Monthly Archives: October 2012

Greek Glory Cruise–Dubrovnik, Croatia (Happy Birthday Tommy!)

It feels strange to be writing about Tommy’s birthday celebration because it was about three months ago, but better late than never!  The timing of this post is also funny because my birthday is coming up on Friday.

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We were excited to celebrate Tommy’s birthday at our first stop in Croatia.  Of all the port cities we visited, we were probably most excited to see Dubrovnik, because we had heard so many great things about it.

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Dubrovnik is actually a moderately large modern city with a “old city” in the center.  The old city is surrounded by Dubrovnik’s famous wall that runs over a mile long around the city center.  Many of the pictures that we took were from the wall looking down onto all of Dubrovnik’s orange/red tiled homes and businesses as well as the surrounding ocean.

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After we made our way around the entire city wall, we took a break for some beers and swimming in the ocean.

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The cool thing about this particular swimming/bar spot was that it was literally outside the city wall.  In fact in this picture, you can see the wall at the very back of the picture.  When we were walking along the wall, we could look down and see people enjoying drinks and jumping into the water off the rocks.

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This is actually a picture of our friend Sam taking a rather scary jump off a very high cliff.  The rest of us weren’t quite as brave, but did take small jumps off these cliffs.  We also enjoyed another wonderful swim in the warm and crystal clear ocean water.

IMG_5464After doing so much walking and swimming, we were pretty hungry and decided to find a good spot for lunch.  Typically, when we stopped for food in a port city, we wanted to find something “traditional,” however, in Croatia, that is a little bit difficult because much of their food is influenced from their neighbors, Italy and Greece.  Also, many of the restaurants offered fresh seafood dishes  But, because we often got seafood on the ship, we opted for some beers and wood-grilled pizza instead.

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We stopped at a restaurant called Oliva, which we later learned, was a local favorite spot.

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At Oliva, we started with some cold beers.

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We also ordered two pizzas to share between the four of us (after we went swimming, my parents retired back to the ship).  One was a margarita with arugula and the other was a four cheese pizza.  Both were absolutely delicious and had a doughy crust that was perfectly crisped in the wood fired oven.

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After our bellies were full of pizzas, Tommy and I decided to say goodbye to Kate and Sam and walk around Dubrovnik for a little while by ourselves.  This included exploring more of the “old city” as well as visiting a local beach outside the city walls.

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The last thing I want to mention about our trip to Dubrovnik was the wonderful jewelry store we visited called Clara Stones.  Dubrovnik is known for its coral and this store is the place to visit if you want to buy this gorgeous jewelry.

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The sales people were extremely helpful and knowledgeable (with perfect English) and the prices were the best that we found.  I ended up buying some gorgeous earrings and the most fantastic necklace.

After the long day, we retired back to the ship and relaxed by the pool.  We also got to enjoy the sail away out of the Dubrovnik port, which was a special treat for Tommy’s birthday.

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The rest of the night was spent celebrating Tommy!  This included drinking martinis at “Martinis,” dinner in the main dining room, and singing happy birthday to Tom while he blew out his candle that sat atop his delicious dessert.

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Happy Birthday Tommy (3 Months Late!).  I love you and was so happy to celebrate with you in Dubrovnik.  IMG_5529

Farro and Italian Sausage Stuffed Peppers

I have a great stuffed peppers recipe for you!  This recipe has many of the traditional things you would look for in stuffed peppers – sausage, carrots, celery, onion and a tomato sauce – but it is also taken to the next level with the additions of farro and spicy peppers. 

Farro is a whole wheat grain that has a nutty flavor, high fiber and is extremely nutrient dense.  It is packed with protein and is a healthier substitute for the white rice you would usually find in stuffed peppers.

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You can typically find farro in your regular grocery store, but if you can’t, feel free to use barley instead, which has a similar flavor and texture.  To prepare farro, all you do is soak it overnight and cook it like you would pasta until tender (can range from 30-45 minutes).

We decided to make stuffed peppers this week after my mom and dad went to the farmers market and got 12 beautiful red peppers for THREE dollars!

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We only ended up needed 8 peppers for this recipe (that served six people with enough leftovers for 2 lunches!).  We will use the other peppers for salads throughout the week.

Stuffed peppers can be a little daunting because they require some prep work.  They may not be the best dish for a weeknight, but are perfect for a fall or winter Sunday night dinner.

Because the farro and spicy jalapeno peppers make my stuffed peppers a bit untraditionally, I decided to keep everything else about them pretty standard.  But when you make these, feel free to add different vegetables or proteins (spinach and chickpeas would be a great combo!).  Also, I made a fresh tomato sauce because my parents had found beautiful roma tomatoes at the market as well.  If you want this dish to come together more quickly, feel free to add your favorite jarred marinara sauce.

Farro and Italian Sausage Stuffed Peppers – Serves 6

Ingredients:

Stuffed Peppers

  • 8 bell peppers (use any color you like, but remember the colored ones are far more nutritious than the green ones!)
  • 2 cups farro, soaked overnight
  • 1 1/2 lbs spicy italian sausage
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 jalapenos, minced
  • 1/4 cup parsley, minced
  • 2 TB fresh thyme, minced
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • S+P to taste
  • Parmesan cheese as topping for peppers

Fresh Tomato Sauce

  • 10 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 TB olive oil,
  • S+P to taste

Directions

Cook farro according to package directions.  Drain and reserve.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Meanwhile, cut peppers in half and remove ribs and seeds.

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After water comes to a boil, add salt and drop peppers. Cook for 10 minutes until the peppers are soft.

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Remove peppers and drain water.  Once cool, place the cooked peppers into baking dishes.

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Next up is the italian sausage.  Remove casing from sausage and add to a large sauté pan.  Cook for 5-7 minutes, crumbling with a wooden spoon until fully cooked.

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In a large sauce pan or saute pan (big enough to mix everything together in the end), add 3T of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, and celery, salt and pepper and cook for 7-8 minutes until softened.  This combination is what the French call “mirepoix.”  It is the basis for many sauces as well as for braising meat.  In this case, it serves as additional nutrition and delicious flavor in the stuffed peppers.  After the mirepoix is soft, add the minced garlic, jalapenos, parsley and thyme and cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.

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At this point, all of the prep work for the peppers is done.  All you have to do is add everything together in the large pot or mixing bowl (but why dirty another dish!).

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Make sure you give the mixture a taste for seasoning and adjust with more salt and pepper as necessary.  Also, before you stuff the peppers, make sure you season them with salt and pepper.  You want every element of the dish to have lots of flavor.

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Stuff the peppers with about 1/2 cup of the filling.  The filling should be overflowing a bit.  At this point, pre-heat the oven to 375 degress.

Next up, its time to whip up the tomato sauce.  If you are using a jarred variety, omit these steps.  Add 3T of olive oil to sauce pan.  Add the onions and cook for 7 minutes over medium heat, until softened.  Add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.  Add the chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down a bit.  Blend all the ingredients together in a traditional blender or with an emersion blender.  Test for seasoning and adjust as necessary.  Also, at this point, you may need to reduce the sauce a little bit. You don’t want it to be too watery because then it will make the peppers soggy.

Evenly distribute the sauce over all the peppers.

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Place in the oven and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove and top with parmesan cheese.  At this point you could put it back in the oven and put it on the broiler setting for 1-2 minutes, but they should be good to go! As everything is already cooked, you just want to heat the peppers and mixtures through.

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Each of us enjoyed two halves of the stuffed peppers and were left with a few extra for lunch the next day.  These peppers only get better with time because the flavors continue to meld together, so they are perfect for leftovers!

Rainbow Chard, Chickpea and Tomato Pasta

As you know,  I spent the better part of last week travelling for work (and pleasure!) to Boston.  As much as I love travelling and going out to eat, there is something a little bit tiring about the whole thing.  Sure I get to try new restaurants and new foods, but there is something really enjoyable about grocery shopping, being in my own kitchen preparing dinner and getting to enjoy a homemade meal.

Plus, as satisfying as eating out can be, it can wreak havoc on my waistline!  Whenever I travel, even if it is for work, there is something in the back of my mind that says “splurge! you’re on vacation!”  You know what will get me right back on track after a week of travelling though?  Fresh vegetables.  Specifically, fresh tomatoes and gorgeous organic rainbow chard.

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You know what goes great with these wonderful veggies?  The small, but mighty, chickpea.

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When you add garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese and penne pasta to these great ingredients, you get a healthy, well-rounded meal that comes together in 20 minutes.

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Rainbow Chard, Chickpea and Tomato Pasta – Serves 4 (Inspired by Pasta Harvest Recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb penne pasta (or other similar short pasta – gemelli and fusilli would work well too)
  • 1 16 ounce can of diced tomatoes or 1 lb fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 2 bunches rainbow chard (I only used one and my whole family agreed that we would have liked more greens.  You could substitute spinach or kale for the chard)
  • 1 16 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • Salt + Pepper to taste

Directions

Bring large pot of water to a boil.  Add salt and cook the chard for 2 minutes.  Reserving the cooking water (for the pasta!), place the chard in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.  Remove from ice bath and dry very well.  Chop chard into large pieces and reserve.

Bring the water back up to a boil and cook pasta according to pasta directions, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water after the pasta has finished cooking.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium low heat.  Add minced garlic to oil and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly and making sure it doesn’t burn.  Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper (I used about 1/2 tsp of each), and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Add the drained and rinsed chickpeas and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Finally, add the dried chard and mix everything until combined.

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Add the drained pasta to a serving dish and top it with the tomato, chickpea and chard sauce. 

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Top with parmesan cheese and mix everything together.  If the sauce seems “dry,” add some of the reserved pasta water.

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Even if you aren’t coming back from a week long trip, you should make this dinner ASAP.  The mixture of the olive oil and tomatoes gave this sauce a really wonderful consistency that coated the noodles perfectly.  This dish also covers all your nutritional needs – veggies, protein, starch- in one dish and it comes together so quickly.  If you want more protein in your dish, add some turkey, pork or soy Italian sausage to round this meal out.

Fall Boston Trip 2012–Brunch at Local 149 and a Trip to Harpoon Brewery

Its no secret that Tommy and I love Local 149 in South Boston, as evidenced by our various trips to the restaurant for dinner.  And although I have only written about it twice, Tommy and I find ourselves there for dinner nearly every time I am in town.  One of the things we haven’t had a chance to do at Local 149 is have brunch there, despite hearing lots of wonderful things about it.  We decided to change that this weekend and made a trip to see what it was all about.

In the spirit of brunch, we ordered a couple of drinks – a “house made” mimosa for me and a Crispin Cider for Tommy, who isn’t a huge fan of traditional brunch drinks (think mimosas and bloody marys).

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If you are wondering what exactly a house made mimosa is (isn’t it just orange juice and champagne?), you are not alone.  I wondered the same thing, so the waitress informed me that Local mixed together fresh orange juice and bottle pomegranate juice to mix with sparkling wine.  It didn’t seem anymore special than a regular mimosa, but that didn’t make it any less delicious! Mimosas and brunch are a match made in heaven.

For food, we decided to order the Breakfast Pizza and the Lobster MacMuffin.  While in Rome!  I always love to order lobster in Boston because it is so widely available, fresh and incorporated in unique ways into food.  If I do happen to see lobster on a menu in Chicago, it is typically cooked steamed or boiled and served the traditional way (plus its usually VERY expensive).

The Lobster MacMuffin was definitely unique and I thought had a knock-out presentation.

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It was basically a stack of scrambled eggs that was mixed together with lobster knuckles and claws, atop a fresh english muffin, bacon and mizuna (similar to arugula) lettuce.  It was served alongside a “harvest vegetable hash” that was basically just boiled potatoes and sweet potatoes mixed together.  This was not what I was expecting from the description on the menu and it was very disappointing.  If you are going to call something hash, it better at least be browned up some.  These were not very good and I would not suggest ordering them.  I think that the random piece of toast you see on the plate was a mistake because it was cinnamon raisin and had no relevance to anything else in the dish.

Aside from the lackluster hash and random piece of toast, this dish was very good.  I think that the lobster was cooked with the eggs for some period of time because the eggs had a slight lobster taste to them, which I appreciated!  It actually made me think of the “shrinkage” Seinfeld episode when George makes the “best scrambled eggs’” anyone has ever had because they were mixed with lobster.

Tommy was very predictable and ordered the breakfast pizza which came with tiny quail eggs, cheese, mizuna and was served on Locals famous “everything crust.”  This worked especially well for brunch because it seemed like you were eating a very special bagel!

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The eggs were the perfect size for the pizza and every time you cut into one, you got a little bit of yolk on every piece.  They were also perfectly cooked – just runny enough – but not so much that the yolk got all over the plate.

Overall, we really enjoyed our drinks and food and the brunch experience further cemented our love for this restaurant.  If you live in Boston, you should definitely check it out.  It is great tasting, locally sourced food that is very reasonably priced (not to mention the beer menu is out of this world!).

After brunch, we headed over to Harpoon Brewery.  Harpoon is actually the second largest brewer in Massachusetts.  A lot of people assume that Sam Adams is the largest, but actually it’s Anheuser Busch, which has one of its five breweries in the Bay State.  Sam Adams doesn’t actually produce any of the beer that it sells in Massachusetts, although they do have the original brewery operational for tours (it is located in Jamaica Plain, MA).

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Tommy and I have been to Harpoon before – maybe 4 years ago – when Sarah, Ben and Kate came for a visit to Boston.  Unfortunately, the actual brewery was closed to the public during our last visit, so we were unable to take advantage of the tour that Harpoon normally offers.  Fortunately, the beer tasting was still an option and we took full advantage!

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This time around, the brewery was open for touring, so Tommy and I were able to see how Harpoon’s brew process works, which was very interesting.

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The first thing we learned on the tour is that there are four major ingredients in all beer – water, yeast, malt and hops.  While different flavors can be added, and the proportions of these ingredients will vary for different beers, these are four required elements.

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Harpoon had malted barley and hops on a table for people to try if they so desired, but warned that a mouth-full of hops would destroy your pallet for about a week!

While we were learning about the first stages of the brewing process, we were served a sample of Harpoon’s Octoberfest beer, which is one of their most popular.  This was a deliciously hoppy and full-bodied beer that I really enjoyed.

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All of the huge tanks that you see in the background of these photos are full of beer as Harpoon’s Boston brewery is active and produces 60% of all Harpoon beer produced.

After we learned about the beginning processes of beer making (malting, milling, mashing, boiling and fermenting), we headed downstairs to hear about filtration and packaging.  While we were listening, we got our next sample of beer – Harpoon’s IPA.

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Suffice to say, this was the freshest IPA I have ever drunk because it was poured straight from the barrel it was processed in.  Craig, our tour guide, said that this beer would be ready to bottle and ship in three days.  From a taste perspective, this was also full of hoppy and malt flavor and was quite bitter (as can be expected from an IPA!).  Despite being more full bodied, I thought that this was an easy drinking beer and tasted great very chilled.

During this time, we also learned about Harpoon’s UFO beer.  I have had many UFOs in my day, but never knew what made it special, until the tour.  UFO stands for Un-Filtered Offering and is a wheat beer that is brewed with orange peel and a unique blend of spices.  Harpoon actually also makes a raspberry flavored UFO that we sampled later that is both refreshing and delicious.

From here, we went to Harpoon’s bottling and packaging area where we saw the “assembly” line as well as many empty beer bottles that were anxiously waiting to be filled!

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After the tour, we headed upstairs to continue on with the tasting.  The tour guides got behind the bar and provided the guests with unlimited samplings of beer for the next 30 minutes!

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The beers that Harpoon had on tap were extensive and ranged from Hoppy IPAs to Harpoon’s seasonal varietal: Pumpkin UFO (a personal favorite).

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I tried just about every single one and am not sure I could pick a favorite – although the Pumpkin, Cider, and Rye IPA are definitely up there!

If you are visiting Boston (or even a local) and want a fun activity, I could not recommend the Harpoon tour enough.  It was $5 a person for an informative beer tour and unlimited tastings of beer.  Plus the tour guides are so smart and engaging that the “science” of making beer becomes very accessible.  Make sure you tip your guides/bartenders at the end, because they do a fabulous job!

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The only thing I should caution about is that weekend tours are very popular and often sell out.  We got to the brewery at 12 and were able to snag the last tickets for the 1 PM tour.  Everything else was sold out! 

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I would advise going early (when they open at 11) and getting tickets for a tour later in the day.  There is a lot to do in the Seaport District and you can spend many hours walking the water front.

After the tour, we ended up walking to Boston’s Long Warf for an autumn boat tour around the Boston Harbor. 

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We got tickets through LivingSocial for a two hour tour that took us around Boston and up the South Shore. 

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We got extremely lucky with the weather (which ended up being around 70 degrees) and it was the perfect way to end a busy day.

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After brunch, the brewery tour and the cruise, we were absolutely beat and decided to have a low key dinner at a local bar in Boston.  Also, we had to make sure we rested up because we had a big day ahead of us at the Patriots game!

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50 yard line behind the Pats Bench – not bad seats!

As usual, I had a wonderful trip to Boston spending time with my favorite guy.  Until next time Boston (which incidentally is next weekend for our friends’ wedding!)!

Fall Trip to Boston–Part 1

Sorry for the hiatus in new posts.  I have been travelling in Boston for work over the last week and have been mostly eating out.  While I do have some highlights to report, much of the time was spent eating out with work folks, so I left my camera at home.  I was able to hang out with Tommy for a few dinners, and as always, they were all wonderful. 

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In addition to the hitting up the usual suspects (include Local 149), we also did some new young foodie stuff – including making a visit the the newest restaurant in South Boston and visiting the Harpoon Brewery.

Dinner at Lincoln Tavern and Restaurant:

Two weeks ago, Tommy told me about a new restaurant that opened right near his apartment in South Boston.  He had heard great things about the food and drinks and often walks by the restaurant to find a long line of patrons waiting for a table.  When we both got out of work early on Friday, we decided to try our luck and see if we could get a table for two at Lincoln Tavern and Restaurant.

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The first thing I noticed when we got into Lincoln was its massive size.  The restaurant stretches the entire length of the building and has two main seating areas and two large bars.

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The design of the restaurant is very warm and inviting with some cool restoration type lighting fixtures and lots of beautiful wood work.  The people eating in the restaurant were also a little bit older than you typically find in a South Boston restaurant and this made Tavern feel more like a restaurant than a local bar.

When we sat down, we both ordered a drink – an Angry Orchard Cider for Tommy and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc  for me.

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Both drinks were a great way to start off the weekend.  To go with our drinks, the waitress also brought over some bread and butter.

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While I wouldn’t normally write about the bread I get at a restaurant, I do want to call special attention to the sourdough that Lincoln served.  In addition to the bread being fabulous, the butter was equally great.  It was served room temperature (so critical), and whipped to the perfect consistency.  There were also big specks of sea salt mixed in which was great.

Pretty much the second we walked in, we were bombarded with recommendations for Lincoln’s Baked Goat Cheese Dip, which included lots of hot and melted goat cheese, caramelized figs, toasted almonds and was served with big chunks of the same tasty sourdough that we got to start.

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I understand why the waitress and hostess recommended this appetizer because it was very good.  I think that goat cheese and figs are a wonderful combination because the sweetness of the figs cuts the tartness and creaminess of the goat cheese.  While at $12, it was one of the more expensive appetizers, you can see by its size, that it is well worth it.

After we were finished with the dip, we actually waited a good 15 minutes before our entrees came.  I am not sure if this was by design or mistake, but I actually really appreciated it because it gave me some time to digest.

Speaking of our entrees, Tommy and I decided to split a pizza and the Fried Chicken entrée.  The pizzas appealed to us because Lincoln has a wood fired oven and we had heard good things about them.  They actually have some interesting non-tomato based pizzas that I would like to try and recreate in my own kitchen, we opted for the traditional pepperoni.

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The crust on this pizza was my favorite kind – doughy and crusty.  The picture actually doesn’t really do this pizza justice.  It was quite big and Tommy and I were only able to eat two of the slices.  This was fine, because it made for some great leftovers.

As I mentioned above, we also ordered the Fried Chicken dish.  One of the reasons this meal sounded particularly appealing is because of the mac and cheese that was served along side it.

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We didn’t expect the mac and cheese portion to be this  big, but it served as delicious leftovers after we had finished about a quarter of it.  Additionally, the chicken was served alongside a honey glazed, cheddar stuffed biscuit.  We were really looking forward to the biscuit, but as soon as we dug in, we realized it was a bit undercooked in the middle.  The waitress was very kind and quickly got the chef to put a new one in the oven.  The second biscuit was quite good!

The only thing that was slightly disappointing was the crust on the chicken.  While the chicken was cooked beautifully and was very moist inside, the crust on the outside both lacked flavor and the nice “crunch” you are looking for on fried chicken.  While the sum of the parts made this dish good, I don’t think I would order it again because the main part of it wasn’t that great.

Overall, I thought that Lincoln was a good restaurant and will definitely be back (maybe when the crowds die down a bit).  I think there are a few food kinks to work out, but the service was friendly, fast and all around great.

Up next – Brunch at Local 149, a trip to Harpoon Brewery and an Afternoon Harbor Cruise.

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