At the end of March in 2013, chef Barry Maiden won his third-straight Madness title. This wasn’t March Madness, though; it was Munch Madness, a Boston.com competition that pitted 64 local restaurants against each other to find the city’s favorite. It seems that Bostonians have an unwavering dedication to Maiden’s restaurant, Hungry Mother, which serves up hearty, southern-style dinner fare. One glance at the menu and it's easy to see why. Smoked-cheddar pimiento cheese dip and sea-salt sprinkled boiled Virginia peanuts ready palates for hearty plates of crawfish and grits, cast-iron chicken, and catfish and shrimp served with scallion hushpuppies. The after-dinner menu is just as thoughtfully curated––bartenders mix a quartet of after-dinner drinks meant to end things on a sweet note, similar to Beethoven’s intentions when he replaced all of his piano keys with Fun Dip sticks. Of course, there’s traditional dessert, too, including a decidedly southern buttermilk chess pie topped with blueberry-mint preserves and whipped crème fraiche.
Judy Rosenberg didn’t set out to be an award-winning chef or an NPR-lauded cookbook author. The owner of Rosie’s Bakery found her calling in 1974 after attending art school and gobbling desserts at some of New York’s finest bakeries, becoming inspired to forge her own batch of sweets. When the staff of a local cheesecake shop got hooked on her homemade cookies, she knew she’d found a recipe for success. Since then, she’s expanded her culinary repertoire to include fudge-nut brownies, bavarian-cream fruit tarts, and more than 14 types of muffins and scones.
Each recipe teems with real, old-fashioned ingredients, such as butter, cream, sugar, and edible monocles. Cakes come in circular layers and rectangular sheets, boasting flavors such as carrot and mocha. Filled with snickerdoodles and chocolate-chip rounds, the cookie lineup conjures more childhood memories than a psychiatrist who rides to work in an ice-cream truck.
According to founder Adam, Veggie Galaxy was born out of the quest to define the true spirit of the American diner. His fixation on the venue type began in childhood, as he whiled away hours sitting atop cushy bar stools and hugging vintage jukeboxes. Later in life, Adam became a vegetarian and soon noted the lack of meat-free options on diner menus. He knew that though sizzling bacon is often present at a successful diner, it is not integral to its essence. So, he built his own vegetarian- and vegan-friendly space that adhered to the guiding principle of all great eateries: corralling groups in and feeding them well.
In regards to the latter goal, Veggie Galaxy's vegetarianism is "an afterthought" to head chef Brian. Though every dish on the diner's menu remains herbivorous—and in the case of several plates, gluten-free and vegan—the kitchen's top concerns are taste and in-house prep. The restaurant demands everything, from the ketchup to the burger buns, be made on-site and from scratch, a standard which won them a DigBoston's Dig This Award for vegetarian and vegan food in 2011. As for the patties that go inside the housemade buns, they mold them from black beans and a mushroom-chickpea mix instead of beef, just as tempeh supplants bacon and seitan replaces steak. The all-vegan bakery abides by the same system. Taza's vegan, organic stoneground chocolate goes into savory cookies, and house-toasted coconut decorates layer cakes.
Straight from Brazil, I Love Milkshakes takes the concept of self-serve yogurt one step further. Here, cups get filled with either ice cream or frozen yogurt, then blended with fruit or other sweets to create a sippable treat. To complement their sweet shakes, customers can warm up with hot coffee drinks or nosh on waffles wrapped around a stick, perfect for dunking or beating away a corn-dog salesman.
It's common to claim a food "tastes like chicken," but the cooks at Mass Chicken prove that chicken doesn't have a uniform taste. They deep fry it and serve it as wings, skewer and marinate it to create kabobs, and roast it on a spit. The eatery's extensive selection of wraps and subs ranges from chicken fingers and chicken salad to chicken smothered in cheesesteak fixings. Chicken even winds up in sides, such as beans with chicken or even chicken with chicken. Though poultry-focused, the menu finds room for plenty of chicken alternatives, from mozzarella sticks and lamb kabobs to wraps or subs with meatballs, sirloin, and falafel.
Fresh out of college, Vince Petryk took a job as a dishwasher at an ice cream shop. It was just a temporary gig…or, so he thought. As Petryk climbed through the shop’s ranks—he rose from dishwasher, to scooper, to ice-cream maker, to manager—he was awe-struck by the way ice cream seemed to make people feel happy. From that point on, he knew that he wanted to continue to share that joy with others and that the best way to do it, was to own his own ice cream shop. He perfected his from-scratch ice cream recipe before opening J.P. Licks, named for Jamaica Plain, the neighborhood where he opened his first location. The flavors were immediately a hit and continue to win loyal fans for their intensity and ingenuity––at any given time, guests might find cake batter and chocolate peanut butter ripple on the menu, alongside unusual flavors like tomato basil or beer and pretzels. Since those early days, Vince has also added from-scratch hard and soft frozen yogurts, sherberts, and sorbets. He has even been known to develop flavors to suit the tastes of the area's different ethnic groups, and dairy-free ice creams to provide relief to the area's overworked cows. Beyond serving traditional cones, Petryk and his staff also pack chilly scoops into house-made cakes and pies, blend them into shakes, and transform them into decadent sundaes topped with homemade hot fudge or butterscotch. The icy treats have proved so popular, J.P. Licks now has 10 area stores, leaving them ample wall space for awards: readers of The Phoenix voted it the city’s best ice cream parlor in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.