Amazing Food at A Mano

It’s just been a consistent fact of my life that I am powerless under the magic of Italian food. Few things make me feel quite as happy as a steaming plate of pasta being placed in front of me. Looking for a little bit of that serotonin boost during the dreary winter months, I booked a Valentine’s Day reservation for me and Nick at A Mano Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria here in Salem, MA.

A Mano is located in the same spot as the former 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar, and is owned by Executive Chef Antonio Bettencourt, who also owned 62. While I’d heard wonderful things about 62, I’d never gotten the chance to try it during my college years in Salem because, well, my college kid budget didn’t get me much more than Wendy’s. 62 closed and A Mano was born in its place in October 2015. The new restaurant still takes immense pride in crafting its from-scratch Italian dishes (“a mano” literally means “by hand”) but has a slightly more downhome, “approachable” feel, as was the goal of the rebrand.  Now that I moved back to Salem with a little more in my pockets than college funds had allowed, I was excited to try this new venture from Chef Bettencourt.

Ahh wine...the perfect compliment to any meal.

Ahh wine…the perfect compliment to any meal.

After taking an Uber not even five minutes down the road (hey, it was like -20 degrees out Valentine’s night), Nick and I walked into A Mano and, thanks to our reservations, were seated right away after hanging our coats. The interior of A Mano featured dim lights which are great for sipping your wine and feeling relaxed (not great for me taking photos with my phone, SORRY!). The atmosphere is cozy, with a bar and lounge tables on one side, and on the other, intimate tables and an area set up as one long booth style seat with tables for two placed intermittently, each offering a singular seat on the other side. We were seated in this area, and at first I thought we would be so focused on hearing other guests’ conversations, but that wasn’t the case and all went smoothly.

“Antipasti”…the meatballs!

We “went big” for Valentine’s Day and ordered a bottle of Riesling, my favorite type of wine. We also started out with an “Antipasti” (which I’ve looked up means “before the meal”), the meatballs which were comprised of beef, pork and ricotta with pomodoro over polenta.  The appetizer came out with three good-sized meatballs and they were perfectly tender and flavorful. I don’t think I’d ever had polenta before, because I’d never tasted anything quite like it and I think I’m now obsessed. I asked our knowledgeable waitress just what it was, and it’s like a cornmeal paste, kind of like an Italian version of grits. I probably could have been happy with just polenta as a side!

On the A Mano menu, pastas and entrees are separate sections (there’s also pizza and salad). The menu explains that pastas are mid-sized to be a second course before the entree, but you can get an entree-sized portion of any pasta. I decided to go with the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese in the mid-sized plate after seeing what still looked like a filling portion on the table of the person next to me and finding out it was the mid-size. Nick ordered one of the night’s specials, the lasagna (his favorite meal).

The photo doesn’t do the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese justice – this was seriously satisfying.

The Tagliatelle alla Bolognese was cooked to perfection and I couldn’t get enough of the Bolognese, which included veal, something else I’d actually never had before! I was just being a regular old daredevil with my food that night. The sauce had just the right amount of meat and the homemade aspect of the pasta really enhanced the dish. Nick was very happy with his lasagna, and I tried a bite; it did taste exactly as if an Italian grandma had cooked it up in her own kitchen.

Nick patiently waited, with hands crossed, for me to take this so he could dig in.

Nick patiently waited, with hands crossed, for me to take a picture so he could dig in.

I can’t end a nice dinner without something sweet, so we ordered the Warm Toffee Pudding on a recommendation from our waitress. It was delightful, and sweet it certainly was with a toffee sauce sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. Toffee is one of those flavors I find to be more exciting than always getting a dessert focused on the regular old chocolate or vanilla, so I thoroughly enjoyed this ending to our meal.

Warm Toffee Pudding hit the spot!

Warm Toffee Pudding hit the spot!

Chef Bettencourt gets two thumbs up from me for A Mano, and I’m thrilled to have another date night option in our area to visit with Nick or to bring other couples we are friends with to. A Mano allows you to make reservations through OpenTable right on the homepage of their website, (I jump for joy when I can make reservations without calling) so go make one for your next night out and thank me later! 🙂

Featured: A Mano Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria – 62 Wharf Street, Salem, MA, 978.744.0062

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Date Night at Burton’s Grill Peabody

Hi everyone,

First, I want to apologize for the blogging hiatus! The past month has been crazy busy for me, but I’m ready to get back to the grindstone (the fun grindstone, that is) and start adventuring again around New England while sharing it all with you!

This past Friday, Nick and I wanted to have a date night (we have them a lot I suppose, but this time we decided to actually put a label on it). Nick had originally wanted a steak dinner, and while that’s not what he ended up ordering, we decided to go to Burton’s Grill on a recommendation, located at the Northshore Mall in Peabody, MA.

The bar at Burton's Grill

The bar at Burton’s Grill

So, Burton’s Grill isn’t exclusive to New England, but most of their locations are here, particularly in Massachusetts where you can find the restaurant in Peabody, Burlington, North Andover, Hingham, and Westford. In New Hampshire, it is located in Nashua, and in Connecticut, there is one in South Windsor.

A little scene from our table

We had made reservations through the website, so we barely had to wait when we got there. (I love when restaurants have the option to reserve online). We were luckily seated in a booth, which I prefer over tables, especially the ones that are super close to other patrons! The atmosphere had low lighting (so sorry about the photo quality) which one expects in a nice restaurant, and a contemporary vibe with nice furnishings. I didn’t feel at all like I was in the mall, although I could see stores from outside the door.

The *menu pricing is what we would expect to pay for a nicer night out. Compared to some of the places closer to the city where you might spend your entire rent on dinner, Burton’s is very reasonable, especially for us 20-somethings who really need to save!

My yummy Gingerbread Espresso Martini, complete with coffee beans

My tasty Gingerbread Espresso Martini, complete with coffee beans

We started with drinks and I decided to get a little festive by ordering the seasonal Gingerbread Espresso Martini. My friend Shiloh had been raving about Espresso martinis, and now I know why! It was so delicious, and almost like drinking a spiked ice coffee. It even had coffee beans in it.

We had been recommended by Nick’s co-worker to try the Philly Spring Rolls as an appetizer, so we did just that. Heavenly, like mini steak and cheese subs in the convenience of a spring roll. I could have eaten a thousand more. Okay, that may be excessive but you get the idea. We devoured them as soon as they arrived, and I forgot to take a picture. I told Nick the steak and cheese filling could compare to that of his favorite NH sub shop, Nadeau’s, but he told me (jokingly) to “watch your mouth” when I said that. Oops! We also had bread before the meal, and it came with a unique and tasty pesto-style dipping sauce.

The Pork Tenderloin entree in all its glory

For entrees, Nick actually ended up going with the Pork Tenderloin instead of steak. According to the menu, it came with “locally sourced pork, mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetable (he got greenbeans), cider mustard jus, and cranberry chutney”. I tried a bite and it was very tender and flavorful. Not even a need for steak here!

It may seem like a small plate, but it was more than it looks! I had leftovers at the end.

I ordered the Pan Roasted Chicken which came with “locally sourced statler chicken breast, seasonal vegetable (I also got greenbeans), mashed potatoes, and cider au jus”. The chicken and all sides were the perfect meal for a winter’s night, juicy and perfectly seasoned. I had enough left over for lunch the next day too!

We were too full to order dessert, but I’m sure it would have been amazing. One thing to also keep in mind about Burton’s Grill is that it also has a *gluten sensitive menu, and a *vegetarian menu, so there really is something for everyone. It also has to be noted that the staff at this location was very attentive, and always made sure we were satisfied and had everything we needed. If you’re looking for a spot for your next date night and you live near any of the Burton’s locations listed, Nick and I recommend it!

Featured: Burton’s Grill – Northshore Mall, 210 Andover Street, Peabody, MA, 978.977.0600

*Side note: It seems, at least according to the website, that each location has its own menu, so be sure to check the locations page to find out the menu for the Burton’s Grill closest to you for accuracy.

Salem Fall Restaurant Week is Almost Here!

restaurant week logo

(Logo via Salem Restaurant Week Facebook page)

One of my favorite parts of living in Salem, Massachusetts is the abundance of culinary delights the city has to offer, and the roster is growing all the time. Although I dine out a lot, there are still many area restaurants that I have yet to try out. What better way to check some off of my list than during Salem Restaurant Week?

From Sunday, November 8th through Thursday, November 12 and Sunday, November 15 through Thursday, November 19, twenty-two of Salem’s restaurants will participate in the Fall Restaurant Week, giving customers the opportunity for a two-course prix-fixe dinner menu for $18, or a three-course prix-fixe dinner menu for $28 (not including drinks, taxes, or tips).

This is a can’t-miss chance to savor a variety of different cuisines at an affordable price. Also, talk about a fabulous date night plan! You are sure to leave stuffed. If there are restaurants you’ve been meaning to try but haven’t, this would be a perfect way to taste test the menu, and you might just come across a new place to frequent! I know that this is my goal for Restaurant Week, for sure. I find myself often drawn to the same spots, and I know that there are so many more I would love.

The list of participating restaurants is as follows:
A MANO Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria, Adriatic Restaurant & Bar, Aurora Vietnamese Cuisine & Wine Bar, Bambolina, Bella Verona, Black Lobster at Stromberg’s Cove, Brother’s Taverna, Finz Seafood & Grill, Firenze Trattoria, In a Pig’s Eye, Koto Grill, Life Alive Urban Oasis, Nathaniel’s at the Hawthorne Hotel, Naumkeag Ordinary, Opus, Regatta Pub, Sea Level Oyster Bar, Thai Place, Turner’s Seafood at Lyceum Hall, Victoria Station & Vic’s Boathouse, Village Tavern Grill & Oyster Bar

Reservations are suggested; mention “Restaurant Week” when you make them. For more information, as well as to see the special menus for these restaurants as they are added, visit the Salem Chamber of Commerce website. See you out and about!

Weekend Recap: October 24-25

For the most part, I’d say we had a pretty lazy weekend. We live in Salem, Massachusetts which can get very chaotic this time of year during Haunted Happenings. I know how much fun it can all be as a tourist, and as a resident too, but sometimes as a local the crowds become too much to bear and we hibernate at home (no pun intended)! Essentially, this is what we did, enjoying the couch life and all the football watching the weekend brings. However, we did manage to make it out of the apartment a few times for some food (of course), drinks, and a tiny bit of sightseeing!

We didn’t do anything Friday night, so our first stop this weekend was on Saturday at lunchtime. We decided to go to Sylvan Street Grille in Peabody. I hadn’t been in a few years actually, and the last time I was supposed to go someone crashed into my car and I never made it. So, I was glad to finally revisit it this weekend!

I'm unsure who this patron is, but I wanted to capture a view of the bar and TVS

I’m unsure who this patron is, but I wanted to capture a view of the bar and some of the many TVs at Sylvan St. Grille

Sylvan Street Grille is a casual restaurant and bar with great service and a large, fulfilling menu for both food and drinks. They have many TVs in the bar, which were all playing various college football games. This was essentially Nick’s heaven, and I felt cozy here as well.  No need to get fancy, you can just come here to get some good drinks and food and have a fun time out. In fact, the motto on their website is “Eat, Drink and Chill at the Sylvan Street Grille”.

cranberry sangria

I started with the Cranberry Sangria from the specials of the day menu. Sangria is always one of my go-to’s and this one was pretty strong, but I’m a gal who likes to get her money’s worth, so I didn’t mind. Nick tried a Dogfish pumpkin ale, and he really enjoyed it as it was a strong beer with an unoffending level of pumpkin flavor. For lunch, I ordered the Asian Sesame Chicken Salad, which included grilled Teriyaki chicken breast, with sesame angel hair pasta, mixed greens, tomato, shredded carrots, crispy wantons and a homemade honey mustard sauce. I absolutely love these types of Asian salads with cold noodles, and I would definitely order this one again. Nick ordered a Chicken Parmesan sandwich and was very satisfied with his choice as well.

I had already dug into the salad when I took this photo...it did have a nice presentation before!

I had already dug into the salad when I took this photo…it did have a nice presentation before!

Nick's Chicken Parm sandwich, comfort food if you ask me

Nick’s Chicken Parm sandwich, comfort food if you ask me

I really wanted to try one of the delicious dessert options available on the Sylvan Street menu, but I didn’t know if I could stand any more food. I decided to combine my need for something sweet with a second drink order (I wasn’t driving). I chose the Blueberry Pie beer/cocktail combo of Wachusett blueberry ale with a shot of Absolut vanilla vodka (it might have been Pinnacle Whipped, I can’t find it on the online menu) and a graham cracker crust rim. With fresh blueberries inside, this combination was an incredible (and easily re-creatable at home!) palate-pleaser. The graham cracker crust was a sweet touch and the drink really did have the flavor of blueberry pie. YUM!

blueberry beer cocktail

While we didn’t do much after Sylvan Street Grille besides hang out at home and watch Halloween movies, we got out a bit on Sunday again. For more food, what else. I’ve started running again, so I don’t feel as terrible about all the food we consume, but when you love to try out restaurants, and combine that with writing about them, it becomes hard to not indulge!

Our initial idea on Sunday morning was to go to the Driftwood restaurant in Marblehead . I enjoy exploring other dining options in our surrounding towns here on the North Shore. However, upon arriving at the Driftwood, there was a pretty large group of people waiting outside and we weren’t sure if we were up for that. I figured this might happen, as I had read good reviews of the restaurant online before we left the house, so I don’t know why I didn’t just stay away if I wasn’t in the mood for crowds but alas. We kept driving through Old Town in Marblehead and came across some beautiful ocean views via the harbor, even though the morning was overcast. It made for a nice October effect over the landscape.

The view over Marblehead Harbor

The view across Marblehead Harbor

We walked a bit, admiring the seaside scenery. Then we got back in the car to meander through these historic neighborhoods as we headed back towards Salem. I had to make Nick stop so I could take a photo of one of my (many) dream houses that I come across here in coastal New England. The houses in this neighborhood are the epitome of classic New England, with many built in the early-mid 1700s, and one that was built in the 1660s! Imagine living there!

Marblehead house

The newest of my many New England dream houses…I love the classic red of these colonial homes, and the festive pumpkins across the door frame

At this point, I figured that we might as well try breakfast in Salem after all, and since I knew the Salem Diner was close to the Marblehead line, that’s where we headed. I hadn’t been there before, but had always seen it on my way to class as it sits in a vintage diner car right across from Salem State’s Central Campus. Luckily, it was around lunchtime by this point and we didn’t have a wait to sit down. I enjoyed the old diner car atmosphere and being around students. It brought me back to my college days, which are getting further and further into the past. When we looked at the menu, I noticed that it stated that the Salem Diner was run by Chartwells, which is the company that runs all the food programs at Salem State. Interesting! I had completely forgotten that the school purchased this diner early last year and reopened it.

The interior of the old diner car that is the Salem Diner

The interior of the old diner car that is the Salem Diner

Nick and I both ordered coffee and Western omelets, with ham, peppers and onions. I got cheddar cheese and Nick got American. The omelets came with home fries and your choice of toast. Home fries are a kryptonite of mine, and I think I ate more of those than I even ate of the omelet. In honesty, I wasn’t even that hungry while we were there so I only ate about half of my meal, but it was simple, classic breakfast fare and just what we needed at that moment.

After our meal at the Salem Diner we headed home again as Sunday is laundry and football day for us, as I’m sure it is for many of you! We were able to get out once more later that day, because temperatures were in the 60s and a nice walk was a necessity. We strolled around the Derby Wharf to Pickering Wharf area and made a pit stop into Jaho Coffee & Tea for a couple lattes (read my rave review of Jaho here). Granted, it was 6:00pm but I needed a pick-me-up, and I had gone to bed early the past couple of nights anyway. I ordered a French Toast latte, which has become my new favorite flavor there, and Nick ordered a Pumpkin Spice latte. (Yes, as you may have noticed, he’s very down with the pumpkin spice craze.) I also ordered an apple cider donut, well, because I clearly didn’t need it but…fall. And my sweet tooth dominates my life.

latte and donut

On our walk back, we admired the pumpkins and Halloween decorations that can be found everywhere around our neighborhood because this is Salem, Massachusetts, after all – Halloween capital of the U.S.!

A blurry photo from Nick's phone, but as Nick said, I look overly excited to see pumpkins everywhere...well yes, because I love fall!

A blurry photo from Nick’s phone, but as Nick said, I look overly excited to see pumpkins everywhere…well yes, because I love fall!

I also took a picture of another dreamy antique house, The Daniels House. Built in 1667, this house is now a bed and breakfast. I think this would be a wonderful place to stay for any history buffs who come to visit Salem and want to fully immerse themselves in its old charm!

salem house

Later on, the night was capped off by another yet walk because as crazy as this city can get this time of year, it’s home now and there is no more beautiful place in my eyes. I will always be able to see why so many people choose to make it a must-visit destination on their October itinerary, and year-round as well. That’s how I first discovered it, years ago as a tourist with my family.  Happy Halloween Week!

Featured:
Sylvan Street Grille – 12 Sylvan Street, Peabody, MA, 978.774.1724 (also a location at 195 Elm St. in Salisbury, MA)
Salem Diner – 70 Loring Avenue, Salem, MA
Jaho Coffee & Tea – 197 Derby Street, Salem, MA, 978.744.4300 (also located at 1651 Washington St. in Boston’s South End, and a coffee roaster and wine bar location at 665 Washington St. in Boston)

A Fun Fall Night at the Black Cow Tap & Grill

Saturday was a chilly, windy day here in Massachusetts and the threat of rain loomed. While it didn’t actually rain, it was not the greatest day to do any outdoor activities so we hunkered down inside watching football. However, it was the weekend, and it’s no fun to just sit inside the apartment the whole day. We decided to step out into society and try to find a place around that we hadn’t been to for a drink, some light food, and college football watching.

My mind drifted to the Black Cow Tap & Grill in Hamilton, MA (there is also one in Newburyport). I had heard good things about the restaurant and had wanted to try it, but it’s one of those things that just always seemed to slip my mind.  I’m really glad we had time on our hands and the idea to visit a different town because I think this will be one of my new favorite stops!

bch wall

We arrived around 4:00pm, that awkward time between lunch and dinner on the weekends, so it wasn’t very busy at all when we got there. We found a couple of seats at the bar and looked around admirably. I absolutely loved the ambiance of the restaurant – it featured a rich, dark color scheme, and industrial touches with almost a vintage side, such as the exposed wood beam ceilings with visible ductwork painted black. The brick walls made it feel loft-like, and there was a triple-shelved wine rack that would make all my dreams complete if it were in my home. The bar was large and fully stocked, with what seemed like endless beer taps, and offered three big screen TVs facing each angle.

bar and tvs

We were given drink and food menus and set to work deciding what we wanted. Unfortunately, the Black Cow website menus hadn’t been changed to match those actually in the restaurants, so the drink I had gotten excited about online was sadly a no-go (an apple cider hot toddy style beverage). I chose to go with the Blueberry Vojito instead. I knew I couldn’t go wrong with a cocktail that includes blueberries, simple syrup, club soda, and mint. Nick got Tuckerman’s Pale Ale, one of his favorite beers. The great thing about Tuckerman’s is that it’s New England-based, right in Conway, NH!

blueberry vojito

Eventually, we got a little hungry and wanted to split something. I have an obsession with margherita pizza and saw that they had one on the menu which included prosciutto. I needed to try that for sure! It was absolutely delicious and we finished it in no time. The prosciutto added a more flavorful touch to what it usually a meatless pizza, and the mozzarella and tomatoes were so fresh.

pizza

I ended up ordering a beer called “Roadsmary’s Baby” made by Two Roads Brewing Company, also out of New England (Connecticut to be exact). It was a pumpkin ale that I’d never tried before, but it was rich and strong, with 6.8% ABV. I know a lot of people who turn their noses up at the pumpkin kinds, but I think Roadsmary’s Baby would satisfy even those picky beer drinkers. It’s not too overwhelming with pumpkin flavor, but is perfect for a harvest season. And I dare you to try not to call it Rosemary’s Baby like the movie…I accidentally ordered it that way, and the bartender said everyone seems to make that mistake!

roadsmarys baby

My Galaxy phone isn’t the best at taking high quality beer photos…but I try.

Once we were getting ready to leave a little before 6pm, the Black Cow had turned into a packed house. There were no more seats left at the bar and it seemed like every table was filled. The patrons seemed to be comprised mostly of adult couples or families, as well as some individuals at the bar. There was a friendly and upbeat atmosphere and even though it was busy, it didn’t feel overwhelming. We got to chatting with a few people at the bar, one in particular named Steven who was a great match for Nick to talk to all about football, as I was no help in making conversation in that area!

I loved the decor at the Black Cow.

I loved the decor at the Black Cow.

We were having such a great time at the Black Cow that we almost didn’t want to leave. It just has that jovial vibe, friendly staff, pleasant customers and trendy surroundings. We only live a couple towns away, so I know we will be back sooner rather than later to try some more delicious drinks and menu items…umm, Fall Harvest Ravioli? Beer Can Chicken? Yes, please. Those are next on my list. If you find yourself in the Hamilton, MA area, the Black Cow Tap & Grill is a must-visit!

Featured:
Black Cow Tap & Grill Hamilton – 16 Bay Road, Hamilton, MA, 978.468.1166
(also located in Newburyport, MA at 5R Merrimac Street)

Portland Part 2

The other day, I posted about our trip to Portland, Maine for our 2nd anniversary – click here to read about our first night! Today I’ll be sharing all the details of our second fun-filled night in this beautiful coastal city.

breakfast

We had a little too much fun at Top of the East the night before, so we wanted to start our day off with a hearty pick-me-up. After doing some research into top breakfast spots around Portland, we chose The Front Room on Congress Street. It had a cute country, rustic vibe to the atmosphere, and I thoroughly enjoyed my 3-egg omelet with ham, peppers, and cheddar cheese with a side of homefries. I must say, I also enjoyed the mimosa selection, and my apple cider mimosa…a little hair of the dog, as they say!

view from hill

After a filling breakfast, we headed toward Fort Allen Park which has the most beautiful views of Casco Bay. As you can see above, the view from the top of the hill was as pretty as a painting, and of course, even nicer in person!

path

Once down the hill, you can admire the views from close up as you walk along the Eastern Promenade Trail. We took this path all the way into downtown, seeing some interesting sights on the way.

train

We were passed (and I was scared by) a honking train, filled with tourists, as it made its way down tracks beside us.

Portland is a destination for many luxury cruise ships as they travel up to Canadian waters. We spotted a massive ship docked in the bay alongside where we were walking. I’m sure this generates quite a bit in tourism money for the city.

Is this not the cutest little guy you’ve ever seen? Once we arrived closer to the downtown, there was a farmers’ market of sorts going on near the path. I saw this little goat and just had to take a picture. His name is Rumplestiltskin and he is a dwarf goat who lives at Sylvan Woods Farm in Poland, Maine. Two people from the farm were there with him, selling goat’s milk soaps and products (great for the skin!) and let me grab a picture. I can see a dwarf goat as a pet in my future…

donut sign

When we first arrived downtown, I was craving ice cream, but the place we stopped into was cash only, which we didn’t have. It was then that fate intervened and I remembered being recommended to visit The Holy Donut, a glorious donut shop in Old Port that makes their donuts with real Maine potato. So it was there we headed! We arrived just in time, as a long line formed behind us once we were inside this heavenly scented shop. However, it was run like clockwork and the line kept moving.

As we got closer to the counter, we were under the gun to choose a flavor, so I went with Sea Salt Dark Chocolate and Nick chose Maine Blueberry. We were extremely glad that we ran out of cash and remembered The Holy Donut recommendation! We would have missed out on a wonderful treat otherwise.

After satisfying the sweet tooth, we decided to grab a drink at Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub. They had a nice selection of their own craft beers, and I went with the Halloween Ale while Nick chose the Best Bitter Ale. It was a welcoming spot to grab a lunchtime pint, perfectly brewed.

grittys

I wasn’t hungry while we were at Gritty McDuff’s but I was afterwards once we did some more walking around, of course! It was then that we stopped into Old Port Tavern. To my good fortune, they had Haddock Chowder on the menu, which I had been thinking about since my first time trying it the night before. I never find haddock chowder anywhere else so I thought, might as well maximize my ability to get it while I can!

haddock chowder 2

The decor and feel of Old Port Tavern was under-the-sea nautical themed, and it seemed like a place where you can watch a big game, have some fun-loving chatter with the people around you, and grab a good drink and some chow.

bar

We did some souvenir shopping following our stop at Old Port Tavern, and Nick bought a sweatshirt to keep warm because we were about to board for a Sunset Lighthouse Cruise with Portland Discovery Land and Sea Tours! We arrived early to get in line for better seats and we were able to sit in the front row of the top of the boat, close to the tour guide and captain’s quarters.

We embarked on a beautiful journey to learn more about Portland and all its coastal scenery and history. It was a fun tour and I learned so much more about the area, thanks to our great guide and captain. We were even able to spot some animal life, including a couple of adorable seals on rocks! Oh, and having a bar on the boat was nice too 😉  I captured a few nice views below before my phone sadly died or I would have posted more lighthouse-related pictures!

tour 1

tour 2

Nick caught this up-close shot of one of the lighthouses we learned about on our tour. A family of, I believe, nine used to live here. Can you imagine raising that large of a family at a lighthouse? It would be a life unlike no other, I’d imagine!

other lighthouse

A word of advice if you ever take this cruise: BRING WARM CLOTHES. I can’t stress that enough. Although it was a warm day, it was MUCH colder out there on the water. I thought I was prepared with a jacket, but a jean jacket didn’t cut it! Other than that, I had a wonderful time aboard.

After getting off the boat and getting our land legs back, we headed out in search of somewhere to have dinner in the city. We walked around and around until we agreed upon a meal on the pretty patio of Timber Steakhouse and Rotisserie.

timber sign

The drink menu was large, with many flavorful cocktails and an excellent wine selection, but unfortunately I was all cocktailed/beer’d out for the night and stuck to water. Instead, I focused on the food and ordered Cornbread Fritters for an appetizer and Slow Roasted 1/2 Rotisserie Chicken with a side of mashed potatoes for the main course.

The Cornbread Fritters were a great choice for an appetizer, not too filling but good enough to share between the two of us with a yummy spicy remoulade to go with them. I love rotisserie chicken any night of the week, and this one was especially tasty as it was, according to the menu, “brined in maple bourbon, rosemary and garlic for 24 hours then slowly roasted to perfection”. Nick ordered the Hard Apple Cider Glazed Baby Back Ribs from the appetizer menu for his main meal and devoured it. I tried a bite as well, and it was certainly satisfying.

Unfortunately, my phone was long dead at this point so I couldn’t take any pictures of our meal. Just know, it was worth the argument we got into trying to decide upon what we wanted for dinner before we came across Timber! This was mainly because we hadn’t set out with a plan (my fault) and didn’t make reservations anywhere so waits were very long. Luckily, Timber had a nice big patio  aside of indoor seating, so we were able to be seated instantly there and it all worked out nicely.

nick and i

We were so tired out from all the activity (and hearty food and libations) of the past two days that following dinner, we called it a night and took a cab back to the hotel where we promptly fell asleep before 11pm. When we woke up the next day, it was raining out so we thought it best to head home and get back to our regular lives. I’ll always remember what fun we had on our first trip to Portland, and I’m already looking forward to the next time we can make a trip back to try out even more of the top-notch  restaurants and coastal excitement that this awesome city has to offer!

Featured:
The Front Room – 73 Congress Street, Portland, ME, 207.773.3366
Sylvan Woods Farm –  207.330.8368
The Holy Donut – (2 locations) 194 Park Ave. and 7 Exchange St., Portland, ME
Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub Portland – 396 Fore Street, Portland, ME, 207.772.BREW
 The Old Port Tavern – 11 Moulton Street, Portland, ME, 207.774.7016
Portland Discovery Land and Sea Tours – Long Wharf, Portland, ME, 207.774.0808
Timber Steakhouse and Rotisserie – 106 Exchange Street, Portland, ME, 207.805.1469

Portland Part 1

A classic coastal New England streetscape can be found in Old Port

Classic coastal New England streetscapes can be found in Old Port and all across the city

Recently, Nick and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary. I can’t believe it’s only been two years! Most of the time it feels like I’ve known him my whole life. We love going to Maine to celebrate special occasions like this together. This time, we decided to spend a weekend in Portland. I’d never been before, and was excited to experience this coastal New England city that I’d heard such rave reviews about.

Let me tell you – if you’re looking for anywhere to do a culinary or bar tour of in New England, Portland is  a MUST visit.  Everywhere you turn there is a restaurant, bar, or other food or sweets shop. I’d heard tell of this from friends when I asked for recommendations of what to do in the city, as well as from our various cab drivers. I’m not ashamed to admit that most of our time is occupied with thinking about food, making it, or going out to restaurants and bars. There are just so many options these days! So, when we arrived in Maine, checked into our hotel in Scarborough (it saved a lot of money to stay outside of the city), and got dropped off in Old Port at dinnertime, finding something to chow down on was first on my list.

We walked around Old Port, a bustling and historic part of Portland, looking in windows and doorways of numerous bars, restaurants and shops – it was slightly daunting! When faced with too many choices, I sometimes begin to withdraw. Decision making is not my forte! We chose to just continue walking around to view more of the city. We ended up in the eclectic Arts District. People-watching in this area was top notch! We kept on the hunt for somewhere to grab a drink and eat, and finally settled on Congress Bar and Grill because they had tables and chairs on the sidewalk and we wanted to eat outside.

congress menus

Our waitress, Jen I believe, was incredibly friendly and welcomed us to the city. My day was absolutely made when I saw Haddock Chowder on the menu. If you’ve followed the blog, you may know that I’m allergic to a majority of shellfish and can’t have clam chowder. Living in New England my whole life, this is something that has haunted me. I’ve longed for that seafood taste in the comfort of a chowder, but always had to settle for something else as clam chowder was usually the only offering. However, not here! The Haddock Chowder was heavenly and all the feelings of being left out of the seafood chowder club instantly melted away. I could have eaten ten bowls of this stuff, never mind the tasty grilled biscuits it came with!

I could eat this haddock chowder every day for life and be happy

I could eat this haddock chowder every day for life and be happy

As for drinks, I had the Strawberry Vodka Lemonade, which included Svedka vodka and lemonade with house infused Grand Marnier strawberry purée. The purée really added a nice, fresh touch to this already yummy cocktail.

strawberry vodka

Jen, the waitress, recommended if we wanted to continue getting drinks after leaving Congress, we should head to Top of the East, on the last floor of the Westin Hotel down the street. That sounded like a great idea to us, so we headed over there after paying the bill.

If you ever visit Portland, take my word when I say you cannot leave before having a drink (or two, or three…) at Top of the East. After taking the elevator to the top floor and walking up some stairs, we entered a beautiful, elegant lounge with floor to ceiling glass windows on all sides, providing the best sunset views of Portland that we could imagine finding indoors.

Unfortunately, pictures from my Galaxy were unable to effectively capture the view from the top - but trust me, it was a sight to see!

Unfortunately, pictures from my Galaxy phone were unable to effectively capture the view from the top – but trust me, it was a sight to see!

The bartender that night, Jaren, hails from Miami and was fantastic at his job. We would sit just watching him mix drinks with flair, and he was so outgoing as well.  I wanted one of the non-alcoholic drinks (called Temperance Cocktails here), but with alcohol of course, so Jaren added gin and it quickly became my new favorite. I can’t remember the exact name of the drink (it looks like their online menu has been updated in the past week to reflect newer autumn cocktails) but I know it had Maine blueberries in, that’s for sure, and I believe it had mint as well.

blueberry cocktail

For the most part, Nick stuck to Allagash beer, which is brewed right in Portland. We had the best time just enjoying the luxurious yet upbeat atmosphere of Top of the East and the company and chatter of the bartenders and barbacks. It felt like we were there for hours, and we probably were. Everyone we had interacted with thus far in Portland was really friendly and inviting. It made us feel at home there.

top of the east

Cool lights add a relaxing ambience to the lounge as Jaren, the bartender, mixes up a cocktail in the bottom right

We rounded out the evening by splitting a margarita, another masterfully made drink by Jaren. We then took an Uber back to our hotel, although I wished we were staying at the Westin! Maybe next time when we have just a bit more money to spend 🙂

Overall our first night in Portland was a success, and we didn’t even have to visit a hundred places to be happy. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming visiting a new area because you feel like you have to fit every single activity and must-see place in at once. But, if you’re having a great time right where you are, why rush it? That’s what we learned from this mini-vacation. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Featured:
Congress Bar and Grill – 617 Congress Street, Portland, ME, 207.828.9944
Top of the East – 157 High Street, Portland, ME, 207.775.5411

A Delicious Dinner at A&B Burgers

This week as I was scrolling Facebook I saw a post from Salem Food Digest which stated that A&B Burgers was going to be moving from their Salem  location to a new location in Beverly. I think this had been known around these parts for a bit, but having only recently moved back, it was news to me. Now, Beverly is not far at all but Nick and I take pride in the fact that we can walk to pretty much any restaurant in Salem that our heart desires. I wanted to try out A&B, which I’d heard great things about, before the days when (GASP) we actually have to get in our car and drive to it. And I must say, I’m glad we did!

I didn’t take too many pictures because I figured that since they are moving locations in only a few days, it wouldn’t do any good to show the atmosphere of the former space. The original location of A&B Burgers, where it stands until August 30th, is in the lower part of the old Salem Jail. This was the first time I’d ever been in this historic (and formerly, well still a little creepy) site since it had been renovated into condos and restaurant property. I liked the atmosphere – exposed brick and black furnishings, interesting photos on the wall …a modern space with a hint of history. There was also a lovely patio that seemed quite busy, so we ate at the bar which offered a view of a big TV. It’s awesome that I can now say I’ve been in the former jail at least once, but I’m excited to see what the Beverly location will look like, if it will keep the same vibe at all.

Now, for what you’re waiting for, the food and drinks! The menu has a pretty unique selection of bottled and draft beers – Nick decided to go with the Newburyport Pale Ale (he’s become a huge fan since moving to the North Shore) and I chose one that I’d never tried before but sounded so deliciously tempting, the Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager. Yes, I am an unashamed fruity beer lover, and I was very pleased with this summery version.

strawberry beer

That is, until the person next to me at the bar ordered an adult milkshake that looked absolutely to die (or, I guess, go to jail) for and then I was incredibly jealous! I wish I had taken a picture of the milkshake list because there are some really creative concoctions on there that I will certainly be back to try in Beverly. If neither beer nor adult milkshakes suit your fancy, there are some sure-to-satisfy cocktails on the menu as well.

It was a given that we wanted to try the burgers for our meal. There were many mouthwatering kinds, such as the Hangover Burger (American cheese, bacon, and a fried egg), Portobello Peach Burger (Portobello cap, grilled peaches, blue cheese, fig spread and arugula), Black Bean & Pumpkin Burger for vegetarians (house-made pumpkin and black bean patty with arugula and A&B’s house-made honey zest), and many more. I tried to convince Nick to order the Nick’s BBQ Burger, but unfortunately he had eaten a barbecue chicken sandwich for lunch.

We really couldn’t make a decision, and chose to just order from the “Build Your Own Burger” section to solve the dilemma. There are three types of patties you can choose from: beef, chicken or turkey. For us it was beef – it’s what’s for dinner! (Remember that ad? No? I tried.) I got a single patty and added avocado slices, tomato, arugula and cheddar cheese. Nick ordered a double patty with American cheese and a couple of other toppings (sorry, I can’t remember). We also ordered a side of the sea salt fries, although I’d definitely  been eyeing the truffle fries with parmesan and bacon..mmm…we have been trying to stay SOMEWHAT healthy though. (Meaning, I suppose we should hold off on throwing bacon into this mix for now).

I could eat another one right this instant!

I could eat another one right this instant!

When the burgers came out they were stacked high just like I like them, with a side of what I believe were homemade chips. Our sea salt fries came in a pail and were the perfect size to share with each other. I actually don’t remember the last time I had  a restaurant burger but this A&B burger had me wondering why the heck I had stayed away from them for so long . It was cooked exactly on point, a juicy patty mixed with my favorite toppings, and I regretted ordering the single! I devoured this thing. The photo doesn’t do it justice at all (or any image I want to capture  for that matter – the Galaxy s5 is what nightmares are made of and I’m mad I switched from the iPhone last year). Just know that these burgers are the real deal.

Another highlight of our time at A&B Burgers was the bartender, Mandy I believe. She was so personable and helpful, and we chatted with her the entire time we were there. The other staff members also seemed very friendly and kind. A great staff plays such a huge role in keeping a restaurant going and A&B certainly seems to have that down pat. All in all, for delicious food, drinks, and outstanding service, get yourself over to the  new A&B Burgers location in Beverly (Bell Market on Cabot St.) or stop by the Salem one before the move on August 30th!

An Outstanding Lunch at Sea Level Oyster Bar

outside restaurant

The other weekend, Nick and I were finally able to experience Salem’s newest and very rave-reviewed restaurant, Sea Level Oyster Bar. I had been seeing so many social media posts from friends and other businesses in the Salem area featuring their amazing drinks and meals from Sea Level, and I could not wait to try it out. It certainly lived up to all the hype!

Customers use this handy paper to order their oysters.

We went on Memorial Day, so it was busy as expected but there was plenty of room because there is an upstairs and a downstairs. We chose to sit downstairs and were led to a table by a window overlooking the beautiful Derby Wharf and the majestic historic ship, The Friendship. Although our area wasn’t directly open to the outdoors, the upstairs of the restaurant and certain areas of the downstairs are, and the whole space was very open and inviting. I wish I’d gotten more interior shots, but I was so focused on the mouthwatering food surrounding me as you will see…

Even on cloudy days, the view is pretty.

The view is pretty even on cloudy days.

Our table was covered by a large white paper cloth, and our waitress wrote her name on it when she introduced herself which I thought was a great idea. Nick started with a bowl of the New England Clam Chowder and he was an instant fan, saying it was some of the best chowder he ever had. When he got up from the table for a minute, he even told me to make sure the last bites left in the bowl weren’t taken away by the waitress!

I started out with a drink recommended to me by Joe Keefe, the General Manager of Sea Level Oyster Bar. The drink is called the Strawberry and Basil Shrub, and it was honestly one of the most unique tasting drinks I have ever had – I loved it! I wasn’t sure how I was going to like the basil aspect, but it really added a refreshing and tastebud-enticing flavor to the cocktail. This drink is definitely a must on a hot summer day while you relax overlooking the great views offered at Sea Level.

sealevel

Sea Level Oyster Bar offers many more options than seafood for those like me who are allergic to shellfish. For my meal, I ordered the Grilled Cheese, but this was no ordinary Grilled Cheese. This version came with Red Dragon and cheddar cheese, ale mustard, apples, and bacon on grilled Texas toast. The texture of the apples, bacon, and cheese were a wonderful combination. The ale mustard really took the sandwich to another level. I’m not even a mustard gal, but I would like to purchase a bottle of this stuff!

A much more grown-up grilled cheese, with a side of house made chips!

A much more grown-up grilled cheese, with a side of house made chips!

Nick ordered the So Cal Chicken Sandwich, which features grilled chicken, bacon, cheddar, avocado, lettuce, and tomato on grilled Texas toast. He was very satisfied with his choice, and I had a bite as well. You can never go wrong with grilled chicken, avocado and bacon!

Because we wanted the full experience, we decided to take a look at the dessert menu. In an act I’d never seen at a restaurant before, the waitress came over and stamped the dessert menu onto our paper tablecloth. What a unique idea!

We chose the Salted Caramel Cookie Pie with vanilla ice cream on top – so decadent, so delicious. A group at the table near us even ordered the same dessert because they looked over and saw us eating ours in delight. Salty and sweet is one of my favorite flavor combos.

At the end of our meal, our bellies were more than full and our spirits were up. Eating food clearly made with care and detail and having the tastiest of drinks while overlooking the gorgeous views of Salem, Massachusetts is an experience I highly recommend. Sea Level Oyster Bar absolutely deserves all the praise it has been getting since its opening. Here’s to many more successful years of business!

Featured: 
Sea Level Oyster Bar – 94 Wharf Street, Salem, MA, 978.741.0555

Authentic Italian at Mother Anna’s

The exterior of Mother Anna's - the patio offers great views of Boston.

The exterior of Mother Anna’s – the patio offers great views of Boston.

When New Englanders have a craving for Italian food there is usually one specific place that comes to mind, and that’s Boston’s North End. One of the most historic neighborhoods in the city, the North End became populated largely by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century. Now, it is a haven of both classic and modern Italian restaurants, cafes, and shops, all bustling with patrons enjoying this lovely area. The North End is so cozy to me, with such a unique charm. I enjoy strolling its streets, and of course, satisfying what seems to be a never-ending craving for pasta! When this craving hit yesterday, Nick and I decided a visit to Mother Anna’s was in order.

The view of Mother Annas from across the street - the "walk" sign couldn't change fast enough for my hungry self!

The view of Mother Anna’s from across the street – the “walk” sign couldn’t change fast enough for my hungry self!

A co-worker of Nick’s had recommended Mother Anna’s to us some time ago, and we had a great first experience at this old-style, family-owned restaurant so we wanted to go back. Mother Anna’s is true, classic Italian to the core – it’s been around since 1932, after all! When walking into the building, customers enter a classic dining room featuring exposed brick walls and walls of mirrors. The dimly lit atmosphere with opera music softly playing in the background sets the mood for a calm, romantic dinner. If the space is available, patrons can choose to sit in either the main dining room, the side room with natural light streaming through, or the patio if it’s a nice day. The patio offers gorgeous views of the city, and I hope to come back on a warmer day to get my outdoor eating fix. Last night was kind of chilly, so we sat in the main dining area near the bar.

Exposed brick, candlelight and historic pictures add to the classic charm.

Exposed brick, candlelight and historic pictures add to the classic charm.

The menu is pretty extensive, with any kind of authentic Italian dish you can think of listed. Whether you prefer fettucine, linguine, tortellini, ziti, shrimp, chicken, veal, steak or so much more, you are sure to find it on the Mother Anna’s menu. I chose to go with the same meal that I ordered our first time at the restaurant, Linguine with Meatballs. Nick went with the Fettucine Alfredo. For a drink, I ordered a glass of their homemade Sangria, my go-to at any restaurant that offers it.

Is there a sangria fan club? Sign me up if so.

Is there a Sangria fan club? Sign me up if so.

I was so satisfied with my Linguine and Meatballs once again. The meatballs were plentiful and the portion was fit for a queen. The sauce and pasta were delicious in that simple, classic way. I ate until I felt like I might burst, but it still seemed like I hadn’t made a dent in the meal! A dinner from Mother Anna’s can certainly feed you for two days.

I'm hungry again just posting this picture.

I’m hungry again just posting this picture.

Nick enjoyed his Fettucine Alfredo as well, and I almost regretted not ordering that after trying a few bites. The alfredo sauce was mouthwatering and the size and texture of the fettucine was perfection. Happy groups of customers sat all around us chatting with each other, but the feeling I get at Mother Anna’s is that we don’t even need to talk the whole time, we can just sit and enjoy the ambiance while relishing our meals.

Loaded with fresh alfredo sauce, this meal is a must.

Loaded with fresh alfredo sauce, this meal is a must.

The dinner cost around $42 before tip, which I would think is the norm for this style of restaurant. You’ll have leftovers for days! I am actually incredibly sad today, because I went to bed excited to eat the rest of my meal for lunch at work and I FORGOT IT in Nick’s fridge! I’m disappointed in myself. That’s what I get for rushing this morning. At least Nick will have an amazing dinner already waiting for him tonight. I’ll surely be back to Mother Anna’s in the near future, because it seems like I crave pasta at least every week. Next time a craving hits for you, get yourself to the North End and check it out – I’m sure Mother Anna would be proud! 🙂

Mother Anna is immortalized in a plaque outside her restaurant.

Mother Anna is immortalized in a plaque outside her restaurant.

Featured:

Mother Anna’s Restaurant – 211 Hanover Street, Boston, MA, 617.523.8496