Old School Diners Featured in The Best Diners in New England Book

I know that the theme of this blog is to write with warmth and admiration about the great Boston and New England businesses, restaurants and attractions that are no longer there, but I would like to take a moment to focus on existing old school diners.

Recently, I wrote a 200-page ebook entitled The Best Diners in New England. Surprisingly, many area diners have survived the onslaught of fast food chain restaurants and bad economies. Thanks goodness! It is a true revelation sitting in these retro diners, eating some great comfort food and being served by salt-of-the-earth waitresses surrounded by all that neon and chrome. It is like going back in time -- that is, like going back to the simpler places and times that we wish never went away.

Some surviving and thriving local diners I wrote about in the book: Wilson's Diner in Waltham, Kelly's Diner in Somerville, the Agawam Diner in Rowley, the Red Wing Diner in Walpole, Casey's Diner in Natick, the Delexe Town Diner in Watertown, Don's Diner in Plainville, the Owl Diner in Lowell, and the Little Depot Diner in Peabody.

All these diners seems to be doing quite well, but I say, go there now as you never know. Remember the restaurants we thought would never go away but did -- like the Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Christo's in Brockton, Benjamin's in Brockton, Benjamin's in Taunton and Finnerty's Country Squire in Wayland? Always enjoy the moment for we never know what the future brings -- especially in a diner where the authentic retro feel is often intact. I chose 50 diners to include in the book and my hope is that they all stay around forever.

What a tremendous experience instantly feeling that wonderful vibe of yesteryear. Hope to see you at the diner some time soon.

Editor's note: My new book, The Best Diners in New England, is now available through VisitingNewEngland.com. I loved the journey en route to writing this book for you, and hope that you get to eat at these 50 great diners during your New England travels! The book can be read on Kindle, or any other device, including smartphones. Here is the VisitingNewEngland.com link to the book: http://www.visitingnewengland.com/diners.html

Agawam Diner in Rowley is thriving, to this very day! (photo by Eric)

Mildred's Chowder House in Hyannis Served the Best Clam Chowder on Cape Cod

When the Mildred's Chowder House building in Hyannis, Mass., was demolished several years ago, I thought "Who were the chowder heads that did that?"

No offense, but people loved Mildred's Chowder House so much that, for many, it became a big part of a Cape Cod vacation or day trip. Think about that. With all the great beaches, amazing waterfront resorts and Cape Cod summer homes to enjoy,  many visitors had Mildred's Chowder House at the forefront of their minds.  The power of a good, old-fashioned New England clam chowder can never be underestimated, I suppose.

Nothing could take away my joy in regards to going to Mildred's Chowder House. One morning, I couldn't keep any food down, but convinced my folks that I would be OK for lunch at Mildred's.   I was good to my word about lunch, although the same couldn't be said about the end of the day. Another time, I spotted this bully with a trapezoid-looking head from my hometown of Arlington at Mildred's and I didn't let his nasty nasty presence bother me one bit. Of course, no one wanted to drive around that dreaded, traffic-crazy  Route 28 rotary at Mildred's, but my dad always navigated that concrete jungle well ending with a perfect turn into the Mildred's parking lot. There were the naysayers that told us that Mildred's wasn't the same as it used to be. I bet they said that even before Mildred's started its business!

The last couple of years of Mildred's in business excluded -- when the qaulity actually did go downhill -- this landmark Cape Cod restaurant not only was beloved by customers but the staff working there, too.  Everyone seemed to work hard and in a pleasant manner, whether it be the long-time older waitresses or the younger generation working their way through college.

The main dining room has a light and breezy feel, kind of like Cape Cod itself. The seafood dinners were well beyond average, but it was the chowder that excelled. I think it would be safe to say that the majority of approximately 900 customers served each night during the peak season ordered Mildred's New England clam chowder. That clam chowder was the cream of the crop -- no pun, intended, given its heavy cream base.  I have read a few times that JFK liked Mildred's clam chowder quite a bit!

"The Home of Cape Cod Clam Chowder" is no longer with us, having closed some time in the 1980s. Sure, other Cape Cod restaurants make chowder as good, if not better than Mildred's, but that's not the point.  Sometimes, the greatness of a restaurant can only be fully measured by the feeling you get while eating there.  It wasn't just about the food at Mildred's, but instead it coming down to the overall experience.  Mildred's, in its heyday, delivered restaurant joy each and every time in an assuming, friendly way that came across almost like an oversized unpretentious diner. The memories remain strongly, to this very day.

Howard Johnson's in Concord MA was the Best Boston Area HoJo!

The Massachusetts Turnpike Howard Johnson's restaurants were sub-par, Wellington Circle location too congested with traffic and the Lexington one on Route 128 an accident waiting to happen with the poorly constructed entrance. Most other HoJos in the Boston area were just okay. Howard Johnson's restaurants in other states -- especially the ones in Lake Placid and Old Forge, N.Y. -- often seemed superior to the local versions with their nice designs and truer hometown feel.

The Howard Johnson's in Concord, however, stood out from the others in the Boston area. Aside from the place where I often ate boysenberry jam until it came out of my ears, this HoJo consistently turned out good meals and service and featured dining areas that seemed more clean and pleasant-looking than the other Howard Johnson's restaurants experienced in the Boston area.  Plus, it was in a nice part of the state with Walden Pond nearby and all those great Concord historical attractions.

Today, that Howard's Johnson's is a Papa Razzi restaurant -- certainly not a bad thing, but we sure do miss the HoJo there!

Which Howard Johnson's restaurant in the Boston area did you like best? What did you think of the Concord HoJo?

Paragon Park Would Sure Look Good Now on This Summer Day

As summer comes around and thoughts turn to the beach and carefree days, the former Paragon Park would sure be welcome in a state that seems to become less fun as time goes on.

 Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Mass. had the distinct advantage of being an amusement park conveniently located, for us Boston area people, by one of the best ocean beaches in New England. For many of us, Hampton Beach, N.H., was too far away and with too much traffic getting there. Old Orchard Beach, Maine, added even more travel time and came across back then as more sketchy and the Maine ocean beach water was too cold for swimming. Paragon Park, however, was just a short high school or college group car drive away for most of us in the Boston area as Hull is considered suburban Boston.

Oh, what I would do to see once again the amusement rides, arcades, the boardwalk, the relatively warm swimming water, and most importantly, the spirited summer ambiance. You didn't even have to ride the Giant Coaster or try your hand at skeeball to have fun -- sometimes, it was just nice enough walking around and feeling the essence of a fun summer through the salt sea air, the sandy ocean beaches and crashing waves, the aromas of comfort food and suntan lotion confirming the summer season, and, of course, people just having a great time on the amusement rides and at the penny arcades.

After nearly 80 years bringing summer vacation joy to hundreds of thousands of people, Paragon Park closed in 1984, and Nantasket Beach just hasn't been the same since. The condo development that took the place of much of Paragon Park seems sterile when compared to Paragon Park's family-friendly summer warmth. Sure, the 1928 Carousel and mini golf remains and there is an impressive, growing restaurant scene by Nantasket Beach, but summer here seems more like a cold, winter day knowing that one of the greatest amusements parks on the planet will never be with us again.

Musical Nostalgia: Where Were You When Your Favorite Song Played?

Just like a best childhood friend, music memories will always be remembered.

As a young kid growing into a teenager in the Boston area, I became attached to certain songs whether great or truly awful music. I felt so attached to the melodies, rhythms, harmonies, lyrics and vocals that, to this, very day, I can associate the Boston and New England places I was at when the songs played.  I usually heard these songs on the older versions of WRKO, WMEX and WBZ, as well as WCOP 1150 AM, WEZE 1260 AM, and WVBF 105.7 FM (now WROR).

I think that part of this musical nostalgia and association simply comes from being introduced to music so early in life, and, thus, having that enthusiastic, fresh perspective outlook that could have well made some of these songs better than they really were -- but then again, maybe not.  If it sounded good, they played it on the radio way back in the day. It took very little effort to love so many of these songs, as the simplicity of the music entered the mind like the way sugar consumption instantly offers happiness to the taste buds.  Hmmm, maybe all those Skybars and Zarex fruit drinks played a role, too!

More importantly, these songs spurred emotions and personal memories. The connection to this music never went away. Since modern day radio in the Boston area plays virtually nothing from the past, I created a list on Spotify entitled "Soundtrack to Childhood." It's an amazing feeling hearing 16 hours of music from childhood and often I will experience goosebumps, a warm memory, and not afraid to say, a tear or two (for some reason "Day After Day' by Badfinger strikes an emotional response, perhaps having something to do with the melody). In my mind, I do think back to those places and times when the songs played and the connections becomes even stronger. The power of music is clearly undeniable!

Here are some of my musical nostalgia song associations...

"Nashville Cats" by the Lovin' Spoonful -- Silver Lake State Park in Hollis, N.H.

"In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry -- our backyard in Arlington, Mass., during a summer barbecue.

"Merry Christmas Darling" by The Carpenters -- just outside Eric Fuch's model train store in Boston on a cold winter night

"Don't Pull Your Love" by Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds -- Driving past Manchester, N.H., on the way to the White Mountains with our grandma and grandpa from Michigan Ave., in Lynn, Mass. My grandpa wasn't feeling well and it worried me.

"I Am, I Said" by Neil Diamond -- Museum of Science, Boston

"Can't Get it Out of My Head" by the Electric Light Orchestra -- Taking a mystery ride on Routes 9 and 20 to West Springfield after my dad bought a Mercury Marquis station wagon with the phony wood paneling. The new car smell created equally strong memories.

"Mother and Child Reunion" by Paul Simon -- Newport, R.I., near The Cliff Walk

"To Sir with Love" by Lulu -- Dale Pharmacy, Burlington, Mass.

"Peace of Mind" by Boston -- Heading to the Acropolis Greek restaurant in Cambridge.

"Mandy" by Barry Manilow -- Driving to Bates Farm ice cream stand in Carlisle (which is now Kimball Farm).

"She'd Rather be With Me" by The Turtles and "You're Just Too Good to be True" by Frankie Valli -- Almy's department store in Burlington, Mass.

"Let's Pretend" by The Raspberries -- Arlington Pet Shop in Arlington, Mass., in the heights.

"Superstition" by Stevie Wonder -- Tropic Isle Aquarium, Framingham, Mass.

"Black Betty" by Ram Jam -- Hall's Nostalgia baseball card shop, Arlington.

"Key Largo" by Bertie Higgins -- Marshalls clothing store in Bedford, Mass.

"Joanne" by Michael Nesmith -- Hyannis, Cape Cod day trip.

"Mr. Bojangles" by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band" -- downtown Lexington, Mass.

"Take Me Home, Country Road" by John Denver -- Parmenter Elementary School music class, Arlington, Mass.

"Flirtin' with Disaster" by Molly Hatchet -- riding with a friend in his blue Ford Mustang in Winchester, Mass., heading toward a baseball card shop in Stoneham.

Just wondering, do you also associate an old song with a certain place or time?

Dini's Sea Grill in Boston: A Great Old School Seafood Restaurant

If you loved no frills Boston seafood restaurants, few were better than Dini's Sea Grill on Tremont St. So many state politicians ate there that their offices must have been empty at lunch time -- although that wasn't always the case. The Boston Globe once reported that former Massachusetts governor Edward King once "had $1,200 worth of lobster and crabmeat salad sandwiches delivered from Dini's to his office." (reference: https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-8187359.html).

Dini's not only had a memorable, non-generic short and snappy name, but a real reputation for serving well above average seafood without a need to rip off the public with phony, inflated prices. Yes, Dini's might have only gotten one star from the Mobil Travel Guide, but the locals knew better. After all, so many of us Bostonians knew, and still know our seafood.

Opening in 1926 and closing in 1990, Dini's built a strong reputation on serving excellent schrod and variations of lobster dishes like Lobster Newburg. Although it didn't come from the sea, Dini's tartar sauce (yes, the rare tartar fish species...) always seemed to received high accolades. A lot of really old people seemed to love Dini's. Maybe they wouldn't look so old now, though. If Dini's were around today, I'd be going there all the time. It's really hard to find a straightforward fish restaurant nowadays, eh?

Match cover credit: https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:9593v614w

Dana Hersey and The Movie Loft on Channel 38, WSBK-TV Boston

Does anyone remember Dana Hersey and The Movie Loft on WSBK, Channel 38 in Boston? Hersey, with his deep, resonant theatrical voice, expertly hosted The Movie Loft in the late 70s and 80s,  making it a Boston area household name-caliber locally broadcast TV show.

Dana's encyclopedic knowledge of movies made the intros make one want to watch the films.  He looked and sounded like a movie star himself and it made you wonder if he could have gone national like fellow Boston media star Tom Bergeron.

The Movie Loft actually helped pioneer a new type of television broadcasting by introducing the hosted movie format to the Boston area, as well as airing only "unedited" movies.  That was quite an eye and ear opener for someone who was watching shows like Gilligan's Island, Leave it to Beaver and Gomer Pyle.

As far as Channel 38, it is still a great station (they still carry The Three Stooges reruns!), but I miss the days when Storer Broadcasting owned it. Watching The Movie Loft, The Three Stooges, Looney Tunes, The Andy Griffith Show, and, of course, the big, bad Boston Bruins made for some warm TV memories. Yes, TV 38 -- along with playing outside until it got dark -- might have delayed us from getting our homework done earlier than later, but we did all right in the long run.

Anyway, you sure have come a long way from your announcing days at WLYN-AM in Lynn, Dana!  He actually never retired from local media and can still be heard mornings, locally, on North Shore 104.9 FM!

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