In general, I really enjoy that each part of the country has food specialties that they excel in, it gives me something to look forward to when I travel, like a good proper posole in New Mexico, or a proper Cuban sandwich in Miami. But it also leaves me with the occasional hard to satisfy craving. Like when I want a good, quality biscuit. Nominally, this shouldn’t be too hard, considering that within a 50 mile radius of me are about a dozen places that have biscuits on the menu… But I’ve learned that, like the phrase “New England Barbecue”, “biscuit” is a term to be treated with a certain amount of skepticism in these parts. I could get a nice, flaky, buttery biscuit with a bit of crumble… but I’m much more likely to get some sort of stale, leaden lump of dry dough that’s only vaguely suitable as a substrate for a biscuits and gravy. In short, most New England biscuits, well, suck. It baffles me a bit, since biscuits aren’t that hard to do… when I lived in the South, the vast majority of kitchens were able to put out a decent biscuit, without any products labeled with “Bisquik” or having any sort of canned dough being involved. But it’s something that most New England kitchens haven’t mastered, enough so that I’ve joked many a time about opening “Rich’s Remedial Biscuit School” and inviting local chefs. I was in that frame of mind when I was checking out reviews for some new places in Montpeliers, and I had noticed several good reviews for Philamena’s, a new Italian place that opened this year on Montpelier’s west side. Most importantly, more than one review mentioned great biscuits. Hopeful, but still skeptical, we decided to check them out for breakfast.
And we always like to go to at least one higher-end restaurant every time we visit London. This time, my brother picked Bocca di Lupo ("Mouth of the Wolf") in Soho, with a lunch reservation (since it turned out that, six weeks out, a reasonable dinner reservation for four was difficult) for lunch. In any case, Bocca is regarded as one of London’s best Italian Restaurants, despite the issues in getting a seat (although the brave and the individual traveler should note that Bocca di Lupo’s bar overlooking the kitchen is reserved for walk-ins). It’s also one of the places that seems to be embracing the open kitchen concept. While that concept has been raging in the US for several years, it doesn’t seem to be nearly as common in the UK, but at Bocca you can see most of the cooking happening mere feet from some of the diners at the bar (not always to ones’ benefit, since at one point someone working the line obviously burnt some onions).
For our last dinner in the Cleveland area, we were looking for a lighter dinner (have you seen all hot dogs, steaks, and pork products I consumed in the last few entries?), and as a result, we decided to check out a relative newcomer on the Cleveland scene, D.C. Pasta Co. in Strongsville, OH. First of all, the D.C. Pasta Co. name comes not from our nation’s capital, but from the owners’ initials, D.C. is the combined effort of Ohio chef Dante Boccuzzi (primarily known for his “Dante” and “d.b.a” restaurants), and Carmela del Busso (known for “Oggi”), giving the place it’s initials. D.C., situated in a small strip mall complex in Strongsville, is designed to be a fairly casual Italian place featuring house made pasta.
Twice in the last few years we’ve celebrated my birthday with a trip to the same place: Trattoria Delia in Burlington, VT. Nestled into a basement a block south of City Hall park, Trattoria Delia is the sort of place you can easily walk by without checking out… but behind the fairly subtle frontage is a fairly elaborate Italian restaurant with a slightly funky vibe that’s best described as “Sugar house meets Alps”. But despite the quirky decor, Trattoria Delia remains one of Vermonts best Italian restaurants, and this trip was no exception.
As you can see from all of the other Twin Cities postings, earlier this month I was visiting Minnesota. The reason for my visits was than I was an invited guest speaker at the University of Minnesota Mechanical Engineering Department (where I got my PhD, for those that don’t know about my ‘day job’ as an engineer). After my seminar, several professors from the department took me to Caffe Biaggio in St Paul for dinner.
Well, my flight from London back to Boston arrived at 6pm, so we decided this would be a good opportunity for Carol to pick me up at the airport, and go get something interesting for dinner. A few months before, Carol had found herself with some time to kill at the airport, and their group went over to South Station and walked over into South Boston to Sportello, a little Italian place. They rather enjoyed the trip, so I figured I’d go there as well to check it out. Sportello is a rather funky place. The main concept here is “modern interpretation of the classic diner”, and that describes the decor rather well: walking into Sportello, you immediate see two large U-shaped counters surrounded by stools, of the type that described most diners when I was little. The overall palette is “gleaming white”, and like an actual diner, the bulk of the food prep is done to-order, right in front of you.
The summer of crazy travel continues… One of my projects at work had a requirement to test it in a severe desert environment, during the summer. So I found myself packing up and heading out with two crazy coworkers to…. Gold Canyon, Arizona (actually, to a private ranch east of there) to bask in the daytime highs of 116°F highs and 93°F lows. But it’s also where I grew up (and my parents still live there), so I decided to head out a day early to do a few errands for the project and have dinner with my parents before heading out into the desert. However, I ended up having a few hours free, so I met up with my friend Allyson for lunch. Most anyone that has ever discussed pizza with me knows that I’m a fanatic about quality pizza, and very few places make the cut for what I consider “good pizza”. And the Phoenix area is blessed with one of them, Pizzeria Bianco, which I’ve reviewed here before (twice, in fact). And while I adore Pizzeria Bianco, it’s not the only Phoenix endeavor of owner Chris Bianco… he also runs an Italian sandwich shop in the midtown section of Phoenix called Pane Bianco (as well as an Italian restaurants named “Italian Restaurant”, which I still haven’t gotten to). And since it’s right off of the Central Avenue light rail line, it made for a handy place to meet up with Allyson. And it’s been on my to-be-reviewed list for a while, since my last visit here circa 2010 was without my trusty camera…
You know, we all have those food items we crave, that we always look forward to being able to have again. They aren’t always fancy. I particularly crave, amongst other things, Waffle House hashbrowns, Pepe’s Pizza, and Chicago-style Hot Italian Beef sandwiches. Alas, none of these can be had around my corner of rural New Hampshire. In the case of some items, I’ve learned to cook them myself, but for some items that’s not really possible. The Hot Italian Beef, that Chicago delight of shaved beef on a crusty Italian loaf, swimming in juice and giardinera, is one of these; the local economy even lacks the ingredients for making these. Sure, we’ve got beef. But we don’t have the right sort of crusty Italian loaves. And we certainly don’t have condiments like hot giardinera available here (although I have a healthy supply in my own cupboard, sent by a friend in Illinois). I have tried my hand at it, with reasonable results, but this was mostly like methadone; it softened the withdrawal. But, mostly, I satisfy my cravings with a stop at Gold Coast Hot Dogs on one of my many, many connecting flights through Midway, since they have a reasonably serviceable sandwich. So when the Chicago Death March was in planning, a key stop for me was one of the iconic Italian Beef stands. And, helpfully, the route that Kevin came up with delivered very nicely. Stop #3 on the Death March was on Taylor Street, at Chicago’s oldest Italian Beef stand: Al’s #1 Italian Beef.
In late March, my brother Dan was visiting from England. Like most of his visits, he had a rather lengthy list of food items that he was craving that are difficult or impossible to find in London. These include the obvious, like a good old-fashioned American cheeseburger, and quite a few things from the Italian-American playbook, including pizza, meatballs, and a good Italian-American style sub sandwich. Well, the last of these is a little difficult to find around here as well. Sure, there are more Subways than you can shake a stick at. And most any decent gas station around here will make you up a grinder… but Dan was looking for a good, solid sub on crusty Italian bread, with some good meats and cheeses. And that’s a little harder to find, but after thinking a bit on the issue, I remembered one Italian deli we’ve got in the greater area: Marzelli’s in Newbury.
The last six months or so, the usually calm and stagnant Upper Valley restaurant scene has had a few changes. One of bigger segments changing is the pizza scene: since last summer, we’ve had two new pizzerias show up in town, Cantore’s Pizza in West Leb in Glen Road Plaza, and Ziggy’s Pizza in North Country Plaza further down 12A. I plan to review both of these places, but I’ll start with Cantore’s. Cantore’s opened late last summer, being run by local experienced restauranteurs John Kelley and Vinnie Cantore (by the way, if you were wondering… the owner of Cantore’s is the brother of Jim Cantore, Weather Channel meteorologist and former Upper Valley resident). And while the Upper Valley is literally chock-a-block with pizza places (most having “Village” or “Chef” in their names), Cantore’s is trying to set themselves apart by doing a New York style pizza, and trying to use a better selection of ingredients: better mozzarella, fresher toppings, etc…