Category Archives: Somerville

Ice cream (and hot sauce) inventions at the Heaven and Hell Takedown

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I am actually still alive, still residing in Boston (specifically, Cambridge), and still (occasionally) finding time to venture outside of work and home. My most recent excursion was to the Armory in Somerville this past Sunday afternoon to witness the culinary mash-up that was Heaven and Hell “Takedown”, i.e. Ice Cream and Hot Sauce local competition-slash-tasting. Apparently the Takedowns have been going on for five years, presumably usually benefits some worthy non-profit, and has covered a range of comestibles, including chili, mac ‘n cheese, and bacon. In this particular case combining ice cream and hot sauce cookery (as an event, not in the same dish) was a good idea since a hot sauce competition wouldn’t have quite enough interest to sustain a local event in and of itself and ice cream is an easy draw. I arrived a bit late but had enough time to sample all 9 ice creams (some more than once) before the voting ended, and it was great to see (and taste) all the variety. I have to give a shout out to the brain(s) behind the jelly donut-flavored ice cream which was spot on and got my vote, although the winner, basil and chocolate chips, was also excellent and perfectly balanced. (Still hoping that I see both of those in a store one of these days.) The hot sauces were a little less my thing, but it was fun to try them out; the ones I tried weren’t particularly hot, but then I got hit with a doozy halfway down the line that instantly gave me hiccups and I had to give up and run back to the ice creams. All in all, this was worth the 15 clams, and although I’m less excited about the rumored upcoming cookie Takedown (perhaps I underestimate the potential innovations in the world of cookies), I’ll be keeping my eye out for future Takedowns, especially of the mac ‘n cheese variety.

Martian invasion … in Somerville??

I’ve been meaning to post a quick review of the show I saw randomly a couple of weeks ago. I was somewhat intrigued by the premise, which was a staged version of Orson Welles’ radio version of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The production actually consisted of three acts. The first was “The Frank Cyrano Byfar Hour”, a “lost classic from Boston’s radio history” that in its quaint geniality had a rather Garrison Keillor sort of feel, while the second was an adapted version of the radio play that shifts the setting to the Boston area while at the same time intertwining an original story about a group of mobsters reacting to what they hear. The third expands the original story and focuses on the Martians’ reign over Boston before the not-so-surprising ending.

I’m not going to spill too much digital ink on my particular thoughts since I came across the blog entry of someone who’s done an admirable job recapping the show in depth. I agree with most of what he said, including the fun of watching the foley (i.e. live sound effects) artists, the sometimes chilling moments of the second act, and the fact the production was slightly overly long as a whole. In that post the co-writer of the War of the Worlds section also comments on the ship sequence, which was apparently not included in the original Orson Welles production but was one of the highlights of this production. That scene and several other great moments like the first encounter with the Martians at their landing site served as wonderful reminders of the power of one’s own imagination and how a book can still have more visceral impact than even the most lavishly produced movie.

I came across this post from the writer of the first act in which he comments on the difficulties of editing the script, and ran a preview of the show. I found the text of the original radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds here. The website of the production is here, and the website of the group is here. Apparently they have some recordings and some clips on YouTube. I came in a skeptic, but I’m sufficiently intrigued that I’ll have to dig through some of their archive. The War of the Worlds is such a classic, though, that it’ll be interesting to see what they tackle next.

Another season, and more conflicting concert dates!: BMOP and BMV’s season openers

The new season has crept up on me. I just realized that BMOP’s “Voices of America” festival, which includes Florestan’s BarberFest, is next weekend, at Tufts’ Distler Performance Hall (just a short walk from Davis Square ). For more info on the festival check out this preview at and for a complete schedule see BMOP’s website.

I’m a big fan of Barber’s songs, and Florestan has tracked down “more than a dozen” of his unpublished songs, including what appear to be nursery song settings from when the composer was 10-13 years old. Many of the unpublished works seems to be scheduled for the second of their three concerts. Lest anyone fear this is purely an academic exercise, no, they are not performing Barber’s songs in chronological order. And also, although the majority of the unpublished songs are juvenilia, one just has to listen to his other early works that have been recorded, such as “With rue my heart is laden” (opus 2, from 1927 when the composer was only 17), to immediately realize that Barber was an assured composer at an extremely early age.

One of the connective threads between the two groups’ concert series (aside from the obvious fact that each BMOP concert is preceded by a Florestan recital) is that two of Barber’s greatest vocal works, Dover Beach and the much-beloved Knoxville, Summer of 1915 will be performed at BMOP’s third concert. Now the only problem is deciding which of the three pairs of concerts to attend. Too bad they didn’t offer weekend passes!

In reference to the title of this post, the first conflict of the season is unfortunately BMV’s first concert of the season, also this Friday. Alas, such is life.The concert includes the Boston premiere of John Harbison’s song cycle The Seven Ages.

Brunch in Central Square

I’ve been meaning to write up a post on brunches for awhile now. A is a big fan of brunch, so even though I’m not really into it (given the limited vegetarian options) we’ve checked out a lot of different places. Here’s a quick run-down of some places worth mentioning (in approximate order of preference).

At the top of the list for A (and not far from the top of my list either) is Tosci’s in Central Square (899 Main St.), yes the ice cream place. Although brunch is a small operation mostly focused on sandwiches, eggs, and pastries, the food is solid and they always have some version of pancakes for me which are actually some of the most enjoyable I’ve had as they’re not too heavy. The wait is generally not long because (for now) it’s still a lesser-known secret, although be forewarned that on holiday weekends brunch usually isn’t served. Also, although I don’t think I’ve mentioned it already, Tosci’s is by far my favorite ice cream place in Boston. Or anywhere for that matter. Here’s an interesting post about some of their more-unique flavors, from their website.

Next up, and just down the street, is Craigie on Main (853 Main Street). Craigie is much more of the complete brunch, and although it has a high standard, the two times we’ve been the presentation was a bit better than the actual food which didn’t quite achieve greatness. We both really appreciate its move to Central Square, and A finally made it over there for dinner and it was apparently just as good as we had hoped (although he went without me the jerk and I still haven’t been yet. 😦 So sad.) It gets crowded, but they take reservations.

Onto the second tier. Among the places that are perfectly serviceable but not really standouts is Plough & Stars (912 Mass Ave., between Harvard and Central Squares). We actually just checked it out for the first time last week, and although they didn’t have much in the way of vegetarian/vegan options the food was still pretty good.

Another place we checked out recently is S&S in Inman Square (1334 Cambridge St.). This place really feels like a well-oiled institution, and in that sense reminded me of Katz’s Deli in New York. The food is hearty; the waitresses are diner efficient; and the place is huge.

Cafe Luna (403 Mass Ave.), just up the street from Tosci’s, is another viable brunch alternative. They always seem to be packed when we walk by, and in the summer there were a lot of people sitting at the tables outside. The couple of times I’ve been they had musicians on Sundays, which made the small space even more cramped. I’m not a fan of live music for brunch, but it’s a nice alternative and I appreciate that its popularity keeps Tosci’s from getting crowded, haha. 😉

Brookline Lunch (in Central, 9 Brookline St., a few steps away from The Middle East) is kind of dark inside and definitely on the slower, greasier side of food life, but it’s another viable brunch alternative.

At the bottom of the barrel of course there’s the afore-mentioned Miracle of Service (i.e. Miracle of Science). I’m also going to have to include Sunny’s Diner (7 Landsdowne St.). Although W has praised them on several occasions, the two times A and I tried to go we waited for more than 10 minutes without any acknowledgement that we were ever going to get even a coffee so we just gave up and left. Although brunch is a leisurely meal, there’s a difference between leisurely and complete lack of service, particularly when a place isn’t even busy.

And to wrap up, some places where the food is edible but why go there when you can go somewhere much better are Mass Avenue Restaurant (906 Mass Ave.), a greasy-spoon-type eatery, and Zoe’s (1105 Mass Ave.), which is less greasy and definitely better overall, but still hasn’t been worth a second trip for us. Both are in between Harvard and Central.

Looking over the lists of brunch places in Cambridge there are still a lot of places I haven’t been or haven’t been in a long time, so at some point I may make a sequel to this post. Reader, beware …

Late to the party at All Star Sandwich Bar, or “Disappointment between two slices of whole wheat”

In a renewed quest for new eateries the bf and I hit up All Star Sandwich Bar (1245 Cambridge St) in Inman next to Christina’s. Sadly, apparently we were somewhat late to the party on this one. The original incarnation, which opened in the fall of 2007, seems to have gotten pretty good reviews, but its owner, Chris Schlesinger of East Coast Grill fame, sold it last year. Perusing the reviews on ye olde Yelp it seems the food didn’t completely survive the transition. From my experience I can say that the veggie sandwich was easily the blandest, most tasteless (as in “lacking in taste”, although I suppose that as an affront to my delicate vegetarian sensibilities the latter sense applies as well) sandwich I’ve had in a very long while (although in all fairness I should point out that Nadeau’s original review in The Phoenix does note the mediocre vegetarian offerings). A’s chili wasn’t nearly as spicy as advertised and really more like a beef stew (not to mention served nice and cold), and it was accompanied by some lovely slightly stale cornbread, note the double shot o’ sarcasm.

But worse than that the service was lousy, lousy, lousy. Not only was one of the waiters snippy to us, but our waiter took the orders of two couples who came in after us which made the long wait for our food even longer; he completely forgot our side order as well. We didn’t have the heart to explain the poor tip we left since we’re not planning on going back there ever again, but it is somewhat reassuring to read that lackadaisical service also seems to be a common theme pre- and post-Schlesinger (more post) according to the collective consciousness that is the reviewers on Yelp.

The sad thing about the place is that on first glance it has a New York sort of feel (quickly dispelled, however, on closer acquaintance) which got our hopes up. My cynicism regarding restaurants in Boston seems to be growing daily …