If I had to choose a coast I would have to choose the West. I lived out there so don’t go there. But that don’t mean a brother can’t feast in the East. Ok, so that isn’t entirely true as I would love to hang my trucker hat in NYC someday but nothing wrong with quoting a little Biggie Smalls. And there ain’t nothing wrong with shining a light on the Boston food scene, which is at once historic and trending with some new foodie fads. Seems like gentrification is happening all over the map and Beantown is no exception. Finding a delicious mix of new and old in Boston is as easy as saying yes to burgers for breakfast. Oh and speaking of burgers for breakfast . . .
the spot: Wheelhouse 63 Broad St Boston MA 02109
the eats: Breakfast Burger
the bucks: $7.50
the full nelson: a burger for breakfast never made so much sense
There is no doubt that eating burgers for breakfast is aggressive. I mean, you pretty much are announcing to the world that you are hungover or are about to embark on an EPIC cheat day. Now I love burgers but I have to say that burgers for breakfast have not been among my most shining foodie moments. Wheelhouse is a noteworthy exception. First off, Chef Jon Chase treats his burgers like a steak: great marbling from the 80/20 chuck blend and a great sear in part due to the coffee rub which he literally pulled off the menu from a steakhouse. He pulls off a double cheeseburger using two 3oz patties, not exactly the thin drive thru burger patties one would expect but the burger somehow manages to hold together with bacon cheese and a fried egg in the mix. Then there is the Bloody Mary ketchup. I mean, I’m a Thousand Island dressing and aioli kinda guy but the Bloody Mary ketchup is the ultimate condiment compliment to a fried egg on a burger. Though the ketchup is the base, every ingredient in here, from the Worcestershire to the chipotles in adobo works in finding balance to the richness of the egg, the beef, the cheese and the bacon. Would Wheelhouse make for an epic hangover breakfast? Yes. But it is also a place that simply makes damn good burgers for well under $10 . . . and that is OG Bang for your Burger Buck.
the spot: Mei Mei 506 Park Dr Boston MA 02109
the eats: Three Sisters Dumplings
the bucks: $9.50
the full nelson: an intentional Chinese American food experience
When it comes to the debate of authenticity in food, Chinese food in America is a prime example. The cuisine certainly has a notorious yet beloved Americanized version as well as restaurants devoted to focusing on regional dishes. Mei Mei is something different. Chef Irene Li told me that her concept was to first and foremost change the narrative of Chinese food in America by cooking for a new audience. Not necessarily authentic but inspired from her Chinese American upbringing. And a big part of that is her home of Boston and the farms of New England, which is how the Three Sisters dumplings came to be. The filling of squash, corn and beans were a central part of the local Native American diet and indigenous to New England. On top of that, they grow together in a symbiotic state where the corn becomes the stalk for the beans, the squash enriches the soil and deters pests essentially making it pesticide free and the beans add nitrogen to the soil. Irene said that if it grows together it goes together and when you eat a dumpling you will taste what she means. I did a double take when I found out I wasn’t having ground pork in my dumplings but you can get that anywhere. These dumplings aren’t just unique, they are uniquely Chinese American. Just like Chef Irene.
the spot: Modern Pastry 257 Hanover St Boston MA 02113
the eats: Ricotta Pie
the bucks: $3.50
the full nelson: A North End Italian classic
Boston has got history and I ain’t just talking about Paul Revere either. The North End, Boston’s Little Italy is a must for foodies and history buffs alike. Modern Pastry is a North End landmark, serving the people of Boston since 1930 and run by the very same family who started it way back when. I could have spent my entire day of Cheap Eats in the North End but if I had to pick just one meal here, it had to somehow involve ricotta cheese. Now one would think the cannoli would be the move but what stood out on the menu was the ricotta pie. A true North End classic, Ricotta pies were traditionally served during holiday time like Christmas and Easter but Modern Pastry has ’em year round. The real magic with the Ricotta pie comes down to the ricotta, which is made fresh for the shop several times a week by a special purveyor. Now I love me a cannoli but I have to say that the pie crust actually pairs even better with the ricotta filling than a pastry shell one gets with a cannoli. It also travels better. But to be honest, you’re gonna down the whole slice at the shop and the only way you could test the “to go theory” of the Ricotta Pie, is to order a second one to take with. And at $3.50 a pop, you don’t have an excuse not too.
the spot: Sullivan’s Castle Island 2080 William Jay Day Blvd South Boston MA 02127
the eats: Lobster Roll
the bucks: $14.95
the full nelson: how to eat lobster on a Cheap Eats budget
I was just tickled to be in Southie aka South Boston because . . . yes I have seen The Departed THAT many times. Boston is all about the neighborhoods and Southie is an iconic one at that. Supposedly Whitey Bulger would make phone calls from a pay phone just a few feet away from Sullivan’s. Talk to people from Boston and they will tell you about fond memories and big lines to go to Sully’s for a cheap and good hot dog and lemonade on a warm summer day. What they also have on the menu is a lobster roll, and the cheapest one in the city at that. $15 bucks gets you a classic New England style top loading hot dog bun stuffed with lobster that is lightly dressed with mayonnaise. The pro move here is that they feature a lot of meat from the claw, which is the most flavorful part of the lobster. You really can’t get a better deal on one but the temptation to have two is big. Especially if you are having one with Harry Makarian, who has been working at Sullivan’s for decades and can tell you enough stories about Sullivan’s to keep you around for round 2 of that lobster roll. Considering its the cheapest one in town, you just might do that.
And that is how Cheap Eats in Boston is done boys and girls. Yes this is the town that has owned sports for the last decade or so but before that, the rich history and historic neighborhoods have been cranking out killer eats for literally hundreds of years. Dropping Rs and serving Cheap Eats for decades? My kinda town indeed.