Friday, December 15, 2023

2023: Favorite Food-Related Items

What were some of my favorite food-related items of the past year?

Let me continue my lists of my best recommendations and favorite restaurants and food items of 2023, addressing my Favorite Food-Related Items of the past year. This is certainly not a complete list but it's more a sampling of memorable food items I've experienced and/or posted about over the past year. This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more food-related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Culinary School:
 NECAT is a local culinary school which trains people from challenging backgrounds, from ex-convicts to recovering addicts, from the homeless to the chronically unemployed. NECAT fills an important need for culinary help while helping numerous people achieve a better life. It is such a worthy school, helping to transform lives, and it really touches my heart. It helps individuals while also helping the community, and I continue, year after year, to try to raise awareness of NECAT so that its good work can continue and even expand. It's one of my favorite causes and is well worthy of your continued support.

Favorite Overall BakeryLulu's Bakery & Pantry, in Salem, offers a wide variety of sweet and savory treats, including a number with a West Virginia connection. The owners, Nikki & Jim, have excellent culinary resumes, and evidence the passion I seek. Pepperoni rolls, corn bread, biscuits, chocolates, cupcakes, muffins, sandwiches, and so much more. Their large Whoopie Pies are some of the best I've ever eaten, with almost a chewy brownie-like cookie filled with a sweet, creamy filling. Any time I visit the Salem area, I try to stop here to pick up something to take home. Highly recommended!

Favorite Bread Bakery: Mamadou's Artisan Bakery, in Winchester, is my favorite spot for fresh, delicious breads, especially their Sesame Semolina. They also produce excellent Croissants and Chocolate Chip cookies. It's a small take-out spot, open Wednesday to Sunday, and run by very nice people. Get there early each day for the best selection.

Favorite Donut Shop: Donuts With A Difference, in Medford, is an old-school donut shop that still makes their donuts in-house. They make more traditional donuts, and not the fancy ones available at some of the newer donut shops. Their donuts are fresh and delicious, and frequently even still warm. They are also very inexpensive. I also love their Coffee Rolls! 

Favorite Japanese Food Market: Maruichi (with locations in Arlington, Brookline and Connecticut) is an excellent Japanese grocery store, and I usually go to their Arlington location. It offers a diverse selection of Japanese foods, fresh and frozen, as well as plenty of fresh vegetables, including some Asian varieties. Their meat selection is compelling and they have a superb selection of sushi-grade fish. You can get sushi meals, onigiri, and other dishes made in-house. Plus, there's a wide range of Japanese foods, from tea to sauces, candy to chips, breads and pastries, and much more. And their prices are generally very reasonable. 

Most Anticipated New Restaurant: From the Xenia Hospitality Group, which is behind Krasi, Bar Vlaha, Greco and Hecate, will be opening a new location of Greco at the Burlington Mall in 2024. Greco is a fast casual restaurant, specializing in gyros and loukoumades (Greek donut holes). I love their food and it will be great to have this option north of Boston. 

Restaurants I Want To Visit in 2024: At the top of my list is Simcha, located in Sharon, which serves modern Israeli cuisine. The menu intrigues me, and I've heard much positive press about the restaurant. I was supposed to dine there recently, but unforeseen circumstances made me have to cancel the reservation. But, I hope to dine there soon. I also want to dine at Bar Vlaha, in Brookline, which serves Greek Vlach cuisine with Greek wines. I attended their opening, which was excellent, but still haven't made it in for dinner. It's also a very popular restaurant, so reservations are highly recommended. And based on some recent comments from friends, I'm intrigued to visit Mahaniyom, in Brookline, a Thai Tapas Bar. Their Drinks and Food menus have made intriguing options. 

Food History Articles: Since the start of the pandemic, it's been tough for many food writers and some have simply written sporadically, especially those who concentrated on restaurant reviews. For myself, I've continued to devote many hours to researching and writing numerous historical food articles, combing through thousands of newspapers and books. I've especially delved into the origins of numerous foods, trying to seek out their true origins, and not just accepting the unsubstantiated claims of others. Here are the historical food articles I completed this past year. 

Favorite Old Tradition (Which Needs a Revival): In 2022, while researching some other items, I stumbled upon a fascinating old Thanksgiving tradition, having donuts on your Thanksgiving table! This tradition extends back at least to the 1830s, and lasted for over 100 years, until the 1940s. It apparently started in New England, but expanded across the entire country, even to Hawaii. It's time to revive this tradition! For the last two Thanksgivings, I've been having donuts as part of my Thanksgiving table and have been encouraging others to do the same, some who have also adopted this tradition. Hopefully in 2024, even more people will embrace this old tradition. Who wouldn't love donuts on Thanksgiving? 

Saddest Restaurant News: The Tasting Counter, which was one of my Top Three Favorite Restaurants, had to close this summer, due to issues with their landlord. As I've said before, Chef Peter Ungár is one of the best chefs in the Boston-area and I eagerly hope that he will open a new endeavor in the near future. The Boston restaurant scene is lesser without his talents. I know he has been considering his options, and it will be great to see what he eventually decides to do.  


Maine Trip: This past year, I traveled to Maine, to the Biddeford/Portland region, for a weekend vacation, and there were a number of culinary highlights, including:
Favorite Croatian Dishes: In the Spring of 2022, I spent two weeks in Croatia, traveling across the country, enjoying its food, wine, spirits, culture, history, and more. I ended up writing about 50 articles about my experiences, and some of those articles were posted in 2023. That included my Top Ten Dishes From My Croatian JourneyFiš paprikaš (pictured above), Mali Ston OystersTruffle Risotto, Samoborska kremšnita, and more. Croatia should be on your short list of countries to visit in 2024. 

Portugal Trip: I traveled to Portugal this past October, spending a week exploring the regions of the Vinho Verde and the Douro, as well as Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Although I'm still writing about my experiences on this trip, I'll highlight here some of my favorite culinary experiences which I have already covered.
What were some of your favorite food-related items this year?

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