Jojo’s Playground: Massachusetts

“I’m in love with modern moonlight
128 when it’s dark outside
I’m in love with Massachusetts
I’m in love with the radio on
It helps me from being alone late at night
Helps me from being lonely late at night

“Roadrunner” – Jonathan (Jojo) Richman & The Modern Lovers

In terms of raw numbers, Massachusetts outdid all the states we traveled through in terms of overall activities. With that said, we weren’t able to get done all we wanted to (which actually proved to be valuable information for another undetermined future visit) but we still packed in a LOT in our two-plus days in the Bay State. Taken as a whole, we were pretty stuffed to the gills with awesome activities scattered throughout the region.

House Money: While our planned visits to the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe Houses in New Haven, CT were scuttled due to reduced operating hours, we got in plenty of house touring in neighboring state Massachusetts.

Known as the Witch House, this Salem, Massachusetts located house is was the home of Jonathan Corwin, who in his day had one of the largest fortunes in New England and acted as one of the judges in the infamous Salem Witch Trials. As the only actual building in town that has ties to the original Trials, this is a must stop for the history buff. While photography is not allowed during this roughly 30-45 minute tour, a number of artifacts related to Corwin and the time period can be found inside.

The Salem Witch House, 310 1/2 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 | Tel: 978-744-8815 | eMail: info@witchhouse.info

Fans of Louisa May Alcott especially will find the Alcott Orchard House in Concord, MA, a must-visit. Plenty of material and info on the famed “Little Women” (a book which has never gone out of print since its release in 1869, we learned) author can be had here, but a visitor will find out how talented and unique the Alcott family was for their day.) Like the Witch House, inside photography is not allowed on this roughly one-hour tour.

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House |399 Lexington Road, Concord, MA 01742 | Tel: 978.369.4118

The setting for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel “House of The Seven Gables”, the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion dates back to 1668 and sports its own interesting history beyond the connection with the famed book. As we found out, the Turner and later Ingersoll Families had their own fascinating family lives in Salem and the land that would become the United States – in some ways, the Hawthorne novel is like the cherry on the top of the historical sundae.

Two different tours are available – those folks who aren’t comfortable with being in the sometimes tight spaces within the house itself should opt for the Gardens and Grounds tour (a virtual tour is also available on the house’s website.)

The House of the Seven Gables, 115 Derby St., Salem, MA 01970 |Tel: 978-744-0991 | eMail: info@7gables.org

Farm Eating is the Life For Me: Like I mentioned prior, the best thing about this trip overall was the meeting up with people, both those we had yet to meet in person and those we hadn’t met up with in a long time.

As it turned out, Needham’s The Farmhouse provided a lovely al fresco setting to meetup with friends we had known since the mid-2000s. Open since 2013, The Farmhouse offers up a familiar formula (farm-to-table, rustic yet elegant food) in a pleasing setting; for Columbus-area residents, places like 101 Beer Kitchen or Alqueria would be good comparisons.

Frankly, the meeting could even over tacos and tequila at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican eatery and we would’ve been happy; the slightly upscale atmosphere allowed us to get a little dressy for a nice change of pace. The food, with items like Maine Halibut, Truffle Fries and Beef Short Rib matched up with really nice cocktails, made for a dinner that lived up to the pre-meetup expectations. But like our meetup with Carla Jean Lauter in Maine, the company we had the time to spend a couple hours with was even better.

The Farmhouse | 970 Great Plain Ave, Needham, MA 02492 | Tel: (781) 449-6200

Artists Eat Their Veggies Too: Our final meetup on this trip took place in Cambridge, home of prestigious universities like MIT and Harvard and one of the favorite haunts for artist Bren Bataclan, a former Ohio State University graduate whose whimsical drawings and random art giveaways in cities around the world have made him a favorite of many (including my spouse and yours truly.) When we mentioned we would be in his neck of the woods and asked for suggestions, Bren not only gave us some solid advice, but he also asked if we wanted to meetup (and who are we to say no?)

Founded in 2011, Veggie Galaxy has racked up continual raves and accolades ever since (including Vegout.com’s 2021 designation as Best Vegan-Friendly Restaurant.) Everything on the menu is vegetarian, but all dishes either also come vegan or can be adjusted to be totally vegan.

As we walked toward the restaurant, we noticed that the City of Cambridge had adjusted the street so that there was plenty of outdoor seating for all the restaurants in the area. We got there just a touch before Bren; after our first in-person introductions, we sat down in an outdoor seating area on the street just outside the restaurant (the City of Cambridge has allowed restaurants along Massachusetts Avenue in Veggie Galaxy’s area to set up substantial outdoor seating sections from what spaces that would normally be street parking.)

The menu contains all the stuff you’d expect in a standard-issue diner and covers all three meals of the day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner.) As it turned out, this was a meal where we did not miss the meat at all. In fact, as good as the mains were (the Buffalo Chick’N Burger and Giant Gyro,) it was their house potato salad (I mean, potato salad???) that had us both raving, and one of the rare times I have ended up slightly regretting the tater tots (nothing wrong with VG’s version) as a side dish.

Veggie Galaxy | 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139 | Tel: (617) 497-1513

Double Scoopers on the Dime: Later, Bren introduced us to the liquid life (liquid nitrogen, that is) when we wandered over to sample the frozen confection wares of New City Microcreamery. Originally opened up in 2015 in Hudson, the ice cream maker opened up a second branch in Cambridge in 2018.

The long line headed in promised something delicious, but perhaps the most impressive thing about the experience (outside of the ice cream itself, which was quite good) was the way New City listed their flavors. All flavors were marked with their potential allergens, making it really easy to for those concerned with such to pick out what scoops could be plopped onto one of their waffle cones (perhaps the best way to enjoy their wares.)

Salem also proved to be a place to sample some ice cream, and it was the promise of a Buttered Lobster(!) scoop which brought us into Melt Ice Cream. Founded in 2016 in the old Salem Screamery space by two Grand Rapids, Michigan ex-pats, Melt offers up homemade versions of familiar favorites plus a rotating line of more funky flavors with an emphasis on local sourcing. Best yet for both of us: their ice cream base does NOT use eggs, so we were both able to indulge in a couple of luscious scoops on what turned out to be a very warm late summer day in Witch Town, USA.

New City Microcreamery | 403 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139 | Tel: (617) 945-0279

Melt Ice Cream | 60 Washington St, Salem, MA 01970 | Tel: (978) 826-5703

Pressed For Time: Mini-chains are always interesting to me; like Columbus’s Piada Italian Street Food and Brassica, those that branch out with something unique have that extra oomph that can lead to larger things.

Originating in Nashua, Pressed Cafe now sports six locations in the New Hampshire and Massachusetts area, with two more on their way at the time of our visit. Their Newton, MA location is pretty sizable, with plenty of both outdoor and indoor seating space (the front ordering area can become a bit cramped when the place gets busy.)

Do you need a Keto meal? Vegan? Paleo? Well, Pressed Cafe offers options for pretty much all diets, with an Israeli twist, sporting menu items like a Jerusalem Mezze Plate (including Israeli Salad, Chickpea Salad, Hummus, Labneh and Matbukha), Shakshuka, and Jerusalem Tuna Panini.

I went with their Sabich (Grilled Eggplant, Hummus, Hard Boiled Egg, Cukes, Tomatoes, Amba Sauce, Tahini Drizzle and Schug on a Pita) and needed help finishing it, being so large. My spouse went with the Spanish Burrito (including cheddar, potatoes, onions and peppers, avocado, black bean spread and salsa) was pretty happy as well. Add in a number of smoothies and coffee drinks, and you have a pretty solid concept that we thought could do quite well in a lot of places, including the Buckeye State and Columbus.

Our other notable breakfast can be defined by that bagel/coffee ratio I mentioned in a previous post. We came into Needham’s Cafe Fresh Bagel about the same time as the local morning rush to get to work had started, but as we found out the crew was a well oiled machine, cranking out bagel and coffee orders with efficiency.

The bagel boiling kettle off to the back promised a great bagel, so we took a chance on some day-old bagels for later breakfast and we were not disappointed either them or the bagels we bought for our morning meal. The coffee was serviceable but it was caffeinated; the latter quality was what really counted for our long road trip back to Ohio.

Pressed Cafe | 300 Needham St, Newton, MA 02459 | Tel: (857) 404-0192

Cafe Fresh Bagel | 896 Highland Ave, Needham, MA 02494 | Tel: (781) 444-7444

Random Notes: We’ve walked through and driven in a fair number of crowded metropolitan areas, and by far Boston’s was the most challenging we’ve encountered so far. In other words, don’t expect a last minute trip into the downtown area to see the area’s numerous historic sites and attractions unless you’re willing to fork over a small fortune for whatever parking might be available. Compounding things were Google’s traffic GPS instructions, which turned out to be pretty useless in downtown proper.

The experience was sometimes frustrating but not something in the end we regret: we actually got a chance to grab the lay of the land, including drive-by looks at landmarks like Fenway Park, and our next trip in to visit Boston’s historic sites along the Freedom Trail and similar will either by transit or done with a hotel reservation in downtown itself.

The traffic monster later got to us near Everett, MA, on our way to Night Shift Brewing, what turned out to be one of two brewery stops in The Bay State (we also tried to visit Notch Brewing in Salem, but they were closed on the day of our visit – alas, next time.) Google Maps’ directions didn’t really handle the traffic circle well and what should’ve been 20 minute trip took twice as long. Never was a beer so much appreciated afterward. From what was too brief a visit, Night Shift Brewing, with ample outdoor seating and a lineup that leans toward hazy IPAs but sports other things like craft lagers and Berliner Weisse styles, is a place we’ll need to visit again for a more lengthy visit.

We did get in some quick Revolutionary War era sightseeing when we dropped into Concord and walked through Minuteman National Historical Park. Even if you drop by before official opening hours like we did, there are no restrictions to seeing sites like the Old North Bridge, where the first shots between the British and Colonists were exchanged, and the exterior of the Old Manse, which served as the town’s center for all things political and literary for more than a century.

Staying in the Concord area, the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is the town’s only and still active cemetery. Some of the most famous authors in American literary history are interred here, including but not exclusively limited to Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

We dropped by Massachusetts’ coast to do a lighthouse comparison – which Marblehead Lighthouse was the more pretty? As someone who can be pretty neutral about the comparison, I’d say the Ohio Marblehead Lighthouse is the more aesthetically pleasing structure, but in terms of the surroundings, most would probably prefer the ocean-enhanced surroundings of the lighthouse in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

A Foodie Foursome: Our first in our foursome lies in Somerville’s Bow Market. Part of the redevelopment of the neighborhood’s Union Square, Bow Market may remind locals of similar places in the area like Faneuil Hall, but the creators of this food vendor/pop-up/artist and retail center actually wanted to evoke the markets of Marrakech, Morocco, which typically feature compact stalls and numerous courtyards.

Indeed, a central courtyard and lots of local artwork greet you as you walk into the space. The COVID situation has curtailed hours for some of the food vendors, but we found more than enough places to make the choice a bit of a tough one. Eventually, we decided on a fairly unique twist on Egyptian food with the vegan wares of Koshari Mama; we wandered with our Koshari and Mushroom Shawarma (both unique tasty) into Remnant Brewing, whose Bow Market microbrewery was opened in May of 2018. Remnant does not serve food, but allows you to bring in any food you order from the Market inside to enjoy with draft beers from their 7-barrel system.

Meanwhile, the sign of Salem’s Gulo Gulo Cafe was one of the first things in the town that caught my eye – growing up, that term was used by my parents if I or any of my siblings were being squirmy or troublesome. As it turned out, the eatery was the perfect destination for a light lunch and a craft beer – their Hummus Plate with all the veggies and their Dip Trio (including a vegan boursin) were lovely appetizers which replenished us after a lot of walking on a warm, humid day.

The Twisted Tree Cafe in Lincoln, MA, offers up some better-than-average coffee drinks and a wide-ranging coffeehouse style menu with a number of vegan/vegetarian options. The building complex which the eatery sits has some outdoor seating options available, which we took advantage of the day of our visit.

The last of our foursome and only dine-in-the-hotel meal in the state was our most favorite dine-in meal of the entire trip. Nezahualcoyotl (The Hungry Coyote in English) was known as The Poet King in Aztec lore, and the restaurant which shares his name in Needham offers up all the usuals plus some “Hidden Specials” like Gringas and Gorditas. We opted for their custom bowl options with their Al Pastor and Carnitas and were not disappointed.

Finally, this is the first trip we’ve taken where we’ve stuck with the same hotel chain. As we’ve gotten older, comfortable beds have become a priority, which are the norm throughout their entire Marriott Hotel line that starts from their bargain brands like Fairfield Inn on up. We’ve always had quality service at all of their lines of hotels no matter where we’ve stayed, and barring anything unforeseen, we’ll be looking out for what’s available in the Marriott line first no matter where we travel.

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