Did you know there are restaurants outside Boston that are still pretty good? No, not in like, Hartford. What's wrong with you? While Boston may understandably dominate when it comes to Bay State best restaurant discussions, there are some other outposts around Massachusetts that are well worth your attention.
From historic seaside nooks to farmhouse bonanzas, here are some places that make it worth leaving The Hub.
Nestled in the rolling hillsides of Groton, this bastion of farm-to-fork goodness from Chef Tom Fosnot is part of the 300-acre Gibbet Hill Farm compound.They source as much produce as possible (heirloom tomatoes, peppers, onions, greens, beets, etc.) from their own fields in order to forever alter your conception of freshness with creations like warm asparagus with poached egg, potato crisps, and (of course) house-cured ham, or a farro-stuffed pork loin with wild spinach and parsnip puree. A root cellar and Winter greenhouses expand their growing season to bring you year-round New England flavor.
Inspired by his grandfather (of Boston’s famed Lombardo’s) and extensive travels in Northern Italy, Chef/owner Brett Williams gives you the tastes of Piedmont without the pricey flight. Scarf your way through razor-thin beef carpaccio with lemon aioli, Madeira-kissed Drunken Mushroom pizza, and braised short ribs with gnocchi and Parmesan cream. Ratcheting up their Italian-ness, new beverage manager Chris Sweiger (formerly of Scampo) has honed the wine list to spotlight Piemonte region favorites.
This quaint, historic charmer (vintage 1799) in Mattapoisett Village is America’s oldest seaside inn still operating in its original structure (man, John Adams' administration was crazy, right?!). Take in the ocean views as you work your way through slightly
updated fare like a skillet of garlicky baked Gouda with crostini, bacon-wrapped cajun shrimp with chipotle aioli, and classics like baked jumbo shrimp stuffed with crab. Bonus: Monday nights are for pizza with a BOGO deal (dine in only) and tempting choices such as the Piesagna (YES!) with meatballs, Italian sausage, and fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheeses.
Marblehead’s Jack-Tar (old-timey speak for “sailor”) is an American tavern with a cozy neighborhood vibe and a menu stocked with goodness ranging from pancetta and bleu cheese pizza with aged balsamic to crispy cod tacos with mango salsa. Oh, and you'll probably want to investigate the buttermilk fried chicken with bourbon gravy. MMM... bourbon gravy.
Brodie’s bewitches (!) Salem’s historic Pickering Wharf with both its seafood creations (crispy fried haddock fish 'n chips, lobster Reuben) and land-based fare like their signature steak tips and burgers like the Italian sausage-topped Phillips Burger. Live music enters the picture on Friday/ Saturday nights (and on Sunday fundays), enticing you to stick around for a bonus lobster roll you totally didn't think you were going to order.
You’ll be starving after time-travelling around Old Sturbridge Village all day and Cedar Street Grille will return you to this century with contemporary shareable plates like braised lamb tacos with spicy carrot slaw and mint tzatziki, poutine
with roasted shallot rosemary gravy, and fried chicken sliders with applewood smoked ham, maple dijon, and Swiss. And, oh yeah… five types of mac and cheese (jalapeño chorizo, carbonara, etc.), because having one type of mac and cheese is for more austere times like the ones at Sturbridge Village.
Launched in 2006 inside of a rehabbed Canal District factory space, Bocado is Worcester’s first Spanish restaurant, sporting 40 different tapas, an exhaustive lineup of imported meats and cheeses, and (of course) massive dishes of paella. Order the Vieiras Con Truffle Y Tocino (bacon-wrapped scallops with white truffle honey & red pepper flakes), Hamburguesas De Gambas (twin mini shrimp and Parmesan burgers with hot cherry pepper sauce), and the Piquillo Rellenos (piquillo peppers stuffed with veal, Mahón cheese, basil, pine nuts with burnt garlic crema). Can’t decide on how much to get? They’ve put together prix-fixe combos (the "Bocado Experience") for different sizes of groups. Or you could do what we do and just stubbornly order too much and eat it all anyway.
The Pioneer Valley morphs into the Loire Valley at award-winning Chez Albert, the haute kitchen of mega-pedigreed Chef Paul Hathaway. Establish your French connection with classics like Escargots a l’Albert and pâté de foie (with requisite accoutrements like cornichón), followed by Beef Daube (potato purée and au jus). Take a walk in the countryside with daily specials such as salt cod beignets with peppadew gribiche and rabbit ragout with polenta, and top off your evening with silky chocolate mousse and maybe another glass (or two) from their serious wine cellar.
West Springfield, Amherst, Longmeadow
Since 1939, White Hut has been slinging crave-alicious burgers from their stuck-in-time diner (complete with sawdust-covered floors) and they really wouldn’t have it any other way. Neither should you. The menu is simple (there isn’t one) and you can basically get burgers, dogs, fries (hand-cut and skin-on), drinks, and desserts. Griddled caramelized onions are the headliners here and they are piled high on everything (except desserts, but it’s tempting) for that unmistakable White Hut flavor. Grab a seat at the counter (only 12 stools) and feed your inner child with a shake and a stack of cheeseburgers. You’ve earned it.
Perched on a hilltop with sweeping vistas, J’s is another embodiment of the farm-fresh, sustainable mantra. Once you’ve peeled your eyes off the view, go for the Parmesan Fried Ernest Farms Egg (toasted brioche, Spring asparagus, pancetta chip, Meyer lemon vinaigrette, truffle oil). Then devour the FreeBird Free Range Chicken with tomato-sorrel spaetzle, roasted foraged mushrooms, sautéed Ramos Farms Spring greens, Stimulus Whiskey jus, and soaring guitar solos. Or maybe you should have the Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop with Spring pea asparagus risotto, wilted baby arugula, and preserved lemon vinaigrette. Bonus: all wines and micro-brews are produced on site to optimize pairing possibilities.
Take another journey back in time at Salem Cross Inn, a 1700s-era homestead surrounded by 600 acres of working New England farmland. Sourcing from their own gardens and other nearby farms, current seasonal provisions include Lobster Melon Salad (fresh hard shell lobster, watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, arugula, crisp prosciutto, sweet basil lemon vinaigrette), Coconut Rum Glazed Salmon (pan seared with spinach, citrus segments, toasted pine nuts, scallions, rum glaze), and Sea Scallops (broiled in lemon Sherry butter or panko fried). They also fire up the 17th century roasting jack (the only one still working in the US) for occasional distinctive dinners featuring prime rib and other game.
New England hospitality (i.e. tough love with a smile) rules the day at Red Lion Inn, just as it has for more than 200 years. This farm-to-table gem, led by Executive Chef Brian J. Alberg, serves contemporary fare based on regional dishes such as Roasted Native Turkey (farmhouse stuffing, mashed, pan gravy), Line Caught Atlantic Halibut (roasted sweet potatoes, Howden Farm sweet corn purée), and Lila’s Mountain Lamb London Broil (goat cheese potato cake, braised kale). Sommelier Dan Thomas concentrates their 400 bottles on family-owned wineries and Northeastern vineyards earning them Wine Spectator’s
Award of Excellence for 14 consecutive years. And that means you win, too.
Bistro Les Gras goes super hyper-local using Western Mass. and other NE bounty for a constantly changing menu of French-inspired eats. They do everything in house, from curing meats to making condiments. Try the Porc aux Lentilles (Riesling-braised Gray Dog Farm pork, smoked sausage, lentils, upland cress), Pâtés au Lapin (hand-cut egg pasta, braised VT rabbit, wild ramps, native asparagus, mustard jus), and Pot de Crème au Chocolat (dark chocolate pot de crème, vanilla Chantilly, salted almond bark). Fun Fact: their name means "The Fat", so don't act like you weren't warned about your suddenly ill-fitting pants.
In the shadow of June Mountain is Route 7 Grill, a fire-fed mecca for meat lovers far and wide. They’re sourcing naturally raised meats from small, nearby family farms for their abundant charcuterie offerings (Spanish chorizo, bresaola, lardo, duck confit, etc.) to pair with rotating cheese boards. Oh, they also have lots and lots of steaks from Tilldale Farm and desserts like pain perdu with Bananas Foster & ice cream. One more "oh" -- they’re spit-roasting a pig every Saturday. See you there.
At The Federal, Chef Michael Presnal (Alchemy in Martha’s Vineyard) presents his interpretation of New American cuisine with Italian and French influences. The selections range from elevated comfort (A "Bucket of Balls" - their famous risotto balls with fresh black truffle butter, snipped chives) to decadent / hearty (Balsamic Charred Rack of Lamb – fried Brussels sprouts salad, pancetta, radicchio, cipollinis, garlic butter). For the creative, head to the "You Be The Chef" section and assemble a plate with your choice of meats (lobster, salmon, short ribs, pork rib chops), two sides, and a sauce (like truffle butter or... bacon butter). Then add a slab of seared foie gras. Because you can.
Alta brings Mediterranean bites to the Bay State’s Lenox Village, and you need to bring yourself there. Pronto. Celebs with nearby Summer homes pop in occasionally, but you don’t have to be an A-Lister (or even a D-Lister) to enjoy the Crispy Tuna (wrapped in a basil leaf & brick dough with lemon aioli and arugula), Seared Natural Duck Breast (salty caramel sauce, mashed & seasonal veggies), or Braised Niman Ranch Pork Cheeks (purple mustard braising jus, carrots, peas, scallions, sautéed fingerling potatoes). Their around-the-world wine list has 24 by the glass, enabling you to globe trot all through dinner… like the jet setter you are.
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