Mary Ellen’s Portuguese Bakery -Pork-o-Palooza!

After a somewhat mediocre meal at Sam’s, I wasn’t holding out high hopes for breakfast. Sure, there might be lobster rolls to be had in summer mornings, but what about late spring? I was pretty much counting on a Starbucks pastry. Then, somewhere, I read about this little gem. 
Mary Ellen’s Portuguese bakery is a small diner/bakery that serves diner standards as well as traditional Portuguese fare. When we walked in at 7 a.m., the place was hopping with local men and women, many of whom, we noticed, had their food brought to them without even ordering and had specific coffee cups in the mismatched plate ware. It was a total family, community affair, but we were quickly seated,  treated like we had been there all of our lives instead of being a few interlopers.
 And really…any restaurant that serves a plethora of pork in the morning is going to get patronized by me.
Before we sat down, we surveyed the bakery counter, which had all sorts of conventional and Portuguese specialty baked goods. There was a cheese and linguicia bread that looked amazing…
But we settled on this Portuguese doughnut. More a fried brioche than a sweet bread, it was covered in powder-fine crystallized sugar that made it sugary but not cloyingly so. A perfect precursor to our meal.
 
The linguicia and egg sandwich on a Portuguese roll was really perfection. The linguicia was zesty with red pepper, sweet with the pork and perfectly moist, the way good linguicia is. The thin omelette was the perfect light counterpart to the heavy sausage, and the bread was totally fantastic. Thick but not dense, soft still substantial, it totally held in all the grease (we call that flavor, here) but had such a supple crust that my teeth easily tore through it, with none of the tug and war one needs with a ciabatta or baguette.
Dontcha just love a culture who eats stewed pork at all times of the day or night? This Cacoila (slow braised Brazilian pork) was tender but not at all mushy, and served with a piquant, spicy broth that was full of vinegar and chilies. Though the sauce was sour, tangy and zesty all at once, what was amazing was how strong the pork flavor shone through here. There was none of the garlicky, onion-y flavor of the linguicia here. The vinegar and chilies just brought out the pork’s inherent moistness and sweet flavor. This was rich but not at ALL heavy, also unlike the linguicia.
It was so not heavy, I could have eaten 3 of them.
Mary Ellen’s Portuguese bakery may have been my favorite find of the trip. Kind service, unbelievably cheap prices, and some of the most delicious breakfast food that I have ever had the privilege of shoveling down my gullet. Get yourself to Mary Ellen’s if you find yourself in Falmouth.
Don’t worry…somehow Starbucks will find the business to survive.
Mary Ellen's Portuguese Bakery on Urbanspoon

Seafood Sam’s in Falmouth, MA

Are you interested in knowing what is open in March on Cape Cod? The hospital, the mechanic and probably the local brothel. But most of the restaurants, from the elegant French inspired fare of fine dining establishments to the one room shacks on the beach that serve steamers dripping in butter, are closed for the season.
 Which is why when we saw Seafood Sam’s on the road, we pulled over and hollered in glee. For awhile there, it looked like it was going to be Fritos and beef jerky for dinner.
Not that I mind that for dinner. Actually, I quite like that meal with a bottle of ice-cold root beer.
Anyway…
Seafood Sam’s was incredibly casual with a kitschy seafaring theme that included giant lobsters and paintings of lighthouses that were meant to look antique, but gave off more of a Home Goods feel.
Obviously, I loved it. I’m a theater gal at hear – kitschy is great by me.
Clam chowder. Thick, hearty, a bit too creamy for my tastes, but with enough thyme and pepper to make it interesting. Chunks of potato and large pieces of clams. Wish it was a bit more “clam” than “chowder,” but that’s just my preference.
And it certainly did pass the “Can this chowder hold a utensil upright for at least 5 seconds” test. 
Stuffed Quahog. This was great – the filling was almost creamy, with a peppery, spicy kick and large slivers of melt-in-your-mouth clams. A spritz of lemon brought a light and acidic note to the whole affair. Note that I did NOT put the butter on the stuffie…even though I REALLY wanted to!
Baked Seafood Platter with lobster, haddock, scallop and shrimp, topped with butter and breadcrumbs. This was the downer of the meal. Mealy lobster and oily scallops. The haddock was tender and mild and the shrimps were really good-quite tender and buttery, with a salty, ocean-fresh flavor. But the seafood was generally disappointing. It might have been fresh, but it tasted mushy and greasy. Major fail.
BEANS! These baked beans were the real deal-sweet, smokey, saucy with firm yet creamy beans. The beans’ hearty earthiness was a perfect counterpoint to the briny seafood that comprised the rest of the meal.
All in all, Sam’s was good, but not great. The quahog was delicious but the seafood platter and clam chowder were mixed bags. Luckily, those really awesome beans put the meal over the top. Sam’s was cheap and pretty good, but more of a meal on the go, not a destination place. 
You know, like fritos and beef jerky…which, like I said, makes a totally awesome dinner.
Seafood Sam's on Urbanspoon

Mario’s Bakery, Fall River – A Middle Eastern Vacation

Just so there is no confusion out there…naming this road trip, the Quahog Chronicles, has way more to do with WHERE to road trip is (Up the coast of Southern New England) than WHAT we ate. Sure, we ate a lot of quahogs, but not at every meal. Like not at this one, for example:
We were driving right through Fall River, MA, which has a huge Portuguese population, but did you know it also has quite a substantial Lebanese population?
Me either! Thanks to a few food-centric friends, I was directed to Mario’s for a quick stop through the Middle East.
*We were 45 minutes away from the spot when I called and asked what time they closed – half an hour. Upon hearing how disappointed I was, Maroun offered to keep the store opened for an extra 20 minutes for us. This was without my mentioning I would review him or him even knowing if I would show. This was just because he wanted someone new to experience his food and the love he has for his culture’s culinary identity. He didn’t have to stay open – we certainly weren’t buying mass quantities of food – but for Mario, it wasn’t all about the money. This is the kind of place that we, as food lovers MUST patronize to ensure they stay in business with all the big boys. Ok, now off soapbox and back to food porn*
The scents of fresh baking bread, cinnamon and garlic all greeted us as we entered the tiny store.
Luckily, Mario had a mop on hand to wipe up the drool that dribbled out of my mouth.
It aint’ fancy, and you KNOW how I feel about that…
LOVE IT!
 Just a brick oven, a fridge full of dough to go, a few Lebanese seasonings and ingredients for sale and…
 Lots of these fabulous meat filled pies. They were incredibly cheap and…
incredibly delicious!

The dough was reminiscent of slightly thicker pizza dough-floury, yeasty, a bit chewy and with excellent hole structure. The meat was fragrant, spicy, sweet and just freakin delicious. Cinnamon, cardamom, red pepper, oregano…who the hell KNOWS what was in there? It was incredibly complex – way more intricate than shwarma, yet not at all greasy or heavy. It was – dare I say – light? It was meaty and satisfying, but that was it. Not too heavy, not too spicy, just perfectly balanced. If you like Moroccan or Middle Eastern food, you will simply LOVE this.
I mean, I loved 4 of them.  
And that was before I loved this dessert bread. The same slightly sour, pliant dough laden with nutty sesame seeds and lashings of sweet honey. Sweet, nutty, doughy…what sounds wrong with that sentence?
 Nothing, according to my sister.
My favorite bread was a shocker – the freebie that Maroun gave us for all of our enthusiasm. This was simply bread covered in the house blended za’atar. All I have to say is…
WHAT THE HECK KIND OF CARDBOARD SHAVINGS HAVE I BEEN EATING ALL THIS TIME?
NEVER have I had za’atar like this. One bite kicked me in the face and practically jettisoned me to the Dead Sea, Lebanon and all other places Middle East. It was incredibly aromatic, almost like a savory perfume (not like rosewater though…HATE rosewater), and there was a powerful citrus taste that really made the bread wheatier and the sesame seeds meatier. Not at all salty or spicy, but with that evasive, mouthwatering flavor known as umami, it was just impossible to stop eating. It begged only for a tiny bit of the yogurt that Mario sold. 
Can’t believe I didn’t buy that yogurt when I had the chance.
Sometimes, I hate myself.
But I sure as hell don’t hate Mario’s! This place is run by the kindest lover of food who just can’t wait to share his cultural legacy with you via meat pies and other goodies. It is cheap, it is delicious, and it is the type of place that…well you know where I am going with this.
You have to support it…you just have to. They deserve to stay open.

And you deserve to see some more quahogs on these Quahog Chronicles!
With that, we continue northward…