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JP: chowing in the new 'hood (long)

Estrella Bakery - I've tried the empenadas twice. When they are still hot (even warm), they are quite good. Small, crispy, thin crust, not too greasy. The chicken is my favorite. It reminds me a bit of Cuban recipes that have a hint of sweet (orange juice?). The beef is good as well. The jamaican style beef patty went in the trash. Horrible. Hot dishes look interesting, but like other latin/caribbean restaurants, they tend to sit out all day in chafing dishes. Get it fresh and it might be interesting. Nice service.

Alex's Chimis - I can't get past the roasted chicken. My this is soooo good, highly seasoned and salty. Love the rice with pigeon peas - great flavors - plus the fried plantain is one giant, whole piece. Also boiled yucca, banana and more. About $8-9 for a 1/2 chicken and you get two big meals. Ordering can be a bit tough, even for a direct girl like me.

Zon's - this might be my favorite neighborhood place. I love, love, love sitting at the bar. Staff are warm, friendly, like the most gracious dinner party hosts, making sure everyone gets introduced. And oh, the food is great. Tried the mac and cheese (wow), turkey burger with portabello and gruyere (another winner) and the mashed potatoes are rocking. My favorite may have been a beet salad - mixed greens lightly dressed, cubed beets, (caramelized?) onions, spicy pepitas and a thin blue cheese dressing drizzled sparingly over the top. Yum. They have some weekly deals - I think Tuesdays there is a discount on burgers, meatloaf and mac and cheese - plus a couple of other midweek deals. Nice pricing on beer and wine selections, too.

Hi-Lo - I like it. Perfect source for all the dried beans, hard to find canned ingredients, varied selection of spanish and portuguese olive oils. Frozen fruit in sheets - just like they use at El Oriental to make the batidos. Great for protein shakes at home. The large caribbean avocados are great and ripen really well. Lots of interesting dairy products including some oatmeal drinks, lots of region-specific cheeses, interesting yogurt. (Confession: I'm a junkie for the strawberry yogurt "juice boxes" for kids.) Everyone says 'oh, I'd never buy meat there' - good advice to follow or overly wary? Much of it looks fresh.

El Oriental - The cuban is good, but when I really crave that sandwich, I'll still go to Chez Henri. I do like it far better than the one at Montrose Spa, but I've not yet tried Miami Cafe's version. They offer a simple breakfast, which is very hangover friendly, including a giant pressed cheese sandwich, also simple scrambled eggs with chourico. Cafe con leche is the bomb and when you have it dining in, it comes in a nice big open mug. I'm only allowed to have it on the weekends, because I will easily over-indulge.

JP Licks - The only place you can get a decent cup of dark roast, as far as I can tell. Alternatively, a really bad cup of coffee can be had at City Feed.

Centre Street Cafe - Had a good brunch here, and I really like that they have some healthy menu items. As people say, portions are huge. I haven't had anything that I'd go out of my way for yet, except for their biscuits, which are pretty awesome.

Costello's - I've said it before, I'll say it again: chili cheese fries. The burger is decent, certainly juicy, but I'd go elsewhere if I were having a major craving (probably The Druid for me). The mac and cheese was darn good, too.

Arbor - I've had a couple of really great meals here. Service can be hit or miss, depending on planetary alignment? Wonderful, perfectly dressed salads. I've tried their fattoush and beet salads. Both excellent and worth a repeat visit. Tuna tartare was a little strong on onion for me, I'd pass on that next time. Good soups. Entree portions are big. I've had an excellent piece of fish there - you can customize the sides to go with certain entrees. I recall having the provencal (a nice ratatoille), but there are two others that I cannot recall, one might be middle eastern inspired. The grilled tofu entree is tasty and plentiful. Friend had dessert - I'm not a big sweets person - but wow this was fantastic. A rice pudding with cherry and port reduction, or some such thing. I had to exercise extreme restraint. Nice wine selections and I've heard good things about the cocktails, but haven't indulged yet.

Blue Frog - Delightful woman behind the counter, coffee was tolerable, brioche roll went in the trash. Don't need to go back.

James Gate - I like the pub, but the food is merely passable and I would prefer to go elsewhere. Not quite as much a neighborhood-y feel as Dogwood or Zon's, IMHO.

Harvest Coop - Talk about a love/hate relationship. Bulk items are worth it. The raw almonds here are the tastiest I've had, really. Good source for healthy frozen foods/dinners, fancy yogurts, and "healthy" snacks, but OUCH is the produce expensive and already heading past it's prime for the most part. And some of the eggs are over $4!? C'mon.

Dogwood - Love the feel of this place. Very much a neighborhood spot. Some nice beers on tap, more by the bottle. Wine by the glass (some seemed a little pricier than they should be?). Friendly and attentive service at the bar. People rave about the pizza but I don't think it's worth a special trip. The crusts are not particularly thin, and each of the two times I tried them, the flavors didn't really pop and I needed more salt. For thin crust pizza I'd head to Emma's or Cambridge One. Dogwood does offer a lot of specials, and plenty of healthy alternatives. Early Saturday is family night, so unless you're bringing the kids, steer clear! I want to try their burger and some of the salads.

High on the to-do list:
Cha Fahn, especially the weekend dim sum. The menu looks so very interesting.
Ten Tables - it's been a while since I've been in.
Yely's Coffee shop - hopefully to be tackled very soon.

Where I need help:

Where the @#$%^ can I find a decent grocery store!? Or separate markets for produce vs. meat. What about fish? Right now I'm resolved to get a zipcar and head to Market Basket in Somerville every two weeks. My skin crawls each time I have to go to Stop and Shop. It's really expensive, so is Roche Bros., though a better shopping experience. I've been thinking about taking the bus over to Dudley to go to Tropical Foods, but that place can be hit or miss with produce.

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  1. Anchor Steam on tap at the Dogwood!

    BTW, I generally agree with your comments about their pizza, but a large part of the issue can be solved by insisting they be cooked well-done.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Bostonbob3

      Agree, the pizza is good for the neighborhood, but certainly not on par with Regina's. The crust could be a little thinner as well. I like it, but I don't crave it.

      EOdC's cubano is better than the same at Miami Restaurant (in JP) and Cafe Miami (South End). I think that is correct as far as names/places.

    2. Awesome, awesome run-down, MB. You make me want to spend more time in JP.

      1. You've made me want to get to Zon's and Costellos for sure.

        My good friends live in JP and they still shop at Russo's for produce and steer clear of Hi-Lo for anything other than 'exotic' food, as it's pretty expensive for just groceries. They shop somewhere in West Roxbury ... DeMoulas or another smaller grocery chain? They have a car, though. I think Zipcar might be a really good option for you.

        Have you done the one-two punch of a pint at the Brendan Beehan and a papusa at Papusas Guanaca? You'll dig it.

        And by Arbor you mean Cafe D, right? I very much liked eating at the bar when I tried it. Mmmmm fish tacos.

        Very cool write-up.

        1. yes, lack of good groceries are the toughest part about living in JP. i really dislike harvest--i think it's just kind of gross!

          you might want to zip car or hop on a bus to explore roslindale square--lots of specialty markets there, including bob's pita bakery which has really cheap produce (though a bit of a limited selection). there's a fish market in the square too that i have yet to try but have heard good things about. tony's meat market has, well, meat, and the new cheese shop is getting better and better.

          also in the area, though not very accessible without a car, is baby nat's fruit market on the american legion highway (close to where it intersects with walk hill st.). more haymarket-like in terms of quality but huge selection. and allendale farm (on the brookline line) will be open for the season soon. but again, not really T-accessible.

          1 Reply
          1. Arbor is now Cafe D IIRC.

            1. Yes, oops, Cafe D (FKA Arbor). My bad.

              1. There is a fish market in Egleston Square called "Star Fish." I've never been and know nothing about it other than that it exists.

                There is a tiny, tiny, TINY farmer's market behind the Bank of America during the summer. Until I moved here, I'd never seen such a small farmer's market. Still, you can get heirloom tomatoes, beans, fingerling potatoes, that sort of thing.

                I agree with your assessment of Blue Frog. Fiori's and Sweet Finnish are also pretty blah, I think. (Exception: Fiori's does nice cannolis.) But have you tried Canto 6? Now that's a good bakery.

                How was your experience at El Oriental, service-wise? I haven't been there that often, but the times I was there, the service was either really bad or really slow or both. But, while I find their cubano to be nothing special, I thought they had a nicely done seafood soup.

                Re: Dogwood, I think it's misleading to compare them to Cambridge One. In my experience, those are simply different types of thing, even if they are both called "pizza." I like them both.

                2 Replies
                1. re: autopi

                  I think the service at El Oriental is fine. It is what it is and won't ever improve. I've not been there when they are really busy, so can't speak to that. I've most often had takeout. I tried the seafood soup and didn't like it. Too much rice, and prev. frozen seafood it seemed to me. But I'm wanting to try their other soups for sure.

                  1. re: autopi

                    I agree about Dogwood, I would never compare them to C1 or Emma's, I don't think they aspire to be gourmet thin crust. But I have to stick up for Blue Frog. I haven't gotten brioche there, but I think the croissants are very good as are most of the scones and cookies. That's what I usually get there. I like the big guy who runs the place. Yes Canto 6 is better but I'm happy with BF.

                    As far as grocery shopping, I usually go to the Brigham Circle Stop & Shop or Roche Brothers which usually has good sales, I go there much more often than I used to. Then again, I don't buy much more than millk, juice, muffins and bananas.

                  2. I've had lunch at cha fahn a couple of times. it's great for snack type foods and as i recall there was one dessert that i really loved, but specifics escape me now. i'd say it's definitely worth checking out.

                    also - try sweet christopher's for pastries. he makes a lovely carrot cake. i served a couple of his miniatures at a dinner party a couple of months ago to rave reviews.

                    1. We shop at Russo's for prodice every week... HIt Roche Bros when we need a quickie or the hubby needs meat. Their fish is great - they use Foley fish and they have pretty high standards. There is a Shaw's up on Centre St in W. Rox.

                      Believe it or not back in the day (wayyy back) the CVS by what used to be Trip D's was an A&P and then a Flanagans and the Store 24 on Centre st was a supermarket (kellehers) as well...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Redhohoho

                        I remember that Flanagan's... man, was that nasty! You know it's bad when CVS is an improvement. We like Roche Bros. for shopping. Maybe a bit more expensive than other places, but worth it in my opinion for the quality, cleanliness and service. (also, their white meat chicken salad from the deli rocks!) We also hit Whole Foods in Brookline if we're looking for something special. Pricey, yes, but again I'd rather pay more for quality than less for mediocrity.