New Orleans, LA. to Norwell, MA.....
Moving to the town of Norwell, MA. and looking for suggestions on good food experiences in the area. Eventually moving on to New York in a month or so to pursue a career in the industry, I am just looking for a little direction in exploring the cultural food of the area. Much appreciated in advance for any help.
Have been to Tosca and Riva, and will second both, with Tosca probably the better of the two (both are Italian places). The Square Cafe in Hingham (New American more or less), Bella's in Rockland (working-class Italian), Bia Bistro in Cohasset (French more or less), and Hingham Lobster Pound (clam shack seafood, but seasonal and with no dining room) are all worthwhile and easily drive-able options.
I'd avoid Mount Blue in Norwell (eclectic American and pretty spotty).
Welcome to NE from a fellow Louisiana expat. I grew up in Baton Rouge (Geaux Tigers!), moved to Boston 10 years ago by way of short stints in Charlotte and Atlanta. While I really miss the Cajun and Creole cuisines, there are many things I'd really miss if I were to leave New England.
I suggest getting your feet wet at Quincy Market adjacent to Fanieul Hall in Boston. There you can sample chowder, clams, pizza from Pizzeria Regina, a Boston institution, and lots of other ethnic foods that contribute to the regional cuisine. Since it caters to tourists, you won't find the best of the best, but it's a good place to sample. Another good place to start is Legal Seafood. It's a Boston regional chain (recently expanded to other cities) that offers well prepared local seafood and award winning chowder.
Next I would do some day-trips to regional lobster and clam shacks. Just take a drive south down Rt 3A and stop along the way. I think there is a place called the Lobster Pot or Lobster Pound near the rotary in Hingham that is good, but doesn't have a dining room. Further afield is my personal favorite NE seafood shack, which is Eastwind Lobster in Buzzard's Bay near Cape Cod. You might use www.hiddenboston.com or www.phantomgourmet.com as a guide.
One adjustment for me was learning the local seafood. Your NE "fisherman's platter" will have cod instead of catfish, and clams instead of shrimp (sometimes it has shrimp, but it's not wild Gulf coast shrimp). The most common local fish are cod, haddock, halibut, and striped bass. These are very mild white flaky fish similar to grouper or snapper. The flounder here is excellent and can be found as fresh as what you enjoyed in New Orleans. Bluefish is like mackerel, but stronger. It's an acquired taste. Regarding shellfish, you won't find fresh shrimp or crawfish but the fresh mussels, clams, and scallops make up for it. Oysters are good here too (I actually like the locals better than Gulf ones) but at the raw bar, you'll have to request saltines and Tabasco and and horseradish to spike the cocktail sauce.
When I lived in the south, I had never tried clams. Be sure to try them all three ways: raw, steamed, and fried. Fried come as whole-belly or strips. Don't waste money on the strips - it is like eating fried breading. I've grown to love raw cherrystones more than I love raw oysters. Eating steamed clams ("steamers") has a technique that you'll need to learn, just as folks have to learn to peel crawfish.
Regarding sandwiches, alas, there are no Central Grocery muffalettos but there are a plethora of Italian delis that can come close (probably even in Norwell). Steak bombs and lobster rolls are the NE bun-kings. And a Kelly's Roast Beef is a regional specialty.
One thing I've really enjoyed are the regional fruits and vegetables that weren't available in Louisiana, at least not when I lived there. Granted, with better grocery distribution nowadays these things might not be so unique, but around here, they can be bought from the farmer down the road. Try sauteed Fiddle head ferns in spring; a huge variety of winter squash in fall; local apples and wild blueberries (you can pick your own); and I don't even bother cooking the fresh local corn we get in late summer. Thanks to a large Asian and Middle Eastern population, you can even find fresh okra and chayote (mirletons) in the farmers markets. But don't eat fresh tomatoes unless it is July - Sept or you will be very disappointed.
You won't find any pralines but the maple syrup and chocolate covered cranberries will satisfy a sweet tooth. Ice cream is really big in New England, which I always found a bit ironic given the weather.
In the beverage department, the beer of choice in these parts is Sam Adams. I haven't looked, but you might find Abita at some of the bigger liquor stores. A piece of advice when ordering iced tea: be sure to ask if it is brewed since many restaurants serve Snapple or (gag) instant tea.
I still carry andouille and frozen crawfish tails back from visiting relatives since I can't find either here and the best cajun food in the area comes from my own kitchen. Sadly, I haven't found a good restaurant or supplier for my NOLA-fixes.
I hope this is helpful as you acclimate yourself to the area. When I moved here, I used to joke that I had moved to a new country where only the currency and language were the same (although the language similarity is somewhat dubious). There are lots of things that you will miss about Louisiana cuisine, but I bet that you will develop your own regional favorites that will expand your culinary loves.
What a great write-up! We are so lucky to have this website and people like you who add their thoughts!! Thanks!
Although I have never been, have you been to Magnolia's on Cambridge St? I know it has had great reviews. I was wondering if it held up to your Southern standards. With your knowledge, if you bless it, I will go!!
If I had only one month to eat in the Boston area, I would buy and cook as many hard shelled lobsters and eat as many raw local oysters, especially Wellfleet and Cotuit, as I could afford.
The really good scallops are out of season, but there are plenty of regional foods to be found. Oysters are very expensive by southern standards, but they are delicious.
There are great cheeses from Vermont, and bread from Iggie's and Nashoba Brook go very well with them.
You may not enjoy the weather, but you should not go hungry. Please report back on your finds!
I'd suggest Trattoria San Pietro on Rt 53 Norwell/Hanover line, and for good fresh Deli and wine try Bo-Tes Imports in Norwell center. The above suggestions in the surrounding towns are good, but are not places you'll frequent. However, for fried clams and other fried seafood don't miss the Hingham Lobster Pound. They are the best on the South Shore.
Since you're on the South Shore, you'll be able to get to Cape Cod fairly easily, especially this time of year. Check out the Sandwich area--it's just across the Sagamore Bridge. The Bee-Hive Tavern is fun--kind of old-school New England, not cutting-edge cuisine, but worth a visit. While you're in Sandwich, stop in the Brown Jug and browse the wonderful selection of interesting food.
You should also consider taking a drive up the North Shore. That is the "Clam Belt," and while not all the clam shacks are open in January (call ahead), some are. I think Woodman's is. (Unfortunately, the best of the lot, the Clam Box in Ipswich, is closed for the season.) The North Shore has lots of towns that are worth a day trip. In addition to Rockport, Newburyport, Gloucester, Essex, and Cape Ann in general, I'd include Marblehead. I enjoy the Barnacle for simple seafood and a great view of Marblehead Harbor.
While I agree that rouxmaker has written a very good, thoughtful set of recommendations, I would have to disagree about Faneuil Hall and Legal Seafood. Especially Legal. It's just not very good anymore. I'd suggest you spend that time, and money, pursuing some of the other options outlined on this board.
For more recommendations in the Norwell area, I'd make sure to check out the following:
Ember (Marshfield) upscale but very creative food
Kiskadee Coffee (Hanover and Plymouth) delicious slow-batch roasted coffee, great pastries, teas, etc.
Solstice (Kingston) upscale, somewhat inconsistent food but 80% of the time it is far better than Tosca (sorry to disagree with the other CHs who recommended it)
Strawberry Fair (Norwell) adorable restaurant, yummy comfort food and incredible desserts.
Hope that expands the list a bit more!