Tuesday, January 20, 2015

North Street Grille, Boston

On my recent trip to Boston, I met up with a college friend for brunch.  She let me choose the venue, so I did my research, and eagerly settled on North Street Grill, in the North End of Boston.  I love brunch, and their brunch menu sounded amazing.  Protip: they serve brunch not only on Saturday and Sunday, but on Thursday and Friday too!

Anyway, back to that menu.  They have all the brunch classic egg dishes, including omelets of every variety and eggs benedict with smoked salmon, crab cakes, lobster, or even stuffed inside french toast.  But I had eyes for only one they: they offer pancakes and french toast in more flavors than you can possibly imagine.  Seriously.  To say I had issues picking a dish is an understatement.  How do you decide between "chocolate fantasy", peanut butter and chocolate, raspberry and cream cheese, strawberry and nutella, banana bourbon, peanut butter and fluff, strawberry shortcake, and even cinnamon roll french toast?  And then there are pancakes too!  And of course, lunch offerings of sandwiches and salads.  But who picks lunch items at brunch?

North Street Grille is also open for dinner, but my visit was obviously targeted for brunch.

North Street Grille is a fairly small establishment, with bar seating, a few booths, and mostly small tables for 2, once of which we were able to snag after a short wait.  The line to get in was long, but I had read the advice to call ahead to get on the waiting list, which I did as soon as I got off the T.

The service was generally ok, although I did have to ask several times for water and coffee refills.  I was amused at the end of the meal, when the bill was presented to me on an Android tablet.  This wouldn't have been too novel in the Bay Area, but I was surprised to see it in Boston.
Maple Waffle Martini. Blueberry Muffin Martini.  $10 each.
I wasn't intending to get a cocktail before noon, but the brunch cocktail list didn't just have standard bloody marys and mimosas.  The list was too tempting to resist, including ones named after breakfast items, like muffins and waffles.

Kristin went for the "Blueberry Muffin Martini", with cake vodka, muddled blueberries, and ginger ale.  The server told us it wasn't too sweet because of the ginger ale, but neither of us really tasted ginger ale in it.  I also didn't really taste blueberry or cake.  Just vodka.  It was a bit of a punch in the face for breakfast, and way too alcoholic tasting for me, so I'm glad it wasn't my selection.

I went for the "maple waffle martini", made with Bailey's, and topped with bacon.  Yes, bacon.  In my cocktail.  Go big or go home.

A gimmick?  Potentially, but in this case, actually, no.  It was insanely good.  The bacon was crazy crispy.  How on earth did they keep it crispy inside the drink?  I have no idea.  There was also a ton of bacon.  Some was floating on top, and there was plenty more throughout.  I kinda think there were several full slices of bacon inside my drink.  Protein to go with my sugar, right? 

Contrasting with the salty bacon was the sweet Bailey's, very creamy.  This was not a light drink, obviously, as it was full of cream and bacon, but man it was good.  The salty bacon prevented it from being too sweet.  I'd certainly get it again.

$10 each for fancy cocktails seemed a bit fitting.

I also enjoyed a cup of decaf coffee, advertised as bottomless.  While perhaps true, I had to ask for refills constantly, as no one seemed to notice my cup going empty.  It was fine decaf, not really interesting, and for $3.50, a bit high for generic, pre-brewed coffee.
Complimentary Banana Bread, Butter.
I read about how diners receive banana bread upon being seated, and was looking forward to it; however we did not.  I saw the banana bread being delivered to all the tables around us, distributed along with the menus.  But we had our menus, and no banana bread.  I thought that perhaps it would arrive with our drinks.  It did not.  I thought it would arrive after we ordered our main dishes.  It did not.  So finally, I asked about it.  Our server said she'd bring it right out.  She also said she'd refill my empty coffee.  Neither happened.

Finally, our main dishes arrived.  At that point, my coffee was refilled (when I asked yet again), and the banana bread was brought out.  I'm still confused why we received it so late, when literally every other table got it right when they sat down.

Anyway, the banana bread was crazy moist.  I'm not really one for banana bread, but I admit, this was good banana bread.  But since I had hot pancakes in front of me, I wasn't too excited for the banana bread at that point.  It would have been nice to munch on while we were waiting.
Single Cookie Dough Pancake, $5.
As I mentioned, North Street Grille offers pancakes and french toast in more varieties than you can possibly imagine.  Deciding between french toast or pancakes was my first hurdle, but after careful deliberation, I picked pancakes.  Then I had to narrow in on a flavor.  I ruled out all of the basic ones just with fruit (blueberry, banana, triple berry, strawberry), the slightly more interesting fruit ones (cranberry walnut, banana nut, apple cinnamon with apple butter), and those with chocolate (chocolate chip, chunky monkey).  Then I was left with the fun ones: cookie dough.  Cannoli.  Boston Cream.  Cinnamon Roll.  Oh my.

I asked for descriptions of each.  The cinnamon roll ones were topped with icing, which I thought might be a be too sweet for breakfast.  I wanted sweet pancakes, but perhaps I didn't need to go quite sooo overboard, even though the waitress told me they were amazing.  This concern of being just a bit too over the top also ruled out the Boston cream pancakes (a layered stack with Boston Cream filling between the layers, topped with chocolate ganache) and the cannoli pancakes (layered with cannoli filling, with crumbled cannoli shell).  Which left ... cookie dough pancakes.  I was inspired from my Dunkin' Donuts Cookie Dough iced coffee from the day before, so, I went for it.

The pancake was very large, hard to tell given the photo, but that was a normal size plate.  The base dough was fairly standard, buttermilk, but not particularly flavorful.  And ... yes, it had chunks of cookie dough baked in.

I know this doesn't sound like a great endorsement so far, but, it was a very well executed pancake.  The outside was absolutely perfectly crispy.  Golden on both sides.  And, it was served with real maple syrup of course.  I enjoyed my pancake, but I'd probably pick another kind next time, as there are far too many to explore.  North Street Grille has proven that they have the basic cooking technique down, which gives me great hope about all of the other varieties.

Specialty pancakes are available as a stack of 3 for $10-11, or as singles for $5 each.  Since I had already had a first breakfast before meeting my friend for brunch, I went for just a single.  I really liked that they allowed you to still get speciality pancakes as singles, many places only offer their speciality ones as full stacks, with only plain pancakes as singles.  $5 for a giant pancake seemed fine, although obviously the $10 price for 3 is a better deal, if you want a full stack.  If I was hungrier, I'd probably just pick two different kinds and mix and match.  Or one pancake and one french toast, so I could best of both worlds!

Next time!
Crab Cake Eggs Benedict / home fries with caramelized onions, roasted peppers and cheese.  $17.
My friend went for a savory option, not tempted by the decadent pancakes.  She ordered the crab cake benedict, normally served with a dijon hollandaise, but she opted for the regular hollandaise instead, as she doesn't like mustard.  The crab cakes benedict also normally comes with plain home fries, but our server casually asked if she would like cheese, peppers, and onions on top, which she gladly agreed to (because, who wouldn't?)  She didn't mention the $3 extra charge.

My friend generously offered to let me try everything.  The english muffins were nicely toasted, standard muffins.  The hollandaise also fairly standard, a bit thick.  The eggs were nicely poached.  Those parts were all well executed, but not anything out of the ordinary for a good brunch place.  The crab cakes were far more interesting than either of us expected, insanely zesty.

As for the home fries, the potatoes were crispy, but too oily for my taste.  The melted cheese and onions and peppers were a nice touch, but the cheese was kinda congealed by the time it reached our table.

Overall, good, but not my sort of dish.  When do I ever order eggs?

$17 seemed a bit high, but $3 of that was the upsell on the hash browns, and the crab cakes were each a decent size, so not unreasonable.
North Street Grille on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dunkin' Donuts - Seasonal Specials

Reviews of both iced and hot seasonal specials have been merged into my main Dunkin' Donuts drink review and baked goods review.