Monday, July 30, 2012

Karl's Sausage Kitchen: Auf Wiedersehen to Route 1 in Saugus

For those who haven't heard, Route 1 in Saugus is about to lose an icon. Karl's Sausage Kitchen, which I've spoken about many a time on this blog, is going to move from its current location on that gaudy stretch of highway in northeast Massachusetts to a larger space in Peabody. Not that I need any excuse to go purchase and gorge on German delicacies, but I did want to make a trip before the store closed for a bit over a week to transfer the business over to their new digs. I've heard tell on the interwebs that the location in Peabody is going to not only be a bit bigger, but will include an area that will serve as a small cafe, with sausages and other fare, as well as a selection of European beer and wine. I look forward to seeing the new store, but before I do, I think we should say a proper goodbye to the tiny space that housed big flavor. My friends, here's a little tour of Karl's Sausage Kitchen as we knew it on Route 1 in Saugus.

The current small storefront of Karl's is only about 700 square feet long. All walls of the space are covered with an unbelievable array of chocolates, gummy bears, mustards, red cabbage, sauerkraut, instant knödel, curry ketchup, pickles, cookies, jams, marzipan, sparkling non-alcholic beverages, stocks, sauce mixes, tea, gravy mixes, red cabbage (did I already say that?) and so on and so forth. The dry goods, canned foods, and lovely snacks that they stock on every inch of empty shelf space is amazing, as if you took every item that a German grandma might think of on any given day that is difficult to get in this country, and just stacked them on shelves upon shelves for her personal utter delight. Let's take a little look.
Niederegger marzipan from Lübeck, Haribo gummy bears, German chocolates and Swiss chocolates upon chocolates and more chocolates. They even have salty liquorice known as salmiakki to my Finnish friends... they love it... I think it's nasty. But to each his own, it might grow on me one day.
Shelves stocked with all those secret ingredients... gravy mixes, and boullion cubes, special stocks, and then other flavorings specific to certain regions of Germany and Scandanavia. You'll see all those boxes of the delicious potato dumplings known as knödel near the bottom of the photo, and then there's apple sauce and jars of red cabbage. All amazing, I assure you.
Moving on to the meat and cheeses case...
The cheese case has a wonderful and unique array of of dairy delights. From butterkäse, both nutty and mellow to Moosbacher from Austria which has a buttery, barnyard-tangy taste, while staying somewhat akin to the flavors and appearance of Swiss cheese. Usually they'll have a little cutting board with some of their more popular or unusual cheeses available to sample. Today after tasting the Moosebacher and smoked gouda, we decided on a bit of the former. So tasty.
Liverwurst! Produced in house and available in both coarse grind and finer grind varieties. This minerally, earthy treat is also available imported and smoked from Europe.
Sausages! Again, made in house in the large kitchen located behind the little store front. You can find baeurwurst, coarse bratwurst, Polish kielbasa, smoked Italian sausage, smoked bratwurst, blutwurst, Polish blutwurst (with barley), and weisswurst. I've never been disappointed with their highly specialized variety of sausages, so savory, and all with the wonderful snap of a natural casing after being cooked. 
Hams and beautiful schinkenspeck, salty and sweet, including those wonderful Black Forest Hams that can melt in your mouth. There are salamis, and smoked pork chops, and multiple varieties of sour and sweet head cheese, all amazing and worth splurging an extra few dollars so that your lunch the next day can be extra special. 
So we went home, happy with our wares, and well informed on where the new location would be. Dinner tonight included some lovely blutwurst, crisp on the outside, smoked bratwurst, and your classic bauernwurst.
And for lunch tomorrow, a sandwich of Karl's smoked bacon, tart Lodi apples (a slightly acidic, early summer variety good for pies or pairing with salty charcuterie, and jagdschnitten, a rustic, slightly sour rye bread. 

Boy what a trip to Karl's. I hope that their new location is just as wonderful as the old.
Happy and safe travels, guys.

142 Broadway
Saugus, MA 01906

1 Bourbon Street
Peabody, MA

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Diamond in the Rough: Falafel King

Follow to the King!
I love walking around Downtown Crossing. It has the charm of a a great metropolis that has been nailed by a nuclear bomb, where the whole of the population of the city basically just strolls around the circumference of the huge crater, pretending that nothing happened... nothing to see here. Seriously, at any given moment in Downtown Crossing, you'll see four crack heads, a handful of teenagers trying to get someone to buy them cigarettes from the Seven Eleven, a drunk pregnant woman smoking a bong, a gaggle of Scientologists doing some recruiting, and something even more random... like a professional tuba player with a monkey. Oh, and then you'll see a family of four on vacation from Ohio who have just come from a lovely stroll on the Public Gardens and are on their way to the Aquarium, but somehow must have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the Freedom Trail and have emerged deep in the very bowels of HELL!!!!
Falafel King location:
Enter building, and walk to
the back of the floor
Just kidding, Downtown Crossing isn't that bad, but it is colorful to be sure. There used to be beautiful department stores, like Filenes and Jordan Marsh, a number of book stores, the amazing Diamond building, and of course theaters and restaurants for all the lawyers, politicians, businessmen and ladies who lunch to enjoy. Some are still there, but many are long gone. And yes, we do have an actual crater smack in the middle of the neighborhood, which no real estate company seems to want to touch with a ten foot pole. Amidst the wreckage, there are a few places with cheap eats that have become strong holds in this bizarre and endearing neighborhood. The places with food so good, that all manner of person seeks out their wares for lunch, and they make a place like Downtown Crossing not so scary, but more special. One of these places is Falafel King.
The Falafel King Counter
Locating Falafel King is a bit of an adventure. Aside from its address smack in the middle of Downtown Crossing, you'll have to scan the different signs above eye level on Winter Street before you actually find the building that the eatery is located in. A couple tips, the Falafel King sign is second from the bottom on a series of stacked signs on the left side of the street when walking toward the Commons. Also, if you see a Chinese takeout restaurant in this same building, then you are in the right place. You'll have to enter through the door located to the left of the Chinese takeout restaurant's entrance. Even after successfully locating the building, you might be inclined to turn around. You'll see a sort of cell phone store, and another restaurant advertisement, but just pass by all that you see and walk toward the back of the building. You'll catch glimpse of a long snaking, but fast moving, line at the back, and this is the line for the King.
Complimentary gift of falafel
for loyal customers and new friends
Part of the experience of getting take out from the King is a) knowing your order, because that line moves fast and b) getting a free falafel from the man initiating the construction of orders at the beginning of the food counter. I still delight in the welcome of "hello my friend, what can I get for you" and an out stretched arm offering a single crunchy chickpea nugget with a little quick smear of tangy, earthy hummus. But what to order? Well, if you're extra hungry, you could a special combo roll up with falafel and chicken or shawarma. But I don't know. I think if this is your virgin run to a place renowned for having great falafel, then damn it, just go with the falafel... the falafel roll up in this case. You'll place your order, devour your complimentary snack, take five steps down the food counter line, pay a total of $5.88, and in all of about a minute and a half, you have a wonderful sandwich, compactly packaged to travel well, and are on your way to the office to enjoy a feast of Boston's best falafel. 
Layers of crunchy falafel, hummus, pickles
lettuce and tomatoes
The substantial sandwich is rolled in a combination of paper and foil so that as you peel away wrapping you reveal just enough sandwich to access a hearty bite, and simultaneously prevent the rest of the meal from crumbling into lost lunch oblivion. The packaging has the added reward of actually unraveling flavor by flavor that the King has tightly rolled into a powdery, soft, and spongy fresh pita bread. The falafel, deep fried in vegetable oil, is exceptionally crunchy on the outside, and packed with spices to compliment those toothsome bits of chickpea throughout the inside of the nugget. As you bite into the sandwich, you have a very good chance of enjoying the flavors of both that falafel and the tangy, lemony and nutty hummus that you had previewed at the Falafel King counter. You might also come upon a piece of one of the sour pickles that they layer lovingly into the sandwich. Then there is a bit of iceberg lettuce and chunks of juicy tomato, not to mention the spice and zip of garlic and parsley throughout every bite of the sandwich. It's perfect harmony of Middle Eastern flavors, not to mention an interesting combination of textures that keep the mouth interested. Though the sandwich is roughly the size of a thermos, it's damn near impossible to stop chomping down on the seemingly infinite supply of deliciousness, and before you know it, yes, m'dear, you've eaten the whole thing.
Clearly, this is one of my favorite sandwiches in Boston, and yet another example of how this city does inexpensive food really well. I will continue to enjoy the Twilight Zone atmosphere of Downtown Crossing every time I feel the need to fulfill my falafel desires. Hell, if I keep following the call long enough, maybe Downtown Crossing will change and reclaim some of its former glory. That's all well and fine, so long as Falafel King keeps on doing what it does best. Here's to you, the King that has stolen my heart.

Falafel King
48 Winter Street
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 338-8355

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Classic Southern New England: Del's Lemonade

Try to explain to someone who hasn't grown up in New England how wonderful a Del's lemonade is during the peak of the summer. It fails every time. "Oh, so it's Italian ice? I can get those at the grocery store." No, it's not Italian ice... well, maybe it originally started out as Italian ice, but has morphed into a texture a bit more unique. It's slush. It's different. It's not a slurpee from the local Seven Eleven. It's not soft serve. It's not a slush puppy. It's a Del's.
The Del's truck of my youth
It means that school's out for the summer. It means that the heat is warm enough to run down the street, b-line to the harbor and dive right in. I would hear the truck ringing a bell as it drove down the street, and watch as kid after kid seconds later careened out their respective screen doors with a handful of change. "MOM! MOM! THE DEL'S MAN! MOM, QUARTERS," cue the Chariots of Fire theme music, and off I'd go with the rest of the herd. The order would be a medium lemon, you'd hand over your change, and sometimes if got that extra nickle on you, you could get a pretzel rod stuck in the middle. There were also those special photo album worthy outings, where you might be out with your mom and dad at Colt State Park or finishing up a day at Buttonwood Park, and you'd spot the truck, parked what seemed like miles away. You'd put on those droopy kid "please parental unit" eyes and that regardless of whether mom said yes (because she always did), it was just a matter of whether you would get to the truck before it moved to a different location. All those good things of summer, and family, and sunshine and no school, wrapped up into a little wax cup with green and white stripes.
Del's in Warren, RI (next
to the bike path)
I've never let go of my love of Del's. We visited our parents this weekend, and scheduled a specific detour to one of my favorite spots in Warren, Rhode Island... where a tiny shack selling Del's is situated directly next to the bike path that you can ride all the way to Providence.
Each bin holds a different flavor,
but you should really try the
The slush is the same as it has always been. It's sweet, almost cloyingly so, to those who didn't grow up with the stuff. You walk into the little shop, and there's a collection of photos of past workers, and a teenager at the counter who probably wants nothing more than to escape the little town in New England where she grew up, but that I know will take pride in telling the stories of working at the local Del's to her grand kiddies decades later. The metal bins housing that delicious slush are set before her, along with a basket of what we used to call bakery pizza or pizza strips, a little glass showcase of hot dogs that have seen better days, and a menu of flavors on the wall behind. 
My favorite summer beverage
There's only one thing to order. You need to get the lemonade. It's called Del's Frozen Lemonade for a reason. There are little lemon bits, candied peel, and a sweet, cold slushy mixture... the consistency of melty spring snow. It's so sugary, and yet a hint of tartness is still front and center, more pronounced when chewing each little piece of the peel floating in the beverage. By my method, it's consumed by sort of squeezing the wax cup, and sipping the cold icy mixture through the triangular lip that you've just made. It's so sweet, and so cool, and just about the best way to tell if someone has experienced New England. You experience it by loving Del's. I don't know if I would trust someone from Southern Massachusetts or Rhode Island if they hate Del's. In fact, if they interviewed for a job with me, I might make that my first question: "Do you like Del's?" If the answer is "yes," you're hired. If not, may God have mercy on your soul... and get the hell out of my imaginary office.
So now you know. More than lobster rolls, more than fried clams, more than anything, Del's is special to the area of Southern New England where I grew up. I long for it when it's February, and I think butterflies and angels whistle a little Mongo Jerry every time I take a sip. There really is nothing like the first Del's of summer. (Devil's advocate... well, maybe stuffed quahogs...maybe.)

or visit
Del's Lemonade
65 Charles Street
Warren, RI 02885

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Simple Green Beans with Olive Oil, Pine Nuts, and Lemon Zest

When veggies are at their most ripe, picked the same day, thick and juicy with a crunch that can only mean summer is here, you really don't have to dress them up all that much. The flavor of sunshine and warm weather produces a sweetness unique to the soil and the land that they were grown in. It's these times that I feel really lucky to live in New England.
Fresh green beans
So when those fat, lovely green beans showed up at the Dewey Square Farmers Market, I was like a moth to the flame. I picked up two varieties, your classic green, and these pretty dark purple ones that I had never had before. The lady at the stand delighted in the purchase of the purple, boasting that she had picked them just that morning. I thought that was just wonderful. And so I started searching for this recipe and that online, finding recipes for Schezwan green beans, and tempura green beans, before stopping at the most simple recipe, and adapting slightly according to the ingredients that I had on hand. So to replicate you'll only need a few things:

  • A little over a pound of fresh green beans
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts
  • 4 teaspoons of olive oil
  • Zest of two lemons
  • 2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Simple right? Here are your few steps.
Purple green beans
1. Snap off the ends of the green beans, just like your grandma used to do. Proceed to diagonally cut them into 1/2" pieces. If you're as lucky as I had been, and have been able to get your hands on some purple green beans, I'm sure you'll delight in seeing the brilliant contrast of the green of the inner bean compared to that of the dark skin after prepping each long bean into bite-sized pieces.
2. Heat a big pot of salted water until it boils, and dump in your pretty green beans. After about four to five minutes, the beans should be tender, while still retaining some of their crunch. You'll also notice that the dark purple outside has vanished, leaving only the hue of the bright green of the inside. Drain your beans when they're cooked to your liking.
Zest of two lemons and
olive oil
3. Mix up your dressing. Zest the lemons on a microplane zester, mince a couple tablespoons of fresh flat leaf parsley, and combine. Allow the flavor to meld for a few moments in some good olive oil.
Toasted pine nuts
4. Toast your pine nuts. I find that heating a frying pan, throwing in the little nuts, and mixing them round for about two minutes usually releases the oil, browns the outside nicely, and leaves you with the most savory wonderful aroma wafting through your kitchen.
5. Toss everything to mix in a large bowl and add salt and pepper to your liking.
Green beans with pine nuts,
olive oil and lemon zest
This simple little dish is so satisfying. The green beans are sweet, juicy, and just a touch bitter, mingling with the savory, meaty crunch of those little toasted pine nuts, and then the tang of lemon zest, all coating your mouth via a good splash of sweet olive oil. It's amazing how simple and quickly you can prepare this dish, and what a fresh, summer side dish it is to bring to any barbecue. Let's all hear it for the miracle of a fresh picked green bean allowed to ripen properly on the vine. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

J.T. Farnham's of Essex

Back in the New England swing of things!
There are few things that go more hand in hand in New England than the phrases "a day at the beach" and "clam shack." And it's finally beach weather. As luck would have it, the Bigger Half had his day off on Sunday, and we were in business. Up at a relatively lazy Sunday morning hour, off we went to Crane Beach.
PARKING LOT FULL. That dreaded sign reared its ugly face as we headed down Argilla Road in Ipswich. The Twitter machine said that people had already been lining up at 8 am at the parking lot entrance, and by ten the lot was full. Heads hung in sadness, we decided to about face and take a little jaunt over to Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester. Again, the dreaded sign. PARKING LOT FULL. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice... whatever. I always have a contingency plan to combat horrid disappointment, and it almost always involves great seafood.
J.T. Farnham's
Since we've not yet covered this particular clam shack on Soused Blueberries yet, our choice of which Cape Ann institution to visit was set, and we were off a little ways down the road to the lovely, J.T. Farnham's.
Amazing view by the
picnic tables
There are many clam shacks on the North Shore serving up impeccable clams. But each has little differences, specialties, or menu items that make them very special. Perhaps the most notable advantage for Farnham's is the view; in my opinion, the most stunningly beautiful compared to Woodman's, Essex Seafood, and the Clam Box. The roadside location does have its parking and passing traffic noise issues, but to take in the view is a little bit like feeling life slow down in graduated paces. Behind the restaurant and by the parking lot are several picnic tables overlooking winding brooks that dance alongside the fluffy green marshes during high tide. With a clear blue sky, and a refreshing breeze, you can gaze at the boats skimming the water in the distance, or a kayaker or two, themselves on a most enjoyable commute to the little clam shack known as Farnham's.
Place your order at the counter
After situating yourselves at one of the picnic tables, you can walk around to the inside, and line up to order. This is a cash only establishment. They do have an ATM, but I've found that it's often out of order, so it's best to bring some cash money with you. You'll recognize the inside counter from that bleach blond yell-happy weirdo, Guy Fieiri, who is credited with introducing the wider world to this gem of a clam shack. That being said, their quality has not diminished since hoards of hungry fans have descended on the restaurant. They've got your classic array of fried, whole-bellied clams, which you really do have to order. There are lobster rolls (very good if you're in the mood for lobster) and then there's also fried fish and a few items for people who don't like seafood (hrmph). The portions are generous, and I actually think that for a famous clam shack, the prices are pretty competitive compared to others like Woodman's who are clearly taking advantage.
So what do I recommend to order? Well, we were here early. My appetite is always present, but I'm not one to want to stuff myself to the brim with fried delicacies when there is still a very real possibility that I'll have to show my uber pale butt in a bikini an hour or so later. So here's what I suggest if you're just hungry enough, and will be sharing between two people. Get yourself a bowl of the seafood chowder, a signature dish at Farnham's. Follow that up with the fisherman's combo. Oh, and a fresh brewed ice tea or a beer is also always a good idea.
Seafood chowder
Let's start with the seafood chowder. This is something unique to Farnham's. While other places have delicious clam chowders, this is the only place where you can really experience the best of the best in seafood broth, and lovely simmered bits like lobster, scallop, fish, and clams. The potatoes are tender, and the liquid silky, while also briny and creamy. There is just enough milk and a touch of bright orange fat skimming the surface, a result of cooking items like shrimp and lobster for the seafood chowder. It's so delicious. Every piece of seafood is somehow, miraculously on point, although this may have been because on this occasion we were there so early. Sweet shrimp and succulent lobster, and those bright, tender and thick scallops all present and accounted for. A few spoonfuls of this chowder, even on a hot day, will give you a clue into what they must serve in heaven.
Fisherman's combo
The second item is really the reason why we only ordered two things: The fisherman's combo. It's a massive feast of lovingly cooked seafood, with each item processed separately to cook for the perfect amount of time. Have you ever had a seafood plate of clams, shrimp, scallops, and fried fish, where the scallops were so rubbery you could bounce them off the wall? Yeah, that's a product of everything being cooked simultaneously in the same batch. Farnham's commits no such sin. All the items are perfectly tender and juicy, none resembling shriveled pencil erasers. The shrimp are sweet, and have that pleasant chew, a texture akin to the consistency of lobster's tail meat, and perhaps just as pleasurable. The scallops melt in your mouth. They are again, sweet and incredibly juicy, almost buttery. There are few things as delicious as a perfectly cooked, fresh scallop. Then there is the fish. Now, normally I believe that the fried fish they serve at Farnham's is haddock. However, on this occasion, they did not have haddock, and let us know at the counter. We were fine with this, but it's nice for them to make sure that the customer knows what they are getting. As for the reason why they were out? Well, this is a tough fishing industry. Sometimes the quality is not up to par, or sometimes you just run out by Sunday. Either way, what we received as a nice fresh piece of flat fish, maybe sole. The white meat was flaky and light, very clean tasting. And oh those clams! I love a wonderfully fried clam: belly intact, strips of meat fantastic at the first bite. They are both sweet and livery, a touch chewy, minerally and rich. The clams at Farnham's, their claim to fame, are right on par with all the perfect, sweet Ipswich and Essex clams that you find at the other clam shacks. What sets them slightly apart, I think, is the batter. The batter at Farnham's seems to be entirely cornmeal based. This makes the frying a little more on the greasy side, but every item is still crisp, and there's a touch of saltiness to that crust that forms on the outside of each seafood morsel. It's this batter, and the quality of the ingredients that has kept Farnham's in the limelight for so long. They deserve every accolade. The whole plate, systematically and skillfully cooked, and with that special cornmeal batter, was wonderful.
Crane Beach - Beautiful
So we left after about an hour of devouring our fisherman's combo and that awesome seafood chowder. Satisfyingly full, and spirits brightened, we wandered around the area for a while, going through this antique shop and that, just killing sometime and longing for our next little purchase of things that were made before we were born. And then the Twitter man told us that the parking lot at Crane Beach had a few cars leaving and they were slowly letting more people in. If you haven't been to Crane Beach before, go. It's my favorite beach on the North Shore, our closest thing to the National Seashore on Cape Cod, and a sanctuary for the world's cutest birds: Piping Plovers. Have yourself a beach of a day... and visit Farnham's, truly a special clam shack.

J.T. Farnham's
88 Eastern Ave
Essex, MA 01929
(978) 768-6643