Mark Lo's blog

Acton Eats: Apple Picking and More at Area Orchards

Autumn is a season that brings a variety of emotions. Some people lament the end of the lazy days of summer, despair at starting yet another endless cycle of tests and homework, or dread the mere thought of the cold and snow that is surely around the corner. Others welcome the crisp, cool weather, the start of football season, or the bright colors of the fall foliage.

But one aspect of autumn in New England that everyone can enjoy is the bountiful harvest. In September and October, people head in droves to the local orchards to pick fresh, crisp apples, select pumpkins to carve for Halloween, or purchase jugs of just-pressed cider. Some orchards also feature hayrides, hedge mazes, petting zoos, and other activities that can keep families engaged for hours.

Acton Eats: Rapscallion Table and Tap

Rapscallion Table and Tap
5 Strawberry Hill Road
Acton, MA
(978) 429-8161
http://drinkrapscallion.com/restaurant/

Roughly 20 years ago, I was a member of a dining club that held monthly events. At one of those gatherings, we had a special guest, Brett Pacheco, who had just launched Concord Junction Brewing. He brought along some of his Concord Pale Ale for us to taste and proudly showed off the new six-pack holders he had just gotten printed up. My wife and I became big fans of the fledgling brewery, and the Pale Ale, Porter, Concord Grape Ale, Northwoods Ale and others became some of our favorite beers. Next up was a line of "artisanal" brews under the name Rapscallion that were, quite frankly, ahead of their time.

We followed the company as it outgrew its space in West Concord and moved to Shirley and then to Lowell. The company changed hands and monikers a few times before seemingly disappearing off the map. But today the Rapscallion name lives on, with beers brewed at Hyland Orchards in Sturbridge. And earlier this year, in a homecoming of sorts, Rapscallion opened its Table and Tap restaurant on Strawberry Hill Road.

Acton Eats: Ixtapa

Ixtapa
103 Nagog Park
Acton, MA
(978) 429-8251
http://ixtapacantina.com

What can I say about 103 Nagog Park, other than it’s been home to a long line of failed restaurants, including two Mexican eateries? With its opening on September 21st, Ixtapa threw its hat into the ring in a bid to break the curse. And judging by its track record, the local chain of five Mexican restaurants would appear to have a pretty good shot.

Acton Eats: The Red Raven

The Red Raven
3 Nagog Park
Acton, MA
(978) 274-2231
http://www.redravenacton.com/

More than one Acton friend I'd talked to over the past couple of years wondered out loud who would have the audacity to set up shop in the large building formerly occupied by ScupperJack's, especially with the economy still struggling to regain its footing. Now we know that the answer to that question is Josh Buehler, the former executive chef at KO Prime, who opened the doors to the Red Raven in late November.

Acton Eats: Spruce Street Bakery and Cafe

Spruce Street Bakery and Cafe
5 Spruce Street
Acton, MA
(978) 264-4040
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spruce-Street-Bakery-Cafe/497146243631788

The Spruce Street Bakery and Cafe opened in October of 2012, but it's just starting to flex its wings. West Acton's newest restaurant recently extended its hours to include evenings and Mondays, while the homemade gelato made its debut just in time for summer.

Acton Eats: Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets
371 Massachusetts Ave
Acton, MA
(978) 263-5351
http://www.johnnyrockets.com/

The tagline of the Johnny Rockets chain is "The Original Hamburger," which is a bit of an audacious claim. I'm pretty sure I can remember eating a hamburger before 1986, when the first Johnny Rockets location opened its doors. That said, the California-based chain does make a decent burger, and now you can get one right here in Acton, in the location formerly occupied by Friendly's.

Acton Eats: T.C. Lando's

T.C. Lando's
297 Main Street
Acton, MA
(978) 929-9955
http://www.thecheesesteakguys.com

If you live anywhere in suburban Boston, there are probably several nearby places that specialize in submarine sandwiches and pizza. And I'll bet you that most of them sell a lot more pizzas than they do subs. But in the case of TC Lando's, where the web address is thecheesesteakguys.com and the L in the company logo is a picture of a sub, you enter the shop thinking about subs.

Acton Eats: Fall Fruit Recipes

One of the great things about the fall season is the abundance of fresh fruit that's available from local farms and orchards. But sometimes my family finds that the fruit piles up faster than we can eat it, so we are always looking for recipes that will help us keep our inventory under control.

Here are three of our favorite recipes. All of them are super easy and can be adapted to use almost any type of fruit you have on hand.

Acton Eats: New London Style Pizza

New London Style Pizza
555 Massachusetts Avenue
Acton, MA
(978) 263-3033
http://www.actonnewlondonstylepizza.com/

They say that your favorite pizza is the one you grew up with, and when I was growing up, that meant New London Style Pizza. My family made weekly trips to the New London Style Pizza in West Concord, and being creatures of habit, we almost always got one pizza topped with green pepper and onion and one with either pepperoni or sausage.

These were Greek-style pizzas. Made in a pan, instead of right in the oven, these pizzas tasted of olive oil (in the crust) and oregano (sprinkled on top). The crust on a Greek pizza tends to be thicker than an Italian-style pie. It's airy on the inside, but nice and crisp on the outside. And, as my college friends from New York informed me, Greek pizza is "not real pizza."

Acton Eats: Beyond the Border (Closed)

Beyond the Border
103 Nagog Park
Acton, MA
(978) 264-0300
http://www.beyondtheborderofacton.com/

The location last occupied by Daniela's Bar and Grille has not been a lucky one, as many dining establishments have come and gone over the years. After a series of well publicized troubles, Daniela's lost its liquor license in December and closed its doors for good a short time later. But the Mexican restaurant did not sit empty for long, as the restaurant has since reopened, with a new owner and a new name.

My family paid a visit to Beyond the Border on a weeknight in July, and it still felt like a bit like a work in progress. For one thing, the old Daniela's sign was covered with a temporary-looking banner sporting the new moniker.

While the food was not bad, we hope the staff continues to refine the recipes. According to The Beacon, new owner Josely Nogueira cut his teeth as a manager at Chili's and it shows. Beyond the Border serves up Tex-Mex and Cajun dishes, but dialed down for the American palate.

Acton Eats: Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market

My family has belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for a dozen years, and my last two offices have been within a block or two of a farmers market. So maybe I can be excused for not attending the Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market for its first three years of existance. But I finally decided to atone for my past transgressions, and on the morning of the first official Sunday of summer, I headed to Pearl Street in West Acton to check it out.

And I have to say I was quite impressed. For one thing, Pearl Street is nice and shady, making it a great location for those hot days of summer. For another, the market has as wide a variety of vendors as I've ever seen at a farmers market. And as some of the booths are run by outfits that are only there every other week or even once a month, you can expect to find something new almost every time you go. And if you think farmers markets are good only for buying fruits and vegetables, be aware that you can get also get anything from fresh baked goods to meat and fish.

Acton Eats: Bickford's Family Restaurant

Bickford's Family Restaurant
20 Nagog Park
Acton, MA
(978) 263-0442
http://www.bickfords.com/

The last time my wife and I visited Bickford's was one night when our young son wanted pancakes for dinner, and Bickford's was the only place in town that served breakfast all day. But somewhere along the line, the restaurant started closing at 3pm, and we have not been back since.

Fast forward eight years or so, and most of the restaurants in Brockton-based chain have been remade to follow the Bickford's Grille concept. The Grille features steaks and seafood, drinks, and entertainment, with a bar-like vibe.

The Acton location of Bickford's, however, is a restaurant that time forgot. As always, the atmosphere is that of a traditional, bright family restaurant, similar to larger chains like Denny's or IHOP. Comfortable booths constitute the bulk of the seating, while sun plaques on the walls make for an interesting visual motif.

Acton Eats: Bueno y Sano

Bueno y Sano
263 Main Street
Acton, MA
(978) 263-9200
http://www.buenoysano.com/

A friend told me months ago that a Mexican place was poised to open in the spot formerly occupied by Harmony's Cafe, and apparently others had heard through the grapevine, too. My mom, my son, and I tried to go to Bueno y Sano on the opening night, March 28th, but the small parking lot was full and a line of customers stretched out the door. On our second attempt, on a Wednesday night in late April, we were still just able to get the last parking spot.

Word gets around quickly whenever a new restaurant opens in town, but this was something out of the ordinary. Perhaps the buzz was generated by local denizens who were already acquainted with the other four Bueno y Sano locations, in Western Massachusetts and Vermont. Whatever the case, the anticipation was running high.

Acton Eats: Twin Seafood

Acton Eats:
541 Massachusetts Avenue
Acton, MA
(978)-635-0010
http://www.twinsseafood.com

Brothers John and Joe Loblundo have owned and operated Twin Seafood in West Concord for more than 20 years. And in October of last year, they opened their new West Acton location, in a building that was formerly occupied by Village Art (which moved to 88 Windsor Avenue). Like the Concord location, the Acton store is both a fish market and a seafood restaurant. The fish counter sells live lobsters, salmon fillets, fresh shrimp, stuffed clams, and more, while the restaurant serves seafood dishes ranging from fried oysters to fish and chips. Clam rolls come with either whole clams or clam strips, and chicken and burgers are available for those who do not care for the fruits of the sea.

Acton Eats: Sorrento's

Sorrento's
251 Main Street
Acton, MA
(978) 264-9006
http://www.sorrentospizzeria.com/

At first glance, Sorrento's looks pretty much like your average pizza parlor, with a handful of tables in the front, a couple of beverage coolers against the side wall, and a menu written on blackboards above a counter that runs the length of the restaurant. But then you look behind the counter and see the brick oven, glowing inside from the pile of burning logs in the back. The brick oven gets so hot that Sorrento's thin crust pizzas cook in just a couple of minutes, less time than it takes to read the long list of pizza varieties available on the menu.

Acton Eats: The Local Table (Closed)

The Local Table
251 Arlington Street
Acton, MA
(978) 263-8743
http://www.localtable-acton.com/

The restaurant formerly known as Savoury Lane has undergone the next stage in its metamorphosis. Current owner Rose Saia bought the place just over a year ago, gave it a facelift, added a bar, and changed the spelling of the name to "Savory Lane." My family and I visited last summer to try their new Sunday brunch, and their Homemade Hash and Eggs and their Brioche French Toast were first rate.

Toward the end of last year, Saia changed the restaurant's name again, this time to the "Local Table," to highlight the menu's reliance on produce from area farms and vendors, as well as to position the restaurant as a place where the locals could go to have a meal or just relax with a pint of beer or a glass of wine.

Acton Eats: Supermarket Showdown (Part 2 of 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I compared Acton's big three supermarkets: Stop and Shop, Roche Bros., and Donelan's.

In this final installment, I'll present a few detailed notes on each of the three stores.

Acton Eats: Supermarket Showdown (Part 1 of 2)

When we move to an area, we might consider where our kids will go to school, what our commute might be like, or maybe what houses of worship are nearby. But until we’re safely moved in, most of us overlook another question that affects our daily lives: Where will we shop for our food?

For some people, convenience is the paramount factor, but for those of us who think of food as more than sustenance, the supermarket we shop at can be a source of either comfort or frustration. In this two-part series, I'll be comparing Acton's three major supermarkets: Stop and Shop, Roche Bros., and Donelan's.

Acton Eats: Acton House of Pizza

Acton House of Pizza
494 Main Street
Acton, MA
(978) 263-0018
http://www.actonhouseofpizza.com/

Greek pizza places are often maligned by those who are not native New Englanders, because they don't serve "real" pizza, whatever that means. But one attribute you can't deny is the diversity of their menus. At Acton House of Pizza, for example, it includes not just pizza and subs, but pasta, strombolis, burgers, fried seafood platters, and steak tip dinners. Plus, you can get Greek specialties like spanikopita, kabobs, or egg lemon soup. In fact, it took my mom, my son, and I so long to decided what to get on a recent visit that the waitress had to come over at least four times before we were ready to order.

Acton Eats: Acton Coffee House

Acton Coffee House
342 Great Road
Acton, MA
(978) 263-3700
http://www.actoncoffeehouse.com

If you're looking for an upscale coffee shop that has the feel of a Starbucks or a Peet's but is locally owned and operated, look no further than Acton Coffee House. Located at the intersection of Routes 2A and 27, in the former home of Cafe Ziba, the shop serves espresso and lattes, plus a selection of pastries. The Coffee House is also socially conscious and emphasizes organic and free-trade products, such as coffee from Dean's Beans and tea and cocoa from Equal Exchange.

Acton Eats: Makaha

Makaha
255 Great Road
Acton, MA
(978) 263-3371
http://www.themakaha.com/

Growing up Chinese in the Boston area meant having to go to Chinatown for authentic Chinese food. The suburbs were dominated by so-called "Polynesian" restaurants, known mostly for their exotic drinks and tiki-style decor. My family's favorite was the Kona Kai in West Concord, where we always ordered the Pu-Pu Platter, much to the chagrin of the owner. "You don't want that," he would say. "That's for the Americans."

At age 11, my son had never experienced the wonder of a Pu-Pu Platter, so my mom and I decided it was time to take him to Mahaka.

Acton Eats: Acton Jazz Cafe (Closed)

Acton Jazz Cafe
452 Great Road
Acton, MA
(978) 263-6161
http://www.actonjazzcafe.com/

[Author's note: In October 2012, Acton Jazz Cafe moved to 103 Nagog Park. The phone number remains the same.]

[Author's note: The 103 Nagog Park location is now closed. The restaurant hopes to reopen in Littleton under the name ACT III.]

The Acton Jazz Cafe is a bar and a restaurant, but first and foremost it's a venue for live music. The decor gives this away, with sound proofing material placed on the ceiling in geometric patterns, glittering CDs hanging from strings, and musician autographs scrawled on the door in black marker.

The AJC hosts bands every day of the week except for Monday, when it's closed. On the other days, up to three separate shows are on the schedule. Regional artists play on Friday and Saturday nights, while a revolving cast of regulars plays during the week.

Acton Eats: Savory Lane

Savory Lane
251 Arlington Street
Acton, MA
(978) 263-8743
http://www.savorylane.com/

[Savory Lane is now known as the Local Table. Read a more current review.]

When my family belonged to the Thoreau Club in West Concord, we used to cool off in the pool on a summer evening and then have a light supper at the snack bar, which was run by the West Acton catering company called Savoury Lane. We'd have a hot dog or a hamburger, or maybe a container of their delicious curried chicken salad.

If you have any old memories of Savoury Lane, you can toss them out the window. Long-time Acton resident Rose Saia purchased the business in January and has slowly been transforming the operation into a cafe and bistro.

Acton Eats: Sprigs (Closed)

Sprigs
5 Strawberry Hill Road
Acton, MA
(978) 263-3325
http://www.sprigsrestaurant.com/

I was chatting with some fellow soccer parents some time ago, when one of the mothers lamented having to drive to Boston to go out for dinner. But another mentioned she had just tried Sprigs, saying it stood out from the many restaurants that serve typical, conservative suburban fare.

And she was certainly right about that. The soup of the day on a recent June evening was a spicy conch chowder, the appetizer special was crab and tuna spring rolls with an orange chili dipping sauce, and the entrees included grilled halibut with preserved lemon and crab relish and a grilled flank steak with potato spring rolls and creamed spinach.

Acton Eats: Tailgaters Grille

Tailgaters Grille
166 Great Road
Acton, MA
(978) 429-8146
http://www.tailgatersgrilles.com/

In January, Clinton firefighter Dean Weeks saw his dreams go up in smoke when he responded to a four-alarm fire at his own restaurant, a sports bar that went by the name of Tailgaters Grille. But Weeks had the opportunity to make a fresh start, as he already had a second location in the works. That second location, on Route 2A in Acton, opened in early April.