#alfresco, #seasidedining, Food Blog

Mermaidz on The Deck

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Introduction

We are now well into the lazy, hazy, crazy daze (er, days) of summer, and the Gertz Girlz have heard the siren call of the sea (or in this case, the Merrimack River)! For this dining adventure, we channeled our inner mermaidz and headed to The Deck in Salisbury, MA. The day started overcast, which isn’t a bad thing on a humid day; sitting beside the water under a big umbrella with refreshing beverages makes for a cool, relaxing way to pass the hours. But to make it extra special, we were joined by our very first honorary Gertz Girl–and intrepid mermaid–Cheryl Notartomaso! As the afternoon wore on, the clouds burned away and left us with a perfect day for dining alfresco.

Gertz Girl Cheryl.jpgCheryl Sez:

First I have to thank the Dee, Lisa and Eva for letting me be their first honorary Gertz Girl!

The Deck is always a great place to visit on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon and the company of the girlz made it all that much better.

When you first arrive the valet is ready to open your car door and park your car and reminds you to give your server your ticket when you are paying the check and it will be waiting for you when you are ready to leave. I like that! I was seated right way at a nice table with a view and our server arrived quickly to take a drink order while I waited for the girlz to arrive. Being in the hospitality business my entire career, great customer service is paramount and keeps customers coming back. I felt the service was on par from start to finish.

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Caesar Salad with Chopped Kale and Seared Scallops

Our starter of Blue Corn Chips and Guacamole was just enough to hold me over until my ‘go to’ Caesar Salad with chopped Kale and Seared Scallops arrived. The salad, tossed with just enough creamy Caesar dressing and shaved parmesan was abundant and full of flavor. The fresh seared scallops were cooked perfectly, crispy on the outside and sweet and tender on the inside. As an ‘add on’ it was totally worth the $12 price. I have visited the Deck in the past and I have had the Caesar with Grilled Shrimp and it never disappoints.

While the menu is a bit limited there is always something that even the most finicky eater can find, and if not just sit back order a cool beverage and enjoy the beautiful view in the day time or at sunset.

Gertz Girl DeeDee Sez:

More often than not, I have a hard time deciding what to order. I try to study the menu online and narrow it down beforehand so I don’t irritate the wait staff or my dining companions. What can I say? I hate to regret a choice, which is probably why I don’t have tattoos. Anyway, The Deck has a limited menu which helps, but honestly, they could have put a bowl of Alpo in front of me and I would have been happy. Not sure it would have paired well with my Pinot Grigio, but…it’s about the atmosphere! The fragrant breezes! The water views! And of course, and most importantly, the company!

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Cheryl and Dee

I was thrilled to welcome Cheryl as our first honorary Gertz Girl. She and I met through work in 2001, becoming fast friends, but life has since moved us along divergent paths, so it was a real treat to spend this beautiful day with her–along with Lisa and Eva, of course! And it was like a mini staycation for me as well; I haven’t been near the water since 2006. Sad, but true.

Oh yeah, so the food! I was torn between the Seared Scallops starter as an entrée, the Fish Sandwich and the Stuffed Portobello Mushroom. Cheryl kindly offered me one of her scallops. Thank you, Cheryl! It was perfectly seared and sweet, and I will most definitely order it on another visit, but I decided on the Fish Sandwich. I’m not a big fish eater, oddly enough, but since mushrooms grow in the woods, and particularly as I watched the boats bob in the marina, I thought it more fitting to go with seafood. When in Rome…

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A table with a view!

It was a generous portion, and the haddock was gleaming white, moist and flaky. The coating was light and not a bit greasy, but it was also a tad bland. I would have liked it more with some salt and pepper–or dare I suggest, a smidge of Old Bay seasoning?–mixed into the batter. The lettuce and tomato brightened the sandwich but the tartar sauce could have been thicker.

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Fish Sandwich

I also could have done with a slice of American cheese to make it a kicked up Filet-O-Fish, didn’t think to ask. These are quibbles; the sandwich was thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying. The brioche bun was nicely toasted. The fries were perfectly salted. I avoided the pickle, figuring it wouldn’t mesh with the wine, which was light, crisp and DeeLish!

Gertz Girl LisaLisa Sez:

Summertime and the living is easy. Whoever wrote that nailed the feeling we all had the afternoon we landed on The Deck! Warm sun, blue skies, and incredible views all taken in under cheerful red umbrellas. I was coming off a tsunami of fried food that weekend – the usual suspects of breaded clams and scallops. I perused the menu at The Deck and went for something light. I ordered the Sesame Salad with the addition of grilled shrimp.

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Sesame Salad with Grilled Shrimp

The salad is comprised of Napa cabbage, mixed greens, peanuts, red pepper, bean sprouts, chick peas, and carrots, with cilantro and a light dressing of ginger tahini. Crunch, crunch, and more crunch! I think this would satisfy any herbivore’s craving for a substantial salad by itself. But this mermaid was happy she ordered the grilled shrimp on top. The shrimp were just right, firm to the bite with a tender finish. Altogether very satisfying on a warm day.

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Cheryl and Lisa (before the clouds burned away)

Lest I forget – the Mojito cocktail was pretty much the perfect accompaniment to both the salad and the festive ambiance offered at this seaside restaurant. If people-watching and boat-watching are your thing you will enjoy The Deck, which also has the added bonus of sitting beside a drawbridge which opens and closes regularly to let the taller vessels pass through.

Gertz Girl EvaEva Sez:

Truth be told, I am a REAL mermaid and therefore I don’t eat my fellow sea creatures! I haven’t knowingly eaten seafood ever, although apparently my cruel parents duped me into eating it when I was little by ordering “Chicken Calamari” with a wink at the server. That said, I am most happy near any ocean, and I was content to be with the other mermaidz no matter what they ordered! So I went with the BLT.

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World’s Best BLT, according to Eva!

Which is the biggest understatement in the world, because it should really be listed on the menu as World’s Best BLT !  There’s a lotta magic going in that-there sandwich which involved salty, thick bacon and just the right amount of fresh tomato and an amazing aioli mayonnaise to give it a kick. SO delicious! Alas, I also went at the fries pretty hard and so decided to take half the sandwich to go…that was a mistake.

Gertz Girl LisaLisa Sez:

I mean my salad was terrific. But at 10pm that night the World’s Best BLT was calling my name (if you get my mermaid drift). So I owe Eva the other half of that sandwich and it will be a wonderful excuse to go back!

 

Gertz Girl EvaEva Sez:

(Some mermaidz can’t be trusted with leftoverz).

Gertz Girlz Final Dish:

Newburyport is one of our favorite towns in New England, and some Gertz Girlz may even move there eventually. But if there’s one thing better than eating at a great restaurant in Newburyport – it’s eating at a great restaurant as you gaze adoringly across the river AT Newburyport. There’s a lot of summer left and before it’s gone, we strongly suggest you make your way to The Deck!!

More info: thedecksalisbury.com

 

Food Blog, Uncategorized

Birdz of a Feather

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Introduction

The Gertz Girlz are bird lovers. You might even say extreme bird lovers. One of us is the loving mother of a 29-year-old cockatiel. Another not only finds daily joy in feeding birds, but she even had the nickname “Birdie” at one time. For these, and other more gastronomic reasons, it seems fated that we would eventually pay a visit to The Purple Finch Café in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Gertz Girl DeeDee Sez:

Yes, I’ve been a parrot parent to my cockatiel Arnie since he hatched on April 15, 1989. Tax Day. And he’s been taxing me ever since! But I love him dearly. And now I can say I love the Purple Finch Café!

 

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Arnold Edgar Gertz (aka Arnie) loves himself some Dunkin’ Donuts Everything Bagel.

Gertz Girl LisaLisa Sez:

This café has consistently won the Best Breakfast Place for the last several years (voted via customer polls) in the Manchester area. I kept reading about them in both NH Magazine and The Hippo, two local publications that take food pretty seriously. We took advantage of their “call ahead” service and set off on a beautiful Sunday morning recently. Walking into a busy café, made cheerful with splashes of purple and lime green throughout, we noted stencils of little purple finches which charmingly make appearances  throughout. In addition to tables in the dining area, you can also request a seat at the breakfast counter which has a large tv screen, where on this morning you could watch Ina Garten cook up a storm, while you ate your own delicious meal.

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The Purple Finch has garnered a few awards, and rightly so!

One of the highlights of our visit was possibly the friendliest and most pleasant servers we’ve ever encountered – a smiling woman named Linny. She came to our table right away and let us take our time with the menu, answering questions and bringing our beverages to us in seconds. The menu takes a while to peruse as you have your choice of both breakfast and lunch menu items.

At 11am it’s usually a toss up for me. I decided on the Avocado Toast $8 (A slice of wheat toast topped with mashed avocado, sliced tomato, a poached egg, feta crumbles & scallions. Served with a cup of fresh fruit). Except could I make a few changes? Special orders don’t upset them. I swapped out the fresh fruit for a side of their amazing Sweet Potato Dots (think tater tots only healthier) which come with a little cup of real maple syrup for dipping. Also, could you hold the feta crumbles? No problem.

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Avocado Toast with Sweet Potato Dots

When our food arrived, I got exactly what I ordered PLUS “would I mind trying a new dish the chef is trying out and telling us which of the two you prefer?” Being the helpful human being that I am, I was happy to oblige. The experimental dish was similar but more interesting: An English muffin topped with mashed avocado, field greens flavored slightly with a light Greek dressing, topped with a perfectly cooked poached egg. Outstanding.

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The Arcadian Avo, a brand new dish not yet on the menu! No doubt it will be soon!

I let Linny know it was my favorite of the two and asked what the name of it was. The newborn didn’t have a name yet, so Linny rushed back to the kitchen to ask the Chef and came back triumphant – “The Arcadian Avo”. Pass the cigars, this one is special! So glad we could be there for this proud moment.

Gertz Girl DeeDee Sez:

As I mentioned in our Parker’s Maple Barn entry, when out for brunch I go for Eggs Benedict whenever possible. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Purple Finch has not one, but three types of Eggs Bennie (WOOT! WOOT!) but for this visit I decided to fight the urge and try something different.

How do I love brunch? Let me count the ways! Choices, choices and more choices! Purple Finch doesn’t disappoint with its inventive yet down-to-earth menu and there were so many dishes that attracted me. Among many contenders, the finalists were Breakfast Nachos, the Cowboy Breakfast Burrito (yes, big Mexican food fan), The Breakfast Caprese and the Chicken Corden Bleu Stacker.

And the winner is (insert drumroll)…the Breakfast Caprese!

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The Breakfast Caprese

If you’re a fan of the salad, you’ll love the sandwich, unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian. This is an egg sandwich that made me think of what might happen if a BLT and a caprese salad had a baby. Served on a grilled ciabatta roll, the tomatoes were bright red and juicy, the field greens crisp and varied, the bacon thick and spot-on crispy. Instead of fresh mozzarella, they use a basil infused cream cheese, which I think helps make it easier to handle. It’s not super large, but things tend to slide around in a stacked sandwich with a lot going on. This one held it together well; though I did have to ask for extra napkins, I didn’t look undignified getting it into my mouth.

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The Caprese Sandwich with Shredded Hash Browns.

The shredded hash browns I ordered from a choice of sides were crispy on the top and tender on the bottom. Potato perfecto! They weren’t seasoned, which I prefer. I like to control my own salt and pepper.

As Lisa mentioned, our waitress was friendly and enthusiastic. I got the feeling that she eats at Purple Finch on her days off! I know I would. I could easily try EVERYTHING on their menu, and that has never happened in all my many, many years of dining out. DeeLish!

Gertz Girl EvaEva Sez:

I really liked this place. It’s clean and bright and they even have a small coloring corner set up to keep the little kids quiet so I can focus on my Instagram scrolling.

 

 

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Happy Kiddie Koloring Korner!

The menu has some great choices. I ordered the Finch-wich: A breakfast sandwich with fried egg, cheddar cheese, sausage patty and hashbrowns on a grilled bagel. It usually comes served with the house-made Sweet Potato Dots, but I swapped those out for a side of seasoned homefries and bacon. Delish! The sandwich with those crispy hashbrowns is a brilliant combo and the thick bacon was a solid 10.

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The Finch-Wich Sandwich

Gertz Girlz Final Dish:

After we left the Purple Finch Café, we took a peek at their Take-Out Menu which we grabbed on the way out. We discovered the genesis of the café – Jeff and Julie, who met in the food industry while they were working their way through college at UNH, and decided to build a breakfast-serving nest together six years ago. Kudos to the Lovebirds!

There are many more items we want to try including a soup special, Scallop & Bacon Chowder, and every one of their unique sandwiches and salads! When the weather gets chilly we’d like to try The Harvest French Toast – Three slices of golden French toast topped with fire roasted cinnamon apples, cranberries, walnuts, powdered sugar and whipped cream!

We will be returning to the Purple Finch Café because of the great experience and, because, you know “Birdz of a Feather?!”

More info: purplefinchcafe.com

Food Blog, Uncategorized

A Bittersweet Passover

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Rachel, Jerry, Sonia and Bubbie Rose, circa 1940

Introduction

The Passover Seder, a ritual feast celebrating the liberation of Hebrew slaves from Egyptian bondage, includes a seder plate with symbolic elements of the bitter and the sweet, such as bitter herbs and sweet charoses. For the Gertz family, Passover 2018 was bittersweet because it marked two years since our final Passover with matriarch and patriarch Fran and Jerry.

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Seder Plate from our Passover Haggadah

In the spring of 2016, Fran was at the final stage of a 20 year devastating struggle with Alzheimer’s, and by the end of that summer a seizure would put her into the Salem Haven long term care facility, specifically on the third and final floor, where the next level up is heaven (she passed in January 2017). Passover was less ritual and more family get together by now, the seder having been reduced to the Four Questions and a couple of quick prayers. But the wine flowed and the food was plentiful, as was the case with every Gertz gathering.

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Fran and Jerry, 2009

Whereas past dinners were strictly Fran’s dominion, the meal was now prepared potluck. Jerry got non-traditional with barbecued brisket, tenderized into submission in a slow cooker; he also contributed matzoh kugel, courtesy of his sister Sonia’s recipe; Lisa added her panache to Sonia’s gefilte fish casserole; Dee made sure her matzoh balls were as light and fluffy as Fran’s. We filled in the rest with easy veggie sides and finished with chocolate macaroons and fresh fruit.

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Matzoh Ball Soup, one of the last times it was made by Fran. Passover 2006

By the time Passover rolled around last year, Jerry had become rapidly weak from a cancer that had come on unexpectedly and strong. He was certainly too sick to host a seder, let alone contribute to the meal, but he had also lost interest: when the offer was made to hold the seder at Dee’s house, Jerry turned it down. So the holiday passed over the Gertz family without food or fanfare, and Jerry passed away on Memorial Day.

Gertz Girl DeeDee Sez:

I’m what you might call a bad Jew. Having grown up in Baltimore with a Jewish father and shiksa mother, I tended to gravitate toward the side that offered Easter baskets and Christmas trees. My father’s mother Rachel was Orthodox, and every Friday evening the family gathered at her house for the Shabbat dinner, always kosher of course (dairy and meat were offered as either/or, and at a tender age it baffled me). After dinner I was occasionally left behind to spend the night in order to accompany her to shul the next morning. Thinking back, this may have been an intervention.

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Rachel, Dee (future Bad Jew) and Fran.                               What girl could resist this bling?

Growing up, Passover seders were also held at Rachel’s and were reverential and full-blown. My memories are an amalgam of mostly yawning tedium, but one day it was finally my turn to read the Four Questions, an honor bestowed upon the youngest member of the tribe. I remember feeling happy that I had something to do besides sit, fidget and starve, but also proud because I could show off my newly acquired reading skills. Unfortunately, that was the extent of my interest in the seder; afterward I went back to daydreaming about the Easter egg hunt with my shiksa clan while Hebrew prayers droned in the background. Bad little Jew.

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Dee in her Easter dress with bunny, circa 1966.

When I was nine, we moved from Baltimore to Burlington, MA and, freed from my grandmother’s orthodoxy, I have, over the years, participated in our family seders with joking irreverence. This had to drive my father crazy but he never said so, which I attribute to the calming resignation that comes after a few glasses of Concord Grape Manischewitz, a super sweet wine with dubious consequences, as shown below.

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Stu Gertz after a few too many glasses of the sweet stuff. Passover 2006

Having said this, I always read the Four Questions, in Hebrew, with respect. And every Passover, just like sitting to my father’s left at the dinner table, that particular reading was understood to be mine.

So here it is 2018, I have ascended to matriarch, and the perspective, the vantage point, is suddenly loftier. All I can think, as I watch The Ten Commandments for the umpteenth time, is that I now have an important job to do. Something as sacred as a bad Jew with years of questionable religious karma can muster: I must pay homage to the past with a modicum of reverence.

Hosting this year’s seder at my home is a given, the rest is a journey of faith, less religion than rediscovery; a test to see how much Judaism actually sank in over the years. I start with my grandmother’s sabbath candelabra, willed to me many years before and relegated to a big Filene’s bag, tarnished and dusty in my father’s garage. Given that Rachel kept it proudly displayed and protected in plastic, its sad state is a testament to my transgression and the first step toward redemption: I must restore it to its rightful glory.

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Before and After: Rachel’s Candelabra. A labor of love with the help of TarnX and metal polish.

Next, I must locate Rachel’s Crest Wood china, handed down to my parents, then to me. At this point I have lost track of these dishes after several moves forced me to stash things hither and yon, but pray they miraculously made it to my basement after we cleaned out and moved boxes from my parent’s house for the final time last summer.

From a mountain of boxes I miraculously locate them quickly, transporting them up to the kitchen for a wash and dry. I then locate my mother’s delicate crystal stemware, to be gently removed from newsprint and oh-so-carefully cleaned. The last cleaning task is to shine up my parent’s flatware, a wedding gift from 1957.

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Fran’s Passover table circa 1993. Rachel’s candelabra can be see in the background.

The biggest hurdle toward redemption is the hardest: the seder itself. Jerry always took us through the Haggadah, and I’m not sure it was the same year after year (drinking was going on after all). So I decide to actually read the book, design a seder based on its relevance to us as a family and where everyone had a part to play.

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Dee holding the family Haggadah, Passover 2018.

Stu read the Kiddush, a prayer over the wine; Eva, our youngest member read the Four Questions; and in true Bad Jew fashion I can’t remember what the rest of us read; my design notes have since disappeared. But I will say that the past was with us that day, it was a longer seder than Jerry’s ever was (though not as long as Rachel’s), and I shed a few tears along the way. Hopefully that counts.

Gertz Girl LisaLisa Sez:

So the gig is up and now you know… the Gertz Girlz are part Jewish and part shiksa. I grew up in a Catholic family (half French-half Irish). And of all the holidays, Easter was my least favorite. Perhaps it was the lightweight cotton dresses and our bare legs only covered by thin lace ankle socks with Mary Janes, when the temps were still in the 40’s. Perhaps it was the long church homily and the incense that made me nauseous. It could have been that the traditional Easter dinner of ham, potatoes, etcetera, was something we ate every few weeks anyway. It wasn’t my mother’s fault that’s for sure. She went all-out playing the Easter Bunny with treat-loaded baskets, and even made her own chocolates one year. I was just “meh” about Easter.

So when Easter and Passover fell on the same Sunday this year, it was a no-brainer which one I would choose to celebrate. Some of my fondest memories of “becoming a Gertz” were the beautiful Seders that my in-laws put on. They are warm family memories, with food and ritual that was unique to Passover and therefore very special. It helped that they were delicious meals, too.

I looked forward to this Passover for many reasons. We needed to be together as a family, having lost both the matriarch and the patriarch Fran and Jerry in the last year. We needed to heal with food. And we needed to know that tradition would continue. There was only one person who could pull that off and it was Dee. And she did it with STYLE!

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Dee’s Passover table, April 2018

I got the head’s up phone call weeks before Passover. She was going to create a beautiful Passover and she gave me my assignments: The Charoset. The Gefilte Fish Casserole. The Matzoh Toffee. I was tickled Manischewitz pink.

I used Sonia’s recipe to make the Gefilte Fish Casserole. This was one of my favorite dishes of our Passover dinners, and I had begged Franny for the recipe 18 years ago. She had always served it as an appetizer, cut into small, delicate quiche-like squares. I’m always so happy cooking this dish, and I actually hope for leftovers so I can enjoy it all week long.

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Lisa’s version of Sonia’s Gefilte Fish Casserole.

The matzoh toffee is something I’ve been making for the past 15 years at Hannukah, and I decided to create a real variety of toppings for this special Seder. It was fun and made a pretty snazzy presentation plate!

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Lisa’s Matzoh Toffee in a variety of flavors!

I was most intrigued with the making of Charoset. I couldn’t recall If we had it during past Seders…perhaps it had appeared at table in a very small plate and only as a symbolic gesture. So I decided to research and create a real side dish of Charoset. Because “Jewish food” essentially exists in almost every corner of the earth…this was where some creativity was allowed.

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Lisa’s Charoset, Passover 2018

The Charoset’s color and texture are meant to represent mortar or mud used to make adobe bricks which the Israelites used as slaves in Egypt. Depending on what part of the world it’s being made, the fruit and nuts can obviously differ. Since we are in New England, I went with the locally sourced choice and created a dish with apples from a local farm, chopped walnuts, New Hampshire maple syrup and apple cider, and cinnamon.

I was almost speechless when we arrived for Seder. I had never dreamed we would again see a replica of what Fran and Jerry Gertz had created for their family at Passover. But Dee had commanded the helm, and boy did she bring the ship into port. It was a beautiful sight to behold – the polished silver, the crystal glasses, the heirloom dishes, the ironed cloth napkins and tablecloth, the aromas.

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The past is present in Rachel’s china and Fran and Jerry’s crystal and flatware.

The brisket, the matzoh ball soup in a tureen, the kugel, the salad, the flowers.  It was an incredible amount of effort and such a colossal show of love to her family, both deceased and living, that I will never forget it. We will always be grateful to this incredible Gertz Girl for what she gave us that day.

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Potato Kugel, Gefilte Fish Casserole, Charoset. Eva and Matzoh Ball Soup

Gertz Girl DeeDee Sez:

Did I mention I got kicked out of Hebrew School?!

Gertz Girl EvaEva Sez:

Haha! After this last Passover Auntie Dee, I think you’re forgiven!

What I remember most about going to my Gaga and Papa’s house was that it always smelled good there. Even if nothing was cooking, it just smelled so good there. And as the only grandchild, the best part of Passover was that I was the only one who got to hunt for the Afikomen!

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Eva finds the Afikomen and gets the gelt, Passover 2006

Papa was always busy in the kitchen with his trademark cook’s apron on. But he would always stop what he was doing and remind me to look for the treasure.  After a couple of years, I realized that Papa always hid it in the same place – under the center cushion of the sofa.  I caught on but still tried to pretend to look for it in different places first. This makes all of us laugh. We never did find out if he realized he did that…was it his own quirky brand of humor or just a 10 year coincidence? We will never know but it’s a fun memory. Eventually, like Aunt Dee, I also enjoyed getting to read the Four Questions as the youngest of the tribe.

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Eva with her mom Lisa and her dad Stu.

Losing Papa and Gaga has taught me the importance of family and I love my Aunt Dee for bringing us all together.

Gertz Girlz Final Dish:

In the end, we have to agree with Tevye ….”Traditions, Traditions. Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as, as….as a fiddler on the roof!”

 

Food Blog, Uncategorized

Her Big Fat Greek Birthday

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Introduction

Dee’s birthday was coming up at the beginning of March and the other Gertz Girlz wanted to take her out to dinner to celebrate. They knew just the place too. “There’s this great Greek restaurant we want to take you to.” This was received with a less than enthusiastic response. (See our text conversation below.)

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Hmm…a gastronomic roadblock. We all know someone who just isn’t ‘into’ certain types of food. We were treading on thin phyllo here. After all, it was Dee’s big day but we KNEW this restaurant wouldn’t disappoint. In the end, it was what we call a Win-Win. Huppa!

Gertz Girl Dee

Dee Sez:

My limited experience with Greek cuisine began in the ’70s when my mother, always the fearless baker, tried her hand at mastering phyllo on the way to making baklava. Not that I had a basis for comparison, but her result was a revelation. The outer phyllo layers were delicate and crispy, giving way to a sticky bite and a chew of sweet filling both rich and complex; a nut-filled sugar rush of the grandest order. I considered it strudel’s swanky cousin.

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Amphora’s Decadent Baklava!

For my mother it was a labor of love, but unfortunately for our family the labor proved a bit too arduous. Those were the days before ample counter space and tall center islands, so the work was done hunched over the kitchen table, which puts enormous strain on the lower back. She made it just once more and then went back to strudel, one of many delights on her rotating schedule of desserts, including mandel bread (or mandelbrot, a softer Jewish version of biscotti) and sour cream coffee cake.

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Fran’s Much Loved and Well Worn Sour Cream Coffee Cake Recipe

A decade later I was a novice cook, just starting out with what would become a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. The first was the homespun Betty Crocker primer, a gift from my mother when I finally moved out of her house. The second was my first purchase: The Culinary Arts Institute’s magnum opus. (From Betty Crocker to Culinary Arts…geez, I wasn’t TOO cocky.)

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The humility and the hubris of a newly-minted cook.

In relation to Betty’s book, to this day I have tried only one recipe from The Culinary Arts many pages, an appetizer plainly named Feta Cheese Triangles (probably a subconscious desire to follow in my mom’s phyllo footsteps).

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The Culinary Art Institute’s Feta Cheese Triangles

Working with phyllo can be intimidating, but if you follow instructions to the letter –keeping dough moist under a damp cloth, having plenty of melted butter on hand and a good pastry brush – and if you are patient and careful, it is a fairly forgiving dough. The end result was simply wonderful, delicious and decadent. Crispy, creamy, salty, and oh so rich. And let me tell ya: I made it only one other time, for a friend’s backyard wedding, because it was a freakin’ back breaker.

So why would I say that I didn’t especially care for Greek food? Easy: an unpleasant experience with stuffed grape leaves at a now defunct Greek diner in Belmont back in the ’80s. The memory of why I didn’t like it has faded, though ‘bitter’ and ‘slimy’ come to mind. I also don’t like olives, and I refuse to eat baby animals, so the ubiquitous lamb is out. But are these enough reasons to turn my nose up at all that Greece has to offer? Is it fair? No on both counts. So I gave Amphora a try.

Gertz Girl Lisa.jpgLisa Sez:

Having lived in the heart of Boston for many years before marriage, I made a sacrifice moving to New Hampshire eighteen years ago. I traded phenomenal dining-out options for a big house and better air quality. But it was a dismal sacrifice for a serious foodie who became faced with a choice of Applebees vs Pizzeria Uno.

Over the years, I have been more than thrilled to see small, interesting restaurants come onto the local scene. Amphora in Derry, New Hampshire is one I’m particularly proud of. I consider it a hidden gem. If you like casual and intimate dining, great service, and delicious Mediterranean food, you have hit the jackpot here. The décor has a sunny feel to it – perhaps it’s the pleasant lighting, lemon-colored walls, and authentic Greek artifacts scattered about, but on a cold, gray New Hampshire day, it feels like a warm oasis.

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We were seated in the last booth, behind the water bearer statue.

My absolute favorite dish is the pork souvlaki dinner entrée – two skewers of tenderly roasted pork seasoned apparently in heaven. It’s served with fluffy rice pilaf, and a tzatziki sauce (a zesty cucumber-garlic dip made with real Greek yogurt drizzled with olive oil) on the side – perfectly tart and creamy to compliment the seasoned meat. But I’ve jumped ahead.

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Pork Souvlaki Dinner Entrée with Rice Pilaf and Tzatziki Sauce

The appetizers are some of my favorite items on the menu and I made sure our Birthday Girl got to try some of them. We started with the “Mezza” a quartet of tasty dips accompanied by warm pita bread. This is a “hidden” menu item so be sure to ask for it! It’s fun to try all the dips and decide on a favorite.

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The Mezza Quartet: Tzatziki, Melitzanosalata, Kopanisti, Hummus

Another wonderful appetizer is the Eggplant Frites. These long beauties are seasoned and lightly fried leaving a creamy eggplant interior that melts in the mouth. They’re also served with a side dip of the wonderful tzatziki.

Gertz Girl DeeDee Sez:

Amphora was a great experience and a very special birthday gift–thanks again Gertz Girlz! Our waitress was friendly and helpful with requests–especially when we asked the music be turned down slightly. The Mezza dips were delicious (LOVE hummus and fresh pita). The Eggplant Frites were crispy and creamy and so addictive I might have to try them at home.

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Eggplant Frites with Tzatziki Dipping Sauce

The Gyro I was hoping to try had lamb mixed in with the ground beef, so I opted for the Souvlaki Sandwich with Steak Tips. At only $7.95 it was a delicious bargain: another super fresh, thick pita stuffed with juicy tips, lettuce, tomato, onion and yogurt sauce. DeeLish!!!

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Souvlaki Sandwich with Steak Tips

And what great conversation we had! Naturally, one of the topics was foods we would never try, such as periwinkles, octopus and escargot. Disclosure: I did try escargot over 30 years ago. In the English language it’s a rubbery snail swimming in garlic butter, but who would eat it described that way? Even in French, once was enough for me. And of course, we talked about our favorite scenes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which we all love and have seen countless times.

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Eva Sez:

One of me and my mother’s favorite things to do together is watch chick flicks (with a big bowl of popcorn of course). We watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding a couple of years ago and I loved it. The scene where the grandmother is running around in the middle of the night chasing “the Turks” is hysterical! So whenever we go to Amphora it brings back that happy memory and also of their family restaurant, Dancing Zorbas.

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Eva’s Thracian Chicken Sandwich

And if you go to Amphora, please do try the fresh feta cheese, so creamy and tangy and wonderful on the warm pita bread!

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Fresh Feta Drizzled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Gertz Girlz Final Dish:

Amphora has garnished accolades from The Boston Globe food critics as well as winning Best Greek Restaurant from New Hampshire Magazine. The owner, Peter Tsoupelis has great pride in his family’s Greek heritage and offers family dishes, but with his own unique culinary touches. He is quoted as saying, “Amphora is not your grandmother’s Greek restaurant.” Perhaps not – but allow us to recommend what I consider to be ‘Greek Penicillin’ the Avgolemona Chicken Soup. Yia Yia would approve!

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Avgolemona Chicken Soup

When the Gertz Girlz catch a cold, this is the first place we go for a large takeout container of the delicious chicken, pastini, and lemon soup! And Dee can’t wait to visit again. Huppa!

More info: amphora.com

Food Blog, Uncategorized

California Girlz

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Introduction

The youngest Gertz Girl will graduate high school next year and has her heart set on a career in film production. So, for February break we jumped on a plane headed for the west coast. There is something very hip about California and you feel it as soon as you step out of the airport. You may arrive feeling like the Clampetts (Google it if you’re under 40), but you leave feeling cool as Compton (Google it if you’re over 40). Cue the song from 2Pac and Dr. Dre  – “Let me welcome everybody to the Wild, Wild West.”

Gertz Girl Lisa.jpgLisa Sez:

The best part of this trip was going to be the warm weather and exploring all the differences between Cali and New England. The weather decided to disappoint us with the first cold spell in decades. We got over it. We also got to laugh at people wearing ski hats and Uggs in 65 degree weather. It was a wonderful four days and the stellar food scene played a big part of that. Here are some of the highlights of our trip:

The Hudson Restaurant: Located in West Hollywood (my hipster 80-year-old mother corrected me to call it “WEHO” like the locals). This super hip, but casual restaurant caters to a young adult clientele. Everyone who works here looks shiny and stylish. We arrived early on a Saturday evening, and realized the restaurant is built around actual trees that are located throughout and go through the ceiling! After a long day of travel, I was initially annoyed at the volume of the music but that passed – because it was just the most AWESOME playlist I’ve heard in a restaurant. We were served some delicious food and it was such a fun vibe that I was soon singing along to BBBBenny and the Jets – only to be joined in unison by two guys dining a table away. Happy is The Hudson!!!  Good food and service too! www.thehudsonla.com

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Eva checking out the Hudson menu.

Bristol Farms Market:  There are a few of these scattered around Los Angeles but the one on the corner of Fairfax and Sunset Boulevard is like an intimate cross between Whole Foods and Trader Joes. I cannot express how much I love this store. A profusion of flowers greet you outside. Once inside, I developed a serious crush on Peet’s Coffee and a beautiful French bulldog named Rose.

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Our new friend Rose, the French Bulldog. Elle est un joli chien!

This place was within walking distance from our vacation rental and thank you very much! I experienced an amazing and warm Croque Monsieur for breakfast, and also learned there is something called a Poke Bowl (pronounced Pok-Ay), a culinary idea that I really hope soon makes its way to New Hampshire. All kinds of fresh raw and cooked fish can be combined with lots of fresh veggies, nuts, and sprouts to create your own bowl of delicious nutrition. Yum!!! www.bristolfarms.com

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Luscious cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, and macarons at Bristol Farms Market.

Catch L.A.: This was our splurge night out. It’s an Oh-So-Pretty restaurant with an Oh-So-Pricey menu. Upon arrival to the large ground floor vestibule, two very good-looking gentlemen greet you. They verify your reservation, then one of them escorts you to the elevator and sends you to up to the beautiful rooftop restaurant. Selfies abound up there amidst greenery and twinkly lights. We stuck with small plates like the skewered chicken meatballs and I had the best sushi of my life, the Catch Roll (crab+salmon+misohoney), which was accompanied by another handsome young man who provided a sushi fire show with his hand torch. A shout out goes to Cory, our very personable waiter! Check out their lit website www.catchrestaurants.com

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Pretty rooftop seating and chicken meatball skewers with a mustard seed ponzu.

In-N-Out Burger: Goes without saying that everyone must try this ubiquitous chain. We went to the one in Westwood before we checked out the UCLA campus. I’m completely intrigued by In-N-Out restaurant and may actually dedicate a whole blog post to them. Suffice to say we left satisfied, and it was the cheapest date we had in Los Angeles. Kudos. www.in-n-out.com

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Have YOU heard of the Animal Burger? It’s NOT on the menu…

Pink Taco:  A friend whose husband grew up in California texted me while I was out there, “Josh says to try hole-in-the-wall Mexican.”  We had to clarify if it was an actual name of a restaurant. It wasn’t.  Apparently, any Mexican food in L.A. will be better than any Mexican food in New Hampshire. My beautiful niece Jill resides in Los Angeles, and suggested we meet at Pink Taco. www.pinktaco.com

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Arriving in style at Pink Taco!

It does not fit the hole-in-the-wall category but we were just fine with it. Again, there were trees in the middle of the dining room, which I find so charming. In addition, the food and atmosphere were festive but relaxed, the Happy Hour margaritas awesome, and the restaurant interior was one of the most seriously pink and funky places I’ve been to. A major bonus – my niece arrived with her charming boyfriend and her well-behaved chihuahua Ziggy, and the hostess didn’t bat an eye. He stayed at our table happily eating bits of chicken burrito (I mean Ziggy here). So basically, it felt like we were dining in Mexico with a Chihuahua. I told you, California is cool.

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Eva and cheese quesadillas.                             Tee shirts for sale, modeled by a Day of the Dead doll.
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The Cadillac Margarita.

The Griddle: This renowned breakfast joint IS a hole-in-the-wall, with a daily line of people waiting patiently to get in. We lucked out on a Tuesday morning and were seated right away by a vivacious young waitress who thought maybe I was someone famous!? Hmm…way to score a good tip! We ordered our eggs and pancakes and noticed a tableful of LAPD officers tucking into their breakfasts with intensity.  Our plates arrived and OMG these were huge portions! It was tasty too. We salute The Griddle! www.thegriddlecafe.com

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Lisa is embarrassed to admit this was her portion. But she didn’t finish it!
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Eva’s pancake. One is more than enough!

Rite-Aid: Yes, you read that right. I have to include the West Hollywood Rite-Aid in this post. Let me just say this is proof that Los Angeles has it over us big time. This was a Rite-Aid on steroids, including a coffee and Cubano sandwich bar. I went in for Tylenol and left with a fresh pistachio frozen yogurt, a bottle of Grey Goose vodka and a pair of yoga pants! Enough said!!

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Pick your flavor, pick your toppings…at Rite-Aid?         Artisanal olives in ‘tea’ sleeves. Only in CA!

Gertz Girl Eva.jpgEva Sez:

Oh, and by the way I fell in love with L.A. and will be pursuing my career dreams there. Here’s a sample of my inspiration from this trip! Eva’s LA Video 

 

Someday I’m gonna be a STAH on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

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Gertz Girl DeeDee Sez:

You Bitchez! I’m SOOOOOO jealous I wasn’t there 😉

 

 Gertz Girlz Final Dish:

The rumor is you have conquered L.A. when you conquer their notoriously challenging freeways. I was asked how I did driving on “The 405” and “The 101”.  Please give this Boston driver a big fat break. I mean we are not on bucking broncos here and you have five lanes to play with. I can handle Storrow Drive at 50mph so I’m pretty sure the California drivers were more scared of ME in my rental car. We can cue Dr. Dre again: “Let me welcome everybody to the Wild, Wild West!”

Food Blog, Uncategorized

Seoul Sistahz

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Introduction

You’re either into the Winter Olympics or you’re not. For many of us in New England however, it’s a welcome distraction. We can totally relate to trying to stay balanced on the ice…we do it almost every day just trying to get to work! For the Gertz Girlz, the Opening Ceremony and Parade of Nations is one of the highlights. It’s inspiring to see all those young, fit athletes representing every country in the world. This is one of the few events that brings the global community together and it’s also a chance to learn more about the culture of the host country. This year, it happily nudged one of the Gertz Girlz to suggest we visit a Korean restaurant and give their cuisine a whirl. There are not many to choose from “up in these parts,” but a gold medal should definitely go to Seoul Kitchen in Westford, Massachusetts.

Gertz Girl Lisa.jpgLisa Sez:

Dee told me she wanted to try a specific Korean dish. But for the life of me I couldn’t recall the name of it. Biddy Biddy Bop? Bim Skala Bim? (yes now I’m aging myself). I gave up and consulted ‘Auntie’ Google. Ah. Bibimbap. “Dee and I are going to try Bibimbap on Sunday,” I told Eva (who couldn’t make this particular Gertz Girlz outing due to drumline practice). “What is that? Like techno music?,” she asked. That made me feel better. So did the visit to Seoul Kitchen restaurant in Westford, MA. And please don’t judge a restaurant by the strip plaza it lives in. This one made me wish I had dressed a little better. Once inside, I was really impressed with the casual elegance and sparkling interior of this good-sized restaurant. I admired the beautiful décor with its warm color scheme of neutrals and a mix of light to deep coral accents. It was spotless.

We had three distinct seating areas to choose from, including a long, attractive sushi bar, a dining area that included booths and regular tables, and the bar area which held a classy ambiance.

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Once we were seated, and looking at the menu, Dee shared that the mother of the owner makes the pork dumplings by hand everyday (we have since discovered via Phantom Gourmet that she can no longer keep up with the demand, and now has help). But her efforts were appreciated by the Gertz Girlz! They were fried but not greasy, the filling was savory and satisfying, and the dipping sauce was just the right accompaniment.

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But, as much as we enjoyed the dumplings, they were slightly eclipsed by a quartet of complimentary dishes brought to us as a sort of Korean “amuse-bouche” by our attentive waitress. We sampled Spicy Kimchi (cabbage), Korean Broccoli, Seasoned Cucumber, and Soy Potato and Carrot Cubes. These were new to our palates and very good nibbles. We also learned that these small side dishes are unique to the Korean culture and are called “Banchan.”  These are almost obligatory on the Korean table.

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We sipped our very good ice-cold vodka martinis and waited for the celebrity dish to arrive. Bibimbap. It was easier to pronounce after the martini, to be honest.

Gertz Girl DeeDee Sez:

I first became aware of Bibimbap about four years ago, while working on a recipe card project. I was intrigued by the ingredients, particularly the sunny side up egg topper–which is now a trend, especially on burgers, pizza and red meat, but back then it seemed like a novelty. Anyway, what can I say? I’m a sucker for gooey egg yolks.

Here’s an interesting bit of history about Bibimbap:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibimbap

There are a variety of choices for meats, grains and sauces. I ordered the Bibimbap with brown rice and soy-sesame beef. The beef was wonderfully tender, and the veggies (carrots, zucchini, celery) were perfectly tender-crisp. The marinade had just the right flavor balance of soy and sesame. I was disappointed in my choice of grain, though. You can also choose white rice or quinoa, but I was attempting to eat healthier, which was a mistake, because I really don’t care for brown rice. It’s certainly not a strike against Seoul Kitchen; the rice was perfectly cooked and slightly chewy. I just should have listened to that nagging inner voice that said, ‘order the white, dummy’. Oh well…

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And be forewarned: the stone bowl stays very hot, and even though it is set in a safety tray, it’s easy to forget that as you reach for something. Especially after a martini! And I struggled with the chop sticks for some reason (maybe it was the martini) so gave up and went with a fork. Utensils are kept in a pretty wooden box; the forks are wrapped in napkins secured with a paper sleeve, and there are paper sleeves covering the bowl of the spoons. I was impressed.

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Gertz Girl LisaLisa Sez:

Service is so important and our server didn’t disappoint. She was patient with our questions and discounted our martini when she found out our vodka brand wasn’t available that day. Another side note – the restroom was impressively clean and pretty which is very important to this Gertz Girl.

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Gertz Girl Eva.jpgEva Sez:

I wish I could’ve been there, I really love an elegant ambiance. I peeked at the menu online and there are enough upscale Pu Pu items to make me happy.

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Gertz Girlz Final Dish:

Dee and Lisa arrived on a Sunday between the lunch and dinner rushes, so it was fairly quiet, but didn’t stay that way long. Soon there were five parties joining our section, including one with children in the 6-10 age range. We wouldn’t call Seoul Kitchen a family restaurant, per se, because of the ambiance and slightly high prices. For example, the Bibimbap is $17.95. But it’s perfect for friendly get-togethers or romantic date nights.

If you can’t make it to Seoul Kitchen, but would like to make Bibimbap at home, download the recipe card Dee mentioned earlier in the link below. And if you make it, please let us know what you think!

Bibimbap Recipe

More info: https://www.eatseoulkitchen.com/

Food Blog, Uncategorized

Parker’s Maple Barn

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Introduction

If you’ve lived in New Hampshire for at least 15 years (as we have) and still haven’t visited Parker’s Maple Barn Restaurant, we suggest you do. Visiting on a balmy day in mid-October is also a smart move. This rustic eatery nestled in Mason, NH definitely falls under the category of “Destination Restaurant.” A mile-long winding road was raining autumn leaves and pine needles in full sunshine, and brought us abruptly to Parker’s. As Dee said, “you know that you’ve arrived.”

Authentic in its rustic vibe, Parker’s has created an outdoor waiting experience that is part aromatherapy (the maple hits you as soon as you open the car door), charming, whimsical and relaxing. The restaurant, gift shop, outdoor coffee bar, and multiple woodsy seating areas make for an eye-catching exterior. Plentiful parking, including a spillover lot across the street let us know that Parker’s was established and popular. We arrived at noon on a Sunday and there was a 1.5 hour wait (no reservations). We had anticipated this and so should you. Breakfast is served all day, so act like royalty and order what you desire no matter the time.

After a 90 minute wait, we were immediately rewarded with a generous hot beverage service.  The good coffee (according to Lisa) was placed on our table in a carafe – no waiting for refills! If you are a tea drinker, like Dee, you can expect a carafe of hot water, and a tea chest with plenty of regular and herbal choices. We received quick service from a friendly, seasoned (and clearly exhausted) waitress. The food was worth the wait – it was a concise menu with many original temptations.

Gertz Girl DeeDee Sez:

As the name suggests, the restaurant is a large barn-like building decorated with wooden signs and whimsical folk art. There are plenty of rustic outdoor seating options (tree stumps, stone benches) while you wait for your table. But it isn’t autumn in New England if yellow jackets haven’t crashed the party. They chased us out of a covered bridge (another seating option that is no doubt packed when it’s raining), down a path and into the kitschy gift shop. We took a quick look, but opted to enjoy the fresh air and expansive grounds instead.

If you are “hangry”, DO NOT sit in the restaurant’s indoor waiting area. With so many customers, the barn-style door opens and closes with jarring frequency and almost everyone entering or exiting lets it slam shut. It will get on your nerves.

But let’s talk food! When out for brunch, my go-to dish is Eggs Benedict. My expectations are never high, mainly because Eggs Bennie is hard to mess up. Overcooked eggs are always the biggest disappointment, with rubbery ham and overly lemony Hollandaise tied for second. But when our waitress put down my plate, I marveled at how picture-perfect they looked. Honestly, look at this!

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Perfectly poached orbs enrobed in a glistening, sunny sauce. Big points for providing a steak knife; this was a first. I have never understood how restaurants think it’s easy to cut through ham and English muffins with a butter knife.

And for the first time ever, I experienced that perfect Eggs Bennie bite. First silky and creamy, followed by salty and tender, and finally gooey and chewy. Heavenly. The home fries weren’t bad, either. But the side of bacon was just okay. I know there’s no such thing as bad bacon (except bad for you), but I think they are missing a great opportunity to offer a maple-candied option, since it’s all the rage these days.

Gertz Girl LisaLisa Sez:

Have you ever been offered “Breakfast Appetizers?” Me neither. How fun! I mean Deep-Fried Blueberry Bites? We might do this on our next visit, but at 1:30 we were in the mood for a lunch appetizer–Spicy Maple Chicken Tenders. The five oversized tenders were amazing. Like something you would get in a great urban Asian restaurant–very lightly breaded, subtly sweet and spicy, and truly tender. One of the lucky Gertz Girlz got to take some home for midnight snakz.

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There were some seasonal specials that sounded incredible and involved pumpkin and cream cheese, but I ordered the Maple Ribs with Eggs Any Style, Home Fries and Toast. I hit on the ribs first. Wow! No sticky bbq-like sauce – just pure delicate maple flavor on tender pork that practically jumped off the bone. A little shout out to the whole wheat toast – it was extra thick and flavorful and a great vehicle for the perfectly cooked over-easy egg yolks.

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Gertz Girl EvaEva Sez:

I guess beverages are important to the Gertz Girlz! The waitress kept refilling my ice water which scores points with me, as one of my nicknames is “The Camel.” I was really excited to see a Thanksgiving Sandwich on the menu as it’s one of my favorite meals. It was fantastic and stacked with juicy, roasted turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. I was just a little disappointed by the appetizer plates (kinda chintzy). Food this good deserves to be served on fancier dishes!! (Side note: The other Gertz Girlz didn’t realize until now that Eva is a bit of a dish snob!)

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Gertz Girlz Final Dish:

Between the “forest bathing” we did beforehand, and the wonderful dining experience we had afterward, the Gertz Girlz are so glad we made the drive to this unique New Hampshire establishment! Dee bought a beautifully decorated tin of Parker’s maple syrup for $11 and she and her husband enjoyed it on French Toast last night. It was divine. And if you visit between March and mid-April, treat yourself to a tour of the Sugar House while you wait to be seated.

More info: www.parkersmaplebarn.com