As one of the oldest European settlements in America, Boston is synonymous with history. From its humble beginnings as an English outpost in the New World to where the idea of revolution finally boiled over like so much tea in 1776, the capital of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has seen so much over its centuries, and yet this harbor town, with its energetic and ever-prideful populace, continues to reinvent itself for the 21st century.
Perhaps in no other area than food and hospitality is this march into modernity so thoroughly — and wonderfully — evident, as The Washington Times discovered during a trip to Beantown to explore how this amazing city’s history and its people inform its present.
Any way you slice it, it costs money to get out of Logan Airport. If you take an Uber or a taxi, you’ll have to pay the tunnel tolls (remember the Big Dig project?), or you can hop into the T to get you to central Boston for less of a fee on public transit.
Victoria and I hail a cab, and just a few miles later we pull up at The Langham Boston (250 Franklin St., Boston, Massachusetts, 02110, 617/451-1900), a luxury hotel located in the important Financial District of the Massachusetts capital. (Indeed, the Langham was once the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.)
Stepping into the lobby, we are greeted by a fleet of friendly hellos and welcomes. The front-desk staff, bellhop and doorman are all beyond cordial, making us feel at home even before we have seen our room.
We smile entering our room on The Langham’s top floor. A king-size bed, desk and couch are all there for the reclining and the relaxing, with room-length windows offering views of Norman B. Leventhal Park just outside. Drapes and shades will later allow us to darken the room for privacy and sleep.
We meet Dinah Saglio, public relations manager for The Langham, who takes us on a tour of the property that includes several ornately decked-out meeting rooms, the swanky Chuan Body + Soul Spa and a bar called Bond, which is now empty, but with chandeliers dangling dozens of feet overhead — set amid large portraits of famous faces from America’s money, denoting this building’s fiscal past — ready to entertain the weekend nightcats.
Traveling always makes one hungry, so we hop an Uber over to Cambridge to dine at The Smoke Shop by Andy Husbands (1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02139, 617/577-7427). Andy greets us at the door, a smiling fellow whose passion for the pits is obvious even before we are seated.
Andy is certainly no stranger to the spotlight, having competed on “Hell’s Kitchen,” authored several books — his latest, “Pitmaster” will be out March 15 — and competed professionally on the BBQ circuit. He clearly takes pride in his work, so rather than Victoria and I picking at random from the menu, we give Andy the nod to choose our lunch options for us.
Andy starts us off with some pork jowl mac n’ cheese, which offers up a stellar delight of smoked pork in concert with the creamy goodness of the mac. Next up are Andy’s patented bar wings, the sauce for which is just this side of sweet (I admit I prefer hot).
With our appetizers Victoria enjoys a beer, whereas I’m of a mind to try some local whiskey in this most Irish of towns. The whiskey industry around these parts is still figuring its way around, as evidenced by the barely passable Boston Harbor Putnam Rye and the Berkshire Bourbon, but the Grabs Ten South Boston Irish offers the most mature flavor of the bunch, as well as the most promise.
For the main course Andy delivers a cornucopia of options from his always-working smoker. This meat-o-rama is a BBQ paradise, highlighted by the amazing burnt ends and the out-of-sight brisket. Andy also entreats us to the “new style” prime brisket, which offers a different spin on familiar flesh.
Andy is a bigger fan of bourbon than I am, so for digestion he brings out a Willett concoction from the bar served with Campari. I drink that down just in time for dessert course, which includes butter cake made from St. Louis pound cake that is incredibly delectable and not overly sweet, frozen hot chocolate with marshmallows that made me want to describe it favorably with words unsuitable for a family newspaper like this one, an “adult milkshake” with booze in it as well as what Andy called the “butter crack cake,” which is like the butter cake but with a more intense flavor.
I haven’t felt this pleasantly full in quite some time. We thank Andy and his wait staff for their time, and Victoria and I nudge one another knowing that we intend fully to walk off some of these calories.
We jump into another Uber, which, I must say, is a slow-going process. One thing I’m noticing about Boston is that their Uber drivers don’t rightly seem to know their way about very well, and for whatever reason they attempt to pick up too many passengers for their vehicle size. It takes us nearly a full hour to go from Cambridge south through town and then onto a spit of land where much construction and industry has been and continues to take shape.
Here amid the building stands a classy evangel to America’s 35th president, and given both his status as a native son of Boston and his tragically cut-short administration, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (Columbia Point, Boston, Massachusetts, 02125, 617/514-1600) is reverentially respectful of the local boy who represented his state in the Senate and then later in the White House. Its main lobby was purposely designed, I learn, to be “unfinished” — rather befitting for the man who was taken just 34 months into his first term.
JFK’s papers are warehoused here, as are, I discover, much of Ernest Hemingway’s given the author’s connections with the president. A helpful guide walks us through some of the early exhibits, and helpfully fills in some of the gaps in my knowledge of Kennedy, such as that when his World War II vessel was rammed by a Japanese ship, the then-young lieutenant swam an injured man to shore, and the museum has a coconut on which Kennedy chiseled a distress message. After he and his shipmates were rescued, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart — all on display next to the coconut.
The museum also features a mockup of how the Oval Office looked during Kennedy’s 1961-63 tenure as president, complete with clips of speeches he gave on topics like civil rights, the space program and mounting tensions with the Soviet Union that culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Photos of the president and Jackie Kennedy adorn every wall, and other exhibits show Kennedy at work, at play and even traveling to Ireland, the land of his ancestors.
Down a dark hall, the visitor is confronted with a placard that says “November 22, 1963,” the day of Kennedy’s fateful trip to Dallas on the day he was murdered. The museum doesn’t spend a terrible amount of time on the assassination, preferring instead to close out with exhibits to Kennedy’s legacy, such as the space program, the Peace Corps, a piece of the dismantled Berlin Wall and various other dreams of his that later became reality.
Events are planned all throughout 2017, the centennial of JFK’s birth.
You can continue your tour of the Kennedy clan’s imprint on America, as just down the sidewalk from the JFK Library is the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate (Columbia Point, 210 Morrissey Blvd. Boston, Massachusetts, 02125, 617/740-7000), devoted to the third-longest-serving senator in American history. Here one gets a sense of the longtime Capitol Hill fixture’s crusades for social justice, equality and other progress he saw as necessary to America becoming all that she could be. There’s even a mockup of his Senate office as it long appeared.
Victoria and I step into the main attraction of the center, a full-size replica of the Senate chamber, complete with exhibits on a desk where Ted Kennedy sat during his storied career in Washington. A docent guides us through many of the particulars of the senator’s life and achievements and tells of how it was the late senator’s wishes that this place be used to educate America’s future leaders. (School trips are a frequent occurrence.)
At closing time we walk from the Kennedy compound to the JFK/UMass T stop, which helpfully whisks us back to central Boston beneath rush hour traffic and back to The Langham, where we clean up and change before heading out for dinner.
But a few blocks from The Langham is Nebo Cucina & Enoteca (520 Atlantic Ave., Boston, Massachusetts, 02210, 617/723-6326), a North End Italian cuisine specialty. Seated at a table by the window, Victoria and I watch the evening walkers as they amble by on the sidewalk with their dogs — and where diners can sample the food in the warmer months. We toast such a wondrous day with a cocktail round, with mine being the Whiskey Smash, a white whiskey cocktail that has a light taste, kind of like tequila.
Our waiter, Fernando, is Brazilian, and he knows the Nebo menu better than, I suspect, even the owner. After much discussion and seeking his counsel, Victoria and I decide on the Polpo (braised octopus) and Cozze (mussels) for our appetizer course. The Polpo, served with tomato sauce and chickpeas, is quite tasty, and the mussels, while well prepared, are a bit too creamy for my liking.
For entrees Victoria opts for the Bucatini, a handmade pasta prepared with seafood that boasts a modulated spicy kick. I cast my own lot with the Acqua passo, which translates loosely as “crazy water,” and is a seafood “stew” with so many different tastes it’s nearly impossible to identify them all.
After a Sambuca and a Christophono, we retire back to The Langham for a much-needed rest.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a really good brunch, and so this morning we’re off to the hopping South Boston neighborhood for a pop by Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar (412 W Broadway, South Boston, Massachusetts, 02127, 617/917-5626). The dining space is grand, with a square bar at center surrounded by raised bar tables on all sides.
GM Rachel Titcomb stops by to say hello, and places us in the hands of capable staff who immediately help with some selections. Since this is a south-of-the-border joint, and since I learned much about tequila and mescal last year in Mexico City, I start off with the “All in the Fam” tequila flight of Fortaleza Reposado, Fortaleza Anjeo and Fortaleza Blanco, the last the best of the three.
For an appetizer we try a house specialty of tuna crudo tostada, with the raw fish complemented with a rather kicking chili on top, as well as homemade chips and guacamole, which are outstanding. The raw oyster course is served up with flavored shaved ice as well as the traditional lemon wedges and sauce. I’m glad I tried the shaved ice though I’m more of a traditionalist.
For main I go for the breakfast burrito with chorizo, which packs a delicious wallop. The eggs are perfectly prepped, although the potatoes on the side aren’t especially tasty. Victoria selects the enchiladas of duck meat, eggs and spicy tomato sauce, which is good, but I’m glad I went with the burrito.
I didn’t know I still had stomach room for this, but after a short nap, Victoria and I head downstairs at The Langham to Cafe Fleuri for the once-a-week Saturday afternoon chocolate bar. Over 100 types of chocolate treats are on offer, from chocolate soup to crepes to cookies and every other permutation on the greatest crop in existence. Victoria, being English, enjoys hot tea while I have a glass of the iced variety.
Sunny Miloshev, department head of Langham Hospitality Group, stops at our table with Ryan Pike, pastry chef extraordinaire, in tow. Ryan clearly knows far more about desserts than this chocoholic
reporter, and he extolls the energy of his kitchen team that begins prepping the theme of each Saturday afternoon choco-session starting about Wednesday.
It’s been a decadent “second lunch,” and Victoria and I tap out. A chocolate bar is something to dream about, though I must say that for $45 a head, it’s suitable for a special occasion — but well after New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned.
One of the great things about traveling, I find, is meeting up with old friends in new contexts. And so I meet up with California friends Anne and Ron and their son Peter for a round at the nearby Broadside Tavern (99 Broad St, Boston, Massachusetts, 02110, 617/357-8287), which offers a rather healthy selection of beers, especially local brews.
After bidding my friends adieu, Victoria and I head a bit south to see those unfortunate spots along Boylston St. where the two bombs of the Tsarnaev brothers exploded at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding hundreds more. It seems fitting also that not too far from here, at Boston Common, begins Boston’s Freedom Trail, a pathway through the oldest sections of town that saw some of the greatest, and most difficult, events in early America.
Walking north from the Common, we come to Granary Burying Ground, where rest midnight rider Paul Revere, brewer/patriot Samuel Adams — and yes, native son Jim Koch named his for the man who, ironically, was considered a weak brewer among his fellow patriots — Robert Treat Paine, the third signer of the Declaration of Independence, and even Benjamin Franklin, who, though long associated with his adopted Philadelphia, was in fact both born and buried in Boston.
A few blocks farther up the Trail are the Old South Meeting House, from where the Boston Tea Party conspirators — Sam Adams among them — struck out to dump British cargo into the harbor on Dec. 16, 1773. We also pay homage at the Old State House, site of the Boston Massacre, where five colonists — including Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave — were shot dead by British soldiers on March 5, 1770, further stoking the fires of revolution.
Exhibits on the Boston of the late 18th century abound at Faneuil Hall, where the Sons of Liberty gathered to discuss plans of rebellion against London. The Hall, built in 1741, has served as a market and meeting place for Bostonians ever since.
There’s so much more to see on the Trail, including Bunker Hill Monument across the river in Charlestown, but with limited time, I’ll have to leave that for another day.
Victoria and I enjoy a bit of a respite back at The Langham inside the spa, and then, incredibly, it’s time to eat yet again, so off we go back to Cambridge for dinner at the aptly named Puritan & Company (1166 Cambridge St, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02139, 617/615-6195), locally famous for its farm-to-table menu. The space is cozy yet comfortable, with a view into the kitchen from even our far corner of the restaurant.
With a round of cocktails in hand, we set about dining on the house bread served with salt and butter, which is like crack to my palate. For appetizers I go in for yet more New England raw oysters, and we share a plate of king trumpet mushrooms, also known as “oyster mushrooms” given their shape. I’m far from a fungi fan, but I must say these are tasty.
Having consumed much seafood, I’m in a turf kind of mood and go in for the dry-aged pork chop served with celery root, sage and spaetzle. It’s a succulent entree, and I’m oh so sorry when it’s finished. Victoria selects the monkfish, which is well prepared as well (I’m glad I went for the chop).
For the all-important question of wine, Puritan & Co. answers with a bottle of Cos Pithos Rosso 2014 from Sicily. Bliss in a bottle that pairs well with both of our entrees.
For dessert we are served a rather unique entry of red velvet concoction; while I expected a “slab” of actual cake, this is differently prepared and completely yummy, what with its cream cheese and dried strawberries for garnish. I try out the digestif drink course of Amare drinks, which I’m glad I did, though I find it a bit too bitter to my tongue.
Back at The Langham, we head into Bond for a nightcap. This is the bar with all the former presidents on the walls “adorning” money, with the high vaulted ceilings fostering an open space plan. However, it’s rather noisy tonight, rather more a club vibe than bar, and the volume-high speakers seem to be driving away the crowds, which is unfortunate as Bond offers a rather healthy scotch menu.
No matter, as the meals and the drinks have made me pleasantly tired, and we head upstairs to turn in.
Dinah told us during the tour that Cafe Fleuri offers a “power meal” option for busy financiers on the go, and as we have a plane to catch, we are back here for a quick meal to fill us up for the journey back to Washington.
My friend Heather Saunders, an extraordinary editor and colleague of mine from the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) joins us for tea and coffee. Victoria enjoys an egg dish while I try the healthier yogurt and fruit plus a mushroom egg fritata. I must be so full from the weekend as I barely make headway on either pieces of my meal.
Alas, the real world — including that there’s a new president back home — must intervene, and so Victoria and I grab a cab flagged down by the Langham front-door concierge, and a few moments later we are back at Logan.
It’s always hard to say goodbye, and so instead to Boston I will say you offered us a “wicked” weekend.