24 restaurants and hotspots in 24 hours is a big frickin’ job! I didn’t know how much I would love doing this, and I had no idea how draining being on point for 24 hours could be. I am seriously considering cocaine for 24 in 24: DC. Seriously.
So let’s recap!
Saturday, August 15th
5:00 AM – South Street Diner:
The kickoff! Brett (my videographer), Wilkens (my driver) and I get off to a fast start at 4:45 in the morning and shoot down to Kneeland street, home of the South Street diner. Even though we call ahead and order, nothing is ready for us. Kelsey (the waitress) took my order over the phone and then forgot about me, even though I joked with her about showing her boobs for the camera a week earlier in my interview with Sol (owner of the SSD). Of course, it is 5:05 and I am already freaking out about making my schedule. We get the biggest, greasiest thing on the menu, and dig in. Dan loves the sausage (obviously) and I am a big fan of the perfectly buttered diner toast. You know you expect that diner toast to be completely buttered when you bite into it. Brett grabs a few bites to start the day off healthy hungry-man style, and I sop up some of the yolk with the toast before we throw the tip down and jam to . . .
6:00 AM – Mike’s City Diner:
We get there, and the waitress remembers me; she asks me where I have been.
“South Street Diner,” I say.
“You poor thing! Sit down! I’ll get you some real food,” she says as she yells to the chef, “Waffle with strawberries on the run I, got the sauce.”
I get my first taste of the competition between diners here in the city. Good rivals make better quality product. She drops the waffle on me (the sauce is the whipped cream) and surprises me with a side of Turkey Hash. Holy crap – this stuff will be infamous. The light turkeyish character lets me feel like I am being health-conscious as I down the whole plate. She said that Jay came up with it the night before and I am the first Mike’s city restaurant patron to taste it. It is a huge win. Fully caffeinated, we’re on our way to . . .
7:00 AM – The Neighborhood Restaurant and Bakery
Sheila is there. She took the reins of the place from her brother when he passed and let me tell you, she is doing a great honor to his life by keeping this place to the high standards he’d set for the restaurant. I love this woman. I have been telling Dan and Brett to get ready for the mind-altering substance that is the Cream of Wheat at TNR&B, and their minds are significantly blown when the lemon-tinged spoonful of grits hits their lips. Likewise with the ‘popovers’ (you’ll see why there are quotes around popover in the video). We have the Tropical French Toast as the main dish. The sweet mangoes and coconut milk set it off like four black women robbin’ banks. Finished, we lock the GPS in to . . .
8:00 AM – Zaftig’s
Lisa was the most hospitable person I met on these shoots. I think it’s her maternal character kicking in, but I think that she just knows how to treat a man. Whoever the ‘Clark’ in ‘Hicks-Clark’ is should be a damn grateful husband. We have the benedict on lox on potato pancake. Wilkens raves, I finish one whole potato pancake, Brett barely gets a bite, but is adventurous and tastes lox for the first time. This dish is a hit with at least one Quinnipiac student. The hollandaise – creamy and not too lemony. The lox – fresh. The potato pancake – light and crispy on the outside with doughy goodness on the inside. Wilkens’ favorite for the shift. Brett is branching out and exploring fine dining for the first time – he tells me that his mom makes pretty good sandwiches and Chicken Pot Pie, and after that, it drops off like the Marianas Trench. From Zaftig’s, it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to . . .
9:00 AM – Centre Street Cafe
The line is already forming and we’ve still got 20 minutes before the place opens. It’s sweltering outside but not even 9:00 AM – this is not a good sign. The CSC was the only place on the whole list that wouldn’t comp the meal for me, but I didn’t care – I couldn’t call myself a food critic and evaluate the best brunches in Boston without including this establishment. In hindsight, there are seven restaurants now on that short list.
This is a blessing in disguise for me – I don’t have to eat the whole thing to let them know how much I like it, but Jesus Christ is this Strata fantastic. I get two bites of the fluffy eggs and bread, one of the field green salad, and a to-go box. There are so many things today that I wish I could have eaten more of, not one of which comes from . . .
10:00 AM – Aquitaine
My cheeseburger was well-done. I ordered it medium-rare. Of course, on a day where I am not pressed for time, I would have sent it back and received another one immediately. I know that Aquitaine turns out a consistently high-quality product, but today I was not impressed. Due to the fact that I didn’t give them a chance to make it right, which I am sure they would have had I asked, I won’t hold that against them. The plusses from my other visits: service to the nines, friendly staff, macaroni and cheese second only to my mother’s (and grandmother’s). I also really liked the bathroom (the wallpaper is wine labels!) and the waitress with the funky diamond glasses. If she’s single, there is an imbalance in the universe. I would have hit on her, but we had to go to . . .
11:00 AM – Mike and Patty’s
The most anticipated restaurant of the day for me because of all the awesome Yelp reviews and my interview with Mike where he served me a piece of peameal bacon. Damn that bacon is tasty! We had the Bacon and Egg Fancy and the Marc Savard. Both with mayo. I say that because Wilkens is an avowed mayo hater. He put aside his prejudices and had a big mayo filled bite of each sandwich, and then he had two more. Heather commented that there had been more than one person who had seen the light by way of the house-made mayo at Mike and Patty’s.
The Fancy is the most popular order at the restaurant. Mike claims that even with the bacon-and-eggness of the sandwich, it knows none of the strict AM/PM ordering limitations of typical breakfast fare. I don’t doubt it. Brett picks the avocados out (showing the only squeamishness of the day) and devours the rest of the Fancy. Tangy, cheesy, just right bacon, and I don’t say this a lot about this type of bread, but incredible multigrain bread. My mom brought home some multigrain bread when I was younger from Nissen or Wonder or some big bread place and I complained about the ‘nuts’ in it. You’ll get no protest from me about the nuts in the bread here. I would have liked to finish the Marc Savard as well, but I had a deathmatch with . . .
Noon – Anna’s Taqueria
If I was required to eat the whole dish at each restaurant before soldiering on to the next one, I can guarantee you that the super burrito at Anna’s would have put me down for the count. I would have to say that food value/dollar here is among the best in the city, and if you ask any BU student about the must-eat restaurants in Boston, and one of their top three spots isn’t Anna’s, you can rest assured he is either a sultan, prince, or son of one of those.
I have to say that am spoiled here. I have eaten at the Taqueria so often that I know exactly what I am getting and what it tastes like.
When we grab an Al Pastor burrito with everything, it is exactly as wonderful as I remember it. Francisico (the GM whom I interviewed) is not there, neither is Mike (the owner – even in my brief encounter with him, I can tell he is a consummate foodie) and I take that as the green light to eat as little as possible. As much of a compliment I paid to Mike and Patty’s by eating so much, I did an equivalent disservice to Anna’s by eating so little. I take three bites, knowing that I am going to get a break in the next hour at . . .
1:00 PM – Fugakyu
PETA members, please move on to the review of Galleria Umberto. My visit to Fugakyu is the most entertaining and stimulating experience food experience I’ve had in my life (save for that time with my ex and the chocolate sauce). We sit down and are watching Hiro work from three feet away. He takes a live shrimp from the tank and filets the tail while impaling the head on a skewer. Plated, the antennae and legs of the shrimp still move and react to touch as I put the nearly alive tail into my mouth. It is slippery and tender, unlike any mouthfeel I have ever had.
The Fluke, Hiro’s favorite fish, had a uniquely delicate flavor and the most silky firmness. It was prepared to look like another type of fish, with what would be the veins replaced with nori. The plate was a work of art. Son of a Japanese woman and schooled in Japan by the masters, Hiro has this fish stuff down like Cousteau. After Mers (the new stickman) enjoys the last few pieces of fluke, we jump in the Subie and he drops us off at . . .
2:00 PM – Galleria Umberto
. . . and goes to grab Brett and I some water, antacid, and much needed Fisherman’s Friend throat lozenges. Let me just add an aside here: if you need throat lozenges, and you really need to soothe an aching throat, Fisherman’s Friend Lozenges are the ONLY (I Repeat, ONLY) way to go. It’s like Chloraseptic, Halls, and Ambesol had a three-way and this was their dirty little love child. Back on track . . .
Named one of the top 25 pizza places in the United States by Alan Richman, Umberto’s does not slack on flavor. We have the Arancini and the pizza. A Sicilian, Paul told me that his father (who opened the place) was wondering why no one made the rice balls in the US and started serving them himself. Bless his heart – these things are gorgeous. It’s a tennis-ball sized puff pastry the consistency as if the outside was made of french bread, filled with potatoes encasing a meat marinara center and tasted like a ritz cracker crumbled onto a beef-stew-based shepherd’s pie (from Wisconsin). The pizza is no slouch, crispy on the bottom with a tangy, sweet sauce and immaculately chewy cheese. But at the end of this competition, my pizza budget will go to filling the coffers at . . .
3:00 PM – Santarpio’s
Best pizza in Boston. Also on the Richman list, this pizza is on a different level. The only thing keeping this pie from being in my lifetime top three is the scarcity of the toppings on the pizza. I finally realized why the cornmeal on the bottom of the pizza makes such a difference. Number one, everyone knows and understands; the crunch of the baked cornmeal. Number two takes a little thinking; the cornmeal acts like the sands on a shuffleboard table, holding it just above the floor of the oven, letting air circulate ever so slightly to crisp the crust on the bottom of the pizza more thoroughly.
We make friends with a pretty racist biker at the bar who loves giving the finger for whatever reason. But really, it was just impossible to tell why the guy was going to give the finger for something. You are madly in love with your girlfriend – his response: “I’ll tell you what she needs!” (gives the finger) or you just had some amazing sushi in Brookline – his response: “Know what those Japs can do with my fish?” (gives the finger) Just an astounding gentleman, to say the least. He and two of his Harley-riding friends have plates of lamb, but don’t share a pizza. We leave at the same time and he makes a crack, something about me having a driver and not being man enough to ride a motorcycle. I leave him with a link to my Central American photoblog, he’s left speechless, and we’ve just left for . . .
4:00 PM – CaffÃ© Vittoria
CaffÃ© Vittoria is the best place in Boston to take a first date, and here’s why. You have the cappuccino, you have the share a cannoli, everything goes well, you are in like Errol. But let’s say you have the cappuccino, you have the share a cannoli, she gets a call and has to go halfway through dinner, two can play at that game. Make your own call to one of your boys and bounce downstairs to Stanza De Sigari to enjoy the best guy’s night out spot in Boston.
We went downstairs after the best cappuccino and cannoli combo in the city and I grabbed a ceremonial smoke from a patron and actually was paparazzi-ized by a cute Asian girl who had either just bought a new camera or thought I was someone important (of course, my mom will defend ’til the end that I am). Mers admires the low-key atmosphere, and Brett has gotten in and out of a bar in Boston without being carded (he’s 20). We’re off to O Ya and to change drivers for the final leg of the journey.