Fife and Drum – Northeast Correctional Center, Concord, MA
Today I decided to check out the lunch at the Fife and Drum restaurant at the Northeast Correctional Center (NECC) in Concord. Good, basic food and lots of it for the incredible price of $3.19 for lunch. A great deal and you get to meet a diverse group of people over lunch.
I’ve always heard that there was a restaurant in the correctional center up the hill by the Rt. 2 rotary in Concord and I finally visited it today. The restaurant is run by inmates in the minimum security facility and provides culinary training for them. I couldn’t find a website for the restaurant. There were a few reviews on the internet, but most of them were over a year old. So I wasn’t sure what to expect as I drove up the hill.
I got there a little before noon and the small parking lot was packed. It’s a small campus-like environment that feels low key and safe. The culinary program is run out of the main administration building (the first building on the left as you come up to the top of the hill). You go to the security window, give them your driver’s license and sign in for lunch. And no cell phones in the restaurant. Turn around and go down the hall to the right and the cafeteria is right there.
I went into the cafeteria and it was crowded. It’s a small cafeteria with 9 tables that seat 3-4 people per table. There are a lot of small groups of people sharing tables. The NECC staff is sitting in the row of tables by the kitchen so there really are only 6 tables for the public to share. It would be difficult to come here with a large group of people. There’s a woman with the cash box sitting at one of the tables. You hand her your $3.19 and she gives you a small, blank piece of paper that is used for taking your order. Then go squeeze in wherever you can find a seat – except for the tables used by the NECC staff. I managed to find a seat at a table with a regular and another group of first-timers – all from the Concord area. The “regular” told me that he comes here ever other day for lunch.
There is a menu on each table. After you sit down, an inmate will come over to take your order. The menu has a couple of choices and changes every day. There is one soup of the day and a salad that comes with every meal. Then there were two sandwich choices plus a hot entrée on the menu. The sandwiches come with fries. I went with the hot entrée which was braised, boneless short-ribs, mashed potatoes and string beans. The drink choices are limited – coke, diet coke, water or coffee. All the flatware is plastic because this is a correctional center.
The food is good, basic food. A large bowl of soup and the salad comes first. It’s a beef soup today. A nice clean tasting broth with chunks of beef in it – tastes homemade because the broth has a rich, fattiness typical of homemade stock. The salad is a simple bowl of iceberg lettuce with some carrot shreds and a few onion slices. The entrée arrives and it’s a big portion of braised boneless short ribs (or chuck) with potatoes and green beans. The beef was rich and tender. For dessert, there’s two choices today – chocolate mousse and lemon meringue pie. Unfortunately, they were out of the mousse so I went with the pie. The pie was just okay. It was a graham cracker crust with a mild lemon pudding filling topped with meringue. Overall, the entrée was the best part of the meal. I was completely stuffed by the time I finished lunch. And the large portions apply equally to the huge sandwiches. Two of the people at my table ordered sandwiches and they couldn’t finish them. They’re not likely to win a culinary award, but it’s very good, basic food and a lot of it.
A few other notes,… My understanding is that they’re open M-F, but closed on holidays like the upcoming Presidents Day. I’m not sure of the exact hours that they serve lunch, but I believe that it’s 11:30-12:45. I noticed that as people left it was easier to get a seat and there were several empty tables around 12:30. So you could try coming later and there will be more seats available, but you risk that they’ll be out of something on the menu. However, the limited numbers of seats creates a unique opportunity to meet other people over lunch. Today, I met two other Concord residents that were first-timers. I also met a “regular” that flew combat missions in a jet fighter in Korea. I’m definitely going back for both the lunch and the conversation.
I have been trying to find something I liked for lunch here and today it was Grilled Pork Chop with Honey glazed carrots and Potatoes au Gratin so I bit the bullet and went in. For $3 plus tax ($3.21) you get a choice of two salads and the daily soup, a main course or choice of two sandwiches plus desert. I had the caesar salad and you get the dressing on the side, soup was Lemon Chicken, piping hot and very nice. The pork chop was overcooked but my plastic knife managed to cut it and both the carrots and potatoes was fine. You get a big portion served on a real plate with metal fork and spoon but a plastic knife. There was two desserts available but at that point I was full. This was home cooked food and it wasn't bad and the service was very attentive and pleasant. This weeks sandwich choices was Cuban or French dip both served with fries.