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Blue Crabs for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner: A Mid-Atlantic Summer Essential

An Arlington,Virginia staple, the Quarterdeck Restaurant has been in the community since 1979. Known for their Maryland blue crab, it’s the best place in town for seafood. I first tried the restaurant when I moved to Arlington my sophomore year of high school. Situated right in the Fort Myer Heights neighborhood, it was right behind the military base I called home for my last three years of high school. I would walk my dog and see the bustling tables and smell the fresh crab whenever they got a new shipment in. Now, five years after my first visit, I’m an employee, working during the summertime rush, the best time to grab a table outside on the patio and eat some crab. 

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a crab girl. The idea of breaking it apart, dealing with the meat and everything that spilled out of the crustacean, was off-putting. One time during a trip to Cape Cod, I ate a lobster and felt the same queasiness as goop fell onto the plate below me. But there’s something about Quarterdeck that makes the messiness bearable. In fact, it’s part of the charm.

A typical meal at Quarterdeck looks like this: you’ll take a seat at the paper covered tables, and you’ll order your crab by the dozen. The sizes range from regular to jumbo, each one just as tasty as the next. Once you pick your size, in about 45 minutes a server will bring out a steaming hot plate of fresh blue crab, dump it directly on the center of the table, and the rest of the meal is in your hands. With mallets and crackers, you’ll get to snapping and crunching on the creatures in front of you. New to crab? One of the servers will happily give you a tutorial so you’ll be an expert in no time. Summer in Arlington can be just as steamy as the crabs, but taking a break under the shade with a cold specialty drink (the “Miami Vice” is a fan favorite) is the perfect refresher on a hot day. 

If you look around the restaurant, you’ll see the same smile on the face of every customer. People come to Quarterdeck to connect. To laugh, to reminisce, to catch up, to relax. There’s something strangely intimate about tearing apart a meal together, greasy and grimy, slick with butter and glistening with the glow of working hard for your food. If you ask families how long they’ve been coming to Quarterdeck, they’ll tell you “forever”. It’s a neighborhood safe space, a community common ground. In an historic building, there’s years and years of smiles and satisfaction seeping out of the floorboards. 

And after experiencing the restaurant for myself as a patron, coming to work was just as rewarding an experience. The staff describes each other as family. In fact, I decided to work there this summer because I had heard from friends that it was the best job they have ever had. There’s a positivity and a light that shines in the little restaurant tucked away in a residential neighborhood. It can be felt the moment you step on the property. So even if you aren’t a crab person, if you ever find yourself in Virginia on a steamy summer day, make an effort to stop into Quarterdeck, and join the family for an afternoon.

Cover photo courtesy of Rasa Malaysia

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Erewhon: A Wellness Trap

There’s a certain pretentiousness that clings in the air when you walk into the oh-so-luxurious and exclusive Erewhon. Shelves explode with a muted color palette that only millennial and Gen-z graphic designers can achieve, a mix of warm-toned mauves and oranges with art deco influences, and a retro font to go with it. Tiny boxes of neatly packed and well-massaged kale along with pre-cut cups of fruit are begging to be picked up for an on-the-go snack of at least $15. Beside the to-go-bar, what seems like hundreds of kombucha bottles line the fridge in those same muted colors, a dizzying array of choice in a single drink form. Looking closer, each label has some kind of combination of vegan, gluten-free, immunity-boosting, non-GMO, or soy-free, as if the majority of its customers are allergic to at least one food group. This is Erewhon, the rich-people simulation of grocery shopping – but how did Erewhon make its rise to fame, and why are people like us – “the normal, everyday citizens” – so entranced by it? 

If you don’t know already, this celebrity-raved grocery store has gained much attraction over the last couple of years, particularly Los Angeles, where it now boasts six locations in the county area. As stated on their website, “Through our markets, we endeavor to provide exceptional organic products that inspire good decision-making and healthier communities.” And when they mean “exceptional”, they mean exorbitantly overpriced groceries. Yet despite the price tag, Erewhon is every clean-girl’s aesthetic dream, and has culminated in an almost-cult following on social media. 

The Making of Erewhon

Although this chain grocery store took off during the pandemic, its origins humbly began in 1966 as a natural foods store. And, surprise, it was founded in Boston by Michio and Aveline Kushi. The Japanese couple pioneered the macrobiotic diet, with Michio busy fermenting foods right in his basement. Erewhon provided exclusive organic produce and stock from Japan imported by the Kushis, focused mainly on organic and fermented foods. 

Erewhon then made its move to the West Coast, where it first opened in the early 70s. In 1975, the Kushis sold the business. Since then, the Boston location has closed, but the business kept its goal of exclusivity and niche throughout the generations of ownership. 

The celebrity magnet store we know today has blossomed under its current owners, Tony and Josephine Antoci, who oversaw the store’s California takeover since rapid expansion in 2011. Down to its business model, Erewhon strives to stock entirely organic and non-GMO products, even partnering with local businesses, such as biodynamic farms to small-shop vendors in what Tony describes as “craftsmen.” 

But more than just a grocery store, Erewhon is an experience, a community devoted to kombucha, among other things. Even the name itself is an anagram of “nowhere” from Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel of a utopian society. That elusive and otherworldly community only adds to the illusion of a high-class community, one that came together in the face of a pandemic. 

During Covid-19, Erewhon adapted quickly: opening early for senior citizens, offering a dedicated tonic bar that offers immunity-boosting shots, and even giving out chlorophyll water for free. Among other safety measures, Erewhon became a paparazzi hotspot to sneak a snapshot of A-list celebrities on their weekly grocery runs during the pandemic. 

Marketing Wellness 

Although the branding of natural foods has been at its genesis core, Erewhon’s rise into the limelight follows a growing trend, and now an entire industry, of wellness that seeps into every marketing strategy in the lifestyle realm. No longer are buzzwords like “diet” and “bikini-body” used in health marketing, as the rise in body positivity subserves the highly toxic diet culture of the early 2000s. At the same time, has wellness co-opted diet culture, remarketing it into something more sophisticated? 

The wellness industry is now worth $1.5 trillion dollars. It encompasses physical health, fitness, mental health, and even spiritual health. The wellness industry expands the old fitness world, where abs and low-carb diets were all the rage. Wellness is, supposedly, better than that. 

This switch in consumer interest from physical to holistic wellness profoundly changed the way we look at food. Clean-eating is simply the second wave of an adaptable diet culture that continuously markets off of people’s desire to lose weight. But instead of in-your-face calorie restriction, like the famed and failed Atkins diet, food now revolves around the obsession over “clean” labels like gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO – sounds familiar? 

Food is reduced to its nutritional value and gain, with little emphasis on the community food brings, or even acknowledging complex and often joyful experiences with food as human beings. Juice detoxes are to clear the mind, fermented foods alleviates gut issues linked with anxiety, organic and non-processed food helps with depression – these are the practices of marketing wellness, and it’s working. In the words of Naomi Wolf from her book The Beauty Myth, “health makes good propaganda.” 

The Wellness Trap

Erewhon is simply the pinnacle of this wellness trap. On top of following clean-eating trends, Erewhon takes it a step further by selling astronomical prices to an exclusive clientele, making wellness a brand of wealth. Other stores like WholeFoods and Trader Joe’s sell the appearance of wellness just as strategically with a broader audience. 

As much as wellness has reversed the more severe damages of diet culture, with its emphasis over holistic health rather than physical appearance, wellness remains a marketing strategy to sell to us: the consumers. Yet still, in a world where food remains restrained with restrictive labels disguised as health, we are still miles away from approaching food with sheer joy without the whispers of punishment.

Ask yourself these questions: Am I guided by health regulations that aren’t related to my own physical needs? Is my relationship with food transactional? Do I think eating a certain dish makes or breaks my wellbeing? Am I listening to myself or the industry? 

Taking a deeper look at Erewhon’s massive following provides a lens to understand the inner workings of the consumerist mind toward wellness. After all, health is priceless, or rather you can’t put a price tag on health – so why not pay for a $17 blue smoothie  in exchange for glowing skin?

Cover photo courtesy of Erewhon

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I Communicate Through Food

It’s been three years since I’ve been back in stuffy Jakarta, Indonesia. Motorbikes swarm your vision as you inch and inch down choking traffic. Along the pavements are warung stalls selling some seriously slurp-worthy and fragrant bakmie ayam (chicken noodles) or bubur ayam (chicken porridge), all with a healthy dose of sambal chili and an attractive cheap price tag. How I missed the taste of sambal burning my tongue, and tempeh doused in a sweet sauce of kecap manis (not how trendy white vegans make their tempeh). How I missed the springiness of the noodles in mie goreng with a perfectly fried and crispy egg to grace the top. I missed the creaminess of spicy peanut sauce mixed together with a salad and rice cakes – gado gado is pretty much the only source of vegetables I have in this chaotic city. Now that I am back working for a dream internship in Jakarta, I took it all in, devoured every dish I’ve been craving over the years because God knows you can’t find even the slightest depth of flavor like this in Boston. 

Yet Jakarta isn’t my home. I’m Indonesian, yes, but I grew up in Singapore almost my entire life. Indonesian cuisine stood hand in hand with my childhood, but the capital city itself remains a stranger, a stubborn cousin at best. 

Apart from my apparent separation anxiety from Indonesian food, I was also separated from my extended family for three years. As I walked into my Oma’s home after work, a home littered with memorabilia, or simply pure junk collecting dusk (we never ask), I was immediately greeted with an array of dishes set on the dining table covered by a mosquito basket. 

“Halo halo,” my Oma would say, and kissed me firmly on both cheeks. “Sit sit, eat, what you want to eat, Bel?” 

Oma doesn’t speak great English, and I don’t speak great Bahasa. She tries for me, and I try for her. 

“Iya Oma, saya laper bangat. (Yes Oma, I’m so hungry)” I’d reply back. It’s not often my Oma and I get to spend time one on one. Often the adults, my parents, uncle, and aunt, fill up the conversation and translate what I say to Oma. This time, the kitchen fell quiet as Oma lifted the mosquito cover revealing about 10 dishes sprawled before me. Otak otak (fish cakes – my childhood), sayur lodeh (vegetable soup – my favorite, she knows), siu mai dumplings, har gow dumplings, eggplants cooked with sambal, and a bowl of freshly picked mangoes from her garden already waiting on the side when it comes to dessert. 

Oma asked me about school, the food in Boston, whether I will stay in America after graduation, and I answered swiftly with her cooking unashamedly stuffed in my mouth. But apart from the usual grandma catch-up questions, we ate in silence. It wasn’t the awkward, loud silence that sounded like a broken speaker reverberating between us. I like my Oma enough where silence is welcomed. 

I knew from years of experience that complimenting Oma’s cooking is the way to her heart. Our silence would only break from my incessant “mmms” as I sample each dish with my bed of white rice, and everytime Oma would smile and continue eating her food. 

I told her it’s been so long since I had good Indonesian food, every bite I took tasted better than what I had imagined all this time. Immediately, we had this understanding. We don’t say I’ve missed you, even though it’s been three years. It’s not in the Asian family lingo. But we do enjoy each other’s cooking and appreciate our culture’s cuisine together. My “mmms” to the otak otak is an extension to an “I miss you” to Oma, and all the memories associated with this neatly packed chewy fish cake wrapped in flaky and fragrant banana leaves, how Oma used to peel them for me when I was younger and stack otak otak on my plate, how it would always be the first dish I’m greeted with whenever I’m back. Food isn’t just sustenance. It isn’t even just culture. It’s a way of communicating that encompasses memories and emotions more than words can describe. In the same way Americans give chicken noodle soup to their sick children, my parents gave me the Indonesian rendition, soto ayam (chicken soup with vermicelli noodles). Each dish has meaning not only on a personal level, but symbolizes a family or societal tradition as a whole. Even though I can’t speak fluent Bahasa, my Oma and I still had a conversation of sorts. Even when I struggle with my national identity, food is at the heart of my Indonesian understanding.

Cover photo courtesy of CookPad

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A Military Family’s Guide to Throwing a Dinner Party

Growing up as an Army brat, change has been a constant in my life. Whether I was changing schools, houses, states, or even countries, my life was always in motion. This can be challenging, having to move into a new neighborhood, into a community full of new people. The thought of meeting and greeting is daunting. But in the Army world, everyone’s life is as transient as ours. We find ways to connect with others, and one of the best ways to do that is over a meal. 

I’ve watched my parents throw dinner parties ever since I can remember. It was a staple of my childhood. I would look forward to it, the smells wafting from the kitchen to my bedroom, the soft hum of music and finally, when the guests came over, the laughs and shouts from the first floor of my house, the sound of people happy and full, enjoying each other’s company. My mother is a master of the craft, a dinner party expert, so I decided to call her up and get some insights. This is a military family’s guide to throwing a dinner party. 

Ambience: 

In the words of my mother, the goal of dinner parties was always to curate a comfortable and cozy energy throughout the house. “I always tried to go for warm and welcoming, lots of candles, some scented ones away from the food so the house would smell good. Lots of seating is important, it gives people space to gather and get off their feet for a while. I want it to feel informal and casual, someplace people could relax and feel at home.” I remember walking around my parents’ parties, people’s faces glowing in the light. Ambience is crucial, and the warmth I felt in my house is a feeling that stuck with me, as I’m sure it stuck with everyone who entered as well. 

Music is also an important aspect of the ambience. My mother laughed as she said, “you don’t want people to walk into a silent house and feel awkward!” Whether it be something you curate yourself or a premade playlist you find on Spotify or Apple Music (two of my go-to’s: Dinner Party & Dinner w/ Friends) pick something smooth and easy, with a mix of things people know and new finds (because throwing a dinner party is really an excuse to show off your music taste). You want something you can just hit shuffle on and not think about, allowing you to enjoy the night. 

Guests:

In the military, dinner parties were a way to get to know people outside of the office. This line of work forces the personal and professional lives to be more intertwined than in most occupations. Soldiers, spouses, and families all play a role. That’s what makes the dinner party the perfect opportunity to make connections, feel comfortable with each other, and foster “esprit de corps” a French term used by the military to describe, “a spirit of solidarity; a sense of pride, and honor among the members of a group”. When you’re in the military, you’re a part of a team. And what’s better for team bonding than a dinner party? 

But this concept transcends military life. As a college student, I view my friends and I as a team, my roommates and I as a team, and my peers as a team, all working together towards a common goal: an amazing four years. The relationships you have with the people you care about are important, the people you have on your team are everything. A dinner party celebrates that and gives people opportunities to get closer and connect with those around them. 

As a host, you see the behind-the-scenes science that goes into throwing a party. “These are a chance to bring people together,” my mom says, “they provide opportunities to make new friends, build your team, and really get to know each other. Being the host means you’re helping curate that. Always greet everyone, make them feel welcome. Get them a drink and try to connect them with someone else.” Mixing and mingling is the best part about attending a dinner party, and it’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of throwing them. Bringing people together is what this is all about. 

Food: 

Finally, the most important part of any dinner party is the food. My mom’s advice was simple: “good food and good drink.” I remember my mom making one of two dishes: stuffed shells or marinated steak. “Keep it easy! Try and make most of it things you can cook ahead of time so you can be present during the party and not stuck in the kitchen.”

Photo Courtesy of Fork Knife Swoon

She would float around the house, occasionally disappearing into the kitchen, but you’d blink and she was right back, getting someone another drink or introducing two people who had been making their way around the house. Scattered around were little bowls of snacks, picking items like almonds or dried fruit. A charcuterie board with crackers, cheeses and meats is always a good idea. My parents were used to hosting larger parties, so buffet style was always the way to go. Lining up a salad (Ina Garten’s Cape Cod salad was a staple in our house), the main dish, and a few loaves of a warmed baguette along an old maple table we had, guests could come up and help themselves. I found myself going up for that salad numerous times, and then making my way back to the table or the chair in the living room I had made mine for the night. 

“I always liked to have an open bar area too, something where people could go and refresh their drink, grab a water, or try something new.” My mom would line up decorative tubs filled with ice, home to seltzers, beers, sodas and waters. A little something for everyone. 

The dessert would come when everyone had seemed to slow down and the trips to the buffet were becoming few and far between. It was then my mom would bring out something like a platter of chocolate-covered profiteroles or an assortment of cookies she picked up from a bakery early that morning. She never felt a pressure to cook everything. Cook what you can, cook what you want, and cook it well. Then fill in the gaps with your favorite treat from the bakery or grocery store. 

At the end of the day, dinner parties are fun. In the words of my mom, “they’re a great way to show the people you love that you care.” They provide us with an opportunity to break bread with others, build bridges and form connections that you wouldn’t be able to make in other settings or circumstances. With a few pro tips and tricks up your sleeve, you can make throwing an amazing dinner party easy and stress-free. Whether you’re in a house, apartment, or dorm room (I promise it can be done), the energy is the same. It’s a night to connect with others, celebrate the people around you and tell your team thank you for sticking by your side.

Cover Photo courtesy of Vox

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A Love Letter From a Snob to Coffee, The Italian Way

Something, actually, an abundance of things, about the experience of drinking coffee is just better in Italy than here in the US. Is it the fantastic flavor? Yes, that’s one reason, but not all. Oooh, what about the fact that there are gas stations with fully-fledged, long coffee bars just off the highway? YES. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced Italy’s true coffee dominance over America multiple times.

First, the flavor. The cappuccino, as well as the espresso macchiato, is delicious and smooth with its delicate foam. I have winced each time upon returning to the US, forcing myself to drink bitter Dunkin’ to wake up in the mornings. 

Second, the delightful accoutrements! The Italian cafes I visited featured croissant-like pastries with a subtly sweet custard oozing out. The buttery flakiness and delectable cream pleasantly complement the warm nectar of the cappuccino. Ah yes, just a tad better than the classic American coffee-donut combination, in which the cloying donut and severely bitter coffee-bean-water amount to an unsavory aftertaste. At Genoa’s Caffetteria Orefici e Latteria Buonafede, a small low-ceiling, white-tiled cafe in a quiet, unassuming plaza with just an older man and girl as the staff, they served one spoonful of delicious melted dark chocolate and one of fluffy homemade clotted cream along with each cappuccino order. This was easily the best version of whipped cream I had ever tasted and might ever taste. My sister and I visited there every morning during our three days in Genoa that trip.

Third, the culture. In Italian coffee culture, the customer is to enjoy their coffee in a ceramic cup and saucer then and there, at the bar standing up in the company of (mostly) friendly baristas. NOT in an earth-killing plastic/styrofoam cup and brown cardboard wrapper thing while driving a car. Although the Italian cafe provides a hospitable environment, the Italians don’t lollygag there at the bar, but rather quickly consume their breakfast and exit with a “Ciao!” I recall my family’s conversations with the friendly baristas at Rome’s Caffe Camerino, where I was first blessed with the authentic Italian coffee experience. We walked there every morning during our five-day stay from our nearby apartment

Fourth, the price! Each cappuccino at most places is under 2 Euros. My sister’s and my daily breakfast in Genoa rounded to about 8 Euros total. 

Fifth, the absence of Starbucks. I did not see any wretched Starbucks establishments or their ubiquitous plastic cups anywhere in Rome, for they simply are not there. In fact, Starbucks opened its first branch in Rome earlier this year, and I’m praying for its downfall. Or perhaps I don’t have to, for Italian cafes are superior in every way and will therefore quash any further Starbucks revenue, except for the occasional tourist rabble. 

Sixth, the incredibly perfect off-the-highway gas station coffee shops! Yes, the delightful Italian coffee experience can be found not just in urban areas, but on the side of a highway too. I noticed these on my recent spring break trip to Rome with BC’s University Chorale, where we stopped on the way to each of our two day trips in Orvieto and Florence at an establishment called Chef Express. Chef Express is no ordinary gas station, but rather an oasis featuring a fully-fledged, long coffee bar with four baristas and plenty of cookies, chilled sodas, and even children’s toys. Even here, just off the highway, I observed Italians drinking their coffee at the bar standing up, not carrying it out the door in a plastic cup to drink while driving. The employees there handled our Chorale invasions with efficiency and ease. I joked with my friend, Campbell, about my dream to someday franchise a Chef Express with him and retire in the Italian countryside. Then, I could linger at my own coffee bar a little longer, content knowing that I wouldn’t have to experience mediocre (American) coffee again.

Cover Photo courtesy of The New York Times

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Kansas City Barbeque: The Sweet Life

My grandparents are from two neighboring farm towns deep in the heart of Missouri. I once visited Hardin with a population of around 500, walking the same streets my dad’s family once did, surrounded by fields and wide-open spaces. After moving from their small towns, Kansas City and the surrounding suburbs became home to my extended family. KC always felt like home to me, and every time I would come for a visit, it was as if I never left. There were rituals that took place every vacation back to the heartland. My dad and his cousins would go to a baseball game, hit the casinos, and stop to get some of the best barbecue in the country. I would give my dad a hug as he headed out the door in his jersey, waiting for the days where I was finally old enough to take part in this rite of passage, and have a real and authentic Kansas City night. Now at 20, I’ve sat through the steaming hot baseball games at Kauffman stadium, I’ve seen the casinos from the car window as we speed past on the highway, but the best part about our family tradition has got to be the barbecue.

To me, BBQ is the month of July, fresh cut grass, the first sip of a cherry coke on a scorching summer day. Whether it’s North Carolina or Texas, California or Tennessee, each region of the United States adds their own flare and style to their BBQ. While I may be a little biased, Kansas City barbecue reigns supreme over all. Differentiated by its tomato or molasses-based sweeter and thicker sauce, and its variety of meats (In Kansas City, ANYTHING is fair game to be grilled and smoked) KC BBQ is one of the most famous styles of barbecue. If you were to ask a local where the best spots in the city are, you are most likely to get one of four answers: Arthur Bryant’s, Gates Bar-B-Q, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Q, and Jack Stack. Each person seems to have loyalties to one, and my family’s ties will always be with Arthur Bryant’s. So, when I went to Kansas City for Easter break this semester, it was only right that one of our afternoons was spent there. 

Bryant’s opened in 1908, and not much has changed since then. When I walked in with my cousins and my mom just a few weeks ago, it looked exactly how I had left it years before. But this is just the thing that makes Byrant’s so special. My cousin Jason said, “the atmosphere makes it different. It’s one of the oldest in the city. It’s not as fancy as some. It’s kind of gritty. It hasn’t changed since I’ve been going there.” In the prime 18th and Brooklyn location, it was once just blocks away from the home of the Kansas City Chiefs. The old brick building with the red and white awning stands alone as the main attraction on the street. 

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Walking in, you’re instantly greeted by the smell of meat cooking in the back, coated in sauce and spices that will make anyone drool the second they step inside. The walls are lined with photos of all the famous faces who have made an appearance at the restaurant. You’ll see presidents like Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, as well as Hollywood stars like Steven Spielberg. The old, almost diner-style interior makes it feel cozy and comfortable, turning it into a place you could spend hours sitting down and catching up over a meal of burnt ends (a KC specialty), coleslaw and fries. When in line to order, it’s crucial to be prepared. Lines that go out the door can move in just minutes, and before you know it, someone from the kitchen will be asking what you want. 

This time around, I went for my usual rack of baby back ribs, knowing they were going to be covered in the classic Kansas City sweet sauce. However, when it came down to the sides, I just wasn’t sure. The smiling man in the kitchen saw my hesitation. He laughed, “don’t worry young lady, I got you” and disappeared to the back to fix up my special meal. When he returned, he had a heaping pile of their potato casserole sitting next to my ribs. Needless to say, it was the perfect side. 

I topped my meal off with a large Diet Coke and made my way back to sit at the table with my mom and cousins. I joined the ranks of the clean plate club that afternoon, and left feeling full and satisfied. Bryant’s, and KC BBQ in general, is more than food. When talking to Jason, he’ll tell you Bryant’s is about family. In his words, it’s “baseball, Bryant’s and family”. For me, it’s about love. Love, culture, flavor and looking at the people you come across in life and saying, “I got you.”

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Cover photo and article photos courtesy of Maddie Simms and Arthur Bryant

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A Day’s Lobster Trip

About twenty minutes north of Portland, Maine, off the side of US Highway Route 1, is a delightful shack-like eatery named Day’s Crabmeat and Lobster. On the right side of the white building, wooden deck steps bring visitors up to a sliding window, where one can order their lunch of steamer clams, fried clam bellies, clam chowder, crab cakes, lobster rolls, or whole lobsters with a side of corn on the cob. On the left is an entrance into a large, low-ceiling room with tanks of crawling lobsters, a counter with refrigerated soups and scallops, chalkboards detailing the prices of lobsters and steamers, and various Day’s t-shirts and mugs. Behind the buildings and next to the gravel parking lot are bright red benches overlooking a pleasant marsh with small sailboats, presumably ones for lobstering where sailors set traps and catch lobsters, in the distance. We first visited as a family in fall 2021.

Greeting you with a friendly face is an unassuming man named Trip. I recall shaking his hand, his burly, thick fingers callused with burns (from grabbing boiling-hot lobsters) enclosing my hand with a firm grip. Trip proceeds to lead my dad and I outside on the wooden deck, where a deep stainless steel tub filled with boiling water lays stacked on cinder blocks. He lifts the metal handle with his bare hands, drops in the sack of lobsters, and closes the lid. Although Trip recommends steaming lobsters at home, he says that because the restaurant has to cook nearly 100 at a time, the boiling water reaches the entire surface area of each lobster, and therefore cooks them more evenly. We walk back inside and nine minutes or so later, he carries the bright red lobsters in a styrofoam box over the counter.

Growing up in Michigan, every Thanksgiving, my dad ordered five 2+ pound lobsters shipped from Maine’s Cape Porpoise Lobster Co., instead of the traditional turkey. He always insisted that bigger was better because each lobster had more meat. To our surprise, Trip informed us that the distinction between smaller, younger lobsters (1.25 pounds or less) and larger ones (1.75 pounds or more) is analogous to that of veal and beef. My dad and I noticed a tangible difference with the meat of the smaller lobsters. The morsel of white, knuckle meat melted in our mouths–it was the most tender, succulent piece of lobster meat I had ever tasted up until that point. My dad and I were instantly converted, and thereafter we only ordered 1.25 pound lobsters from Day’s and other vendors. 

We left Day’s with five cooked lobsters, all 1.25 pounds each of course, and happily consumed them for dinner. My family and I all noticed that the meat was significantly easier to separate from the shell, similar to the coveted “falling off the bone” phenomenon of well-cooked barbecue ribs. The steamed shells were also much softer to crack, and we did not need the metal crackers and sticklike paraphernalia that Thanksgiving dinners in Michigan necessitated. 

Trip was definitely right, and possessed the experience to back his claim. He grew up in the area of Maine’s rocky, curvilinear coastline, fully immersed in Maine’s predominant lobster industry before working in commercial real estate for over 20 years, and then as a manager at Hannaford’s Market, a mostly Maine-based chain of supermarkets. Ultimately, he said he was sick of working in “corporate America,” and instead decided to work full-time at Day’s. 

Day’s closes for the winter, only to reopen March 1, for the boats need to travel further and in rougher conditions to catch lobsters in the winter. Lobsters are therefore sold at a higher price, and it becomes less economically feasible for Day’s to remain open. My family now insists that anytime we drive together to Portland, we stop at Day’s. Let’s just say we’ll no longer eat large lobsters shipped from afar, for a trip to Day’s is worth the wait.

Cover Photo courtesy of Scott Greenhalgh

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The New Platform for ‘Social Foodies’

It was a warm afternoon in early April when I spoke with Arthur Brenninkmeijer, the amiable and perceptive founder and creator of SpotDrop, a new app revolutionizing food recommendations to be more interactive, helpful, and authentic. I quickly discovered that Brenninkmeijer’s vision of SpotDrop goes beyond solving a culinary conundrum but offers a new way to connect with friends in a personal way. 

BEGINNINGS

A senior at Boston College, Brenninkmeijer’s interest in creating SpotDrop ties closely with his multicultural background and love for exploring different culinary scenes. French and Dutch, Brenninkmeijer grew up all over the world, including Brazil and parts of Europe. Having lived in Europe, Brenninkmeijer explained that it’s easy to “travel from city to city and from country to country,” which put him in close proximity to “a lot of different cultures and a lot of different food scenes.” When exploring new areas, Brenninkmeijer sought to eat where the locals ate, attempting “to stay as far as possible from tourists.” To this end, Brenninkmeijer often turned to his friends for authentic food recommendations. However, he mentioned the process to be “painful” since it often required manually calling or texting people who may be busy, “taking a screenshot of a conversation to remember the place’s name” or “adding the name of a specific restaurant” to a folder or note. In other words, there was not a seamless, easy way to access friends’ food recommendations. 

He faced the problem once more when arriving in Boston for the first time and being “overwhelmed by how much choice there was” in the food scene. Brenninkmeijer sullenly admitted that he “didn’t do a good job of keeping track” of his friends’ recommendations, which led him to “completely miss out on everything that my friends have told me” to check out. However, inspiration struck Brenninkmeijer when he saw a prime opportunity to “build something new” that addresses this recurring problem. Thus, the idea for SpotDrop was born the summer after his freshman year. He chose to study at Boston College to “pursue my interest in startups and entrepreneurship,” which provided a basis to launch his foodie-fueled idea. After years of hard work with a team, he launched SpotDrop on the App Store in February 2022, and pitched it at Boston College’s Accelerate@Shea Demo Day in April 2022.

APP OVERVIEW

What is SpotDrop? Brenninkmeijer explained that SpotDrop is an app where users can view “different restaurants, cafes, bars and nightlife experiences that your friends enjoy” on the platform by posting “spots” and following friends. When a user posts a “spot,” they have the option to attach photos and write a review for their friends to see. Value comes from seeing real recommendations from people that users choose to follow and trust on a personal level.

Brenninkmeijer solidified SpotDrop’s mission with an example. Say “you’re going to New York one weekend, and you know that your friend Abby goes to New York all the time… You can open spot drop, go to Abby’s profile, and then see the places that she’s been to [that] she would recommend her friends” to go. Brenninkmeijer believes that the heart of SpotDrop lies in offering “a much more personal recommendation because it comes from someone that you know.” He finds it “fun” to think about that “knowing that the reason I’m here is because my friend Abby added [a post] on SpotDrop.” There’s a “certain level of connection” in that experience that is “quite special,” Brenninkmeijer mused.

APP DIFFERENTIATION

What makes this different from food influencers on social media? Brenninkmeijer revealed that platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, while very helpful and engaging, are not “curated for a foodie’s journey and experience.” As a result, such platforms often fall short on “key features” and “information that foodies look for.” SpotDrop caters to the foodie experience, targeting digitally-savvy and social young people. For example, it has a “a map feature that can be filtered based on exactly what kind of cuisine you’re looking for.” In addition, SpotDrop is partnering with OpenTable and will soon offer users the option “make reservations at different restaurants” through the SpotDrop app. Therefore, “Spot drop is just a bit more curated to the foodie side of things” and takes a foodie’s journey closer to actually eating at a recommended restaurant.

As for platforms like TripAdvisor and Yelp, Brenninkmeijer underscored three ways SpotDrop is different: authenticity, subjectivity, and sustainably engaging.

First, the recommendations and content from these platforms comes from strangers, missing the personal connection piece that makes SpotDrop different. “SpotDrop is building a platform where the only content I see is from people that I’ve chosen to follow,” Brenninkmeijer emphasized. “Hopefully, users will be following people that they “know and trust” so they therefore “will know and trust the recommendations” of people they follow. Recommendations are founded on authenticity and trust.

Second, Brenninkmeijer scrutinized the “one-size-fits-all” approach of such platforms. “What might be a great restaurant for me… is not necessarily a great restaurant for you,” since taste and experiences are subjective. Instead, he advocates for recommendations based on people users choose to follow and trust, which is different for every person. This informs why SpotDrop doesn’t have a “star-rating” feature. 

Lastly, Brenninkmeijer finds a “gamification approach,” often seen with points or badges, as unsustainable for long-term platform strategy. “The incentive that we decided to go with people posting on SpotDrop is just being able to engage with people’s content.” He built in incentives similar to other social platforms, including commenting on and liking posts. Brenninkmeijer’s goal is to take the existing incentive model and “optimize it” for foodies in a way that is unobtrusive.

UNCOMPROMISING ON AUTHENTICITY 

SpotDrop seeks to offer an authentic experience to the user. What this means is that upon opening the app, there will not be a “For You” or “Explore” page that bombards the user with information. Instead, the user only sees the content from people they follow. So, “if you download SpotDrop, and you don’t follow any foodie, and you don’t add any of your own places, the app is going to be empty.” Currently, there are a few Boston College foodie accounts recommended (including Gusto!) upon downloading the app just to get a user’s journey started on the relatively newly released app.

The overarching premise is that “we want to make it so that every time you see a picture or spot or something on SpotDrop,” it relates to “someone that you’ve chosen to follow, because that’s really what’s going to keep SpotDrop personal,” Brenninkmeijer affirmed. In the future, the platform might consider recommendations from friends of friends in less explored geographical areas, but SpotDrop plans to keep itself as personal as possible. “We definitely don’t want to be a platform that pushes content to users without it coming from a source that they decided to follow.”

Brenninkmeijer mentioned that SpotDrop’s key mission of curating a personalized food experience is constant, but the app development itself is ever-evolving. After all, it’s there to support the foodie’s journey. “We really are building an app for our users,” Brenninkmeijer stressed. As a result, constantly testing and implementing user feedback allows SpotDrop to offer a more frictionless experience with each app update. 

Ultimately, Brenninkmeijer finds value in connecting with friends in a deep way. What better way than food? “I really want SpotDrop to also be a platform that fosters genuine connections with people you already know,” Brenninkmeijer shared cheerfully. It adds “a new way to connect with your friends,” since “food and experiences are such powerful things,” he concluded.

The next time you struggle to remember a deep-dish pizza restaurant your friend recommended you check out in Chicago, consider downloading SpotDrop. Not only does it save time for all parties involved and is easily accessible, but forges a new connection between friends. Perhaps walking a mile in a person’s shoes is not the only way to really understand a person. Eating a plate of their favorite food at a place they love could be just as informing and of course, delicious.

Cover photo courtesy of Eataly Boston

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Features

Solodko Patisserie: An Exclusive Interview

Solodko is a Boston-based patisserie that offers classy and delectable desserts. Ilona Znakharchuk founded the business while studying at Boston College, and runs the patisserie with her sister, Irina. To learn about Solodko’s past and present, I interviewed Ilona, the bubbly and introspective owner. I learned about her fascinating business and culinary journey, and by the end of our chat, also ended up craving a scrumptious slice of Ukrainian honey cake. 

“It sometimes surprises me to see how far we’ve come because when we started, I didn’t think that three years later, I would still be doing this,” Ilona reflected. “And I plan on continuing to do it.” 

BEGINNINGS 

Ilona always had a passion for baking from a young age. Ilona and her older sister Irina, were born in Ukraine and moved to the United States as children. Ilona would often visit Ukraine to spend time with family and friends, and mentioned that she had a friend who owned a pastry shop there. “I was always just in awe of her desserts because I couldn’t find anything similar to what she had here, in the States,” Ilona shared. Inspired by her friend, “I started just playing around in my kitchen and experimenting and she helped me with a few of her recipes that she was kind enough to give to me,” Ilona added. “And that’s where it all started.” 

Photo credit: Solodko

Solodko had its sweet beginnings in a dorm room at Boston College. During her sophomore year of college, Ilona would bake delicate desserts to share with friends. Macarons were her specialty, and she did not shy away from unique flavor combinations. In fact, her blue cheese, walnut, and pear macaron flavor was well-loved. Upon noticing her talent, her supportive roommate urged her to start a business and even made an Instagram page for her to commence her journey. At that time, Ilona chose the name Conditer for her baking business, which means “pastry chef” in Ukrainian. “That was my nickname in the family,” said Ilona warmly. For trademarking reasons, she later changed the name to Solodko, the Ukrainian word for “sweet”. 

Ilona started off posting a few pictures on Instagram and was shocked at the positive response. “Before I knew it, students started reaching out to me and placing orders. And I had a little bit of a freak-out moment,” Ilona admitted. However, she soon formulated a routine to manage her influx of orders. “I would go home on weekends and I would bake, and then I would come back to campus Sunday night,” where she would deliver the desserts, mainly macarons, with Irina’s help.

The next year after gaining more hands-on experience, Ilona pitched Conditer in Start@Shea’s Accelerator Program at Boston College. This program helps entrepreneurs realize their goals by offering helpful expertise, networking, and funding. The accelerator program let her “have more of a vision and a plan for how I want to move forward with this in the future.”’ She described this as the point where baking was no longer something on the side — Ilona was all in. 

SOLODKO TODAY 

After graduation, Ilona rebranded Conditer to Solodko. Currently, Ilona and Irina both work full-time jobs and spend their evenings attending to orders from customers in greater Boston. Ilona described Irina as her “right hand.” The sisters complement each other to deliver on quality consistently. “She’s there to help out and that really gives me the time and the freedom to carry out our goals and our vision,” Ilona said, mentioning that “background work” should not be underestimated. “Without her, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything that I do in terms of the business,” Ilona concluded. 

Despite their busy schedules, the sisters’ dedication to Solodko never wavered. “There were concrete steps for making the business a fully operational legal food entity,” to which Ilona gave examples of sub-leasing a commercial kitchen space and formally registering the business. They also revamped the menu to cater to their schedule and working capacities. 

“We started off primarily making macarons just because those were convenient for the Boston College student population. After college, we transitioned from macarons to different desserts.” Solodko moved to eclairs and other pastries, and then to cakes. Ilona found that “it’s easier to make one large cake and deliver to one customer than to make fifty eclairs and deliver them to ten different locations across Boston.” Since time was precious, they had to be efficient. “We had to tweak our business model a little given that we are working full-time jobs. We have limited time in our commercial kitchen and limited time to deliver.” Desserts like macarons and eclairs were more demanding than cakes, which “wasn’t sustainable” for the long-term. 

Photo credit: Solodko

Ilona points to significant people in her life and baking career who helped her develop her culinary skills. Ilona shared that Solodko’s cake recipes are actually from a pastry chef in Eastern Europe, which offers something new to a largely American customer base. In addition, Ilona interned at Jonquils Cafe & Bakery on Newbury Street. She worked with a pastry chef who “taught me so much that I now use in my day-to-day life of running the food business.” This includes culinary tips and tricks and how to pivot “when things start going wrong in the kitchen.” Ilona shared that “without his expertise, and without my experience in that cafe over the summer, I wouldn’t have had as much knowledge as I have now.” Solodko’s menu reflects Ilona’s baking acumen learned from talented pastry chefs, her Ukrainian background, and her own personal techniques, style, and creative flavor pairings. 

Currently, Solodko’s menu consists of a variety of cakes, cake jars, cakesicles, and assorted tarts. In particular, Ilona pays homage to the classic Ukrainian honey cake, honoring her roots. The honey cake is “a very popular Ukrainian cake flavor, called medovik in Ukrainian, so that has to be there.” 

Here are some of Solodko’s flavors, as listed on the website: 

“Mango Passion Fruit Coconut: Almond sponge cake layers with mango passion fruit confit, a coconut soak, and a light cream” 

“Raspberry Chocolate: A fluffy chocolate sponge cake with raspberry confit and a light vanilla cream” 

And Ilona’s favorite flavor that she highly recommends to customers new to Solodko: 

“Berry Vanilla: Vanilla sponge cake layers with mixed berry confit and a whipped cream cheese frosting” 

Ilona also recommended the custom-tarts: “This seems like a small dessert but you have up to three different layers within the tart itself and then you have the topping.” In one dessert, “you get a lot of different flavors coming at you all at once.” From cakes to tarts, Solodko offers something for everyone. 

As much as flavors are important, aesthetics matter as well for Solodko. The business exudes elegance in branding, from dessert decoration to website design. “We focus on things to be as delicious as pretty.” Ilona said simply. “And that’s important for us. So, I think that did definitely emphasize our branding and our style.” Ilona wants her desserts to embody a “timeless classic aesthetic through time.” For Ilona, too much going on is “overwhelming” and can take away from a breathtaking visual. “I feel like there’s beauty in simplicity.” 

Photo credit: Solodko

Because Solodko cakes are custom, design is a balancing act between customer expectations and patisserie standards. Ilona walked me through the design process with an example. A customer reached out to Solodko for her daughter’s birthday, and shared ideas about the cake. “She likes leopard, she likes pink and she’s very feminine,” the customer said about the daughter in question. “That gives me right away something to work with,” Ilona articulated. She will then find inspiration on the internet and in life around her, “like nature, art, and fashion.” She looks at the work of pastry chefs and artists as well, and weaves her favorite aspects of those cakes into the final product, all while respecting artistic integrity. Ilona found that when customers hand over the reins to her in terms of design, the result is often impressive. “Sometimes those are the cakes that come out absolutely beautiful [because] you’re given the full liberty to execute your vision.” 

As for the items that are non-custom, Ilona “developed a style that works best for us in terms of aesthetics and time requirements. And that’s what we usually stick to.” For example, most of the eclairs, whenever on the menu, “are decorated with whipped ganache on top, piped in different patterns. We find that that’s the most comfortable for us to work with, especially when there’s a very large batch of eclairs that we have to make.” Ilona’s reasoning was practical. “You wouldn’t want to decorate each eclair in a different way because that’s unsustainable. And I think in business, you have to find a very smart balance between what’s artistic and creative and what’s sustainable.” 

Towards the end of our chat, Ilona contemplated on her years of trial-and-error, learning, and growth both as both a business owner and a pastry chef. “Every time I do something with the business and I take a step back and look at it, it’s a testament to the fact that… things that start out little can become big, with consistent hard work.” 

Ilona emphasized the power of persistence in achieving her goals. “You just should never give up on your dreams even when things don’t go according to plan. Because, as in anything that ultimately ends in success, consistency is key.” 

For the future, Solodko is looking to get its own commercial space, take more wedding cake orders, and open a cafe. Ilona sees this as an opportunity where she can expand their menu and definitely bring back their highly-requested macarons. No matter what the future holds, one thing is for certain: Solodko desserts are as aesthetically exquisite as they are indulgently delectable. Don’t be shy — help yourself to an irresistible slice of Solodko honey cake! After all, we all need a little sweetness in life.

Cover photo courtesy of Solodko

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Features

Epcot: “Where the Impossible Becomes Possible”

A couple of weeks ago, my friends and I decided to go to Florida for spring break–except we wanted to spice it up a little. Enjoying the beach in Fort Lauderdale or partying in Miami seemed too basic. Why not go to Disney? Disney seems to be a dream come true when you are eight, but would it still be a dream at 21?

To say that we had fun is an understatement– Disney had a lot more to offer than I could ever conceptualize at eight years old. Initially meant to be an experimental prototype community of “Tomorrow”, Epcot has now become a theme park that celebrates human achievement and culture. Epcot’s celebration is centered around a World Showcase with 11 countries represented as 11 pavilions. The pavilions portray not only traditional music and architecture from each country, but  also serve delicious food. Whether you want to experience fast food or a sit-down restaurant, the pavilions come with all the options you could ever dream of. From Mexico to Norway and even Morocco, Epcot is a dream-like experience. 

Intending to try as much food as possible from as many pavilions as possible, we started our trip around the world in the Mexican pavilion. As a Mexican student, I must say I had incredibly low expectations for the Mexican pavilion. Really, there are not a lot of Mexican restaurants in the U.S. that can accurately emulate the Mexican flavors. However, trying food and drinks from the margarita stand was simply ambrosial. The tacos were made with hand-made corn tortillas with the earthy and scrumptious textures of Mexico–only topped by a perfectly balanced passion fruit margarita. 

Delighted by some Mexican appetizers, we moved on to Norway. Impressed by the Viking-like architecture, I could hardly wait to try Norwegian traditional food. Offering traditional pastries like kringla pretzel-shaped cookies, sweet lefse flatbread, and the famous school bread. The Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe was cozy and delectable. 

The Chinese pavilion offered a wide variety of dining options, from an elegant restaurant to a small stand that sold the tastiest hand-made crab rangoons I have ever tried. Followed by Germany’s pretzels and assortment of beers, Italy’s pavilion lured us in with some traditional songs, water fountains and limoncello margaritas. The U.S. pavilion immediately transported me to the 4th of July, with fireworks, live concerts, and huge,savory turkey legs. In my opinion, France might have been the grandest pavilion, representing movies like Beauty and the Beast and Ratatouille. The delicate array of food options included crepes, French pastries, the famous macarons and fancy French restaurants. 

Perhaps my favorite pavilion was the Moroccan one. Morocco encapsulated originality and a sort of grandeur only found in a desert. With an amazing representation of the Koutoubia Minaret in Marrakesh, the intricate towers show a side of Islam that is not often represented in the Western world. Terracotta buildings and bazaars invited everyone to come in. As a fan of kebabs, just thinking about the pavilion’s chicken kebabs makes me drool. The perfectly cooked soft, juicy chicken melted in my mouth in perfect balance. It was simply marvelous!

The cherry on top of the Epcot experience was the magnificent water and firework show at 9 p.m. Overjoyed by a succulent plate of poutine and a lavender-infused drink from the Canadian pavilion, the visual and auditory experiences of the show were moving. Representing movies like the Lion King and Coco, the show was vibrant and celebratory. Immersed in this deep emotional joy I realized that I felt like I was eight again. Disney is truly where the impossible becomes possible. 

Cover photo courtesy of Disney Tourist Blog