Well, my trip to New England is coming to a close. Tomorrow, I'll head back to what is often referred to in these parts as "The Left Coast."
In a nutshell, Hartford seems like a calm quiet New England town with occasionally things that come up that rock the boat (like their corrupt governor). It's unique place, roughly halfway between Boston and New York makes it possible to take day trips into either place. New Haven (home of the world's greatest New York-style pizza, as I discovered) is just down the road, about 40 minutes away.
I came just at the beginning of spring -- when I arrived there was a good few inches of snow on the ground, but now it is mostly gone. Now, it's pretty pleasant, and it's a good 8 or 10 degrees warmer since I arrived.
Other than being able to hang out with my family (and enjoy episodes of Family Guy with my cousin Martin), and talk about grad school and my Future options with Heidi. I worked a little bit on my thesis, and some stories that I'm working on, but for the most part it's been a time to just relax and chill, which I really need. Vacations are never long enough, I suppose.
But, the best parts of this trip (well, of most trips, anyway) have been centered around food.
In reverse chronological order:
Franklin Giant Sandwich Shop Inc
464 Franklin Avenue
Hartford, CT 06114
$7.25 will get you a half sandwich (eight inches!)) of the best and meanest hot pastrami grinder (aka "subway sandwich" as we know them on the West Coast). This place was recommended to me by a Hartford Chowhound who said simply: "You probably refer to these sandwiches as SUBS out there on the left coast...you can get the REAL DEAL here."
And the Real Deal it was. The place, though empty, had chowish aura eminating from it. In the 20 minutes that I was there -- they had a range of clientèle, from guys in shirts and ties, to more working class types, to even an employee all enjoying their sandwiches as I walked in.
This place, Italian family owned and operated since the 1960s, is in the heart of the Little Italy section of Hartford on Franklin Ave. (turning more into a Brazilian neighborhood recently -- and even sports a Bosnian Video and Grocery Store!), was great. The sandwich, loads of hot lightly peppered pastrami, lined with East Hartford-made sandwich rolls was stuffed with peppers and onions and melted cheese which wrapped this warm and absolutely incredibly tasty and filling sandwich that they are experts at producing.
When one of the women working the counter handed me my sandwich she said: "Looks good!" to which I replied "It should be -- this place came highly recommended to me. I'm from California, and am here visiting family."
Without blinking an eye, she said.
"You'll be back."
And I went and devoured my sandwich at the window-side counter.
As far as Italian deli sandwiches go, this place is very high on my list -- and I'd say definately beats Bay Cities in Santa Monica.
I feel back for the franchise Subway joint across the street. They're WAY out of their league.
Bartley's Burger Cottage
1246 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
Yesterday, I hit up Bartley's for the second time in my life, and it was even more memorable than the first.
After a quick glance of the menu (this isn't the same as the one that they have at the counters), I opted for the John Kerry Burger: swiss cheese and mushrooms. And I got a raspberry lime rickey, which is among the best drinks that you can get to wash down (or in my case wet your appetite) for a Bartley's burger.
The burger was juicy, rich and flavorful. With each bite, the meat juices ran back through the burger, enhancing each subsequence bite with its own flavor. Heavenly.
With the demise of the Thai-American Express Café in Silver Lake, CA in the last few years, I hereby crown Bartley's as the best burger in America.
The décor and funkiness of the place only adds to their outstanding food. Accompanied with my burger were a generous portion of their famous onion rings, which are light and thin but crunchy and tasty.
South Street Diner
178 Kneeland Street
Boston, MA 02111
When I bussed in from Hartford, I spotted this little diner from the road. It's contained in a small metallic structure that looks like a train car. Inside is a cozy diner that provided a welcome respite to an early morning road trip which left Hartford at 6 am, and to the whipping Boston winds that greeted me as I exited South Station.
For $5, including tax and tip, I got a filling breakfast of two fried eggs, three sausages, potatoes, four half slices of toast, and a warming mug of hot chocolate.
The food wasn't particularly amazing, but given that it was cheap, and filled me up for my early morning foray into Boston, I was pleasantly satisfied.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
157 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06511
We made the trip to New Haven specifically to hit up this place. Based on this Chowhound review, I was motivated to go.
We didn't know a thing about it, and arrived shortly after 2 pm. There was already a 12 person line that had formed. When I got out of the car to investigate, while my aunt parked, I discovered that it didn't open until 2:30 pm on Sundays, and that people wait usually starting around 1:45 pm. When I got my place in line, a woman showed up behind me and I asked her about another place called Frank Pepe's The Spot, which is a smaller auxiliary version of the original, and is across their tiny parking lot from the original location.
"What's the difference between the two of them?"
"Nothing really. It's owned by the same people. Same recipe."
And when her friends showed up, they decided not to wait and instead went to The Spot.
When she was out of earshot, I asked the man in front of me if what she had said was true.
"I don't think so."
"Well this one here has a coal oven, and they have a gas oven. I've been coming here for 20 years, and I trust this one."
"I'll go with you then."
He nodded in agreement.
When we were finally let in, we ordered a large half pepperoni and half clam (locally caught, I assume).
Although I'm a fan of Chicago pizza, this New York/Napolitano pizza was the best that I've ever had.
The crust was light, the cheese was fresh, the pepperoni was meaty and flavorful, and the clam section was garlicy and the clams were an interesting and excellent touch. All in all, I was truly impressed. So impressed, that I bought a t-shirt from the place.
Second Ave Deli
156 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003
[Forgive me while I plagiarize myself:]
We swung over to Rockefeller Center, and watched people ice skate, and then strolled along past Times Square. By then it was nearly lunchtime. We popped into this smallish Greek-American place that didn't look that good, and after having sat there for two minutes, we got up and left. What Heidi really wanted was a deli.
I knew just the man to call: the illustrious Mr. Boyk .
"Yo Boyk. We're in midtown Manhattan, near Times Square -- we want to go a deli. Where do we go?"
"Oh, that's easy. 2nd Ave Deli -- 2nd Ave at 10th St. in the Village."
It's great having a chowhound as a roommate and friend.
After some grimaces from Heidi that this was a little far for us and some pragmatic convincing beyond the standard chowish logic that if it comes recommened, chances are that it's good, ("We have to get our money's worth on the subway day passes, right?") we swung over to the connector train to Grand Central, switched subways, and after passing some gorgeous NY brownstone apartments. Greenwich Village reminds me somewhat of the Marais in Paris -- it's old, quiet, and kinda funky, but still with a fair amount of character.
There it stood, proudly facing us, as we approached. There was a crowd gathered outside -- another good sign. I told Martin that if we had to wait too long, we could pull a Fats Goldberg (I had read them the relevant section of The Tummy Trilogy en route this morning) and hit up a pizza joint just up the road. They took our name, and in 10 minutes we were on a street-side booth, with a plate brimming with an assortment of pickles and another dish of straight cabbage cole slaw.
I bit into the first pickle -- sweet brine ran through my mouth, and the crunch rattled my teeth. A real New York pickle in a real New York deli in New York. Sweet.
I glanced over the menu, but had already decided. Hot Pastrami.
Meanwhile, I took on the pickles, they varied in bitterness and sweetness, but were all good in their own right. The cole slaw was light, fresh, crunchy and lacked mayo -- which vastly improved it.
I had meant also to order a Cel-Rey as well, but I honestly couldn't think of the name at the time and settled for water.
The sandwich was stacked with probably 12 slices of juicy, savory pastrami. It had a light peppery crust, which made a nice touch. Some small dabs of their slightly seeded mustard did improve it, though. When I bit into it, bits of pastrami flew out -- I lost about a quarter of my sandwich. All the better -- in between bites, I'd nosh on those!
Martin went for a burger (although sacreligious, he did enjoy it), and Heidi a large turkey, which she found was improved with copious amounts of salt and lettuce and tomato.
Mozzicato -De Pasquale's Bakery & Pastry Shop
329 Franklin Avenue
Hartford, CT 06114
Another place recommended by my Hartford Chowhound, this place has a pastry shop attached to a great Italian gelato place and café. Following dinner Martin and I hit up this place to get cannolli and madelines.
They have pre-made cannolli, which are "French cannolli", but if you ask for "Italian cannolli", they give you a freshly squeezed cannolli which they do in the back.
Crispy shell and sugary filling. Excellent.
350 Asylum Street
Hartford, CT 06103
Martin and I hit up this barbecue/blues place for dinner. We ordered a full slab of pork ribs with a side of fries.
The 'cue was quite good. I don't think it was quite as good as say, Memphis Minnie's in the Haight (SF) or even Everett & Jones' in Berkeley/Oakland. It fell off the bone, and was good, but needed to be supplemented with sauces that they had.
The beans and rice that it came with, and the shoestring fries that we also ordered were mediocre at best.
One thing that also was weird, was when we tried asking for directions to Franklin Ave., we asked no less than five people who worked in the restaurant and on the street who could not tell us how to get to Franklin Ave. Sorta weird.
243 Zion Street
Hartford, CT 06106
Heidi took me to Timothy's for lunch. It's a sorta funky lunch-type place that would fit well as a slightly upscale version of something on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. It has a lot of veggie and organic type food, with sandwiches, salads, and soups.
I had a special of the day, fried flounder served over a salad. It was quite good. The fish was tasty -- and the salad, was, well, a salad.
Lots of great chow in these parts, yes siree.