RT6 – To Boston

Woke up to, sigh, yet another sunny, warm day. We walk to breakfast at The Porthole on the wharf, taking in the sea air, which truth be told, is a little fishy scented. The wharf of which I speak is the same one where we ate last night. There are nice stores and tourist boutiques in the area but the wharf itself is beautiful in it’s fight to survive nature and all she throws at the structures that dare. Thankfully the wharf has not been Disneyfied.  It is dilapidated and could use a coat of paint but that would raise prices and take away the charm. This morning there are a few puddles in the uneven cobbles and merchants going about early business.

The Porthole is distressed to say the least on the outside, but inside it is warm and inviting though not busy this Tuesday morning. A long copper topped bar runs the length of a large kitchen, fronted with empty stools. A few patrons are enjoying breakfast on the large patio. We decide to sit inside by the open window and enjoy the ambiance inside. Featured on the walls are folk art paintings and some antique signage, a piano and very old jukebox fill corners.

OJ is not fresh squeezed but it is amazing what a lot of ice does to improve it. No coffee today. Trying to forget yesterday’s coffee. Menus arrive and the choice is easy. I often get bored with the classic breakfast offerings, but when I see an egg and braised pork belly sandwich with kimchi, I am having it. Read no further. Rob orders the same and we split a side of cheese grits.

Our sandwiches come with potatoes that at first look disappointing, as we use potatoes as a measure by which to judge a breakfast joint. Don’t be deceived by looks though. The potatoes looked like those distressing deep fried cubes of ruined spuds but they are just fresh and hard pan fried in a lot of fat. They are excellent. Our Porthole Special Breakfast, a well made omlette of egg with scallions folded onto buttered toasty bread with American cheese all melty and gooey, with braised porkbelly, the fat cut with spicy kimchi, topped with more buttered toast is divine.

The grits are well made and peppery and have enough cheese to make them creamy but not taste of cheese, but they don’t rate belly space when faced with a sandwich of that magnificence.

Back on the road again we have to backtrack a bit and find ourselves back in New Hampshire. What a difference between Maine and the Live Free or Die State. When you have low taxes and no sales tax there is not a lot of civic pride in evidence. Sorry, New Hampshire but your charms are lost on me to date.

Today we are traveling to Boston via Essex and Salem. We sail into Essex, MA along Route 1. We are stopping at the renown Woodman’s for lunch. It is unassuming, well… for a large seafood shack in Massachusetts bedecked in flags.

You line up and order from a chalkboard menu, go to a separate line and get drinks, in this case, a Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Beer, and find a seat to wait for your number to come up.

Our meal arrives in a box top and take out containers. Absolutely decadent, over stuffed lobster rolls on eggy, griddled buns served with potato chips, and the most perfect, sweet, lightly battered and fried sea scallops and clam cake. One look at the picture of the lobster roll and you will die just a bit because you are not here. I have never had scallops that fresh and perfectly made.

The clam cake well…it is what it is. A savory “donut” with chopped clam in the batter with barely discernible clam flavour. This is a regional specialty that I would pass on when you could have THIS lobster roll. Just sayin’.

Oh yeah…the Sam Adams was a great wheat beer with only a nice hint of cherry. Rob and I came up with some weird flavour profiles to describe it but while accurate, they didn’t sound that appetizing and we both enjoyed the beer, so we gave up. And so, after an epic seafood orgy of Caligulan proportions, we decide to visit a little 17th-century graveyard which features the graves of several Revolutionary War veterans.

Onward to Salem, Ma where we visited the water front which is in preparations for a large Maritime Festival beginning tomorrow. We explore the tourist traps a bit. Salem is very halloweeny this time of year and has extended its brand to include magic, wizards, faeries and pirates. Tsk, tsk.

We continue on to Boston where we will spend three days. The entire drive today has been a pretty saunter through quaint New England, past clapboard and shingled homes, saltboxes and Victorians, past deep blue hydrangeas, flamingo- pink summer phlox, black-eyed Susans, cleome, Rose of Sharon and gaily-coloured window boxes, past neat pickets, rustic rail and solid stone fences. And flags.


RT6 – To Portland ME

Woke up early this morning to the sun and sparkling waters of Lake Champlain. We headed down to the harbour to check it out before heading to The Spot for breakfast. This little local dive, open to the outside from within, serves a tasty breakfast in a surf shack that is someplace between California and Polynesia. Surf company stickers, thatched awnings, palm trees, surf boards, leis, tiki carvings and a tropical fish tank, lend a bright, light-hearted, casual vibe. Chairs are comfy and there is a large patio.

I order the Ole burrito with chorizo, eggs, cheddar, red onion, black beans. A small bottle of no-name, mild hot sauce, fresh guacamole and sour cream come on the side. Rob ordered a “make-your-own” omelette, given the array of great looking ingredients. He asked for chorizo, banana peppers, avocado and cheddar, with a side of cafe potatoes and rye toast.

Coffee and orange juice arrives first. The coffee is, well, horrible. Undrinkable really.  OJ is from a carton. The Spot really could upgrade their drinks. Our breakfasts arrive next. The Ole is a beauty to behold. Eggy filling is divided between two nicely charred flour tortillas. The chorizo is abundant and flavourful, and the eggs are well scrambled and delicious. A very good breakfast “taco”. I found the serving size is really a bit too large. One taco was sufficient.

Rob’s omelette was tangy with spice and the avocado and cheese tempered the heat with creamier coolness. A perfect combo. Accompanying small red potatoes  were cooked on the flat top and seasoned with a spice mix, and the rye toast was cut thick. A great breakfast all in all.

Happily sated, we hit I-89, Portland, Maine bound.

The green mountain state of Vermont is picturesque, dotted with small farms and homesteads in the valleys. The mountain roads are cut through walls of shiny black shale, veined with copper coloured rock. I-89 is not cluttered with box stores and billboards.

At some point we cross unknowingly into New Hampshire. There is no sign to welcome us and we are denied a photo of a huge  “Live Free Or Die”. We will have to be satisfied with the mega liquor store that is planted at all access points to the state. We get off the highway in Manchester…major miscalculation. We thought we could grab a quick bite, but the entire town was under construction. After fooling Stella, our GPS into taking a detour to avoid the mess she was trying to lead us back into – we are back on the road. Soon we have the option of getting off the interstate and on to Route 1, a pleasant meandering drive through coastal Maine.

We hit gold right away. Rob spies a seafood shack roadside. 3 Buoys Seafood Shanty and Grille. So glad we waited out New Hampshire. We exit the car and stretch. 3 Buoys, a perfect dive shack, done up in nouveau fishing boat chic delivers exactly what we are looking for.

A homemade seaside business serving up fresh seafood. With the Olympics on the flatie, or should I say, the all-American games and some other teams of little or no interest, we order Blue Moons, clam strips and lobster rolls.

The clam strips are lightly seasoned and well fried. Not greasy. I pass on the tartar sauce. I was raised to eat them with ketchup like a good maritime Canadian.

The lobster rolls come with home made fries. The fries are hand cut but the oil wasn’t hot enough. They are just ok. The lobster rolls. The lobster rolls. Wow. Hot dog bun, split, buttered and made toasty good on the flat top, stuffed, really stuffed –  with lobster lightly dressed with mayo. Washed down with Blue Moon beer, it was exactly what the moment called for. The perfect storm. I cannot get it out of my mind. I will have another somewhere on our journey tomorrow. There is no shortage of shacks along the way.

Route 1 to Portland takes us past classic New England towns, bustling with tourists and residents this Monday. We passed small resorts, old school motels with turquoise cement pools, cafes, patios, clapboard houses with colourful shutters and antique stores. Nice to see the occasional Canadian and pride flags amongst the American. Past the little towns of Ogunquit, Wells, Kennebunkport and Arundel, on to campgrounds and cottage country and finally into Portland, Maine. We settle in for a bit and decide on J’s Oyster for a late dinner. Portland has so many places of interest for dining but we have only one night here. J’s comes to us from Roadfood.com.

The oysterhouse is a three minute walk from our hotel so we set out on foot and explore a bit. J’s is right on the commercial wharf, which means seedy – but fresh. They do not take reservations and even though it is late on a Monday evening, we face a 30 to 40 minute wait. We take a seat on the windy dockside. There is patio seating but the night is quite cool, so we wait it out.

Eventually we are called and seated. J’s is dimly lit. The entire center of the room is occupied by the bar. There is seating around much of it. This is authentic wharf dive bar classic. Paper placemats with important lobster facts printed on them appear in front of us along with cheap cutlery. There is no water on the table and if you want rolls, you ask for them. Our waitress drops by with menus and we order Rolling Rocks to start. For apps we decide to share the garlic bread and crab and bacon stuffed mushroom caps. The caps are garlicky and have both a lot of crab and bacon.

I however seem to have developed an aversion to any meat paired with bacon. I love bacon. I love crab. I did not like the flavour combination. I believe though that the fault lies with me. The garlic bread was however, amazing. BEST EVER. A white hot dog bun split, spread with garlic butter and chives, then toasted on the flat top. Chewy, steamy, garlicky. Cheese on garlic bread only complicates things.

For our mains, I get the lobster pernod and Rob opts for the lobster scampi. My dinner arrives. Large chunks of lobster meat are lightly sauteed with mushrooms and cream with a dash of pernod, and served over linguine pasta. The lobster is wonderful and there is lots of it. I appreciate the light hand with the pernod but if I were to make this dish at home I would bump it up a bit because I love anise.


Rob’s lobster scampi was rich with butter, garlic, bell peppers and lobster. The luxurious and garlicky butter sauce was used as bread dip for both of us.

Both of our meals came with well made but completely unnecessary coleslaw. All in all, dinner at J’s was excellent, a great end to a long day of travel. We walked back along the harbourfront to our hotel, ready to make plans for tomorrow.

RT6 – To Burlington, VT

Got up this morning to another gorgeous summer day. Got a walk in, spent some time with my kitties and hit the road around 11 am. The pale summer sky has a pinky-gold wash. Ahhhh…nothing like the open road  — very uplifting to a spirit with wanderlust. We pass cottagers returning home, colourful kayaks strapped to roofs, hawks wheeling over late July corn, the ever-changing wildflower palette  and the beautiful, peaceful farms of Eastern Ontario. We cross the International border at Cornwall and head into Mohawk land, past mom and pop smoke shops, casino signs and souvenir stops.

We travel on and enter upper New York state’s Amish country. We don’t encounter any horse and buggies this pretty Sunday. Our progress through the state takes us to small town America, past tiny, neat churches, volunteer fire departments, dilapidated trailers, pretty houses with front porches and waving American flags, horses grazing contentedly, their long tails swishing away flies , an abundance of abandoned farm implements as lawn ornamentation and cows. Lots and lots of cows. We cruise into picturesque Rouse’s Point and cross the bridge over sparkling Lake Champlain into Vermont, the green mountain state.

My entire view is green, green, green, hazy with mountains, blue sky and pure white cloud. My only regret is passing incredible, rustically beautiful barns and livestock sheds in a variety of stages of decay, many invaded by wildflowers, and not being able to stop and photograph each and every one.

Shortly we exit from our brief stint on I-89 into downtown Burlington, a quaint college town on Lake Champlain. Hope to explore a bit of the main drag before continuing on to Portland tomorrow.

Relaxing in my hotel room, I am treated to a beautiful view of the lake, dotted with sailboats, a mountain rising in the distance and more stark, white clouds. We decide on an early dinner and head out to Farmhouse Tap and Grill, a nice walk from our hotel.

The Farmhouse Tap and Grill is immediately comfortable, with a hip college vibe, but is populated with couples young and old, and young families with well-behaved little ones. This does not appear to be a hangout for students. Maybe they come later – it’s only 6pm. We decide to eat inside as the day is still quite hot. The Farmhouse, open in front with raised glass garage doors, has a breezy, pleasant atmosphere. Decor is chalkboard hipster with distressed wood tables, chairs and padded benches. No annoying music of any kind. Good date kind of place.

The menu at Farmhouse is small, eclectic and makes use of the best local product. The beer menu is extensive and unique. It includes a $45 Brooklyn Black Ops. Our server brings us an unexpected amuse bouche of asparagus in a mustard vinaigrette, incorrectly labeled aioli. This is the only misstep in the entire meal. Our server though barely shaving, is subtly charming and very knowledgeable. The menu features Vermont cheeses and we wish to choose a combination that is not offered. Not a problem. He goes over our beer choices with us, Doghead Fish Festiva Peche, a sour wheat beer with a hint of peach, and Allagash, a Belgian white, and is able to comment intelligently. We also order the house made pickled vegetables.

Our cheese platter includes a Cobb Hill Ascutney Mountain firm cheese, Green Mountain Boucher Blue and a Champlain Valley Triple Cream, a smear of apple butter and some crisps. All three cheeses are high quality. The blue is creamy, medium strength in flavour and outstanding overall. The pickled veggies are a quick pickle of cucumber and fennel. Lightly sweet, vinegary, crisp and excellent. The Doghead brew, a sipper, nicely compliments the cheese course.

 We had not ordered dinner at this point and our server returns to see if we would like anything more. I order the buttermilk fried chicken with potato puree, fresh farm greens dressed in blue cheese and El Cortijo buffalo sauce (a habanero based sauce from a sister restaurant specializing in Authentic Mexican).

Rob orders the pulled pork, cornbread and apple cabbage slaw. Since we are walking, we decide to indulge in more alcohol. Rob has been actively studying the beer menu to this point and orders a $25 bottle (large) of Allagash Victoria Ale, a Belgian style beer brewed with Chardonnay grapes for me and a Scottish Crabbie’s Ginger Beer for himself.

Our meals arrive  at a relaxing pace (the joint is full and there are people waiting but there is no rush). My chicken is sublime. Boneless breast meat battered and fried perfectly, pairs wonderfully with the peppery greens and light blue cheese dressing. The habanero sauce lends big heat that is tempered by the potato puree. By all accounts, a truly outstanding entree. Robs’ pulled pork received a B grade (although his high standards are shaped by the outstanding pulled pork of North Carolina). The cornbread was sweet but freshly baked in a oiled skillet with a golden crust.

We opted out of dessert but were severely tempted by what was carried to other tables. The Farmhouse Tap and Grill, a real treat,  was recommended to us by a fellow Ottawa Foodie, a great community, resource and fount of knowledge. Check them out at www.Ottawafoodies.com.

We walked back to our hotel room, to be treated by the sun setting over Lake Champlain. First day of road trip 5 is in the books.




The South Rises!

I love the Southern USA. In the west, the desert is gorgeous and the food has a spicy, Mexican inspired kick. But when people talk about Southern food, they’re talking about the South East — Louisiana, Mississipi, the Carolinas, Georgia, and on and on. Fried chicken, BBQ, gumbo, biscuits and gravy, catfish — all not that good for you, but all completely, utterly delicious.

Every year we do a monster road trip. We’ve done the South West, the US West coast, the South East and last year, along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Chicago. Maureen doesn’t know this, but I picked the last route just to cover some of the same Southern ground we ‘ve done on previous trips because I pine for Southern food.

When we heard that Chris Lord, formerly of the Whalesbone Oyster House and, most recently, of Wellington Gastropub opened his new restaurant, UNION 613, on Somerset St. and it specialized in Southern-inspired dishes, we had to check for ourselves. Its location on Somerset Street has suffered from high turnover in recent years having been at least four different eateries in recent memory. We certainly hope that the latest tenant breaks the pattern. We loved tonight’s visit. The menu made good on the promise of a refined  (but only slightly) take on southern classics, most of which were represented in some form or another. Fried greed tomatoes, pimento cheese, muffuletas, fried chicken, mac salad, grits, biscuits and gravy, fried catfish, ribs and cornbread all made appearances.

After sipping on sazeracs and splitting an appetizer of fried green tomatoes, that came with a bibb salad with a peppery ranch dressing and pimento cheese, Maureen had the fried chicken (what they called “yard bird”) with a side of chile-lemon green beans and cheddar-roasted garlic grits. I had a pork chop with a peach BBQ  sauce, with a shrimp-boil macaroni salad, and we split a small cast-iron pan of hot cornbread with bourbon brown butter.

The appetizer was delicious enough to make me forget my documenting duties, so no pics here. Maureen’s chicken was crisp and well-seasoned and juicy on the inside. It was served with a vinegary hot sauce that complimented it well. Her green beans were bright from the lemon with a little spice. They were very good, but we both found the lemon a little over-assertive.

As for the grits — we LOVE grits, and we’ve written many times here that Canadians don’t “get” grits, mostly because they don’t have the opportunity to eat really-well-prepared grits. Union 613’s grits were tasty, cheesy and comforting, but they weren’t really grits, which come from coarsely ground and boiled hominy, blended with other delicious complementary flavours. The restaurant decided to eschew this course and served whole hominy, cooked with cheese and roasted garlic. It was comforting, and cheesy, but folks looking to find out what is so special about grits won’t find out here either.

My pork chop was juicy, perfectly cooked and the chunky, peach BBQ sauce was an excellent addition. My macaroni salad, cooked and spiced with shrimp boil seasoning was absolutely killer. It was the hit of the table. The cornbread was soft, fresh, rich and luscious.

Our table sampled all three of the desserts offered on the menu (there were four of us) and all were inventive and unique.

Now I have to determine how long a waiting period I need to suffer through before I don’t seem too desperate to go back. Maybe a day? Two? Union 613 absolutely satisfied my jones for good Southern food. Having it here in Ottawa makes it even more special. There’s something to be said for eating fried catfish purchased from a roadside shack right on the bayou, but there’s also something to be said for a taste of the South a 5-minute drive from home.

Montreal Classics

Wow! This summer is gorgeous and hot. The weather in Montreal is no exception. We are heading out this morning to Beauty’s Luncheonette, recently featured on The Layover with Anthony Bourdain. Beauty’s has been serving classic diner fare for breakfast, lunch and dessert since 1942. The luncheonette holds an unassuming spot on the corner of St. Urbain and Mont Royal. Hymie Sckolnick, the original owner is still greeting customers and gets you a “great” seat at 90 years old. He is Beauty.

We sit in a classic booth. Waitresses are younger and clad in jeans and Beauty’s tees but it is still a diner without irony. Our server brings excellent coffee and fresh-squeezed OJ.

We order the Beauty’s special to share and I chose a country omelet with bacon cheese and potato, while Rob chose the mishmash, an omelet with onion, green pepper, salami and french-cut hot dogs, grilled hard on the flat top so they have a nice caramelized finish.

The omelets are very good but the star of the show is the Beauty’s special – a Montreal bagel loaded with cream cheese, red onion, tomato and smoked salmon. Happy Mouth.

Beauty’s is a place I would visit for that sandwich alone. However be forewarned, Beauty’s is not as Beauty’s does…this was a $65 breakfast for two, albeit including an extra Beauty Special — the smoked salmon sandwich that we shared. The real kicker is that the beverages — a coffee, a diet Coke and an OJ cost $9.00 together. These are not diner prices.

Back to the hotel to dump off cameras and head off to my rendezvous with Louis Vuitton. I have been drooling over his carry-on luggage for way too long. Time to commit. Rob went clothes shopping… or something, no one cares.

This evening the skies opened. We need the rain, but wow! Luckily we can get to Place des Arts mostly inside and then run across the street to the venue to see Jim Gaffigan at the 30th anniversary of Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. The show is great, all new material and a few favorites that the crowd wanted to hear. After an encore, Jim leaves and we are peckish. Time for a late dinner. Schwartz’s.

Schwartz is a Montreal institution going on 84 years now. One of the few places open for late night dining on a Monday, the deli is busy. We once again grab the last parking spot in front and manage to find two seats together. Schwartz is not a large place. Tables are grubby and slow to be cleared. 80-plus years of grime layer the joint – and you just know the food is going to live up to expectations.

We get seated and our server “Artie from the Sopranos” breezes by twice to let us know he’s getting to us. When he finally does we order fries, coleslaw and dill pickle to share and medium (half-fat-half-lean-you-need-a-little-fat-with) smoked meat sandwiches each, and I order the recommended Cott’s black cherry soda.

Our food begins to arrive. Coleslaw is excellent oil and vinegar slaw, fries are good, and the garlic dill is perfect. Our sammies arrive next. Smoked meat piled high on soft rye, with a little yellow mustard. Excellent. They’re “fall apart in your hands good”. I also appreciate the size of the serving. Schwartz delivers a hefty sandwich, with plenty of meat, but doesn’t  overdo it  a la  New York City’s Carnegie deli which seems to pride itself on big, excessive and inevitable waste.