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Aku Aku in Cambridge, Mass.

Very few people believe me when I tell them that the former Aku Aku restaurant at Alewife Station was not the first Aku Aku in Cambridge, Mass.

The original Aku Aku was located on Route 2 near the Arlington line, just a few hundred yards from the former Lanes & Games bowling alley.

More specifically, you might remember Faces Nightclub in that region where disco reigned as the ultimate funky town for those who liked to party and get down. You know what? That's where the first Aku Aku was actually located!

I liked the original Aku Aku more than the iconic Alewife location, The dining room and bar were comfortably darker, the multi colored lights brighter and the waterways running through the restaurant lending a nice soothing feel. Why drive 90 miles to Barnacle Billy's in Ogunquit, Maine, for ocean water views when the Aku Aku offered their version of the Hai River three miles from home?

Funny story at the first Aku Aku: My dad and his friends took a lunch break there once and ordered the numbered specials. My dad's friend said, "I'll have number one." My dad said, "Me, too." Guess what meal they served my dad? Number two!

Whether the first and second Aku Aku, the pu pu platters were huge and tasty, the service quicker than competitors in a fast-serve restaurant genre, the Tolstoy-length menu dressed in clear font for reading ease, and the price always right at this old school Polynesian restaurant..

I am not clear on when the first Aku left the premises, but the Alewife location reigned from 1968 to 2000. The dining room seemed larger than Shanghai and the elbow room increased from the former Aku Aku location.  It is here, I believe, that fake news got its start, also -- not from the media but the younger crowd that loved to impress their friends with outlandish stories. Here is the standard story that circulated probably better than the Boston Herald American, at this time: There was this group of young adults that chose not to pay their bill and ran out of the restaurant. Driving fast from the restaurant, the group felt they got away with their plan. Looking in the rear view mirror, however, the driver was horrified to see a maniacal Asian chef with a kitchen knife on the back of their moving car screaming at them to pay the bill. A deliberate fast turn shook the chef off the car and onto the road where the man stumbled back to the restaurant.

You wouldn't believe how many people believed this story. Having an IQ over 40, however, I was skeptical. Turns out my cynicism proved right when, through the years, I heard the same story applied to other restaurants.

Do you miss the Aku Aku? I sure do, and was delighted to find out that its successor, Jasper White's Summer Shack, kept many Aku elements including a wall mural (see photo above) and the plastic Tiki God from back in the day, as well as a commemorative plaque, at its restaurant.

As seen on the plaque, Summer Shack even features, on its drinks menu, the legendary Aku Aku scorpion bowl that uses the original recipe!

The scorpion bowl at Jasper White's Summer Shack
 in Cambridge, uses the original Aku Aku recipe.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook page.
I highly recommend you check out the Summer Shack for these wonderful remnants of a once great Chinese restaurant, but, more importantly, as a fabulous place to dine on some amazing seafood in a comfortable atmosphere. It's one of the best seafood restaurants I have been to in all of New England.

The Aku Aku surely gained its most fame from the Alewife location, but let's not forget, also, the Boston Aku near Fenway Park and the Worcester spot. All were great examples of a classic old school Polynesian restaurant -- you really couldn't go wrong at any of the locations.

Too bad they all closed, but isn't that the way of the restaurant industry? Just when you think you've found a restaurant for life, they close on you.

Hundreds of thousands surely enjoyed the Aku Aku through the years and with good reason: They took the most beloved aspects of Americanized Chinese restaurants -- food, restaurant design, reliability and consistency-- and put it all under one roof.

Many miss the Aku Aku. Me, too!

What are some of your memories of the Aku Aku?





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5 Old School Boston Area Restaurants That Are Still Thriving Today

The sepia-tinted memories of going out to eat with family and friends back in the day conjure up warm memories at wonderful places that, unfortunately, are no longer with us. We can never get that back, but, on the other hand, those special memories can never be taken away.

Fortunately. many old school-style restaurants in the Boston area remain thriving, thus allowing us to connect to the past while creating new traditions and instant memories now and, hopefully, long into the the future. It's like the best of both worlds!  Here are a few old school Boston area restaurants that, thankfully, seem stuck in the past...

Pleasant Cafe, Roslindale

Not much has changed at the Pleasant Cafe since its opening in 1937, keeping many of the same recipes and going through only one ownership change since FDR served as U.S. president. Specializing in Italian and American dishes with delicious thin-crust pizza as one of the signature dishes, the Pleasant Cafe remains true to old school Boston form. The leather green booth seats, the long bar with green stools and the wood-paneled walls lend a feel that seems more like part of our childhood than that of the 21st century.  Plus, Owner John Morgan is a true gentleman -- like a kind neighbor I knew when growing up in the 70s!

Woodman's of Essex

Woodman's stands as the gold standard for fried clams in the Boston area. It was after all, the birthplace of the fried clam in 1914. The Woodman family still owns the landmark clam shack, now in its fifth generation.  Although a tourist destination, Woodman's never let it go to their heads, favoring the plain, traditional no-frills clam shack atmosphere and continuing to specialize in fried clams, lobsters and steamers.

The Woodmans are very nice people -- truly humble and seemingly unaffected by all the success. I had the chance to sit down with Steve and Rhonda Woodman earlier in the year and they treated me like family. What was scheduled to be an hour interview went much longer. The societal lost art of conversation became revived when chatting with the Woodmans, taking center stage alongside the wonderful comfort foods that, to this day, continue to make Woodman's one of the best old school Boston area restaurants.

Bliss Family Restaurant, Attleboro

Bliss started as an ice cream stand in 1930, grew into an ice cream parlor in 1952 and then into a family restaurant in 1978.  Similar to the former Brigham's and to a lesser extend, Friendly's, Bliss epitomizes the classic ice cream restaurant with breakfast, lunch and dinner items and a fabulous choice of ice cream flavors in a counter and booth restaurant format. Although New England Ice Cream in Norton, Mass., bought Bliss out a few years ago and the restaurant was updated, Bliss still looks every bit the part of old school with families out for a good meal and a wholesome, unpretentious feel that made it so appealing in the first place. My favorite ice cream dish: the Dusty Glacier with two fudge brownies, three scoops of vanilla ice cream saturated with hot fudge and topped with whipped cream, a smattering of cocoa and a cherry on top. Yum!

Mug N' Muffin, Norwood

Yes, there still is a Mug N' Muffin around from the days when this chain competed against the Pewter Pot for a place to enjoy coffee and muffins in a Colonial-style atmosphere. Downtown Norwood is so lucky to have this blast from the past gem that remains true-to-form, thanks to owner Dave Monaghan who first started working at the restaurant chain in 1971. Dave loved working at the Mug N' Muffin so much that he wanted to continue owing one despite the demise of the chain. He and wife Sheila serve up pretty much everything for breakfast and lunch that you remember from the Mug N' Muffin restaurants of yesteryear!

Red Wing Diner, Walpole

The Red Wing Diner first opened in the 1930s and features a classic 1920s dining car embedded into the restaurant. Old school in every sense of the word, the Red Wing Diner specializes in traditional Italian-American specialties (fried seafood and pizza are most popular), a plain-looking dining room, the diner that now serves as a bar and staff that has been there forever. Once stepping into the Red Wing, you definitely feel like going back in time -- this despite upgrades to the dining room. It's especially popular with local families and townies who love the nostalgic vibe.

What are some of your favorite old school Boston restaurants still open today?

The Old Oaken Bucket, Westford, Mass.

Growing up in Arlington, Mass., during the 60s, 70s and 80s, I was country before country was cool.

I loved watching The Andy Griffith Show and thought Goober was one of the best characters in the series. My impressions of Hee Haw was that it was a brilliant show, realizing better than anyone east of Route 495 the genius of Roy Clark and Buck Owens. I listed to WCOP-AM 1150 radio for country music and often thought of Merle Haggard as the Shakespeare of twang. What's more, I had no Boston accent, thus making some wonder if I lived in Podunk and commuted 1,000 miles daily to attend Arlington High School.

So, it came of no surprise to anyone that I loved The Old Oaken Bucket in Westford, Mass. The rustic country style atmosphere and food felt close to my suburban Boston rural heart and so far removed from the confines of the densely-populated community I called home.

I read that The Old Oaken Bucket went through a few fires in the 1970s and 1980s, but, fortunately, rebounded quite well. In the latter years, The Old Oaken Bucket's menu became a bit more refined with higher quality offerings

The 99, a local chain restaurant, took over The Old Oaken Bucket in 2002. Nothing against The 99, but what a shame that The Old Oaken Bucket's great run starting in the 1930s had to come to an end. To me, the closing was equal to the saddest country songs of all time.

You can see some of The Old Oaken Bucket menus at The Westford Historical Society Society and Museum on Wednesdays in 2019.

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