Let me start with a big thank you to everyone who made this day such a great time: Valerie, Elise, Dan, Gary, Jenn, Ben, Matty and Jill – these adventures are a lot more fun with a big group of people! To those who couldn’t make it, we missed you, and I hope you make it to the next one!
It all began with haggis. What it turned into was so much more – sasquatch and lunchboxes, cupcakes and fedoras, seaweed beer and burning rosemary. But haggis was the start of it all.
For those of you who don’t know, haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, a sort of sausage or savory pudding. It is famous, or perhaps infamous, for its ingredients; in addition to oats and spices, the primary ingredients are sheep “pluck” – the heart, liver and lungs (it was actually illegal in the US until this past January, due to that last ingredient. Read more about it here.) The whole mixture is combined, then put into a sheep’s stomach or intestines to simmer. While for many people these are good reasons to avoid haggis, here at Adventures in Food it’s something to run toward.
However, much like Polish food, and Filipino cuisine, it is not as easy as one might imagine to enjoy haggis in the greater Boston area. Much like those previous adventures, there is only one restaurant that I know of serving Scottish food in Boston, and it’s actually fairly new – The Haven, in Jamaica Plain.
Now, if you’re not familiar with the geography of Boston, Jamaica Plain will have little significance for you, but for myself and my fellow food adventurers it posed a little bit of a problem. It’s a wonderful neighborhood, with lots to do and see, but most of us live in Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington, and the surrounding towns. These are about as far from Jamaica Plain as you can get and still be part of metro Boston (to be completely truthful, none of those is actually Boston proper, while JP is.) So for a while we kept putting off the haggis experience, choosing things that were more convenient, or at least felt that way. And then, during our Kimball’s outing, I had a brainstorm. I couldn’t make JP easier to get to, but I could ensure that we got the most bang for our buck. There were a few spots in the vicinity of the restaurant that we wanted to visit as well – why not make one big day of it? We could visit the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute, in Egleston Square, and Salmagundi, a hat store about a mile from the restaurant – places we might not get around to, otherwise. People liked the idea, and we ended up with seven for Bigfoot Research and hats, with two more for dinner.
The day arrived last Saturday – a surprisingly gorgeous fall day for mid-November. We met in Egleston Square, home of 826 Boston – a non-profit writing center based on the popular model started by Dave Eggers of McSweeney’s and friends in San Francisco at 826 Valencia Street. Each of the 826 sites (there are ? In the country) is in part financed by some sort of whimsical supply shop co-located with the writing center. The original boasts a store for all of your pirate needs, the NYC site a depot for would-be superheroes. Here in Boston we are blessed with a shop dedicated to all of the needs of a budding cryptozoologist – the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute. Here you will find everything you need to track Bigfoot, trap a unicorn, or learn more about the eating habits of sea serpents. This mostly translates as waterproof notebooks, “unicorn tears,” and books on cryptozoology, but it’s all laid out in a charming, bright space. Obvious care has been put into the look of the place, with little labels in the style of old science labs detailing everything. Most of us left with tee-shirts or mugs, though I was enchanted by the “sasq-watch.” The store isn’t terribly big, but check it out – you’re supporting a good cause, and hey, you never know when those unicorn tears will come in handy.
From here we wandered down the T one stop into JP proper, for Salmagundi and some hat shopping! En route to Salmagundi we also made a couple of quick stops worth mentioning – one at Monumental Cupcakes, the other at a little antique store next door. While I did not partake of the cupcakes, the gentlemen who did assured me they were some of the best bakery cupcakes they’d ever had! And Gary made a sweet purchase at the antique store:
Yes, folks, he is now the proud owner of an H.R. Pufnstuf metal lunchbox, thanks to the eagle eyes of yours truly and the antiques haven that is downtown Jamaica Plain.
After that brief, magical interlude we arrived at Salmagundi. Located on Centre Street, this store is the absolute mecca of hats – they literally have thousands of them, in every style you can imagine, from classic fedoras to trendy flat caps. They sell a small selection of clothes and cool accessories as well, but the headgear is the star of the show – along with the fabulous customer service. When we arrived the store was fairly hopping – but that didn’t stop owner Jessen and his crew from giving our folks their full attention. After over an hour of shopping, we each had a hat (or two!) to add to our collections. Yes, we DID wear them to the restaurant, and yes, we did get weird looks on the street as we walked the final mile to the restaurant. There’s something about a gang of 7 people in classy hats all walking down the street together that commands attention, and hey, we looked good!
When we arrived at The Haven, we were about an hour early for our reservation, so we decided to grab a drink at the bar while we waited for the final two members of our party to arrive. The restaurant is small but intimate, with lots of dark wood, low-lighting, and a general feeling of coziness and warmth. I checked in with the host, and as we ordered our beer he let us know that it would be fine for us to take our table – dinner service didn’t start for half-an-hour, but we were welcome to sit. Given that we had taken over the little bar we thought that a good idea and sat down. Our waitress brought bowls of lovely homemade pickles, crisp and fresh:
(the red onion were outrageously good!)
She also brought oatcakes and butter, an immediate hit with our group. Softer than a cracker, but not as sweet as a cookie, these were a delightful treat with our beer while we waited for our companions:
Once they arrived we set in to do some serious work on the menu! First, a round of appetizers was in order. We decided on one of the specials, a duck liver terrine, served with more oatcakes, grainy brown mustard, and sweet onions. Not terribly traditional, but it was divine:
The terrine was smooth, silky, dark and rich, highlighted perfectly by the accompaniments.
Bridie, a tradition pastry similar to Cornish pasties.
Think a buttery, flaky pie crust, filled in this case with sweet, roasted autumn vegetables.
And finally, Scotch eggs!
These little beauties are becoming popular on other Boston bar menus, and it’s easy to understand why. A hard boiled egg, wrapped in sausage meat, coated in bread crumbs, and fried, they’re the perfect combination of taste and texture – salty, slightly rubbery (but in a good way!) crunchy and soft – for eating with a pint of something tasty. Mustard makes the ideal accompaniment, and the salad served alongside stops it from being unforgivably decadent.
And now, after all the haggis build-up, I’m going to do something terrible and make you come back for a part II! This post is already a behemoth and I want to do justice to the great meal we had. Check back tomorrow for the rest of this tale!