Revisiting New England best restaurants, circa 1940

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about Imogene Wolcott, Yankee’s first food editor, and her list of the “20 Most New Englandy Dishes.” Many readers wrote in to share their thoughts about what was worthy or missing on her list, and we loved reading their comments. Well, now I have another Imogene list for […]

By Amy Traverso

May 30 2014


An old advertisement for the Hotel Puritan in Boston

An old advertisement for the Hotel Puritan in Boston
An old advertisement for the Hotel Puritan in Boston
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Imogene Wolcott, Yankee’s first food editor, and her list of the “20 Most New Englandy Dishes.” Many readers wrote in to share their thoughts about what was worthy or missing on her list, and we loved reading their comments. Well, now I have another Imogene list for you. I was recently looking through our archives and came across a two-part series she did in May and June of 1940 called “Really Good Eating Places.” It’s a roundup of her favorite restaurants. She writes:

“In answer to so many requests for lists of good eating places in New England, the Yankee Magazine has asked me to name those which provided me with the greatest gustatory satisfactions. Here they are in no order of preference. You’ll find tea rooms, farmhouses, hang-onto-your-hat places, cafés specializing in shore dinners and restaurants with an enviable prestige all scrambled together.

And here’s Imogene’s list with excerpts from her commentary. Do any of these ring a bell for you? Restaurants that remain open (or have a similar restaurant operating under a different name in the same space) have links to their current websites.
  1. At the Sign of the Peacock, Marshfield Hills, MA“For excellent clam chowder you can’t do better than to visit Miss Isabel Thayer’s tea room. No other chowder I have ever tasted equals hers.” [Ed note: See number 22]
  2. The Old Nichols House, Cohasset, MA“An old-fashioned Saturday night supper of cocktail or soup, roast sugar-cured ham or fish cakes, baked beans and brown bread, salad and dessert costs 85 cents.”
  3. The Toll House, Whitman MA“Ruth and Kenneth Wakefield have enlarged Toll House this year. Even so, you’d better make reservations.”
  4. The Old Homestead, Stoughton, MA“I can’t say that I care much for the decorations, but maybe you like things that way.”
  5. Eddie’s, Hanover, MA“…the steak is, bar none, the biggest value in New England. Just good food. No English china or damask.”
  6. Dinty Moore’s Hickory House, Boston, MA“….is frequented by newspaper people…I also like their broiled calves’ liver. It is cut thicker than you usually find it and is very tender.”
  7. The Little Red Hen, Pawtucket, RI“So far as I know, it is the only noteworthy place to dine in Providence.”
  8. The Ivy Tea House, Apponaug, RI“…a pleasant place to enjoy Rhode Island johnnycake.”
  9. Locke-Ober, Boston, MA (closed in 2012; a new restaurant may open in the space in the coming year) “Women guests are welcome in certain dining rooms, but may feel de trop in the masculine atmosphere that prevails.”
  10. 13 Knox Street, Boston, MA“Edmund has a flair for jellied salads. I prefer mine green.”
  11. The Wild Briar Inn, Belfast, ME“Most popular dishes are lobster newburg, chicken king, lemon and strawberry chiffon pies.”
  12. The Homestead-on-the-Kennebec, Vassalborough, ME“The original kitchen hearth is the present dining room…At the Thermoshed you may buy thermos bottles, food jars, picnic cases or fill your thermos with golden Guernsey milk, coffee, soup, or health drinks.  Miss Nettie C. Burleigh and Miss Katharine L. Potter, who operate the Homestead and the Thermoshed, serve well-cooked food.”
  13. Skipper’s Dock, Noank, CT (closed in 2013) “Shore dinners as delicious as any I know.”
  14. Phil Robertson’s, Franconia, NH“Dishes which you’ll enjoy include charcoal broiled steaks, chicken pie, waffles, cinnamon rolls, and coffee cake…Grated cucumber is mixed with tomato juice to make a cooling drink. Lots of butter is spread on shortcake baking-powder biscuits before the berries and cream are spooned on.”
  15. Jennie Whitcomb’s, Troy, NH“…a simple farm where you’ll get good, plain cooking.”
  16. Brittany Coffee Shop, Boston, MA“…you can get an ample supper for 60 cents or a roast-beef dinner for 85 cents. The green salad, cottage cheese and hot rolls that go with either the dinner or supper endear the place to me.”
  17. Oar and Anchor, Quincy, MA“I often stop here Sunday night on the way up from the Cape. A sandwich and a bowl of soup or a good steak dinner makes it possible to cope with the traffic into Boston.”
  18. Gilbert’s Lobster Pound, Pemaquid Point, ME “The procedure is to telephone and engage the feast at a certain hour. Most people bring picnic baskets filled with whatever they like to go with the lobsters and clams—usually bread-and-butter sandwiches, raw tomatoes, coffee and fruit. At the appointed time a man appears from the fisherman’s shack carrying a huge pail filled with steamed clams. Everyone dives in and fills his paper plate. Little porcelain cups containing melted butter come with the clams and one tries to navigate clam to mouth, with a minimum of butter on his bosom.”
  19. White Turkey Inn, Danbury, CT“Harry and Dorothy Davega conduct this charming place as they would a country home. A large garden supplies fresh vegetables. Steaks, chops, chicken and seafood are grilled over charcoal. You may enjoy such mouth-watering desserts as vanilla ice cream with black Bing cherries and cherry brandy.”
  20. Milton Hill House, Milton, MA“Elderly people like its restful atmosphere. The food is good; prices moderate. Tranquil rather than gay.”
  21. Community Kitchen, Dedham, MA“If you come here at lunch time, you’ll see judges and jurors from the Dedham Court House across the street enjoying the good home-cooked food, for which this unpretentious eating place is famous.”
  22. Black Duck, West Barnstable, MA“The clam chowder is the best ever. The fried clams are first rolled in finely bolted corn meal. The broiled lobster is done to a turn. I like my coffee a mite stronger, but perhaps you don’t.”
  23. Southward Inn, Orleans, MA“On a chilly night it’s a pleasure to saunter in to the big, comfortable living room of this rambling Inn and see a fire crackling on the hearth…You’ll even come to like the sassy parrot who waits for an excuse to burst forth with gales of derisive laughter…I don’t recommend the Lobster Newburg, but perhaps the one time I had it the vice-president in charge of Newburg was absent.”
  24. Jack O’Lantern Tavern, Woodstock, NHStop here for dinner if you’re looking for a good place to eat en route to the White Mountains.”
  25. Williams Inn, Williamstown, MA “A truly fine inn. Perhaps you’ll order eggnog pie and wonder how it’s made. Here is Chef-Steward Robie Faulkner’s recipe. (Incidentally, he’s considered one of the best chefs in New England.) Beat the yolks of 4 eggs with 7 tablespoons of sugar until thick. Add a dash of freshly grated nutmeg. Beat the whites of the eggs into a stiff meringue. Add 1 tablespoon of gelatine which has been dissolved over hot water. Combine mixtures and add 2 tablespoons Jamaican rum. Fill baked pie shell and chill.”
  26. Roberts’ Handy Package Drug Store, Concord, NH“The most conspicuous of the noontime group occupies, each weekday, the only large table in the lunch room. Seated there are a justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the president of one bank and the cashier of another, two or three newspaper correspondents, a bond salesman, officers of the state police, an inspector from the National Association of Underwriters, several state officials, two or three lawyers, and about an equal number of physicians.”
  27. Hotel Puritan, Boston, MA“Every entrée has its mouthwatering descriptive adjectives. For example, what fish lover could resist crisp fried silver smelts or baked fancy finnan haddie slice in cream?…And I ask you, where else in New England can you find corn meal mush and hominy grits on the menu frequently? Or maple custard pie? Or spiced crabapple salad? Or old-fashioned Boston cracker pudding?”
  28. White Rabbit Tea Room, Buzzard’s Bay, MA“The place doilies at the White Rabbit carry a verse ‘Hail Guest’ which reads: ‘We ask not what thou art; if friend, we greet thee hand and heart. If stranger, such no longer be; if foe, our food shall conquer thee.'”
  29. Mory’s, New Haven, CTGo here for good steaks and chops, for atmosphere (the house is old and full of interest) and to see the lads from Yale.”
  30. The Pettibone Tavern, Simsbury, CT “If I were forced to choose only one inn in New England to show my friends from the Middle West it would be this one…At bedtime, a small decanter of port and a glass were placed on my night table. Prices are sky-high but you won’t mind paying them.”
  31. Seiler’s 1775 House, Lexington, MA “I must confess I helped myself too lavishly to the many relishes and fine cream cheese with chives and sardine paste that were served with the dinner.”
  Looking back at a list like this is a vivid window into the way people lived some seventy-plus years ago. Of course, the dining scene in New England today is utterly changed since then. And yet, I’d point out that her description of the White Turkey Inn (#19) could apply to any good farm-to-table restaurant today, assuming the cherries were local and the brandy distilled on-site.