Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Rest of the New England Trip

Like so many summers over the last 20 years, I spent quite a bit of time in New England this summer.  This summer we split time between Narragansett, Rhode Island, Cape Cod and New Haven, Connecticut.  Hopefully you have noticed that my trip stirred quite a few reflections on food.  Traveling ‘home’ tends to make one reflective and hungry.  Traveling also means eating out.  I would be remiss then if I didn’t write up a little bit about where we ate.  Obviously, Frank Pepe’s in New Haven inspired a full essay – great pizza does that to me.  Here’s the rest of the trip.

Aunt Carrie's in Narragansett – Aunt Carrie’s occupies two corners of a busy intersection, physically manifesting all that is wonderful about New England food – ice cream on one corner and (mostly fried) seafood walk-up on the other.  I confess now that we didn’t sample the ice cream, but ate a great dinner.  In typical New England fashion, there’s a busy counter backed by a yellowed, plastic menu board and a few paper-taped additions.  Teens flutter about behind the counter and throughout the kitchen turning massive amounts of food over to hoards of customers.  The atmosphere is simple fish shack.  So how’s the food?  First, you must know that Aunt Carrie’s features two lobster rolls, one warm and simply buttered and the other cold with just a little dressing and seasoning.  And of course, both are served in flat bottom hot dogs buns unique to New England.  Both were excellent and filling.  The scallop roll was filled with lightly battered fried bay scallops.  Chowder was available in three styles, white, clear and red.  White is traditional from Massachusetts northward.  Clear is seen in southern New England, and red is sometimes called Manhattan clam chowder for its home.  At Aunt Carrie’s we stuck to our familiar white chowder and it was light, flavorful and filled with chewy bits on every bite.  The fried clams were excellent, with fleshy, squishy bellies.  A local specialty, stuffies were simply small, stuffed clams – you’ve seen something like them in the freezer section of the grocery store – but these were great.  Final verdict – if you’re looking for quality, traditional, straightforward seafood in a New England fashion, Aunt Carrie’s will fit the bill 
Champlin's  - Like Aunt Carrie’s, Champlin’s is both an ice cream place and a seafood shack.  Begun generations ago as a very small fish shack, it has grown to incorporate many additions and an extra floor.  Ice cream and fish market downstairs, walk-up counter and dining room upstairs.  Situated on the working harbor of Galilee, this is an ideal spot for an evening of seafood, ice cream, a walk on the beach and restful celebration of a sunset while the ferries and fishermen come home.   If there’s a trademark to Champlin’s food, I think it would be cornmeal.  All the fried seafood had a touch of cornmeal and the fish and chips – cornmeal, not beer batter.  As a fish and chips fanatic, I think that’s important to note.  However, Champlin’s also uses local flounder for their fish and chips, to which I must say, “Amen” for being local.  Their lobster salad roll was finely chopped and seasoned, easy for eating as there were no giant chunks.  The seafood platter was covered in enough fried seafood to feed a family and featured lots of clam strips, and just a few clams with full bellies.  The clam cakes were dense, filling and delicious.   These are essentially a dense hush puppy with chunks of clam. Champlin’s clear chowder was excellent and well worth starting with.  Champlin’s also serves a local classic, Narragansett lager.  When I was a kid I remember relatives saying that this was a beer that tasted like its name – and that wasn’t a compliment.  However, its reintroduction to the kitschy, hipster beer world has gone well and Narragansett hit the spot with the seafood on a hot day.  Finally, the best of the meals was a baked flounder that was light, flavorful and perfectly cooked.  Downstairs the ice cream was also delicious, though served just a little too soft.  I definitely prefer my ice cream to be served as cold as possible and hard.  Champlin’s melted just a little too fast.  That said, coconut, banana, chocolate and grasshopper pie were all great ice creams.

Just a hundred yards away from Champlin’s is another delicious seafood spot, George's.  This place is just a little more upscale; they feature a full bar and table service.  The first thing I noticed here were the reasonable portions.  Sure, there were fries with many dishes but not a mountain of them.  My fish and chips, flounder in a beer batter, was superb.  The swordfish was thinner than I have seen it cut in most places, but perfectly cooked.  The kids loved their lobster rolls, even as they were falling asleep next to them.  The sautéed calamari with peppers, a local specialty, was excellent – in fact my mouth is watering as I write this.  And the clam cakes – just as dense and filling as everyone else’s in the area. Service was efficient and great with the kids.  If we return on vacation to Narragansett I know George’s will be a stop.   
We took a drive one night a few miles north along the water to Brickley's Ice Cream.  A large parking lot gave an indication to its popularity.  What isn’t noticed at first is the much larger strip mall lot next door that also fills.  This place draws a crowd, and it is well-deserved.  But do not let a long line keep you from it.  They move fast.  The ice cream was served very cold and hard in large, truly New England-size servings.  Flavors – wicked awesome!  The banana was all natural and not overpowering.  The cookie dough was great, but the show stopper was the pumpkin.  Sounds a bit strange maybe?  But it was amazing – like pumpkin pie, but cold, creamy and in a waffle cone.  Wicked!            

We spent some time out on Cape Cod for a family wedding.  One morning we headed all the way to the end to see Provincetown and stopped at The Wicked Oyster in Wellfleet for breakfast.  We managed to nail our timing and were able to walk right to a table on a Saturday morning.  But we got lucky.  Signs around the place indicate to me that they are used to people parking some distance away.  And there sure is a reason.  Breakfast was delicious.  Housed in an old house with parts dating back to 1750, the floor itself is a work of art.  But the food… pancakes as big as your head, light and fluffy.  Blueberry pancakes that still wander through my dreams.  Omelets that were just the right size, perfectly cooked and full of flavor and toppings.  Home fries really were just like you would make at home in an iron skillet.  I really didn’t want to leave.  You can eat all day here, and the menus for lunch and dinner look just as incredible.  This is on my return list. 
The final place to give a shout-out to is in New Haven.  Just up the street from Frank Pepe’s is a great place for a post-pizza dessert.  Libby's on Wooster Street is a dessert cornucopia, heaven for the sweet tooth, nirvana of caloric indulgence.  Pastries, cakes, cookies, confections of all kinds – it’s an Italian Willy Wonka.  Gelato, Italian Icees, coffee, cannolis.  And wonderful service – always kind and patient while orders seem to be added to as we walk down the counter.  You might go in thinking just one cookie, and before you know it you have a dozen, some pastry and an ice cream cone.  And it all tastes as great as it looks. 

Now I am hungry….wicked hungry.     
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