Category Archives: Dining

Good to the Last Drop

Bloc 11 is the second coffee shop belonging to Tucker Lewis and Jennifer Park, owners of Diesel in Davis Square. It sits at the intersection of Walnut and Bow Streets in Union.  It’s spacious, has both indoor and outdoor seating, and hosts live music and open mic sessions a couple of evenings per week. I’ve heard from others that the food is great, but I’ve only gone for the iced coffee personally – delicious iced coffee with a very subtle hint of cinnamon.

The most unique thing about Bloc 11 is its location. It opened in 2007 in a vacant bank building, complete with vaults in the back in which you can sit and enjoy your latte. I regret that my photo doesn’t do the space justice, as it’s much cooler looking in person.

And speaking of lattes, they do some pretty cool latte flower art.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The first residence in the world to have telephone service was that belonging to Charles Williams Jr., who lived at the corner of Arlington and Lincoln Streets in Somerville. It was in Williams’ telegraphic equipment shop that Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson first transmitted a sound via telephone wire on June 2, 1875.

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Leone’s in Neon

Leone’s Subs & Pizza has been a Winter Hill fixture since 1954, when Victor Leone Sr. purchased the restaurant from Sam Santoro of the popular Santoro Subway restaurant chain family.

Today, the restaurant is run by Vic Jr. and his brother-in-law Nick Ruccolo in the same spirit as the four generations of family that have worked to make it the neighborhood icon it has remained. They are a friendly group of people who genuinely appreciate their customers, and will somehow remember your face for months after just one visit.

In keeping with tradition, there haven’t been many changes to the menu over the years. They’ve kept prices low by continuing to run a fairly no frills operation – cash only, no delivery, and no seating; just a counter around the perimeter for the regulars who stand around and chat while enjoying a slice or sub on their lunch break.

Leone’s is particularly known for their traditional square Sicilian pies, which they sell by the slice all day long. I love that they always ask which piece you want, giving you the option of corner, middle or crust. It’s usually not too difficult to overindulge on slices when calling out for a large pizza with friends, but at Leone’s one $1.75 slice of cheese pizza will fill me up for hours, and I don’t think it would be possible to eat two in one sitting without bursting. The blend of spices in the sauce and cheese is near perfect, and the crust is thick and spongy and almost melts in your mouth. It’s definitely worth stopping by sometime, but don’t forget to hit the ATM first.

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DAILY TRIVIA: Davis Square was an undefined piece of land until it was named in 1883 after Person Davis, a merchant and member of the first town government who lived in the unofficial center at 255 Elm Street. Gradually the house was surrounded by commercial buildings, eventually changing the landscape from a few dusty crossroads to a major town hub.

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Old World Charm in Davis Square

It’s great that a place like Sessa’s Italian Specialties has managed to stay afloat for more than 30 years in Davis Square. Walking in the door you are immediately greeted by all sorts of sensory treats: delicious smells emanating from the deli where they serve calzones, sauces, and other homemade foods; fresh loaves of bread stacked in front of a variety of bulk olives; and strands of cured meats, garlic and peppers hanging from the ceiling tiles.

delicious calzones

When I first moved to Somerville I was psyched to discover this place full of Italian imported products. They actually carried the only canned sauce my grandmother would ever allow in her home: Don Peppino. A distant relative in Italy made it and sold it wholesale to Italian restaurants in America and used to bring her and her brothers cases of it when he came to visit, she told me, though the company has long since changed hands.

Being choosy about the bagged pasta and other items with a shorter shelf life is advisable. It’s not unheard of for some of the items on the shelf to have “expired” sometimes years before, and I prefer to go for the canned goods and amazing selection of olive oils. The deli meat and selection of homemade food is also quite delicious.

The owner is about as surly as my great-grandmother looks in all the old family photos, and you’ll read other statements to that effect if you check out their page on yelp. He’s rarely there, though, and it’s usually his much friendlier daughter behind the counter. You won’t find many places like this anymore, however, and it’s well worth stopping in and helping them stick around for hopefully another 30 years.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The first sitting president to visit Somerville was Bill Clinton.

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Crazy Tacos

If one day you happen to be driving down lower Broadway and find yourself, for reasons beyond my personal comprehension, tempted to make a stop at Taco Bell for lunch, I implore you to keep driving. Just a half mile up on the other side of the street is the best Mexican joint in town – Taco Loco.

Everything I’ve ever tried from their menu is fresh and delicious, not to mention very affordable. I usually try to sample different things when I go, but I have to admit I have a tough time forgoing the $2 tacos. There’s a small seating area downstairs, but it’s often full.

I don’t recall ever seeing another “gringo” there when I stop in; I almost always get a double-take from one or two of the Hispanic folks waiting in line. The people behind the counter are always smiling and friendly. If you’re nearby and haven’t checked this place out, the tasty food and pleasant vibe make it well worth the ride over.

Vegetarian taco and chicken tamale.

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DAILY TRIVIA: 600-acre Ten Hills Farm, which spanned parts of present-day Somerville and Medford and was home to Massachusetts’ first colonial governor, utilized Native American slaves. Slavery in MA ended fairly unremarkably when slaves petitioned the courts for their freedom after the Revolutionary War, though it was never officially outlawed.

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Bickfords No More

If you haven’t checked out Brunello Bistro in Winter Hill, it’s worth a visit.  It may be housed in the old Bickfords location, but it’s definitely no Bickfords. There’s even an outdoor seating area (and nope – it doesn’t overlook Broadway Street, if that’s what you’re envisioning.)

Baked gouda

I stopped there tonight with a friend, and we enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and shared the baked gouda appetizer.  Wrapped in philo dough with greens, fresh berries and toasted walnuts, it’s an original concoction by Chef Manuel and is indeed quite delicious. As you can see, the presentation is also pretty impressive.

Brunello has an exceptional wine list, full bar and original menu, not to mention plenty of parking. The staff is always friendly and accommodating, and the chef is always coming out from the kitchen to mingle with the diners, ever interested in their opinions of the food.  There’s even a fireplace in the corner, adding to the cozy atmosphere.

I have been to Brunello a few times and though selfishly it’s kinda nice to have a dining option in Somerville without mad crowds, I’m always a tad nervous that they might have to close if more people don’t hurry up and discover this place. Come on, Somervillians… Davis and Union may be the more obvious draws when contemplating dinner out, but don’t forget to support your local Winter Hill establishments too.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The Winter Hill Gang, named for the Somerville neighborhood and once headed by the notorious Whitey Bulger, still  operates today out of South Boston.

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Breakfast Wars

If there’s one thing plentiful in this town, it’s brunch options. And since I’ll be spending the next 361 days thinking of things to write about, for today I will keep this particular post to two of the most notorious spots: Sound Bites and Ball Square Cafe, located side by side in lovely Ball Square.

Everyone in Somerville has a preference for one over the other. On one hand, it’s only natural that the proximity of their businesses would lend to a healthy air of competition, especially when brunchgoers at both restaurants wait for their tables sipping coffee in outside lines that can’t help but brush against each other during peak hours.

But it goes a little deeper than normal competitiveness. The story as I know it is this:  the owner of the property rented by Sound Bites kicked them out and opened a similar restaurant in its place – the Ball Square Cafe – and not before stealing one of Sound Bite’s head chefs, for good measure. Sound Bites then re-opened next door, and the breakfast wars had begun. If you’re the Gawker sort, you can read all about this somewhat tiring cat fight here. And here. And here.

Though I’d probably be amused to ever witness one of these outbursts in person, I really don’t care much about the drama. I do, however, have my preference: as you’ve probably already guessed, I’ve gotta go with Sound Bites. They get major props for having a savory breakfast option other than eggs (lox on a bagel), a full bar (sometimes it’s just a Mimosa kind of weekend), a more exciting ambiance, and superior hashbrowns (decadently creamy mashed potatoes fried into crispy patties – yum).

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DAILY TRIVIA: The average listing price for a home in Somerville is $404,000.

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Vinny’s On Broadway: Mangia!

Hidden away in the dark recesses of a seemingly ordinary convenience store-slash- sub shop is one of the true culinary gems of this town: Vinny’s Ristorante, specializing in Sicilian style cuisine.  

Vinny's on Broadway, East Somerville

I walked by this place for years on my way to Sullivan station without realizing what it was, and this was even after hearing that an elusive Italian restaurant with amazing food existed someplace in this neighborhood.  I  could post a pic from the inside, but really… that would ruin all the fun.  Instead, it would behoove you to see it for yourself.

The restaurant itself isn’t large, but the ambiance is comfortable and date-friendly. The prices are very reasonable for the quality of the food you will be enjoying, which could easily rival any of the North End restaurants.  In addition to several homemade pasta varieties, the menu features some interesting and hard-to-find dishes including ostrich, rabbit and tripe…  indeed, there is something to delight (and gross out) just about everyone.

If you’re like me and want nothing to do with unconventional meat dishes, may I recommend the eggplant parmigiana? It is quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. And be sure to order the Arancini  ( Sicilian rice balls) appetizer… it’s by far one of the tastiest things on the menu.

Buon appetito!

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DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville was originally part of the old colony of Charlestown, one of the earliest settlements.

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Slumerville? Pshaw…

Somerville, Massachusetts has been my home for the better part of the past 15 years. Truth be told, no place has ever felt more like home to me than here. I decided to start this blog as an homage to this bustling suburb of Boston with so much to offer.

Brasher Falls, NY

First of all, let me explain. I came of age in rural America during the 80s and early 90s far from any metropolitan area. I was also far from cable television, highways and civilization; the first indoor mall within a hundred miles’ drive wasn’t built until I was 16 years old. You think the pre-internet days were bad? I’m guessing that at least your family, unlike mine, didn’t have to share a ‘party line’ with several neighbors due to the limited phone lines available in your county.

One might be tempted to label me an easily impressible sap who just happened to land here on my stumble out of the North Country. (For the record, this is the third state I’ve lived in, and the sixth town in metro Boston I’ve called home.)  I would have to respectfully beg to differ, and insist that growing up with such meager surroundings and little opportunity has made me appreciate the things that surround me now on a much deeper level than most folks probably ever even notice.

There are lots of things I appreciate daily about Somerville. It’s only miles from downtown Boston, yet possesses its own thriving economy and vibrant community. This hasn’t always been the case, as the colloquial ‘Slumerville’ nickname from the not-so-distant past reminds us. Things started to really turn around here in the 90s, beginning with the revitalization of Davis Square. The gentrification  over the past decade or so has attracted many people who are interested in (among other things)  sustainable living, eco-friendly transportation, composting, buying local, and of course, art. Freecycle is a way of life here, as is working on reducing the impact of one’s carbon footprint. And despite the gentrification, which comes with its own list of positives and negatives, much diversity has been preserved here. There are  epicenters throughout the city that are home to Brazilians, Haitians, El Salvadorians, Indians and many other immigrant cultures. There are also folks working to preserve those diverse communities and engage those who live there, encouraging them to be a part of the ever-changing landscape.

So, as of this moment I do declare that beginning tomorrow I will write once per day about something I deem great about living here.  Thanks for reading my first post, and stay tuned…

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DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville was a 2009 recipient of the prestigious All-America City Award.

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