Sunday, December 13, 2015

Spots are still running...

Because the response has been so positive, as always, here are some more notes for the current Connoisseurs Corner run...

Crazy Holiday foods

Having been through the first half of the holiday season, there seems to be a trend on the Internet and some food shows-how to make, serve and eat some of the most garish food concoctions around.  Here are just a couple of examples:

Turducken (chicken inside a duck inside a turkey)-a distinctively Cajun delicacy, this has been featured on many food shows and food sites on the Internet.  Really?  Who wouldn’t want to slice into the three main poultry types that have different fat contents and need to cook to different finish temps?  I’m not sure I’d eat this with someone else’s mouth and out of respect for my listeners and readers, I am refraining from posting a picture.

Cherpumple (Huffington Post)
Cherpumple-see on many websites, Facebook feeds and even the Huffington Post, it’s a cherry pie baked into a white cake on top of an apple pie baked into a yellow cake on top of a pumpkin pie baked into a spice cake that has all been frosted together.  I don’t know whether I should be salivating or disgusted…maybe both.

Memory meals

This is the perfect time of year to think back on great memories from family meals.  Personally, my family meal experiences are not the images that Norman Rockwell paintings are made of, but most of my great family memories arise from meals.  Whether it was my Nana’s brisket, or my father’s challah warm from the oven, or being with my grandparents, aunts and uncles on the holidays while my mother prepared a sumptuous repast, ending the days with games of Trivial Pursuit, these are the memories that last a lifetime.  I encourage all the listeners to remember and share these memories, especially at the holiday season.

Holiday gifts:
It’s always nice to show your appreciation or thanks to colleagues and business associates.  Since I’m all about the food, I often look to food-related gifts for the holidays.  Though I have no direct relationship with any of these, here are a few of my favorite food related web sites…these are taste tested, and Critical Palate approved:

Popcornopolis-some of the most exquisite popcorn ever popped, with a strong Internet presence, as well as some brick and mortar shops (the closest to us is in South Deerfield, at the Yankee Candle Factory Store).  With flavors such as Almond Toffee, Birthday cake, Rocky Road and Pecan Caramel, in addition to the traditional favorites, you cannot go wrong with their huge variety of flavors, gift packs, and cases.

Gingerbread Construction Company-A local company with brick and mortar stores on the north shore, you can also order on line.  You can order traditional gingerbread houses with all sorts of decorations, but the real flavor party is in the muffins, muffin loaves, cookies and brownies.  They ship all over, and deliver locally, and you can walk into their stores in Winchester and Wakefield.  You will not be disappointed in these baked goods…and the recipient will be thrilled.

Bostoncoffee cake – who in the office doesn’t like a coffee cake?  I know my colleagues love coming in to find a coffee cake surprise, and who better than Boston Coffee Cake.  Created right here in North Andover and shipping world wide, these are delicious and their website has a bunch of other baked goodies as well, such as whoopie pies!  The recipient will be saying “whoopie” as soon as they open up the box.

Grandma’s chicken soup --we all know that chicken soup is good for you.  Our people refer to it as Jewish penicillin, and a whole series of books has been written on how it’s good for the soul.  Grandma’s chicken soup has been around since 2004 and featured on the Food Network.  Grandma’s Chicken Soup is more than just soup! Soup delivery is a unique get-well gift idea, just choose one of the delicious and nutritious soup combination packages. They also offer delightful deliveries in a wide variety of Gift Packages that include noodles and matzah balls or just noodles. Grandma's get well gift baskets are sure to please.  This is a unique idea.  I’ve eaten a lot of chicken soup in my life, and this is good soup.  Remember, don’t say it with flowers, say it with a matzah ball!

Chococoa-- what can I say about Chococoa that hasn’t been said before?  These are not the hockey puck-sized overly oily pies in cellophane, these are two-bite, delectable, creamy whoopies that will knock your socks off.  From traditional chocolate cake with vanilla buttercreme filling to pumpkin with pumpkin filling and chocolate with salted caramel cream, these stand up to some of the greatest confections ever created.  Located in Newburyport, along with their café, they are a tremendous gift for friends, colleagues, business associates, and even yourself.

Stay tuned for more in a few months, but as always, I'll have plenty to say on other topics.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Spots are running...

As we head in to the holiday season, I was once again part of Jordan Rich’s Connoisseurs’ Corner line-up, and the spots have started running on WBZ 1030am (also available at soon).  Among the topics for these fourteen spots were restaurants, both for everyday meals and holidays, “special” holiday foods, burgers with new crazy toppings, family meals and the memories derived from meals of days gone by, and food gifts for the holidays.  As is my practice, here are my notes from the first few recording sessions….more to come, so enjoy.

Some restaurants we talked about:

Shake Shack-if you like Five Guys, you’ll love Shake Shack.  With a couple of locations here in Massachusetts, this NY-based chain has brought their delicious quick-serve burgers and crinkle-cut fries to Chestnut Hill, Newbury Street and Dedham. 

Del Frisco’s Grill-This sister/subsidiary of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse has locations across the country and one in Chestnut Hill and another in Burlington.  With a more eclectic menu than the steakhouse, and a more casual vibe, this is a great choice for a fantastic burger, or fish, or steak.  Check out their local menu here.

Burlington, VT-back in the summer, Mrs. Palate and I took a brief sojourn to Burlington, Vermont.  While only there for a couple of days, we enjoyed a few fantastic meals.

When two people that have no relationship to Burlington tell you that you “must” eat somewhere, you know you have to look into this.  Such was the case with A Single Pebble in downtown Burlington VT.  A quick check of the Internet indicated that Alton Brown of the Food Network calls the “mock eel” at A Single Pebble the best thing he’s ever eaten, so I knew that I had to try it.  I assure you, it did not disappoint.  The mock eel is made from thinly sliced shitake mushrooms and defy description.  Three Pepper Chicken was phenomenal, as was a very spicy tofu dish.  If you like interesting, uncommon and expertly prepared Asian cuisine, a Single Pebble is a must eat.  Check out their beautiful website here.

Farmhouse Tap and Grille-also recommended to me by a graduate of UVM was the Farmhouse Tap and Grille.  Burlington has a great farm to table movement with fresh meats and produce readily available from local farms, and with Vermont being one of the leading states for the craft beer movement, they have definitely hit on a winning combination.  Mrs. Palate calls their turkey burger the best she’s ever had, and my burger was quite excellent; the food was so good, we ate their twice!  The beer could not be fresher, with so many local breweries, and clearly “Heady Topper” is quite popular (check it out at 

Mountain View Station in Center Ossipee, NH-sometimes you go to a place and judge the book by the cover, and when the person taking you says “don’t worry about what it looks like”, you really have to wonder…well, wonder no more about the Mountain View Station…BEST…CHEESEBURGER…EVER.  And the prices are phenomenal.  The burger was $6.99 with fries or onion rings.  Where do you get a burger for that price in today’s world?  And the quality was phenomenal, cooked on a flat top, with just the right amount of crisp from the Mailliard reaction and juiciness from quality meat, and a delicious cluster of onion rings.  There wasn’t one aspect of the meal, from food choices (appetizers and mains), presentation, quality or price that disappointed.  Even though it looks like a place where you go down two steps, sociologically and physically, the meal was great.  Don’t judge a book by its cover and book it to Mountain View Station.

More coming up, after the break...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Memories of memorable meals...

The traditional, yet non-existent, happy Thanksgiving dinner
I have long thought about whether this blog should exclusively deal with food, fun and frivolity, since as most of you know, I’m all about the frivolity.   For some, sports have been the “toy store” of their lives, their outlet from the stress and daily grind.  For me, at various times of my life, it has been music performance, whether concert, jazz or “hoop” bands, or drum and bugle corps, whether a local corps (Sharpshooters of Framingham) or a Class A (the 27th Lancers of Revere, Massachusetts).  However, the constant diversion has been food, and not just consumption, but cooking.  At times, I have focused on baking breads, preparing stir-frys, or grilling, and as many of you faithful readers know, I smoke a lot of meat. 

My love of food, both preparing and eating, probably derives from my father, former proprietor of “B.J.’s Diner” in Framingham.  From working there, for him, I got a crash course on food prep, short-order cooking and profanity.  And I took those skills, mostly the profanity, to McDonalds, to my own kitchen, and to the kitchen at Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham.  Along the way, I really thought about what it meant to have a great meal.

Meals can mean a lot.  For some, a great meal is strictly quantity, and for others, it is a certain food that brings back memories of a different time.  In the dark recesses of my mind, I have a lot of great meal memories, a couple of which I’ve referenced before on these pages.  Here are three that standout: 

1)  My father, who likes both quantity and quality, but mostly quantity, once ate 19 lobsters at one meal, at Custy’s Rusty Scupper in Rhode Island.  Sure, they were likely only 1.25 lb lobsters, but they had both claws and the tail, and all the feelers and for a man that stood 5 feet, 6 inches, and only weighed about 150 pounds, it was impressive.  Being witness to my father’s systematic breakdown of these poor crustaceans was like watching Michael DeBakey perform heart surgery at Baylor…confident, expert and precise, leaving no piece of lobster flesh un-eaten (at least as far as my father is concerned-I don’t think DeBakey had the same appetite for organ meat).   All my father needed was a surgical gown and rubber gloves.

Of course, as my dad aged, his appetite waned, and with Alzheimer’s and dementia, he has very little interest in food.  Time has not been kind to him, or his voracious appetite, but the last time I took him to an all-you-can-keep-down Chinese buffet, those poor crawfish had no idea what hit them. 

2.  Taken, in part, from an earlier post:  “House of Roy” was THE Chinese restaurant of my childhood.  This was way before the days of Mandarin and Szechwan cuisine, when all Chinese food came swimming in a brown oyster-style sauce.  This place defined “craphole”; it was a few steps up literally, but several steps down, figuratively.  The floor was collapsing, so you were always leaning left when you walked in.  The bathroom floors weren’t much better, and if you’ve ever been in a bathroom in an old Chinatown building…well, you don’t need any further information. 

For years, we’d truck into Boston’s Chinatown at least twice a month, and dine at the “House”.  We were hooked; we were addicted to that place, like Drago to those injections from Bridgette Nielson.  Sometimes we’d meet other families, sometimes just us, but one thing never changed: the House of Roy Special, and boy, was this special.

Long before I avoided foods that were biblically not kosher (shellfish and pork, for you fans keeping score at home), the “Special” was the apex of gastronomical pleasures.  I only wish I had an old menu so I could explain everything in this bucket of food.  It was a mélange of beef, chicken, shrimp, peapods, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots tossed in the brown sauce.  Poured onto a platter, it was surrounded by fried wontons, and covered with pork strips.  Here me now and believe me later…this was an orgiastic feast for the senses.

My parents promised me that I could have my own Special, the week before my bar mitzvah, as my ticket to manhood.  My father put the gauntlet before me, by saying I could never finish it off, as it was really made for 14 people.  Well, determined to show him…I went deep into training.  I ate light that whole weekend, and didn’t eat at all on Sunday, preparing for Sunday night’s sumptuous repast.  Well, we ordered two, one for the rest of the table, and one for me. 

The anticipation was more than I could bear…I dug into that thing like John Henry, swinging his mighty hammer.  I ate, and ate, and ate some more, and I didn’t make a dent!  The thing was possessed; regenerating itself after every bite I took.  I vaguely recall my father taking the rest, after I passed out into my food coma.  I ate so much; I still think I have some left in me, over 35 years later.

When we left, I don’t think I made it 10 feet from the steps, but I’m sure Roy appreciated it when I decided to decorate the parking lot instead of his rest room.  It was immense, intense, and a fine “how do you do” into the landscape of bingeing, and apparently purging.  Unlike my father, who can consume and immense amount of food, and eat 19 lobsters, I was a mere amateur.  Don’t worry Joey Chestnut, your crown is safe from me.

3.  In November 1992, after a long academic push for both Elayne, and me, our professional licensure exams were in our rear-view mirror:  hers the CPA exam, and mine, the bar!  Our parents decided it would be time to celebrate these occasions; though she had been at Grant Thornton for over a year by then, slacking off, only working the mandated minimum, which back then, was 80 hours a week…in the slow season.  Elayne and I saw it as a chance to celebrate entering our careers, while we came to understand that our parents were really celebrating getting us off the family payroll!  An evening at Spinnaker Italia with a corner table overlooking the Charles on one side and downtown Boston on the other was booked, replete with wine, food and more wine (at least for some).  It was a fine night, with a fine meal…but ended with my mother disappearing for quite a while.  This was well before cell phones, and we had no idea where she went.  She came back, and when pressed for what happened, she merely said she had gone to the restroom, and bumped into someone on the way back.  As we completed our dessert, a young couple, not older than 22 or 23 came by, and could not stop thanking my mother.  It was as if she was the Queen of England and these people had just been granted an audience.  Our entire table exchanged “what the hell???” glances as the couple thanks her some more, and then left.  Now we needed answers.

My mother was not quite inclined to share details, but I have a certain amount of relentlessness in me (geez, is that where my kids get that???).  As the story goes, when my mother was coming back from the bathroom, she walked past that young couple.  They had come the restaurant to celebrate some special event, and had a gift certificate, but the certificate had expired.  Without money to pay, and without a valid gift certificate, they were stuck.  My mother approached a manger, without their knowledge, and paid the bill.  As they were leaving, the manager identified my mother to them, and they thanked her.  Somewhere out there, this story is part of their personal history (if they’re even still together), and if you happen to read this…hi.  Soooooo, our special dinner that night was also made special for them, by a stranger’s kindness, and probably some drunkenness as well.

I’d love to share other people’s stories too, so feel free, dear readers, to email me at criticialpalate at gmail dot com and if fit for human consumption, I’ll post them here to share.

Until next time America…

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The incredible, edible egg


I grew up eating and working in diners.  My dad owned one and I was a schlepper there for years.  I’ve had eggs a million different ways, from soft-boiled to hard, to sunny-side up to scrambled and omelets.  My preference is over-easy on top of corned beef hash, if anyone cares (and I know you all do).

However, all the rage these days seems to be an entirely new way of eating eggs…as a condiment on a burger.  Formerly found only at little crap-holes seen on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” with that clown Guy Fieri, the egg has gone big-time and can be seen on menus everywhere, including “The Local” in Wayland, and “Ted’s Montana Grill" in Westborough .

Honestly, I questioned the logic behind this movement.  Why is this necessary?  It just looks so odd (to me).  An item that has been a breakfast protein staple for years is suddenly a topping on a burger, in the same spectrum as cheese, onions and mushrooms?  Who decided this would be a good idea?  What kind of demented mind comes up with this sort of thing???

I put off jumping on the egg cart for a long time.  Last winter, a friend started enjoying these sorts of burgers, with an egg on the top, but it didn’t resonate with me at all.  I just couldn’t embrace the egg in that way.  From delightfully fluffy scrambled eggs, to crepes, I’ll jump in the yolky pool, but sitting on top of a perfectly grilled burger?  Are you kidding me?

Well, I caved.  Despite all of my pre-conceived notions and biases, I decided to go for broke, and while eating at the Farmhouse Grill and Tap in Burlington, Vermont (where every menu items seems to be identified by the farm from which it came), I ordered the burger with cheese and a sunny-side up egg.  And how was it?  How was my first ovo-bovine experience?  Decidedly…interesting.  
LaPlatte River Angus Farm Beef
from a cow named "Morty"

arugula, cheddar, pickled red onions and egg

The Farmhouse burger did have a textural difference as a result of the egg on it, but boy, oh boy, was it messy!  However, the egg was not cooked completely, even as a sunny side up egg, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled.  But, since this IS a thing, I knew I had to go for another round…so, just to be fair, I tried a second burger, this time a bison burger, with cheese, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions and a fried egg, over easy, at Ted’s Montana Grill in Westborough.  This one, well, it was better, but girl, oh girl…it was MESSY!  But messy is a good way. 

American cheese, grilled onions and mushrooms topped 
with a fried egg

It’s a very interesting combination.  I liked the yolk running down along the side of the meat (and my hands and arms), and when you get to the combination of the meat and the yolk, it was really unctuously delicious.  I’m not sure the white of the egg really is important to the whole affair, but I can taste the specialness of having a warm, runny yolk oozing down the entire burger, ultimately soaking into the bun.  After doing this twice though, I’m not sure I want to attack this on a frequent basis (or my heart will “attack” me).  It is a mess, and I’m not sure if I wanted to celebrate this, or be disgusted with myself (like my sister and mother probably are just by reading this).  But it was delicious, in a strange, twisted way.  Given the popularity of this these days, done well, it is a burger worth eating.  If at a place that offers the fried egg topping, give this new condiment a try. 

And remember, brown eggs are local eggs, and local eggs are fresher.