Tag Archives: boston

Coppa!

Coppa is one of those restaurants that I kept meaning to get to. Chef/Owner Ken Oringer is legendary on the Boston food scene, with restaurants as diverse and well-loved as Clio, La Verdad, Toro, and KO Prime to his name. The other Chef/Owner, Jaime Bissonette, has not only worked with Oringer at several of those restaurants, but he’s the sort of young, funky, tattooed chef who gets profiled all over the place. All signs pointed to Coppa being a great dining experience. So what took me so long to get there?

I’ll admit it, location was a huge factor. Coppa is tucked away on a little side street in the South End that just isn’t that convenient to my nightlife. I’m in the neighborhood once a week during the school year to volunteer, but the middle of a work day isn’t the best time to visit a restaurant that calls itself an enoteca – while it’s not literally a wine shop, there is a very serious Italian wine list. I was also concerned that this would be a splurge meal – something I have no trouble doing, but I needed an excuse for said splurge.

One finally came in the form of my third marathon, which I ran with two friends with similar attitudes toward good food and drink. We would celebrate our accomplishment with wine and meat!

Because that’s Coppa’s specialty – a marvelous selection of Italian salumi, cheeses, and meaty delights. This is not a restaurant that vegetarians would enjoy. Thankfully, I am no vegetarian. So, did it live up to my great expectations?

DID IT EVER.

We started with pretty much our only vegetable dish of the evening, little crostini topped with sunchokes and marscarpone cheese.
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(apologies for the blurry picture – it was quite dark in the restaurant. Eventually I caved and used my flash.) This little bar snack is seriously fantastic. If you’ve never had a sunchoke, imagine a cross between a chestnut and a mushroom – nutty but earthy at the same time.

Our other non-meat dish was the burrata, which is type of insanely buttery mozzarella cheese made right in Somerville, MA.
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If it had been acceptable to lick the plate, we would have.

Similarly warm feelings were had about these:
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These are pig’s tails, roasted in a wood-oven and glazed with mostarda. They are tiny nuggets of pure joy. If I could eat them every day, I would be extremely happy for the rest of my incredibly shortened life span.

Naturally, we couldn’t visit Coppa without getting a salume plate. Regrettably, I forgot the name of nearly everything on this platter the minute she put it down, but I DO know there’s some lardo on that piggy, because we asked for it, and it was amazing. Also, how adorable is that tray?

Adjusted Salume Plate

This was an entree special of an extremely decadent rib. Though just one, the meat was plentiful.

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Finally, we did try one of the wood-fired pizzas – bone marrow with beef heart pastrami and horseradish. If, like myself and the ladies I was dining with, the combination  of beef heart and bone marrow on your pizza tantalizes, GET THIS. It is outstanding, meaty and silky and cheesy and wonderful.

Untitled If, on the other hand, like the young couple on a date next to us you are in fact a pair of very confused vegetarians, DO NOT EVEN ASK what is on this pizza. You will be sorry you did.

The atmosphere in Coppa is jovial and close – the space is teeny tiny. Everyone seems friendly and the wait staff is lovely, but if you’re in Boston and want to go, I’d get (I did in fact get) reservations, because there’s really not the space to wait. Since they call themselves an enoteca, a note on the wine: I thought it was fabulous. I also really love Italian reds, so this seems like a no-brainer, but I felt like Coppa carries interesting grapes for a reasonable by the glass price. They don’t have a full liquor license, so the cocktails are all cordial-based (Boston has some weird liquor laws). That’s not really my scene so I didn’t try them – but if you have I’d like to hear about it!

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Doggin’ It

No tiny puppies were harmed in the writing of this post.

Delicious.

Hot dogs are one of those foods that really define a person, I think. People either think they are disgusting tubes of processed meat, or they love them with a nigh-religious fervor. Personally I, like all right-thinking people, fall into the latter camp.

I mean, what’s not to love? Sure, they’re not the healthiest dinner choice in the world, but what sausage is?

Here in Boston we are fortunate to have some world-renowned hot dogs. There are Fenway Franks, of course, and Spike’s Junkyard Dogs (yeah, they originated in Rhode Island, but we lay claim to more locations now.) These are good dogs, to be sure. Fenway Franks have the weight of history behind them, and Spike’s has a variety of toppings to test your hot dog imagination. But for my money, only one venue can claim the spot of top dog, and that’s Boston Speed Dog.

It sure as heck isn’t due to the atmosphere. Boston Speed Dog is a hot dog cart in Newmarket Square, literally sitting in the center of a parking lot for several meatpacking companies, fishmongers, and fruit wholesalers. The walk across this parking lot if you visit by T, as I did one day this summer with my intrepid co-workers, is nothing short of harrowing – giant trucks barreling in and out of the lot, giant drivers honking and leering aggressively out their windows. However, the slog is worth it, because these hot dogs are amazing.

Hot dog stand-off

To start with, they are huge, 8 inches and a half pound each. This is good, because you’ve traveled a long way for them.

Heaven on a bun

Add to that the magical process whereby they are cooked – simmered in apple cider and brown sugar, then grilled. These puppies are sweet, salty, and savory all at once, and they have a terrific snappy skin.

Finally, it’s all about the toppings.
Ta-da!

Mustard, a house-made, cranberry-based relish, BBQ sauce, onions, and chili sauce – it sounds and looks like a big mess but it is so, so good.
All of that sweetness is balanced out by the spices and smoky taste of the dog and the tang of the onions. I can’t see getting it any way other than fully loaded.

There’s only one tiny table to sit at, but we cheerfully shared with two young men, one of whom was an enthusiastic proponent of the Speed Dog. He seemed to have been coming there since he was a wee tyke, since he knew current owner, Gregg Gale, and seemed to remember the original Ezra “Speed” Anderson. He’d clearly been several times over the summer, and expounded on his theory that you needed to embrace the messy nature of the dog. He chuckled wryly and said, “It’s not a great date place.” I disagreed, pointing out that you could learn a lot about a potential paramour if they were willing to sit in a meat-packing plant parking lot, eating the messiest hot dog known to man. That said, I’d save it for a fifth or sixth date – and bring lots and lots of napkins.

Special thanks to Karleigh Rose for the pictures on this post!

Grilled Cheesiness

Hello, my friends! Did you miss me? Apologies for the impromptu hiatus, but I’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately, a bad habit which zaps all of my brain power and leaves precious little leftover for writing.

On the plus side, I’ve been doing QUITE A BIT of cooking and eating, so I have a backlog of topics to write about! Huzzah! I also have two dear friends who are PROMISING me some guest posts – let us hope they get the chance to write these because both topics are pretty exciting. I’ll say no more for the moment.

Among the many wonderful things I’ve eaten since February, one sticks out in my mind as worth talking about here despite the fact that on its surface it is one of the LEAST adventurous foods you can imagine. On the face of it this food is simple, cheap, and made up of ingredients that everyone reading has eaten at least once, and I’d even go out on a limb and say that at least 98% of you enjoy, if not downright love, the results.
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As you probably guessed from the title, we’re talking GRILLED CHEESE. The very icon of homey plainness, am I right?

But you see, this is no ordinary grilled cheese. This is a grilled cheese from Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese, the latest addition to Boston’s sudden upwelling of food trucks. For years, Boston was a roach-coach wasteland, with only a few stalwart’s like Speed’s and Sami’s flying the banner of quick food from a truck. In the past year or two, however, perhaps in response to the less than stellar economy, these suckers are popping up everywhere, with a bit of a twist. Rather than the straightforward hot dog trucks of New York and other major metropolises, Boston’s food trucks seem to be focused on taking one food or concept and trying to elevate it at the same time that they’re offering it on the side of road, wrapped in paper. I’ve written about Clover, of course, with its vegetarian focus, and in recent months we’ve gained a cupcake truck and one specializing in banh mi. So grilled cheese, why the heck not? In many ways it’s the perfect food to grab from a truck – minimal ingredients, minimal equipment, and it can be eaten while walking!

In addition, Roxy’s has chosen the perfect location to sell their sandwiches – Cleveland Circle, right in the heart of Boston College country. They’ve got perfect late-night post drinking fare, and they’re positioned to take advantage of that fact. They’re also positioned perfectly near my sister Kelly’s apartment, so I made plans to visit Roxy’s with her – TWO good reasons to go to a part of the city I never get to (though I did live there, once upon a time). We were joined by office-mate, fellow-Marathoner, and food-adventurer Jess, who lives not much farther away than Kelly.

SO HOW WERE THE SANDWICHES, you ask? Well, there are a few more things I think you need to know about Roxy’s approach to grilled-cheesecraft before I answer that.

Point 1: They use mayonnaise, not butter, to coat the outside of the bread before grilling.
Point 2: At the time we visited, there were three-four kinds of sandwiches to try, but we selected only two.
Point 3: Roxy’s griddles other things, like cheesecake. We forewent this in favor of frozen yogurt/ice cream from Mix Chill, so I can’t tell you how that is.
Point 4: They also fry a few things, including onion rings and pickles, and I can and I WILL tell you about those!

ON TO THE SANDWICHES!
Jess and I elected the “Rookie” – Monterey Jack cheese and tomato with whole-grain mustard. All sandwiches are on Iggy’s white bread. We also both ordered fried pickles.

Kelly ordered the Green Muenster (ho ho) – Muenster cheese (duh), with guacamole (the green) and bacon (got nothin’.) She got a side of onion rings, which the gentlemen serving us mentioned were an experiment.

The verdict: The Rookie was great, though it will be even better with some decent tomatoes when summer hits. Jack isn’t the most exciting cheese in the world, but the mustard added much-needed zip. The mayo coating makes for a very good, less greasy crust than butter, though I’ll admit to missing the salt that it adds. (YES, I USE SALTED BUTTER ON MY GRILLED CHEESE. WHAT OF IT?)
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The Green Muenster was tasty, but we all agreed we wanted more from it. Muenster is ALSO not a particularly tangy cheese, and the guacamole wasn’t tangy enough to make up for it. We all agreed that an addition of salsa, or even more onions in the guac, would be welcome.
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The fried items, on the other hand, were like ambrosia, especially the pickles. Roxy’s uses Grillo’s Pickles, cut into coins, then battered and fried into the most amazing crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside salty and vinegary treasures I can imagine. There’s also a special sauce that is tasty but unnecessary to the greatness of these beauties. I would like to get Roxy’s batter recipe, and then stay at home for the rest of my life, frying things.
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DSC03572The onions had the same knock-out coating, which held up to our walk home. I believe it’s a beer-batter, with Guinness as the beer, and I fully intend to retro-engineer it at my earliest convenience. Seriously, it’s like tempura and beer-batter had a baby – light, yet flavorful. Dang.
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Ultimately, though the sandwiches were good, it’s those pickles that will bring me back to Roxy’s. At least until I discover their secrets for myself!

East Boston Adventure

I have a great job, for many reasons. The organization I work for is a non-profit, so we’re dedicated to helping people. The folks I work with are generally nice folks. I get 3 weeks of vacation and a free T pass. But by far, my favorite thing about my job is the travel.

I don’t get paid trips to Paris, or even to Peoria.  However, between visiting schools and companies, I get to do a significant amount of travel around the city of Boston.  Not just the popular tourist spots and neighborhoods of my friends, but every part of the city, from Charlestown to Chinatown to Jamaica Plain to Allston.

The best part of new neighborhoods?  Nearly always, it’s the food.  There are all sorts of tiny restaurants and cafes and bodegas and carts that often don’t get covered in the local papers, and that one might never learn about without walking past.  And one of the richest neighborhoods, maybe my favorite for this, is East Boston.

Before this job, I’d never really been to East Boston.  Sure, I’d been to a house party once, and a concert at Suffolk Downs, but those trips were all simply on the T from point A to point B.  There had never been a chance to wander on foot until I had to take my first trip to the Donald McKay School.
Located at Maverick Square, the McKay is right in the middle of what used to be a predominantly Italian neighborhood (most recently), but is now mostly home to folks from Central and South America.  This seems to equate to amazing food.

One of my personal favorite places to visit is La Sultana bakery. (check out the link, other people agree!)  In addition to serving up fine Mexican and Salvadorian street food, this is a magical bakery.  The magic can be summed up in one word – caramelo.  The bakers at this fine establishment seem to work dulce de leche into all sorts of tasty treats, from donuts to churros to flaky pastelitos.  There is no describing the joy of biting into something fried and having delicious caramel ooze out of it – especially when the dough is still hot.

Maverick Square and East Boston have more to offer than just baked goods, of course, but I think I will save for a later post the reasons I feel that they serve the only real burritos (special exception for my beloved Tacos Lupita) or the joys of fried sweet plantains.  For now, f you can make the time to hop on the Blue Line, stop by La Sultana and get something caramelly for me.