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Visitors want classic New England cuisine, suggestions please

We have two visitors arriving next month and need your help in providing them with a few great dining experiences in the Boston area. The couple are Colombian but have been living in Paris for the past 5 or 6 years, they are traveling throughout the U.S. and are looking to have the regional cuisine of each area they are in. Unfortunately that puts me at a loss, if they were looking for ethnic cuisine I'd be fine, but they want classic New England.

As they are traveling on a budget and my girlfriend and I are in grad school we're not looking for anything too extravagant. We live in Porter so we have access to the T and also have a car so location won't be an issue. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, thank you in advance for your help.

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  1. Durgin Park, Union Oyster House, Locke Ober, Summer Shack.

    1. Essex for fried clams. The Wayside Inn in Sudbury is classic New England fare in a classic New England setting. www.wayside.org

      1. Seafood is the most obvious classic New England food: Fried clams on the North Shore is definitely worthwhile, and it is hard to get more classic New England. Some suggestions include Clam Box (Ipswich), JT Farnham's (Essex) and Woodman's (Essex) -- search the board for more in depth reviews. If you aren't up for the trip to the North Shore, Jasper White's Summer Shack is a decent alternative, and the one near Alewife would be very convenient to you. For only a bit more money there is Neptune Oyster in the North End, which is spectacular. You might also consider Legal Seafood, which certainly gets mixed reviews on Chowhound (as does Summer Shack, for that matter), but does some things well and is a local institution. Although I've never been to Union Oyster House, it gets decidedly mixed reviews (trends towards quite bad), and I'd probably recommend avoiding it.

        Beyond seafood, there are a number of restaurants serving what I think of as New England farm cuisine -- places like Harvest, Henrietta's Table, T. W. Food, Ten Tables, Craigie on Main, and EVOO are heavily focused on local ingredients and food influenced and inspired by New England produce, but are not really classic New England (many of them are French inspired in technique -- Craigie on Main in particular). Some are on the pricey side (Craigie on Main especially), but EVOO, Ten Tables, and T. W. Food all do 3 course prix fixe for in the $30-$45 range.

        1. I really enjoy the Fireplace in Washington Square in Brookline. The food has been delicious every time I have gone, and the ambience and service are great, too.

          4 Replies
          1. re: BlueTrain84

            Fireplace gets pretty uniformly poor reviews on this board and my own experience jibes with that.

            1. re: StriperGuy

              Hmm, I didn't realize that and I am a regular reader on the board. Sorry to hear that you've had poor experiences there, I've never had a bad one.

                1. re: CookieLee

                  Egads, now I won't be wanting to go back, I have the utmost trust in the voice of the hounds!

            2. If they want real old-fashioned New England Yankee food such as Indian pudding, baked beans, coffee Jello, etc. the only place I can really think of is Durgin Park.

              4 Replies
              1. re: pemma

                The Wayside Inn in Sudbury is certainly traditional New England. I wouldn't characterize it as a great dining experience but you will get a very good meal at a reasonable price in a lovely setting. The waitstaff is pleasant and efficient.

                How about oysters at the bar at the Union Oyster House? I wouldn't recommend it for a full meal though.

                I would certainly put Locke-Ober in the extravagant category which you said you do not want.

                I personally would not recommend Summer Shack or Durgin Park. My last experience at Durgin Park was really bad.

                1. re: edgewater

                  I wouldn't say the Wayside Inn is a "great dining experience" either. That's not what the OP asked for. OP wanted traditional New England. And, as you pointed out, not extravagant, which is why I didn't mention Locke-Ober.
                  Around here, come Autumn / Winter, there is no more New England traditional setting with traditional food than the Wayside Inn. And, yes, the waitstaff is very gracious.

                  1. re: CookieLee

                    The only reason I said that is that in the OP she said she wanted "help in providing them with a few great dining experiences in the Boston area". I think the Wayside Inn is a perfect choice. Someone else suggested Locke-Ober.

              2. For another angle entirely, you could sell them on the nation of immigrants idea and focus on versions of cuisines from other places that have found particular forms here. What gets taken as 'classic New England' course privileges pre-19th c. English genealogies. There are plenty other possibilities of varying vintage that are localized in various ways ('Irish' pub fare and Italo-Sicilian pizzeria or taverna are perhaps the most obvious; but one can imagine several options around Lusophone or Asian cusines in the area). Almost any of these or other options are far better and often much cheaper than most of what is billed as 'classic New England'.

                1 Reply
                1. re: elbev

                  One signature ethnic cuisine family of eastern MA that is harder to find away from here is from the Lusophone community: Portugal, Azores, Brazil, et cet. Pork with clams, Alentajo style: say delicious.

                2. Durgin-Park! You will get the New England cuisine, and a noisy, bustling atmosphere, to boot.

                  1. At the risk of getting slammed by other CHers, what about Concord's Colonial Inn? In addition to a "classic New England meal" there is a classic New England town center, classic New England setting etc. Also if you go to the online clipper magazine. there is a coupon for buy one entree get one free. so it meets your other criteria of being affordable.
                    You can take the commuter rail but car is faster and cheaper (for 4 of you) and parking is not a problem. Just grab route 2 west and in about 20 mins you'll be out of your car strolling a very classic new england town!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: momoftwo

                      While it is true that the Colonial Inn is definitely not a fine dining experience, there is something to be said for a visit to Concord, especially if you can spare an hour or so to visit a) the National Historic Site and b) some of the homes/locations associated with famous 19th century American authors. Your visitors might very much appreciate visiting one of the battlefields associated with the beginning of the American Revolution. It is not food but it a perfect tourist site. If they are into literature at all, they might very much enjoy the opportunity to visit places associated with Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. So I say why not do the Colonial Inn combined with a little history? Plus, very close to the Colonial Inn is a wonderful organic farm, Hutchins Farm. If their farmstand is open (check their website for after-Labor Day schedule) your visitors can eat with their eyes as they view the early fall New England harvest. The view over the fields from the little parking area in front of the farm stand is breath-taking and timeless. Also, while in the area, you might consider taking them apple picking at an orchard that presses its own cider at the orchard (i.e. unpasteurized cider). There are few things as American (and New England) as fresh apple cider. (Or hard cider, which I believe was quite common in colonial times.)

                    2. I think it’s possible to do local without doing Ye Olde Pilgrim Times kind of stuff, which is usually pretty bad. Think America/New American and locavore, like Hamersley’s or Locke-Ober or Rendezvous, and you’ll generally get a better flavor for what New England is really about (though Indian pudding at Durgin-Park is fun to do once.)

                      Along these lines, I did a "Nouvelle New England" feature for Stuff a couple of Novembers ago. Here’s what I mentioned

                      Union Bar & Grille -- Wild boar in gingersnap braise with parsnip purée and sweet-potato frites. Venison in a pan gravy with roasted chestnuts and sides of pumpkin spätzle and wilted turnip greens. Maple bread pudding.

                      Petit Robert Bistro -- pot au feu as a refined stand-in for New England boiled dinner; their version included a side plate of roasted marrow bone with Dijon and horseradish. Pumpkin soufflé with cinnamon crème Anglaise.

                      Green Street -- House-cured (in salt and sugar) bluefish with pickled green beans, beets and horseradish cream. A non-flour-thickened New England chowder: corn chowder topped with fried clams. Side of baked beans.

                      Neptune Oyster – “New England Italian”: lobster spaghettini, minestrone oyster stew.

                      Pops – stuffed quahogs with linguiça.