Massachusetts will always be very special to me. After all, I spent some of my most important years in this state, starting in junior high and going through my time at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Life brought me to Canada after graduation, but I still visit Massachusetts regularly to see family and old friends. I was most recently here this July.
Of course, no visit to Massachusetts, or anywhere else for that matter, is complete without great food experiences. Luckily, Massachusetts offers a variety of fabulous food options, some that are famous and some that are hidden gems. This summer, I had the chance to eat at some old haunts, a recent favorite and even a couple new places.
In no particular order, here’s my list of the Top 5 hidden food gems in Massachusetts:
Looking back on my undergrad university years, I always thought that there were two things that brought the entire school together: 1. Our awesome NCAA Division 1 Basketball team, the Minutemen and 2. Antonio’s Pizza.
Let’s not talk about what happened to the Minutemen; let’s talk about the pizza instead. The perfect crust, the most delicious and fresh toppings and Antonio’s magic touch makes it simply the best pizza in the world. Every so often, I get this undeniable craving for Antonio’s pizza, which translates into “Hey, how about a road-trip to Massachusetts?”
Admittedly, there is a little part of that craving that has a lot to do with nostalgia of some of the best years of my life. Nostalgia aside, this pizza really is so good that I would drive over 350 miles for just a couple of slices. I visited with my husband when we first got married about 8 years ago and he fell in love at first slice, as well. Since then, we’ve added two boys to our family, who have become fast fans, too!
2) Harrison’s Roast Beef, North Andover
Another place filled with lots of old memories for me is Harrison’s Roast Beef in North Andover, a high school favorite for me then and still a favorite today for many high school kids in the Merrimack Valley. This is not a fancy or even semi-fancy restaurant by any means. It was a dive back in high school, and remains one today. You certainly do not go there for the rarified ambience or a leisurely dining experience.
The thing about dives, though, is that sometimes they have the best food around. In Harrison’s case, it is their famous, delicious and entirely satisfying roast beef sandwiches. My favorite: Roast beef + Mustard sauce. The corn beef is pretty good as well and some folks like their sandwiches with Harrison’s barbeque sauce and a side, like onion rings or fries.
During the last few years, we have discovered the fantastic Gingerbread Construction Company in Wakefield, MA, which originally began in Winchester. Their muffins come in many flavors, such as Boston Kreme, Strawberry Shortcake and Chocolate Dream. My personal favorite is the Gingerbread, their signature muffin. This one is perfectly spiced, with a swirl of cream cheese icing and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar.
The Gingerbread Muffin Loaf is equally amazing. My kids can’t get enough of the chocolate chip cookies and I agree that these are definitely some of the best cookies around, full of gooey and soft chocolate chip goodness.
4) Pazzo Gelato, North Andover
Gelato is my number one choice of frozen treats and my favorite type of gelato is the nutty kind, like Pistachio, Bacio (chocolate with hazelnut) and Nocciolo (hazelnut). It’s easy for everyone to enjoy the gelato experience at Pazzo Gelato, even people with nut allergies, as the shop keeps their nut selection completely separate from the rest of their equally awesome and extensive flavor selection.
Pazzo offers a modern chic and a warm inviting ambiance while you enjoy gelato, baked goods, coffee, sandwiches and more. Pazzo Gelato also offers fast and extremely friendly service. Can’t make up your mind? Everything looks so good and you want to try a dozen flavors first? No problem, the staff will gladly oblige with a big smile.
We ordered Chinese take-out from Sichuan Garden II one evening. Located in Woburn, it is the sister location of Boston’s Sichuan Garden. All menu items we ordered, such as the beef with green beans, the Kung Pao chicken and the noodles with shrimp, hit the spot.