We’ve all heard the phrase, “take a ride down memory lane.” And that’s exactly what I did when I biked around my old stomping grounds in Boston, MA. Not so long ago (or so it seems anyway) I had the good fortune to attend college in Boston and I love this city so much, I’m still a frequent visitor. But this time was different. This time I was on a mission to cycle through this immensely bike-friendly city and feast on equal parts nostalgia and the ever-evolving flavors that keep Boston at the top of my list.
I already mentioned bike friendly and honestly, that’s an understatement. Boston is one of the most progressive cities I’ve visited in terms of expanding its infrastructure for biking and bike mobility. The city was always very walkable, but now, thanks to bike lanes on most every single street, you can ride all the way from Newton (a suburb of the city) into the heart of downtown completely on bike paths. It’s remarkable. But before I even hit the paths, I got a warm cyclist welcome at the Studio Allston Hotel, where I literally keep my bike in my room with me and as soon as I step outside, I’m on the bike path that runs along the Charles River! It doesn’t get any more convenient than that!
After taking a slight detour to ride past the place I called home as a college student, I found myself at South End Buttery, which is affectionately known by locals as just, The Buttery. Full disclosure, I’ve been here before. My wife and I always sit at the same corner table, she usually gets an omelet, and I get pancakes – but this time – owner Richard Gordon, opened my eyes and palate to some new favorites.
As my crew can attest, I have a slight obsession with mushrooms (they tell me I could be a spokesperson) and yet I had never tried the wild mushroom omelet at The Buttery until now – and man, it was sensational!
But Richard then surprised me with a second dish – a turkey burger – topped with house-made guacamole, locally sourced Cabot Creamery cheese, and a brioche bun made by a neighborhood bakery – yep, as you can imagine, it was that good! And it was made even better by The Buttery’s intentional choice to source its ingredients from local farms and artisans. It’s just one of the many sustainable practices The Buttery employs to make a big impact on customers, not just the environment.
Boston’s focus on sustainability continued at my next stop: Cusser’s Roast Beef & Seafood. As the owner, Ian Calhoun, put it, “restaurants have to lead on sustainability,” and they definitely are. I had the pleasure of trying two dishes that reflect the restaurant’s name – the first, seafood, and the second, roast beef. For seafood, I was served not-so-traditional Fish and Chips. The ‘not-so’ part was the choice of fish.
Rather than the usual Cod, Cusser’s used Haddock. Why? Because rather than buying from fishermen and women who feel the pressure to supply from overfished populations, Cusser’s buys “the catch of the day” – whatever that may be. And this day, it just so happened to be Haddock. Not only does it give hardworking fishermen assurances that what they catch will be bought, but it also helps ease the strain placed on overfished populations. As for that roast beef sandwich? When you see me take that first bite, you’ll know – and yes, it was absolutely THAT good!
Ok, I’m ready for something sweet, are you? And in Boston, that means a trip to Mike’s Pastry. This family-owned and operated establishment does not disappoint. Cases of tempting confections fill their storefront, and I could linger there for hours! This trip, however, I was in for a real treat when owner, Angelo Papa, pulled back the curtain and let me walk into Mike’s massive production area in the back. I’ll just say this – you won’t believe your eyes.
And I couldn’t believe how many handmade cannoli shells they make each day – 4,800!! Oh, and I also ate a lobster tail – but it’s not what you think – this is a pastry shop after all…any guesses?
After my sugar high, I made my way to Woods Hill at Pier 4 for farm-to-table fine dining which left me speechless. Woods Hill is located in the former seaport and wharf area of Boston, which has undergone an amazing transformation in the past 10 years. It used to be that Anthony’s, a traditional and beloved seafood house, was the only place to eat in the area but now Woods Hill is ushering in a new era of dining (though they still serve Anthony’s famous popovers as an homage to that restaurant’s legacy).
In my brief time with the owner, Kristin Canty, it was clear that her commitment to farm advocacy is strong, “I want to see as many people as possible care about the environment, about animals being raised humanely, about not wrecking our crops and our soils with chemicals; that is the number one thing I care about.” The menu creations by executive chef, Charlie Foster at Woods Hill are as unique as they are delicious. In this modern restaurant surrounded by water, it’s easy to feel miles away even though you’re very near to the heart of Boston.
Suffice it to say, Boston has grown exponentially since my college days, but I remain in awe at the city’s ability to thoughtfully plan for continued growth, all while staying true to its authentic charm. And that, like its food, is wicked good.