When the Ship Comes In

We had couple more historical sites to take in before it would be yet reasonable to eat again. We happened upon this formidable building which housed Salem’s Custom House. The doors were wide open and it was free, so we climbed on up the granite stairs.


Salem Custom House

I knew almost nothing about the purpose of a custom house, but I gleaned that it had to do with taxes. Bingo! I was right. This was the place where taxes on imported goods were first collected for the British Government during the Colonial period, then for the American Government after the establishment of the U. S. Customs Service in 1789. So much for the Tea Party.


View from the second floor.

There was a gentleman there leading informal tours. The furnishings were preserved and displayed as if it was business as usual in 1819. Interesting fact we learned from the guide: the workers had to bring their own desk and chair from home. The most notable employee of the custom house was author Nathaniel Hawthorne. We’ll lean more about him later.


There are displays of all the ways the Custom House officers weighed, measured and assessed the value of the goods being imported, down to the level of alcohol is the booze barrels.


Tools of the trade.


Medieval torture device? Not sure how this one worked


If you couldn’t pay, your stuff was locked up until you got the cash.

Also on display was the chronicling of the restoration of the gilded Eagle that was atop the building. It had begun to crumble and was too fragile to be left outdoors any longer.


The original Eagle cost $50.00


Casts were made and a new fiberglass replica was created, which is now perched atop the  Custom house.


The old Eagle is restored and kept indoors, still admonishing us to pay up!!!

Our next stop was sorta historical. Okay, maybe I’m stretching the definition here, but it’s a bar that has the oldest running live music program in Salem. That’s something, right? We dropped in for a quick tipple.


In a Pig’s Eye! I just noticed the street sign. :)


Total dive bar. Love it!!!!


Music seven days a week. Impressive!!!

I found this little bôite through the Salem city website. I have to say, it was pretty cool. It had a neat feature where you can tick off from a list what sorts of things you’re into and  it generates a bunch of suggestions. I chose food, beer, maritime, and history, if that’s not already been made pretty clear. One of the suggested destinations was, of course, the House of Seven Gables.


The admission was pretty reasonable at $13.00. Once we entered the property, the gardens and views were worth it alone.


Gorgeous garden displays.


Ocean View!


Duck statue. Significance unknown.


I have serious lawn envy.


Lovely shaded seating. Bet it’s gorgeous lit up at night.


I love being near the ocean. Not in it, just near it.

We were not allowed to take any photos inside the house. I’ll tell you, our tour guide was great. We had a group of about 15 people and he lead us about the home spouting out all manner of facts. The history of the House and Nathaniel Hawthorne is long and complex. Here’s a succinct breakdown:

The house originally had seven gables.  

When Nathaniel Hawthorne visited there it had three gables.                                                                          

He was told tale of when the house had seven gables.                                                                                    

Hawthorne was inspired to write The House of Seven Gables

Centuries later, a new owner was inspired by the book to restore the seven gables.                    

The house now has seven gables along with rooms from the book that were not in the real house of seven gables.

Now, you are up to speed.

I failed to mention earlier that while the city itself was lovely, the roads were a right mess. It seems that the city planner decided to dig up and repave every road in the environs. This city is going to have the bestest streets… in two years.


Construction zones everywhere!

With all the digging up, the old cobblestone streets were left exposed in patches. What a shame that these will be tarred on over again. Although, I can well imagine the day when the streets were first paved a hundred years ago. The people must have been so thrilled to ride in their carriages without their teeth getting rattled!


A bit of history at our feet.

It was getting near grumbly tumbly time so we looped back around towards Pickering Wharf for dinner. On the way by I spotted a shop that was on the to do list.


Joe’s Fresh Fish

This was not a fish monger, but a tackle shop that also sells some curious art. These fish prints are made by painting and using the fish like stamps. Sounds gross, yes, but the result was quite stunning!


A tackle shop avec art store.


A Fish Tale!

And just like that, it was time for dinner. I found this spot from review sites. It had its charms, but we didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as our lunch at Sea Level.


Victoria Station menu, kinda pedestrian.


The view was nice, but not stunning as before.


Wine smooths everything over.

We had a couple of appetizers which were just fine. I failed to take pictures because I kind of thought we might move on, but as the evening unfolded, we got settled in a decided to stay. There was nothing wrong per se, there just wasn’t anything enticing or unique on the menu. We just decided to go all traditional New England and get the good ol’ surf and turf.


Thar she blows, y’all!

This was all just fine and tasty. The prime rib was a bit beyond medium, but the crust had a nice season to it. The lobster was cooked just right and the claw was huge. The “seafood stuffing” was 95% Ritz cracker, but who doesn’t love buttery ritz jammed into a lobster carcass? It filled us up just right. If I were to do things over though, I would have headed back to Sea Level for the food, view and beer selection.

We finished our dinner just in time to take a leisurely stroll and catch the sunset at nearby Derby Wharf.


Derby Wharf Light Station has stood on the end of Derby Wharf since 1871.


Originally, the light was powered by an oil lamp. Today, the light is solar powered.

The sunset put on a spectacular show for us. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.




Our quick trip to Salem was as educational as it was relaxing. We’ve been so busy that it’s taken me well over a month to jot out these few pages. I do think we’re due for another mini-get away soon.

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August was looking to be quite a busy month for Mr. Jones and me. We had just a few unscheduled days in the coming weeks so I decided a quick day trip before all the craziness was in order. I wanted to find  a seaside town that neither of us had visited before. A quick session on the interweb led me to Salem Massachusetts. Now, I don’t go in for all that witchy stuff, but the maritime history along with the prospect of enjoying some manner of seafood whilst overlooking the ocean was enough of a draw for me. Armed with a scant bit of research, we headed northeast  for the day!

We set out around 10:30 to avoid the Boston traffic (and because I can’t drag myself out of bed before 9:00 unless I’m getting a plane to go to Disney) which landed us in Salem just before noon. Perfect, let’s eat!


Sea Level Oyster Bar

This spot was well reviewed for it’s food as well as the stunning views.


I had to agree.


Fresh and tasty choices


Adorable denim napkins


We started with a bright, citrusy beer.

We were thinking long game when we ordered here. We decided to keep it light so we could try more of what Salem had to offer. I had a lobster quesadilla appetizer.


A tasty start.

While these were not overflowing with lobster, they were flavorsome and well paired with the sharp a arugula salad.  Jeff went with the fish tacos. When he ordered, the server asked if he wanted them prepared with the “Fish of the Day”. He approved of the idea. Just as she was stepping away he asked what that fish was, just out of curiosity. She said, “baby octopus”. Oh my. Now, we’re up for octopus, squid or what have you, but I can imagine there’s plenty of folks who would be quite alarmed when their fish tacos arrived looking like this:


Not for the squeamish.

These were quite good. The mango salsa had just the right kick to balance the sweet fruit. There was also a nice bit of cabbage slaw for some crunch. The Octopus itself was nicely seasoned and rather tender, however it was still quite challenging to manage a bite without some struggle. I would recommend that the chef slice those lil’ guys up for easier consumption. All in all, a great start to the day.


A quick trip to the Loo. The ladies’ room door adornment.

Fortified, we were ready to traverse this historic city.


That’s a whole lot of points of interest.

Like the Freedom Trail in Boston, Salem has it’s own self guided walking tour. However, the path is just a painted line rather than the cute brick paths in the North End.


Gets the job done.

As previously mentioned, the witch aspect was not of interest to us, however, we did cut through one of the tacky gift shops on the way by. The wares were eclectic.


Who doesn’t need a chandelier made of the skulls of their enemies?


Namaste, Witches!

Our first visit was to the city’s oldest cemetery, The Burying Point.



I’ve always found reading old grave stones fascinating. It’s easy to forget how difficult it was to survive into your golden years in this time in our history.


Thirty years old


This family lost three babies.

The wealth of the deceased can easily be detected by the ornamentation of the head stone. This young woman was a captain’s wife.


This family could afford to inscribe a lengthy poem as well.

So many families lost multiple children.


The poem on this marker reads: “Lay still, sweet babies and take your rest.          We trust in heaven that you are blessed”

Adjacent to the cemetery is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. The memorial was created by artist Maggie Smith and architect James Cutler who based their design on the theme of  injustice:


Dedicated to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials.

The memorial consists of 20 granite benches surrounded by a low stone wall. Each bench represents one of the victims of the trails.  The stone slabs are inscribed with the victim’s protests, which were taken directly from the court records. The inscriptions say:

“For my life now lies in your hands”

“On my dying day, I am no witch”

“God knows I am innocent”

“Oh Lord help me”

“I am wholly innocent of such wickedness”

“If I would confess i should save my life”

“I do plead not guilty”

There’s and interesting push and pull in Salem between the injustice of the Witch hysteria of the 1600’s and the glorification of all things Witch. The protestations of these victims attest that these citizens were indeed not witches and were falsely accused. At the same time, the city is a hub for current day self-professed Wiccans. I guess the take away for us today may be that no one should be persecuted solely for being different, whether in perception or in actuality.

We took a little rest in some comfy adirondack chairs in the heart of Lappin Park. This is tucked into a nice square that has a lot of shops and restaurants, with limited car access.


View from Lappin Park looking into Barton Square.

It’s here that you can find another memorial to a certain witch that has caused a bit of a kerfuffle.


Bewitched Statue

Some folks believe that this fictional TV character may diminish the gravity of Salem’s history. I believe that it is just plain ugly.


Whoof! That’s terrible likeness.

As we made our way back toward the water we happened upon an art installation at the Crowninshield-Bentley House. This house is a historic property stewarded by the nearby Peobody Essex Museum.


Crowninshield-Bentley House + Jeff

Just to the right  of the home stands a StickWork piece by Patrick Dougherty entitled “What the Birds Know”.


“What the Birds Know”

These pieces are constructed using saplings that are collected locally by volunteers. As you walk around and through the structures, the perspective changes markedly.


The static structures seem to sway with the swirl of the design.


Looking up from inside a structure.

For a look at how these and other structures are created, check out and the video below. It’s just about three minutes. Fascinating stuff.

Next Up: So you think you know Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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Rolling Home

We left the shops blissfully unaware that we had narrowly escaped the wrath of the Bar Harbor Troll. At this point we were still only in the market for a beer. Sadly, every pub we encountered was closed. We happened … Continue reading

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Keep on the Sunny Side

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After our initial panic about arriving too late to be checked in, we were so happy just to have a place to land. When we finally rolled into the Castlemaine Inn it was well past 11:00pm. We were so completely exhausted, … Continue reading

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Every Mile A Memory

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We made our way back east to our lovely hotel. We were thinking of stopping by a pub for a quick one to commemorate the day, but we also had to watch the time because would be playing a show … Continue reading

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Prince Edward Island is Heaven to Me

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Today we would be carrying out a mission. The whole reason we planned this trip was to bring my dad back home. We had been on the island for a good twenty four  hours and had been wowed by the … Continue reading

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Where am I Going?

After a recuperative overnight at the Chateau Saint John, we were ready to make the next leg of our journey to Prince Edward Island. The vistas became more and more scenic as we moved northward. When we crossed the border … Continue reading

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Going North

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When we lost my dad last February, we almost immediately planned this trip. Dad was born and raised on Prince Edward Island. Though he moved to Boston as a teenager, he returned many, many times to his beloved PEI.  It … Continue reading

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Escape Route

Christmastime for our family has become less about stuff and more about experiences. For the past few years I have done my best to plan an outing of sorts that had the potential to  surprise and delight our now young adult children. Some have been more successful than others.  I was running through ideas for this year’s activity when I heard a podcast review of something call an “Escape Game”. I was completely unaware of this phenomenon. Apparently, there are escape rooms dotted about the country, usually in cities,  where you pay someone to lock in a room for an hour with the slim chance that you can figure out a series of puzzles and clues which will allow you to well, escape. I was intrigued. I did some research and discovered two such rooms in the Boston area. One, which had the puzzle type elements I had previously mentioned and another, which has the horrifyingly intense addition of a chained up zombie which looms closer and closer as the clock runs out.  We passed on that one, thanks. I don’t need that kind of pressure.


No pictures allowed in the rooms. Just the lobby.


Some tools to limber up the noggin.

I won’t keep you in suspense. We didn’t make it out. We got down to the last task but we really needed another ten minutes, at least, to figure it out. They do a really good job with these puzzles and clues. They are certainly solvable, but clever enough to make it a real challenge. If you’re on the wrong track you may simply get stuck even though they do throw you some hints from time to time. Here’s a few words of advice: The room holds up to ten people. We were a party of five so we expected to work with another team, but they never showed. I was happy because I wasn’t keen on being with a bunch of strangers, but it became clear that having more people will help get through the clues faster. Second, it’s super dark in there. You are asked not to take pictures, but you can keep your phone and use it for a flashlight, thank goodness. All in all it was a fun time and worth the price of admission. I think we’re making good memories here. We’ll find out when the kids write their memoirs.


Can’t win ’em all..even with TWO engineers in the group!

Next on the agenda was dinner. Unlike previous years when I was numero uno in charge, my daughter Meghan piped up and chose the restaurant for our feast, Boston Chops. This bistro can be found on a list of 50 Boston Bucket list restuarants, specifically for the 18 oz. Bone-In Ribeye Steak. Sounded great to me!


Boston Chops


Slick Bar

I hastily took a few pictures, (see above) but in an effort to not embarrass my family too much, I refrained from taking  photos of the dining room. Instead I lifted one from the ‘net.


This’ll do.

The atmosphere of this upscale steakhouse was well, a bit uneven. The design was beautifully simple and elegant with a bit of a masculine touch which was perfectly appropriate.  However, there were a few oddities which I’ll touch on here and there.


Unique table presentation.


You know everyone tries this on as a wrist cuff.


Sturdy, attractive silverware.

Here’s an example of something that didn’t belong: the laminated menu. Granted, the offerings probably stay pretty constant here so they might not need to print up new menus frequently, but a plastic, placemat-style menu just did not match the caliber of the restaurant or the prices therein.


Shall I have the $135 Chateaubriand or the Grand Slam Breakfast?

We started out with a cocktail which was extraordinary. I couldn’t find the description online, but suffice it to say it’s a blend of rye, ginger beer and pure golden sunshine. I can’t remember the last time I experienced such a well balanced aperitif.


Well done, Mr. Mixologist.

Instead of a basket of bread, we were each presented with a heavenly, warm, eggy popover.


Delightfully cute presentation.

Whilst we await our appetizers I’ll take a moment to mention another quirky element at Boston Chops, the music. With the mature, upscale surroundings one would expect to hear some jazzy piano or Ole’ Blue Eyes emanating from the sound system. Instead, they played loud, drubbing club beats. It was quite obnoxious and did not suit the room at all. We coyly asked if they might switch it up but our server said he’d been listening to this, ahem, music every day for years. Guess it ain’t gonna change.

On to the food!  I will tell you right now that there was literally nothing about the food we experienced that was fell short of expectation. We started with a selection from the “Rarely Celebrated” section of the menu, where you can sample things such as tongue, heart, cheeks and oxtail. We went with the Bone Marrow. It was superb!


Roasted Bone Marrow: Gremolata | Onion Broth | Grilled Bread

Next, Jeff asked for a dozen of the oysters of the day. They very nicely split them onto two serving plates for easier sharing. Bravo!


One of the plates of Oysters. Fresh and sweet.

Lastly, it was highly recommended by Meghan that we get the Pork Belly Mac and Cheese. It sounded so good we got two. It’s a bit of a misnomer because the pork belly element was just a small cube nestled on the top, not  incorporated all throughout. That being said, it was slap your mamma delicious! Not heavy or greasy, just perfectly balanced cheesiness.


So flippin’ good!

Now for the mains. This is where your bill for the evening will turn from a bit pricey to the “take out a second mortgage” range.  This is a high end steak house and as is standard in such places, the cuts of beef are prime aged, served a là carte and quite expensive. The side dishes are just as much the star of show here! The portions are generous enough that table mates could easily share two or three.

Without further ado…


18 oz  Prime Bone-In Rib Eye. Humina Humina.

This was Mr. Jones’ dinner. I had a taste, you better believe it and it was absolutely scrumptious! Perfectly seasoned and spot on medium-rare temperature as requested.

Now, the sides…


Duck Fat Fingerlings with Lardons

Oh my. These potatoes were gorgeous, with huge chunks of spiced bacon lardons. Amazing. The brussels sprouts below were also “au canard” or cooked in duck fat, but they buried the lead on the menu because…more bacon!


Brussels Sprouts Au Canard

In addition to the prime a là carte steaks, there are composed plates to choose from. I decided on the bone-in filet. The beef was not quite as mind blowing as the ribeye, but spectacular none the less. I have to say, ranking everything on the plate, I would put those mushrooms number one. Holy Umami! However, I was reaching my limit by this point.


10 oz Bone-In Tenderloin- Potato & Goat Cheese Croquette | Asparagus | Béarnaise | Mushrooms


Left- overs made a great breakfast in the morning.

Before we wrap up I’ll share the last quirky thing about this Bistro. The super weird art work in the bathrooms.



Let’s take a minute to break this down. Here we have three super-hot chicks, along with one douchey dude (seemingly ogling on of the ladies’ bozooms) and a somewhat androgynous (fellow?) in the back, out for an evening at Boston Chops. No problem. Upon closer inspection you’ll notice that they haven’t eaten anything due to the rolled-up, signature napkins still nestled in their leather cuffs. Despite their empty bellies, they’ve seemingly polished off  TWO bottles of champagne along with approximately  TWENTY shots !!! What the H-E- double hockey sticks is going on here? Is this what they’re going after with the club music?  Do they want people to think of this place as a classy restaurant or a sleazy Las Vegas night club?



Snarky critiques aside, this was an absolutely tremendous meal with service that was friendly, yet formal, which is just what you’d expect from a place of this pedigree.  We had a fantastic evening and I’d certainly keep this place in mind for a special night in town. Maybe next year, after we attempt to escape the Zombie Room, we’ll try the brains…

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Boston Rose

We were about a week overdue in celebrating Jeff’s birthday. Our summer music schedule was delightfully full this year. The bulk of our shows were in Boston which meant a lot of travel, traffic and occasional colorful language from Mr. Jones, so I was surprised when he suggested we head into the North End for his birthday dinner. Where parking would be an unknown factor for this jaunt, we decided to make use of the public transit. We are not very MBTA savvy, but luckily our city girl daughter is a train ninja so she talked us through it. Speaking of our girl, we took a quick trip over to the Back Bay for a visit and a little wireless network help from Dad.


The girl’s street. Pretty sweet. That’s a poem.


Late summer planters showing their glory.


Slumming it on the stoop, waiting for Meg.

With the network back online we headed on to the North End. For those of you who aren’t from around these parts, this is the famed area of Boston where one can partake in all sorts of authentic (after navigating around the tourist traps) Italian food and culture. Nearby you’ll also find the historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace and just steps from there, The New England Aquarium as well as Rowes Wharf. This is all navigable via pedestrian friendly walkways and dotted with beautiful green spaces and seating areas.


Rose Kennedy Greenway


Splash Fountains.

This is no longer the “Gritty Boston” of my youth. This beautiful, tourist friendly space is the result of the infamous “Big Dig” project. The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in the US, and was plagued by escalating costs, scheduling  delays, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials, criminal arrests, and even one death. The main objective was to ease traffic on Route 93. My friends, traffic here is just as bad if not worse than before this bloated project! However, this green space coupled with the ability to traverse the city by foot with ease has made such a huge improvement! Twenty billion dollars well spent!


A stark before and after comparison.

Now, on to the food! We started in the heart of the North End, Hanover Street.


This way!

We decided to have a “progressive meal” rather than spend the whole evening in one place. I hadn’t done any research ahead of time so we just wandered around until we found someplace interesting. We did a check with Yelp first, of course! There can be some real clunkers, even on Hanover Street, believe me. Long time readers of this blog may recall a pretty humorous visit to a certain eatery a few years back. Do yourself a favor and read the latest reviews HERE. They are high-larious.


Our old haunt. Classy as ever!

Our first stop was Assaggio. The dining room was pretty much empty, but so was every other place we passed. The festivals had just ended so I figured that was the reason. Turns out, it was because we were eating as early as senior citizens. It got quite busy as the night wore on.


I’m not sure what’s happening here, but I bet they had a lot of wine first.


A nice oil presentation


Cherubs were a theme…



I neglected to mention that it was pretty dang hot on this day, around ninety degrees, so we started out light. We ordered a couple of glasses of chilled Pinot Grigio (not pictured) and a nice cold appetizer.


Hot Italian Stuffed Cherry Peppers with Provolone Cheese and Prosciutto

This was just as advertised. Tasty, but no heavy lifting for the chef.  The next course, however was exceptional. The menu simply lists them as Crab Cakes, no further description.


Crab Cakes

These two morsels were indeed small, but certainly house made and packed with lump crab and very little filling. Putting the dish over the top was the lobster sauce accompaniment. This bisque-like sauce was luscious! Upon further consumption we discovered plump pieces of claw and tail meat as well. We soon ran out of crab cakes to dip in the sauce so we implemented the bread to finish it off. Heck, I would have dipped my flip flop in the stuff!

With our appetizer course finished we set back out to wander the streets in search of pasta! We enjoyed the sights along the way.


The Old North Church


A fine milliner was crafting chapeaus inside.


About 30,000 anise cookies in the window.

We recognized this place from a previous visit. That time there was a line around the corner and we didn’t get in. We hoped it bode well for the quality of the food and took a chance on L’Osteria for our next course.



Beautiful Plantings!

The dining room, again, was empty. I still hadn’t gotten the hint that it was simply early. I thought we’d have the whole North End to ourselves all night.



When it comes to pasta, even the best italian restaurants tend to only have a few fresh varieties with the rest being dried. I really wanted some fresh pasta on this visit. I asked the server to help navigate our choices hoping that they indeed made their own and that we wouldn’t have to down our wine and move on. Luckily they featured a fresh, hand formed tortellini.


“L’Osteria” means The Tavern. It has nothing to do with oysters, I quickly learned.


Tortellini con Panna

This is exactly what I hoped for!!! Tender pasta rolled out perfectly thin, stuffed with a dreamy ricotta filling and tossed in an impossibly light cream sauce. Madonn‘ these were good!

We needed a bit of a respite before the meat course. We wandered back to the greenway to sit a people watch.


We watched this dad…


…try and catch this girl, without getting wet.


The girl was winning at this game.

During our rest, we took to social media to choose our next venue. We got a whole slew of suggestions from our foodie friends, so it was tough to decide. Someone recommended Dolce Vita and to “ask for Franco”. We were intrigued…

We arrived just in time  to witness a boisterous chorus of Italian songs led by the afore mentioned Franco himself!

The place was packed, but we there were two seats open at the bar we were able to snag.



The busboy lobbed the napkins from behind us which landed perfectly fanned out and upright. That’s skill.


This wine was…okay.

I nosed around a bit whilst waiting for the powder room. Turns out Franco is a bit of a local celebrity. The was a “wall of fame” featuring the man with various stars.


Bam! It’s Emeril!


We just finished watching the complete series of The Shield. Vic Mackey is one bad dude.

The goal here was to have a really good steak. They had a NY strip on the menu that seemed pretty straight forward. We had the choice of pasta or salad. I decided not to double up on carbs and just have salad.


This was indeed, just a salad.

The steak was a bit of a let down. It had a fair amount of gristle, but that was not the biggest sin. It had absolutely no seasoning whatsoever. There was no salt or pepper on the table, which could have been an oversight, but more likely because the food is supposed to be properly seasoned by the chef. It wasn’t.


This steak was blah-zoh.

This stop turned out to be more about theater than dinner. We had a great time without a doubt.


Look for this shot on the Wall Of Fame!

No visit to the North End would be complete without a stop into Mike’s Pastry for cannoli.


Accept no substitute.


It was pretty darn crowded, but they handle orders with military precision.

The offerings go beyond cannoli though I can’t even imagine getting anything else.


Gelato, if you please.


Assorted pastries.


I did see these “Lobster Tails” are on the list of 50 Boston foods you must try before you die. I may have to revise my cannoli stance.

We had our treats boxed up to-go to be enjoyed back home along with a glass of cheap bourbon, as you do. We took a stroll through the Boston Harbor Hotel before hitting the train.


This was officially a busman’s holiday. Look it up, kids.


One of the last “Blues Barge” concerts.

A perfect way to end the evening. It was so much more fun to bop around town, rather than staying at one place for the whole time.


Our charges made it home safely!

The city of Boston has come such a long way! It was an absolute pleasure to spend our night off enjoying a place that is usually all about work for us.

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