Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Fun in Beantown

Pleasing a large crowd can be challenging when it comes to food. Last weekend I visited several friends in Boston, and everybody did a good job of coming up with ideas for places to eat. We were able to accommodate tastes, location and schedules without too much difficulty, and managed to have fun at the same time.

Boston Beer Works has a few different venues in Boston, but we met at the one in Fenway, which is large and has industrial decor. I had a large Beantown Nut Brown Ale, which was thick but not heavy, and had a smooth, rich flavor. The appetizers were pretty standard - mozzarella sticks, onion rings, and cheese fries - but they hit the spot before a late dinner.

One of Boston's only BYO restaurants, Greek Isles in Fenway was perfect for our group of ten. After ordering from a menu on the wall and paying individually, we moved a few tables together to eat outside. We got cups for wine and water at no extra charge (of which I was aware), and our food came out quickly considering how much we ordered. The restaurant's casual atmosphere was deceiving; the food at Greek Isles is tasty and authentic. I had the privilege of trying the stuffed grape leaves, which were excellent, and I shared a humongous gyro plate. With enough meat for two, plentiful baskets of pita, and two side dishes, the meal was a major bargain for $11.95.

Zaftig's, a popular deli and brunch spot in Coolidge Corner, was quite a different experience from Greek Isles. Our group of seven waited for an hour (maybe more) for a table, but when we sat, there were two baskets of bagel chips with a cream cheese dip. Excellent touch, considering we were almost starving by that point. The brunch menu is slightly overwhelming - everything sounds good, and watching all the food pass assures you that it is good. Challah french toast, granola pancakes, a fried egg BLT and San Francisco Joe's Special (turkey sausage, mushrooms, spinach and eggs) were all contenders in my final decision. I ultimately chose to create my own omelet, with ham, spinach and sharp cheddar cheese. Wheat toast and homefries rounded out my meal, and the omelet did not disappoint. Fresh spinach, large chunks of meat and oozing cheese satisfied my long-endured hunger. It even kept me going until an afternoon snack of frozen yogurt topped with hot fudge at J.P. Licks.

On Saturday night we wandered toward Harvard Square, again with seven people, and decided to try Mr. Bartley's House of Burgers. A neighborhood landmark, the place was the epitome of "no fuss, no muss." While we waited outside for a table, the waitress gave us menus and took our orders before we even sat down. All of the party must be present to sit, no exceptions, and there is no bathroom. Inside, Bartley's is reminiscent of a camp dining hall, with its long wooden tables and open kitchen bordering the room. Numerous posters and entertaining signs adorn the walls, matching the witty menu.

Each of the cleverly named hamburgers (mostly political) can be made with turkey or veggie patties, and the rest of the menu highlights comfort food and thick frappes. I happened to not be in the mood for a burger, so I ordered the baked macaroni and cheese with a salad. I'm not sure if the mac and cheese was actually baked, but it was flavored with garlic and some herbs, and was very comforting. By a stroke of luck, friends on both sides of me ordered onion rings with their burgers. Sweet potato fries were another option, which I would have considered if I hadn't gotten mac and cheese, but the onion rings turned out to be a fantastic choice. Thin and crispy, yet pliable, the huge mounds tempted me several times throughout dinner. It's possible I could have consumed just onion rings for dinner.

Eating your way through a city is a great way to explore it, and I was lucky enough to do so in Boston, surrounded by friends. I can recall dining experiences with a big party that haven't gone so smoothly, but those incidents seem distant compared to my delicious memories from the weekend.

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