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Lewis’ Bar & Grill
92 Central Street
Norwood, MA 02062
(781) 762-8928

{Google Maps | Website}      

Lewis’ Bar & Grill is one of those places that’s been there forever, but if you’re not from the town of Norwood, MA you’ve probably never heard of it.  It wasn’t even on the list of eateries at my hotel (5 minutes from Lewis’), but the girl at the front desk was able to confirm that the placed I had picked to eat dinner was, in fact a “pretty cool place.”  It was an interesting pick, for sure.  Internet stories of it being a real “townie” place left me fearful that my car with its’ New York license plates would be destroyed by angry Red Sox fans (and I’m not even a Yankees fan!) 

Sam Adams Summer Ale - As Local as it Gets!

My reservations subsided, however when I saw Lewis’ standing at the end of a quiet, tree-lined block in what appears to be a sleepy little Massachusetts town.  I walked in past a door leading to a bar area, and sat at another bar in the back restaurant area.  It was a Wednesday night – day after the All Star Game – nothing on TV, nice & quiet.

I ordered a Sam Adams Summer Ale – one of the best summer ales on the market – and perused the menu.  They have typical bar food – and lots of choices.  When in New England I like to try a restaurant’s clam chowder.  NE restaurants pride themselves on their chowder (pronounced CHOW-DAH), and who am I to deny them their satisfaction?  It was a burger kind of night for me, so I figured I’d try the house burger – The Lewis’ Burger for $8.95.  This signature sandwich is a big sucker topped with mayo, lettuce, tomato, ham, & egg salad.  WHAT??  Yep, you read that correctly.  It was the most talked about entree on the “other” Internet review sites, so I figured it might be good.

New England Clam Chowdah!

The chowder came first.  It was thick and creamy, and slightly sweet.  And for those of you who may be wondering, their chowder is the white.  You NEVER get the red north of NYC. 

The burger is pretty big.  The first bite took me to another planet where flavor rules, and low calorie diets are illegal.  The egg salad adds a nice tang and creaminess.  No need for any other condiments.  Halfway through I remembered it had ham on it too.  The taste of the ham seems to get lost amongst the other pieces of the sandwich.  The beef patty though could stand alone.

The Lewis' Burger

I had another beer and chatted with Chris, the bartender for a little while.  Apparently, had I chosen to eat up front  in the original bar (the back restaurant was added much later) the burgers are even better – in his humble opinion, and they’re cooked right in front of you.  I can’t say I was disappointed in my meal, but that could have been fun to watch.

The burger, soup, and two beers cost me around $27 with tip; not a bad price for a fantastic meal in a pleasant setting.  On my way out I peeked into the front bar again.  It’s a cool looking place – and if this was about history and/or interiors I would have stayed longer.  But I had places to be, and I was full, and very satisfied.

 

 

Linger Cafe & Lounge
533 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217-1913
(347) 689-4813

{Google Maps | Website}

Jessica Pichardo runs from the backyard space of Linger Café & Lounge, her restaurant on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn where she’s chatting up a group of people to say hello to me.  She seems a bit frazzled – the polar opposite of the mood in the restaurant which is more laid back and calm.  But such is life when you run a café in a booming neighborhood; working six long days per week.  But she’s in great spirits, and is genuinely happy with her life since opening the doors of Linger almost one year ago. 

In fact, the actual anniversary is Monday, July 19th.  On Saturday the 17th though they’ll be throwing their one year anniversary bash complete with a live DJ & Break Dancing, art by Chris Mendoza and other local artists partnering up with kids art program for disadvantaged youth, and food & drink specials from 8:00 PM until midnight.  A portion of the evening’s proceeds will even be donated to local arts youth programs.

While this may appear ambitious for a local café, the food and fan base speak for themselves.  Jessica opens the restaurant six days a week starting with breakfast all the way through dinner, and beyond.  Ambition is the name of the game if you want to survive in this fickle market.  She even plays into our community’s obsession with outdoor activities with a film series beginning this month that will be held in the backyard through the summer, and will eventually move indoors.  Films will range from experimental, indie, foreign, horror classics, and cult classics.

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Jessica was kind enough to take a few minutes out of her busy day to answer some pressing questions I had about the restaurant, the one year anniversary, and the surrounding Boerum Hill neighborhood:

What is the concept behind Linger Café & Lounge?
I wanted a nice cross between very sexy parlor living room and modern with the intention of having people seek us out as a respite from the everyday.  You can come in any time of day and just stay for a little while or stay & LingerWe serve food all day; local wine & beer, and homemade baked goods.  It’s just sort of a neighborhood, cozy spot.

What does the cuisine center around?
It’s a mix, really.  We do anything from a really simple sandwich such as our homemade chicken pesto with local free-range chicken.  On the weekends we do a full brunch with poached eggs over shrimp saffron risotto, or French toast that we soak in cream overnight, and serve it with brown sugar, figs, & apples.  Our menu changes a lot.  We have a core offerings, but we like to play around with the rest of it based on what our customers like & don’t like.  It’s important to keep it interesting.

Are you open for weekday breakfast too?
We actually have found that serving breakfast all day works very well for us.  You’d be surprised how many people come in here ordering the Florentine Wrap or French toast at 5:00 in the afternoon.

And you also feature live music?
One of the major things that we’re looking into is making Linger into sort of a community gathering spot, and centering it around art & music.  Every month or so we rotate the art on our walls to feature local Brooklyn artists, and we also have live music a couple days a week usually during brunch.  We’re starting to also have music in the evenings now that the weather is getting warmer.  And it’s also supporting all Brooklyn talent.

Who is your customer?
We are lucky in that we are getting a really wide range of the market.  We have everyone from freelance professionals that live in the area; regulars who stop in for their morning coffee or people who count on us for their weekend brunch. We also have a lot of young couples with kids coming in.  They enjoy the backyard now that the weather is warmer.

What do you see happening in this part of Brooklyn right now and going forward?
 I see a lot of development – more & more people moving to the area.  It’s such a great central location.  We’re on the cusp of a lot of different neighborhoods (Boerum Hill/Fort Greene/Clinton Hill/Downtown Brooklyn/Park Slope) within walking distance.  It’s definitely an up and coming area especially with the Atlantic Yards project happening.  I expect a lot more hustle & bustle over the next few years.  I’m excited about being one of the pioneers in this neighborhood, and one of the things that’s important to me is staying true to that mom & pop, small business sort of mentality regardless of how developed the area may become.

What is your culinary background and inspiration for starting Linger?
As a little girl my grandmother would have me clean shrimp to help her get dinner on the table.  It was a real beautiful bonding experience.  I think food is one of the simplest ways that you can touch people and force them to stop for a second and enjoy something simple.  I’ve always been really comfortable in the kitchen.  I waited tables from the time I was 15 years old, so I’ve always been in the (restaurant) industry.  I always thought that I would open up a restaurant later on in life, but after getting laid off from the Banking industry in 2008 I decided to take the plunge sooner.  I hadn’t been very happy the last few years prior, so this was my chance to really do what I wanted.  It’s been a really satisfying labor of love.

What are some of your customers’ favorite dishes?
The pesto chicken sandwich is easily a favorite.  We use local chicken, homemade pesto, and fresh mozzarella.  Brunch is also big for us – we play around a lot with our poached egg dishes sometimes over a crayfish or shrimp risotto, or sometimes mushrooms cooked down with cream & herbs.  I’m actually making a homemade hash with fried eggs for tomorrow.

Where do you see all of this over the next few years?
We’re approaching our one year anniversary in July, and we’re at the point where we’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t, focusing on tightening up the menu, and getting a positive buzz out there.  I definitely want to be the to-go place for good food and a really relaxed environment.  We’re finding the space being used more & more for private parties which is nice because it supports a sort of familiar, cozy. If I can open up the space for a group of 30 people and really make something memorable for them, I think it’s a nice way ot leave an impression on the community.  More importantly – longer term I really want to see this be a sort of focal point for art & music in the neighborhood.  We’re working a lot with local music – we’re actually starting with The Classical Revolution and their New York City following.  They’re a large group known in San Francisco; classically trained musicians – it’s like a jam session of chamber music.  We were featured in Time Out New Yorka couple of weeks ago – there was a piece on us with The Classical Revolution.  Mostly I want to help people take some time out; smell the roses and enjoy an hour.  It makes all the difference in your quality of life.

Linger Cafe & Lounge is open Tuesday-Thursday, 10AM – 10PM, Friday-Saturday, 10AM – 11PM, and Sunday from 10AM – 6PM.

Casimir Restaurant
103 Avenue B
New York, NY 10009
(212) 358-9683‎

{Google Maps | Website}

The East Village of New York City is often an enigma to me.  It’s far enough off the subway lines to be secluded enough to house a number of what we like to call “hidden gems” – more so than other out of the way locales like the Upper East Side.  Ten years ago the East Village was just turning from the gritty birthplace of punk rock to a hip, trendy neighborhood, and at the same time Casimir was opening its doors for the first time. 

As the resident French restaurant early on in the emerging East Village scene, owner/host Guillaume Blestel has carefully created a dining experience reminiscent of the off-the-beaten-path, family-run bistros that dot Paris’ back alleys.  Blestel, who also owns Zebulon, a café and performance space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, turned to executive chef Blair Hanelt to create a menu of classics and new dishes with a decidedly French feel.  You’ll remember why you loved French Onion Soup after tasting Casimir’s version, with each spoonful featuring a harmonizing soup to bread to cheese ratio.  Salads are also a great way to start your meal with refreshing offerings that range from the simple (Mixed Greens) to Gallic-inspired delights such as the new DaBarry (fennel, radicchio, mesclun, asparagus, green beans and truffle oil dressing), or favorites like the Rambuteau (sautéed chicken liver and sweet shallots over greens), Escartefigue (marinated goat cheese, eggplant caviar, red pepper confit) and Carpaccio (raw beef tenderloin with parmesan, virgin olive oil and arugula).  You can make a meal out of the restaurant’s Paysan Bites, including Casimir Country Pate, Escargots Provencal and Smoked Herring or Grilled Garlic Sausage, both served with warm potato salad.

Tonight my wife & I opted for some traditional dishes.  She started with the Escartefigue salad with marinated goat cheese, eggplant caviar, and red pepper confit for $9, then moved on to the Pan Seared Grouper With A Tomato Saffron Broth, Zucchini, Carrots & Asparagus for $18.  The Grouper was actually a substitute for Striped Bass.  An inferior substitute?  Hardly.  The grouper was flaky and delicious, and perfectly cooked.  “I love the broth,” she declared.

Steak Tartare

I started with a glass of white Cote Du Rhone which if you’ve never tried it, tastes light & citrusy, not unlike a Sauvignon Blanc but with more bite.  Much richer.  Fantastic!  I started with a traditional Nicoise Salad with tuna – a special on tonight’s menu, and special indeed.  Entrees at Casimir all look delicious on paper, except to my wife.  The thought of Steak Tartare made her ill, but when the waitress recommended it to me, I couldn’t resist.  It was served with fries and greens for $18.  It was perfectly uncooked – slightly spicy, fresh, and creamy.  The wife even tried a bite – and liked it!

Other entrees include Filet Mignon (with black pepper cognac sauce), Steak Frites and Steamed Mussels in white wine.  A decadent Terrine de Foie Gras (with croutons and frisee) is a great take on a French delicacy.  There’s also Murray, a brand new chicken dish (organic free-range honey glazed Moroccan spiced chicken with apricot–olive relish and couscous), Duck Confit (with garlic roasted potatoes and frisee) and “La Frioule, Casimir’s rich fish bouillabaisse.  Penne de Jardin (with seasonal vegetables and truffle oil) and Vegetable Couscous (with baby vegetables and harissa) are great options for those seeking meat-free dining. 

For dessert we ordered the Assiette de Fromage (with apples, grapes and nuts) for $12, and Espresso with Pistacio Ice Cream $4.  Both are outstanding, and I highly recommend either.  Other desserts include Profiteroles and Vanilla Crème Brulee, and  Iles Flottantes, literally ‘Floating Islands,’ an offering of creamy custard topped with poached meringue—the perfect way to end a meal.

Casimir’s eclectic collection of French red, white and rose wines, as well as champagne, beer, and spirits including Pastis, Cognacs, Single-Malt Scotch and Grappa, serve as great accompaniments to any meal.  The restaurant also features a creative cocktail list including Le Zebulon (rum, ginger, lime, nutmeg), Le Casablanca (Malibu, OJ, 7UP) and Le Pollux (Stoli Vanilla, Cointreau, Pineapple) and the new Hippolyte (gin, Cointreau, ginger, lime)

Casimir also serves lunch daily, and a weekend brunch.  The $9.95 Brunch Special features entrees such as Brioche French Toast (served with fresh fruit, syrup and sweetened cream), Croque Monsieur or Madame (served with mixed greens) and Tunisian Eggs (3 eggs baked in terra cotta with spicy tomato and feta).  Their a la carte brunch menu features favorites from their dinner menu suitable for afternoon eating, such as Black Boudin Sausage (with apples and mashed potatoes), Hamburger New Orleans (with tartar sauce and bacon) and the popular La Velodrome salad with arugula, parmesan and roasted garlic croutons.

Casimir is open for dinner from 5:30 pm to 12:00 am Sunday through Thursday and from 5:30 pm to 1:00 am Friday and Saturday.  Weekend brunch runs from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.  American Express and cash are accepted.  For more information, visit www.casimirrestaurant.com and become a fan on Facebook.

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Paris!  City of lights!  A destination for romantics, history buffs, and those who crave art, French culture, and of course food & wine. 

The French are a proud people – they love their bread & cheese.  And for good reason.  The bread is some of the freshest in the world.  For 85 Euro cents or less you can buy a fresh baguette at any time of day.  Most restaurants in France are French.  There are sprinkles of Italian, Spanish, Middle Eastern, Greek, and American fast food, but for the most part you will see the stylish Parisians lounging at a cafe – reading the paper, sipping a cafe au lait, munching on a croque monsieur, baguette, salad, or steak.  In the afternoons they crowd the cafes, bistros, and bar tabacs sipping cold beers, casually smoking (cigarettes), and just enjoying some people watching. 

During a recent 10 day visit to this grand, old city my wife & I did our best to mix up eating at fancier restaurants, enjoying Parisian street food, getting in on the people watching, and even cooking for ourselves.  We dined at Chez Denise – a spot recommended by Anthony Bourdain of No Reservations, and Le Gavroche – a local spot that does not normally cater to tourists; in other words if you choose to go, you should know what you’re ordering.  We shopped at the local G20 Supermarket as well as smaller local shops like Boucherie Provins

My favorite part of the French cuisine, more than anything else was the freshness of the ingredients.  In France they don’t use preservatives or hormones, and rather than shopping at Costo or Wal-Mart for canned goods in bulk, the Parisians opt for picking up what they need for dinner on a daily basis ensuring their families will eat healthy, fresh food every day.  Certainly something I could get used to…

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