A bit of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin often quoted in Boston: “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” It dovetails with a nugget of history often quoted in Boston: That the pilgrims were headed to Virginia but ended their journey at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts because they ran out of beer.
Actually, the Pilgrims were probably short on many things necessary to survival, as they’d gone off course on their way to America and feared they wouldn’t make Virginia by winter. But most historians do agree that when it came to hydration in those days, beer was considered safer than water, so it was a standard commodity on long sea voyages.
Anyway, Boston and beer have a long, storied relationship, and today, craft breweries are booming. The Massachusetts Brewers Guild counts 120 breweries in the state, highly concentrated around Boston.
A good way to sample many is to go by van on a brewery tour (we took City Brew Tours, led by the garrulous Gabriel). This way you won’t have to navigate Boston traffic, which is horrendous. And you will pick up such tidbits as: Many of the Founding Fathers were homebrewers. And one of them, Samuel Adams, namesake of one of Boston’s first craft beers, sold the malt used to make beer. “Which proves, if you can make your own beer, you can start your own nation,” as Gabriel told us.
Boston is also home to the Bell in Hand Tavern, billed as the first tavern in the country. It was founded in 1795 by Jimmy Wilson, the town crier, a trade he plied with bell in hand.
The many boutique oyster farms around Cape Cod keep Boston supplied with a wide variety of the bivalves — you might hear names like Blue Yonder or Nauti Pilgrim.
Just about anywhere in the city, once happy hour strikes, you can find raw oysters for a dollar apiece. And happy hour can be more than three hours long at some restaurants, or until the oysters are gone.
On the whole, they’re fresh and briny — and fabulous companions to Boston beers.
The Eater Boston website offers a comprehensive guide to dollar oysters, searchable by neighborhood and day of the week. It provides, maps, directions and helps with reservations, too. Go to 808ne.ws/bostonoysters.
Dollar-oyster offerings are common in towns outside Boston as well. This tray is typical of what you’d get in Boston, but was found in Connecticut.
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Deadline is Sept. 30.
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: CANNOLI AND MORE
It was, of course, impossible to try every iconic dish in this food-hearty town, but I’ll be back (I have a kid in graduate school there; it’ll be a five-year process).
My first mission will be cannoli. I didn’t find one I could love, but I’m sure it’s out there. A chocolate chip version looked good, but was a taste and texture disappointment. If you get there before me, try Mike’s Pastry, Modern Pastry or Eataly. Next time I’ll do more research.
Also on my list: fried clams, a frappe (Boston’s milkshake, which looks amazing in photos), a sandwich piled high with thin-sliced roast beef, Yankee pot roast and Boston-style pizza (that may take four or five samplings).
Baked beans, which I skipped over this time, seem necessary as well (it’s called Beantown, after all), along with a contemporary version of a Boston cream pie.
Plus, more lobster, more oysters, more beer.
That should get me through five years.
LOBSTER, LET US COUNT THE WAYS
It’s possible to eat lobster in a different way every day of your stay in Boston. On my four days there I had a lobster slider at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Mass., a few minutes outside the city; lobster bisque from Legal Sea Foods; a cold lobster cocktail from a stand at Faneuil Hall Marketplace; and buttered lobster toast, made with a delicious puree of lobster, from Puritan & Co.
Lobster is plentiful, as it is caught right off the New England coast — by the way, it’s called Maine lobster, but not all of it comes from Maine. It can be pricey, though, and sometimes looks better than it tastes, so choose wisely. That lobster cocktail was almost $20 and despite the big chunks of meat, wasn’t all that tasty.
Have a whole critter, just-steamed, or have it in a lobster roll, buried in mac and cheese, tucked into a grilled cheese sandwich, as eggs Benedict, in sushi, over noodles, on pizza, in ravioli … How many days do you have?