Monday, May 16, 2022

Clam Box of Ipswich: Excellent Customer Service

Fried Lobster and more Fried Lobster!

We all know lobster prices have been quite high lately, and I've seen lobster rolls at some spots selling for over $50. This past Friday, I had lunch at the Clam Box of Ipswich, my favorite clam shack on the North Shore. On Fridays, they often offer a special, a Fried Lobster dinner and that special was available when I dined there. So, my dining companion and I ordered a Fried Lobster plate, as well as a Combo plate with Fried Clams & Fried Scallops.

The Fried Lobster plate was only $37, and each lobster piece is basically half a lobster tail, so you end up with about three lobster tails of meat. This dish is only a few dollars more expensive than the last time I had this dish, sometime last year, and somehow they have avoided the significant price increases at other places. The dish came with a pile of French fries and onion rings too. The lobster was delicious, with a nice, light and crispy batter, sweet lobster, and some melted butter for dipping. It's a dish I highly recommend, and which I will almost always order if it's available.

When I picked up my order, there was another plate of fried lobster. I was told that the cook felt he had overcooked these lobster tails, so he had prepared me a new batch, which were atop the plater of fries and rings. However, they gave me the "overcooked" ones as a free extra. They could have just thrown them out, or eaten it themselves, but they chose to give it to a customer. What a delightful surprise!

Yes, these were a bit darker and slightly crispier than the other lobster tails, but if they had been served to me, I wouldn't have complained at all. They were still delicious, the lobster was still tender, and the slightly crispier batter was still very tasty. What an abundance of lobster for lunch!

It is this type of customer service which I want to highlight, from the perfectionist tendency of their cook to the generosity of their other staff. They didn't have to make a new batch of fried lobster, and could have just served me the original batch. However, the dish didn't meet their high standards so they chose to redo it. And they didn't have to give me the the original batch too. They didn't even have to tell me what they did. They chose to do so though, and that would impress any customer. It's something that any customer would tell their family and friends. They generated much good will. 

Their Fried Clams & Scallops were also excellent, as usual. And they don't skimp on the seafood.

On one wall of the restaurant, they have an old menu, when prices were far lower than now and they once served ice cream. 

The Clam Box of Ipswich earns my highest recommendation, and this is certainly not the first time I've experienced excellent customer service there. They have always been responsive to any issues with their food, and those issues are a rarity. The importance of customer service cannot be ignored. Their food is also stellar, and their fried seafood has such a fresh and clean taste, and is commonly tender and sweet. They have moved their outside dining area closer to the restaurant, instead of on the other side of the parking lot. With the great weather we've been having, now is the time to make a trip to Ipswich and enjoy some delicious fried seafood.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
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1) Chef/Owner Will Gilson, the De La Boue Wines team, and the Puritan & Co. team invite guests to join them for an upcoming dinner,  a taste of Oregon's wine country in Inman Square, on Wednesday, May 18th at 6:30 p.m. 

Borrowing its name from "nostalgie de la boue," a french phrase loosely meaning a longing for simpler time and "de la boue" directly translating to “of the mud,” De La Boue Wines aims to serve as a reminder that all comes from the ground beneath our feet. Produced in Oregon's Willamette Valley, De La Boue Wines lets nature take center stage by sourcing from local vineyards that follow organic or biodynamic principles in order to maintain sustainable soil and vine health.

Paired with five courses from Chef Will Gilson, the wine pairings will feature:
2020 Chardonnay, Gregory Ranch Vineyard
2020 Pinot Noir, Vista Grande Vineyard
2020 Pinot Noir, Gregory Ranch Vineyard
2020 Syrah, Lewis Vineyard

The dinner is $150 per person with tickets available for purchase HERE.

2) Bistro du Midi is launching the Tour de Rosé to celebrate summer in Boston. Starting on June 3 and running through the month of September, there is a whole new reason to soak in the season at Boston’s only French bistro overlooking the Public Gardens. Executive Chef & Partner Robert Sisca and Sommelier Andrew Thompson are giving guests a whole new reason to drink pink with the Tour de Rosé.

Each month of the Tour de Rosé programming will showcase featured wines from France, USA, and Italy and will commence with a surprise collection of the Bistro team’s favorite selections from the season. Chef & Partner Robert Sisca and the Bistro team will also be offering seasonal small plates such as Ora King Salmon Rilettes (smoked and cured salmon, crème fraiche, chives, sea salt, crostini) and Soft Shell Crab (chorizo, rhubarb, spring peas, pea tendrils, saffron) to accompany the rosé selections. The following monthly features will be available by the glass, half glass and bottle.

June: Rosé Francaise
Terres Dorees Beaujolais Rosé
Chateau Sainte Marguerite Rosé-Provence
July: USA all Day!
Gail Doris Rosé-Sonoma
Bedrock Ode to Lulu Rosé-California
August: Vin Italien Nord et Sud
La Spinetta-Tuscany
Masseria Li Veli Sussumenelo-Puglia
September: Victory Lap
A surprise collection of the Bistro du Midi team’s favorite rosés from the season

3) Chef Michael Serpa’s South End seafood staple Atlántico has launched dollar oysters every weekday featuring fresh, local oysters for one dollar from 4pm to 6pm. 

Boasting an expensive, carefully curated wine menu, guests can enjoy the bivalves alongside a crisp, summer-y glass of blanco. The tasty new special keeps true to Atlántico's focus of bringing the fresh seafood, quality ingredients, and bright flavors of the Iberian Peninsula to Boston diners in an accessible, delicious, and creative way.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

New Sampan Article: The First Chinese Restaurants in Springfield

"The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."
--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

For about two yearsr, I've been contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. It's published in print as well as online, available in both Chinese and English. I've previously written over 40 articles for Sampan, and you can find links here

My newest article, The First Chinese Restaurants in Springfield, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. Springfield was one of the first cities in Massachusetts where Chinese arrived in the 1840s, primarily fueled by the desire for education. In 1901, the first Chinese restaurant in Springfield opened: the Canton, and by 1915, there would be at least 8 Chinese restaurants in the city. They were largely successful, but faced some backlash around 1917 when I union tried to prevent other Chinese restaurants from opening. Check out my article for the full story on these restaurants.

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Monday, May 9, 2022

The 15th Anniversary of The Passionate Foodie

I'm going to open some Bubbly as it's time to celebrate! Today, The Passionate Foodie blog celebrates its Fifteenth Anniversary, a significant milestone. During all those years, I've seen many other blogs come and go, but I've chosen to continue my writing, and to continue to challenge myself. In December, I published my 5000th article and I'm now working on reaching 6000 next. 

I'm very proud of all I've written and accomplished, and I look forward to continuing to write, continuing to share and spread my deep passion for food & drink. I've actually been writing about food and drink for 16 1/2 years, as I wrote for another blog, Real World Winers (since defunct), for 1 1/2 years before I started The Passionate Foodie.

During the past 15 years of The Passionate Foodie, I've learned so much about food & drinks, exploring a wide variety of topics, essentially about anything I can eat or drink. I never wanted to limit my writing to a specific cuisine, type of drink, or other specialty. I want the freedom to explore whatever perks my interest and I know I'll never run out of subject matter. Every time I learn something new, I realize how much more there is to learn. That is one of my favorite aspects of blogging and it helps that I'm a voracious reader and love to research new topics.

My blog has provided me a myriad of wonderful opportunities and experiences, creating a vast storehouse of fantastic memories. I've sampled so much excellent and exciting food and drink, in this country and others. I've gotten to travel to some amazing destinations, including Canada, CroatiaFrance (Bordeaux and Champagne), Spain (Sherry region), Italy (Tuscany & Collio), Portugal (Douro region), Argentina and Chile. In the United States, I've visited a number of states, including California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and more.

I've met so many interesting people, which has enhanced my experiences as I've long said that food and drink when shared is even better. Some of those people have become very close friends, and I think those friendships will last for many years to come. It's been fascinating to meet numerous wine makers, distillers, brewers, wine & liquor store owners, importers, distributors, restaurant owners, chefs, and much more. From each, I've learned something new, which has expanded my understanding and enhanced my writing.

During these fifteen years, what began as a hobby transformed into my profession. I'm now a freelance writer, having been published in a number of magazines and newspapers. For two years, I've been writing a column for Sampan, a bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England, and have written over 40 articles for them. I'm also a Sake educator and consultant, working for a variety of clients, from restaurants to distributors, conducting Sake classes, tastings, dinners and more. 

It has been my pleasure to try to showcase and promote under-appreciated and/or lesser known wines, spirits and other drinks, such as SakeCroatian WinesGreek Wines, Georgian WinesUruguayan WinesPortuguese WinesSherryFranciacortaMezcal, Baijiu and more. I've championed many of these underdogs, all which are worthy beverages deserving of much more attention by consumers as well as other writers. We all need to expand our palates and seek out the liquid wonders that can be found all around the world.

Within the last few years, especially because of the pandemic, I've dedicated much time to researching and writing numerous historical articles about food and drink, and I'm especially proud of these articles, many breaking new ground in our understanding of certain topics. I've compiled links to all of these fascinating articles in All About My Historical Food & Drink Articles

I owe many thanks to all of my readers, as it is their support and encouragement which has helped motivate me to continue writing year after year. I also owe thanks to my family and friends who have been so supportive for all these years. In addition, I am grateful to everyone in the food and drink community, from chefs to wine makers, who have helped contribute, in a myriad of ways, to my blog.  Life is about connections, about the relationships we make, and they all contribute to what we do.

If I didn't thoroughly enjoy what I've been doing, then it would have ended years ago. I find it fulfilling and satisfying, and hope that my passion for food, drink and writing never dims. I look forward to celebrating my 16th anniversary next year, and I hope my readers keep reading me year after year.

If you've enjoyed my articles during the past year, or more, please consider Donating to me through Venmo at @Richard-Auffrey-1, so that I can continue to provide interesting content. My largest expense is the cost of the resource sites that I use, especially newspaper archives, allowing me access to fascinating information which provides the background for my historical articles. Donations also allow me to continue operating this blog without any advertising, which I have done from the start. I appreciate any and all of your contributions.   

It's time to celebrate!

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
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1) Kane’s Donuts is debuting new flavors for the month for May while also bringing back some fan-favorites. The May flavors of the month include Lemon Chiffon Bar, Chocolate Cloud, and M&M. To pay homage to the flavors of spring, Kane’s is debuting a Lemon Chiffon Bar, a light fluffy yeast stick, filled with lemon pie filling, topped with a creamy lemon chiffon frosting and a dollop of lemon filling. For all the chocolate lovers, Kane’s has brought back the Chocolate Cloud Donut, a light fluffy yeast donut, filled with creamy chocolate pudding, frosted with a rich decadent chocolate frosting, and topped with chocolate pearls. Kane’s will also have an M&M Donut for the month of May, crafted with a fluffy yeast-style donut with vanilla frosting and topped with mini-M&M’s. They will be available an all locations of Kane's throughout the month of May. 

2) Krasi Meze + Wine, one of my favorite restaurants, now has the largest all Greek wine list in the entire country. It had been the second largest until Molyvos in New York City recently closed. Sommelier and Wine Director Evan Turner has grown the wine list to over 300 bottles since Krasi opened in February of 2019.  Evan wine list showcases bottles from PDO areas with a focus on the known grapes of Greece as well as those that are more rare and indigenous.

At Krasi, Evan hosts a series called Symposium Wednesdays inspired by the ancient Symposiums in Greece that literally meant "to drink with friends" and were essentially the very first wine tastings. Symposium Wednesdays offer guests exclusive tastings, flights and by the glass pours of Greek wine. This is not a stiff and stuffy wine tasting but it's a unique opportunity to check out cool grapes like Limniona that date back to more than 3,000 years ago and were written about by Homer and Aristotle - and almost became extinct. 

Here is the upcoming lineup for May and June with some notes from Evan....

MAY 11 - WINERY SPOTLIGHT: DOMAINE DE KALATHAS. Jerome Binda, the owner of Domaine de Kalathas is a wizard from Middle Earth. Or I am willing to bet a decent chunk of change that he is, as his wines are magical that’s for sure. Made on the island of Tinos, an island that also looks like it is in Middle Earth, with boulders that are twenty feet high and twenty feet long. The only grapes he uses are native to the island, organically grown, made naturally, and of course, with magic. This is the first time I have featured just one winery for Symposium and I think you will absolutely agree. If I may be so bold, they will cast a spell on you. BOOM! Dad Joke! Cheers!

MAY 25 - MARVEL SUPERHERO SPOTLIGHT. WHAT IF THE AVENGERS WERE WINES. Ok, bear with me. I have been letting my “wine mind” run a little wild lately and have been thinking about what characters in fiction would be if they were wines. The Avengers were just too good to pass up, so I had to do this. Maybe I am being Tony Stark and tinkering where I have no good reason to, but I just can’t help myself. So strap in, get ready to ride through a wine multiverse with your faithful sommelier. Excelsior!

JUNE 1 - CEPHALONIA: ISLAND OF CONTRASTS. Cephalonia might be the most schizophrenic wine location in all of Greece. The island has a myriad of native grape varieties, made into wine by a wildly diverse group of winemakers who seem to follow one of two paths: Either hyper-focused clean wine that show of bright fruit and laser-like minerality or natural wines that are so funky that George Clinton would be impressed by their groove. This will be a wild ride of contrasts so be prepared to have your mind warped a bit. Afterall, a little madness is a good thing.

JUNE 8 - NORTHEAST GREECE: ACTUALLY, THE WILD, WILD WEST. If you want to make wine in Greece and do whatever you bloody well please, go up to Northeast Greece. Between experimenting with ancient grapes and using terracotta amphorae, or deciding that emulating California is the thing, Northeast Greece is the place to be. No other region is as wide-ranging in styles of wine and winemaking. No other place has so many philosophies on what to put in a wine bottle than here. It is a magic carpet ride of flavor and nuance that must be tasted to be believed. Get your glass out, we are going on an adventure kids!

JUNE 29 - WHAT THE ACTUAL F%*@ IS NATURAL WINE? Lots of wineries these days say they create “natural” wine. Well, what does that mean? In today's symposium we will taste through and explain what natural wine is all about. Whether they are white, orange, pink, or red, heck, even sparkling too. Taste through a whole new world of winemaking where what is old, very old in some cases, is new again. It’s like “Indiana Jones”, but with wine and no snakes. You can still bring your whip though, it could get kinky.

In addition, Krasi is offering a great new opportunity as you can now buy Greek wines at retail price! at Krasi. They can now sell their wine retail out of Krasi. They will sell anything they have in stock and is not already cold unless that is to your liking. They also have a wine club that allows you to enjoy a monthly six-pack of rare goodies picked by Evan Turner. Soon, they will also be able to sell those wines online too. Such great news.

Monday, May 2, 2022

A Rant-Free May: Embracing Positivity & Hope

As May begins, I just can't start this month with a Rant. In fact, I won't be posting any Rants at all during this month. Instead, I want to embrace hope and positivity, to look forward to what the immediate future will hopefully bring. 

Summer nears, and warmer weather is on its way. Pandemic restrictions have been lifted in many places and large-scale events, such as wine tastings and food festivals, are being held. People are beginning to travel once again, including journeys to other countries. You can feel the change in people's emotions, an air of hopefulness which brings more smiles. 

Yes, there are still plenty of matters of concern around the world, but we cannot surrender to despair. We can still try to address these issues while also being positive and hopeful. 

Some other reasons to embrace May include a variety of holidays this month. Mother's Day is May 8, a day to show love for our wonderful mothers (although we should also be showing them love every day of the year). May is also said to be National Barbecue Month, National Hamburger Month, and National Egg Month. Get our your grills, slap on some burgers, and top them with a fried egg! In addition, May 25 is said to be National Wine Day, to celebrate all things vinous, while May 21 is International Pošip Day, a celebration of a fascinating and tasty Croatian indigenous white grape. 

Personally, May should be an excellent month for me. The Passionate Foodie blog will celebrate its 15th Anniversary! The traditional gift for such an anniversary is crystal although the modern gift is a timepiece. In addition, I'll be traveling to Croatia on a press trip, exploring the regions of Slavonia and Istria, as well as the city of Zagreb and its environs. I have good reason to be positive this month, and also hope that positivity extends to many other people as well.

Embrace positivity and hope! And what positive and fun matters are you looking forward to this month?

Friday, April 29, 2022

New Sampan Article: Yung Wing & the Earliest Chinese Students in Massachusetts

"The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations.
"
--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

For about two yearsr, I've been contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. It's published in print as well as online, available in both Chinese and English. I've previously written over 40 articles for Sampan, and you can find links here

My newest article, Yung Wing & the Earliest Chinese Students in Massachusetts, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. Springfield was one of the first cities in Massachusetts where Chinese arrived in the 1840s, primarily fueled by the desire for education. In 1847, three Chinese boys, 12 to 15 years old, with him, named Wong Shing, Yung Wing, and Wong Fun (also known as Wong Afeen), came to Springfield for education and they were the first Chinese boys ever allowed to study abroad. One of those students, Yung Wing, would go on to assist other Chinese students obtain an education in the area. Check out my article for the full inspiring story on Yung Wing.. 

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
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1) Due to the complications of the Covid pandemic these last couple of years, New England’s Outdoor Living and Culinary ShowUtopia – is postponed until early November 2022. Utopia’s partners at Massachusetts Horticultural Society (MHS) are hosting a slimmed-down version of Utopia, appropriately-titled Micro-Topia, at the Garden at Elm Bank on Friday, May 6th and Saturday, May 7th, from 10am-8pm each day. 

There will be cooking demonstrations with Chef Evan Hennessy along with Brian Poe of TipTap Room, Crane River Cheese Clube and Parish Café. There will also be food trucks scattered throughout the premises, a book signing from local mixology influencer and cocktail blogger, Katie Stryjewski of @Garnish_Girl fame, and dozens of vendors showcasing their locally-crafted goods which will be available for sale that day. MHS experts will also conduct gardening classes over the two days, and two tiny houses will be on display in the Garden at Elm Bank courtesy of TinyHouse.com.

Where: The Garden at Elm Bank, 900 Washington Street, Wellesley, MA 02482
More Info: Tickets are $20 for each day and can be purchased at https://www.utopiaseaport.com/ Children under 12 are free.

2) Somerville’s neighborhood watering hole, R.F. O’Sullivan & Son, is celebrating its return by debuting the “Early BURG Special” for the month of May. Available weekdays from 4-6pm, the “Early BURG Special” prices each of R.F.’s nine signature burgers at just $10 each, a savings of $4-$6 on each burger. 

The hand-formed patties – seasoned and grilled – cover more classic preparations like The Celtic with lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, pickles and American cheese; BBQ with bacon, onion rings, pickles, bourbon BBQ and cheddar; Bloody Mary with tomato, onion, bacon and sriracha; The Pub with lettuce, onion, tomato and mayo; and Mushroom & Swiss with horseradish pepper sauce. 

Twists on the basic burger are seen in The Greek with lettuce, tomato, onion, tzatziki, roasted red pepper and feta; Don’t Poke the Bear with bacon, maple bacon glaze, fried egg and cheddar; Bacon & Blue with crumbled blue cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo; and The Impossible, a plant-based patty topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

New Sampan Article: Origins of the St. Paul Sandwich

(This photo of a St. Paul sandwich is courtesy of Mark, aka GastroPublico)

"The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."
--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

For about two yearsr, I've been contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. It's published in print as well as online, available in both Chinese and English. I've previously written over 40 articles for Sampan, and you can find links here

My newest article, Origins of the St. Paul Sandwich, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. A St. Paul sandwich is basically "... an egg foo young patty, slice of tomato, pickle and iceberg lettuce sandwiched between two slices of mayonnaise-laden white bread...” The origins of this sandwich are murky, but the most commonly shared legend is that it was invented by Steven Yuen at Park Chop Suey in St. Louis, possibly in the 1970s. It’s further alleged that Yuen named the sandwich after his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. However, is this legend true, and if so, is there proof? Check out my article for the answers. 

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Monday, April 25, 2022

Rant: We Need More French Toast Sandwiches!

The delectable Monte Cristo Sandwich

It's essentially ham, turkey and Swiss cheese between two pieces of French toast, though there are plenty of regional variations across the country. For example, the cheese might be different, the sandwich might be grilled or fried, it may contain spicy mustard, could be covered in powdered sugar, and so on. There might even be a side of jelly with your sandwich.

No one seems to know the exact origins of the Monte Cristo though it's believed to be a variation of the French croque-monsieur, which is basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich that was invented around 1910. The earliest newspaper mentions I found for the Monte Cristo were from the 1920s, and nearly all in California, which might be where the name was coined, although no one knows the origin of that name, and if it truly is related to the Count of Monte Cristo

The first reference to the sandwich was in a California paper from May 1924, which provided a recipe that called for "American full cream cheese" and boiled ham. There was a single reference in the 1920s from another state, and that was Hawaii. The first recipe I found calling for more than ham and cheese was from a 1937 California newspaper, that stated to add  "white meat," such as chicken, turkey, lamb or pork. There's even a National Monte Cristo Day, celebrated on September 22, which was established back in 2015.

For me, and many others, maybe the most compelling element of this sandwich is the use of French toast. What a wonderful and delicious vehicle for the meat and cheese. The eggy texture and flavors of the French toast elevate this sandwich. Without the French toast, this would be a rather boring ham, turkey and cheese sandwich. 

So why aren't there more sandwiches which use French toast? It's extremely rare to find any other sandwich made with French toast and that's plain wrong. It needs to change and offers an excellent opportunity for an adventurous restaurant to blaze a pioneering path to the future of sandwiches. Who will step forward and offer diners unique, scrumptious French toast sandwiches?

French toast would seem a great choice for breakfast sandwiches, but that's an easy choice. Why not a burger on French toast? Many people enjoy eggs on burgers so why not make an eggy bread for it? Or maybe a steak and cheese sandwich? Meatballs? Chicken parm? The possibilities are endless and worthy of experimentation. Home cooks can also try variations in their own kitchens. 

We need more French toast sandwiches!!!

Do you know of any restaurants that make more unique French toast sandwiches?

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Dr. Dane's Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce: Tasty, Versatile & Hot!

Sa Tế is a traditional Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce, and in the Vietnamese city of Huế, they are well known for their use of strong flavors with chiles, fermented shrimp paste, and various sauces. Recently, I've been using a new Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce as a condiment and ingredient for a variety of dishes. It's tasty, versatile, hot and full of flavor. 

I received media samples of Dr. Dane’s Kitchen Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce, including their Vegan version. These sauces were created by Dr. Dane Hoang, a pediatric dentist in Texas, a first-generation immigrant who learned to prepared Vietnamese cuisine in her mother's kitchen. Working with her daughter Isabella, Dr. Hoang has produced a line of Vietnamese dipping sauces and chili sauces. 

The first chili sauce is the Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce (8 oz/$15), a Huế-style Mắm Ruốc Ớt Sã Sa Tế, which is made with chopped garlic, lemongrass, chili flakes, salted shrimp paste and Thai chili peppers. It's also 100% all-natural and gluten-free. without any GMOs, MSG, added preservatives. 

The second chili sauce is the Vegan version, a Huế-style Ớt Sã Sa Tế, which is made without the salted shrimp paste and adds flaked sea salt instead. 

Dr. Hoang states, “We prioritize flavor over everything and are excited to offer the first all-natural line of authentic Vietnamese lemongrass chili sauces. From top-to-bottom, every jar is rich and full of chopped garlic, red chili flakes and heat from Thai chili peppers that is well balanced by zesty lemongrass. It’s our take on the chili sauce craze – inspired by our native city of Huế – that motivated us to create a bold-tasting, crave-worthy condiment that is not overly oily, dried out or inedibly hot.” 

She has also stated, “The infused flavors from lemongrass, chili and fresh spices add a distinct personality, turning any dish into a thrilling and aromatic experience. We’re excited to offer this new line of sa tế that dares to cross all culinary boundaries to liven up dishes around the world.” 

I first tasted the two Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauces on their own, and the first version was spicy hot, with a complex blend of flavors, a pleasant lemongrass element, and lots of umami. Delicious and intriguing. The Vegan version had a similar complexity and fiery heat, but was lacking in umami, likely due to the omission of the shrimp paste. There's still plenty of flavor, but it is different from the original version. My preference was for the non-vegan version as I enjoyed the umami aspect, and believe it also enhances food better due to that aspect. 

The Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce is quite versatile and I've used it atop a variety of dishes, from onigiri (rice balls) to hamburgers. It was also delicious atop stuffed clams (pictured above) and salmon. You only need a small amount to add plenty of flavor and spicy heat. Just be wary that if you use too much, the heat level might be too great for you. Dr. Dane's Kitchen website also provides some recipes you can make with this sauce. You can simply use it as a condiment with almost any dish, or an ingredient to enhance almost any recipe. With summer coming, you could use it on grilled meats or seafood, atop salads, hotdogs, and more. Highly recommended!

In addition, a portion of the profits from the sales of the Chili sauces, and dipping sauces, benefit the Kids 4 Smiles organization and their work to improve communities, schools and the environment. Kids 4 Smiles partners with local and global non-profit organizations to raise awareness and funds for projects which will improve and change people’s lives and spread smiles along the way.

Put a Vietnamese spin on any dish, and enjoy this delicious Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce!

Monday, April 18, 2022

Rant: Should We Have Cat Cafes in Boston?

I have sometimes jokingly complained that Boston discriminates against cats. There are a number of dog parks in the city, and dogs are welcomed on the patios of numerous restaurants. However, you won't find a single cat park or any restaurant telling patrons that they can bring their cats to their patios. Dogs seem to get all the love and attention, and that doesn't seem fair.

However, there's currently plans to open a Cat Café in Boston. A Sanctuary Cafe, Inc., led by Brittany L. Baker, is planning on opening at 80 Charles Street. It will be a "Benefit corporation creating a cafe environment for people and cats to enjoy and provide a living wage for employees." At this point, there seems to be little additional information about this new business. 

There was a prior cat cafe in Boston, in Brighton, the PURR Cat Cafe, which was mired in drama and controversy. It somehow lasted about two years and certainly wasn't representative of other cat cafes around the world. Hopefully, this new business won't make the same mistakes. 

At a cat café, you can get food and drink while watching and interacting with a number of cats owned by the café. Think of it kind of as an adult petting zoo. You can't bring your own cats to the café, but you can pet and play with those that are there. Though Japan is well known for its cat cafés, the first one actually opened in Taiwan in 1998. Cat cafes didn't open in Japan until 2004, the first one located in Osaka. Today, there may be as many as 100 cat cafés in Tokyo alone, some that specialize in certain types of cats, from black cats to fat cats.

Customers generally pay an hourly fee to remain at the café, with extra costs for any food and drink. Though you might have concerns with hygiene, the Japanese, who are are fastidious about cleanliness, have little issue with these cafés. Generally, everyone entering the café must first wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer. The café also have numerous air fresheners, conceal the litter boxes and frequently use vacuums to pick up cat hair. Japanese law also has strict cleanliness requirements for these establishments. Boston should pay attentiion!

Cat cafés are popular in Japan because many apartments forbid pets, and others are too busy to take care of a pet. These cafés are also a way to provide some comfort for those who are stressed or lonely. Beside cat cafés, you will also find rabbit cafés, and there might now be even a few other types of pet cafés. The cats are protected from abuse by the patrons, with strict rules on not bothering or tormenting the cats, especially if they are sleeping. Some cat cafes allow adoption of their cats, often working closely with local animal shelters. 

The idea of cat cafés has begun to spread out of Asia and the first one that opened in Europe was Cafe Neko in Vienna, Austria. Others have since opened in Europe, including the Cat Caffe in Zagreb, Croatia, which opened in 2017. I may try to visit the Cat Caffe when I visit Croatia next month.

I'm a firm proponent that Boston should have cat cafes. There's no reason why, if it's properly operated and regulated, such businesses shouldn't exist. Dog lovers already have plenty of places for themselves, so it is time to give cat lovers a place of their own. Hygiene issues can be adequately handled, and the Japanese have shown how that is possible. Such cafes can be very therapeutic, as petting a purring cat can provide such joy and emotional support. 

What are your thoughts on cat café in Boston?

Friday, April 15, 2022

WeSake: Easy Drinking Canned Sake

White Claw Hard Seltzer is hugely popular and other canned hard seltzers sell very well too. Canned RTD (ready-to-drink) Cocktails are also a big hit. And with the summer coming in a couple months, these canned drinks will be even more popular. They are easy to transport, to carry on a mountain hike or bring to the beach, and there's no worries of broken glass. 

So why not consider Canned Sake as an alternative option?  

I received media samples of WeSake, a premium Canned Sake, and it offers much that those other canned drinks do not. 

WeSake was established by beverage executive Pablo Rivera, who previously worked at ZX Ventures/AB InBev. “Fun and lively nights out with sake are not so easy to come by in the American market, and I kept wondering why something so delicious and drinkable wasn’t more widely available,” said Rivera. “We believe this fresh, exciting and versatile drink deserves to be part of any social occasion. WESAKE was born out of a love for a truly impressive beverage that I hope inspires more to explore the category and the unique space that sake fills.” 

Rivera entered into a partnership with a 280-year-old Japanese brewery in Kobe, although their website and press materials doesn't indicate the identity of this brewery. However, it seems probable that the brewery is Hakutsuru, which was founded in 1743 and is located in Kobe. The rice, the type which also isn't identified, is sourced from local farmers in Tagocho, Japan.

WeSake is a Junmai Ginjo, a premium Sake, which is made from only four ingredients: rice, water, yeast and koji. As a Ginjo, at least 40% of the rice is polished away. This is a quality Sake, and it's also non-GMO, gluten free and vegan friendly. With only a 13% ABV, it might have been diluted more than usual, as most Sake is around 15% or ABV. Their website states: "It is brewed Junmai Ginjo style because it’s elegant enough for seasoned sake drinkers, but also bright, fun and easy for all those who are starting to drink it."

Best served chilled, this Sake is dry, crisp and easy-drinking, with pleasant tastes of melon, peach and steamed rice. It goes down smoothly, is refreshing, and very food friendly. This would be excellent on a sunny summer day, or paired with something from the grill or fried seafood. Its lighter than hard seltzers, especially as it's not carbonated, and it probably pairs better with food as well. 

WeSake is spreading across the country, and generally is available for about $18.99 for a four pack. Why not bring some canned Sake to your next summer gathering, and introduce your family and friends to this intriguing and delicious beverage. Anyone can bring some White Claw, but very few will bring some Sake. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Momosan Ramen Boston At Hub Hall: A Quick Review

The new Hub Hall, located next to TD Garden, has 18 food & drink spots, including outposts of some of my favorites like GreCo and Cusser's Roast Beef & Seafood. The new Momosan Ramen Boston may also become a new favorite.

The notable Chef Masaharu Morimoto, of Iron Chef fame, is behind Momosan, which is intended to showcase ramen, as well as Japanese grilled dishes and bar snacks. The first Momosan was opened in New York City in 2016, and additional locations have opened in Waikiki Beach and Seattle, with another spot planned to open in Brooklyn

Momosan is open for lunch and dinner, and I stopped there recently for lunch. The Lunch Menu is extensive, with Sushi, Cold &  Hot Appetizers (about 20 options, priced $7-$14, with plenty of enticing choices, like Duck Tacos and Spicy Wontons), and Ramen (6 options, $16 each, such as Tonkotsu, Tsukemen, & Spicy Vegan Miso. There are other entrees as well, from A5 Waygu to Poke Don. I could have easily ordered several appetizers, to sample a range of dishes, but wanted some Ramen so chose to opt for only one hot appetizer. 

The Karaage ($12) is Japanese-style fried chicken with a spicy garlic soy sauce. This is a favorite dish of mine, and I often order it at a new restaurant, to compare it with previous dishes I've enjoyed. First, this dish was ample, with plenty of pieces of fried chicken, and was large enough to share. Second, the fried coating was crunchy and flavorful, enhanced by the spicy garlic soy. There was plenty of moist chicken inside the crisp coating, and the dish definitely is near the top of my favorite karaage dishes. 

I also selected the Spicy Tan-Tan ($16), with a spicy sesame broth, miso ground pork, cilantro, scallion and ajitama (an egg). The broth was compelling, with a rich sesame flavor that was nicely spiced. The noodles were cooked just right and the miso pork and egg were tasty. Everything was well composed and balanced, an excellent choice for a hearty lunch. 

I'll definitely be returning to Momosan soon, to try more of the menu, and maybe get some Sake. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Testament Winery: The Dalmation Dog Babić

This painting, The Last Supper, is by an unknown artist and was created around 1710. The painting hangs in a Franciscan monastery & museum in Zaostrog, Croatia. When I traveled to Croatia in 2019, I visited this monastery and museum and got to see this painting up close. Look at the bottom right side of the painting, at the spotted dog lying there. 

Here's a close-up of that dog, which is a Dalmatian. This painting is the first presentation in the world of the Dalmatian dog, and it's probable that this breed originated in the Dalmatia region of Croatia. 

The most recent Croatian wine I've tasted also has a Dalmatian dog on its label, and its name is even The Dalmatian Dog. It's produced by the Testament Winery, a relatively new winery located in Northern Dalmatia, near the town of Šibenik. The original owner planted vineyards, generally indigenous grapes, from 2007-2011, and it was then bought around 2017, by Zhoda Investments, and became the Testament Winery. 

The vineyard, covering about 47 hectares, is organic and the primary grape is Babić. The chief winemaker is Juraj Sladić, whose family has been involved in wine production for generations. The Sladić family winery, Vina Sladić, is presided over by Marinko Sladić, who is ready to pass on the estate to the next generation. Juraj is considered one of the most promising young winemakers in Croatia, and he's been making his mark at Testament. 

The 2018 Testament Winery The Dalmatian Dog Babić (about $25) is made from 100% Babić, also known as Rogoznička. Though its exact origins are unknown, it's been grown in Dalmatia for hundreds of years, and is related to Plavac Mali. Babić is grown in about 4% of Croatian vineyards and one of the best regions for this grape are the hills of Primošten. The grape also does best with lower yields, in less fertile soils, forcing it struggle. It also is age-worthy, and can benefit from some time in oak.

This particular wine though sees no oak, and Juraj's intention was to showcase the terroir without any oak influence. The wine was fermented with seven days of skin contact, and aged only in stainless steel. With a 14% ABV, the wine is dark red in color and has an enticing nose of black cherry, spice and herbs. On the palate, it's medium-bodied, and tastes fresh and fruity, with a spicy backbone and some herbal elements. Ripe plum, fig, and black cherry. Good acidity, a lengthy, pleasing finish and firm tannins. Delicious and satisfying. 

This is a wine that should be paired with food, from beef to hearty stews and pasta dishes. I paired it with chicken parmigiana and it went well with the red sauce, and didn't over-power the chicken. It earns a hearty recommendation and I want to seek out more Babić wines. Hopefully I'll get to taste more when I return to Croatia next month.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Rant: Don't Be An Ignorant Traveler

After the last two years of the pandemic, after facing numerous travel restrictions, much of the world is starting to reopen. Travel is now possible, and I know numerous people who have started to plan trips, whether it's just local, maybe to another part of New England, or to another country. Personally, I'm eagerly anticipating traveling back to Croatia in May.

Now, on these trips, whether it's a short day trip or a two-week vacation, your time is limited at your destination. How do you maximize your enjoyment, considering your limited available time? I think the answer is simple: Research before you depart

Whenever I go on a trip, I do plenty of research beforehand, especially seeking food and wine spots, from restaurants to markets, from wine stores to wineries. I have other interests as well, and will seek out places which meet those interests too. I want to know about some of the best and most interesting places before I get there. I want to know which places are closest to my hotel, those places I can easily walk to and those places I might need to drive to, or take a taxi. 

For my upcoming trip to Croatia, I've already been doing my research, finding fascinating spots that will be close to my travels. I did similar research for my first trip there in 2019, and as an example, I found Cahun, a hat shop in Zagreb that made hats by hand. I found a fine fedora there but it wasn't a shop I would have stumbled upon by accident. If I hadn't done the research before hand, I likely would be been ignorant of this place. 

Sure, I like to wander around a new place, to stumble upon place of interests by surprise but,I don't want to rely only on surprise. For that can be a mixed bag, sometimes finding a good place, and other times being very disappointed. And I'd likely miss some fascinating spots that never came within my usual travels. I want to minimize my potential disappointments, so I do my research first.

I might visit an area only once and never return, or not until years later. Thus, I want to experience the best of that area that I can, and that is unlikely to happen without research. A prepared traveler is more likely to have a better and more thorough time, getting to sample the cream of a city. I strongly doubt I could get lucky and just stumble upon all of the great places. 

There are some places you might never stumble upon, because they are hidden away, in more remote areas. They might be well off the established tourist routes, or simply difficult to find as they are but one of dozens of similar places in the same region. I want advance information and only research will bring that to me. 

Online research about most travel destinations is relatively easy. All it takes is a little time and you will have almost anything you need. Yes, you will have to weed through some useless information, but the search is more than worthwhile. It has definitely made my prior journeys so much better.

So why do some people remain ignorant travelers? Why do they fail to do the proper research before traveling? Why take such a huge risk, especially when you may only get a single opportunity to explore a new region?

When you travel, do you do research first, or just wing it?

Friday, April 8, 2022

Lulu's Bakery & Pantry: A Scrumptious Salem Site

Corn bread and cupcakes, biscuits and croissants, chocolate desserts and pepperoni rolls, an epic Whoopie Pie, and so much more! 

In February, Lulu’s Bakery and Pantry opened at 285 Derby Street in Salem, close to Pickering Wharf, and it's open every day from 7am-7pm. This new bakery is owned by Nikki and Jim Economides, both who have been involved in the food and restaurant industry for many years. I was initially invited to visit the bakery as a media guest, and I've also returned two more times to buy and taste more of their baked goods and desserts. I plan to return there often as I've impressed with their delicious products.

Nikki is originally from West Virginia, and the bakery pays homage to her roots in a number of ways, while Jim is from Ipswich. Nikki graduated from Johnson & Wales, worked for the Finale Restaurant Group, and eventually launched her own confectionary, Fixx Chocolates. Jim graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, worked at a number of Boston area restaurants, and co-founded the All Star Sandwich Bar.  

Nikki and Jim initially wanted to open a candy shop, to sell the Fixx chocolates, but that concept evolved over time, as they decided to enlarge the scope of their endeavor. Around 2019, they opted to open a bakery and as they worked toward that goal, the pandemic struck, causing all sorts of difficulty. They persevered though, battling the significant obstacles that arose, trying to make their dreams a reality. In January 2021, they finally found the Salem location, and decided that it would fit all their needs. 

The location required plenty of work to make it business ready, and Nikki and Jim ended up doing a significant amount of work on their own, from painting to laying down the floor. High construction costs and the unavailability of contractors were still obstacles they had to overcome. They had originally hoped to open prior to Thanksgiving, but were delayed until this past February. Opening any food service business during the pandemic is a risky proposition, but Nikki and Jim wanted to see their dream come true. 

On my first visit to the bakery, I spoke with Nikki and found her to be personable, passionate and down-to-earth. I've also met Jim and he seems just as nice. Nikki grew up on farms in West Virginia, and there are numerous aspects of the bakery which pay homage to these roots, from pepperoni rolls to the decor. Some of those touches are more subtle, but add to the overall ambience. Nikki's objective with the bakery was to make it a comfortable and approachable place, less fancy than the former Finale's Desserterie. 

All of the recipes in the bakery are Nikki's, some inspired by recipes from her grandmother. Nikki has a myriad of new baked goods and desserts, such as more cakes with a Southern influence, she wants to create and try out, but she's had to restrain her desires a bit. As they have only been open a couple months, adding many more items to their menu would make it tough on the staff, who would have to learn how to prepare all of those new items. It's still too soon to add too many new products, so, additional items will be added, but more slowly over time, to ease the learning curve for her staff. 

If you examine their displays, you'll find they already offer a wide variety of items, so there's no immediate need to add a large number of additional items. Everyone who stops at the bakery should find plenty of tempting treats. Your biggest problem might be trying to decide which items to buy, but that just means you'll need to return to buy different items on future trips. I'll also note that if you purchase 6 or more items, you get a discount of 10% off your order. And it's easy to find six items you'll want to try.
 
Have you ever had a Pepperoni Roll? It's an iconic West Virginia food, available in nearly every gas station and convenience store in West Virginia. It's alleged that the pepperoni roll was invented by Giuseppe Argiro at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia, in 1927. They became a common lunch option for coal-miners, especially as they didn't require refrigeration. It's a relatively simple dish, a soft roll with a layer of pepperoni baked inside. They are usually eaten as is, although sometimes they are topped with a tomato sauce with roasted peppers. 

The bakery sells Pepperoni Rolls, Pepperoni & Cheese Rolls, and Vegetarian Rolls ($1.95 each). I've tasted the first two, and enjoyed the soft, fresh rolls and the thin layer of slightly spicy pepperoni, with some of the oil soaked into the interior of the bread. They are fine as is, although I've also warmed them up and that's tasty as well. A very good value for a easy snack.

Corn bread and Biscuits! The Corn Bread is made with creamed corn and cheddar, and is a little sweeter than many other Southern versions. I found it very moist, with little pieces of corn adding a nice textural element, and it wasn't overly sweet. It had a rich corn flavor, and adding some butter atop it was absolutely delicious. I've gotten some corn bread on each of my visits. 

The Biscuits are light and fluffy, and not as brittle as some biscuits, so they should hold up better in their Biscuit sandwiches. A Biscuit can be ordered with Lulu's Jam, Honey & Sea Salt, Apple Butter or Molasses Butter. The Apple Butter, which is made on the premises (and can be purchased by the jar), was an excellent topping for a Biscuit, with a rich apple flavor and a balanced sweetness. 

They also sell Biscuit Egg Sandwiches, starting at $4, and to which you can add meat, cheeses, and/or veggies. If you don't want a biscuit, they have other bread options like a croissant, hot roll, wheat bread, or crusty sourdough. Other breakfast options include a Yogurt Bowl and Oatmeal
 
Their Cinnamon Rolls are based on a recipe from Nikki's grandmother, and they have that home-made vibe. With lots of cinnamon, a soft roll, and a creamy frosting, it's all well-balanced and delicious, especially when warmed. These are a fine comfort treat, perfect for breakfast or an after-dinner snack. 
 
I was thoroughly impressed with their Whoopie Pies, one of the best I've ever tasted. The chocolate was essentially a moist and rich brownie, a great choice. The creamy filling was also quite tasty, not overly sweet, and well complemented the taste of the brownie. It's very large as well, big enough that two people could easily share it, unless one person was especially hungry. I can't wait to return to buy more Whoopie Pies. Highly recommended!

They sell a variety of Muffins, such as Blueberry Crumble, Apricot Ginger and Banana Nut

There's also numerous Cookies available, including Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Butter, Double Chocolate, and Butter Pecan. The types of muffins and cookies that are available are likely to change day to day, dependent on ingredient availability and seasonality. 

For example, check out these Shamrock Sugar Cookies for St. Patrick's Day.

A couple varieties of Scones: Roasted Pepper & Feta and Mixed Berry & Chocolate Chip. These aren't the usual type of scones you find at many other bakeries.

Croissants and Fruit Tarts. They also sell some other breads, including Whole Wheat Loaf, Sourdough Loaf, Hot Rolls, and Gluten-Free Focacia Rolls. The Sourdough is an excellent choice, with large slices with a crusty exterior and soft, flavorful interior. Great for toast or sandwiches, and I used a couple slices for a cheeseburger. I definitely will be buying more sourdough in the near future.

The Macaroons are either covered with milk chocolate or dark chocolate, and my preference is dark chocolate. The moist, coconut-rich macaroons were enhanced by the dark chocolate, with its slight bitter edge counteracting the sweetness of the coconut. 

The case of chocolate and other desserts is visually appealing, offering much more to tempt your palate, such as the chocolate Indulgence cake. They also make cakes and cupcakes to order, and have even recently created a wedding cake for a customer. Need a birthday cake? Consider ordering one here.

Individual Chocolate Cream and Creme Brulee. If you're making dinner at home, you could pick up some of these for dessert. 

Coconut Creme. This is one of the items I'll order on my new visit.

They sell a variety of Cupcakes, including a selection of Vegan ones.

Fruit Tarts and individual chocolate Indulgences

You can buy jars of their Butters and Jellies, including their Hot Pepper Butter, which in West Virginia is often used as a spread on sandwiches.

Some of Nikki's Fixx chocolates are also available. In general, her Fixx chocolates business has been largely on pause as they establish the new bakery.

As I mentioned, there are numerous nods to West Virginia at the bakery, including their Potato Chips. They sell Mister Bee Potato Chips, which are made in from West Virginia. Local people may not be familiar with this brand, and may not realize their origin.

For lunch or dinner, you can also order a variety of Sandwiches, generally either half or full-sized, and priced from $4-$9.50. Some of the options include Tuna Salad, Hot Dog, PB&J, Ham & Cheese, and Falafel Burger. There are also Salads, Soups, and Sides. Their Chili is based on a recipe from Nikki's grandmother, although with some changes. For example, her grandmother's chili used venison and didn't have beans. Nikki doesn't use venison and does add beans. 

There's also a lengthy list of Drinks available, from various kinds of Coffee to Tea, Hot Chocolate to Juice. Their unsweetened Iced Tea is very good. 

Against the front windows is a wooden pew, in front of a couple tables, and that pew actually came from a church in West Virginia. 

On the back wall are a number of cooking pans, including some family pans from West Virginia. It's cool to see all of these subtle nods to Nikki's heritage, and it adds to the homey vibe of the bakery. 

Nikki's sister sells painted shells, which are displayed at the bakery. You can also buy a Lulu's Bakery t-shirt. 
 
In addition, they sell Roughly a Cup, by Aunt Chelle, which is their family cookbook.

The bakery has been busy since its opening, and they have already been receiving catering orders. Their current top three best sellers have been Biscuits, Fruit Twists, and the Everything Bagel Croissant (available only on the weekend). They have also been selling many cupcakes, and recently added vegan cupcakes to their line-up. On all my visits, the bakery was doing a very steady business. It's easy to understand all their customers due to the quality of their food.

Overall, I'm very impressed with Lulu’s Bakery and Pantry, and each visit I've tried something new, as well as buying some favorites. Their food is fresh, often amply sized, visually appealing, and delicious. I love all the nods to Nikki's West Virginia background, and that adds a unique flair to the bakery. The bakery is dynamic, adding new items on a regular basis, and it will be fascinating to watch its slow evolution. This bakery will be a regular stop for me anytime I'm in the Salem area, and I highly recommend that my readers check it out as well.