Failed Boston/New England Restaurant Expansions

I remember some very famous New England restaurants expanding, only to find their new businesses not very appetizing to everyone.

The former, famous Green Ridge Turkey Farm on the Daniel Webster in Nashua, N.H., opened up the Green Ridge Steak House right next to its landmark restaurant. It didn't last long at all. Let's just call it a "misteak," or a real turkey of an idea. The now closed but legendary Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Mass., started up a Hilltop Steak House also on the Daniel Webster Highway. While it lasted a while, it never quite caught on and clearly lacked the magic of its flagship location. I think they needed more plastic cows out front. The now-closed Wursthaus in Cambridge, Mass., was once one of the most beloved restaurants in Harvard Square -- a German-American restaurant with a cozy, one-of-a-kind atmosphere perfect for conversation and excellent food and drink. The Wursthaus owner decided to try a location in the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis, Mass. It goes without saying the Hyannis Wursthaus didn't quite have the Harvard Square location spirit! It just didn't seem the same buying a Johnny Miller golf shirt at Sears and then going into the Wursthaus to talk about what Cape Cod beach to visit on that day.

Can you think of any Boston/New England restaurants that expanded with less than desirable results?

94 WCGY, "The Rock Garden"

Does anyone remember WCGY-FM 93.7, of Lawrence, Mass., otherwise known as "The Rock Garden" and owned by the late baseball broadcasting legend Curt Gowdy? Always a second-tier Boston area rock station, WCGY, nevertheless, built up quite a following to those who wanted an alternative to other rock stations like WBCN, WBOS, WAAF and WZLX. With a strong signal, WCGY also became popular in other parts of New England, including southern New Hampshire and Maine, as well as the Worcester, Mass., area.

Playing predominantly familiar classic rock songs while on air from the 1970s into the mid-1990s, WCGY also featured a terrific lineup including Mike Morin (currently on WZID-FM Manchester, N.H.), Cheryl Ann Gowdy (daughter of Curt) and Jerry Goodwin. Dan Roche, now a well-known WBZ-TV sports reporter, was Morin's morning sidekick, delivering sports scores with a sense of humor. WCGY gave way to WEGQ in 1994, which eventually became WQSX (Star 93.7), a soul and dance music station. Recently, 93.7 in the Boston area belonged to WMKK, "Mike FM," a rock station with no air staff and a format that "plays everything." Now, it is WEEI FM, simulcasting the famous 850 AM sports radio format.

In a sense, WCGY was the precursor to Mike-FM, as Gowdy gave his staff carte blanche when on-air. Instead of the Mike-FM "We play everything" slogan, The Rock Garden personalities did anything that they felt would help the format (anything from not sticking with the "script" to some impromptu humor during the morning show). Morning man Morin perhaps took the greatest advantage of this window of opportunity having contests like who could drink the most water without going to the bathroom and featuring "Louie from East Boston," with his wise perspectives on life. It should be noted that while on another station, Morin announced that the Tall Ships were coming to Lowell, via the Merrimack River. People fell for the ruse, traveling to Lowell to await the ships, thinking these stately water vehicles could circumvent the shallow riverbed and all the bridges along the way!)

But I digress. WCGY-FM didn't always sound like a major market station, but somehow always ended up as a major part of our radio listening during the 70s, 80s and 90s. In this day of corporately-owned tight radio formats with little room to breathe and create, we look back at WCGY and hope someday that radio will lighten up and return to this type of airwave glory.

Caldor, Strawberries, Ken's Deli and Papa Gino's at the Middlesex Mall, Burlington, Mass.

Anyone remember the Middlesex Mall in Burlington, Mass., before it became the Middlesex Commons? This place had everything I could ever need: Caldor for general department store shopping, Strawberries Records and Tapes for records, Ken's Deli for a good corned beef sandwich and Papa Gino's for pizza. Parking was a snap and a Market Basket later opened up to sell groceries at its famous rock-bottom prices. The Middlesex Mall proved that just a few stores could cover all the bases -- for a college kid driving a decrepit Ford Escort, that is!

The Middlesex Mall clearly wasn't designed by the beautiful people set of the architectural world. This was a no frills, community mall with a small indoor corridor. Within a mile of the huge Burlington Mall, one had to wonder if the developers had a lack of vision opening the Middlesex Mall so close to one of New England's finest malls. For a long stretch, the vision worked before becoming a bit more expanded and refined as the Middlesex Commons shopping and dining complex.

Thinking Back to The Falstaff Room at the Sheraton Boston

The most prominent feature of the Falstaff Room in the Sheraton Boston that I recall was that everything was red, including my dad's face once we received the bill. We were eating peanut butter sandwiches for the next week!  But I'll always remember that red decor -- sort like like the Piccadilly Pub with a bow tie.

More expensive than the restaurants we were used to dining at, The Falstaff Room indeed exuded sort of a semi upscale feel. The waiters were all dressed up and, incredibly, so many of them looked like John Oates from the group Hall and Oates (you know, the little guy with the mustache), as I recall.

It was nice dressing up on that Sunday morning, heading into Boston from suburbia, and feeling special. I don't remember anything about the food, thus revealing that a restaurant's atmosphere can sometimes trump anything off the menu. I remember, too, that the Prudential Building was the coolest place on earth with all that great outdoor landscaping and a whopping 30 stores.

We never went back to the Falstaff Room, but that one-time experience was memorable. That's why I'm writing about it 40 years later! That dark shopping arcade looks puny compared to today's "Shops at Prudential Center" (must be upscale, it has a preposition in its name!) with 75 or so stores and a really classy look.

Anyway, how nice it was being introduced to a fancy restaurant in the "Hub of the Universe"-- and listening to Casey Kasem's "American Top 40 on the way in -- and discovering that the Sheraton also had Kon Tiki Ports, one of the best Polynesian restaurants around! We'll write more about the Kon Tiki in a future article!

The Great Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg

Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg was born to be a top 40 radio DJ.

As the conductor of the legendary WMEX AM 1510's top 40 radio format, Ginsburg's "Night Train" radio show embodied the true spirit of top 40 radio. You'd be hard pressed to find a better Boston top 40 jock from any generation!

Full of energy, personality, sound effects and classic jingles, Ginsburg's show served as a prototype, of sorts, on how to do top 40 radio. He was best known on WMEX 1510 in the late 1950s and 1960s, a top 40 radio listener's dream-come-true radio station. He was indeed a radio God to the teenage audience that loved rock and roll music.

I remember Ginsburg best for his Saturday night oldies radio show on, I believe, WMEX in the mid 70s. He didn't have a classic golden throat -- the prime tenet of a 1960s top 40 DJ -- but his boundless enthusiasm, radio intuition (i.e., the ability to segue into a song) and durability (he was on the radio all the time), Ginsburg is one of those rare radio personalities to gain full respect from not only his listeners, but also his colleagues.

Here is some feedback I received a while back from Dennis Jackson, a very popular New England radio personality through the years and owner of WQQQ (Sharon, Conn.), WRIP (Windham, N.Y.), WZEN (Farmington, N.H.) and WCLX (Burlington, Vt.):

"Your list omits the greatest and perhaps most successful (in terms of audience share) talent ever to grace Boston airwaves.    Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg was an MIT engineer who began by buying time at night on 1600/WBOS in Brookline in 1956, doing a show and selling ads to cover the cost (and then some.)     He soon migrated to 1510/WMEX, where his frenetic, high-energy style set the bar, not only in New England, but nationwide, for personality-drive Top 40 radio.  He owned the nighttime teenage audience wherever one could hear signal-challenged WMEX.  His exciting, tight, sound-effects laden presentation is captured in the "Cruisin'" CD series, which preserved the heyday of Top 40 personality radio for all time.

A man of many talents, Arnie went on to become a founder of Kiss 108 and TV Channel 66."

The One-of-a-Kind Willow Pond Kitchen in Concord, Mass.

Willow Pond Kitchen. Photo Credit: National Park Service:

For better or worse, Willow Pond Kitchen in Concord, Mass., left me with some unforgettable memories. I really didn't care at all for the cow manure stench across the street, the sometimes surly service, a fight at the bar I witnessed, and, perhaps, the worst pizza in the world, but all that was easy to overlook. Willow Pond Kitchen was a one-of-a-kind restaurant -- a dive with stuffed moose on the wall and catfish and frog legs on the menu. What many people came here for were the pitchers of beer, boiled lobster and huge servings of oysters -- all at rock-bottom prices. The onion rings were also amazing!

I also loved Willow Pond Kitchen's unlikely presence in this affluent town -- sort of like Rodney Dangerfield's party boat intruding into the refined Judge Snail's sailing territory in the movie Caddyshack. With no pretension, lines sometimes out the door and a long-time presence, Willow Pond Kitchen seemed like it would last forever -- but, of course, it didn't. The National Park Service created a Revolutionary War historical marker there, thus resulting in having the Willow Pond building taken down in 1999.

So, if you know of any other local restaurants with a cow manure stench across the street, sometimes surly service, the worst pizza in the world, stuffed moose on the wall, and catfish and frog legs on the menu, please let me know. I miss the Willow Pond Kitchen dearly.

Anyone Remember Gary Doak's Steak House in Southern New Hampshire?

Unless it was just a dream, I remember my folks taking me to a steak house in, I believe, Epping, N.H., owned by former Boston Bruins defenseman Gary Doak -- you know, the guy that wasn't afraid to block a hockey puck with his head.

Does anyone remember this restaurant? I have faint memories of it having a spacious comfortable, well air-conditioned atmosphere and steak that was tender (or, the opposite of a steak as hard as a hockey puck).

One of the ironies of writing this Old School Boston blog is trying to write from memory at an age where memory decline starts to set in (actually, I believe this starts, on a smaller scale, when you're about 19). If you have any memories of Gary Doak's steak house, please feel free to comment here!

Nick's Beef and Beer House in Cambridge, Mass.

Nick's Beef and Beer House, on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, Mass., expertly tapped into the pathetic human condition of overeating -- and over drinking. This large, cavernous Greek-American restaurant served the huge, artery clogging "twin cheeseburger special" for around $2.00, pitchers of beer for ridiculously low prices, and baked lamb for about half the price of other Greek restaurants (OK, it was a bit more fatty, but, hey, the fat tastes good, too, don't deny it!). The worn tables were long and we usually ended up sitting next to some smug college kid, either with an affinity for insulting others or being the "funnyman" of the crowd. Because I didn't drink or overeat back in the day, my favorite reasons for coming to Nick's were to admire the phony, multi-colored fireplace and trying to keep up with the quick wit of the waitresses. They were generally old, sassy, had a comment on everything, and, ultimately, really nice people -- salt of the earth would be the term. With hungry Harvard students, ex JV high school types looking for a life, elitist professors succumbing to the mainstream and others gorging on food and drink over stentorian-caliber noise levels, Nick's was sort of like a community gathering place on steroids for Cambridge and neighboring communities. What a great run from 1971 to 1998! Wonder where the phony, multi-colored fireplace ended up, though?

Alan Colmes on WEZE, WZLX

Many of us know of Alan Colmes as a liberal commentator, syndicated radio talk show host and Fox News Channel political contributor. How many of you know that Alan Colmes was a disc jockey in Boston on the old top 40/adult contemporary WEZE AM 1260 (now WMKI Radio Disney) in, I believe, the early 1970s  and WZLX (classic hits!) during the 1980s. He was quite good on both stations with a quick wit, unique voice and superb delivery for the rock formats. Based on his early career, never would I have imagined Colmes venturing into his current field. Although I don't agree with his politics, Colmes is terrific at his current job -- just like he was back in the day as an adept, intelligent and fluent rock jock.  What a talented individual!

Bates Farm Ice Cream Stand in Carlisle

Who remembers Bates Farm ice cream stand in Carlisle, Mass.? Located at where Kimball Farm ice cream stand is now, Bates Farm served some delicious farm fresh ice cream in an idyllic bucolic setting. I set the unofficial Bates Farm world record for ordering black raspberry ice cream for several years in a row, without trying another flavor. What a nice tradition on Sunday night -- before going back to the junior daily grind known as school -- by driving from the densely populated Arlington to "the sticks." The air was fresh and so were we occasionally -- but not too much or are parents wouldn't take us to Bates.  We had the mini, battery-operated Hitachi television in the back, watching baseball games in our phony wood-paneled station wagon

When Kimball Farm took over Bates many years ago, nothing really changed in the quality of the ice cream flavor -- well, at least, in the black raspberry ice cream because that's all I knew about Bates. I know that's a bold statement as many people feel that Kimball Farm reigns as the local ice cream king, but Bates was every bit as good. I know this because others that ventured beyond black raspberry ice cream at Bates said this was the best ice cream they ever tasted.

Other than getting the occasional creeps wondering if the owner's name was Norman, Bates was a true joy when growing up in the Boston area!

Slim Pickens, the Whistling Weatherman on WJDA Quincy

Slim Pickens was one of my favorite Boston area radio personalities in the 1970s. I know he had a long radio career as either Slim Pickens or Jerry Howard (starting his radio career in the 1940s), but I remember him best at the weatherman on WJDA AM 1300 who would whistle any "s" sound coming out of his mouth during the forecasts.  He had what sounded like a folksy "Down East" Maine accent. Quite different from the "any town USA" radio personalities today, many of whom sound alike!

Slim Pickens was one of a kind and I could hardly wait to hear him on the radio.  If anyone has an air check of Slim Pickens, I would love to hear it!

Fond Memories of Hoffman News in Arlington, Mass.

How I loved Hoffman News in Arlington Heights, Mass. Mrs. Mooney proved that you could transform a basic variety store into something extraordinarily special. She always called us kids "honey," and our parents, too, for that matter. Mrs. Mooney was so sweet, sweeter than the candy we loved at Hoffman news including Pop Rocks, Sky Bars and Charlestown Chews. She took the time to get to know everyone, thus creating the ultimate neighborhood variety store. Every kid in town seemed to know her name. Just goes to show that the most memorable people in one's life are the ones that exemplify decency not only through talk but, more importantly actions.

I wish we had more stores today like Hoffman News.  Customer service today isn't what it used to be; we could all gain inspiration and pride of working with the public from someone like Mrs. Mooney.

What happened to Purity Supreme Supermarket?

Purity Supreme was, no doubt a major player  in the local chain supermarkets, but seemed to disappear overnight. They were located everywhere and better stocked than most other supermarkets, in my opinion. When I was living in Winchester (no, I am not rich, just rented an apartment on Washington St.), I would frequently buy my groceries at Purity Supreme. For some reason, it was always easier to get in and out of there -- although if Purity Supreme was around today, it would probably be congested like other markets with people clogging up the isles by talking or texting on their cell phones, daydreaming or just coming to a complete standstill for no apparent reason. I think the Winchester Purity Supreme was open 24 hours a day -- remember buying Yodels at a very good price very late at night. I believe that Purity also owned Heartland Foods, which was more of a warehouse type of market.

Too bad Purity Supreme closed. While I like Stop and Shop, Hannaford, Shaw's, Roche Brothers, and the Big Y for various reasons, Purity Supreme and I seemed more compatible. You don't appreciate a good business until it's gone, I suppose!

A Great Pastrami on Rye at Godfried's, Saugus, Mass.

Does anyone remember Godfried's Deli on Route 1 in Saugus, Mass.? Always loved the New York style deli food here and the cast of personality-filled staff at this plain, homey type of restaurant. The Boston area has always had a shortage of really good delis, but Godfried's was one of the few that really shined. My grandma was quite picky about good Jewish deli food, and she liked this place -- that about says it all about the quality of this restaurant. They could serve up a great pastrami on rye, a top notch corned beef sandwich, a fabulous homemade chicken soup or dessert. Last time we were there, the waitress dropped my chicken plate on the floor, picked it up and served it to me. She was also about as pleasant as an agitated pit bull. Soon, Godfried's closed (was it sometime in the 80s?) and eventually became Godfried's Plaza.  No disrespect to having about the millionth shopping plaza in the state, but I really miss the family-style personality of Godfried's -- before my chicken plate fell on the floor, that is.

Special Boston Bruins Hockey Memories

Editor's note: this article was written before the Bruins won the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup. Congratulations, Bruins!

With the Boston Bruins thrilling 4-3 series-ending first-round playoff victory over the Montreal Canadians last night, memories of past Bruins glory days, their star players and supporting cast saturated my mind. Bobby Orr. Phil Esposito. Ken Hodge. Cam Neeley, Gerry (Cheesy) Cheevers. Johnny Bucyk. Gary Doak blocking slapshots with his head. Great broadcasters like Bob Wilson, Fred Cusick and Johnny Peirson (and remembering Sports Huddle radio host Eddie Andelman calling the latter two, Fred Cue Stick and Johnny Pinpoint -- as well as post-game guy Tom Larson being Tom Larceny). Derek Sanderson comes to mind, too, as the talented playboy hockey player, later to be known as an opinionated, cartoon character-like broadcaster.

I loved hockey back then, watching the games on TV 38 and wearing, as much as possible, my cardigan Boston Bruins sweater bought from the former Zwicker's Sporting Goods, of Arlington, Mass. Bought it when I was eight-year-old and kept stretching the material to make it last a few extra years. I even wore it playing street hockey with childhood friends on Kensington Park in Arlington around the 1970-1972 timeframe -- a much better move, I thought, that the neighborhood dork that wore his best Sunday shoes to play! Mom would eventually call us in for dinner, I'd gulp down the food and sometimes return for some early evening hockey. Then we'd return to watch the Bruins defeat virtually everyone!

Those were the days my friend and I thought they would never end. But they did, and I'm so glad that we had a return to one of those glorious Boston Bruins moments last night. I hope the Bruins go on to win the whole thing, but for now it's just nice to bask in the excitement of good local NHL hockey!

Why did these memories pop up? Perhaps because the Bruins have not given us many thrilling moments of this caliber for the past several years. As a result, we had to tap into our brain's "oldies file" to access a time when the Bruins gave us special moments. Personally, that win last night brought the kind of excitement I felt watching Orr and Esposito a long, long time ago.

More memories? How about the "Nut Rocker," the long-time theme song of the Boston Bruins? This was actually a 1961 hit by B Bumble & The Stingers, one of my favorite groups of all time.  Just kidding. But I just can't get that adrenaline-pumping song out of my head right now. Go Bruins!

Anyone Remember Chadwick's Ice Cream Parlor?

Chadwick's ice cream parlor on the Lexington/Waltham, Mass., line held the distinction of having customers develop headaches most enjoyable.

This tiffany-style, somewhat phony-looking old-fashioned ice cream spot (but, hey, it was endearing!) was best known for birthday celebrations. Extremely loud drummers and wait staff singers surpassing the decibel level of, say, a Deep Purple concert, started the birthday celebrations with free ice cream for the birthday boy or girl. Apparently, some immoral types had several birthdays a year!

Some passed off Chadwick's as a gimmick, but I thought the ice cream was excellent (will always remember the orange-pineapple) and lunch and dinner selections were much better than its chain competitors of this dining genre.

The "Bellybuster" sundaes were huge, kids always had a ball here, and the parents might have even enjoyed the experience more.  Interesting to note that Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch, of Saturday Night Live fame) worked at Chadwick's. Now that's pretty funny!

Dave Wong's China Sails!

Good Chinese food and constant television and radio advertising made Dave Wong's China Sails a staple for Chinese food in the Boston area.  China Sails wasn't really much better than other Chinese restaurants in terms of old school Americanized Chinese cuisine, but its amazing consistency in food, drink, service and exotic but not overly ostentatious decor made it a reliable choice. I think, however, that Dave Wong's likability really made China Sails that much more appealing. He came across as a humble sort on the television commercials -- great news for those of us that sometimes experienced nasty waiters and generally not knowing what to expect at a few nearby restaurants of any genre.

China Sails never seemed to bring in the "knucklehead" crowd, either,  just interested in saying one stupid thing after another and downing massive amounts of scorpion bowls. This was a place where the older set, couples dating, and families could converse over a nice meal at great prices in nice surroundings.

Wong, who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, owned the China Sails in Danvers, Salem, Peabody and Newton (my favorite, especially before attending the adjacent summer Longwood tennis tournaments), until retiring in 1985. He died in 1995. Mr. Wong, thank-you for your service in the military and as the gentleman that brought us one of the most dependable, well-run Chinese restaurants in the Boston area!

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