Waxing & musings. Last Monday my wife and I drove our daughter back up to college. The next day we ate our way across New England. Six states in four days, 1,000 miles in all, five fill-ups at gas stations, and three to five miles of walking each day. The weather was perfect throughout, but the food is what remains most memorable.
My wife and I are hopeless food junkies. Typically, we do our homework in advance of trips out of town, often plotting routes based on favorite dishes and recommended ones. This year our drive took us east across New York State to Vermont, over the Green Mountains and then north to Sunapee Lake in New Hampshire. There, our dear friends Lisa and David cooked us a terrific meal of grilled local steaks, corn, zucchini, tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, finished with local warm cherry pie. Lisa is an artist and David is a filmmaker, and they own a glorious country house that was built by David's grandfather early in the last century. The house has been fully restored, and our throwback visit included a late-day motorboat ride on what must be the cleanest large lake in New England. Their home is just feet from the shore, so the sound of lapping water and whispering white pines made for a sound sleep.
The next day we departed for two days in Boston. Then it was south to the coastlines of Rhode Island and Connecticut. Rather than bore you with too much nitty-gritty, here's where we ate last week should you ever find yourself roaming the roads in search of a bite:
Roscoe Diner (Roscoe, N.Y.). If you love a diner breakfast (I do), this one has no equal. The Roscoe Diner is up along the Delaware River on Route 17. What makes breakfast here special are the sausages and home fries. The sausages are freshly made and perky with a peppery finish, while the home fries are cut large and have a wonderful, rich potato taste.
Blue Benn Diner (Bennington, VT.). Located at the foot of Vermont's Green Mountains, this place serves superb fresh raspberry and blackberry pancakes. You have to ask for fresh Vermont maple syrup, which is extra. We also tried a few spoonfuls of the regional Indian Pudding, an odd mash of baked custard with milk, butter, molasses, eggs, spices, and cornmeal. It comes with a scoop of ice cream.
Regina's Pizzeria (11 1/2 Thatcher St., Boston). In the late 1970s, when I was in college, I ate a small pie here every Friday afternoon alone at the bar, when the historic North End pizzeria was still largely undiscovered. I then made the mistake of taking a friend, which turned my solo time into a weekly party as more and more friends made the trek. I'm gratified to report that nothing has changed about the food in 30 years. I even managed to get my old seat at the bar this time. The tomato-sauce pizza beats anything I've had in New York or elsewhere. It's perfection.
Neptune Oyster (63 Salem St., Boston). This place is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood and is located about three blocks from Regina's. The fried clams (big belly mollusks) are sublime, with the crunchy breading boldly standing up to repeated lemon-wedge drenchings. The specially ordered mayo-less Lobster Roll was cold and juicy.
Modern Pastry (257 Hanover, St., Boston). The Modern still turns out the best cannollis ever. Not too creamy, not too chunky. Also fantastic here are the freshly made torrone. This isn't the rock-hard stuff you find at most places. Its spongy-soft nougat that's dense-packed with almonds. Add an iced cappuccino and you'll find yourself with an ear-to-ear smile.
Turner Fisheries (10 Huntington Ave., Boston). Most people swear by Legal Seafood's New England clam chowder in Boston. I find it a bit thick, cream-wise. I much prefer the aromatic clam chowder at Turner, which is more perfectly balanced and loaded with chopped clams and diced potatoes. Turner is located in the Westin Hotel in Copley Square, and the soup can be ordered as room service if you're staying there.
Bar 10 (10 Huntington Ave., Boston). The best salad in town can be found here. It's called the Fattoush, a Mediterranean mix of mint, arugula lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, feta cheese, chopped red onion and toasted pita bread crouton. It, too, is in the hotel and can be ordered as room service.
George's (Galilee, R.I.). This place has been around since 1948 and serves two regional gems: stuffies and clam cakes. A stuffy is a quahog clamshell loaded with chopped clams, breading, crumbled sausage, celery, paprika and hot sauce. A clam cake is a fist-sized deep-fried dough ball loaded with chopped clams and black pepper. George's is located a short walk from the Block Island ferry.
Del's (Galilee, R.I.). Del's serves up an addictive slushy lemonade that can be found at stands throughout the country. There's no better palate-cleanser than a Del's after a round or two at George's.
Frank Pepe's Pizzeria (Fairfield, CT.). The main draw at Frank Pepe's is the white clam pie. The pizzeria was founded in 1925 in New Haven and has recently expanded to Fairfield and other locations. This pizza consists of freshly shucked little neck clams, chopped garlic, olive oil and a spray of grated Romano cheese. If you adore clams, the taste is beyond belief. It's gratifying to know Frank Pepe will soon be opening a restaurant in Yonkers, NY—a fast 30 minutes from Manhattan.
Tessa Souter. If you're a singer, vocalist Tessa Souter offers personal travel tips at her blog. Among the categories covered for jazz warblers include smart ways to pack, take care of your voice and eat on the go. To read Tessa's must-read, go here.
CD discovery of the week. John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble: Eternal Interlude isn't your run-of-the-mill big band album. Rather than produce a CD with cliche swing charts, drummer and composer Hollenbeck has created a fascinating tonal collage. His expansive group features a fascinating jigsaw puzzle of instruments, including a contra-alto clarinet and whistlers. Hollenbeck's arrangements here are as restless as they are novel.
The scope of the recording is ambitious, and Hollenbeck's avant-garde compositions are exciting and cinematic, ranging from the car-chase-like opener Foreign One to the soft and beguiling The Cloud. Hollenbeck's career has been one sterling accomplishment after the next, including studies in the 1990s with Bob Brookmeyer, a Grammy nomination for his 2006 album A Blessing, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007.
While Eternal Interlude isn't the kind of jazz I typically listen to, I love the excitement that Hollenbeck generates, applying one theme over the next. This is risk-taking music that's truly original and exciting.
Oddball album cover of the week. This 1962 big band album for by Little Jimmy Scott featured arrangements by Marty Paich and Gerald Wilson. Ray Charles produced and played piano on the recording, which probably explains why a Charles' album is visible on the floor under the model's limp left hand. What's odd is the position of her head and arms. It looks as though Scott just strangled her and then can't comprehend why she won't respond to his questions.