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three nights in boston -- please help, lots of questions! (warning--long post)

the two of us will be travelling to the boston area in a few weeks. we plan to arrive mid-afternoon, and will be staying in the cambridgeport area. we hope the weather will hold out, as we want to walk or bike to most of the spots we want to visit. we are not here over the weekend, and we somehow missed any sox home games (sadness).

food-wise, we will eat anything from street meat to michelin 3 stars. spice, seafood, and offal are definitely welcome. we plan to eat affordably, but with one splurge (see below!)

after some research, here's what our provisional itinerary looks like:

day 1: arrive mid-afternoon. hit ohlin's on the way into town from toronto, sample the apple fritters. grab a pint at cambridge brewing co., pre-dinner. we have a reservation for no. 9 park. there was some debate between that and craigie, as we plan to have one high end meal this visit. not sure we made the right choice.

day 2: debating having caffeine and pastries, versus full breakfast options for the 3 mornings we're in boston. if we go the full breakfast route, we will probably hit up trident and/or paramount. if we go with the former route, we'll start day 2 at crema, as we plan to tour harvard. lunch could be at alive and kicking or muqueca--we might want to compare lobster rolls/sammie, between a&k, icob, james hook, and belle isle. did we go wrong with that list?
muqueca because they offer feijoada. if we go, which particular muqueca do people recommend? has anyone tried the feijoada--can the recommend it?

after lunch, a possible tasting between maria's/modern/mike's, for dessert.

dinner on day 2--we have a reservation at ribelle, with pints either before or after at sunset grill and/or publick house. sunset grill has the edge here, because they offer flights.

after dinner, thinking about chilling out at state park--is the food there in any way influenced by the hungry mother connection? we couldn't fit hungry mother into our visit this time.

day 3, we'll start at tatte for baked goods, and hit up voltage nearby for our caffeine. for lunch, we are considering james hook, or icob. one other possibility is gene's flatbread, but not sure if the bedford st. location is connected to the one everyone's writing about in woburn, and if they offer the same menu. we are fans of xian's famous in nyc, so would be nice to see how it compares. dessert at union square donuts in dewey square.
for dinner we have a reservation at oleana.
pints at either lord hobo or mead hall, either before or after dinner.

day 4, leaving town, headed to salem museum. start at betty ann food shop, and hit kane's and belle isle possibly for early lunch, on the way to salem.

so, critique of choices? for the choices i've listed, what are the must-order items/dishes?
will also try to fit in visits to flour bakery, clover food lab, drink.
other places that are still being considered as substitutions: alden+harlow, gourmet dumpling house, strip-t's, sarma, myers + chang, toro.

random questions: if one wanted to find a bottle of 10yr handmade pappy, where would one find it? charles street liquor, federal? somewhere else?
if we wanted to go to a solid sports bar and watch a sox away game, where in the cambridgeport area would people suggest?

for touristy stuff, we hope to hit some of the usual suspects, and weather permitting, hope to bike the length of the greenway.

any comments or suggestions would be appreciated, thanks in advance. . .

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  1. You're a planner after my own heart but maybe leave some room for whatever pops up. FYI, Island Creek isn't open for lunch so maybe put that in for your splurge dinner. It really is a fun place but you may have your heart set on No. 9 or Craigie. No. 9 is the more staid of the two. There's always the lobster roll at Neptune Oyster to consider too but of course that brings the logistics of the wait even at lunch time (but less so on a weekday).

    Publick House is obviously the easier choice for beers after Ribelle (good drinks there) since it's across the street but if you want the Sunset flight...

    Phoenix Landing in Central Sq. isn't a bad place to watch a baseball game.

    In Salem, 62 Wharf is great if you're there after 5PM. Opus on Washington St. is open all day.

    The Gene's on Bedford is related to the one that just moved to Woburn.

    I wouldn't bother with Strip T's if you're going to Ribelle. FYI, it was very quiet when I was there Wed. night at 7PM.

    I don't know what pappy is but good luck with it. have fun.

    The lobster tail (pastry) is amazing at Maria's.

    7 Replies
    1. re: total13

      thanks for the feedback! okay, neptune is on the list--may do a tasting with james hook/neptune/row 34. based on some other posts, may add a stop at the lobster shanty when we're in salem.

      now starting to reconsider craigie, and dropping no. 9 park in favour of it. will probably end up hopping from publick house to sunset grill, but if it is that much better, may not make it to sunset grill, lol. . .thanks for the tip on phoenix landing--will put that into the 'just in case' file if we get a hankering for seeing the sox. . .good to know about gene's---the menu looks very similar to xi'an in nyc.

      the lobster tail was definitely on our list to try at maria's--thanks for confirming that!

      which was quiet on wed night--strip t's or ribelle?

      1. re: afong56

        i think total was referring to not bothering w strip T's if you are doing ribelle. I completely agree w/ all of total's advice; very well thought-out. I am so impressed with your choices, esp. Oleana and Ribelle. I would rec ICOB for dinner over No.9 Park and Craigie, but there will be just as many CHs suggesting the opposite. ICOB is just such a visually and energetically- charged room and i love that they really cover all the bases- fascinating unique non alcoholic drinks, top service, exc trad and inventive dishes. If you do go, ask for a banquette on the rear wall.

        For your lobster roll, i'll pass along that a Canadian visitor last yr said that their fav was at Lobster Shack, over more expensive rolls; you might do a CH Search for details. Neptune is such a sardine-packed memorable get-to-know-your- neighbor experience! High voltage! My Love always orders the scallop dish or the lobster roll; i get the Johnnycake w/ Smoked Trout (or other) and the Vitello Tonnato sdwch.

        Salem is sooo special! Really hope you'll have time to walk or drive Chestnut St. A number of positive posts recently for Scratch Kitchen for lunch- a quick walk from the really diverse and well curated PEM. Just fyi, even though Salem was built on seafaring merchant fortunes, it does not have much of a scenic waterfront presence. Marblehead, a 15 min drive from Salem, is a fantastic harbor town with great historic architecture and charming shopping area, and Fort Sewall w/unbeatable views of both the boat-filled harbor and the ocean, w/ islands.

        I don't know if it will continue when you are here, but we have been enjoying an uncommonly less-hellish July than usual. Cambridgeport is a handsome well-kept tree- lined neighborhood w/ lots of interesting 19th and early 20th c. architecture.

        You really are doing such a great trip- planning job. Just make sure to double check itineraries against maps, or you can end up spending alot of time in transit.

        1. re: opinionatedchef

          i think icob as a dinner destination will have to wait for a second trip--but your description definitely makes it sound awesome. . .lobster shack--thanks for that one--it was not really on my radar previously. . .however, my search skills seem to fail me, as keywording 'lobster shack' gets me 'summer shack'--is jasper white's joint the place you refer to?

          thanks for all of the advice--wherever we go, we like to eat well, and usually that means where the locals go. i appreciate the tips on salem. . .sounds like we will spend more time there than originally planned! oh, and yes, i did take some time to google map all of these places, and the food itinerary is organized geographically to fit around the sight-seeing we want to do--i always try to maximize results and minimize time lost to transiting, if at all possible. hopefully the weather will cooperate!

          cheers

          1. re: afong56

            so sorry, i meant Yankee Lobster.

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/916276

            I don't know if you saw this, but i just read it and there were a number of mentions of places that CHs generally pan, but that had some recent good reports, so thought you might be interested:

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9827...

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              ah! okay--will read up on both threads you linked to. . .cheers for that! i'm beginning to think that some early ideas will now be shunted into the "second visit" list. . .thanks again!

        2. re: afong56

          Ribelle was quiet last Wed.

          I was just at Lobster Shanty in Salem. It's a cute place but the lobster roll wasn't great. Side of tater tots was good though. I've always wanted to try Ziggy's donuts there but they're oddly not open on Sat. If you also make it to Marblehead, I had a great fish sandwich at Lime Rickey's on the beach there (didn't see any lobster rolls go by).

          I agree with Beachwolfe that you should hit the south end at some point. A pretty neighborhood with tons of restaurants.

          1. re: total13

            we are planning to be at ribelle mid-week. . .hmm. a 'quiet' resto can be good, but not super quiet! it's better when the house has life to it, for sure. . .looks like there are (like the lobster roll debate) some diverse opinions on the worthiness of visiting salem. . .may have to reconsider. . .thanks for the tips!

      2. Day 1 - If you're having dinner at No9 there are two great beer/cocktail bars right around the corner for post-dinner drinks: Stoddard's and JM Curley. If so inclined, you can hit Lord Hobo, CBC, Meadhall (maybe one other beer-bar on this route that I'm missing?) on a mini-crawl pre-dinner, then hop on the red line to Park St for No9.
        Cragie is just as spendy but much more casual (it was Cragie Street Bistro, orginally). The food is phenomenal.

        Day 2 - Harvard, Muqueca, afternoon coffee/pastry in N End sounds pretty sweet. If you wanted to do a lobster roll instead of Brazilian, the best one in Boston is at Neptune in the North End and lunch time is probably easiest to get a table there. For coffee, I like Caffe Paradiso to sit down.
        Skip Sunset Grill, they have a ton of beers but nothing very interesting and people often express quality control issues. Publick House is very good, IMO, and close to Ribelle.

        Day 3 - I'd vote for ICOB (unless you do Neptune on D2), it's a complete apples/oranges comparison to James Hook, though. ICOB has a top notch cocktail program and there are some other great bars around Fenway: Hawthorne, ESK, Citizen Pub, Lower Depths (cash only) for pre and post-dinner drinks.

        It's going to be tough to squeeze in your other targets, but Toro is great. I think you may be sorry if you skip the South End in general. You have two lunches, I'd aim for a lobster roll (Neptune or ICOB) one day and either Muqueca or South End the second. Plenty of recs on SE if you search.

        I would try to get down to the seaport if possible. It's lively and the views of downtown, especially from the roof deck bar at Legal Harborside, are really nice. You can hit Flour while you're down there, nothing too destination-worthy for dining.

        The Old Rip Van Winkle 10 is gonna be hard to find unless they are releasing a shipment to Boston that arrives when you do. Most of those bottles would likely be spoken for anyway. I've had good luck with the lottery system at Julio's in Westboro, though.

        Union Square Donuts is in Somerville (I think). Not Dewey square, which is downtown. It's probably kinda out of the way for a donut.

        EDIT: Ribelle and No9 are both Italian-ish... Skip No9 and go to Craigie, esp if you are already having second thoughts. You should still try to pop in to JMC or Stoddard's if you're in the hood at some point though.

        EDIT AGAIN: I'm an idiot... ICOB people just opened Row 34 in Fort Point. Open for lunch. Go there.

        17 Replies
        1. re: Beachowolfe

          They sell Union Square Donuts at the Dewey Square farmer's market on Tuesdays and Thursdays 11:30 - 6:00.

          1. re: Beachowolfe

            with the plethora of ideas, your mini-crawl is starting to sound good. . .very convenient that they are stumbling distance apart, lol. . .atwood's, the druid, and bukowski's also get mention--they're not far from the three i originally wrote.

            i pretty much expected that pappy would not be available--thought i might as well test the waters. . .i was hoping to skip the bow st. location of usd, and hit one of their popups--looks like they've got a different location every weekday. . .started going to doughnut plant in nyc about five years ago, and there's been a real explosion here in toronto in the last 2+ years. thanks for the tips on row 34 and south end. . .will def do more research. . .

            1. re: afong56

              Skip Mike's - just a tourist trap...not worth the calories...try B&B for your pastry fix

              1. re: themajor78

                Do you mean Bread + Butter? I don't think they have Italian pastry there.

                1. re: themajor78

                  Lee Napoli, chef/owner of Bread and Butter, is a major talent in the world of Boston croissants and French-style pastries, but if the OP is from Toronto, they just may have some quality French-style patisseries up there. Agree w/ you totally about Mike's, but I always remember the very very very gourmand Chicago visitor who reported Mike's cannoli trumping those of Modern (which totally surprised me and obviously left an impression!)

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    we do have some decent french patisseries and boulangeries in toronto, but let that not be a bar against seeing what boston has to offer! of course, everything is relative--nyc has better than what toronto has, and montreal trumps nyc, for this side of the pond, imho. . .

                  2. re: themajor78

                    yeah, i had read that about mike's, but like opinionatedchef mentioned below, i also heard it was still worth it. perhaps if after comparing maria's and modern, we roll by (lol, no pun intended, although it may be literal by that point) and see that the lines are manageable at mike's, we'll finish the trifecta. . .b+b certainly looks interesting though--perhaps we'll drop usd on day three and opt for b+b, as it fits into our 'tour'. . .thanks for the ideas!

                2. re: Beachowolfe

                  Union Square Donuts also has a stall at the Harvard Square Farmer's market (in front of the Science Center) on Tuesdays.

                  Personally I don't think these are worth a special journey.

                  1. re: femmevox

                    I agree. They were disappointing when I tried several different ones. They were like big wheels of lead.

                    1. re: catsmeow

                      I'll pile on. I tried the vanilla bean and the sea salted caramel from the Dewey Square stand. I liked the vanilla bean better but wouldn't go out of my way for either. Maybe they are better when they are fresher from the store or maybe I just like my donuts to be old fashioned (Donut Dip in W. Springfield is my favorite) but they just didn't do it for me.

                      1. re: catsmeow

                        everything? both cake and yeasted? hmm, that's sad to hear. i thought boston did donuts well? should i just stick to the other places on my itinerary?

                      2. re: femmevox

                        with the many pop-up locales thru the week, and the bow st. location as a fall back, usd wouldn't really be a special journey, as we will more or less be tripping over them during our stay. . .

                        it looks from their website that they do both cake and yeasted donuts--are they both equally good, or do they do one type better (this is usually what i've found in other shops/cities)?

                        1. re: afong56

                          If you are a donut fan, I think USD is worth the trip. Their yeast raised donuts are much better than their cake. I especially like their fruit flavors, orange, strawberry. Very intensely flavored glazes. I have had them at the farmers markets and I do think they are much better at the shop in Union Square right out of the kitchen.

                        2. re: femmevox

                          56, FV's take here is what i mostly see on CH re USD. Personally, I seem to only like cake donuts, so I am not the person to evaluate Boston's donut scene (where glazed dominate) but one sweet that I haven't seen you mention- that we an be very proud of- is ice cream.

                          I think it's pretty safe to call Toscanini the biggest winner in the many various ' ice cream favs' discussions; T certainly has the largest number of varieties that change daily, and the most unusual flavors. Central Sq., a few doors down from Craigie St. Bistro. The other fav ice cream stores are JP Licks( many locations, incl. Harv Sq.) and Christina's (Inman Sq, relatively near Oleana.)
                          We don't have any great gelaterias but Cafe Sport in the North End has had good gelato in the past. Also, asking for 'tastes' or 'samples' of various flavors- is very common here, and they provide receptacles on their counters for the used sampling spoons.

                          Just fyi, a 5 min bike ride up Brattle St. from Harvard Sq., we have Formaggio Kitchen, a very famous local cheese emporium cum specialty imported foods shop- packed to the gills w/ temptations that they (often) import themselves (incl. fresh breads from Paris.) And they always have out about 5-6 cheeses to sample.

                          And if you find yourselves in need of a sit-down in AC, with cold drinks and bathrooms, Starbucks and Panera Bread are located throughout the metro Boston area and suburbs.

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            thanks again for the ideas--not sure if we'll have any room left for ice cream after all of the other things we have planned are in our bellies! will keep your picks in mind, though--if boston gets a sudden heat wave, it may be the perfect option. . .
                            as for gelato, toronto has a very large italian community, so we have some decent gelaterias--not firenze quality, but very solid. . .

                            1. re: afong56

                              Ice cream is more of a Boston strength than donuts, I think. Save some room!

                              1. re: smtucker

                                thanks sm--temperature pending, i guess a wholesale re-think on swapping ice creams for fried batter may be in order! between t's, jp lick's, and christina's, looks like there are a lot of options. . .thanks to opinionatedchef for the tips. . .

                      3. I'll add a few;

                        Deep Ellum over Sunset Grill... Very good Beers and Cocktails.

                        While in Salem if you get a bit thirsty Gulu Gulu has a nice tap list. Also you seem to like donuts and Ziggys in Salem is a very good old fashioned mom and pop donut shop.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: phatchris

                          thanks for the deep ellum suggestion--i happened upon it in my research and for some reason it slipped off the front burner. . .i'm not really sure i am overly in love with donuts, but i have had some pretty transcendent bites over the years--do-rite donuts in chicago last summer was probably the most recent memorable one. . .

                          i guess my interest in donuts might come from the fact that imho, here in toronto, we mostly get them wrong (and that's with the specialty shops, nevermind the chains here that pump out really tasteless specimens).

                        2. I cant comment on a lot of the places you mention as they are "fancier" than my tastes but here are a few ideas/thoughts...

                          Maybe it's just me cause i used to live in Marblehead but i find Salem overrated, especially without kids. Most of the "museums" are small /tacky in my opinion. There are a few good ones such as the essex museum but id personally skip the traffic and go to the peabody museum in Cambridge if i wanted that sort of museum. There are a lot of small , overpriced touristy shops if your into that. The ocean views in the harbor and in marblehead are nice but for that i would just go to gloucester or even newburyport. The happenings around Halloween are fun if you enjoy being in a mobbed street with lots of drunks in costume.

                          For lobster rolls, check out lobsterrollchronicles website for lots of good info. I tend to agree with most ratings there. And i would note that Neptune is in their "hall of shame" http://lobsterrollchronicles.com/2013...

                          I am also not a fan of Gene's.. If however what you want is a bowl of homemade noodles with a lot of raw garlic and some hot pepper on it, then go for it. Just be aware they have about 8 or 9 things on the entire menu. If i was having just one asian style meal in the area, and liked spice, i would go to Szecheun Gourmet in Billerica. Only order authentic, no americanized stuff as that is not their thing. If your going to be here on a weekend i would try cart dimsum. You can get some good menu dimsum but as a tourist i think the cart stuff in the huge halls is a fun experience. I would recommend Hei La Moon in Boston along with a walk around and a stop in a few bakeries and perhaps a bubble tea. We go to dimsum in Lowell mostly but as a tourist i would say do chinatown. I have had dimsum in toronto chinatown a few times and its much larger/better/nicer than boston chinatown so maybe skip that idea all together.

                          I would also suggest new england ice cream over mikes type touristy pastry, but rather than one of the overpriced city type places i would suggest a stop into one of the more traditional farm sorta ice cream stands we have. Kimballs in Westford is a good choice but can be mobbed on weekends. (its like a theme park almost with the best minigolf i have ever seen and other various attractions) They also have excellent fried seafood and they do have lobster rolls but i have not tried them since they put celery in them which i hate. There are many other new england type ice cream stands such as Richardsons, Rota Springs in Sterling (middle of nowhere based on your itinerary) Bedford farms wouldnt be tough to get to. I went to JP licks a few weeks ago, it was ok, but tiny/expensive compared to the others i mention and no new england sorta ambiance.

                          14 Replies
                          1. re: hargau

                            hey hargau--thanks for the ideas. . .

                            don't get me wrong, we love to eat everything and everywhere (not just the spendy places)--from food trucks to hawker stalls--the food court in flushing, was one of the best foodie experiences i've ever had. . .

                            i have tabbed lobsterrollchronicles, and did note his pan of neptune, but also see that it earns the praise of many of your fellow boston chowhounds, so i'm of two minds. . .
                            most chinese cuisines are well-represented here in the gta (greater toronto area)--markham especially, but i am always curious to see how other locations do their chinese cuisines. . .as for ordering non-americanized stuff--lol, no worries there--we revel in the offal and the throwaway food that is the mainstay of homestyle chinese food. however, thanks to the nose-to-tail st. john's revival, getting those 'nasty bits' now costs a lot more than it used to!

                            1. re: hargau

                              Disagree on the value of a visit to Salem. The Peabody Museum at Harvard (along with the other museums in the same complex, the Harvard Museum of Natural History, which includes the famous glass flowers collection, and the Harvard Mineralogical and Geological Museum) is one of my very favorites, and I spent countless hours there in my younger days. But it's not really anything like the PEM, which is also an excellent museum and well worth a visit. The PEM is not entirely unlike the ROM (although not as big), to put it in Torontonian terms.

                              As to the witch-related museums and tourist attractions, I agree, they are tacky in the extreme. But the open-air memorial to the victims of the witch trials (http://www.salemweb.com/memorial/memo...) is very moving, and I've enjoyed a stroll through the old cemetery that adjoins it. And the architecture in that part of town and around Salem Common makes a walking tour well worth your time.

                              1. re: Allstonian

                                allstonian--thanks for the background on salem--imho, museums tend to be done better in the u.s.--the rom is a hectic, jumbled and very busy experience. you get twice the number of exhibits in 2/3rds the size of venue. it's like they have all of this material and they desperately want to have it on display. meanwhile, in american museums, i notice that they take a bit more time to curate their holdings and this adds to the experience of the patrons.

                                1. re: Allstonian

                                  I think we are actually agreeing they are both good museums. I guess I was saying that if you only have 3 days and can only see one of them, id go to the Harvard one. My main point was that the small "witchy" or pirate sorta museums are terrible/tacky and a ripoff.

                                  1. re: Allstonian

                                    taking the ferry to salem from long wharf is also fun. It's kind of expensive, and then you need to find transportation once you get there....

                                    1. re: Madrid

                                      I'm confused - why do you need to find transportation once arrived in Salem?

                                      1. re: Allstonian

                                        maybe you know better than I. can you walk to PEM from the Salem Ferry Center? I sure couldn't but then I'm somewhat handicapped.

                                        1. re: Madrid

                                          I admit I've never taken the ferry, but I've walked to the PEM from the commuter rail stop and that doesn't look much closer, at least on a map.

                                          1. re: Allstonian

                                            It's a 10 to 15 minute walk, depending on time of day one could always grab a drink and snack at Finz on the way.

                                            1. re: phatchris

                                              good to know. able bodied people could make it fine, it seems!

                                              1. re: Madrid

                                                there's also a shuttle bus from the ferry to the downtown area..don't know if it's free or the schedule.

                                                many people were taking it when we went.

                                      2. re: Madrid

                                        56 says they plan to bike alot. could they take bikes on the ferry? biking would be a great way to see salem.

                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                          Not sure if you can take bikes on the ferry at peak times, but it's a really nice ride, and as others have stated a 10-15 minute walk to the PEM and Pickering Wharf.

                                          1. re: kimfair1

                                            at that point in our itinerary, we will be in a car, so transportation will not be an issue and getting the bikes out of the car will only take a minute. . .cheers to everyone for the advice on salem. . .

                                  2. I went to Cambridge Brewing Company just the other day for the first time and I loved their "Wild" beer. (I think it was called "Wild American" but I'm not sure.

                                    Anyway, if you like beer don't forget to tour "Sam Adams". At the end of the tour they give you a ticket and if you by a beer at another location and give them the ticket you get a free Sam Adams glass. Might be nice for a souvenir.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: FoodFactsdotus

                                      we were originally planning to tour harpoon brewery in seaport--any idea how it compares to the sam adams tour? if the sam adams tour is anything like the guinness store house tour in dublin, colour me intrigued!

                                      1. re: afong56

                                        If you do Harpoon make sure to check out Trillium while in the Seaport.

                                          1. re: Beachowolfe

                                            beach--saw that it is very close to row 34--unfortunately i can't see on their website if they offer tours, and their tasting room hours are later than what we can fit into our plans (we'll of course keep it in mind if plans change)--they don't open until 4pm.

                                            phatchris, thanks for the tip!

                                        1. re: afong56

                                          Harpoon's tour isn't air conditioned so if it's hot outside your going to be really hot. That being said Harpoon gives you free samples for 15min, encourages you to get your 5 dollars worth.

                                          Sam Adams is air conditioned so the tour is much more pleasant and at the end everyone sits at tables and they pass around pitchers of beer. I like Sam Adams better myself.

                                          Plan carefully though because Sam Adams closes at 3:00 and Harpoon closes at 5:00

                                          www.foodfacts.us

                                          1. re: MrsSantos

                                            mrs santos---great info! thanks!

                                            lol, that 15 min rule seems like an invitation to binge drink and behave badly. . .tempting to un-retire the old funnel from university days. . .kidding

                                            1. re: MrsSantos

                                              Tried to do the Harpoon tour on Sunday they were already sold out by noon, so even though they last tour is at 5 get there early to get on the list and either sit down for a drink at the bar or do some local touring and come back.

                                            2. re: afong56

                                              I would temper your expectation about the Boston-area brewery tours. In my opinion, NOTHING comes even close to the Guinness tour if only in terms of sheer scale.