Massachusetts isn’t a very big state, though it does pack a punch for its size. Traversing it, however, isn’t as easy at it seems. One can go south along the Massachusetts Turnpike, which is the fastest way to go. Another option is to travel along the northern side via Route 2, also known as “The Mohawk Trail,” which is a bit slower but has some great views and hairpin turns. Finally, you can cut right through the middle of the state on either Massachusetts State Route 9 or US Route 20, both are slower routes, though they are easily the most historic and present numerous opportunities to step out and experience some local character and history.
After a recent visit to the towns of Lee and Lenox in the Berkshires, we opted to take Route 9 back to Eastern Massachusetts. Route 9 runs from Pittsfield, MA into Boston, winding through historic towns and hamlets along the way. Historically, Route 9 is an amalgam of old roads, including the Berkshire Trail and the Worcester Turnpike. We left Lee (which happens to sit on the MA Pike) and headed north to Pittsfield and began our journey along the slower route.
Many of our trips are punctuated with the requisite coffee stops, which usually means Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks. Since we’re localvores, we feel we’ve hit the jackpot when we find an independent coffee roaster. While driving through the town of Williamsburg, MA, which lies west of the Connecticut River between Pittsfield and Northhampton, we accidentally passed an unassuming coffee roaster in a small building set back from Route 9. Realizing our mistake, we quickly turned around and headed right to Elbow Room Coffee.
Inside, we met Melissa Krueger, the owner, an eastern Massachusetts ex-pat who proudly calls this section of Pioneer Valley home. She proudly shared her technique and sourcing. In small batches of no more than 20 pounds, she roasts fair trade beans from Africa, Indonesia, and the Americas. After a couple of nicely brewed samples, Melissa had us hooked. As taste-driven coffee fans, we were thrilled and purchased several pounds of beans roasted that morning, including an amazing Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and an aromatic Flores Green Dragon.
Each sip of Melissa’s coffee will not only give us a great taste sensation but will also conjure up pleasant images of Williamsburg and our trip along Route 9. There’s nothing like taking the slow road for the maximum travel experience.
Boston is like a folded quilt with its well-known neighborhoods on top: The North End, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Charlestown, The South End, Fenway, East Boston, and South Boston. Unfold the quilt to discover Allston, Brighton, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, West Roxbury, Roslindale, Mattapan, and Hyde Park. Many of these neighborhood were independent communities that became part of Boston proper in the late 19thcentury, an activity that also led to the expansion of other cities such as New York, which consolidated other cities into boroughs such as Brooklyn. Just as in Boston, smaller borough neighborhoods such as Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, still have maintain their own identity.
Recently, Rob attended a Sunday morning event at Doyle’s Cafe in the Jamaica Plain (JP to the locals) section of Boston. Founded in 1882, Doyle’s is not just a historic JP Irish bar and restaurant, but it’s also a tribute to Boston’s history. It’s worth a visit just to look at the walls covered with pictures, magazines, and newspapers that so eloquently echo Boston stories from a different time.
That Sunday morning event was Boston Media Makers (BMM), a regular gathering of people working with audio and video on the web: podcasters, videobloggers, filmmakers, artists, writers, PR and social media people. Our host was the indefatigable Steve Garfield, who’s rarely seen in Boston without a camera. While there, Rob met Roy Krantz, a publisher, web designer, and just a fascinating and passionate personality.
Roy explained that he and his wife Susan would be hosting a concert at their Jamaica Plain house featuring the Hi-Tone Ramblers. The band describes their style as a “melting pot of Anglo and African-rooted songs, rhythms, blues and old-time fiddle and banjo tunes.” Also at the BMM meeting was Tim Rowell, the Hi-Tone Ramblers talented banjo player. Both men extended a very warm invitation. How could two rather curious, sentimental people like us resist?
So… last night we headed down to JP. Not surprisingly, we stopped at Doyle’s for a quick bite and headed to Roy and Susan’s house nearby. We were surprised to find an unconventional house, a former printing shop that had creatively converted by Roy into an eclectic and charming home. Even better, its unique design and tall ceilings would shortly ensure great acoustics for both the band and the audience.
And the Hi-Tone Ramblers didn’t disappoint. With Cathy Mason on fiddle, Tim Rowell on banjo, Tim FitzPatrick on guitar, Bethany Weiman on cello, and Paul Strother on bass, they delivered two fantastic sets. Not a single foot was idle the entire evening. Complementing the music, the band members lightheartedly described the history and their philosophy of song selection. We’ve been to many concerts over the years, but we’re happy to say that listening to some creative string music in a converted print shop in Jamaica Plain proved to be one of the best musical experiences we’ve ever had.
It was quiet when we woke up this morning. Snow quiet. Over night, we received a couple of inches of snow on top of the previous few from the other day. Snow acts as muffler and creates a calm, especially on the weekend when the concern about a nasty work commute isn’t there. Unfortunately, snow gets a bum rap; it just isn’t winter without it.
Today’s was a dry, fluffy snow, which meant the temperatures outside were rather cold. Anyone who’s shoveled snow will quickly remark that it’s better to shovel this snow than the “warmer” weather, heavy wet snow. With the light stuff, one can clear the walkway, driveway and car in a matter of minutes, which is exactly what we did.
It was too pretty outside so we opted to go out for breakfast. Before leaving the house, though, we dressed in our L.L. Bean winter jackets and, most importantly, put on our favorite winter boots: Bogs. We learned about Bogs a few years back from Deb Paisley of Paisley Farm & Greenhouse in West Boxford, MA. We thought, “When a New England farmer recommends a boot, he (or in this case she) knows this from practical use. We picked up ours at the Kittery Trading Post in southern Maine. It’s turned out to be one of the best things we ever did. Though Bogs aren’t from New England, they’re perfect for our region.
With Bogs on and feet warm, we hopped in our S.U.V. Yes, it has four-wheel drive (4WD) to make the journeys around Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut a little easier when the white stuff falls. 4WD, unfortunately, does not turn a New England country road with 14 inches of snow into a flat dry interstate in summer. We see more 4WD vehicles on their roofs during a snowstorm than regular cars. Nonetheless, it helps, but only with a healthy dose of Yankee pragmatism.
We went out, had a great breakfast that included Rhode Island-style jonnycakes with real Vermont maple syrup. After a pleasant and warm trip out into the snow, we’re now back home, sitting by the fire, and happily telling you about it. Thank goodness for warm shoes and four-wheel drive.
No matter where you travel in New England, you will find books: at antique shops, rental homes, inns, bookstores and even some restaurants and coffee houses. In New England, we love to read. It’s been part of our culture since the region was settled in the 1600s. Reading and books define us. A friend once remarked, “I enjoy meeting people, but I particularly like visiting their homes for the first time and seeing their bookshelves. What they read tells me so much about who they are.”
How those books got onto the shelves is also a story, one that’s really a narrative of life. When we first started dating in the 1980s, we often found ourselves in a bookstore after a nice dinner or an invigorating hike. (Things haven’t changed much for us since.) It didn’t matter whether the bookstore had new or used books, because what was on the pages of those books always left a lifelong impression. They became part of us. Perhaps the story we write now is an attempt to attach us to our books, inspiring a future reader long after we’re gone.
Today, when we pull a book off the shelf, it immediately evokes memories of the day we bought it and of that particular time in our lives. For instance, we fondly remember two cookbooks (one Greek, the other Eastern European) that we picked up in 1988 after a fall visit to Pack Monadnock in Peterborough, NH. Now, when either of those books is removed, we recall hiking the Wapack Trail that day, dining afterwards at Hiroshi Hayashi’s innovative Latacarta restaurant, discovering a great recipe for Shopska salad and listening to Pachelbel’s Canon later that evening. It’s fascinating how our brains retain information by association.
Other bookshelves tell stories too. Recently, we vacationed by the Oyster River in Chatham, MA on Cape Cod. Like many New England seasonal, coastal properties, our rental home had three elements familiar to many of us: beach paintings; musty smells; and bookcases of old, out-of-print books. Such bookshelves are a chronicle of decades of New England guests and snapshots of periods in American history. We were immediately drawn toward the hardcovers and paperbacks in our rental cottage.
One title in particular drew our attention: Massachusetts: A Guide to the Pilgrim State, edited by Ray Bearse. It was printed in 1971, the second edition of a book originally commissioned by the WPA in 1937. In the preface, the editor reflects on how much things changed in the time period between the first and second editions. Reading the latter edition forty years after its publication left us equally moved. It not only provided an interesting view of how much things had changed since 1971, but also affirmed how many of those things we hold so dear remain constant. But with the book in our hands we asked: Who put this on the bookshelf in Chatham? Why did they come to New England? What happened to the author? Why did he choose to write about Massachusetts? What other visitors over the years picked up the book? Did the book influence their visit?
During that same trip, we went to some used bookstores on the Cape hoping to find another copy of the book. Even one of our favorite New England bookstores, Parnassus Book Service in Yarmouthport, MA didn’t have it. After several more attempts we realized our search might be futile, but we finally found the book online, and bought it. At the time of this writing it hadn’t yet arrived, but we know the book will end up on one of our bookshelves. From now on when we remove it from the shelf, we’ll recall our trip to Chatham, reflect on how much Massachusetts has changed, remember a wonderful vacation with family, and savor the smell of just-ground coffee and fresh-baked muffins from the Chatham Village Café where we wrote this story.
Because we travel all over New England, we’re often asked: “How do you know where to drive?” Though we don’t think about it much, we use a combination of process and intuition when we hit the roads of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. On the process side, we have a large number of maps, some quite new and many over 100 years old. We also have smart phones and global positioning system (GPS) devices. Additionally, we maintain several databases of information, much of which includes historical village records as well as primary and secondary research. On the intuition side of the equation, we determine our next turn by looking at architecture, stonewalls, and old roads that often include names of neighboring towns, points of interest, and historic families. Our intuition also guides us to the “A” roads, such as Route 1A.
What’s the significance of an “A” road? To us, it’s where you discover New England. Many “A” roads are original routes through the old towns, villages, and hamlets; it’s where you find classical architecture as well as centuries of history. They’re often the most scenic (and winding) roads as well. Many original New England roads began as old Indian trails or were created by settlers to support commerce and trade. Throughout New England roads such 1A in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, 12A in Vermont, and 4A in New Hampshire offer visitors a nice retrospective of America before the automobile. Note that the route number and less-frequent, accompanying letter designation did not show up until later.
As the popularity of the automobile in New England increased, cities and towns not only improved old, existing roads, but made new throughways as well. In 1911, the Quebec-Miami International Highway was created as the major north-south travel passage combining old and new roads. It was renamed The Atlantic Highway in New England in 1915. By 1922, improvements and new sections were added and it was renamed Route 1 in New England; the entire route to Florida was called Route 1 by 1926. Route 1 became the commerce route for many New England towns, driving a shift from many of the older routes that would subsequently be renamed “1A.” Though research is limited on the letter designation, one may speculate there were economic motivations for bringing travelers back to the old parts of town. Decades later, the Interstate system in New England was started in the 1950s, with Interstate 95 becoming the bypass (in most parts) to Routes 1 and 1A. Interstate 95 from New England to Florida was completed in 1970.
In this region it’s not unusual to find Route 1A, Route 1, and Interstate 95 in close proximity to one another. Though each of these roads represents different times in New England history, the richest and most interesting is 1A. One of our favorite Route 1A drives is from Salem, MA to York, ME, with short stops in many coastal towns such as Newburyport, MA, and Portsmouth, NH. Be sure not to miss smaller towns along the way, as all have a great deal of history, charm, and things to see. Route 1A is also a cornucopia of site markers, small signs that evoke another era. Recently we stopped at one identifying the “Minister’s Woodlot” from 1660 in Rowley, MA.
Enjoy Route 1A in New England. Catch a flea market. Visit a museum. Nosh on some fried clams. It’s worth the diversion from Route 1 and Interstate 95. Please note that many sections of Route 1A are not contiguous and frequently branch off and back onto Route 1.
Snow. Snow. Snow. There’s always a frenzy when a good ‘ole nor’easter works its way toward New England in the winter time. The store shelves are cleared of bread, water, and milk. The firewood is piled high. Many are glued to their televisions, changing stations from one meteorologist to the next looking for any extremes in the forecast. Have we not seen this before? This is New England and it snows here in the winter. Last year we commented on the non-stop snow. This year, we’re turning to Whittier for some rationale reflection.
For those of you not familiar with John Greenleaf Whittier, he was a famed 19th century American poet born in 1807 in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Today, he is not well known, perhaps his works eroded by the tides of time or eclipsed by the moon of Robert Frost. In Essex County in Massachusetts, you’ll find his name attached to the occasional street or school, likely found in a Victorian-era neighborhood. His homestead is remarkably preserved, though like many great buildings in the region, only open seasonally. Nonetheless, we thought it fitting to summon Whittier on this cold, windy, and snowy New England evening. We’ve included an excerpt below, but the complete poem can be found here. In the meantime, we’ll go sit by the fire, admire the Christmas tree, and listen to the snow brush up against the window panes.
-The Two Palaverers
Credits: Mural from the Whittier Home, Amesbury, MA. Painter, Jon Moores, photo by Pam Fenner.
John Greenleaf Whittier
Snowbound: A Winter Idyl
To the Memory of the Household It Describes, This Poem is Dedicated by the Author
The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east; we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.
Meanwhile we did our nightly chores, —
Brought in the wood from out of doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd’s-grass for the cows;
Heard the horse whinnying for his corn;
And, sharply clashing horn on horn,
Impatient down the stanchion rows
The cattle shake their walnut bows;
While, peering from his early perch
Upon the scaffold’s pole of birch,
The cock his crested helmet bent
And down his querulous challenge sent.
Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wingàd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.
So all night long the storm roared on:
The morning broke without a sun;
In tiny spherule traced with lines Of Nature’s geometric signs,
And, when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own.
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of the firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below, —
A universe of sky and snow!
The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
A fenceless drift what once was road;
The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
And even the long sweep, high aloof,
In its slant spendor, seemed to tell
Of Pisa’s leaning miracle.
On a recent, beautiful, summer evening, approximately seventy-five lucky individuals converged on Wilson Farm in Lexington, MA at closing time. Gathering among rows of tomato plants and other ripening farm vegetables, the crowd slowly filled the chairs that flanked three long tables draped with white tablecloth and adorned with beautiful fresh cut flowers. Many in attendance had never met before, but would share a common bond tonight: a culinary experience with fresh food from New England.
Dining in a location where one typically doesn’t sit down to eat (like in a field, a dock or a barn) is a novelty, and only added to the anticipation of knowing that much of our dinner had been picked hours earlier from the very field where we now sat. For us, it was reminiscent of the feeling we would get while picnicking with our young sons on a rainy day in our living room: out of the ordinary yet quite special.
Through the din of conversation, our servers (folks who worked at the farm stand and recently trained for the evening) began serving up course after course upon the table, some plated individually, and others offered family-style. With each course, Wilson Farm Chef Todd Heberlein would proudly and passionately explain each dish’s contents, philosophy, and thoughtful preparation. The colors, aromas, and flavors were an amplification of their freshness and a testament to Chef Heberlein’s artistry.
As the courses passed, the sun was replaced by candlelight, adding another welcome dimension to the evening. Ultimately, seventy-five content, satiated people left Wilson Farm as friends – not just with one another, but also with a passionate local chef and with a farm that very much embraces its New England heritage.
There is no better way to celebrate the harvest than to dine on food, simply and lovingly prepared where it was grown, shared at a community table among people who appreciate it and enjoyed in the fresh air beneath the open sky.
As we’ve said many times before: New England is as much about the people as it is about the history, culture, food and the landscape. We saw this here as well. Jim Wilson, one of the owners of Wilson Farm, was present the entire evening, sharing his big smile and ensuring that we were enjoying ourselves. Chef Heberlein didn’t hide either, making the rounds and checking to make sure we were smiling. Great New Englanders. Great farm. Great evening.
Childhood memories, unlike other thoughts, have strong emotional dimensions that include amplified aspects of sight and smell. I discovered that food, because of its social and sensuous qualities, unlocks a treasure chest of childhood memories. With this in mind, I decided to use food to probe into the childhood memories of my in-laws and garner insight into ethnic New England during the Great Depression. So often we think about our region and its colonial past, town greens, and white church steeples, yet we forge many of the ethnic threads that combine to form the broader New England fabric.
From Old Italy to New England
My in-laws, Umberto and Isabel (Celani) Ciampa, grew up in Boston’s Italian North End during the Great Depression. They rarely speak about their past unless they are reminiscing with their contemporaries at some gathering such as a wedding or (more frequently) a wake. I found the best way to gain any insight into their childhoods was to be direct and use their culinary memories as a catalyst. For the most part, after some prodding, they appeased me. I’m not quite sure why it is so difficult to get them to share their stories; perhaps they consider their lives nothing special or extraordinary. Nonetheless, they just can’t understand why someone would find their lives interesting.
Once they begin articulating these fascinating, often-humorous childhood stories, the details innocently reveal a side of them rarely seen. Their tales not only shed light on a generation, but also introduce me to friends and family who seem to exist only in old photographs. I’ve had the privilege of subsequently meeting some of them, but their numbers are diminishing, a loss for all of us. These stories fill in missing gaps and explain the idiosyncrasies and unique views of my in-laws, particularly when it comes to food.
My father-in-law, Umberto, “Bert,” was born in the North End on Charter Street, the third child of six children and second of four sons. His parents were from the villages around the southern Italian town of Avellino. His immediate family moved often and lived in various apartments in either the North End or the nearby Boston suburb of Medford.
Pepper and Egg Sandwiches
As a child, his mother would make him pepper and egg sandwiches for his school lunch. Frequently he would trade those sandwiches for a friend’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “Why?” I asked. (I would have preferred the pepper & egg myself) “Because,” he replied, “it was something we never had at home and I loved it.” Then the stories began to flow.
Bert immediately spoke of tripe, one of his favorite comfort foods. He laments that unlike during his youth, tripe appears less often on both kitchen tables and contemporary restaurant menus. He still enjoys it when he is fortunate enough to find it.
He then spoke glowingly about his mother making pasta every week and laying it upon their beds to dry; a favorite was fusilli, prepared by dexterously wrapping the dough around a dowel.
Basil and Gravy
His mother grew many things, including basil, which decorated windowsills and fire escapes. I would imagine if you closed your eyes, you’d smell the tomato, garlic and basil wafting from their open window to the street below. Sunday was “gravy” (tomato sauce with meat) day.
My mother-in-law, Isabel (Lisa Bell on her birth certificate due to a poorly interpreted Italian accent) was also born in the North End, in a third floor walk-up apartment above Parziale’s Bakery (est 1907) on Prince Street. She was the sixth child of seven, and third girl of four daughters. Ironically, she and her sisters were not taught to cook by their Italian mother, who also came from a village not far from Avellino. This surprised me. One can only speculate the reasons: safety, duty, and impatience.
My mother-in-law has an aversion to basil, which surprised me, but she could never explain why. She learned how to cook from her mother-in-law after she got married, who, ironically, loved basil, but it didn’t matter. She speaks fondly about her father, a waiter at the Cantina Italiana (est 1931) on Hanover Street. He always cooked on Tuesday, his day off, while drinking wine and listening to Enrico Caruso.
Over lunch last fall, I asked her if she remembered having a favorite dish. “Oh, I loved the snails my mother would cook in garlic and oil.” Purchased by the bag from Giuffre’s Fish Market at the corner of Cross Street and Salem Street, the snails would constantly crawl out of the bag in the sink and up the kitchen walls. Members of the family would pluck them down and place them back into the bag until dinner.
After the snail account, she moved to speaking of eels. Prior to becoming part of a family meal, the eels occupied the family bathtub. This description evoked audible gasps from her grandsons, whichs turned into a discussion they won’t forget and will likely share with their own children.
Pigeons, locally grown and caught (meaning snatched via an open window from a windowsill) were another culinary delight in the North End, though not to my mother-in-law. I found this out the hard way. As a new bride, I carefully and meticulously prepared a special dinner for my new in-laws that would include Rock Cornish game hens à la Silver Palate. Four lovely, brown, succulent birds came out of my oven. When I placed upon the table, my mother-in-law proclaimed that she would not be able to eat dinner. Why I asked? (Shocked and disappointed for I knew she ate chicken- although never on the bone) “I cannot eat them because they remind me of the pigeons from the North End.” Wait. Wasn’t this the same woman who expressed such passion for snails?
Both of my in-laws will not eat a lentil in any form. I discovered that they were not alone among many of their North End peers. The reason? Apparently there was a pasta and lentil dish from Campania that all the southern Italian children in the North End would be forced to eat regularly. How often? Enough that the mere taste of a lentil elicits a gag reflex. I surmise that this pasta and lentil dish comprised a protein-filled meatless meal, very economical for large families during the Great Depression.
And We Weave
Ironically, this is not just an Italian-American story, but also a New England narrative. Our region is home to many ethnic groups (Native American, French, Portuguese, Irish, Eastern European, Latino, Asian, Indian, African etc.) which share their history along with our colonial forefathers.
New England’s ethnic diversity is a true gift, one that is easily taken for granted, but noticeably absent in many areas of the country. Failing to capture these sometimes-quirky snippets from long ago means the human side of life gets buried with the storyteller.
Gather those family memories, stories and recipes from whichever New England state was home. For it is these seemingly insignificant threads that when woven together, create our regional, historical fabric. A fabric so strong, durable, and rich it can only be found here.
Historic city. Esteemed seafaring heritage. Some say she has seen better days. A pretty girl with a dirty face. Very proud people.
The description could apply to either Naples, Italy or New Bedford, Massachusetts. Having spent time in both cities, we see the similarities even though thousands of miles separate them. Both, in our humble opinion, are worthy destinations and offer far more to the visitor than may be apparent on their often tired facades. They also have an intoxicating vibrancy, fed by well-needed renewals. That’s why we keep going back.
Recently, on a beautiful, spring Saturday, we headed down to Massachusetts’ South Coast for some research and relaxation. For those of you not familiar, South Coast is the term used to describe the non-Cape Cod coastal section of Massachusetts that extends from the canal to the border of Rhode Island. Like much of coastal New England, this region blends natural beauty, hardscrabble living, local rituals, and rich American history. It doesn’t have the crowds or the kitsch of the Cape, but offers travelers a rewarding, yet accessible experience to explore New England. On this particular day, we covered the entire length from Wareham to Westport and included our regular, requisite stop in New Bedford.
Our destination in New Bedford was Travessia, an urban winery in the heart of the city. Travessia is run by Marco Montez, whose love for the vine flows as beautifully as his wine. Marco is reinstituting the ancient tradition of vinification in a city, rather than in a remote, rural setting. He chose New Bedford and frequently uses locally-harvested grapes for his array of wines. Though he does business sixty miles from the capital of Massachusetts, Marco is well-known by the Boston wine community and justifiably so: he’s a passionate New Englander who cares deeply about his product and his ties to the South Coast. But we digress. Travessia was our expected destination, but another place in New Bedford became our unexpected destination.
On the way to Travessia, we passed what appeared to be yet another, undifferentiated pizza establishment. Laura grabbed my arm, pulled me to a stop and pointed me to the name, “Brick Pizzeria Napoletana.” I tuned out immediately, which is normally uncharacteristic for me (and Laura), except when it comes to pizza. We’ve had so many lackluster pizzas over the years despite searching endlessly for great ones. For some bizarre reason, we take our pizza seriously – very, very seriously. I’m trying rather hard not to turn this into a pizza post because that one is already in the works. Nonetheless, being too often disappointed, I find that the Naples designation applied to pizza only exacerbates my angst because it’s almost always not like real Naples. Hence, we moved on to Travessia for a pleasant tasting with Marco.
After sampling some great wine and purchasing some nice bottles, we headed back to the car. Again, Laura stopped me in front of Brick. “They’ve got a real wood fired oven in there!” she exclaimed. “Wood-fired bad pizza is still bad pizza,” I responded. She was undeterred and dragged me in. I’ve been married too long and know when resistance is futile. Once inside, my nose reacted to the aromas immediately. They registered “Naples, Italy.” Wow. Interesting. I thought it was fluke and fought what my senses were telling me.
I saw the Caputo Flour in the kitchen, so I instantly knew they took their dough seriously. Then I saw the fresh mozzarella, the San Marzano tomatoes, and the sprigs of fresh basil. I started a conversation with John Goggin, the pizzaiolo, who was kind enough to give a skeptic like me history of the restaurant, a description of the ingredients, and a review of the baking process. In fairness to John, I did tell him that I spent many years in the North End of Boston in a famed pizzeria, so we had some common ground. John informed me that his son Jeff, whom we just missed by a matter of minutes, was the owner.
I capitulated to both Laura and John and ordered a classic Margherita pizza. Though one of the simplest of pizzas, the Margherita is the true test of a pizza establishment. More ingredients only serve to mask imperfections. And that was the challenge because there would be no room for error and it would confirm my anticipated disappointment.
Then the pizza arrived.
It was visually stunning. It was cooked to perfection. It was delicious. I was wrong – dead wrong. And I admitted it to Laura. (Another reason we’ve been married for 20 years.) This pizza was Naples, Italy-caliber. No kidding. I wanted to give John a hug. This was an unexpected experience. Right away, I wished I lived nearby so I could stop in regularly, perhaps pairing a great Margherita from Brick with a nice red wine from Travessia.
In the meantime, Laura and I will continue our trips to the South Coast, somehow knowing there will be more visits to New Bedford, to Travessia, and to Brick Pizzeria Napoletana. And what about Naples, Italy? We’ll head back there as well. It’s a jewel like New Bedford. Fortunately, we can now experience some Neapolitan pizza without the hassle of a long flight.
Are there take-aways here? Absolutely. In fact, there are several.
Great things are happening in older New England cities like New Bedford.
Entrepreneurs like Marco Montez and Jeff Goggin infuse life into our historic cities.
New Englanders like John Goggin make a huge difference for customers.
Massachusetts’ South Coast is a rich and evolving destination with no canals to cross.
The key to a happy marriage is listening to your spouse and admitting when you’re wrong.
Life is too short to eat bad pizza and drink lousy wine.
-Rob Ciampa, Palaverer
Photos credits: City-data.com (Wikipedia Commons), Travessia Urban Winery, Rob & Laura Ciampa
We love a great beer or ale, but finding an equally-great venue that serves them up properly is often a challenge. That’s why the Armsby Abbey in Worcester, MA had been on our radar since we heard about its opening in 2008. They are serious beer connoisseurs. Unfortunately, our schedules over the past couple of years only permitted a few quick stops in “The City of the Seven Hills.” Last week, after a recent run through the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts and Connecticut, we had a window of time to explore Worcester in greater depth. Stopping at the Armsby Abbey was the obvious choice for some light fare and some extraordinary brews. Several years back our expectations of a specialist pub were set by one of the finest in the country: The Brick Store Pub in the Atlanta, GA suburb of Decatur. They knew their Belgian ales; they knew their other European brews; and they knew their American artisinals. We soon discovered that our new place in Worcester did too – and then added some New England flare.
The Armsby Abbey, though a relatively small establishment, boasts a rich selection of American microbrews and craft European offerings. Beer enthusiasts will find many things to savor, but novices need not worry because the staff is quite generous with their assistance. We ordered Malheur 10 and Malheur 12 Belgian ales. Joe Scully, or any of the other talented members of the Abbey team, freely offer direction and recommendations. We spent time chatting with Joe during our visit about the selection and pairing processes. He is passionate and knows his beverage and menu offerings in great detail, something we’ve come to expect from better destinations in New England. Many of the Abbey’s brew selections change regularly, with current draught choices posted on a large, prominent black board across from the bar. The Abbey catalogues bottled beers separately, many with impressive pedigree and others lesser known, but equally good.
Beers and ales are not the only things the Armsby Abbey knows well. They also specialize in boutique distilled spirits and limited-production American wines. On the dining side, their “Farmhouse Menu” consists of fresh, artisan products, many of which are locally sourced and organic. Rather than make a substitution of lesser quality, the Abbey will simply not serve an item should they run out of a small purveyor’s ingredient. We were impressed by the menu’s variety, categorization, and especially taken by their “slates,” which are carefully chosen selections of farmstead cheeses, meats and various condiments. The “New England Slate” is a cornucopia of New England products from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, that also includes local honey from Princeton, MA along with mustard from Worcester.
It was great to find a world-class pub like the Armsby Abbey in Worcester. Their bias toward locally-sourced, New England fare made it even better.