Remembrance of restaurants past (and present)

Father’s Day was this past Sunday, June 16, 2019.

Having now been a father for more than a decade, I am perfectly content with a low-key celebration: dinner out with the family, perhaps, somewhere special but child-friendly. Maybe somewhere a little further afield, so we add a nice drive as well.

Given that restaurants are often insanely crowded on holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, it seemed best to go to this to-be-selected restaurant on Saturday night instead. Which, as it turned out, had perfect weather for a scenic drive. The backup plan was that I would take the girls to our favorite local restaurant, Zaftigs, late on Sunday afternoon—giving Nell a bit of a breather.

I could not quite wrap my head around where I wanted to go, though, until I remembered the charming Periwinkles on Route 133 in Essex, a quaint town about an hour’s drive north of our Brookline apartment. Essex is a town on Massachusetts’ North Shore, so the drive there and back (well, once you exit I-95/Route 128) is beautiful. And after dinner we could drive 13 minutes east to Gloucester Harbor to see the Fisherman’s Memorial (and the Harbor itself), then drive a few miles north on Route 127 to Rockport to walk along Bearskin Neck in Rockport Harbor while, say, eating ice cream.

[As a resident of the greater Boston area, I would be remiss if I did not highly recommend driving north on Route 127 from its starting point in Beverly (home of Endicott College, where I once platonically spent the night in a girls’ dormitory following a date, after missing the last commuter rail train to Boston) to where it intersects Route 133 in Gloucester Harbor, then north as it loops around Cape Ann back to its end on Route 128.]

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I took these photographs in February 2014, but you get the idea.

We had not been to Periwinkles in a few years, however, and I had a vague memory of having driven by it and seen that it was closed for the winter. It thus seemed prudent both to double-check that they were open and to make a reservation if necessary. On Friday night, then, I sat down at the desktop computer in my office (I have not yet warmed to laptops) to Google “Periwinkles Essex.”

The first thing that caught my eye was the third entry, the Yelp page for Periwinkles:

Periwinkles – CLOSED – 11 Photos & 63 Reviews – Seafood – 74 Main Street

Well that sucks, I said to nobody in particular.

A little digging revealed that a new restaurant—Ripple on the Water—had opened in the Periwinkles building, but I feared the menu would not appeal to the entire family. I could ride the “It’s Father’s Day, so I get to choose where we go and what we do!” wave only so far before crashing onto the rocks of stubborn palates and food intolerances.

And—more to the point—it just was not Periwinkles.

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But if not Periwinkles, then where?

I began to cast about in my brain—you might say I interrogated memory—for appropriate restaurants.

I considered the always-reliable Christopher’s (photograph taken July 1991, though it looks exactly the same today), but the drive would not have been particularly scenic—and the girls would likely have lobbied hard to go to nearby Jose’s instead; our eldest daughter would eat burritos for every meal if she could.

Christopher's July 1991

I next considered Noon Hill Grill, about a 40-minute drive south in Medfield (longer—and far lovelier—if you meander through Dedham and Dover). The girls and I had eaten there a few times, and it is pretty darned good.

Plus, there was this peaceful park a short walk from there (photograph taken May 2014).

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And the girls and I found this in a different nearby park (photograph taken September 2014):

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Even better, however, was another restaurant in Medfield called Zebra’s Bistro, which Nell and I had greatly enjoyed on a rare “date night” in April 2015.

Perfect, I thought.

I Googled the restaurant…and…

Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar – CLOSED – 52 Photos & 110 Reviews

Clearly, we had not been to Medfield in some time (or we had, and I had simply forgotten), because Zebra’s closed in July 2016.

Back to the mental drawing board.

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Another restaurant I seriously considered was the superb The Landing in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Can you name the four towns in Massachusetts named for former governor Endicott Peabody?

Answer: Endicott, Peabody, Athol and Marblehead

I cannot speak to the, umm, accuracy of this joke, but it always stuck with me (maybe because the person who told it to was born in what he called “the wrong side of Marblehead”).

The Landing would easily have met all of my criteria—I have taken at least four visiting friends there, in fact—but for one problem. We could not have made the hour-plus drive north to Marblehead without visiting “the lighthouse”—better known as Chandler Hovey Park. (Photographs taken April 2013)

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And we could not go to the lighthouse without clambering over the rocks—which our eldest daughter was prohibited from doing thanks to a broken left wrist. (Photographs taken September 2013; March 2016; May 2015).

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Not to worry, though: there was a sister restaurant to The Landing in lovely Manchester-by-the-Sea (yes, the town in this movie) called 7 Central. This would have been a more than adequate substitute, except…

7 Central – CLOSED – 496 Photos & 68 Reviews – Seafood

Seriously?!?

This was getting ridiculous.

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In a previous post, I described my penchant for constructing baseball “teams” of non-baseball players (e.g., former roommates or musical artists I have seen live), especially in the first two years after I moved from the Boston area back to the Philadelphia area (where I was raised) in February 2001. The tradition began in Thanksgiving 1994, when a friend of mine and I (and our then-wife and then-girlfriend, who we will call “AC,” respectively) decided to play “baseball;” mostly we pitched and hit, calling balls put in play fair as either hits or outs. Rather than be some version of the Philadelphia Phillies or Boston Red Sox, however, that day my friend decided he was going to be a team of 17th-century Anglican bishops, who did not so much run the bases as move in a stately manner about them. And a years-long tradition was born.

That Friday night before Father’s Day, as I learned in quick succession that three restaurants I quite liked had closed, I remembered—or thought I remembered—one of the more unusual teams I had invented.

Most likely in April 2001, this same friend (now divorced, just as I had recently broken up with AC) and I played our version of baseball on a softball field on Eagle Road in Havertown, Pennsylvania, down a short grassy slope from Lynnewood Elementary School (which I attended, 1972-78).

The team I carefully crafted in advance of our game consisted of Boston-area restaurants I found myself missing. As you can see, my friend and I called the game after seven innings, tied at two.

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While in my memory, there had been a separate team devoted solely to Boston-area restaurants I liked that had closed, I could only unearth this single set of 23 restaurants: eight starting position players, a starting pitcher, a six-restaurant bench, a six-restaurant bullpen, a manager and a bench coach. I cheated a bit, as (at the time, anyway, he wrote with obvious foreshadowing) the Wharf Street Café and Wine Bar and Becky’s are in Portland, Maine; Moody’s Diner is in Waldoboro, Maine; Le Garage is in Wiscasset, Maine; the Ebb Tide is in Boothbay Harbor, Maine (photograph of yours truly taken by AC in September [?] 1998); Michael Timothy’s is in Nashua, New Hampshire; and Poco Diablo is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Ebb Tide

But, as I once told a friend, everything has a half-life, and so it should not be surprising that, more than 18 years later, of the 23 restaurants on this “team,” only the South Street Diner (which was once the Blue Diner, before it moved around the corner and became a distinct restaurant, also open 24 hours a day; the original Blue Diner appears in the 1987 film Hiding Out),

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the Agawam Diner (better known to our daughters as “Circle of Pie”),

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Cabot’s (first two photographs—yes, I am standing in the lower left-hand corner of the first photograph—taken March 2003, latter photograph taken July 2013; I am enjoying a frappe I had designed a few years earlier: chocolate strawberry banana).

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The Burren (featured prominently—if inaccurately—in the 1998 film Next Stop Wonderland), The Hong Kong (a Harvard Square institution where I have been cut off not once, but twice—and that takes some work; I “celebrated” my return to Philadelphia there in January 2001),

Two strawfisted drinker

the aforementioned Christopher’s, Moody’s Diner (which contains my personal motto, and where dogs drive cars),

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and Becky’s (no longer open late on weekends, though) are still in business.

To be fair, T D Waffle simply renamed itself Vic’s (and truncated its hours), Poco Diablo became Poco’s Bow Street Cantina, and Michael Timothy’s Urban Bistro is now MT’s Local Kitchen & Wine Bar (though minus the live jazz). Still, 15 (65%) of the 23 “Boston-area” restaurants I most missed in April 2001 are no longer open, at least as I knew them then.

To be even more fair, three of these establishments had ALREADY closed at that point. Dale’s Restaurant, which overlooked the harbor in Swampscott, was a favorite place for AC and I to go on a sunny Sunday afternoon for a glass of red wine and a bowl of French onion soup; it closed in 1999, if memory serves. The 24-hour Howard Johnson’s in Medford was a regular late-night hangout for AC (among others) and me before it closed on December 31, 1998. It got to be a habit that on nights I did laundry in the basement laundry room of our apartment building, AC and I would “go for pie” there afterwards, which generally meant eating a full meal; I developed a particular taste for steak and eggs in those days, usually washed down with one of their orange-sherbet-based drinks. And lots of decaffeinated coffee.

And then there was Dolly’s, sometimes known as Dolly’s at Kay and Chips. It had been run by Kay and Chip until the latter’s death in 1991, after which his daughters—I believe—ran it until 1999. As you see from the menu below—which I snagged as a souvenir on one of their last days, perhaps even their last day, in existence—this was my idea of heaven: a quality diner that did not even OPEN until 11 pm, then stayed open until 5 or 6 am. I lost track of how many bacon tuna melts (with French fries and too much ketchup) and bacon cheeseburgers and pieces of hot cherry pie with chocolate ice cream I ate there, nor how many cups of decaffeinated coffee in brown ceramic mugs I drank to wash them down. While losing Dale’s and HoJo’s were rough, losing Dolly’s was even rougher, probably because I could actually walk there from both of my Somerville apartments. Also, my first “date” with AC (it was kind of a spur of the moment thing one night; she and a few other women had just moved into the apartment above mine), in June 1993, had been there.

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As I said, everything has a half-life.

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I did finally settle on a restaurant in which we could celebrate “Father’s Day Eve”: Cala’s in Manchester-by-the-Sea. They do not take reservations (Nell checked), but we arrived there around 5:30 pm, just to be on the safe side. It proved to be an excellent choice…even if they do make a strong rye Old Fashioned…yowza!

Afterward, we strolled down Beach Street to Captain Dusty’s Ice Cream for cones of soft serve. I mistakenly thought that they made a chocolate-and-vanilla twist with a strawberry coating (like they do at the incomparable Dairy Joy). Instead, it was vanilla soft serve with a strawberry swirl—which proved to be absolutely delicious.

We took our cones across the street to Masconomo Park, where we sat in a gazebo to enjoy our desserts while staring out into what Google Maps tells me is Days Creek, which flows into Manchester Bay by way of Proctor Cove. When we had finished, our eldest daughter very much wanted to play “baseball” (by which she meant wiffleball, which we used to play in the fenced-in backyard of our previous apartment), so I walked back to where I had parked the car. Rather than schlep half the contents of my trunk back to the park, I simply drove to a closer spot.

Maybe 45 minutes of differing permutations of pitcher and hitter later, I concluded by taking some swings with a proper wooden baseball bat at some proper baseballs I tossed into the air. Wooden bats feel a lot heavier after you have been swinging a wiffleball bat, it turns out, though I still managed to hit some solid line drives.

All in all, despite the closure of no fewer than three restaurants I had considered for that night’s dinner, Father’s Day Eve could really not have been any better.

Father’s Day itself was pretty solid as well, with some touching and thoughtful gifts, including a copy of this essential book.

And, yes, I took the girls to Zaftigs late on Sunday afternoon—giving Nell a bit of a breather.

Until next time…

3 thoughts on “Remembrance of restaurants past (and present)

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