Going Out To North Shore Chinese Restaurants With My Grandma

Diamond Head restaurant, Saugus, Mass. Source: https://critiki.com/

My grandma, who lived in Lynn and then Peabody, Mass., loved to go out with us to Chinese restaurants on the North Shore. Not the fancy, fusion, gourmet types that we see today but the old school restaurants specializing in pu pu platters, General Gau's chicken, chicken lo main and, often gaudy and tacky décor.

Some of the restaurant names escape me (there was a good one on Main St. in Peabody) but here is what I remember: Tiki Lau in Salem, the Diamond Head and Weylu's in Saugus and Dave Wong's China Sails at the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers. Weylu's and the Diamond Head might have been the most gaudy with their décor. Dave Wong's gained popularity as a local chain and with a really nice owner. Tiki Lau, located in a strip mall, didn't have the glitz but might have served up the best tasting food of the bunch.

Whatever choice, going out to eat at these Chinese restaurants made her happy. She was alone, at that time, and just getting out of her apartment was much needed. Just to see her spontaneously smile in these restaurants for no reason except just being with us and enjoying one of her favorite kinds of food -- well, if she was happy, we were happy!

Do you remember these Chinese restaurants up on the North Shore? Do you have any other favorites in this area that are no longer with us? Please share your memories in the comment box below -- we'd love to hear some of your choices and any stories that go with it.

Avery's Electronics in Arlington, Mass.

Well before Best Buy and all the big box stores -- and a time when a local electronics store could peacefully co-exist with Lechmere Sales -- Avery's Electronics in Arlington, Mass. was the place to go for radios, televisions, cassette recorders, eight track players, etc. You name it, they had it within the store's modest square footage... Zenith, Hitachi, RCA, Magnavox, General Electric, Emerson, all the name brands.

Avery's didn't have the high tech stereo sheen of Tweeter nor the standardized chain store presence of Radio Shack but what they did possess was a genuine, authentic neighborhood store presence that proved to be just as important as the products they sold. I remember a humble and kind long-time employee named Mr. Hatch who, like all other employees at Avery's, would go out of his way to educate the customer on products and take the time to get to know those who entered the store. 

This Arlington Heights store also gained a fine reputation for repairs and selling parts and supplies. They knew their stuff and continuously rolled up their sleeves to get down to work for us, the customer!

No pressure, no hype, no signing your life away to buy some batteries, none of that dreaded "I'm cooler than all of you" type attitude -- it was almost like one neighbor helping out another.  Come to think of it, Mr. Hatch and his family lived a few blocks from where I grew up!

Many modern day electronic stores have music blaring or some combination of loud sounds that collectively add up to a source of irritation. Avery's seemed more quiet and gentle where the only sounds going on were testing a product and friendly conversation between staff and customers. 

I remember my dad buying me a short wave radio at Avery's. I think it might have been a Grundig. That radio took me all over the world but, ultimately, at the end of the day I would always come home to the embrace of a warm, close-knit community like Arlington and stores like Avery's that were part of that community-based fabric. 

Plus, Avery's was located right next to the now-closed Nicola Pizza. What a great combination -- buying something at Avery's and then stopping at Nicola to bring back home some huge slices of delicious Italian-style pizza!

I am not sure when Avery's closed or what took it over. Additionally, there's little to be found on the Internet about Avery's which seems strange because it was one of the most popular, well-established businesses in Arlington for decades. 

If you have special memories of Avery's, please comment in the box below and we'll build a collection of stories, memories and anecdotes of this special local business that once graced Arlington!

Red Coach Grill Memories

How many of you remember the Red Coach Grill restaurant chain? How many of you know that it was owned by Howard Johnson's?

That's right, the Red Coach Grill started in 1936 in Wayland, Mass. (now known as the independently-owned and operated Coach Grill) with Howard Johnson's taking over in 1937 to create a local chain that would eventually expand to more than 30 restaurants. On a side note, Howard Johnson's owned the Ground Round chain but I'd have to be a clown to talk about that one (you see, the Ground Round had clowns for entertainment; ok, bad joke).

The Red Coach Grill was like Howard Johnson's with a bowtie -- that is, with more of an elegant look and slightly upscale menu. You wouldn't find 28 flavors of ice cream, an orange roof or waitresses dressed in vintage checkered uniforms. Instead, the Red Coach Grill dimmed the lights and offered cushy and comfortable seating at black booths. The pine-paneled walls, semi-circular bar, fieldstone fireplaces, plush wall-to-wall carpeting and beamed ceilings added to the cozy ambiance. Outside looked inviting, too, with a rustic, shingled red roof and log paneling on the exterior, as well as a classy sign out front with old English font and a picture of a horse drawn coach.   

The steak and seafood menu included some meals fit for a king or a queen -- or a suburbanite with some room left on the credit card. The food was generally excellent -- just as good if not better than some local restaurants with high opinions of themselves. Diners could opt for the filet mignon, boiled live lobster or broiled swordfish or go for something more simple like New England clam chowder, char-broiled sirloin steak, broiled schrod, ham steak, or breaded veal cutlet. I remember the apple pie with vanilla ice cream to be quite good, as well.

I remember passing by Red Coach Grill locations in Hyannis, Saugus, Framingham, Middleboro and Wayland, Mass., as well as one in Lake George, N.Y. The only one we went to was in Hyannis at the rotary. In retrospect, that turned out to be the best choice as the other towns didn't have oceans beach to enjoy after the meal!

What memories do you have of the Red Coach Grill?

Putt Putt Mini Golf Near Shoppers World in Framingham, Mass.

Putt Putt Mini Golf at Shopper World in Framingham, Mass.

Not all retro memories of things to do in the Boston area provided joy.

Putt Putt Mini Golf, near the older version of Shoppers World shopping center in Framingham, Mass., successfully gave me that misery.

This miniature golf course offered no opportunity to hit the ball through or around a talking whale, barber shop pole, lighthouse, windmill, covered bridge, koi pond or historic Massachusetts building. Putt Putt, on the other hand, just featured stretches of angled greens designed to frustrate and simultaneously bore us. It was no fun scoring a 140 with no tacky structures.

Plus, the par was two for every hole. That would have been the recreational equivalent of taking a physics course in elementary school. I don't think even Pythagoras could have figured out this course!

I suppose the challenging greens at Putt Putt could have helped my real golf game but I was only eight. The closest thing I came to real golf was wearing a Johnny Miller golf shirt from Sears. What a downer to have a mini golf hole right in front of you and take five shots to get it done!

As Dean Wormer once said in Animal House, "There will be no fun of any kind." That's the way I felt at Putt Putt.

Disclaimer: You will see on the score card that we all did pretty well in this round of Putt Putt Mini Golf. Believe me, that was an unexplainable abberation that I should have alerted Ripley's Believe It Or Not! to -- that is, the exception to the rule of generally playing horribly at this mini golf course!

A Panorama Tour of the Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Mass.

While cleaning our basement a few days ago, I came across a booklet entitled, "A Panoramic Tour of Hilltop Steakhouse." It made my day. I loved that place, as I am sure you did, too.

Throughout this post, I will include the pages from that booklet. May it bring back special memories for you!
The former Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Mass. seems to take top mention in traditional and social media posts and articles asking readers which restaurants they miss most in Massachusetts or New England.

It all makes perfect sense. From 1961 to 2013, the Hiltop Steak House immediately appeared larger than life on Route 1 with its myriad fiberglass cows out front and the cartoonish neon cactus sign almost 70-feet tall, as well as a parking lot accommodating 1,000 cars.

The fun, western-themed wall memorabilia and spacious dining rooms with names like Dodge City, Kansas City, Sioux City, Virginia City, Santa Fe and Carson City on two floors expertly towed the line between tacky and lovable. The 20,000 sq. ft. restaurant, which could accommodate nearly 1,500 customers, often became filled to full capacity -- thus validating media reports that the Hilltop evolved into one of the busiest restaurants in the world. Thank goodness the two walk-in meat chests behind the scenes could hold over 1,500 loins! Additionally, the Hilltop featured a separate butcher shop that seemed as popular as the main restaurant.

The Hilltop Steak House -- the brainchild of butcher Frank Giuffrida -- represented the true American Dream with a small business success story as big as the steaks (and drinks) served.

. Oh, and those steaks... the sirloin (starting at 18 ounces!), filet mignon and tenderloin. Magnificent in a delicious, unpretentious and straightforward way! The Hilltop served those dishes and other selections in big portions and at affordable prices.

Locals and travelers also loved the abundantly-served iceberg lettuce salads, broiled half chicekn, pork chops, broiled burgers and broiled halibut steak. Many considered the baked stuffed lobster pie as good as the steaks -- served with plenty of tender lobster and enough breading and butter to make the experience even that much better.

The Hilltop did things its own way, not accepting reservations or credit cards. The wait could be slightly uncomfortable in the long, crowded indoor waiting area out front. Many chose to head to the bar while waiting and became quite soused in the process -- often, seemingly, some big guy with a square head and his aggressive wife/girlfriend. I don't know why -- just an observation.

But I digress. There will never be another Hilltop Steak House. How could there be? For more than 50 years, the Hilltop had a great ride with a substance (the food) and style (the wonderfully exaggerated decor and design) that resulted in a one-of-a-kind restaurant and tourist attraction. Rare is it that a restaurant becomes a household name but the Hilltop fit that description.

It's a sad feeling knowing that the Hilltop Steak House will most likely never return as the restaurant we once knew and loved. Bur we have those memories and they can be embraced, forever.
I look forward to hearing about your personal reflections and perspectives on the Hilltop in the comment box below!

WMEX 1510 AM Boston -- Then and Now

WRKO AM 680 received most of the attention as a premier Boston Top 40 radio station in the 1960s and 1970s but WMEX at 1510 on the AM dial was every bit as good, if not better.

Disc jockeys like Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg, John H. Garabedian, Larry Justice, Bud Ballou, Tom Allen, King Arthur Knight, Ron Robin, Dick Summer, Bill Lawrence, Gary DeGraide, Jerry Gordon and Mel Miller collectively comprised a distinct, dedicated and dazzling sound that embodied the very best of top 40 radio. On WMEX, they were known as "The Good Guys," and that they were!

Wow, those names... now that was that a Hall of Fame-caliber DJ lineup! Especially Ginsburg and Garabedian who gained national attention for helping pioneer the art and science of this wonderful radio format -- and Summer who gained fame as a long-time radio personality in New York City, N.Y.

This is when DJs sounded like DJs. This is when if a song sounded good, radio stations like WMEX played it. The jingles, sound effects, jokes, the echoey sound and, in general, a work of love from those who loved to work presented an eternally remembered, respected and revered radio format. It didn't matter if the AM dial produced static and other forms of bad reception -- the top 40 format was more than well received by hundreds of thousands in the Boston area and in other major markets.

Too bad this fabulous format is gone. Oh wait... aircheck... no, it isn't! WMEX returned to the airwaves a few years ago as a top 40 station on its original 1510 AM frequency and has recreated the sound so authentically that it is capable of giving overwhelmingly warm memories and meaningful goosebumps to the retro listener.

As a gift from the radio Gods, Larry Justice is part of the current day lineup. Larry is in his 80s but hasn't lost a step, sounding as good as ever in his "Halls of Justice" radio show. The twinkle in his voice, the upbeat, positive delivery, his ability to interact so well with other station personalities and an uncanny, inuitive knack of leading his voice into and out of a song played is the stuff that radio legends are made of.

The current day WMEX lineup doesn't end there, however, with seasoned pros like Paul Perry (really and truly, the prototype of a classic radio personality with a golden voice), Jeff Lawrence and Jimmy Jay bringing their established excellence, radio and music knowledge, and passion to the airwaves. Ben Rabinovitz is more a newcomer compared to his on-air co-workers but definitely has the voice and personality that would have fit in perfectly at the old WMEX. Here's hoping Ben and other relative newcomers like him can pave the way for a return to future radio greatness here and across the USA!

Back to Mr. Justice: His presence on the airwaves brings back personal memories that inexplicably, somehow resurface to the forefront of the mind after all these years. Exhibit A example: I remember my mom and dad driving us into Boston on a snowy winter's day just before Christmas. My dad, a huge model train afficiado, rushed into Eric Fuchs model trains shop to pick up some accessories. While waiting, we listened to WMEX on the car radio in our Mercury Marquis station wagon with the phony wood paneling. We heard the beginning of The Carpenter's Merry Christmas Darling, which, on its own, was enough to warm the heart and soul. What a great song, to this very day! Larry Justice, however, made the song that much better, however, by somehow capturing the spirit of the season and that classic Christmas composition in his voice leading up to the first words conveyed in Ms. Carpenter's wonderfully expressive voice. It was like his voice became part of the song -- part of the overall experience at that moment and proof that a skilled disc jockey's voice can be as lyrical as a song. To me, that moment defined and inspired my love for local radio.

Now all that might seem like nothing within the pop culture side of our lives that are constantly fed with glitz, bombast and a promise of the next big thing. After all those years, however, trends, gimmicks and other contrived marketing plans fade as much as a radio station signing off for the night. But those moments mean everything as the simple things in life somehow always return to the center stage of our hearts and souls. The old WMEX had that affect on me and the new "old" version in the same way -- only the latter is wonderfully broadcast in the given moment.

Ultimatey, our past memories and the joy of living in the moment fortify our blessed presence on earth. The memories can never be taken away. We can take comfort and meaning in the moment as an expression of peace, tranquility, grace, gratitude and enthusiasm for the soul.

Thank you, WMEX, for giving us the best of both worlds with your notable past and greatly enjoyed current presence on the airwaves. I am most grateful!

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