Tag Archives: Davis Square

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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Somerville’s Oldest Pub

The oldest liquor license in town belongs to the Sligo Pub on Elm Street.  In operation for more than 75 years — long before the red line came through town — it’s everything a dive bar should be: small, dingy, cheap and regularly sprinkled with old timers grumbling at the bar about the latest Bruins game.

The local watering hole takes its name from Sligo, Ireland – the town from where the original owners hailed. Once frequented exclusively by locals in mostly blue collar trades, the crowd is now comprised of town folk, college kids from nearby Tufts University and everyone in between.

I’ve always been a fan of dive bars, and this is definitely one of my favorites. I love the high tables and friendly staff; the place just has a comfortable vibe that makes it my preferred meeting spot for grabbing a casual drink in Davis.  There’s a jukebox with a decent selection of tunes in the back, across from the graffiti-strewn tables and next to the lottery ticket machine where I once won $500 with a couple of friends… good times…

An interesting side note: many years ago, a friend and I were smoking cigarettes outside when we were approached by a black gentleman who looked to be in his 50s. He told us that his dad used to kneel exactly where we were standing and shine shoes for pennies as a boy; “Negroes” weren’t allowed inside at that time, the man said, so he had to work outside.  He also told us that for decades right above our heads there was a sign warning that ladies were not allowed inside the bar unless accompanied by a gentleman. It’s fascinating to contemplate the history this place has seen over the years.

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DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville’s “Sister City” is Gaeta, Italy.

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Fresh Meat

McKinnon’s Meat Market in Davis Square is unarguably the best spot around to buy almost any cut of meat at amazingly reasonable prices. I don’t know how they do it, but they manage to undercut the big supermarkets by a landslide.

I have to admit… I can’t be certain that the meat is local. The older woman working at the register told me to ask the owner, but didn’t have his contact info. I’ve always assumed it is based on how fresh it tastes and how much longer it lasts in my fridge than grocery store meat.

Boneless chicken breasts for $1.99/lb - take that, Market Basket.

McKinnon’s also carries some produce, and often a selection of frozen seafood too.  If you have the time to add another stop to your errand list, you can save a lot of money by purchasing your meat here instead of at Stop and Shop or Shaw’s.

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DAILY TRIVIA: Sanborn fire insurance maps, still widely consulted today, were invented in Somerville, MA in 1867.

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To Catch a Flick

Over the past hundred years, Somerville has been host to at least 14 different theatres around the city.  The Somerville Theatre opened its doors in 1914, and remains the last one standing.

Located in the heart of Davis Square, the theatre is a great place to catch a movie or a concert; the view of the screen/stage is impressive from wherever you are sitting. Movie ticket prices are extremely low, ranging from $5-8, and there are only five minutes of ads and previews preceding the feature. You can buy beer or wine at the concession stand too, which makes the theatre a nice alternative to hitting the crowded bars on a Friday night.  Don’t forget to come early and check out the Museum of Bad Art in the basement.

The Lost Theatres of Somerville, based on a past exhibit at the Somerville Museum, goes into much detail about the many theatres of Somerville – it’s a great site chock full of info and history, so do click on the link to read more.

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DAILY TRIVIA: President Obama lived on Broadway in Somerville during the late 80s and early 90s, while attending Harvard Law School.

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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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Fresh Veggies in the Wintertime

One of the things that’s made this snowy winter remotely tolerable is the implementation of the Somerville Winter Farmers Market.  It runs every Saturday from 10 am -2 pm at the old Armory building on Highland Street. The last market of the year will be on March 26, so if you’ve been meaning to check it out you best get a move on. It’s also worth mentioning that credit and debit cards are accepted, according to their Facebook page.  I wish I’d noticed that before heading over there this morning, since I forgot to grab cash.

Pies from Cook's Farm and Bakery in Springfield, MA

The Market is part of a bigger city-wide campaign to Shape Up Somerville; its aim is to increase access to healthy foods for Somerville residents.  There are vendors serving up just about everything you could imagine: fresh produce, fish, meat, bread, pies, nuts, sauces, pastries, wine, chocolate – and everything is locally/regionally grown and produced. There’s even live music to entertain you while you peruse, and also… isn’t it cool to have a reason to visit the Armory?

Click photos to enlarge


The Grownup Noise performing at the Winter Market on March 12.

Armory Building, Highland Ave.

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DAILY TRIVIA: Utne Reader named Somerville’s Davis Square as one of the 15 Hippest Places to Live in 1997.

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How do I love thee, SLF

A couple of years ago I stumbled across Somerville Local First on Facebook and “liked” it in an effort to be kept in the loop on local happenings. I was immediately impressed by what a useful community resource it was; so much information was being regularly collected and disseminated that I figured at least 10 or 50 people were working away behind the scenes.

SLF sticker on Sunshine Lucy's storefront, Holland Street

According to the SLF website, the organization’s mission was to engage “business and community leaders in building economies that are green, local, and fair.” Wanting to be a part of this exciting grassroots organization and having a professional background in nonprofit development, I arranged to meet with founder and executive director Joe Grafton to discuss possible volunteering opportunities. I was amazed to discover that most of the organization (and even the Facebook page!) at that time was being managed and run exclusively by Joe, who no doubt wasn’t getting much sleep at all, yet was still excited and enthusiastic for both the organization and town he was serving.

I’ll be talking about SLF in future posts, as there is so much to cover (their 10% shift campaign deserves an entry all to itself). But for now, I wanted simply to mention that THEY NEED YOUR POEMS. Yes, that’s right – as part of the application for a grant from the Community TechKnowledge Foundation, SLF must submit a 4-8 line poem reflecting their work and mission.

Please click here for more information, put on your writing cap, and help Somerville Local First win a much-needed tech grant by sending them your awesomely creative poem.

SLF coupon book, available at Dave's Fresh Pasta and other spots throughout the city

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DAILY TRIVIA: Marshmallow fluff was invented in 1917 by Somerville resident Archibald Query, who made it in his kitchen and sold it door to door.

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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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