Help a relocating San Francisco hound pick a neighborhood
My wife and I are about to relocate from SF to the Boston area. We were spoiled by our last neighborhood in Oakland, where we lived a minute's walk from a family-run butcher shop, an artisan bakery, and a grocery store specializing in quality produce (not to mention the wine shop, chocolate shop...). Did I mention we were spoiled?
In any case, we are currently looking at apartments in Cambridge and Somerville, within easy walking distance to the red line. With that restriction, are there any good markets that carry high quality organic produce, naturally-raised meat, local dairy, etc? Other than farmers markets, which are easy enough to locate, what are the best grocery sources for spoiled California foodies in the above-mentioned areas?
Thanks in advance for tips, and we are excited to spend the next few years exploring the chow-worthy secrets of Boston!
Davis Square! We live within walking distance of Dave's Fresh Pasta, which will email you their weekly delivery of fresh farm beef, dairy...and fresh fish and shellfish (in addition to their own housemade fresh pastas, great sandwiches, and cheese and wine selection). They also offer pasta sauce, pasta making classes, and wine pairing events. Kick Ass Cupcake's Dairy Bar also has local milk delivery and is a drop off for some CSAs.
I'll second Davis Square. Dave's Fresh Pasta is a great place to have in the neighborhood: in addition to everything winecafe95 mentions, they also have a small selection of produce (some from local farms in season), eggs from Chip-in Farm (although more expensive here than Russo's), and a good range of excellent chocolate, including Taza which is made in Somerville. Dave's also sells Iggy's bread (although they tend to run out). In Davis Square, there is also the When Pigs Fly bakery, which is good (and right next to the Dairy Bar that others have mentioned).
Savenor's for meat, Market Basket for impressive bargain produce, New Deal for fish, Wine & Cheese Cask for cheese (Formaggio is the best, but not near the redline). And of course Whole Foods, the Fresh Pond and River Street stores are both very good. Bakeries: D&R and Clear Flour are my favorites, Iggy's also excellent, and all three make their breads available at various markets around town. The stretch between Harvard and Union Squares is a good area to look, lots of affordable apartments and good walking access to many of the aforementioned. Plus, we'd be neighbors :)
In general, we have good stuff here, but you will definitely have to make an adjustment, coming from the wonderful bounty you've got out there. In particular, we are not as strong in the locally-produced department, and of course all local produce is highly seasonal here. The farmers markets really are the best resource in season.
I'm biased, but would recommend the Inman Square neighborhood because of its proximity to all the places jajjguy mentions and its equal proximity to the Red Line. Union is a great neighborhood but still a good walk to the T. Inman has more restaurants (and a greater range) than Union and is just about 10 minutes from Central Square. But they are both great neighborhoods that will also put you smack in the middle of at least three farmers markets (Harvard University, Union Square, Central Square) and not far from the Harvest Co-op and Whole Foods in Central to boot.
My experience with meat is the best way to get local products is to join one of the meat CSAs in the area. Whole Foods carries a selection, but it is not all local. Also, in my own experience (River Rock for beef, now beef/pork/lamb/chicken from Chestnut Farms), the cost of buying through a CSA is lower.
Local dairy and eggs are easy. In Somerville you can go to the Dairy Bar (DavisSquare area) and get wonderful milk from Shaw Farm (Dracut). Or, you can get High Lawn Farm milk at Whole Foods or at Russo's in Watertown. Russo's charges less and also has a wonderful variety of produce (not organic though). You would want to drive to Russo's but it is worth it and really not a big deal in terms of a drive. High Lawn milk comes from Jersey cows, which means it has more calcium and butterfat. Shaw Farm milk is nice because it is minimally pasteurized (great fresh flavor that I like even better), there is an organic version, and they sell creamline whole milk (though not organic). My favorite local eggs come from Chip'N Farm in Bedford. They are available at Russo's. Or, you could drive to the farm - it is about 30 minutes from Somerville. The reason to do that is you get eggs that were laid the day before, plus Chip'N Farm also sells Shaw Farm milk.
There are a few farms that are a short drive from Cambridge or Somerville. Busa Farm is in Arlington. Their stand is open year round, but given the other choices, I would go there only in the summer and early fall. Busa Farm is not organic. Sergi Farm is in Belmont. It is organic. Like Busa Farm, it is definitely worth visiting in season, but probably not in other times of the year. Finally there is Wilson Farm, in Lexington. In season they grow a great variety of IPM produce. They also raise chickens and sell chickens and eggs. Wilson Farms sells Shaw Farms milk, but not the creamline. They are worth visiting any time of year; out of season their produce comes from warmer climates, just like all the produce in this area.
There are some wonderful bakeries around the area. None in Somerville comes to mind, but there is Hi-Rise in Cambridge, and (my current fave) Mamadou's in Winchester.
Once you get here, you will probably want to take a walk through Boston's North End; there are lots of foodie destinations there.
Oh, for cheese, you will want to go to Formaggio's on Huron Avenue in Cambridge. I have heard very nice things about Dave's Fresh Pasta, and Whole Foods has a good selection as does Russo's, but nothing beats Formaggio's.
The bottom line is no matter where you live, you will probably find some great food in the neighborhood, but you will also probably want to travel a little bit to other foodie destinations. Rather than being clustered in a few neighborhoods, our foodie destinations tend to be sprinkled around. So pick a neighborhood that has a vibe you like and is good for getting to work or school or whatever else brings you to the area. It won't be the same as Oakland (or the Bay area in general), but I am sure you will find that there is plenty of great food here to cook and enjoy.
"easy walking distance to the red line" puts union square out of reach, and maybe inman too. inman is not far from the red line (15 min walk), but it might be a drag every day.
yr. options are: kendall (no), central, harvard (too touristy and freaky expensive), porter, davis, alewife (probably too far out). so as b/w central, porter and davis neighborhoods, just find an apartment or condo or neighborhood that you like. they are not too far apart, and either way you slice it, you're going to be in walking distance to some things and driving/biking/T distance to others. all three are good areas, and probably roughly equivalent. and frankly i think it would be weird to choose one or the other b/c someone somewhere points out that A is 0.2 miles closer than B or C to some putative food destination that you may or may not even like.
Second this suggestion - Establishing commuting ease via T is essential - shopping via T not so much - there are too many really good places that are not so T accessible, and everything you might want in Cambridge or Somerville is about 10 minutes away at most, so no need to necessarily live right next to these places.
Pinch of Salt, you forgot Petsi Pies in Somerville (Beacon Street) as a good bakery.
In the end, if you are looking for quality and value, you're going to want to make a weekly trip to Russo's in Watertown anyway.
I think you will find that part of the reason that the Boston board is so active is that the good spots for the things you are looking for tend to spring up in all sorts of places and are not centrally located. For example, Savenor's is on one corner in Cambridge, Formaggio Kitchen is in another neighborhood, some good wine spots are in Newton, the best hot dogs are in an industrial park in South Boston, the best bagels are either in Brookline, over the Tobin Bridge in Chelsea or in Newton Centre...(I mean, there are NO great bagel places in Cambridge or Somerville that come to mind)....the list goes on and on.