Pimp My Plate #27 – Cambridge, MA

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This month PIMP MY PLATE visits the USA to see if Boston can pimp my plate. With AUD$19 currently equivalent to USD$14.50 excluding tips and taxes there’s no set budget in my search for flavour.

‘Soul food made with 100% love’

The Coast Cafe

I don’t have a bucket list as such. My plan is to munch my way around the world, leaving a stack of empty plates behind me.

Some of those plates would have been heaped with soul food – collard greens, wing tips, BBQ, cornbread…

And if you live in Australia like I do, it requires a passport to achieve this particular soul food goal.

I’m so dedicated to this concept that in 2013 I wrote a book about soul food, Soulicious, after eating my way through as many soul food restaurants in the USA as I could waddle into.

I remember my first taste of collard greens – my Collard Greens Initiation – at Brown Sugar in Oakland.  I remember munching my last plate of greens in 2015 so it’s been a long time between greens!

Before flying to Boston, I sat in wintery Sydney reading Korsha Wilson’s article about Tony Brooks’ COAST CAFÉ. For twelve years this iconic soul food café has been serving Southern dishes to hungry northerners from its tiny storefront in River Street.

In the article, Brooks explains that the recipes originally came from his mother, who grew up in Mississippi, and his father, who was from Connecticut. These days he adds his own tweaks to recipes.

I add THE COAST CAFÉ to my Boston ‘To Do’ List.

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I finally arrive in Boston on a Sunday, after 27 hours travelling time.
THE COAST CAFÉ is only open Wednesday to Saturday so I’ll have to wait.

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‘Taxi!’

As we drove across the Charles River, my taxi driver informed me that we were now in Cambridge, not ‘Boston’.

As we neared THE COAST CAFÉ signage and pulled over at 233 River Street, I was suddenly VERY HUNGRY.

Starters.
Sandwiches.
Sides.
Special side orders.
Combo plates.
Coffee.

After my collard greens drought, my choice of two sides is easy – collards, and mac’n’cheese.

BBQ Pork and Beef Ribs (USD$15.49) are on the blackboard menu but then I see CATFISH (USD$16.59).

Back home, Australians are big on BBQ but we don’t eat catfish. There’s catfish in some of our waterways, but it’s not on our menus.

Barramundi is our rock star fish as any tourist knows. It can live in freshwater or saltwater – in streams, rivers, lakes, billabongs, estuaries and coastal waters. We also eat a wide range of saltwater fish that includes snapper and bream, and river fish like rainbow trout.

Pretty much everything except catfish, so I seize the opportunity.

There’s a choice of BBQ Wings or Coast Wings (USD$10.59). When I ask the difference between the two I’m told the Coast Wings aren’t rolled in a layer of flour before frying, so I order them. There’s homemade BBQ or Jerk sauce for the wings – I order Jerk Sauce.

That covers the entrée, sides, and main. What’s missing? Dessert.
It’s been a long while since I last ate Banana Pudding

I take a seat and check my phone messages, IMs, emails, Facebook, and flight times.

A black box with plastic cutlery arrives with cornbread and coleslaw.
I flip it open and dive in…

It’s the best Catfish I’ve ever eaten – super fresh, perfectly crumbed and perfectly cooked.

And that first mouth full of collard greens is Oh-So-Good after oh so long!

There’s no satisfactory substitute for collard greens. Not mustard greens. Not spinach. Not turnip tops. Just …. no.

As soon as the Coast Wings arrive in their red striped box, I crack open the container of Jerk sauce and start dipping. Oh. My. Yes!

When the banana pudding arrives there’s no meringue topping  – ok I am disappointed – but the custard is studded with fresh banana slices and Nilla Wafer pieces.

We do have banana pudding in Australia, but we don’t have Nilla Wafer biscuits and we do it differently – no vanilla wafers.

No collards, no catfish, no Nilla Wafers – now do you understand why I mainline soul food at every opportunity?

Soul food is feel good food. And I feel good.

Looking around I notice a number of soulful messages pinned up on the walls of the café, and I’m sure there’s a backstory to each of them.

However, the owner, Tony Brooks, takes me by surprise by suddenly appearing from the kitchen to say hello! It’s really nice to meet the man on the t-shirt and have a chat. I tell him I’ve travelled all the way from Australia to eat at his café, and that’s no lie.

It’s also no secret that Tony has plans to expand to other locations soon. I suggest he opens a store in Australia as well, Sydney perhaps?

He seems to think it’s a good idea, but I better not hold my breath. But why not plant the seed, right?

Wherever they do open next I envy their customers because COAST CAFÉ serves some of the most mouth friendly soul food I’ve eaten. It’s not fancy, it’s simply delicious.

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RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 4/5   VIBE:  Feel Good & Good eating
THE COAST CAFÉ – 233 River St, Cambridge, MA 02139

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate  

 

 

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Refreshing Orange-Raspberry Blush

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Feeling the heat? Cool off with an Orange-Raspberry Blush or two, or even three – they’re alcohol-free… 

This is a truly refreshing and easy to make drink that will have you seeing oranges in a whole new light!

(makes one)

8 fl oz glass
Juice from one Cara Cara navel, or red-fleshed navel orange
3T Raspberry cordial concentrate (I use Bickfords)
Ice cubes
Soda water

To make one Orange-Raspberry Blush, pour the raspberry cordial concentrate into a glass then pour in the freshly squeezed juice from one orange – preferably a Cara Cara Navel orange, if available. Or you can use any sweet-juiced orange.

Add 3-4 large ice cubes, then fill glass almost to the top with soda water.

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If you like, you can dilute the cordial with water and make raspberry ice blocks.

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @awiaskitchen

Pimp My Plate #26 – Boston, MA

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This month PIMP MY PLATE visits the east coast of the USA to see if Boston can pimp my plate. With AUD$19 currently equivalent to USD$14.50 excluding tips and taxes I’ve scrapped the usual budget in my search for flavour.

 

‘Ask yourself, what does food mean to you?’

Cuisine and Confessions

It’s Friday night in Boston, and as I take my seat, a muscular young man wearing an apron and clutching a notepad sweeps past me to ask the women near me what food they like to eat, and to enquire about their love life.

A bubbly blonde in denim shorts skips through the room, offering up a bowl of gummy bears. I’m hungry, so I take one.

Several metres away there’s a man throwing potatoes at people – what a circus!

I’m in a theatre, not a restaurant, and no, it’s not a theatre restaurant – although the audience is promised plates of food at the end of the performance.

Tonight I’ve bought tickets to the unique theatre production CUISINES & CONFESSIONS (USD$40 BosTix/half price).

For several days this week I walked by their promotional poster in Copley Plaza, that promises ‘a literal theatrical feast!’ How could I resist?

The theatrical production of CUISINES & CONFESSIONS was inspired by the book Young and Hungry by Suzanne Taylor, which is a cookbook in the form of a memoir, and originally published in Boston.

This production is performed by The 7 Fingers troupe and includes sound, smell, touch, and taste. The 7 Fingers are known for their innovative acrobatic and choreographic ‘prowess’.

It’s the last week of the American premiere at the Cutler Majestic Theater after playing in Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Montreal, and Moscow.

Now I’m seated inside the Cutler Majestic Theater I see the theatre lives up to its majestic name. Its interior glows with the elegance of its 1903 ‘Beaux Arts’ style and embellishment, designed by architect John Galen Howard.

Around me it’s a chatty crowd. The vibe is a mix of a creative chaos and anticipation as members of The 7 Fingers run down the aisles, pitch an occasional potato into the air as if it’s a baseball, and scribble down the answers to love life questions as the audience is quizzed by the man in the apron with the notepad.

I don’t know where to look, because I want to look everywhere – all at once.

There’s a large kitchen construction onstage, with a working stove. We’re invited to ‘Come for the circus, stay for the banana bread!’

As the lights dim and the audience becomes quiet, we watch a series of personal and universal food stories unfold.

For most of us, food is a marker of special moments, emotions, memories, or confession.

Tonight the stage becomes a page in a human recipe book, scribbled with words of love, humour, guilt, and even persecution.

The fluid choreography of the acrobatics, aerial sequences, dance, and the juggling underlining these stories, is as spellbinding as it is energetic.

In one dance sequence white flour is thrown into the air. It takes shape then dissipates, in much the same way human emotions can.

The onstage kitchen is a genius design of interconnecting wooden boxes and frames that create a variety of theatrical and acrobatic opportunities.

Table and chair formations become platforms to sit on, or dance on, and square wooden frames become aerobic hoops to dive through. Giant whisks are juggled, a girl dangles in mid-air from a rope of tea towels, a knife is throw at a blindfolded man, and a tall vertical pole provides a linear defiance of gravity.

Meanwhile, the vegetable pasta and the banana bread is cooking in the onstage oven.

This theatre production is an immersive journey for all our senses, as we sit in awe of the incredible timing, skill, and physical ability of the cast – and the spell cast by the aroma of food.

And at the end of that journey there was food!

We queued down the theatre aisles for a tasting plate of pasta with vegetables – tasty – and a piece of moist banana bread, still warm from the oven.

CUISINES & CONFESSIONS is a production that reminds you of the power and importance of the arts to share stories using a combination of physical skill, humour, and emotion. Some stories reflect our own, but the ones that add most value, in my opinion, are those that give us new understanding of the experiences of others.

Although the season has just ended in Boston I’m sure the production will keep touring, so if you have the chance to see it, don’t hesitate. You can also find some of the acrobatic feats of The 7 Fingers troupe on YouTube.

The creation and staging of Cuisine & Confessions is by Shana Carroll and Sebastien Soldevila. The entire cast includes Sidney Iking Bateman, Melvin Diggs, Mishannock Ferrero, Anna Kichtchenko, Camille Legris, Heloise Bourgeois, Nella Niva, Emile Pineault, Anna Kachalova, Matias Plaul, William Underwood, and Pablo Pramparo.

RATED: Fabulous!  FOOD: 5/5
VALUE: 6/5 Yes!   ATMOS: 5/5   VIBE:  Passionate, exciting, inspiring, and unique 
‘CUISINES & CONFESSIONS’ – Cutler Majestic Theater 219 Tremont St, Boston, MA

*A special thank you to James Harriman for allowing me to use his photos

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Pimp My Plate #25 – Boston, MA

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This month PIMP MY PLATE visits the east coast of the USA to see if Boston could pimp my plate. With AUD$19 currently equivalent to USD$14.50 excluding tips and taxes I’ve scrapped the usual budget in my search for flavour.

‘Salty kisses from the sea…’

Saltie Girl Seafood Bar

Few words can stop me in my tracks like OYSTERS, as I walked down Dartmouth St in Boston in the middle of a heatwave. Seconds later I was up those stairs, pushing open the door, and gazing at unshucked oysters behind the counter.

I’d just eaten lunch, so my most pressing question was whether Saltie Girl was open for dinner that night. ‘We stay open, first in gets a table.’ Dinner sorted.

Oysters. There are lovers and haters. I’ve been a lover for most of my adult life. It was a hallelujah moment when I first realized that oysters were so much more than slimy, shapeless, greyish blobs … that they are in fact poetry. If you’re still lurking in the grey area of oyster appreciation, think of them as salty kisses from the sea, which they are. Each ocean fresh salty kiss has a transformative power to rewind your senses back to ocean swims and happy times you’ve spent at the beach.

And if oysters don’t excite you there is always lobster – for breakfast, entree, main, maybe even dessert.

Because when it comes to access to quality east coast seafood, Boston is surrounded by choice. From its home state of Massachusetts you can feast on produce from Cape Cod (SE of Boston), and from Martha’s Vineyard (south of Cape Cod).

Further north is the state of Maine, famous for its prized Maine Lobsters which are considered the most succulent in texture and flavour. Down south, seafood is sourced from the state of Connecticut, the waterways of Washington, and the fisheries of Long Island Sound, which stretches between Connecticut and Long Island.

To a seafood lover, the criss-cross of Boston streets can easily be reimagined as interlocking lines on a giant trawler net. Boston is brimming with a diverse choice of sea creatures, with a seafood restaurant on every block.

Back to Saltie Girl. It’s a niche bar-seafood-hideaway. There are several cosy booths or you can sit at the well-stocked bar beneath the gaze of two mermaids.

The wait staff are hipster cool and know their seafood. There’s a set menu of main meal options, and a cutesy tick the box with a pencil menu of fresh crustaceans.

We wanted to try as locavore as possible, so for oysters we ticked Martha’s Vineyard and for sentimental purposes, Long Island Sound. I’ve seen those long skinny Razor Clams at Sydney Fish Markets but never tried them so this was my opportunity. The oysters were ocean-fresh and didn’t need condiments. The Razor Clam was pre-cut and seasoned and I didn’t like the texture as much as my dinner partner did.

Maine Lobster. No way was I going to pass up the opportunity to try it.

I chose a  Gloucester Lobster Roll (USD$32 Market Price) the lobster meat originating from Gloucester, Mass. The next decision was whether to order it served either warm – broiled in butter – or cold.

As I spent precious seconds contemplating which option was the most delicious, our waiter quickly cut in, ‘Go cold!’ OK, then. Suspicions that this lobster roll would far exceed any I’d eaten in Sydney were instantly confirmed. The ‘roll’ was a toasted brioche bun, and it was chock-full of fresh lobster pieces with a subtle tasting aioli.

The savoury chips were a cross between potato slivers and crunchy water crackers.

Having written a soul food cookbook, and eaten various versions of chicken and waffles, there was also no way I could pass up the chance to try Fried Lobster and Waffles w sweet corn butter and spicy maple syrup (USD$32 Market Price). Verdict? Unbelievably good.

Before ordering, I asked about the waffles – were they sweet? I was told they were Belgian waffles, cooked on the premises, and not too sweet. They didn’t lie. There is something about this combination that defies logic, but with each bite, your taste buds concur that this dish is nothing less than an amazing concept. Crisp tender lobster, with springy soft waffles, with a trickle of corn butter, doused with maple syrup – it’s not incongruous, it’s a flavour sensation.

Take your dollars and your plastic as this is not a cheap dining destination, but it’s worth every bite.

RATED: Pimped and pumped!  FOOD: 5/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 4.5/5   VIBE:  Atlantis 
SALTIE GIRL SEAFOOD BAR– 281 Dartmouth St, Boston, MA 02116

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