Lunch at Blunch.

Darlington and I are always on the lookout for new places to eat so when we decided to meet up for a bite early on a weekday afternoon, I suggested Blunch, the diminutive South End spot.  Just in case the name isn’t a dead giveaway, here’s the low-down:  Blunch focuses on breakfast and lunch items like egg sandwiches, soups and crustless quiches.  The friendly group behind the counter squeeze these and other treats out of a space roughly the size of an overstuffed sofa; if you include the eat-in counter running alongside the bright windows, the square footage is probably smaller than my parents’ two-car garage.  But — to handily employ the tritest of clichés — size doesn’t matter, it’s how you use it.  And the Blunchers certainly do use it well.

blunchThough I had skipped a morning meal, I decided to forgo the breakfast options and order the more lunchy Meltdown, a grilled tomato and three-cheese sandwich ($7.00).  Interestingly, layered between the tomato, Fontina, Cheddar and Swiss is a second slice of bread, giving the Meltdown added weight.  While it was perfectly oozy, it was definitely on the lighter side — or, more likely, I was simply hungrier than I realized.  What I should have done was split a salad with Darlington, maybe the baby greens with goat cheese.  I mean, it’s not as if I could ever get my fill of cheese.

Blunch’s only drawback is its location on the fringes of the South End, directly across from Boston Medical Center.  Neither Darlington nor I live nearby; we made a special trip to the neighborhood.  So here’s the question, which perhaps might even be The Question: Is Blunch worth the trip?  I think if I lived within walking distance, the teeny café would be an easy little detour on my morning commute or Saturday jaunts.  Otherwise…  I’m not quite sure.  I’ll keep you posted.

Blunch
59 East Springfield Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02118
617.247.8100
eatblunch.com

Blunch on Urbanspoon

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Graffiti in Bristol.

I’m always hyper-aware of graffiti — I don’t know if it’s because I remember the time when New York subway cars were absolutely covered in spray paint and marker, or if it’s because I’m just plain attracted to bold graphics and color.  The fact of the matter is that if it’s there, chances are I’ve not only noticed it but also stored away a mental snapshot.  In the case of the graffiti in Bristol, I did more than remember an image — I stopped right there on the street with my camera.

Street art is huge in Bristol; Google it and pages of info comes up.  According to my friends Judy and Dorian a great deal of it is commissioned, though there are a few graffiti that would be considered flat-out vandalism.  There also were a few that are undeniably famous, like the Banksy pieces that are still scattered about the city; some have been painted over.  Speaking of painting over, this photo here — which will redirect you to a short slideshow of Bristol graffiti, if clicked on — is of an artist covering someone else’s graffiti with his own.  When we walked past on our way to the city center the next day, the storefront looked completely different.  Even the dig at Gordon Ramsay was gone.  Oh well…  it’s temporary art, after all.

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Dinner on a Cold Night.

Nights like this, all I want to do is wrap myself up in a wild assortment of blankets and quilts like some kind of crazed sushi roll and breathe in the steam off of a mug or bowl of something  hot.  Since I’m not much for tea and wanted to inhale the aroma of something more substantial than coffee, I decided to pull out the lovely French oven I received for my birthday and put it to work.

chicken-stewSaveur‘s recipe for chicken stew is both ridiculously easy to make and ridiculously delicious.  Of course, the use of a French oven is not required, but a sturdy pot most certainly is.  Also, I was missing a few vital ingredients but rather than venture out into the great snowy yonder, I instead made do with what I had on hand, replacing tarragon vinegar with white wine vinegar and the fines herbes with lemon thyme, parsley and rosemary.  I can’t say whether my slight alterations made the stew any better or worse, but I can say with entire certainty that mine made it fantastic.  The fragrance wafting out of my bowl was positively dreamy, so you can imagine what I thought of the flavors.  My verdict:  absolutely terrific with a baguette on a frosty night.

Chicken Stew, from Saveur
Makes six to eight portions.

4 tablespoon butter
4 pounds skinless chicken thighs
4 ribs celery, sliced
4 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and sliced
1 small yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
1 teaspoon fines herbes, a blend of parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Melt butter in a large cast-iron pot or heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-high heat. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pot, add chicken and cook until well browned, 6–8 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a large plate and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, bring 4 cups water to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Reduce heat to low to keep water hot.
  3. Add celery, carrots, onions, vinegar, fines herbes, and bay leaf to pot with butter and rendered chicken fat, scraping any browned bits stuck to bottom of pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
  4. Return chicken and any accumulated juices to pot, add enough hot water to just cover chicken (about 3 cups), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 1 hour. Discard bay leaf.

Visiting St Werburghs City Farm.

Near where Judy and Dorian live in Bristol is a neighborhood called St Werburghs; from our friends’ flat, it’s a pleasant walk through through the city allotments (community gardens) to St Werburghs City Farm, a free, independently-run farm focused on education.  Before I go into more detail on the farm, may I just mention how extraordinary the St Werburghs allotments are?  It was an overcast morning the day the four of us treked down a narrow and muddy path to the farm; the light was the sort that makes everything look so very lush, and in every direction over sloping hills all I could see was green from the efforts of the allotment lessees.  It was inspiring.

Back to the farm…

If you thought I was a dawdler in the markets of the world, you should see me on a farm.  Oh, how I get sidetracked by things such as a goat’s rectangular pupils or the posture of a chicken.  I could easily spend several hours with the bunnies alone, not to mention a mama pig whose piglets share a birthday with me.  Luckily, we didn’t have plans until around ten-thirty that evening…

Click on the picture below to see a slideshow of St Werburghs.

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St Werburghs City Farm
Watercress Road
Bristol BS2 9YJ
England
+ 020 0117 942 8241

Breakfast at St Werburghs City Farm Café.

One of the options Judy suggested for Sunday breakfast was the café at the city farm down the street from her flat.

“It’s lovely,” she said.  “Everything is delicious and fresh, and you get massive piles of food.  And there’s a pig.”

Even if I hadn’t already been sold on breakfast — Judy had me at lovely — the mention of the pig is what did it for me, honestly.  They’re incredibly intelligent, and even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t matter.  What I like about them is their hairy little tails.

city-farm-cafe-3A brief walk later, the four of us stood in front what just might be the strangest-looking building I’ve ever seen.  It looked like something out of Tolkien; if Bilbo or Frodo Baggins had poked his head out of the front door, I wouldn’t have been even the least been surprised.  In fact, I was kind of expecting it and was a little disappointed when neither showed up, especially as the architecture of the café appears as though it was inspired by Bag End.

city-farm-cafe-2Truthfully though, St Werburghs City Farm Café is thoroughly charming, and by that I mean there are no right angles in the entire place and each window and beam within appears to be handcarved out of England’s knottiest wood.  Inside, the ceiling slopes so dramatically that I don’t think either Keith  or Dorian were able to stand up straight, except for in the exact center of the round room.  If I were a kid visiting the café, I would have really loved it — which isn’t, of course, to say that I didn’t.  It’s simply that the place has a fantastical quality to it that any child with an inquisitive mind and an active imagination would love — which is probably why the café was full of children.

city-farm-cafe-1

In spite of the magical décor, what the four of us had come for was the food.  The menu is posted on a blackboard above the counter, and the moment I saw black pudding listed I knew I would be ordering a dish that came with a serving of it.  And so, I settled on the Big Farmer:  bacon, breakfast sausage,a fried egg, beans, mushroom, spinach, toast and, finally, the black pudding (£6.95).

Judy wasn’t kidding when she said piles of food; once it arrived I had half a mind to weigh my plate.  Still, I came close to shoveling it all down — it was incredibly tasty.  I was the most surprised by the spinach, actually, which was probably the freshest I have had in a while, and the ketchupy beans were fantastic.  Also noteworthy was the supersalty butter that brought a grin to my face, and the perfectly-cooked mushrooms which had the perfect amount of bite left to them.  The sausage was pleasantly light, leaving me with plenty of room for the bacon — utterly unlike American bacon, I should say, as British bacon tends to come from the animal’s back.  I saved the black pudding for last, and you know what?  I think I kind of loved it.  The exterior was nice and crunchy, while the inside had a fabulous meaty flavor that could only be described as intoxicating.

I don’t think anyone else was more pleased with breakfast than me, except for maybe Judy, who practically clapped her hands to see my clean plate and the minuscule remnants of pudding dotting its surface.  If I had thought of it, I would have taken an after photo for you all to see.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.  Better yet: if you find yourself in the Bristol area, you’ll drop in to the café at St Werburghs for some breakfast.

St Werburghs City Farm Café
Watercress Road
Bristol BS2 9YJ
England
+44 0117 942 8241

Snacks at Kingsdown Vaults.

I adore cheese and Keith loves wine, so when Judy suggested dropping by her favorite wine and cheese pub before we all sneaked into a private party to see Dorian’s band, we pretty much all simultaneously started looking around for a taxi to take us to Kingsdown Vaults.

While I might not be much of a drinker, it’s neighborhood pubs like this that I wish we had more of here in Massachusetts.  The closest that I can think of that captures the same sort of laid-back mellowness is the bar at Union Square’s Independent, but even that’s a bit of a stretch.  After all, even the Independent has a TV, something the Kingsdown Vaults does not.  Instead of television, the Vaults’s got battered tables, a wicked assortment of mismatched chairs and the requisite fire roaring in the fireplace.  The Vaults also has board games and books stacked on its slightly saggy shelves and arbitrary guns hanging on the walls which may or may not be real.  Add groupings of tall, fat and drippy candles trailing tails of wax down their sides and you’ve got an altogether cozy atmosphere that can’t be replicated.

wine-cheeseFoodwise, the Vaults offers small bites like smalec (a Polish spread made of pork fat, bacon and bits of onion) and miscellaneous cheeses.  The three of us shared a fondue (£4.50) and feta-stuffed peppers (£2.90) which were described on the menu as bell but were in fact way too hot and too small to be bells.  I’ve got the feeling that they were Fresnos, simply from their size and heat.  The thing is, it doesn’t matter — Kingsdown Vaults is a place to go for a drink (or series of), a long chat and maybe a board game or two.  It’s not necessarily the best spot, culinarily-speaking, but does that even matter when there’s wine and bites of cheese to be had?  Sometimes, that’s all a girl like me needs.

Kingsdown Vaults
29-31 Kingsdown Parade
Bristol BS6
England
+44 117 924 9134
kingsdownvaults.com

Late Lunch at River Station.

Keith and I got off to a shamefully late start our first morning in Bristol.  Suffice to say that my use of the word morning is a total stretch, as neither of us even stumbled out of our friends Judy and Dorian’s spare room for a shower until one in the afternoon.  In our defense, we were both at varying degrees of sick — the next day I would lose my voice entirely, after an evening of feeling like my throat was coated in shards of glass, and Keith was already coughing into a series of tissues.  Still, we managed to eventually make our way down to Bristol Harbor, then walked about ten more minutes to River Station, a restaurant housed in a former police station.

River Station is divided into two sections, the restaurant upstairs and the bar/kitchen on the ground level;  both have excellent views overlooking the River Avon.  (Here’s something confusing about the UK — there are eight Rivers Avon: four in England, three in Scotland and one in Wales.  This River Avon is also called the Lower Avon or Bristol Avon, and is not Shakespeare’s Avon, which flows through Warwickshire in the West Midlands.)  While the restaurant was serving food, we decided to stay downstairs in the bar, where we sat on a curved leather banquette and watched a trio of swans lazily paddle in concentric circles.

river-station-11Sick or not, I was starving; at this point it was probably something like eighteen hours since my previous meal, a vegetarian moussaka and a half-pint at The Watershed’s Café/Bar.  Not only was I craving something filling, but I also wanted something that could scratch at my sore throat on the way down.  (See number four.)  For that reason I chose the goat cheese bruschetta and beet coleslaw (£5.00) as my starter.  I was a little surprised when my plate arrived, as River Station’s interpretation of bruschetta seemed to be simply a toasted slice of crusty bread topped with cheese; I’m not quite sure what I had been expecting, but I do know that I did anticipate something garlicky.  In the end I didn’t mind though — goat cheese is a weakness of mine, and River Station was extremely generous with theirs.  The beet slaw was both sweet and tangy, and the addition of watercress added a nice peppery bite.  In retrospect, I wish I had thought to pile the vegetables on top of the melty cheese, but they were just as good alongside.

river-station-21

I knew I would hanker for something to soothe my unhappy throat after the crusty bread did its job; squid ink spaghetti and smoked salmon tossed in a vodka cream sauce (£8.00) sounded like the perfect solution.  And perfect it was.  Not only is pasta made with squid ink fun to look at, with its jet-black color, but it’s also fun to eat, as each bite releases a briny zip in your mouth.  Combined with the delicate salmon, milky sauce, fresh herbs and lemon, it was simultaneously comforting and refreshing — exactly what I needed to bolster me up so I could face the day.  Or at least the rest of the afternoon.

Judy met us after she finished work, and the three of us sat with lattes and tea while we chatted and reminisced.  Not once were we bothered by waitstaff, except to clear our scraped-clean plates.  I got the feeling that, had we chosen to, we could have sat there all night, laughing and watching the water, and peering into the dark for the swans we could no longer see.  River Station has the ideal atmosphere and menu for doing exactly that.

River Station
The Grove
Bristol, BS1 4RB
England
+44 0117 914 9463
riverstation.co.uk