A taste of Boston in the spring
April is still pretty darn cold up here in New England. The last vestiges of rock-hard snow line the edges of people’s lawns and the weather is frigid — sleety, sunny and even lightly snowing — all in one day. The trees are still bare and grey but you can just see the daffodil shoots poking out of the thawing ground. The sun is coming out and so are the people. Let’s eat.
Food truck frenzy
Since 2011, spring has also brought the return of Boston’s food trucks — a beloved addition to the city’s always vibrant dining scene. Walking around the “back bay’’ area of the city, I bumped into four of them parked up at lunchtime. Roxy’s (grilled cheese sandwiches), Chicken & Rice Guys (literally, chicken and rice), Zo on the Go (gyros), and Stoked Pizza (the wood-fired oven is built into the truck). I wanted to try them all but settled on having a grilled cheese from Roxy’s. All their sandwiches were tempting (especially the braised beef, fontina cheese and caramelised onions) but the aptly named green muenster tickled my fancy. Fenway Park, the home of the current World Champion Boston Red Sox baseball team is famous for its huge left field wall, nicknamed “the green monster’’ (it’s the tallest in the league at 37ft). Roxy has taken it literally and belted a home run with their “green muenster’’, a brilliantly simple combination of guacamole, bacon and muenster cheese.
Roxy’s green muenster grilled cheese
Liberally spread guacamole across a slice of toast bread. Add grilled bacon and top with plenty of grated cheese (instead of muenster try edam, colby or your favourite). Top with a bread and toast in a hot sandwich maker, brushed with olive oil.
Brussels sprouts and friends
“What’s up with brussels sprouts being on every menu, everywhere we go?” Kiwi Kate asked me while we were both in New York. This divisive little nugget was also everywhere I went in Boston. Mashed brussels sprouts? Who knew they were so good! Or how about the fantastic dish I devoured at the Neptune Oyster Bar, of smaller sprouts, roasted and served with seared scallops on duck confit with a light blue cheese sauce. Kale is also offered in myriad ways: Fried until crisp and served with crunchy calamari, chilies and pinenuts? Yum! Raw in a ricotta and rocket dip or mixed through an egg salad with almonds and anchovies. Slathered in a fresh green harissa and roasted in a hot oven. Shredded on to a goats cheese, olive, red pepper, and white anchovy pizza. Creamed like spinach, but with coconut cream and ginger. Then there’s all the cauliflower and broccoli rabe — which is a relative of the turnip, so it’s akin to mustard greens or kale in flavour, and not to be confused with the sweeter tasting broccolini. The closest thing we have available in NZ are gai lan or gai choy, which can be prepared in the same way.
Brussels sprouts mash
I asked Todd Winer (the chef-proprietor of the brand new Pastoral restaurant, bringing rustic yet refined cuisine to the Fort Point neighbourhood) if he’d boiled the sprouts, or …. “Boil the heck outa them,” he stopped me mid-sentence, “then mash them up with one of those old-style potato mashers, the ones that actually work! Then mix them with a generous amount of olive oil, sea salt and pepper, top with fresh parmesan cheese and bake or grill ‘em.” I suggest you get right on this, they’re gold.
Boston will always be famous for its seafood classics like New England clam chowder, the Maine lobster roll and fresh oysters — all of which I ate at the Neptune Oyster Bar where there’s always a throng of people waiting to be seated just so they can try the hot lobster roll, not to mention the melt in your mouth Spanish octopus, honey buttered johnny (polenta) cake with smoked trout and caviar, the best beef tartare topped with white anchovies and seared scallops with duck confit and brussels sprouts.
Tasty Burger, located right next door to Fenway Park, are doing a bang up job of the classic burger and fries combo. They serve thinly sliced sweet red onions, barely battered and fried crispy served 50/50 with French fries along with a spicy jalapeno burger that’s just the right balance of chilli kick and cheesy comfort.
Back at Pastoral the oven-roasted chicken wings (classic American bar room food also known as hot wings or buffalo wings) are dark and sticky good, and cleverly served with roasted garlic cloves and roasted lemon slices. Spicy hot buffalo wings (and cold Anchor Steam beer) at the bar of Perrys at San Francisco airport were also the upside of being stuck in transit. They are fried so they’re crispy and tender, then smothered in a vinegary cayenne pepper hot sauce and butter.
Transit chicken wings
1. Wash and dry 1kg chicken wings thoroughly, season with salt and pepper, then roast them in a hot oven until just tender. This can be done in advance.
2. To serve, deep fry the wings until they’re crispy, then drain and toss in a hot sauce mixture of ¾ cup Culley’s habanero hot sauce (or the chipotle sauce for a milder, smokier flavour), ¼ cup white vinegar and ¼ cup melted butter to coat well. If you don’t want to fry them, smother the sauce over the wings and roast them until tender.
3. Serve with a blue cheese dipping sauce (mix sour cream, buttermilk and blue cheese until smooth and creamy) and celery sticks on the side.
Boston’s sweet tooth
After the frenzied success of the cronut (the croissant/donut hybrid born in a NYC bakery one year ago that draws a line of people every morning and sells out by 10am), the race is on to find, or mastermind, the next big thing in hybrid baking. The cragel (croissant/bagel) is now out and scruffins (scone/muffin) too, apparently. Starbucks are selling a breakfast sandwich (ham, egg and cheese) in a croissant that’s round. But that’s New York, back in Boston sweets are serious business. cupcakes, Dunkin donuts, macaroons, whoopie cakes, apple strudels, Cheesecake Factory, Dairy Queen (ice cream). But the one that captured my eye for being back in favour (if it in fact it ever wasn’t?) is the chewy chocolate chip cookie. Todd at Pastoral has one on his menu that’s his daughter’s recipe, served with a chocolate gelato. The perfect end to this foodie adventure.