Easton Comfort Food
Local Grub That Makes You Feel Good
You can’t rely totally on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia for facts, nor be assured that because Wiki says something is so that it really is, or that everything stated in Wiki is accurate. But in Wiki’s entry for “comfort food”, I am "good" with this excerpt:
“The term ‘comfort food’ (first used, according to Webster’s Dictionary, in 1977) refers to foods consumed to achieve some level of improved emotional status, whether to relieve negative psychological affect or increase positive. More generally, comfort food can be defined as food that brings some form of measure of comfort, sense of well-being, or satisfaction. Such food choices may consist of the simple and familiar. Dishes may be warm and filling such as a dish made with a staple food, or basically pleasing such as sweets and desserts.”
Think of your experiences growing up in Easton. What was your comfort food? Was it a chocolate cake your neighbor made? How about your dad’s famed chili? Did your grandmother make raviolis from scratch, so good they were etched in your conscience and they could distract you for several minutes at a time? Did the local sandwich shop create something special for which you maintained a driving hankering?
In this land of plenty, it is an immense blessing and of tremendous fortune that almost all of us are well-acquainted with comfort food.
I tell you, from today and yesterday, there is much comfort food that I found and can still find right here in town. Some of the food has been lost to history, but I remember it; then again, maybe it is just waiting to be reintroduced.
Let me start right out here with this – in the 1970s, the building that now houses Soups On Center on Center Street (that name makes sense) was once the site of the Country Store. In the store, in the back, Arthur Senier had his sandwich making business. He was a maestro of the trade. He made many tasty sandwiches, but his Italian was of hall of fame caliber: cold cuts, diced vegetables, quality oil, a delicate lacing of spices, set in a soft roll. His well known “Big Mother” sub was my introduction to the steak and cheese or steak bomb sub; oh, it was good.
By the way, Mario’s on Washington Street, not far from the intersection of Washington and Main streets, has an top-notch Italian sub; its version is actually called an Italian “panini”. As good as Al Senier’s? I’m not going there.
I know it's a chain, but its co-founder, Brian McLaughlin, is an Easton resident, and D'Angelo sandwich shops makes an outstanding pastrami and swiss. I get mine at the D'Angelo on Washington Street diagonally from Correia's Plaza. I order it with pickles and mustard.
Now, let me get back to Soups On Center. Its fare is also tasty and high quality. But for an endorsement, don’t take it from me, take it from my sister, who is an outstanding cook and enjoys entertaining. She lives in the Chicago area now, but one day while visiting back home, she stopped in at Soup’s On Center, and she picked up a meatloaf sandwich and some soup. She raved positive about both.
If you want to consume some “feel good,” do this – get on over to McMenamy’s Hamburger House and grab yourself a burger. Steve Carter, owner, grinds the chuck meat himself every day. It has just enough fat woven through it, and it is cooked over flame. I order the steak burger with cheese and raw onion. Also, do as I do, and start out with a cup of McMenamy’s creamy clam chowder.
It seems every restaurant has Buffalo wings on the menu. I like Buffalo wings. But let’s get something straight here: when you get wings, get them on the bone. Really, please. These boneless wings, and boneless spareribs; they all represent the trashy side of America. Repeat after me: “bone imparts flavor”.
Now, I know you get wings in various stages of hot and spicy and maybe even sugary. I like some heat, but I am not a glutton for punishment. I consider the Buffalo wings – on the bone – at Maguire’s Bar & Grill about the best anywhere: meaty and coated with a sauce that is a nice mixture of hot and tangy and sweet. You get on the side a generous amount of cut carrots and celery, and plenty of blue cheese sauce. What I like to do with the Maguire’s wings is let them cool a bit, so that the coating congeals (think here a transformation similar to that which baked ziti undergoes when it cools and when it is reheated).
Did someone say chocolate? I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but when I am on the hunt for a confection, I want chocolate. Hilliard's House of Candy makes all sorts of wonderful treats. But its walnut fudge is my favorite. Around Valentine's Day it offers chocolate dipped strawberries that are beyond delectable.
No community is complete without a "go to" person for baked goods. You know, that person whose scrumptious cakes, pies, brownies, tarts, muffins, and cookies are in demand for every fundraiser and special occasion. For years, Phyllis Sousa, a saint of a woman, was that "go to" person. Phyllis is no longer with us, but I am doing a call out to her husband, Al, who still lives in Easton, or one of her children, to a Phyllis Sousa recipe in the comments section following this column.
Okay, tell me memories of a frosty Simpson Spring white birch beer or root beer don't spike the endorphins.
Let me stay with soda here. Yes, I know it is not good for you. But a taste here and there should be fine. Over the past 25 years or so, high fructose corn syrup (HFC) has been the preferred sweetner for soda and other sweet drinks; it took the place of cane sugar. But let's face it: soda sweetened with cane sugar tastes a lot better than this HFC stuff.
What is particularly delightful is Coca-Cola sweetened with cane sugar. That is the authentic Coke, the true "Real Thing". A few bottleries in the U.S. still make it with cane sugar. But in other countries, Mexico for example, Coke is still predominantly made with cane sugar; thus, the "Mexican Coke" phenomenon (e.g., I am a member of the Mexican Coca-Cola Facebook community.) Some Costco stores carry Mexican Coca-Cola. And you can buy Mexican Coca-Cola in Easton, at the 711 on the corner of Belmont and Washington streets. Once you drink the Coca-Cola made with cane sugar, you aren't going back to the HFC swill.
Red sauce. My mom, who recently moved to live near my sister in the midwest, does not cook nearly as much as in the past. But she used to make a very nice red sauce for spaghetti; with plum tomatoes, ground beef, chunks of bell pepper, and slices of onion.
On the subject of red sauce, Fresh Catch, which has a location in Easton at Daley Plaza, serves a linguini with red clam sauce that I recommend highly.
My dad made some of the world's best chicken parmigiana. One day while working 0n a political campaign, I knocked on the front door of the Giordano's house on Chestnut Street. Joe Giordano, who played sporst for my dad in the late 1950s at Oliver Ames High School, opened the door and told me he was at the moment making chicken parm based on my dad's recipe.
I have a good friend who lives in town – who won't be happy if I mention her name – whose eggplant parm is superb, and whose chicken parm is in the class my dad's. She also has found a way to make asparagus delicious.
Yes, there is such a thing as "bar pizza". Bar pizza is not supposed to be one of these elegant and sophisticated concoctions sprinkled with clams or figs or artichokes or chickpeas or diced rabbit. Bar pizza is heavy and dripping and oily and cheesey and tomatoey. It is loaded with meats like sausage or linguica or pepperoni or linguica; you can put some olives and anchovies on it. Green pepper too. And, yes, onions.
Buddy's Union Villa makes good bar pizza.
Also, I want to give a big thumbs up to the macaroni and cheese that Union Villa co-owner Cathy Reynold's makes. It's crazy good. A few different types of cheeses and heavy cream and butter and bread crumbs. Perhaps not healthy for the arteries, but a real pick up for the soul.
I have written about the long-time Easton celebration staple given to us by the Portuguese: meat on a stick. For the uninitiated, this is seasoned meat that has been skewered (the skewers are metal) and roasted over wood coals. It is served medium rare with fluffy Portuguese bread.
In Easton, our meat on a stick is cow meat – not lamb or pork or duck or goat; it's just cow meat
I am making a request here of one of the major ethnic tribes of Easton – the Swedes. Swedish meatballs, done right, are comfort food through and through. It would be very much appreciated if someone – a Swede or person of any other ethnic lineage – posts in the comments section here a recipe for tasty Swedish meatballs.
Loco, the tapas restaurant on Rte. 106 beyond Five Corners on the way to Mansfield, has many delicious offerings. In the way of comfort food, though, I like its mussels in marinara sauce with ground chorico that are served with crusty bread.
Of course, I understand that what constitutes comfort food is relative.
I know one townie who enjoys eating the legs of frogs he captures right here in the community. I know another native who chows on the pan-fried and breaded meat of bluegill (a member of the sunfish family) he pulls from ponds in Easton.
Whatever floats your boat.
Close your eyes. Think. Reminisce. Reflect.
What food brings you comfort?
What food makes you smile?