Friday, July 4, 2014

Review: Donna's Restaurant in East Boston

Donna's Restaurant in East Boston has the best chocolate chip pancakes ever. It's no secret I love all things breakfast, so let's start things out right:

I usually wait until I take a photo to eat. Clearly, I couldn't wait. These bad boys came with my two eggs, bacon, home fries and toast ($9.79) - Breakfast Special 7B.
I love these pancakes because at Donna's they use the small chocolate chips. These are awesome because the chocolate gets a thin crispy crust on the outside but maintains its gooey center. And, the chocolate to pancake ratio is spot on. Best. Pancakes. Ever. #awesome

Here is the rest of my breakfast that day:
Breakfast Special 7B (comes with chocolate chip pancakes above).
Donna's is absolutely one of my favorite breakfast places ever. I will drive 45 minutes from my home in Rhode Island for this place. I can't remember all the prices but everything is basically under $10. 

The atmosphere of this place is also amazing. It's a diner geared towards families. Every time I go, the place is packed with families. Plus, there are murals on the walls running the gamut from kids movies to dinosaurs. Check it out:

This place is a family affair. Here is Donna (on the right) with her mother (left):

And this is what the joint looks like from the outside:

Now, let's get back to the food. Everything is very basic, nothing fancy. Just well made comfort food in great atmosphere. The eggs are always on point, the breads are always fresh and everything is made to order. I did find it a bit odd though that the waffles were made with pancake batter. It wasn't bad, just more dense than fluffy - something I look forward to in a waffle. 

Same thing with the Eggs Benedict: simple with no frills. Good Benedict sauce, nice thick piece of Canadian bacon, eggs perfectly poached and the English muffin nicely grilled. A bit too much Benedict sauce, but I would rather have more than less. 

You know what was really good? The corned beef hash. I love a good hash and I loved this one because it is exactly what you want and expect when having a hash craving. Simple and to the point with exactly the right texture: crispy bits with soft bits mixed in.

I now make sure to give Donna a hug every time I leave. I've been going here for over five years and I can say that every time I eat here, I leave satisfied. I've never had a bad meal. I've never been served by someone with a bad attitude. And every time I come to Donna's, Donna comes to my table, asks me how I am and makes sure that I am taken care of. This is one of my favorite restaurants of all time. I am taken care of in every way I can think of here, and I can't wait to come back.

Me and Donna. I love this woman so hard!

Donna's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 20, 2014

Restaurant Review: T's Restaurant

I think it's fair to say that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.  I have my usual breakfast spots but I have to share this one with you: T's Restaurant.  There are three locations: Cranston, East Greenwich and Narragansett.  I've been to Cranston and East Greenwich and I have to say that there is absolute consistency between the two.  I am assuming that the Narragansett location also falls in line.

Back to the breakfast, I die for Eggs Benedict. What can I say?  It's my Achilles heel.  Here is a prime example:

T's Traditional Eggs Benedict

The T's Traditional Eggs Benedict ($9.49) hits the spot for me.  It is a bit on the sweet side.  The Canadian bacon is very thinly sliced and a tad sweet, which makes me grateful for the savory hollandaise sauce.  It is creamy and delicious.  It's sprinkled with a bit of paprika - but I can't really taste that.  I have to say, every time I have the Eggs Benedict, which is at least ten times, the eggs are perfectly poached to my liking.  The whites are cooked through with a nice runny yolk.  The home fries are also top notch -  crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  

And you can't go wrong with the coffee.  There is always some seasonal bean they are brewing hot and fresh.  

One awesome thing is how considerate they are of food allergies.  I was recently at the East Greenwich location with a friend and they are super considerate of dietary restrictions.  I am lactose intolerant and my friend is gluten-free.  They had gluten-free toast, used a separate toaster and cleaned down the grill specifically to avoid any cross-contamination.  Alright, nice touches.  Success is in the details.

Here is my friend's dish with the gluten-free toast (#7 Two Farm Fresh Grade AA Eggs with sausage, an extra egg and the apples with cinnamon, $7.99),

Eggs, sausage, cinnamon apples and gluten-free taost

Now, let's talk about their pancakes:

Seasonal Pumpkin Pancakes

These are the seasonal Pumpkin Pancakes.  For the love of God, eat these.  They come around but once a year, in the fall, they come with pumpkin butter and are the nectar of the gods.  There are no words... just eat them.  

Then there are the Buttermilk Pancakes:

Buttermilk pancakes, sausages, home fries and eggs

This is the #1 Two Buttermilk Pancakes with eggs, sausage and home fries ($8.29).  

Here's the thing.  I ask for my eggs poached, they come perfectly poached.  I ask for them over medium, they come to me over medium.  My friend wanted them sunny side up... you get the point.  You know how hard it is to get good eggs?  You'd be surprised.  They say you can judge a chef by their eggs.  Well, T's... A+.

I've also had lunch here and, of course, it was great.  T's is like kicked up diner food that's solid, consistent and just darn tasty.  

T's on Urbanspoon T's on Urbanspoon T's Narragansett on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Restaurant Review: The Wurst Window/Kitchen at Chez Pascal

Give me your wurst... please.  And by wurst, I mean Chez Pascal's house-made sausages, cured meats and other pork delights.  The restaurant gets whole pigs from a farm in New Hampshire then does the majority of the butchering in-house.  

What is the Wurst Window/Kitchen?  It is the outdoor (Window) versus indoor (Kitchen) component to a specialty dining experience at Chez Pascal in Providence.  Within the same building lies an upscale French restaurant (Chez Pascal) and a more approachable and low key dining experience (Wurst Window/Kitchen).  One walks into the restaurant and past the bar to the Wurst Kitchen where you can be seated at unique high top tables or at the bar where you can watch the chefs with their wurst.  Or, if you are dining outside or on the go, stop by the Wurst Window where you can order your wurst right there, street side.  Got it?

Now, I hope you can appreciate how difficult it can be for a young woman to write a blog about sausages and pork products with a straight face while attempting to not dip into innuendo sentence after sentence.  I will do my best, but I promise nothing.

I've been coming to the Wurst Window/Kitchen for sometime, and it is about time that I shared my love of these sausages with you.

So, to start with, take a look at these sausages, they are the absolute in wurst:

Beer Bratwurst, Jagerwurst and Bacon-wrapped Pork Meatloaf Sandwich

At the top of the photo is the Beer Bratwurst ($3.50) with beer onions, sea salty feta cheese and house mustard.  The bottom wurst is the same without the feta, because I am lactose challenged... yay.  The sausage is juicy, not fatty; the onions are super tasty and savory and the dijon is just slightly sweet and spicy.

Second from the top is the Jagerwurst ($3.50) with braised red cabbage, pistachios and apple dijon.  Pistachios in sausage you say?  I do say.  What an interesting textural experience.  I don't find that it adds much flavor, but it is pretty and fun to eat.  Again, the braised red cabbage is nicely and slightly sweet along with the apple dijon.

Another Jagerwurst, close up.  Shame you can't see the pistachios in it.
Third one down is actually a Bacon-wrapped Pork Meatloaf sandwich with coleslaw and a spicy fig compote.  It's all quality stuff and you can actually taste all of the individual components as they blend together to create the dish.  But as you can guess, I find it just a touch sweet, but still good.

Pictured below is an appetizer of house-made wieners with fig compote with cole slaw:

Wurst Kitchen specialty of weiners with fig compote and house-made cole slaw.
I find that the sausages are just a touch on the sweet side, and that doesn't bother me.  I also find the dijon a bit on the sweet side and that also doesn't bother me.  You know what I love about the experience of these sausages?  The meat to bun ratio is spot on.  Also, the buns are always lightly grilled with just a hint of butter or oily goodness.  Whichever it is, I don't care, because I like it.  That's right, I like how the buns and the sausages work together...

One thing I'd like to mention, although many of these sausage dishes stay relatively the same, many of the topping are based on seasonality, in-house creativity and of course availability.  What is available one week or month could be slightly or entirely different on your next visit.   

Take these for example:

Chorizo sausage and Pickled Green Tomato and Baked Bean sausage

One day, I went with a friend to the Wurst Kitchen and we couldn't decide which sausage we wanted.  So, we split two sausages.  Just a couple of girls who can't decide on which sausage they want.  Anywho, the one on the left is the Chorizo ($3.50) with potatoes and typically comes with feta.  But we've gone over this.  The chorizo had a nice spice to it and the potatoes added a nice textural and starchy component.  

The one on the right, I can't remember the names but it has pickled green tomatoes, feta and baked beans.  A nice combination of sweet, tangy and savory from the baked beans.  

All of the sausages come with a side of potato salad, which I'm not crazy about to be honest.  But it's just not my taste.  It's also not what I wanna eat with a sausage.  I want beans or French fries with my sausage, on the side, of course.

If you are starting to understand my palate you know that I have insatiable chocolate cravings, and after a nice savory meal I like some sweets.  Well, the Wurst Window/Kitchen has some creative and satisfying sweets:

Caramel and Chocolate Pudding with whipped cream

Welcome to the Caramel and Chocolate Pudding with whipped cream ($3.50).  The caramel is not overpowering, in fact, it's sugary sweetness seems a bit tamed by some nice heavy cream.  The chocolate pudding has a fantastic almost bittersweet chocolate flavor that is very rich and the whipped cream was clearly freshly made.  I actually didn't finish it all, which made for a nice mid-afternoon snack.


Salty Chocolate Chip Cookie

Here is the Salty Chocolate Chip Cookie ($1.25), and only half of it.  I really do love the salty and sweet combination.  I'm not saying that this cookie was the size of my face, but it was close.  I just loved it dammit.  There were nice big pieces of what I think was semi-sweet chocolate and nice flecks of salt.  Yes... just yes.

Honestly, what you get for the price here is insane.  You get gourmet ingredients thoughtfully and lovingly prepared for a reasonable price.  The Wurst Window/Kitchen is definitely a specific craving I get from time to time, and I plan on satisfying that craving on many return visits.

Chez Pascal on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 3, 2014

Chef Series: An Interview with Pastiche's Pastry Chef Scot Stegmann

As seen in the January 2014 issue of Providence Monthly magazine

From a young age, Scot Stegmann worked in the restaurant business. Influenced by his mother, who is a baker, he went to Johnson & Wales to pursue a degree in Pastry Arts. Before he graduated, he started working at Pastiche. Twenty-six years later, he remains there, where he puts perfection and patience into the pastries.
Photo by Mike Braca.
Pastry chef Scot Stegmann was so passionate about his craft.  It gave me a whole new appreciation for some of my favorite sweets at Pastiche.
Can you describe the pastry making process at Pastiche?
There were a lot [of recipes] that were in place when I got here and we’ve created a lot since. They’ve been manipulated over the years as we see fit. We’re constantly tasting each component. Maybe it’s too sweet or needs something. I’ve yet to pick up a recipe where I haven’t seen some change I think it needs.

How long does it take to perfect a new recipe?

From start to finish it takes about 10-20 times to perfect a recipe. And that’s starting with two to three cakes and bumping that recipe up to 15 cakes. Everybody’s got to be able to do the same thing, so you want to have recipes that everyone can do.

What advice can you give to the home baker?
Perfection and patience equals pastry. You have to mix it perfectly and have the patience to allow the tools to do their job. You can’t rush things. You can’t use short cuts. Mistakes will always happen but what’s important is what you take out of it.

Do you use any local ingredients?
We’ve been buying local before there was a movement. Anytime we can, we do. In the summertime we use fresh fruit. We use Christiansen’s Dairy because they have a very high fat content. The cream whips easier and stays thicker longer. We get our eggs from Stamp Farm in Johnston. We’ve been buying from both of these places for over 25 years.

Can you possibly pick a favorite pastry?
Season to season I have different desserts I’m hooked on. In the summer, it’s the Passion Fruit Tart. In the fall and winter it’s the Pumpkin Cheesecake. So many of our items are year round so these are really special.
My favorite dessert is the Torta di Cioccolata. How did that recipe evolve?
This was one of the recipes I had worked on. It used to be a choco- late chestnut flourless cake. But we found that chestnut didn’t sell well. So we took the chestnut purée out and put almond butter in. It’s that dark, smooth, melt-in-your-mouth kind of thing. I use Callebaut chocolate in that; it’s a 64% dark chocolate.

How can two chocolates have the same percentage of chocolate yet taste different?
Dark chocolates with the same percentages will taste different based on where they get their cocoa beans from – South America, Mexico, etc. Each country has different flavor components and each company blends it differently. It’s like coffee beans. They may even blend beans from different places. They’ll also taste different based on what they add to the chocolate base.

Tell me about your vanilla sponge cake.
We use this for our Mascarpone Torte which is basically our version of tiramisu. It’s also used for the Lemon Mousse. It’s not like a pound cake; this is a lot lighter. We think it matches up with the mousse better. We always fold egg whites into the sponge base by hand.

Do you carry any gluten-free items?
We have several gluten-free items such as the Torta di Cioccolata. Another is the Raspberry Bomb, which is a flourless chocolate base, almond mousse in the center with a raspberry mousse around it covered in dark chocolate. We also make a flourless coconut cake with coconut cream cheese frosting.

What’s the newest recipe you’ve come out with?
We just experimented with a new type of caramel dessert. We use caramel nibs, salted caramel and caramel mousse between chocolate cake layers. It took us awhile to figure this one out. How much sugar do we take out because caramel is so sweet. January is the time we experiment.

What’s your secret to remaining passionate about your work?
I always take it to heart when a customer complains. I always wonder if there is something I can change. You can’t take the attitude of “it’s perfect.” You always have to reevaluate, to taste the product and make sure there is consistency. It’s an everyday thing. I like to taste things. You’d be surprised how many things you can catch just by tasting it. I think it’s important to let some criticism flow.
Pastiche on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Restaurant Review: Ball Square Cafe in Somerville, MA

There are a few things you should know about me: Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and I am always on the lookout for mouth-watering eggs benedict and chocolate chip pancakes.  Let me tell you about Ball Square Cafe in Somerville, MA.  They really hit the spot when it comes to my breakfast cravings and the quality is consistent.  I've been here twice already, and I foresee many more visits.

Let's start with one of my all-time favorite breakfast items:

Traditional Eggs Benedict ($11.95)
These Traditional Eggs Benedict are done just right.  The eggs are poached perfectly - nice runny yolks with the whites cooked through, two slices of thin Canadian bacon and grilled English muffins.  And the home fries are done to my liking as well - well done.  I love crispy home fries. And like I said earlier, both times I've had these bennys, they've consistently been done to my liking.  And to be honest, the touch of paprika on top adds a nice flavor to the hollandaise, which is thick and creamy.  A lot of other places where I've had bennys, the paprika seems like more of a garnish than actually adding any flavor.  My guess is that these have smoked paprika on them.  Like a boss!

I've also had the Florentino Eggs Benedict ($12.95):

Florentino Eggs Benedict
As you may notice in the photo, instead of home fries there is a crispy potato thing in the background.  That my friends is Omar's Home Fries (grilledmashed).  Imagine your favorite mashed potatoes in a thin layer then grilled on a flat top until both sides have a crispy crust.  It's worth a try.

The Florentino is nice and light and a perfect alternative to the savory bomb that is the Traditional benny.

Need something sweeter?  You're a human after my own heart.  How's this:

Caramelized Apple-Cinnamon French Toast
This my friends is the Caramelized Apple-Cinnamon French Toast ($9.95).  All the French toast is made with Challah bread... yum.  Notice how that whipped cream looks just a little more decadent than usual?  That's because it is homemade.  Plus, you can ask for real maple syrup or sugar-free maple syrup.  I thoroughly enjoyed ravaging this pile of deliciousness.  The apples were the perfect mix of some al dente and some soft.  I honestly don't remember adding much, if any, syrup to this.  Simply delicious.


Chocolate chip pancakes
Give me chocolate or give me death!  That may seem a bit extreme but don't ever get between a woman and her chocolate cravings.  You'll lose an appendage or something else you value.  These Chocolate Chip Pancakes are made with chocolate morsels mixed right into the batter.  They are buttery, eggy and with enough chocolate chips to satisfy my craving.  (To be honest it never really is satisfied.)  

In the background you can see a side of fruit.  That too is nice and fresh and satisfying.

Last but not least:

Mexican Omelet ($12.95)
Holy omelet Batman! This thing is no joke.  The Mexican Omelet has avocado, jalapenos, tomatoes, scallions, cilantro and cheddar cheese topped with sour cream.  There's even a grilled corn muffin on the side, which I could have used just a tad more grilled, to really bring out more of that natural sweetness in the corn.  What's nice about the jalapenos, and the other veggies, is that they are grilled, which also brings out some of the natural sugars and takes some of the heat out.  And if you are a wimp like me when it comes to heat, you will appreciate it. 

Here are a couple more things about this place. Expect to wait in line on the weekends for sure, and possibly even on weekdays.  There is a self-serve coffee bar and I really like this.  It really gives it a homey feeling, and a plus: they have soy milk, which is great for me because I am dairy-challenged.  Another thing is Mike Moccia, the co-owner.  He is constantly walking around, making everyone feel at home and handing out fist bumps.  Check this guy out:

Co-owner Mike Moccia and myself
So, come here hungry, and leave happy.  That's what I intend to keep doing.

Ball Square Cafe & Breakfast on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Winter Hikes in South County, RI

As seen in the January 2013 issue of SO Rhode Island magazine

Winter has set, in but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for cozy afternoons by the fire reading a book and sipping tea. Wait, that’s not exactly a bad thing but let’s just say you want to mix things up a little bit. In an attempt to avoid cabin fever, set out into the wilderness and let the cold wind caress your face. Now, there is really no wilderness in South County. But for those of us city- or suburb-bound, a little open space can seem huge; and in a place as small as Rhode Island, where there is basically a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner, these open spaces are gems. They are places to be enjoyed for their feelings of solitude or with the company of your choice. Whether a novice in need of a gorgeous view, or a seasoned hiker with a want for a bit of a challenge, we’ve got your hiking needs covered.

To begin with, always check the weather and dress appropriately. Personally, I would not go hiking during a rainstorm. I would, however, watch the snow fall over the ocean, but I am a bit of a romantic. A good base layer of thermals always gets me through either a light or more challenging hike. Wearing a windproof jacket also makes life immeasurably more enjoyable while choosing to spend time in the cold. 

Speaking of snow, contrary to popular belief, hiking after a snowfall is a great idea for a number of reasons. If you have never had the pleasure of being the first to walk a trail after a snowfall, add it to your bucket list. The quiet serenity of walking in the woods while hearing fresh snow crunching under your boots is something out of a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel. The sight of snow at the tide line is also something that leaves me in awe. Snow on the beach never lasts too long, so it’s always a treat when you finally do see it.

Classic New England
Take in the view at Beavertail

Photograph by Grace Lentini

Sometimes in the cold air, all you can do is take in the view in a gorgeous location. That is what is so great about Beavertail State Park in Jamestown. As you make your way down Conanicut Island, past beautiful farmland, past the historic Jamestown windmill, across Zeke’s Creek and finally winding around to the southern point at Beavertail, this point looks south into the Atlantic and separates the East and West passages. This rocky outcrop is never shy on gorgeous, big crashing waves and, oh did I mention: the Beavertail Lighthouse. It’s only a quintessential New England experience to be sitting on the rocks in front of the lighthouse, hearing the horn blowing and feeling the salt spray on your face. No big deal. 
What’s more, we have the luxury of special winter guests that grace our rocky coastlines, Harlequin ducks. These medium sized, northern nesting birds overwinter in our “warmer” waters and dive and dabble for food source. Mollusks, crustaceans, insects, bait fish and roe (found in marine and riverine environments) make up their varied diet.

Male Harlequin ducks are exquisite in their plumage. They exhibit a slate blue base, chestnut sides and vibrant white markings including a white dot on their cheek. Adorable. Whether I am out with my spotting scope or binoculars in hand, I know that I will have a good chance of seeing these ducks if I make the effort to leave the couch. 
Walk With the Animals
Trustom Pond offers glimpses of wildlife
Illustrations by Caleigh McGrath
Now, if I actually want to brave the cold and hike it out, I will pick a day where the wind is calm and the sun is shining and head on down to Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge. And yes, I will bring my spotting scope, binoculars or camera, or some combination, because there is always something to see at Trustom.

It is a unique place. After you park in the gravel parking lot and leave your car, you walk into trails that are situated in coastal shrubland and mixed forest. Expect to see your typical overwintering birds such as White-crowned sparrows, Dark-eyed juncos, Tufted titmice and Black-capped chickadees as you walk the trails. Also, keep an eye out for the deer trails that are tucked away beneath the shrubs. I always feel like I’ve been let in on some secret the moment I recognize a deer trail or catch a glimpse of a White-tailed deer out of the corner of my eye.

But, when I go to Trustom, my heart is set on getting to the coastal pond. I want to see my overwintering dabbling ducks. I need to see them. I need to see the Buffleheads, the Common Goldeneye, the Ring-necked Ducks. They are so cute. I can’t deal with it. Especially the Buffleheads, they are so little and while they are diving for food it’s always a game to see where they will pop up.

Trustom is multifaceted. Because of the variety of habitats, you will encounter wildlife species like Sharp-shinned hawks and Barred owls. These birds of prey will be hunting all year round, and, because of the open fields that Trustom offers, you will have a birds- eye view of prime hunting opportunities and may even catch a predatorprey interaction in person.
Arcadia Management Area
Thinking springy thoughts

But let’s say you want to head inland. Maybe the thought of being too close to the ocean in the winter is more than you can bear — you’re clearly not from around here. That’s okay, let’s go to Arcadia Management Area, and head to Breakheart Pond (end of Hick's Trail off Frosty Hollow Road).

This is a favorite spot of mine regardless of the time of year. It’s a short hike that gives me my nature fix. It combines a typical New England mixed forest, so even though the deciduous trees are barren at the moment, the white pines are holding down the fort and providing the greenery in these wintry months. This trail can easily be hiked with a good pair of boots or with snow shoes after a snowfall. It’s entirely up to you what you are in the mood for.

This is one of those spots where hiking in the winter time makes me think of the spring and how much places like these come alive with the melting of the snow. I start to think about spring peepers, and wood frogs and turning over rotting logs in the hopes of catching a Red-backed salamander or even a Spotted salamander. I look into the pond and see logs and rocks along the edges. It makes me think about the painted and spotted turtles that will be sunning themselves and resting on these in the not-to-distant future. Winter makes me grateful for the spring and gives me an appreciation for patience and the natural order of things.

I used to live on Wachaug Pond; it was a beautiful and strange moment in my life. When a pond freezes and decides to shift, and furthermore is surrounded by mostly protected land, the effect is incredible. The sound is alien. It brings you back to a time where people were more in touch with their environment. It’s visceral. That is what being outside is the winter is like, a visceral reaction to an environment that you may or may not be entirely in touch with. So go out an enjoy it. Although it may just be for a short amount of time, it’s long enough to get your outdoor fix and explore areas you may not have thought of or see wildlife you never thought you would see.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fall River Dining: A bite-by-bite guide to the city's culinary scene

As seen in the December 2013 issue of The Bay magazine

I’m so hungry. Let’s go to Fall River. Say what now? Has that ever been said? Well, maybe it should. Fall River is 210 years old, holds down one end of the longest bridge in the world (it connects Somerset to Little Portugal), has the largest collection of WWII naval vessels at Battleship Cove, contains the mystery surrounding Lizzie Borden, is home to signs reading “the next time you cut through my yard, you go around” and the birthplace of Emeril Lagasse – the chef who lets the rest of Food Network watchers know that Fall River even exists.
From landmark Portuguese restaurants to classic diners and comfort food, the Fah Reeve dining scene has more than meets the eye and is worth a second glance. Here’s your guide to navigating this far off land.
Keeping It Simple
Let’s start with one of the establishments that has made Fall River what it is today. Head on down to Hartley’s Original Pork Pies. They make traditional British pork pies - the most popular being the original Pork Pie - with a recipe that is 113 years. It’s simple goodness: a flaky crust filled with 98% lean pork, salt and pepper. It proves that the simple joys in life are the ones that people come back for time and time again. 1729 S Main Street, Fall River. 508-676-8605.
Next stop is Patty’s Pierogis, one of the two remaining diners open for business in Fall River. You might remember this place when Guy Fieri featured it on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The first thing you must try is (duh) a pierogi. For those of you who aren’t quite sure what that is, think of it as Polish ravioli. The most popular pierogi – among the 40 or so varieties offered on a daily basis – is Potato and Cheese, tradition at its finest. And who doesn’t love cheese and mashed potatoes? But for a well-rounded experience, try the Polish Plate. It comes with two pierogis, one golumpki (a stuffed cabbage roll filled with hamburger, rice and onion then baked with tomato sauce), a link of kielbasa and polish rye bread with a choice of kapusta soup or house salad. The soup is a family recipe made with cabbage, sauerkraut, potatoes and onion in a chicken broth. 1019 South Main Street, Fall River. 508-679-4001. 
The second of two diners left in operation is Al Mac’s Diner. Under new ownership but keeping with tradition, the 100-year-plus diner continues to bring home cooking to the masses. Their signature item is the corned beef, which you can have as a Reuben or for breakfast with eggs, home fries and toast. The beef is house-brined for four days then slow roasted for eight hours. From there it’s cooked to order. All I can say is, yes please. 135 President Avenue, Fall River. 508-567-5727 
Portuguese Restaurants
It’s no secret. Fall River has a lot of Portuguese restaurants. Although there is no official consensus, Sagres has unofficially held the top position as best Portuguese restaurant for years. Unfortunately, it burned and is currently closed. It was where I had the best Alentejana of my life. This dish includes pork medallions, little neck clams and potatoes in a to-die-for sauce. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will reopen soon.
In the meantime, there are many other Portuguese restaurants worth their weight in chourico and eggs. And speaking of eggs, no steak at a Portuguese restaurant would be complete without an egg on top of it. At Caldeiras Restaurant, their Bifea Portuguesa (Portuguese steak) hits the mark. It’s a 10oz choice sirloin seared with garlic, hot sauce, beer and olive oil served with a fried egg on top with rice and fries. 990 Pleasant Street, Fall River. 508-673-0026.
If egg on your steak isn’t your thing, don’t worry there are options. How does Tiger Shrimp with Linguini and Little Necks sound? At Cinderella Restaurant they grill the shrimp then sautée them with linguini and a Grand Marnier sauce. With a little bit of heat, it’s the perfect way to kick up date night. 85 Columbia Street, Fall River. 508-675-0002 
And, let’s be honest, no trip to Little Portugal would be complete without a warm bowl of Portuguese Kale Soup. Now, let’s get this straight right away, every family makes kale soup differently. There are some basics - kale, red beans, beef and chourico – but to each their own. But if you eat kale soup at one place, check out St. John’s Club. It was featured in The Best Thing I Ever Ate, when Emeril Lagasse said that their recipe was indeed the best thing he ever ate. Alright Emeril, that’s good enough for me. 1365 Rodman Street, Fall River. 508-675-4914.
Hot Dog Joints
It’s becoming pretty apparent that comfort food reigns supreme in Fall River. Showcasing yet even more comfort food are the slew on hot dog joints, and they all have one thing in common – their most popular dog is the plain Coney Island hot dog with the works, which includes mustard, onions and Coney Island sauce on a steamed bun. Here are some places where to get one of these simple joys in life:
Nick’s Coney Island Hot Dogs534 S Main Street, Fall River. 508-677-3890.
Faneek’s Coney Island. 269 Rhode Island Avenue, Fall River. 508-678-8261.
JJ’s Coney Island Hot Dogs571 S Main Street, Fall River. 508-679-7944.
Pubs and Grub
So far we’ve covered some of the basic food bases Fall River offers but let’s get real. Sometimes we all just a need a good brew or cocktail at the end of a long (or short) day. Check out the newest sports bar in town Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar and Grill. Right now they have a craft cocktail menu with about eight thoughtfully created beverages. Try the Apple Press. It is a plum-infused white whiskey served with a rosemary and thyme cider. It is served cold but will definitely warm you up. Pair that with Kobe Beef Sliders topped with brie, prosciutto and red onion marmalade and you’ve got yourself one tasty meal. And if cocktails aren’t your thing, they’ve got a full bar with plenty of options. 1082 Davol Street, Fall River. 508-676-7369.
Other times you just want a burger and a pint. St. James Irish Pub has you covered. Try one of their handmade burgers such as their Juicy Lucy. It’s a pepper jack cheese stuffed creation topped with sautéed onions in a Boom Boom sauce (I’d tell you what was in it but I’ve have to kill you). Suffice it to say that it’s similar to a horseradish mayo. Pair it with a Guinness and you are good to go. Not in the mood for a burger? Try their 50-cent wings. 91 Purchase Street, Fall River. 508-672-6951
Need a nightcap or another place to hit on your barhop? The Tipsy Toboggan will not disappoint. Try their Hot Chocolate Martini. It has chilled hot chocolate, dark creme de cacao, Godiva white chocolate and Absolut Vanilia topped with mini marshmallows. It’s the perfect end to a warm or cold night. 75 Ferry Street, Fall River. 508-567-0550.

Monday, December 16, 2013

About Me

Food Writer
Wildlife Biologist
Lover of all things awesome

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Chef Series: An Interview with Pho Horn's Executive Chef Teven Tran

As seen in the December 2013 issue of Providence Monthly magazine

Teven Tran is the Executive Chef and co-owner of Pho Horn’s – a little hole in the wall who’s big flavors shine bright especially in the cold winter months. The pho, or beef noodle soup, and other traditional Vietnamese dishes are family recipes that have been handed down through the generations.

Photo by Mike Braca.
Teven Tran is serving me some delicious Vietnamese dishes that I'm trying for the first time.

How did your family come to be in Providence?
My father came here from Vietnam in 1987 with my brother and sister. Then my mom and I came over in 1992, to Woonsocket, my first hometown. We had planned to open the restaurant for a few years before we actually purchased it. It was my mom’s idea. We bought it in 2006 and has been family owned and operated ever since.
So your mom had a huge hand in opening this place?
My mom would say, “Why should we go all the way to Boston to have pho?” The original recipe of our pho was from my mom and we’ve since made improvements. I’ve also hired two chefs– one from New York and one locally.
How do you get so much flavor into your pho beef broth?
We cook it with a beef bone. To start the broth out we put beef bone, beef brisket and beef flank into boiling water. After a few hours we take out the brisket and flank so that they don’t overcook. After the bone has cooked for 24 hours, we throw away the bone and strain the broth. We take the strained liquid, transfer it to a pot where we add sugar, salt, white onions, cinnamon, star anise, ground black pepper, whole ginger, shallot and the white part of scallions. We grill the shallot and ginger and mash it before adding them. We cook that for another two hours and then strain that mixture. That is the base of our pho.
Is the pho you serve here much different than what you ate growing up in Vietnam?
We eat it pretty much the same way. The cut of meat is different based on where you eat it (restaurant versus street food). If you are at a more high-end restaurant you might get filet mignon. But the cuts Executive Chef and co-owner Teven Tran prepares a bowl of pho of meat you get here are the same that you would get in Vietnam. The bigger difference is the use of beef bones. In Vietnam everyone uses beef bones because we use the entire cow. In America, no one really uses it. It is actually pretty cheap. I use about 50-60 pounds in each 100-quart pot.
What type of pho do you recommend to someone who has never tried it before?
Have the pho with either chicken or just the steak.
What is your background?
I went to URI and majored in Electrical Engineering. I didn’t learn to cook pho until after I graduated. I started cook- ing here because my family bought this place. I learned how to cook pho from my mother and learned all the other recipes from my uncle. All the other recipes are from his restaurant in Vietnam from before the war.
Aside from the pho, what are some other must-try items on the menu?
The Clay Pot is very traditional in Vietnam. It has salmon, catfish or pork cut into small pieces and simmered in fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, salt, garlic – it looks like a caramel but instead is a little salty. Back in my country we would eat this with the Hot Sweet and Sour Soup. Traditionally we would eat these together. The soup has salmon, catfish or shrimp with bean sprouts, pineapple chunks, celery, fresh tomatoes and thai basil in an aromatic spicy broth. The soup is sweet and sour and the Clay Pot is salty. When you eat these two together they balance each other out.
Do you adjust any dishes according to the season?
In the winter I slightly increase the pepper and the ginger in the pho. In the winter when you eat my soup, I want you to feel good. I want to build up your immune system and other systems. My mom cooked this way. She would say, “In the winter, the human body catches cold easily.” So, we increase the pepper and the ginger to keep the body warm. We decrease it in the summer.

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