Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why I Love Boston - Part 3

The last part promises to be more on point, although it will focus more on restaurants than tourist sites. 

     For the last 10 years I have had the opportunity to travel to Boston on an expense account and to frequently entertain my distributors and my customers.  An expense account is a wonderful thing, but it is also a pact that you make with your company, they give you a budget to use, and you use it to increase your sales in your region.  I think I have more than fulfilled my side of the bargain, as the Boston area market is thriving, and a good return on my company's investment. The next thing you learn about entertaining is that it is your dime, but the customer's time.  That means that you pick up the tab, but that they get to pick the venue.  In most of the instances below, the customers picked the activity or restaurant.  I have yet to meet the customer who wants to walk the Freedom Trail with me, or go to someplace like a casual chain restaurant.  Restaurant people like to eat, so they want to go to the best restaurants with deep wine lists or the trendiest chef, and I am just happy to tag along and pick up the tab at the end.

     I spent the first 5 business years traveling to Boston while I worked for Mrs. Smith's Bakeries selling pies and desserts.  My VP and director would frequently come into the market for big opportunities and while there we would entertain.  I liked my VP's philosophy on our entertainment budgets, he considered us as much "good will ambassadors" for the company as sales.  We would often pick up the dessert tabs of tables next to us, and then slip out before they noticed, or sometimes we would invite ourselves to join a table for dessert and pick up the tab and sample all the items.  I know it sounds kind of cheeky, but we had a lot of fun and even made some friends doing it.  One night I joined a group of women who were having a college reunion for drinks and dessert and one of them still sends me invites to stay at her Bed and Breakfast.  I think that is pretty cool.

     One particular trip will always stand out for me.  We were in town the week of St. Patrick's Day and decided to spend the weekend over in Boston (St. Patrick's Day was on Saturday).  We stayed down at the Marriott Longwharf and remained mostly in that area.  We had some great meetings on Thursday, and signed a significant deal.  On Thursday night we scouted the place where we planned to spend St. Paddy's Day.  We picked the Black Rose on State Street.  To this day it remains my favorite Irish bar anywhere, and any trip I get near it, I stop in.  It has 2 floors and has the feel of an authentic Irish pub.  I smell Guinness now, just thinking about it.  It turned out that even with all of our restaurant connections, that they wouldn't play favorites on St. Paddy's Day, we had to take our chances on getting seated like everybody else.  We had a drink, and then started to head off to dinner at Grill 23 the Back Bay.  We were entertaining 7 customers and had reserved the Trading Room upstairs.
The Trading Room at Grill 23
The minimum number of people to get the room was 10, and just before we left the Black Rose, we found out 2 customers couldn't make it.  My VP, Dan, was talking to a young couple from Iowa who were on their honeymoon.  They didn't have a lot of money so he invited them to join us.  That dinner was one of the best I remember, we had gotten jaded with fine dining, but not the sweet couple from Iowa.  We were able to give them the night of their lives. The bride made homemade peanut brittle for all of us when she got home and sent it to us.  That was night one of that epic weekend.

     The next evening we went to Lucia's on Hanover street. We weren't entertaining, so we ate slowly and had some great conversation and wine.  I had a stuffed veal chop that was delicious. I rarely find that particular item on menus outside of Hanover street in Boston.  One quick note on the North End in Boston, if there is a bad Italian restaurant there, I haven't found it.  I have eaten at 8 or so places there, and I think it is all the close competition that drives them all to be better.  After dinner we discovered Stanza Dei Sigari, an underground cigar bar.
The staff at Stanza Dei Sigari
It was a speakeasy in the 20's and it still has that feel, it's the best kept secret in cigar bars in Boston.  My bosses rented me a humidor there as a gift for a job well done, and I enjoyed that place for the following year on my visits in. My humidor was near one labeled "Danny Devito", and while I never saw him there it was nice to think that he might have had a cigar in the cozy little jail cell room a time or two, just like me. Check it out if you ever get near there, it's right near Mike's Pastries (my favorite spot for cannolis.).  We had 3 shots of Louis XII Cognac, before we headed out.  The rest of that evening we spent at an underground club we were directed to, and it is a blur of loud music and glow sticks from there.  End of day 2.

     We awoke early on St. Paddy's day and headed over to The Black Rose.  The line hadn't started yet at 9 in the am, so it was the perfect time to go.  We made our way upstairs and the manager up there, recognizing our perseverance, ended up seating us in a booth along the wall, which we monopolized for the next 10 hours.  It was the perfect spot, because as the day goes on, the tables in the center of the room are all taken away to make room for people to stand.  Our booth held 6-8, so all morning and afternoon, we shared it with groups of people enjoying the High Holy Day, just like we were.  If you ever have the chance to get into the Black Rose on that day, jump at it, it is a memorable experience.  The line to get in, and the cover charge goes up as the day goes on, so head out early like we did.  The 10 hours we were there just flew by and we eventually gave up our prime real estate around 7 pm and headed to the Oak Room for dinner.  The next morning we got on our planes and headed home, the end of one of the most memorable weekends I have ever had. 
Durgin Park interior
     A quick note on places like the Oak Room and Locke Ober in Boston.  I've found both of the places to be disappointing at best , though admittedly it's been a few years since I've been to either one.  They are great places to go to experience the history of Boston, but I found the food lacking.  I do like to recommend Durgin Park near Faneuil Hall.  It's traditional Yankee cooking served up by surly waitresses, and it's a value too. When I wore a company logo'd shirt there, I drew the comment " Oh honey, can't afford to buy your own clothes?"  Priceless.   I like the Union Oyster House as well, and it is the oldest restaurant in the US, so it's worth the visit.  If you're on a tight budget, try lunch there instead of dinner.

Wow, this blog is so easy to write, and I haven't scratched the surface of all the places I have found in the area.  I want to get as many in, so here is a good number of other places I like, for various reasons, in and around Boston....

     For lobster and seafood in town, I like Jasper White's Summer Shack.  I like the Dalton Street location and it is close to Fenway (a must see in Boston as well).  I like the way they do their Lobster Bake, in a net with lobster, mussels, clams, potatoes, corn, a piece of Linguica sausage and a hard boiled egg.  It's delicious.
Lobster bake at the Summer Shack

I went with my siblings a few months ago to the one in Mohegan Sun, and it did not disappoint either.  I went with my niece (who is a big Little Mermaid fan) a short time later, and it was an entirely different experience.  I don't struggle eating my seafood, even if I picture it dancing in musical numbers prior, but she had some difficulty.  I have to give her kudos for going to the Little Mermaid slaughterhouse with me though, she manned up, big time. For lobster aficionados I would recommend one of New England's lobster pounds.   My favorites are an hour above Boston in Seabrook NH.  Go to Marky's or Browns and you will get a great lobster with no frills at a bargain price.  For a nice fancy evening out, I like the Capital Grille, at any of their locations.  They have great seafood and steaks and it will be a memorable dining experience.  Start your dinner with a Stoli Doli cocktail, one of their specialty martinis.  One of my favorite places to eat near Providence RI is Mike's Kitchen in Cranston.  It's actually inside of a VFW Hall, but it has some of the best Italian food I have ever had, and the prices are ridiculously cheap.  I normally go with a broker friend of mine and we have 4-5 entrees just to try them.  They do a sausage and potato dish that is to die for.  For pizza in Boston, I have never found better than Pizzeria Regina at their original place in the North End.
Artist's rendition of Regina Pizzeria in the North End
They are the oldest pizzeria in Boston too, and they still use the brick ovens and the pizzas are fabulous.  I found a quirky little place in Meriden CT a few years back, called Ted's World Famous Steamed Cheeseburgers.  It's worth the visit if you get close.  They do steam their cheeseburgers in little steam drawers and they are good.  Near Revere Beach, it's tough to beat Kelly's Roast Beef.  That location is takeout only, but the portions are big and reasonable.  When I stay in Burlington I am a fan of Cafe Escadrille, their menu is unique and they are good at everything. In Wrentham, it's always Luciano's for me.  It's big enough to accommodate a large group but it still feels cozy. 
I lost a restaurant I liked this year in Billerica.  The Naked Fish went out, but I think the original location is still open.  I liked it for some unique fish dishes that they did.  I try and eat fish a couple of times a week, and in Boston I never struggle with that quota.

     I have to finish, lest I lose your interest, but I am hoping that this will be one of the more interactive blogs I have done. I have a number of regular blog readers that either travel to Boston or reside there, so I would love to get your favorite places too.  Comment below or share it, as I'd love to benefit from your friends experiences too.  Thanks for reading my 3 part blog on why I love Boston.


Anonymous said...

Great read this week.. But now I am craving pizza from Pizzeria Regina (agree on it being the best, and pastries from Mikes!! Have not been to either place in a couple of years.
Keep up the blogging!

torcon said...

Bill, outstanding post - your years of experience and solid writing make you a natural food/wine critic! We'll seek out The Black Rose when Kim and I get a chance to visit Beantown!

Joel T Johnson said...

I loved the Boston series as I also love Boston. Rumors are that I may get a chance to visit a year from now. Won't I seem like the expert when I take people to some of the places you suggested!

Paul said...

I'll probably get a company trip to Boston early April - when they ask for suggestions for dinner I'll be happy to recommend some of your favorites.