Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chicken Soup

There’s a reason that a best-selling self-help series of books is called “Chicken Soup for the…”. Chicken soup has been referred to as “Jewish Penicillin”, and with good reason-you feel good while eating it, and for a while after. Chicken soup holds a special place for sick adults and children everywhere…it’s the ultimate comfort food.

With that in mind, I’m rolling out my next food quest-Comfort Foods 2011…maybe “Quomfort Quest”?

No matter what the name, it should be delicious. My research, once again done for your pleasure, will culminate with an appearance on “The Jordan Rich Show” on January 29, 2011 from midnight-3:30 a.m. discussing all things comfort food. Feel free to post your thoughts here, or email me, and I’ll try to eat my way to comfort.

Until then, stay hungry my friends.

Berenstain Bears get religion…

I recently saw a story that the publisher for the “Berenstain Bears” moved the bear books to their religious books division for a 12 book series, which issued some new titles, such as “The Berenstain Bears say their prayers” or “The Berenstain Bears go to Sunday School.”

The bears hold a special place in our house. Both my kids loved these stories, the videos and the read-along books on tape. Their wholesome (but not religious), humanistic message taught acceptance, respect, manners and positive family values. We love the Bears!

Over the years, I did notice that the cubs never really grew up. I think it’s high time that they do and the authors start writing about growing up in Bear County. I think there must be some bears from the wrong side of the woods…bad influences, so to speak. So sit a spell, grab a six-pack of “hard honey”, and enjoy some the new titles I’d like to see: “Sister Bear is caught ‘sexting’”; “Brother Bear tries ‘Crank’”; “That ain’t honey in Papa Bear’s jug” and “Mama Bear and her crystal meth lab…” Considering the Bears have been around since 1964, but just had another baby just a few years ago, maybe “Papa Bear gets a vasectomy” or “Mama Bear tries the NuvaRing” are in order.

I have a feeling the publisher will be going in a slightly different direction from my suggestion. Probably a good thing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The final flight...

So, to round out the wing wanderings, I went back to both "Wings Over...", a multi-location franchise, and "The Chicken Bone Saloon", a local joint in Framingham. What follows is mostly a re-print of my review from last year, since not much has changed, and my findings remain the same.

You can find out more about the “Wings Over…” franchise at their website. Since it began in Amherst, MA (long after my departure), I should be inclined to like it. Back when I was stalking the mean streets of Amherst (with some brass knuckles and a sock filled with a few rolls of quarters), the only choice was “Wings Express”, which was down a small alley behind the stores on North Pleasant Street, just around the corner from that bastion of fine Mexican dining…Taco Villa!

The “ambiance” of ‘Wings Over…” is like the ambiance of an airline hanger. Convenient, since they somehow try to confusingly incorporate an airplane theme. It is very industrial, and the Framingham location, located in an old car dealership, is mostly take-out with extremely limited seating. Thankfully, we employed the patented “stand over the people and make them uncomfortable” technique. However, I’ve seen fraternity house kitchen tables after a toga party that were cleaner…I felt bad for the girl working clean-up.

The few times I’ve been, I’ve ordered the “Cajun Blackened” and the “buffalo”. The Cajun is a dry-spiced wing, as opposed to the sopping wet wings you get at most places. The cajun wings were fried, then re-spiced and grilled over a flame, I think. There was a good ratio, 50/50 of “flats” or “wings” to “drummies”; they were tasty and meaty, and I give them good marks. Other than the limited seating, I recommend “Wings Over….” I also liked the buffalo sauce, but I admit I’m not rushing back, but mostly because there’s so little seating.

While still holding on to fresh memories of Wings Over Framingham (and probably the wings themselves), I was enticed to go to The Chicken Bone Saloon (aka “The Bone”), less than a mile from “Wings Over…”. The Bone has been there for years…I remember going there once, when I felt tougher. It’s in an area of Framingham that is literally “on the other side of the tracks” and if you went, you went down two steps, physically, and socially (I know, I beat this joke to death). Glad to say, while still a bar room, it is much more family-friendly, and becoming so popular that they’ve opened a second seasonal location right near Fenway Park ( and now closed…apparently, not as popular as I thought). Check out The Bone here!

The Bone has a very extensive menu…reminding me a bit of the Anchor Bar, both in choices, and décor. After much consideration, I ordered the “garlic hot” (which is traditional hot Buffalo sauce with added garlic) with a side of “thermonuclear”; Sterling got boneless wings with traditional hot Buffalo. With nervous anticipation, we opened the to-go cartons, and were duly impressed. The aroma was sublime and they were still scorching hot and fresh. First impressions: these really held up well in take-out containers, and they were very appetizing looking. Second impressions: very meaty and fresh. What was especially impressive was that the skin was still crisp even though they were doused in sauce-that can be hard trick to pull off, and they did it well.

Other impressions: the ratio of flats to drummies was not aligned. In an 8 piece order, I had 3 flats and 5 drummies (must have been from Chernobyl chicken!). Doesn’t much matter to me, since I like both parts equally, but I just thought it would be even. Also, “The Bone” tosses in a tremendous handful of carrots and some celery, whereas “Wings Over…” just gives a couple pieces of celery (and what do you do, if you’re like me and hate celery?). Also, “Wings Over…” gives you a food service container of blue cheese dressing, about the size of a shot glass with a hermetically sealed foil cover. “The Bone” gives you a cup twice that size (the size of a kid’s beverage), filled with chunky blue cheese dressing…advantage “The Bone”.

To be the champ, you gotta beat the champ…locals who claimed the Bone was on to something were right, “The Bone” wins, in quality of packaging, crispness after saucing, quantity of veggies, and menu choices. That’s not to say that “Wings Over…” isn’t good-they are, but even with a tie in wing quality, the tie has to be broken with the veggies, packaging, etc...

Honorable mention- Sichuan Gourmet with locations in Billerica, Framingham and Brookline. You can’t think of a fried chicken wing without thinking about Chinese food. The ubiquitous wing has been part of Americanized Chinese Food since Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy…Sichuan Gourmet has taken that wing to a new level.

Sichuan is the place to go if you like traditional Sichuan cuisine, which basically means “spicy”. While they offer regular wings on the menu, they also offer the mysteriously named “Spicy Fried Chicken Wings”. We’ve been ordering these ever since Sichuan opened, and they are fantastic. These are entirely different from a Buffalo wing. They are fried, then tossed in a garlic-chili oil, then garnished with hot green peppers and scallions. Wow, absolutely delcious, but like an inferno in your mouth. Do not eat these if you have a canker sore, or had dental work, but when you eat them, the endorphins do take over.

No doubt, my mother has stopped reading this by now. But if she happens to still be reading at this point, don’t worry, my next food venture is into salads (yeah, right!).

Now go out and eat some wings.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Flying high...

Caution, the photos you are about to see may be real, and delicious...

In addition to the Burrito Battle, I also embarked on a sister-quest: Wing Whirlwind…in my mind, you can’t go wrong washing down burritos with some deep-fried buffalo wings.

My methodology for wings was a little different than for burritos. I will discuss and compare wings from wherever consumed. The process for making wings is the same whether at a sit-down restaurant or a barroom-you take chicken wings, fry them, sauce them, and serve them. Takes the same time and basically follows the same procedure. No place was disqualified.

There are a couple of camps for wings…drumettes vs. flats, breaded vs. plain, bone-in vs. boneless, blue cheese vs. ranch. I visited a boneless chicken farm in Pennsylvania once, and it wasn’t pretty...poor little bastards.

I like both the drummies and the flats, and I like them without breading…au naturale, if you will. And I like it on the bone. The boneless “wing” is really the ugly stepchild of bar food. Too many places, almost all on my list, use a breaded boneless cutlet that has been flattened to almost non-existance, and coated in a thick crumb coasting…pretty much right off the Sysco truck. The exception-the Chicken Bone in Framingham which uses a fresh hunk of chicken that they hand-bread.

The buffalo wing battle for supremacy could go on all day and night. It seems that everywhere thet sell appetizers there is some version of a chicken wing. Having eaten hundreds of wings for you, hungry readers, I can honestly say, unlike burritos, that could eat hundreds more. There is something tasty, yet unfilling, with wings. I could eat them until the boneless chickens come home.

Without further ado, here is a list of places where I ate buffalo wings, with comments (of course)…

Uno’s-this place always surprises me in that these franchises can pull off their food as well as they do. Uno’s has different burgers and the usual pub food, as you all know, but they have a very pleasant wing. The offer a “Wing 3-Way” (I suppose a rooster’s dream come true), but in reality, it’s nine buffalo wings with a choice of three wings with 3 sauces each. I usually just stick with the buffalo sauce, but recently tried some with buffalo-garlic romano. Delish, but stand back.

Acapulcos is a Mexican restaurant chain with locations all over Massachusetts. They serve a wing for an appetizer, which is quite substantial an order, but I wouldn’t call them buffalo wings. The wings are heavily breaded, no sauce, and fired to a crispy brown. They are tasty, and very crunchy, but without sauce, it’s just fried chicken.

British Beer Company-not terrible, but not impressive for a place that bills itself as a pub. What better pub food is there than a buffalo wing. At a place like this, the wing better be very good, but here they are just ok, but not very large or meaty.

Truants in Woodstock, NH. This is a barroom’s bar, with a dining room in the lower level. The wings were ok, but not excellent. As my son says, a bar has to know how to do wings, and if there’s anyone who should know about barrooms, it’s a 14 and a half year old boy.

Common Man in Lincoln, NH, with other locations statewide. We ate dinner in the pub that night. The pub was a great environment…unlimited cheese and crackers, sitting on couches or easy chairs. There is a giant stone fireplace in the pub, and I can imagine that during the winter, a roaring fire where they can have virgin sacrifices. Besides home-made potato chips, all I ate were wings and these were great wings…meaty, fresh...highly recomended.

Moat Mountain in North Conway, NH. As you readers of my earlier posts know, I love the Moat Mountain Smokehouse. I always have a decent meal there, and these wings did not dissapoint. They were excellent, especially the spicy honey chipotle version

Buff’s Pub in Newton Corner, Massachusetts. This place has the reputation of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo. Any buffalo wing train has to stop at the Buff’s Pub station. I can tell you that the wings did not dissapoint-the wings were hot, meaty, and covered in finger-licking goodness. Unfortunately, while close to the top of the wing food chain, the “boneless” wing was a pedestrian processed cutlet off the back of a food service delivery truck. Buff’s Pub was “almost, but not quite”.

Firefly’s with multiple locations locally. Any regular reader or listener knows that I am not a fan of their food. Their bbq is blasé’, to say the least, but they do make a nice wing. The wings are not fried, nor served buffalo style, but they are humongous…like Chernobyl Chicken wings. They are smoked, then grilled a little to char them up. Served with buffalo sauce (and other sauces from the condiment bar) I give these high marks, though the rest of the menu isn’t executed nearly as well.

Whole Paycheck-though their burritos are nearly perfect, their wings on the food bar are terrible. Wings on a steam table are impossible to keep hot or remotely fresh…I say walk on by.

Speaking of walking by, I urge you never to order the wings at the Union Street Bar and Grill, Newton Centre. Without a doubt, the worst wings I had during this quest. The were very slow to come out of the kitchen, and even though they were ordered as an appetizer, they came out after all the other food hit the table. They looked good, and they appeared hot, but one bite, and looks were very deceiving. The skin was rubbery, and the flavor had an off-putting taste. I offered them around the table of 8 other hungry people, and everyone declined. Not a good sign. They were so bad that I posted on Facebook my warning about these from the table, with picture. Their other food might be good (and I say “might”, because I also had to return my salad since I had ordered it without the hair “garnish”). It was a bad day overall for Union Street.

Almost like going to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, no trip to the buffalo wing holy land could be complete without a trip to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. I almost got chills as we walked in, but that could have been because it was August and they had the air conditioning on…For me, eating at the Anchor Bar was almost as cool as meeting Thurgood Marshall, since the both had a lasting impact on America, in their own ways.

The Archor Bar claims to be the inventor of the Buffalo wing. Since they are located in Buffalo, I have to give them credit for being the first place in Buffalo to sauce their wings, but you can’t tell me no one ever thought of putting sauce on a piece of fried chicken before 1964??? Nevertheless, I have no complaints about the Anchor Bar wings-hot, meaty, saucy, and the “original”.

The leads us to the two other joints local to me. I reveiewed these a few years back, before I went on the “Wing Wander”. I found that nothing had changed, and the earlier comments still apply. I offer you an edited version of that post tomorrow…

Sunday, October 31, 2010

In the battle of Man vs. Burrito, Burrito won

While I entertain you with a variety of burritos...warning, these are actual photos of burritos consumed during this research...

So, by the time I rounded the turn for the home stretch (and resulting stretch marks…) in the Burrito Battle, I was huffing and puffing to the finish line. In the battle of Man vs. Burrito, Burrito won. But of course, the carb coma didn’t stop me from sampling the wares of several popular places, and a few not so popular ones.

Both Boloco and Chipotle are within a 5 minute drive from my office. For a long time, Boloco was the only burrito game in town, and for a long time, I was primarily a Boloco fan; I was loco for the burrit-o. The nice thing about Boloco was they have different sizes, and whole wheat tortillas as opposed to just white flour tortillas. Also, with an extensive menu, you really had millions of choices. However, when Chipotle opened within walking distance of Boloco, a few things became immediately apparent.

First, more menu choices means more chances for mistakes. As I have previously noted, the more choices, the more room for error. The more I ate at Boloco, the more issues I had. Consistency became an issue. While I liked the perceived healthier options (wheat tortilla and brown rice), sometimes I wondered what I ordered, and whether I ordered a small or a large. At Chipotle, choices are limited, and they don’t give you any choices for brown rice or tortillas, but their speed and ability to make the burritos consistently is a by-product of their limited choices. It’s a business plan decision, but one that seems to work well for Chipotle.

Second, some things aren’t meant to be in a burrito. Variety is the “spice of life”, but I have to imagine they don’t eat a lot of “thai peanut chicken” in a whole wheat tortilla in Bangkok. Buffalo chicken with blue cheese and celery just doesn’t make it for me, or probably people in Buffalo.

I do give Boloco high marks for their sense of humor, their creative email updates, and their tremendously responsive customer service, including rapid personalized responses from their CEO. I downgrade them for their lousy selection of bagged tortilla chips.

I give Chipotle decent marks for their chips, which are cooked fresh on-site, and their lime-salt added to them. I like the bigger pieces of chicken, and that you can order off-menu items like quesadillas.

As for ratings, I think these two run neck and neck. Some people like the million options at Boloco, some people like the simplicity of Chipotle. Almond Joy has nuts, Mounds don’t…

But, the winner was not one of the burrito specialty shops. Not a little bodega with a burrito lunch business. The winner, after dozens of burritos, is exactly where you would have expected: Whole Foods supermarket.

That’s right, “Whole Paycheck” has the freshest, most delicious burritos, custom made fresh to order.

I was shocked myself, so much so, that I went back a second time to ensure it wasn’t a fluke; it was not. There are several tortilla choices, different rice (white or borwn), beans (black or pinto), salsas, fresh vegetables and toppings. Since Whole Paycheck is known for their freshness (as well as their prices), it was a particular surprise that a full sized burrito costs only $4.99, a better deal that any of the burrito places. Adding to the value is that since the burrito bar is slightly under-patronized, the employees take a reasonable amount of time making the burrito, getting you out promptly, but assembling the belly bomb in the appropriately balanced fashion. Just take a look at the photo, with the proper balance of rice, beans, meat, veggies…this is a work of art.

After months of burrito sampling, the winner and top of the burrito food pyramid…Whole Foods.

I do believe this is the first time I’ve said this after a food quest-if I ever have another burrito, it will be too soon.

For your consideration, I leave you with this image: a salami stuffed with a meat, cheese and bean burrito, all wrapped in bacon. I call it "Salburcon" picture says a million coronaries.

Flying in next...chicken wings. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Won't You take me to...Funky Town

Memories...pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories...sweetened thru the ages just like wine

Recently, with all the mixed publicity regarding the great state University, I have found myself thinking about Amherst more than usual. Perhaps it was the unfortunate passing of the great George Parks (it seems whether it was emails from alumni groups, Drum Corps International, or Facebook, tributes, well-deserved, were everywhere), or the ramp-up to the Colonial Classic this past weekend at Gillette Stadium, I really miss Amherst.

There was something special about Amherst. The “Five College” area (UMass, Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mt. Holyoke and Smith) had it’s own sensibility…let’s just say the Tea Party would not likely be warmly embraced.

Amherst was full of funky restaurants, bars and shops. I’ve seen some recent pictures of the downtown area, and it looks funkier than ever (and those that know me best often connect me and “funky”). As mentioned in an earlier post, I could not get enough Taco Villa, a little Mexican restaurant that was dirt cheap. To go, you needed to walk down a tiny alley, and go down two steps, physically and sociologically, but it was a typical college “cheap eats” and damn good at that.

Of course, Panda East was a pleasant Chinese restaurant, but Sze’s in North Hampton was the higher-end of the Chinese food chain. That was more of a special occasion restaurant, and their Sunday brunch was terrific. My parents enjoyed Sze’s, as did I, and I note, an anonymous poster, whomever that was.

The area had it’s share of funky shops too. Northhampton had plenty of consignment clothing stores, along with antique shops. Amherst had the usual and sundry array, but I especially likes “Faces”, which defies description. I also recall that there was a place called “East Heaven Hot Tubs” in NoHo, where you could rent hot tubs by the half-hour…sort of like a Russian Bath House, but more private. You can let your own imagination work it’s magic with that concept…but it’s still in business, apparently catering to more of the “spa” aspect that drunk college kids…

No walk down memory lane would be complete without thinking about the places on campus that I frequented. Mentioned in previous posts-The Blue Wall, Dirtfoods (Earthfoods), Top of the Campus…

There were lots of places…whether on Route 9 in Hadley, downtown Amherst, NoHo or Sunderland (Bub’s!!!). I’m planning on taking the Junior Palate out to Amherst on November 6 for the football game and a little fraternity tailgating, and no doubt we’ll be heading into to Amherst for a post-game meal. I just hope the “sweetened” memories live up to their reputation…

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thanks again to Jordan Rich for having me on his show to talk burritos and Buffalo wings. I appreciate all your calls, now get out there and eat some wings!

Burrito Bloat, Part 1

As I wrote a year or so ago, there has been a proliferation of burrito joints. These places seem to be popping up with more frequency than “Tribbles” or Bob Costas. The burrito places are the rabbits of the food chain.

In the Metrowest, within a quarter mile of each other, Chipotle and Boloco battle for wrapped tortilla supremacy, and now Moe’s Southwest Grill, which features the “Homewrecker”, is planning to open in Sherwood Plaza. Even with such an appetizing name, people can’t get enough of burritos. I can tell you, having eaten at six different burrito joints, I have “Burrito Bloat”. If I eat another burrito, it will be too soon.

Despite my preferences, I wonder every time I pass on of these places…why? Why now, why here? Have we learned nothing from Dr. Atkins and reducing our consumption of “white” carbs? How healthy is a flour tortilla stuffed with rice and beans and some meat? Despite containing a full “recommended daily allowance” of carbohydrates, it hasn’t stopped people consuming these football-sized meals.

At the request of Jordan Rich, I embarked on the burrito crusade, a burrito battle, a burrito imbroglio, if you will, and ate at six different joints. My methodology was to eat and compare a “fast food” style burrito, assuming that a sit-down restaurant selling burritos could take their time and make it right, but the real challenge would be making a burrito “on-demand” while the customer/consumer was standing there, watching the creation of the colon-bomb; sit-down restaurants were taken out of the mix.

After choking down all these delights, I have decided that some things just aren’t meant to be wrapped up in a flour tortilla. There are several burrito places that give you a variety of fillings to choose from. I’m not sure that Buffalo Chicken or Thai Peanut Chicken was meant to be stuffed into a wrap, whether white, or whole wheat. As I said on the radio, and have shared with you before, the more choices you give the customer, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong, whether in execution or in taste. In the case of the burrito, I think simpler is better.

Without further ado…the results.

We can take “Baja Fresh” out of the mix entirely, because they have closed all locations in Massachusetts. The closest ones are in New York. (If I’m taking a road trip, it’s to Columbus, Ohio for the last standing York Steakhouse for a Number 4, not a burrito.) Apparently for them, there’s no money in the burrito stand…

I was less favorably inclined to QDoba’s burritos, but do like an unusual menu item--“Mexican gumbo”. The “gumbo” is some rice, a little soup, some meat, some beans, etc., with some tortilla chips on top. An interesting concept, and I like it. Unfortunately, not many other people did, because the QDoba nearest me has closed. (As an aside, that location was also subject to a lawsuit prior to its opening, when a Panera Bread located in the same plaza objected to its opening, claiming they were serving “sandwiches”, which was Panera’s exclusive right in that plaza. There was an actual trial, and none other than chef/restaurant owner/author Chris Schlesinger of the “East Coast Grill” in Cambridge testified that a burrito is not a sandwich. You got that right! Valuable court time being taken up with the debate of “beef and beans” vs. “chicken salad”. The burrito won in a landslide…”blew” them away, if you will. Must have been the beans.)

Tomorrow, we continue the Aztec Death March from one burrito shack to the next…

Until next time America…enjoy “Tijuana Brass”…

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Coming up, Midnight on October 23rd

Tune in midnight, October 23rd, 2010 when I'll be a guest on the Jordan Rich Show on WBZ 1030am or listen live to us streaming on the internet at

We'll be talking burritos, Buffalo wings, and maybe a few other special treats.

The lines are open...

Making whoopie...pies!

From the ridiculous to the sublime…

As I continue to suffer from “Burrito Bloat” (the ridiculous), I do want to celebrate two of the more delicious culinary delights I’ve had this week…

First, kudos to Chococoa Bakery in Newburyport (the “sublime”). I was surprised to arrive home last week to a box of little pillows from heaven-whoopie pies. Admittedly, I had not heard of this bakery, but the taste is now tattooed on my tongue. I’ve eaten a lot of whoopie pies, devil dogs, Swiss rolls and other assorted cream-filled chocolate cakes in my life, but the leader in the clubhouse is now Chococoa. Next time you’re in Newburyport, Massachusetts, stop in, tell them I sent you, and sit back and enjoy a little whoopie! If you only do one thing, do it well-Julie and Alan have taken it to a new level at Chococoa.

Second, once again, Noah’s Ark deli in NYC had brought me to my knees with the “pastrami knish”. As described last year, these things are softball sized potato and onion knishes, sliced in half, stuffed with pastrami, and then baked to a golden deliciousness…I know it’s taking a few minutes off my life, and I should be speedballing Lipitor, but it was/is/continues to be deeee-lish!

Having a Noah’s Ark knish, washed down with a Chococoa whoopie pie is like a party in your mouth…

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Goodbye Mr. Parks

George N. Parks, the LEGENDARY band director from the University of Massachusetts passed away, suddenly, after an exhibition in Ohio last week. I am deeply saddened, as are the thousands of students, and adults, he touched in his 33 years of teaching at the University.

I won’t pretend by saying I knew him well, but we did have a few spirited discussions about competitive drum corps and we had common peeps, oddly, both also named George (Bonfiglio and Zingali). I knew him also as a student in the band, and his impact is everlasting.

To put it simply-he cared. He cared about kids, his students, his colleagues, his university. That care was reflected in the way he spoke to you, and about you. It was reflected in the way he made you strive to be the best you could be, and made you want to work harder each day, because he believed in you. He had wit, and witticisms, and taught you marching and music and lessons for life.

Farewell Mr. Parks.

Yummy, dirtfoods...

As I continue to waddle from burrito to burrito joint, and gorge myself on burritos and buffalo wings in preparation for The Jordan Rich Show on October 23, I thought I throw out a few observations…

Here’s one: The Civil War was neither civil, nor a war…discuss.

Just kidding.

Been thinking a lot about Amherst recently. I miss that kooky Pioneer Valley.

The Boston Globe ran a few stories a couple of weeks back, basically bashing the great state university and blaming an apathetic legislature for not supporting it better financially. Last week, a newspaper in London named the university number 56 on its list of the top 200 universities worldwide. I wonder if there’s something people outside Massachusetts see that the Globe doesn’t. I, for one, am extremely satisfied with my UMass education and for a number of reasons, including the one I live with, I can’t imagine my life or career being better if I had chosen to stay in Boston at a large private college with a solid reputation.

As for Amherst itself, I’ve been thinking about places I used to eat, of course. Once I moved off-campus, and no more Franklin Dining Commons, a world of cheap, culinary “delights” opened up for me. Whether Taco Villa, The Pub (affectionately known by some as “The Pube”), Superior Pizza…the cheaper the better. Sure, there were the splurges, like “Panda East” or “Sze’s” in Northampton, but more money, and time, was spent at the Bluewall or “Dirtfoods” at the Student Union. Oh, where has the time gone?

We all have stories of places we hung out, drank, ate and were merry…feel free to share yours.

No post would be complete without some retail rant. So what’s up with the self-checkout lanes? If a store, like Stop & Shop for instance, is going to cut back on staff, can’t they lower their prices too? I suppose that’s too much to ask, but can the person using the self-checkout after me at least wait until I’m finished bagging mine before he starts ringing his items? People are in such a hurry…and I’m getting “stink-eye” for not getting out of the way faster. I’m ringing myself out, I’m bagging my own groceries and now I’m bagging the groceries for the guy behind me…when do I get my paycheck?

For now, I continue my conspicuous consumption for your pleasure with a report to come. I assure you, one of the leader in the clubhouse wil surprise you!

Until next time America…enjoy The Stompers.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Don't Worry, be happy

Hello dear's been quite a while since I posted. Do not fear (Underdog is here), I have been working on some new projects which might be posted under a new blog shortly. I got a lot of things brewing, and with a hot re-fi market, I have to make hay while the sun shines.

Nevertheless, I have not forgotten you, my palateers. I have been choking down burritos and Buffalo wings on your behalf, and will be posting some reviews soon, in conjunction with an appearance on "The Jordan Rich Show" on WBZ1030am on October 23, 2010.

Stay tuned...the sound you hear is my colon saying "enough with the Habanero salsa!!!"


Friday, July 23, 2010

Boob tube...

During the Summer, I try and catch up with all the TV I can’t watch during the school year, and I also watch some of the worst television. Speaking of lots of crap, here are a few more shows that occupy way too much of my bandwidth…

Pawn Stars:

This show is odd, there’s just no way to describe it. You don’t really want to watch it, but once you start, you’re addicted. It’s like watching a car crash-some of these people are desperate to score some quick cash…so desperate, I’m surprised they’re not running a blood bank in the back of the store. “Need a quick $100, come on in and drop a pint. We’ve got barely used needles, we promise!”

For those of you without The History Channel, “Pawn Stars” is a “reality” show about the operations of the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. In my opinion, very little of this show is “real”. The History Channel wants us to believe that these guys (3 generations of the same family of high school dropouts) have instant recall of inane details of mostly insignificant and irrelevant items. For some items, they call in “experts” who are other dealers or auctioneers. What the show doesn’t advertise heavily is that they prescreen the items (kind of like “Antiques Roadshow”), thereby “pre-educating” themselves to make it look like they are much smarter than they really are. When they’re speaking to the camera, they’re reading cue cards prepared by the History Channel experts who makes them sound better. This show partly makes my skin crawl due to the skeevie nature of the people who work there, and the desperation and terrible negotiating skills of the people selling their possessions, and their souls.

Man v. Food
Deep inside me somewhere, I want to be half of Adam Richman, the host of this show. I want to be the guy that travels all over the country sampling the best, and worst, of bar food, I just don’t want to eat as much.

For the uninitiated, on “Man v. Food” of the Travel Channel, Adam travels the country, sampling the “best” (“Rocky Mountain Oysters” anyone???) a city has to offer in a half-hour show. Each show follows a formula where he tries a couple of local joints, culminating in him visiting some locale in a city that has a “food challenge”. The challenges are usually relating to eating a massive quantity of food in a set time limit, or eating foods reputedly to be the “hottest” or “spiciest”. The challenges have recently ranged from eating 6 chicken wings covered in a spicy sauce that includes the “ghost chili pepper” (the hottest on Earth), to eating 12 “brisket sliders” which were small brisket sandwiches that were comprised of challah rolls stuffed with brisket, atop a fried potato pancake, covered in cheese, along with a pound of onion rings, all within a half hour. Another episode had him eating a 72-ounce steak (“The Big Texan”) or drinking 6 24-ounce milkshakes. Ugh. I’d hate to have to clean his bathroom.

There is something very embraceable about this show. First, Richman does not have your typical TV-friendly looks. A chubby, jocular Ivy-league educated Jewish guy from NY force-feeding himself a massive amount of food is no George Clooney. But I suppose, this makes him my type of guy (though I am often confused for George Clooney). He could actually be my hero. Second, his constant stream of pop-culture references really resonates and his shock when presented with the quantities is often funny, and occasionally laden with expletives. I love this show!!!

Cake Boss on TLC

From the network that brings you “The Little Children”, “The Little Chocolatiers” and “Little People, Big World” and seems to obsessed with dwarfs, they bring you essentially the Sopranos running a bakery, “Cake Boss”.

The Junior Palette loves this show. So much so, that we took a road trip to Carlos’ Bakery, the actual location, in Hoboken, NJ. I have to say, Hoboken is not nearly as big a craphole as I expected.

I admit, this is a guilty pleasure, but I don’t know why I like it. Maybe it’s the amazing cakes and the construction/decorating process that interests me, or maybe when things go wrong, it seems that the owner is thinking about having someone “whacked”. Either way, the show is a hoot. If you like good bakery drama, this show’s for you.

Undercover Boss

We love this show, but it’s about as staged as they come. The premise-CEOs of some of the largest companies in American “go undercover” to get a better sense of what really goes on in their workforce and locations. At the end of each hour, the true identity of the CEO is revealed to those he or she have come in contact with, and allegedly big changes or decisions are made based upon what the CEO has observed.

Some of the companies featured are Waste Management,, White Castle, Hooters and Roto-Rooter. While interesting, do you really believe that the CEO of Hooters was “shocked” that some people have a negative view of his restaurants? Who would have thought that some people find his waitresses’ outfits offensive? He was “very surprised” to find out that some people thought he was selling the girls’ looks more than their food. Shocking.

However, this show can have some unexpectedly touching moments. Like on the Waste Management episode, when the CEO was being trained to drive a collection truck in upstate NY. The driver/trainer pulls up to a house, and the resident of the home comes out and meets them. The driver introduces the CEO (not knowing he’s the CEO) to the resident, who turns out to be developmentally impaired. The three of them have a nice conversation, but a minute later, the CEO is shown behind the truck crying. It turns out that his daughter is also developmentally impaired, and he is touched by the relationship his driver has with this woman. It reached him in a way that he never expected. When he finds out that this female driver has to use a coffee can as a toilet while driving her route, at the end of the show, he swoops in and makes wholesale changes to the routes to the benefit of his drivers.

While the show is staged to a large degree, I hope it comes back, though these sorts of surprise/reveal shows have a limited shelf life, since employees are now on the lookout. I’m thinking about doing it at my own job, but I recognize my boss...he's a real putz.

Brain dump...

Emptying out the cellar of my brain before the Fentanyl and Versed kick in…

I’m sitting here at the VA Hospital in Boston, waiting for the Senior Palate to come out from a routine medical test. As one frequent reader noted: “The VA Hospital is a second opportunity for a soldier to give his life for his country”. Actually, despite my good-natured teasing and commentary otherwise, the VA system, at least the one here in the Boston area, seems to be very thorough and accommodating for those that served.

Though I’m not a Republican, the cynic in me is wondering why President Obama isn’t down in Louisiana taking credit for those BP whores finally getting a cap on the oil leak. While the people in the Gulf Coast are suffering, and will continue to suffer immeasurably for years to come, the President is up in Maine playing 36 holes. Real leadership. I hear his approval rating is lower than Mel Gibson’s…

Speaking of Mel Gibson, never a more loving, gentle boyfriend there ever was. He might want to consider switching to decaf…and going back to Hell, which is apparently where he came from.

I recently purchased a Nook from Barnes and Noble. I’ve only downloaded two books (“Born to Run” and “The Lion”) and am really looking forward to getting into it more. This device could really change the way people read, if they read at all anymore. Of course, I bought it so I could say to Mrs. Palate: “Can I check out your Nook…?”

My town recently denied a liquor license to a bar ownership group because two of the three owners have multiple charges, and one has multiple convictions (the other has one conviction and a open case currently pending), for Operating Under the Influence of Liquor. I applaud the town for making the right decision. Granting a license to these guys is like granting a day care license to pedophiles.

Local Boston viewers…a certain television food reviewer is a fraud. How can you trust a show where the advertisers and in-studio guests are being reviewed and who would have thought-get great reviews? One of the places even named an appetizer after the show’s co-host and producer. Yeah, really trustworthy reviews. Remember, I’m indentured to no one, and stuff my face for you!

On that note, I have begun my Buffalo wings and Burrito Bash in preparation for my appearance on The Jordan Rich Show in October. If any of you have suggestions, or want to meet up with me and sample some places, feel free to email or post a comment.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Parade results...

Thanks to all you readers who tuned in to hear me on “The Jordan Rich Show”. As always, Jordan is the consummate host and makes me sound much better than I really am…

Marching in the “Pasta Parade 2010” was almost like the Bataan Death March…hot, sweaty and lots of chafing-at least in my mind, and waistline. Actually, it wasn’t too bad, even for someone like me who doesn’t eat a lot of tomato sauce.

Unlike my Asian quest, I did not eat the same thing at each location. Though I ate at a few “local” joints, I also ate at several “chains” since several of you were imploring me to do so, and those places are very popular with the American dining public.

What follows is a list with my commentary about each location…

Il Forno in Westborough, challenging “Vinny T’s” for the most use of garlic. I love Northern Italian cuisine-lots of herbs, garlic, olive oil and wine. Maybe a cream sauce or two. We went to Il Forno without any pre-conceived notions, and it was packed when we arrived-always a good sign. The food was good, and especially heavy on the garlic (that stayed with me for several days). Fair warning-low ceilings and really close close, I wasn’t really sure that it was “my” garlic I was smelling, or even tasting. Because of the low ceilings, it’s noisy and you can participate in other people’s conversations at the other tables, which I enjoy, even if the other people don’t. A few locations around the periphery of Worcester County. I give it a fork up.

Macaroni Grill-better choice than the Olive Garden, but then again, what isn’t? Macaroni Grill is really growing, and after years of seeing them all around Florida, they’re creeping into Massachusetts. The menu is similar to the OG, with décor and the essence maybe a half-step up the food chain. The two times we ate there, we had really excellent service, and the most recent time, we were with a large group and almost all the food came out right, hot and fresh. The kitchen is wide open, so I give them credit for showing you if their product comes from a boil-in bag. They did have an especially pleasant appetizer: Mediterranean Olives: “Handpicked olives from regional farms in Italy. Marinated with extra virgin olive oil, orange zest and roasted red peppers”. I also enjoyed the Pollo Limone Rustica, which, according to the menu is slow-roasted chicken sautéed with imported penne pasta, lemon-basil cream sauce and fresh spinach, then baked until golden brown. It’s not terrible. The Palate gives it a “tongue up”.

Bella Costa in Framingham-nice family-owned single location place with some traditional and non-traditional dishes. Had the Chicken Putanesca, which had garlic, olives and capers…frankly, a perfect combination of savory elements for me. This was my top pick. Strong reccomendation.

North End Treats, Natick: This is just a takeout sandwich shop, with pizza, and some phenomenal desserts and gelato. Had a nice sandwich and a whoopee pie there. Nothing says Italian food than a whoopee pie. Isn’t it “when the moon hits your eye like a big whoopie pie, that’s amore”?

Olive Garden-the usual pre-fab, pre-packaged, previously frozen Italian food from a boil-in-bag. Our most recent trip was slightly better, dimmed only by one waitress asking our second waiter “do we have any more packages of “Garlic herbed chicken?” Once again proving the theory that they serve the best of steam-table cuisine.

La Cantina, Framingham-an old mainstay in Framingham. They bottle their salad dressing which is available in Stop and Shops locally. It is a “three parm” type of place, but they make a wonderful polenta with chicken that is only available on Sundays and Tuesdays; you can’t get polenta everywhere You want to see the who’s who of Framingham (if there is such a thing), this is the place. Or Ken’s Steak House.

Paparazzi-the food is ok, but the price to value ratio is way off. Comes off as upscale Italian, with prices to match, but not the food. The hosts wear suits and try to appear important…comes off as self-important and pretentious. Had a private event there last year, and it was pleasant, but very expensive. There’s something about this place that is a little off...almost a “Stepford” restaurant. There are a number of them in the Metro-Boston area, but I’m not rushing over.

The Chateau-With locations all around eastern Massachusetts, they claim to have invented the toasted ravioli. Nothing says heart-healthy like deep fried ravioli and chicken Parmesan. The food isn’t bad, and they have a very traditional menu. I want to like it there, but they do serve some pre-packaged food. When we asked about the ingredients in an item, they said they had thrown the package away. Had a slice of their pizza, and surprisingly, it was pretty good. Most of the Chateau locations are more traditional red-sauce type places, but their Stoughton location, operating under the family name “Nocera’s”, is more Northern Italian and frankly, more enjoyable.

Bertucci’s-When people talk about their favorite Italian restaurants, inevitably, the talk turns to rolls or bread. You can always gauge the quality of a meal with the care a place takes when selecting and serving the first course…Bertucci’s made their bones off this theory, by dropping fresh baked hot brick-oven rolls and butter onto the table right at your arrival. These sublime doughy pillows from heaven suggested a hint of wood smoke, with a crusty exterior and a hot, fluffy interior. It was like a party in your mouth…but, all good things must come to an end. Alas, they’ve gone away from “brick oven” and now their rolls are just common fare, baked in an “Alto-Shaam” oven; no essence of wood smoke, no darkened crusty exterior…just a pedestrian “Sysco” style roll you can get anywhere. I hear it’s about labor and food prep costs. I say that when a restaurant turns away from its signature product or method of cooking, the end can’t be far away.

Speaking of bread, one last comment on that topic. As I said on the air, Italian restaurants and bread go together. Nothing says “you’re in for a good meal” than a decent bread course. Thankfully, most places have changes to a fresh-baked bread product. Bella Costa had particularly excellent bread to start us off. The Olive Garden is known for their breadsticks which I think have declined in quality over the years. As I mentioned, Bertucci’s has gone away from the brick-oven rolls. Paparazzi serves hard, cracker-like breadsticks…a very puzzling item in their quest to be a Stepford restaurant. My advice, if an Italian restaurant serves you a cracker at the outset, run, don’t walk, out the door.

You’ve been great…enjoy the overrated Andrea Bocelli…

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Command performance

Just a little taste of the Palate before I go on Jordan's show tonight. This is essentially a repost of a posting from July 2007...I ate there again on my pasta parade, and it was only slightly better. An update is forthcoming, but for now...

Sometimes a meal is just so bad, so utterly awful, from beginning to end, that you feel compelled to complain, at the highest level. Sometimes you have to go all the way up the “food chain.” What follows below, is just one of those occasions. While the name of the restaurant remains anonymous, I think you all can infer where this was. Why I ever ate there to begin with is still a mystery. We haven’t been back.

“Dear Sir or Madam: I feel compelled to write you about what could be the singularly worst meal I have ever had at one of your restaurants. In fact, I have never had a good meal at your Framingham location, and I have reached the end of my rope when it comes to giving this location any more chances.

My wife and I went to the Framingham location last evening and were seated promptly. Upon the arrival of our waitress, we gave her our drink order, which did not come out right; that was the beginning of a total breakdown of this meal.

My wife has a severe allergy to dairy products, shellfish and peanuts; when she orders, she carefully details her allergies. She ordered the Chicken Marsala after being told by the waitress, who was resolute, that it was dairy free. We also asked for breadsticks without butter, and salad without cheese, with oil and vinegar dressing; the waitress assured us that it would not be a problem. I ordered Chicken with Broccoli and pasta. Within two minutes, having now been in the restaurant no more than seven minutes, our meals were on the table in front of us; yet we still have not seen the salad or breadsticks! I told the server, who was not our waitress, that I would like to see our waitress and get the salad and breadsticks. I know that you need to turn over the tables, but can I have 15 minutes for dinner?

A moment later, a manager, "Rich", came over and asked if there was a problem. We merely explained that we wanted the salad and breadsticks prior to getting our meal, which we were not quite ready to eat. I told him that we merely wanted to speak with our waitress. He told us that our waitress was having a "personal moment" in the office and that things were not going well for her tonight; she would not be attending to our table-he would. So he took our meals away, and arranged for the proper salad and breadsticks to be brought over. When they arrived, he told us that they had run out of vinegar, and he only had oil, which he brought. What kind of restaurant runs out of a popular condiment? Alas, my wife enjoyed only a partial serving of salad, without dressing.

A few moments later, Rich came over and asked if my wife was "lactose intolerant." My wife responded that she has an extremely severe allergy to all dairy (she carries emergency medicine in her pocketbook), and he said that the Chicken Marsala had a lot of butter in the sauce already mixed in, so that she would have to order something else. In hindsight, it was a good thing that the manager intervened, since he probably prevented a trip to the hospital by telling us about the butter in the sauce, a fact to which the waitress seemed oblivious. That mistake could have had severe health ramifications for my wife, and the waitress would likely end up with a more severe “personal moment.”

While my wife was picking out something else, Rich decided to sit with us, and while doing so, the other wait staff brought over our meals. Rich sent them away, and had them "remake" mine and make my wife something different. Eventually, Rich left and brought over our food, and my wife's meal was fine, but mine at this point looked as if it had spent the past thirty minutes under a heat lamp, or in a microwave; it was certainly not "remade." The pasta was hardened and crusty at the edges, and the broccoli was shriveled and had darkened spots from overheating. When Rich asked if everything was okay, we told him no, but we were not asking for new food, because who knows what type of mess would come out of the kitchen. He apologized, and stressed that he hopes we will come back and give them another try. I assured him, and now you, that we will not rush back.

After having cleared our table, Rich came back over, and told us that he wanted to offer us a free desert as an apology for our experience. I was shocked! Apparently, we not only had to suffer through this mishap, but now were going to have to pay for the privilege! He brought the desert, and presented the check, which although did not charge us for the desert, did charge us for the rest of the meal! I guess along with poor service, I should expect poor customer relations as well. After all my experiences with this location, I assure you I expect nothing more.

Your new ad campaign says “when you’re here, you’re family.” If this is how you treat family, I prefer to be a stranger.

The Framingham location is a disgrace to your chain; I hope you address their problems.” With so many family restaurants in Framingham, you give people little reason to patronize you.

On the air!

Please join the party tonight on WBZ 1030am, or at midnight on The Jordan Rich Show, where I'll be talking with Jordan and guests about Italian food and other food-related topics. Over the next few days, I'll be posting a full report, along with recommendations as they come in tonight on the air.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pasta Parade 2010

Full disclosure…I don’t “love” Italian food, at least not what most people consider “traditional” Italian food. As faithful reader “Amy” tossed out, there are two types of Italian restaurants-the “three parms: chicken, eggplant and veal” and “everything else”. Due to a number of reasons, mostly due to an aversion to tomato sauce (for medical reasons), I prefer “everything else”. Thankfully, in my experience, that’s where the real flavor lies.

As I embarked on the Pasta Parade, I was thrown a curveball on a personal level, which limited out ability to venture into some unknown, though recommended, places. However, I was able to enjoy, or not, as the case may be, a number of places.

After some discussion with my Critical Palate “team”, we decided to eat at places that many of my readers would likely eat. In addition, I ate at a some small family-owned places recommended by the readers. I have come to realize that most ethnic foods, “Italian” included, engender very passionate views. Everyone has “their” place, and everyone else’s stinks. It would be practically impossible to eat at all the recommended locations and “avoid” places that some of you shared with me, so I took the low road and ate at a lot of chain-style restaurants, because that’s where many of you are eating and suggested to me in the emails.

Not to worry, I ate at some smaller, more intimate, one-location, venues and will report on them as well.

For the full oral report, tune into the Jordan Rich Show on WBZ 1030AM Saturday night at midnight to hear me and Jordan, and a few other special guests, talk food in general, and Italian food specifically.

After the break, the Pasta Parade Route, as well as more travelogues from Florida.

You’ve been great, enjoy Dean Martin…

Monday, May 31, 2010


“Freedom’s just another word for ‘nuthin’ left to lose…’”. Truer words were never spoken.

As a society, we fill arenas in the winter to watch grown men run up and down a basketball court or skate across the ice. In summer, we fill the stands at baseball games and cheer wildly when someone hit a homerun. We fill stadiums every Sunday in the fall to cheer giant, HgH-enhanced men playing football. Announcers use expressions like “battles”, players are “gladiators” and players themselves talk about playing a game in terms like “going to war.” A little hyperbole anyone?

On this Memorial Day, let’s take a moment to remember the real heroes. Most of these men and women were never cheered in stadiums, most aren’t even known to you and me. Their numbers exceed a million, and we live under the blanket of freedom they provided. Today is the day we need to remember those men and women who served our country and gave the ultimate sacrifice to provide us the freedoms we enjoy: the freedom to speak out against, or in favor, of our government, to practice whichever religion we choose, and to work and enjoy our lives without constant governmental scrutiny.

Though it’s not Veterans’ Day, let’s also remember and thank who fought for our freedom in the fields, to those that liberated camps, to those that went to Southeast Asia, worked in the Natick Labs developing new technologies for the armed forces and space program, and to those that serve currently in the Middle East and elsewhere. Despite your personal feelings about the actions themselves, remember there were people willing to fight for you, and die for you.

And now, back to the NBA championship series.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What You Talkin' Bout?

Now, the world don't move to the beat of just one drum, 
What might be right for you, may not be right for some. 
A man is born, he's a man of means. 
Then along come two, they got nothing but their jeans. 

But they got, Diff'rent Strokes. 
It takes, Diff'rent Strokes. 
It takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world. 

Everybody's got a special kind of story 
Everybody finds a way to shine, 
It don't matter that you got not alot 
So what, They'll have theirs, and you'll have yours, and I'll have mine. 
And together we'll be fine.... 

Because it takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world. 
Yes it does. 
It takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world. 

So goes the theme to that non-Emmy award winning show, Diff’rent Strokes. Never has their been a show whose cast has been as cursed as this. If there was ever a show that was a poster-child for what happens to kids who get too much fame too fast, it was DS. Start with Dana Plato, who bordered on “cute”; I know a number of friends that had a thing for her, so it was met with much excitement when her post-DS career included Playboy and some soft-core “Skin-a-max” style porn (apparently, a different kind of stroke). Sadly, an armed robbery conviction, alcohol and drugs got in the way, and she died living the hard life back in 1999-a drug overdose in her RV. Adding more misery to Plato, her son killed himself a few weeks back while on a drug and alcohol binge…apparently the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Todd Bridges had a relatively normal life after DS. He was addicted to cocaine, tried to kill his drug dealer in California, stabbed a tenant in his house with a kitchen knife and joined a pro-wrestling team that also featured Dustin Diamond from “Saved by the Bell.” To Todd’s credit, he saved a woman’s life back in 1998 when her wheelchair fell into a lake and he pulled her out, has allegedly been sober for several years and wrote a book about kicking his addiction.

Alas, there was poor Gary Coleman. There isn’t too much that I can say that hasn’t been said already throughout the mainstream media. You gotta give him credit for getting an expression into the vernacular, but his life after DS, after being one of the highest-paid tv stars, was a sad example of what happens too kids too young and too fast. Though it wasn’t too much of a surprise to hear about him getting in trouble as he got older, I used to wonder “what you talkin’ bout Willis?”

Who would have thought Conrad Bain and Charlotte Rae would outlive the kids in the cast?

You’ve been great…enjoy Alan Thicke and Gloria Loring.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stormy Weather

Before I get back to the travelogues, I need to digress…

This year, American Idol has really fallen out of favor with me. I was wondering why I had lost interest; maybe it’s the lack of talent, maybe it’s the judges, maybe it’s the over-hype.

This morning, while surfing the Sunday morning news shows, I stumbled upon a terrific interview from around 1982-Ed Bradley interviewing the late, great Lena Horne. Here was a woman of prodigious talent and beauty, who came to Hollywood when racism was rampant and who was treated like a second-class citizen. But through talent and guile, fought and found her way. Watching the interview, re-broadcast because of her recent passing last week, I was struck by her spark, and dignity. I felt a little melancholy at the end of the story, mostly because there’s no more Ed Bradley and no more Lena Horne; I didn’t want this piece to end.

I know I’ll never feel the same about Ryan Seacrest or Ellen DeGeneres and their interviews of the American “idols”. In today’s society, where we have no patience and expect instantaneous results, I have come to realize that AI is a frivolous, forgettable exercise when compared with the success of someone like Lena Horne, who found her place through true talent and perseverance, fighting injustice and making the world better by her presence.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

On the Road To...


Many of you approach me throughout the year and ask, “Eric, why don’t you post more travelogues?” I have no good reason, except I don’t travel! Other than an occasional weekend getaway, I’m pretty much a homebody. However, in a shift of the Earth’s axis, we ended up in Orlando this past week for a brief, 6-day getaway. Here are some rants and raves about this experience…

Rave-Marriott Harbor Lake Villa

I am a big, BIG supporter of “” If you have never spent any time on the site, I strongly encourage you to do so. This is like me, but on HgH. This is essentially a review site, though they’ve added a booking feature. The reviews are primarily from people like me (by “me”, I mean hyper-critical, never satisfied, but good-natured folk), and I have found their reviews, whether it’s hotels or restaurants, pretty dead-on accurate, which have spared me from really negative experiences. “” is the poster child for “caveat emptor.”

So, when I saw the Marriott Harbor Lake Villas (MHL) as the top-rated family hotel on Tripadvisor in the Orlando area, I knew I probably wouldn’t be disappointed-we were not.

At our stage in life, one hotel room with 2 double beds doesn’t work. Even the one bedroom suite at Embassy Suites doesn’t work; we need a bed for all of us. The MHL was perfect for us-2 bedrooms (one with a king, one with 2 queens), two full baths, full kitchen, dining room and laundry facilities in the villa. It was well-maintained, clean, quiet and located well within proximity to all the area attractions (and there are a few, you know). Every staff person we encountered was pleasant and happy to help. While this was part of the Marriott Vacation Club (read: time share), never once were we accosted or propositioned to sit through some burdensome time-share presentation. They left us alone to enjoy the resort, all its accoutrements, and the local scene. I cannot say enough positive things, and will definitely make this my preferred place to stay in Orlando.

Rant-Hertz Rental Car.

Hertz is number 1 in the rental car business, but they sure treated us like “number 2.” Let me set the stage for you…

Our trip went something like this: leave the metro-Boston area and drive to Hoboken, NJ. In Hoboken, we visited “Carlos’ Bakery”, site of the TLC reality show “Cake Boss.” From Hoboken, we drive to Newark, where we leave our car at the Hilton and take the shuttle to the Newark airport. From there, we fly to Orlando. All in all, exactly 12 hours from the time we left home until we landed in Orlando. Nothing says “relaxing” more than 12 hours on the road. Elayne and I were like Bob and Bing in “The Road to Orlando”.

So when we arrived in Orlando, we were happy to be there…that is, until we got to the Hertz counter. Or should I say “line at the Hertz counter”. I didn’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling when the woman in front of me said “they’ve run out of cars”, and we were the 25th people in line!

The longer I waited, the more obvious it became that Hertz was humping everyone. I found out that they only had “compact” cars or smaller. They ran out of any car larger than compact, and any special order cars (like convertibles or SUVS/Minivans). More importantly, they ran out of “full size”, which is what I had reserved. As Jerry Seinfeld so aptly put it “they know how to take a reservation, they don’t know how to hold a reservation.”

The extra misery added to this experience was after you got to the clerk at the counter, checked in and ran your credit card, you were told to go to the line to your left, which was now everyone else whose credit cards had been run, who were now just waiting around for cars. One by one, the other lemmings were called up to “Gustavo”, who politely told each victim that they could only get a “Mazda 3” (a compact hatchback). There were people waiting for the 15 passenger full-sized vans, families of 6 waiting for minivans, and people like me, who pack like a family of 12, who needed a full sized car for the luggage capacity. I began to devise a lottery for my family to decide who would ride on the roof of the car…

While I am waiting in this second line, bleeding internally, the junior palates are killing Mrs. Palate, because by now, AT MIDNIGHT, they are hungry again. Of course, nothing in the airport is open, and they can’t leave, because if they do, and I need Elayne’s license, I’m hosed. So they suffer too, but not in silence.

I should also say that Elayne went down the line to all the other car agencies looking to see what might be available. I have to think that the number 1 agency would be more likely to have cars that the smaller outfits, and I certainly didn’t expect for them to be giving us the “we’re number one” finger, if you know what I mean. Of course, it should come as no surprise that believe it or not, these other agencies actually were holding cars for people that made reservations, and were not renting to walk-ups. What a concept! Perhaps Hertz should employ that sometime.

Finally, I am second in line. By this time, it’s about 12:15am!!!! The people in front of me are hot for an SUV, which they reserved. They were hell-bent for leather to get an SUV. Gustavo calmly looked up their reservation, and told them that he didn’t have an SUV, but that he was just seeing an full size car come into inventory. The wife throws a four and twelve letter fit that would make a crab fisherman blush. She finally says that “Dollar” has an SUV that wasn’t reserved, and she turns and walks away. Gustavo looks at me and says “I guess they want to cancel their reservation.” I politely chuckle and say “as it just so happens, I reserved a full sized car, so I’ll take what you have now.” He books me through, and tells me as a courtesy and apology for waiting, I did not have to pay for the tank of gas, and I could return it empty if I wanted. While I will never recover those 2 and a half hours waiting in the line at Hertz, at 12:30am, we were back on the road and on the way to the hotel. There hasn’t been a road movie this good since “Ishtar.”

When you’re renting a car, don’t forget, this is the face of Hertz…

After the break, more rants and raves about Orlando…

Thursday, April 8, 2010


When I was in 8th grade, the same age Junior Palate is now, I had the pleasure of going to see "Beatlemania"; that began a lifelong appreciation and admiration of the 4 Liverpudlian lads. Junior Palate also respects their music-it's nice to know he has some decent taste in music.

A friend had this video on his Facebook page. To me, it is brilliantly undertstated view of geniuses making it look easy. Sad too, knowing that John, George and Billy Preston are gone now...

Ladies and Gentlemen...The Beatles!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Extreme TV

After a month long hiatus, I am back...slightly mellowed by a multi-day trial that took quite a bit of preparation; at least preparations a-g...

During my downtime in March, which was very rare, I caught up with, or on to, some oddly compelling TV. Back when I grew up, coming home from school, I’d catch some repeat of Gilligan’s Island (“Just sit right down and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…” or the Brady Bunch on Channel 56. Back then, in the Boston area, we had Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 27, 38, 44 and 56; that was it. If there wasn’t anything decent on, e actually had to do other things, like read, or go outside and play!!! Now, we have 200 channels to choose from and always something interesting to choose from, or nothing at all.

Speaking of “nothing at all” there are just some nights when I surf through all the channels and still find nothing to watch. How is this possible? There must be someone interested, but the “CAT Heavy Equipment Badminton Open from Akron, Ohio” on “The Ocho-ESPN 8” doesn’t cut it for me. Neither does a “Baby Story” or “Bridezillas” on “Lifetime-Television for Women”.

But, late at night, when I check my TIVO for things that caught my interest, I find some interesting, and oddly compelling programs, that are clearly a by-product of having a million channels, because some of these would never show up on “real” or network TV.

Here are a few of my current favorites (and why):

Deadliest Catch: who would have thought 20, maybe even 10 years ago that a television show that focuses on crab fishing in Alaska would hold someone’s interest. I would have thought the “Saladmaster” pots and pans commercials (with Chris Nahatis banging them together) were going to be more exciting. But watch one episode, and it sucks you in, like a Giant Squid.

For you uninitiated, this is a “reality style” television format that follows 4 crab boats up into the Bering Sea. The overly dramatic narration by Mike Rowe (star of another show discussed below) only adds to the ominous feeling that these schmucks go out to the most dangerous sea in the worst possible time of year prospecting for crab. When you think about it, these guys tempt the hands of fate for you to “borrow” the crab for about 4 hours, if you know what I mean.

The more you watch, the more you begin to root for one boat over another. Most of these boats are family-owned, so it’s fun to watch the family dynamic unfold on TV, in the crucible of a small crab boat. This is a show about rough and tumble, hard-living men, living on Red Bull, Coffee and Nicotine (maybe the Senior Palate could give it a go...)

Here's a sample...

Dirty Jobs: If there was ever a show to make me thankful for growing up in a house where education was valued, this is it. Mike Rowe takes on some of the most disgusting jobs out there. From inseminating crocodiles, to shoveling up chicken crap under a hen house, he’s picked some winners. We are all better off because of the people out there willing, or unlucky enough, to do these jobs. But after watching this show, I’m going to make sure I keep it this way!

More coming, because when you have this many channels, there’s a lot of crap to watch…

When the moon hits your eye...

As we enter springtime, it is time for my next quest. Theme-Italian food. Always in search of a catchy name, I am going with "Pasta Pilgrimage 2010".

Now, as many of you know, I do not like tomato sauces at all (and to be fair, they don't like me, or my ulcers). But I do like Northern Italian cusine, and will do my best to eat for your pleasure. I know I will not hit all, or even many, but I will hit some. Despite my aversions and physical limitations, I will go to those places known to some as "the 3 parms" as in chicken, veal and eggplant (thanks Amy!).

I have already started, and promise the reviews will begin to trickle out soon. In the meantime, enjoy Louis Prima...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sweet Georgia Brown..

Being a child of the late 60s and 70s, no Saturday afternoon was complete without ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”. I would sit in front of the TV, with great anticipation, hoping that it wouldn’t be weightlifting from Russia or ping-pong from China, but maybe Evel Knievel or better yet, the “Harlem Globetrotters”. Nothing better than watching those Washington Generals getting their asses whipped by those Globetrotting tricksters…the clown princes of basketball.

It was a pleasant diversion from Passover preparations that we went to Girl Scout day at the Harlem Globetrotters at the Boston Garden. Nothing like “The Magic Circle” and “Sweet Georgia Brown”, and seeing both the junior palates enjoy the same things I did when I was their age to bring back some great memories. While there was no “Meadowlark Lemon” or “Curly Neal”, they brought out all the old bag of tricks, with the water/confetti bucket, the exploding ball, the elastic band on the ball for the foul shots…the never-ending jokes and playing with the audience. This was good, clean family fun.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

No visitors please...

As a follow-up to the fun time at O'Connell's, some people have emailed me asking about whether the manager came over to speak with us. The answer is no!!!

I'll admit, I didn't ask for the manager, because this was such a bad experience, I would have thought the waitress would have made a point of letting the manager know that a table was having a lousy experience. The fact that she either did not, or she did, but no manager ever came by, is indicative of how poorly they manage the staff and restaurant. Like most places before them, I expect a very short life-span. They would be wise to focus on the liquor because they are way out of their comfort zone, if they ever had one.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Out of their zone...

The world is full of examples of tremendous failures when people go out of their “comfort zone”. Like Robert DeNiro doing comedy, or Rocky Balboa leaving Philly and going “Hollywood” after winning the belt from Apollo Creed, once you stray from your strengths, only bad things can happen. Take a look at “Analyze This” or Clubber Lang…so, too, with restaurants; when they change formats, or expand their menus, nothing good usually happens. Witness, O’Connell’s Pub in Framingham.

O’Connell’s is derived from “Lloyd’s Diner” here in Framingham; despite the Senior Palate’s appreciation of their breakfasts, it was a little lost on me. They only seemed to be open for about 15 minutes a week, and not always consecutive, but my father was a fan. Apparently, they sold out and decided to go “big time”; that is, if you consider “big time” an Irish-named, sports-themed pub…and sell out they did.

I could just leave you with this review: I left without eating. But so much more needs to be said …I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t...

I could bore you with a whole dissertation on how the waitress was clearly over her head. I could bore you with how the table across from us was seated, served and checked out before our meals even came. I could bore you with tales of an exploding toilet in the men’s room, but let me focus on the positive…

Wait for it…

Ok, so now that I got the positives out of the way, let me tell you about our experience.

After Burger Quest last year, I have pretty high expectations for a burger, and when you go to a “sports pub”, you expect a burger to be right in their comfort zone, or wheelhouse. But my experience here was exactly that of DeNiro in “Rocky and Bullwinkle”…O’Connell’s is way out of their comfort zone, and that’s too bad.

I order my burger “medium”. Not complicated, no special requests…just medium. Service issue number 1-when the waitress brought the food, she only brought out half the food, including mine. So while four people had their meals, 4 people didn’t. She did say she’d be “right back”, but I guess “right back” meant 15 minutes. She did come back a minute later (with a couple of meals, but not all), and by then, I had cut into my burger. I guess to the kitchen, “medium” means incinerated beyond recognition, or cooked to resemble a hockey puck.

When I pointed it out to the waitress, she scooped it up and said she would bring me another. About three minutes later, she appeared with another burger, but another odd observation-she still had not brought out the original burger for one of my dining companions. So here we were, everyone at the table with their meals (albeit not all cooked correctly), and me with my SECOND one, and someone just sitting there watching us. That’s only slightly uncomfortable. However, I would not wish this second burger on anyone.

Despite the nuclear cooking method used on the first burger, I think they employed the “hold a match in the near vicinity” method for the second. Despite what appeared to be a cooked exterior, the inside was raw. Not medium rare, not rare, but raw. If you put your finger into it (which I did), there was no bounce back, no resiliency, just soft, raw meat. I’ve had “steak tartare” that was cooked more. “Listeria” anyone?
Full disclosure-this is a "composite" photo since the lighting wasn't good enough for my cell phone, I found a photo that accurately represents what my burger looked like.

When the waitress came back to check on me again, I showed her this burger. She agreed “that’s not medium” (you think?) and I told her that I wasn’t even sure they breathed on it heavily. She offered to bring me another one, but at this point, two strikes and you’re out. She persisted, to her credit, but frankly, if you’re a sports pub and you can’t cook a burger right, can you really expect anything to be right? I told her that I did not want her to bring anything else.

A few minutes later, she returned with a third burger, despite my protestations otherwise. When she came over, she said “he (meaning the cook, I guess) really wants you to have this. No charge (as if they would?). This will be just how you want it.” I told her I didn’t want it, and told her to take it away, but she insisted on leaving it. (As an aside, having no idea what is going on in the kitchen, but I can only imagine what the cook did to this burger; I would not have eaten that burger on a bet.) One of my dining companions decided that we needed to see how this burger was cooked. Of course, if it was cooked “medium”, all my dining companions would be taunting me to eat it, but I am a man of principles, and would not eat it no matter what; however, that decision was made for me when we cut it open, and it was as “undone” as the second burger. Whoever is working the grill just doesn’t understand the concept of how to cook food. Not a good thing when you work in a restaurant.

Having worked at my father’s diner, there is one concept that you can’t get away from-quality and consistency. If you’re not consistent in giving someone a quality product, there is no reason for him or her to come back. No one wants to go to a place that can’t get basics right, and certainly don’t want to go somewhere where it’s a crapshoot for each meal (in this case, emphasis on “crap”). Besides my meal, other dining companions noted that things were inconsistent from plate to plate. I had fries that looked well cooked and crispy (even though I didn’t order them-I ordered cole slaw), but my friend next to me had the same fries, but they looked soggy and pasty. This was true from plate to plate on the table. How does that happen?

Lastly, O’Connell’s calls itself “family friendly”-two observations about this. First, they are a “sports pub”, which by its very terms, means “bar”, and with “bar”, comes an element that’s fine for me, but not for kids. Add Keno to the mix, including a Keno screen in the dining room, and it’s not really as family friendly as the local “house of correction”.

Second, Junior Palate had to use the restroom, and he came back chuckling. I asked him why, and he said that the bathroom was disgusting (as most in barrooms are), but there was a funny poster. As it just so happened, I needed to use the men’s room. He was right-the bathroom was nasty, and the poster was funny, but totally inappropriate for a “family friendly” restaurant. While I chuckled when I saw it, and still do, rather than send a family-friendly message, it’s more about how to “make” a family.

I always hope that these one-off, local places will be great and survive, and we all know, the MetroWest doesn’t really need another chain-style place. But given my experience at “O’Connell’s”, I’d rather eat the pre-fabricated pretend food at Ruby Tuesday’s across the street, and that’s saying something!

O’Connell’s…until they get back to, or find, their comfort zone, I’ll be staying away, and I have a feeling the other people with me might not be back anytime soon either. Eat at your own risk.

You’ve been great, now enjoy Celtic Woman…