Brunch At Back Deck

Back Deck, Boston, Mass.

This past weekend I stayed in Boston with one of my friends, and it was the perfect opportunity to check out Back Deck's new brunch menu. On Sunday morning, we both worked on some wedding stuff at her place, and then we headed over to Back Deck right when it opened at 11:30. (Brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 to 3.)

It's located on West Street in Downtown Crossing, and while the street itself is a little dark and shadowy, the restaurant gets a good deal of natural light. The teak chairs and plentiful potted plants give the room an outdoorsy vibe, sort of like sitting out on a patio.

Back Deck, Boston, Mass.

The concept behind Back Deck is backyard grilling in a laid-back city setting. The restaurant has three hardwood charcoal grills, which chef Paul Sussman has nicknamed "Big Red," "Monty," and "Nelly." There's an open kitchen so diners can actually see the grilling happening, just as they would at an outdoor picnic or at a roof deck party. But unlike an outdoor picnic or roof deck party, the restaurant brings grilling inside and keeps it going all year-round.

Back Deck, Boston, Mass.

Shortly after we were seated, our waitress came over to take our order and she was super-friendly and helpful, answering our various questions about the offerings (what vegetables are in the goat cheese and vegetable omelet, etc.). We were impressed that Back Deck offers iced coffee, and my friend ordered one, while I went with an iced tea.

We decided to start with the grilled pink grapefruit half drizzled with honey. I'm not sure if this is typical, but we actually got two halves when our order arrived.

We loved the warm grapefruit, which was nicely charred and lightly sweetened. The only difficulty was getting it out of the peel because it wasn't sectioned at all. I realize it would be difficult to grill a sectioned grapefruit, but it would be helpful if it was sectioned after grilling -- or if it was served with a serrated grapefruit spoon.

Pink grapefruit drizzled with honey at Back Deck, Boston, Mass.

My friend is a huge eggs Benedict fan, so she was immediately drawn to that on the menu. It ended up being a great choice because it was absolutely perfect. The eggs oozed golden, runny yolk everywhere as soon as she cut into them. And she described the hollandaise as being light and just the right amount -- some eggs Benedicts can have overwhelming, thick, gloppy hollandaise, but that was not the case here.

Eggs Benedict at Back Deck, Boston, Mass.

We shared a side of the green apple slaw. This was the only disappointment that morning. It just didn't have the apple presence we expected. It's more like regular slaw with bits of apple. We both wanted to punch it up a bit with a lot more apple and a little more acidity. It was crunchy and not swimming in mayonnaise, so those were pluses.

Green apple slaw at Back Deck, Boston, Mass.

We also shared a side of home fries, not realizing that both of our breakfasts would come with them. It didn't hurt having an extra helping of them, though. They were crisp on the outside, cooked through (I hate home fries that are still raw in the middle), nicely seasoned, and accompanied by soft onions.

Home fries at Back Deck, Boston, Mass.

I ordered the ham and cheddar omelet. I know it's not the most adventurous breakfast option, but it was exactly what I was in the mood for. The omelet was stuffed with a thick layer of cheddar and plenty of thinly sliced ham. A little grilled bread on the side was charred and very soft and buttery.

Ham and cheddar omelet at Back Deck, Boston, Mass.

Overall, we really enjoyed our brunch and were pleasantly surprised by the relaxed, patio-like atmosphere in the midst of bustling Downtown Crossing. While we opted to have egg dishes, there are also more lunch-like options on the brunch menu if that's more your thing.

This meal was complimentary, but as always I'm giving you my honest opinion.

What's the strangest thing you've ever grilled or the strangest grilled thing you've ever eaten?

Back Deck on Urbanspoon


Sampling The Menu At Nix's Mate

Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

Nix's Mate, a restaurant that takes its name from an island in the Boston Harbor, is located just beyond the Boston Harbor Hotel in the Hilton in the Financial District. I recently went to check it out with seven lovely ladies. We filled a large round table in the corner, where we had a great view of the rest of the restaurant. I really loved the minimalist decor and think the William Fly Room would be a stunning spot for an event.

Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

We spent a few minutes looking over the menu, which boasts seasonally inspired fare, and decided to share a bunch of appetizers. I collected everyone's votes for what they would most like to try. When our waitress came over, I gave her the rundown, and then we all settled back into chatting and catching up.

Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

We started with the polpette vongole, tiny meatballs in a red clam sauce. It sounded odd but was intriguing. The dish was tasty but a little difficult to eat with the clams still in the shells. It makes for great presentation, though.

Polpette vongole at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the bacon-wrapped scallop skewers with maple butter that were a special that night. I passed on these since I don't love scallops and there were plenty more dishes heading our way.

Bacon-wrapped scallop skewers at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

The fried "crab cake" nuggets with a shaved beet salad, mustardy aioli, arugula, watermelon, roasted corn, and walnuts was also a special that evening... and one of my favorite dishes. The dish was filled with crisp, crunchy, juicy summer produce, and the little crab nuggets added their own hot, crunchy presence. I kind of wished I didn't have to share this dish with everyone else.

Crab cake nuggets with beet salad at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

The tuna carpaccio nicoise featured cracked olives, green beans, roasted potatoes, capers, hard-boiled egg, and lemon aioli. It was a flavorful rendition of the classic combination.

Tuna carpaccio nicoise at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

The braised veal cheek "pot au feu" was another of my favorite dishes. The soft, tender veal just about melted in my mouth, and the crisp tender vegetables, enriched with bone marrow, were light and tasty accompaniments.

Braised veal cheek at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

The Harbor Island flatbread, topped with spicy fried rock shrimp, salami, pepperoni, tomato gravy, mozzarella, and leeks, sounded much better than it actually was. The crust was on the soggy side, and the combination of flavors just didn't work for me.

Harbor Island flatbread at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

For something lighter, we wanted to try one of the salads and chose the Boston Bibb, which has pecans, blackberries, caramelized onion dressing, and cornbread croutons. It was a nice break from the heavier dishes.

Boston Bibb salad at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

The fried Maine lobster caramel, which I'd heard was the dish to order, was the most interesting lobster combination I can ever remember having. The battered fried chunks of lobster sit in a pool of warm Vermont cheddar and caramel. There's also some green onions and chiles imparting flavor to the dish, so there was some sweetness, some richness, and some spiciness. I can't say I've ever had lobster with cheese or caramel, and I wonder how the chef thought it up. It was another of my favorite dishes of all those we tried. (I only wished it was a little hotter, but it may have just been that it cooled down during the time it took eight women to photograph it.)

Fried Maine lobster caramel at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

Dinner was good but there wasn't really anything that made me think I needed to rush back to Nix's Mate to have it again, not even the lobster. So I was a bit disappointed in our visit. Not ready to give up on the new restaurant, though, and always happy to satisfy my sweet tooth, I convinced everyone we should try some desserts. This was a good move because the desserts were amazing.

The chocolate-hazelnut torte was rich and fudgy with an even richer and fudgier chocolate sauce on top.

Chocolate-hazelnut torte at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

The ice cream sandwiches impressed me because the cookies were actually really good. I find that I'm always disappointed in cookies on restaurant dessert menus, but I loved how these were nice and chewy and flavorful. They were filled with various Christina's ice creams and topped with caramel.

Ice cream sandwiches at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

It's pretty well-known that I am anti bread pudding (I can't stand how soggy most of them are), but I gave the bananas foster bread pudding a try and was pleasantly surprised. The homemade brioche was moist but not drenched and the toasted marshmallow and ice cream on top and bruleed banana on the side completed the sweet, sticky dish.

Bananas foster bread pudding at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

I love panna cotta and was delighted to see a strawberry shortcake on the menu that featured buttermilk panna cotta inside a buttermilk biscuit with buttermilk caramel and strawberries. This was a lighter dessert option with bright, summery strawberry flavor.

Strawberry shortcake at Nix's Mate, Boston, Mass.

I enjoyed the night out with friends and was happy to have tried a new place. The meal ended on a high note with some interesting, well-executed desserts.

Do you have high expectations when you go out to eat?

Nix's Mate on Urbanspoon


A First Attempt At Grilled Pizza

Grilled pizza

I have been wanting to make grilled pizza all summer, and we finally gave it a shot last Friday. I had read a few recipes and even watched a video in preparation. I knew we'd have to work quickly, so I got all of our toppings ready ahead of time. The plan was to grill the dough on one side and then the other, then pull it off to top it, and finally pop it back on the grill just to warm the toppings and melt the cheese. Even though I turned the heat way down when we returned the pizza to the grill, the bottom still got a little too charred. Next time I think I would turn the grill off and place the pizza on foil to add a little insulation between it and the grill. While our pizza wasn't perfect, it was a very tasty first attempt.

Grilled pizza

Here's what we did: Jeff went out to heat the grill (all burners on high). And I stayed inside to prep all of our toppings. There was grilled chicken, mozzarella cheese, red onion, and pesto for him and spinach, kalamata olives, orange cherry tomatoes, red onion, and feta for me.

I divided the dough in half, stretched each half, and placed the halves on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. I crushed a couple of garlic cloves, put them in a small bowl, and poured some olive oil on top. Then I brushed the dough with the garlicky olive oil.

We put the dough on the blazing-hot grill (cleaned well and oiled). We were supposed to put it olive oil side down, but we messed up and left it olive oil side up. Luckily, the bottom still charred nicely and didn't stick.

Grilled pizza

Once we saw those nice char marks underneath, we flipped the dough and let the other side char. (Had we placed the dough on the oiled side originally, we would have brushed oil on the side that was facing up, so when we flipped the dough, there would be oil on that side too.)

Grilled pizza

Once we got nice char marks on the second side, we slid the crusts back onto the sheet pan and brought them inside to top them. We also turned the grill way down.

Jeff spread pesto all over his crust and then arranged his other toppings over it.

Grilled pizza

I didn't use any sort of sauce and just let the garlicky olive oil provide the base for my toppings, which I scattered on top.

Grilled pizza

We slid the pizzas back on the grill, covered them with foil to help the mozzarella melt, and closed the lid. When we went back out to check on them, my nose immediately informed me that they were overdone. We got them off the grill right away. Luckily, there was just a little charring on the bottom and the pizzas were still almost fully edible.

Grilled pizza

Grilled pizza

We cut them up and feasted on our creations. The crust was really crisp but also a little chewy, and the toppings had warmed just enough. Besides a little too much blackening, I was happy with the pizzas, and I'm excited to give grilled pizza another try, this time being much more cautious when we put the pizzas on the grill that final time.

Grilled pizza

Have you ever made grilled pizza?


Coppa, Perfect For Sharing

After three visits, I would have to say Coppa is becoming one of my favorite restaurants in Boston. The food is nearly always phenomenal (I've had less than a handful of dishes that weren't my thing), and the service has always been great. 

I love that you can go with a group (though not a very large one because the restaurant is quite small; I'd say three to six people is good) and share salumi served on a pig-shaped cutting board. (I actually registered for a pig-shaped cutting board to re-create this experience at home.) 

On my most recent visit with four other dining companions (Jeff, a friend from work, her boyfriend, and a college friend who happened to be in town for the night), we went with the chef's choice and found ourselves nibbling on five different meats, including mortadella, prosciutto, and duck prosciutto, along with pickles and marinated mushrooms. 

Chef's choice salumi at Coppa, Boston, Mass.

I also love that Coppa offers interesting stuzzichini, or Italian bar snacks, that are perfect for sharing. Can you tell I like sharing and sampling a lot? Our group opted to not only share bar snacks and salumi but antipasti and pasta as well. The dishes come out as they're ready so you don't typically have a pile-up of food at the table, but rather the food comes in rounds. I've also ordered in rounds before, adding on more dishes as the night goes on, which we did this time with pizza.

The wood-roasted meatballs with lardo and tomato gravy disappeared in no time. Meatballs are comfort food and everyone loved Coppa's take. The sauce is rich and a sprinkling of Parmesan lends just the right salty notes.

Wood-roasted meatballs at Coppa, Boston, Mass.

A cauliflower dish featured traditional white cauliflower, along with purple and green varieties, making the dish vibrant and interesting.

Cauliflower at Coppa, Boston, Mass.

The stuffed artichokes may have just been my favorite dish of the whole evening and reminded me that I've been longing to try preparing artichokes this way at home.

Stuffed artichokes at Coppa, Boston, Mass.

My friend really wanted to try the tuna crudo, so we added on an order. The tuna was paired with thinly shaved radish, Sriracha, and sweet cicely (an anise-flavored herb). It was one of the lighter dishes we had, but it made up for its lack of heft in flavor.

Tuna crudo at Coppa, Boston, Mass.

We split two pastas among the table. The cavatelli di pollo features house-made pasta with chicken sausage and slow-cooked broccoli and is a definite crowd-pleaser. A pasta with braised lamb that I think was a special that day (or is no longer on the menu) was good overall, but we found it a little oversalted. In general, Coppa's house-made pastas are not to be missed. (The strozzapretti con pesto, which was trophie con pesto when I first had it, is my favorite pasta dish there, likely because it uses Piave, one of my favorite cheeses.)

Cavatelli di pollo at Coppa, Boston, Mass.

Finding ourselves with a little space left to fill, we tacked a pizza I'm very familiar with on to our order: the salsiccia. It's a thin-crust pizza loaded with pork sausage, ricotta, fennel, tomato, and mozzarella. It does pack some heat, but the heat is balanced by the other components.

Salsiccia pizza at Coppa, Boston, Mass.

I couldn't talk anyone into the roasted pig's tail this time, but it's a must-try if you're feeling adventurous when you go.

As I said above, the food is nearly always phenomenal, and the restaurant is a great place to go with a small group, especially if everyone in that group is willing to share.

Do you like to share small plates when you go out?

Coppa on Urbanspoon


Corn Salad With Basil, Tomatoes, And Red Onion

Corn salad with basil, tomatoes, and red onion

Summer's not over yet... so make this corn salad while there's still fresh, local corn, tomatoes, and basil on hand. You won't be disappointed. This is another dish I made for my friend's bachelorette party up in Vermont in July, and everyone loved it. It's bright and citrusy and has a nice combination of textures.

I tried to pick easy, summery side dishes, like the fregola with tomatoes and this corn salad, to make for dinner. And just as with the fregola dish, I had anticipated grilling and had to change my plans when we learned we wouldn't be able to use the grill. As long as you have a pan without a nonstick coating, you'll be able to move this dish inside too. (If you want to try this on the grill, use this recipe.)

Corn salad with basil, tomatoes, and red onion

Corn Salad With Basil, Tomatoes, And Red Onion (adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2012)


12 ears of corn, husked
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 small thinly sliced red onion
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt and pepper
Crumbled feta, for serving


Start by cutting all of the corn kernels off the cobs.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet. Cook corn over medium-high heat, stirring only occasionally to let it brown. This will take a while.

Make sure to scrape up all the brown bits in the bottom of the pan.

The corn is done when the kernels are golden brown.

Transfer the corn to a large serving bowl.

Place the sliced onion in strainer and rinse with cold water.

Stir the onion, remaining 5 tablespoons olive oil, tomatoes, basil, lime juice, and thyme into the corn. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve, passing feta on the side.

Corn salad with basil, tomatoes, and red onion

What dishes are you making to hold on to summer?