BJ has a competition he likes to participate in annually that is held in western Massachusetts, so this year was the 2nd time we've made a week-long road trip out of it. We try to hit some cities and towns we haven't seen before, spend time with friends and of course, eat. Here were some of the highlights:
1. Frank Pepe's New Haven Pizza - this was the only bright spot in our stop in New Haven, CT. We'd always known the city around Yale was kind of ghetto, but walking by the bus stop area along the city green and seeing multiple drug deals in a matter of minutes just confirmed that. Frank Pepe's made the trip worth it though. Huge pies, delicious cheese, thin crust with thick, bubbly edges.....yum! The Luce even enjoyed it.
2. Bella Gusta Select Oils and Vinegars in West Hartford, CT - this was a nice little surprise. We had some time to kill near the Hartford airport and we came across West Hartford, which is just outside the city. There is a lovely street full of unique shops and restaurants that is not unlike Old Town Alexandria here in our area. Taking a stroll, we wandered into Bella Gusta, lured in by the sign that said "Free Tasting." We're suckers. The store is lined with stainless steel barrels with taps that held many varieties of balsamic vinegars and olive oils. We sampled several and chatted with the owners about their favorites. We loved the traditional and fig vinegars and picked up some to take home. I am not a balsamic fan but these were fantastic. The oil suggested to us was one of the single varietals that came from Sicely. It was like sipping a cloud - so smooth. We learned that the olive oil from your local grocery store is normally several varietals all mixed together, so by cooking with just one type allows the eater to notice the nuances better. We also brought some of that home. The owners were wonderful, so friendly and happy to share their thoughts and knowledge. It was a great find and now we're wishing they'd open a store here. A side note - we have used both vinegar and oil several times since coming home and the vinegar is so delicious, you can use it instead of salad dressing, no oil needed!
3. Herrell's Ice Cream - Yelp told me this was the #1 resturant in Northampton, Ma. so of course we had to stop. The reviewers pointed us towards the chocolate pudding and burnt sugar & butter flavors. We tried both and were so happy we did. They were so rich and flavorful. I think I liked the chocolate pudding a little more, but both were winners. We'll make this a stop every time we're up that way.
4. Flo's Steamed Hot Dogs - a friend of mine suggested this to me when I mentioned we were going to be driving around Maine one day of our trip. She said her husband saw it written up in one of the famous foodie magazines and he waited 45 minutes in line to try it. So we went. Flo's is the tiny shack of a place on the side of a road in Cape Neddick, Me. Luckily for us it is near York and Nubble Light, which we love, so it was "on the way." Again, we were helped by the Yelpers who told us the owner is very specific about how to order. You tell her how many, wait, and then when the dogs are cooked you tell her what you want on them. Order the house special. It is the relish that has made Flo's famous. - sweet and a little savory, unlike anything we've tried before. The hot dogs are small, you can eat 2 and still have room for dessert, but inexpensive and definitely worth the trip. The place gets packed fairly quickly, so be there early!
5. Newburyport, Ma - Newburyport is a cute, charming little coastal town that is also similar to Old Town Alexandria - a theme perhaps? There are lots of wonderful stores, no chains allowed, and beautiful views of the water. We enjoyed checking out the bookstore, consignment shops, and of course, ice cream. We had lovely gelato from Dolce Freddo - I had canteloupe and watermelon flavors that were perfect for a summer day.
6. New England Aquarium - this is the awesome aquarium in Boston. The Luce had never been before and completely fell in love. I've never seen her so interested and still!
The aquarium has a large cylindrical tank with a spiraling walkway top the top, with sharks and rays and turtle and of course fish inside. Along the way, on each floor, are other exhibit tanks showcasing a lot of New England's coastal environments. There are also seals outside to check out and an optional IMAX movie. A new feature is a hands-on shark and ray tank, which was packd with kids reaching their hands out as the animals swam past. We loved it and will now be saving our pennies to take The Luce to the big aquarium in Baltimore.
7. Rino's Restaurant in East Boston, Ma. - BJ was dying to check this place out after he saw it in Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Guy thought it had killer lobster ravioli, so obviously we had to try it. The key to Rino's is to get there early. They open at 4 pm and when we arrived at 3:45, there were already 3 parties ahead of us, and they only have about 10 tables. Luckily we got a table without a problem. The menu is lovely but the specials menu is just as long! BJ got his lobster ravioli and practically licked the bowl. Our table also sampled the stuffed chicken, bolognese pasta and baked ziti with meatballs. Everything was winner except the ziti, which happened to be mine. It was good, but needed more red sauce, which was very delicious. I would definitely go back and try something else next time. The funny part about Rino's was that we ended up going outside to walk The Luce around as we waited for our meal and when we went back in, the people in line were throwing us daggers with their eyes, they were jealous we had a table!
Along the way and in between, we spent quality time with good friends, hit up 4 colleges and bought t-shirts, saw a children's museum, drank some blueberry beer, watched men in skirts throw rocks, saw the last Harry Potter movie, and visited the ER (everything's fine, we promise). A great trip was had by all!