How could I possibly be hungry after all that food on New Year’s Eve?
Well, by lunchtime I was ready for something. I don’t know what the weather was like where you are, but our New Year’s Day was a dreary, rainy one, and when the weather is like that, I want soup. And if I want soup, I want pho.
We’ve only lived in Salem for a couple of years and are still learning all the many places to find good food (and there are MANY), but we did find a Vietnamese place in Beverly that we like enough to go occasionally. The place I like the best is actually a bit of a drive for us now, so we haven’t been for a while, but this place makes a decent bowl of pho, and my wife likes their egg and tofu banh mi.
My favorite beef pho combo has sirloin, brisket, tripe and tendon. I especially like the little nuggets of tendon, because they are soft and succulent in the hot broth. I can’t exactly say I love the tripe, but I have come to appreciate the…unique…texture enough to enjoy it when it’s there. This restaurant doesn’t offer either of those in their soup, unfortunately, but I get that they are trying to appeal to customers more than score points for authenticity. So this bowl was just sirloin and brisket. Good, not great, but perfectly acceptble on a rainy Saturday afternoon in January.
They say that whatever you do on New Year’s Day is what you’ll be doing for the year. If I can eat a lot more pho in 2022, that would be very nice indeed.
My wife’s sister came to visit over the Labor Day weekend, and we went several places over the course of the weekend. These tacos were from Sea Level Oyster Bar in our town. Tacos at a seafood place might not be your first thought, but it was a mood. We’ve been to this restaurant a few times and have thoroughly enjoyed more typical seafood offerings, but there would be several other opportunities for seafood as the weekend went on.
Salem, where we live these days, attracts what I can only describe as a royal fuckton of tourists in October, but there are plenty of tourists all summer as well. We had to settle for sitting at an outdoor table rather than their lovely open-air second-floor, which is so nice on a pleasant summer day. It was a holiday weekend, so we were probably lucky to get a table at all.
Tacos are a perfect lunch food, anyway. And good tacos are a thing of joy. These had short-ribs cooked birria-style, with thick sices of jalapeño and cotija cheese. If I recall correctly, this was a special (since it doesn’t appear on their current online menu). Washed ’em down with a nice cold grolsch beer.
Over the summer and early fall I fell into a habit of ordering out for lunch at work almost every day. We only get a 30-minute lunch break, and we were thick in the middle of a massive project that meant hours on the phone every day, so it was expedient to order takeout so I could stay at my desk and work through lunchtime. Now that the project is done and things are “normal”, I’ve gone back to bringing lunch most days and trying to limit the takeout to once a week. This was last Wednesday’s takeout order.
Pizza feels more like dinner to me than lunch, but I was kind of craving it, and also looking for something different. The community where I work has a large Asian immigrant population, and so there are many Asian takeout options – Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, even Tibetan. A pepperoni pizza with mushrooms was a good change of pace.
BBQ rib and brisket combo with BBQ beans, mac & cheese, cornbread, and flatbread
On our trip to Vermont back in October, we stopped for lunch at Big Fatty’s in White River Junction. I had the ribs and brisket combo. As I mentioned previously, this meal left me so full that I had absolutely zero interest in dinner when we got to our hotel in Burlington that evening. I think you can see why.
Barbecue is still a bit niche in New England, but there are some very good ones here and there. And some bad ones. This place was one of the good ones. Brisket is probably my favorite barbecue meat. I prefer the leaner flat cut, which this was. I know most people tend to like the point cut because it stays juicier, but for me it’s just too fatty. I also prefer flat cut brisket for braising at home. Braising brisket keeps it a lot more moist and tender than smoking, but good barbecue brisket is a joy to eat.
My usual go-to sides at a BBQ resturant are mac & cheese and collard greens, but Big Fatty’s doesn’t have collards on the menu. The greens and the vinegary pot liquor are a nice contrast to heavy, fatty meat, making them the perfect side in my opinion. The M&C was really good, as was the cornbread. The beans were just okay. We didn’t set out to find this place on purpose, it just happened to show up online as we were trying to find a place for lunch along the way, but it was worth the stop.
Gene’s Flatbread Cafe is one of the most mis-named food businesses you can imagine. I mean, he does actually offer a type of flatbread sandwich with cumin-spiced chunks of lamb, but the actual speciality is these Xi’an-style hand-pulled noodles. There’s someone in the kitchen pulling them fresh all the time, and they come quickly cooked, swimming in the most intensely garlicky, peppery oil, and garnished with ground hot pepper and cilantro. I am sitting here sweating jut thinking about them.
We used to live about 10 minutes away from the Woburn location, and for a while we went on a kick of having these noodles for dinner every Friday night. Now, it’s not as convenient, so it’s more of an intentional visit than a spur-of-the-moment dinner or lunch choice. This visit, at the beginning of November was our first time back inside the restaurant since the pandemic began. During the time when they were doing take-out only, we would order ahead, park the car directly across the street, pick up the noodles, and greedily eat them right in the car. This is the sort of thing you want to eat as fresh as possible once it comes out of the kitchen.
Gene’s is not the only place in Greater Boston that serves this kind of noodle, but they’re the best, hands down. I have read that Xi’an Fine Foods from New York City is thinking about expanding into the Boston area, which might give Gene a run for his money, but for now he owns this. He also has other great stuff, the least of which is the aformentioned flatbread. I have had a couple of the soups – one with noodles and one with dumplings, both redolent with hot pepper. My wife likes the cold rice noodles that they only have on Saturdays.
The garlic on your breath lasts for a good two days afterward. Good for whatever ails you.
One of my favorite things to do for lunch at home is to make up a charcuterie plate with a variety of meat and cheese. These days I try to buy the food from the local cheese shop (since there is, in fact, a lovely little cheese shop in our city), but have also procured similar fixings from Whole Foods, or even the ordinary supermarket.
The cheeses on this plate were a Shropshire Blue (the yellow one in the photo), a Brabander, and a Garrotxa. Both the Brabander and the Garroxta are made with goat milk, but they were not “goat cheese” in the style of Chevre. Brabander is a kind of Gouda from the Netherlands, super buttery and creamy. Garrotxa is from Catalonia and is earthy and a little acidic.
To go with the cheese, there’s some very thinly sliced Wagyu beef bresaola, and a locally-made Genoa salami. The salami looks a bit more like bologna in this photo thatn maybe what one usually sees, but has the same taste profile. The bresaola is salt-and-air cured like prosciutto, intensifying the flavor of the beef.
To round out the plate, there’s some cornichons, pickled red onion, and mixed Spanish olives (most of which are being obscured by the big slice of Brabander). Plus some baguette slices. And the best part is that I still have enough of all of these things (except the bread) to have some again, probably for New Year’s Eve.
A momo is a Tibetan dumpling, not unlike a Japanese gyoza or a Chinese baozi. They also turn up in Indian cuisine. Tibetan dishes borrow from Indian and Chinese cuisines, and these momos came from a place that serves Indian, Nepali, and other Asian dishes. The momos come served several different ways, with several different fillings. These were filled with chicken and covered in tikka masala sauce.
The filling is not heavily spiced, but was flavorful enough to hold up against the rather hearty but mild tikka masala sauce. The eight pieces plus the sauce made for a substantial lunch.