Kong Supermarket chain), and the Allston location opened to much fanfare in 2002. In addition to having good Asian produce and seafood section, it also had an onsite bakery and a really good selection of basic Chinese groceries. More importantly, however, was that the front of the store was made into the “88 Food Connection”, a small food court featuring half a dozen Asian food vendors, including Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Bubble Tea, and other wonderful spots. It’s a great little place to meet up with friends and grab a quick Asian treat, so we decided it was also a good stop on the March. And one of those vendors, Pho Viet’s, is one of the better places around Boston to grab a Banh Mi sandwich.
The next planned stop on the Boston Death March was Liberty Bell Roast Beef. If I had to pick one particular sandwich that represented Massachusetts, it would have to be the roast beef sandwich. Sure, the Lobster Roll is a contender as well, but that’s more of a “Coastal New England” thing, whereas a quick trip through Massachusetts will show that there is no shortage of roast beef places. The epicenter is the North Shore, with no end of places selling roast beef sandwiches from small restaurants and shacks (most of which sport someone’s first name, like Nick’s or Kelly’s), but they are found throughout Massachusetts, with Boston lying on the bottom edge of what I call the “Roast beef sandwich belt”. And Liberty Bell Roast Beef was right on our route, so it was obligatory that we stop there for a break.
Prior to starting our 21.7 mile march through the various neighborhoods of Boston, we needed a place to have a breakfast, meet up with other hikers, and get a good start to the day. Luckily, only about 100 feet away from the Savin Hill T station is McKenna’s Cafe. A cozy little cafe (note to others: we showed up at 7am to a near-empty cafe, but those showing up later on a Saturday, I’d expect a wait, the place is pretty small), it fits well into the neighborhood. Savin Hill is a surprisingly quiet and mellow corner of Dorchester (and, indeed, even several of my Boston friends mentioned that it was one of those T stops they’ve never gotten off at), and this is the exact sort of cafe you expect in a neighborhood like this. Walk in, get greeted by the staff, and quickly get seated with some coffee to peruse the menu.
Our walk last weekend through, well, most of Boston, ended up taking us right down Hanover street through the very center of Boston’s North End (their Little Italy), and right past the epicenter of activity on a warm weekend evening: Mike’s Pastry. Okay, I’ll be honest, Mike’s Pastry is anything but offbeat. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that if I mention that I’m going to Boston to eat, someone in the group will insist on my going to Mike’s Pastry. So, just like all the little offbeat places I review, occasionally I have to review the iconic ones as well. So on a fairly pleasant spring evening, we found ourselves waiting on the sidewalk, and then sharpening our elbows and working our way into the semi-anarchic interior of Mikes for some cannoli.
A many of my regular readers know, I’ve got a regular tradition of going on an annual “Death March”, in which I and a bunch of friends pick some random large US city (New York, San Francisco, and Chicago in previous years), pick a nice walking route through it (usually around 20 miles), and spend a day walking and eating our way through the city (you don’t feel too guilty about stopping for a hot dog, pizza slice, or taco if you’ve been walking 20 miles!). One of the challenges is that many large cities, particularly in business areas, can have large stretches that don’t have a lot of takeout food, or if they do, the places require some advanced scouting. So this last weekend, we did an exploratory trip looking for more stops on next month’s Boston Death March. So that’s how we found ourselves wandering around Berkeley Street in Boston’s South End, stumbling upon El Triunfo.