Almost exactly 4 years ago, I was on a discount bus on my way to Boston, hoping that a weekend away in a new place would be a catalyst for a fresh start. I had been to Boston when I was younger, with my parents and my brother, but had not been back since I had, you know, the internet, a ‘real job’ and some cash in hand. Using the now-ubiquitous internet, we researched an ambitious list of restaurants to visit and beers to drink, boarded the bus in the drab shadow of Penn Station, and watched New York City recede through tinted windows. Since that first visit we have been back many times, and I today wanted to share my favorite places, the ones that I have gone back to time and again when visiting our Northern neighbor, Boston.
From the moment Fenway’s famous green walls come into view, I am already thinking about being perched on the stools at the bar at Neptune Oyster. Tucked around the corner on a charming stretch of Salem Street, near the mouth of Boston’s North End, this tiny restaurant makes a huge splash in a city known for seafood. Neptune Oyster is first come, first seated, so arrive early or put your name on the list and relax with some pints at a nearby pub while you wait for your cell to sound. And trust me, it’s worth the wait. I like to have the Ipswich Fried Clams, sourced from one of the nation’s most famous shellfishing spots, which just happens to be a short drive outside of Boston on Massachusetts’ gorgeous North Shore. We also love the Maine Lobster Roll – order this hot and sans bun and you’ll receive a heaping bowl of fresh lobster meat, one of the most generous portions I have seen, accompanied by rich drawn butter for dipping.
Another place that we return to again and again is Ken Oringer’s Toro, an anchor in Boston’s fast-developing South End. Toro’s menu is expansive, but don’t miss their bite sized Tortilla Espanola which pairs fluffy egg, potato and onion with an exquisite garlicky aioli. Their Maíz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija, or grilled corn with aioli, lime, espelette pepper and aged cheese, is the restaurant’s signature dish and one of the best things I have ever tasted. Toro’s Pan con Tomate, hearty slices of toasted bread with tomato, garlic and Spanish Olive Oil is brilliant in its simplicity and depth of flavor. It’s worth noting that Oringer is opening a Toro New York location later this Spring in the Chelsea Nabisco Factory, so, wonderfully, this Boston favorite will soon be closer to home.
It’s no secret that I am a bakery fanatic, often visiting two or more Queens bakeries a day on weekends. On mornings in Boston, I head straight to one of the four Flour Bakery locations, the brainchild of Harvard Alum and beloved, brilliant Boston baker, Joanne Chang. It’s impossible to choose wrong when sampling Flour’s pastry offerings, although Chang’s Sticky Buns are renowned, and I am a fan of her old-fashioned sour cream coffee cake. What might be surprising, however, is how good the sandwiches are at Flour as well. For me, no trip to Boston is complete without their thick-sliced applewood-smoked bacon sandwich with fresh arugula and tomato, enlivened with mayonnaise and balsamic vinaigrette.
If Toro anchors Boston’s South End restaurants, then Myers and Chang, a venture by the above mentioned Joanne Chang and her husband Christopher Myers, welcomes you to that neighborhood. While in Boston we never miss their Dim Sum Brunch which is served Saturday and Sunday from 11:30am-5:00pm. The fun, clamorous dining room and kitchen-eye-view bar seating fills up fast, but is also worth the wait. Once seated, the falling off the bone tea smoked ribs are a must order, as are Mama Chang’s Pork and Chive pot-sticker style dumplings and any of their generously stuffed bao buns.
A tour of my Boston food favorites would not be complete without a mention of Barbara Lynch’s Sportello, a beautifully designed modern interpretation of an Italian lunch counter. We typically stop in for brunch or lunch, however they are open for dinner too, just as Lynch’s inspired cocktail lounge, Drink, is starting to fill to capacity the night directly below Sportello. And if you’re in a rush to get to your next great Boston destination, don’t worry, Sportello also sports a bakery counter with lunch sandwiches and sweets to go.
One last favorite is the Boston Tea Stop, a tiny shop in Cambridge that vends refreshing Boba Milk Tea and has an extensive, exciting selection of Mochi Ice Cream. Flavors vary by day and season, but my favorites include Green Tea, Black Sesame and Mango. And because no post of mine would be complete without mentioning beer, I will also add that Boston’s Samuel Adams and Harpoon Breweries offer free and low cost ($5) brewery tours respectively, complete with free samples, and a great inside view of their facilities.
To say that this is a traumatic, painful week for the city of Boston is an understatement, and our hearts break for the injured and for the dead, and for the living who love the injured and the dead. And because I can only seem to talk about a love of place through the lens of food and memory, I hope you won’t mind that I have shared my love of Boston in this way.
So in closing I will say this to my fellow New Yorkers. This summer, as the weather warms, get some discount bus tickets and take a weekend away in Boston. Check out some of my favorite places and find some of your own. And show some love to Boston, a city with a great green heart, a commons where people gather to celebrate daily life, in this city of the people, for the people.