Monday, August 26, 2013

J&M Diner (Framingham, MA)

I am always searching for good new breakfast joints, but they are unfortunately few and far between, and especially rare are good old fashioned diners.  J&M Diner fits both to a "T," providing very good, and incredibly generously portioned, food in a classic diner atmosphere.

I drove past the diner on my way to pick up my friend I was having breakfast with at about 10am, and there was an extensive line of people waiting outside; sadly, this line had not dissipated at all, and in fact probably had grown, by the time we arrived about an hour later.  Another hour of waiting passed, and I was glad for the mimosa I had had prior to heading to the diner; I was starving anyways, but at least there was something in my stomach.  The wait, however, was completely worth it.

Sadly, they were out of Sauce Hollandaise, which they make only on Saturdays and Sundays for Eggs Benedict, and when they run out, they're just out for the day.  Since my preferred breakfast was off the table, I went with the special, a "Jack Daniels Omelette," which consisted of a gigantic omelette stuffed with pulled pork and a maple syrup and Jack Daniels reduction, along with a large portion of home fries and four thick slices of toast.  The egg was good, though it was not as fluffy as some I have had, but it was the pulled pork that was clearly the focus of the dish.  I went away with mixed feelings about it, but they were mostly because of the maple syrup glaze, which was, in my opinion, far too sweet.  The pork itself was tender, fairly juicy, and had great flavor, and the glaze was tasty until the super sweetness hit me, at which point it became cloying.  The toast and home fries were perfect however, and while I left a significant amount of omelette on the plate when I left (not because it was unpleasant, but simply because I am not a sumo wrestler and cannot eat my body weight in a single sitting), I ate all of the toast and just about all of the home fries.  I cannot recall better home fries being served to me in all my life; in fact, I cannot recall better potatoes of any variety!  Crispy outsides, tender and fluffy insides, perfectly salted and seasoned, and really just perfect, I cannot imagine how home fries could be better.  The toast, which was cinnamon swirl, was either homemade or from a top of the line bakery.  The crumb was exactly what you expect the variety to have, with a crisp exterior and, like the home fries, a tender and fluffy interior, with gooey, drippy, sweet cinnamon filling pouring out of of the swirls.  This was tremendous, and as a self-confirmed connoisseur of cinnamon swirl bread, I can confidently say that this is as good as any you will ever have.  Along with my own meal, my companion for breakfast had a pancake with fresh strawberries, blueberries and banana, and whipped cream and powdered sugar (aka the "USA" toppings), and she said they lived up to their billing as some of the best pancakes ever.

There was one negative aspect, and that was somewhat unavoidable with a place this busy.  While very friendly, the waitresses were a bit scatterbrained.  While my coffee (which was...well, coffee...nothing special there) was brought quickly and refilled often, my breakfast companion was delivered a glass of orange juice she did not order and it took several more minutes until she got the water she had actually requested, and the hot sauce I asked for was never delivered at all.  Not the worst offenses ever, but if you are super concerned about the wait staff, you should prepare yourself for disappointment on that front.

This boils down to one simple thing for me; I will drive 90 minutes and wait another 60 in have home fries and toast.  I cannot recommend this diner enough.


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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

La Veracruzana (Northampton, MA and Amherst, MA)

With two locations in western Massachusetts, La Veracruzana serves up a mix of fairly standard American style Mexican food and some dishes more specific to the owners' native state of Veracruz, from which the restaurants derive their name.  The primary and original location is on Main St. in Northampton, conveniently right next to my favorite spot in the city, The Dirty Truth, while the second is in downtown Amherst on South Pleasant St.  As a kid, going to the Northampton location was a fun treat, and in college (and after) the Amherst location has provided me with a fix for occasional cravings for enchiladas, tamales, or chiles rellenos.

La Veracruzana is best known for its salsa bar, where over a half dozen homemade salsas are available to serve yourself.  From mild to burning hot, tomatillo to borracha, the options are plentiful and delicious, enough to make anyone happy and accompany any dish they serve.  Chips are available--a change from when the restaurant opened-- and are a great way to try the salsas, but they are expensive at $3 a serving, though they are fresh made; no Tostitos here. 

The menu is written on large blackboards at both locations, and is rather varied; you can get anything from a quesadilla to pupusas, the delicious Salvadoran stuffed masa cakes.  I love their mole, that most spectacular of sauces, slightly sweet with chocolate, slightly spicy, and just overall so delectable that it improves anything and everything it touches; served on their enchiladas con pollo (chicken) it
Enchiladas con pollo y mole
is absolute perfection.  Tender, flavorful chicken wrapped in corn tortillas, topped with melted cheese and a sauce (mole, a slightly spicy red "enchilada sauce," or a tomatillo sauce), and served with refried beans and rice.  The rice and beans are fine, though they do not stack up with the addictively spectacular varieties at Tacos Lupita in Lynn, MA.  The beans are pretty standard, like you would get just about anywhere, but the rice is actually pretty good; I tend to mix them together with some salsa, and it tastes just fine.

Along with the enchiladas I had horchata, my favorite Central American drink, rice based and sweet without ever being cloying.  They also serve really great lemonade, a variety of aguas frescas, and during the winter, Mexican hot chocolate.  Their flan is supposedly good if you are in the mood for dessert, though I have not had it and I only know one person who has, though he enjoyed it.

All in all, La Veracruzana is an old favorite making solid if mostly unspectacular food; there are a few things on the menu that you may not recognize, and if your exposure to Mexican food is Taco Bell, you probably will be pretty shocked by what comes out.  As far as Mexican/Central American restaurants in the area, it is about as good as you will get, except possibly Mi Tierra, a Salvadoran owned eatery in neighboring Hadley.


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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Founders Brewing Company Double Trouble

Founders Brewing Company has deservedly been getting some great press in the last few years, making numerous "best of" lists, attracting hugely positive reviews and, it seems, expanding their operations, as I am now seeing their beers at more and more shops these days.  After trying four of their six year round beers, I picked up a four pack of the specialty Double Trouble, an imperial IPA, at the local Whole Foods, of all places.

Double Trouble is not the hard hitting, super powerful double IPA that, say, the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA is, or the aggressively bitter variety like Stone's Ruination IPA; instead, it is a subtle, but engaging beer, hoppy without bitterness as you drink it, and a malt undertone that gives just a hint of sweetness.  The Founders website claims that it has a bitter finish, and I can see how this could be argued, but it is more of a bitter aftertaste, in a really pleasant way; it sort of feels like the beer is cleansing your palate after you drink it.

The beer is a beautiful, foggy golden amber, with a weak head that disappeared after just a minute or two.  The flavor, as with most beers like this, becomes more pronounced and vibrant as it warms slightly, so it is worth letting it sit for a couple minutes after pouring it.  I'll admit, I was surprised by both its ABV (9.4%) and IBU score (86), as it drinks like a 5% beer and the bitterness is just not that powerful.  I think this is actually a really fantastic option because of those two things; many beer drinkers, even those who are aficionados (or wanna bes) still don't like the taste you can get with super high alcohol contents or really high IBU values, so they avoid the imperial IPAs; this will allow them to enjoy the other aspects of the genre, without the drawbacks.  Highly recommended, I can see this becoming a much loved beer for me during the summers.  Sadly, it is only produced in May and June, so get it while you can.

You can find my reviews of Founders Red Rye PA here.


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