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Ken Reid on Meat Pies, Chop Suey Sandwiches, Hilltop Horror Stories, and More

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Welcome back to Comedian Confidential, in which Boston comics (or those with Boston roots) discuss their favorite restaurants and more.

Local stand-up comedian Ken Reid returns to Johnny D's tomorrow night (Thursday, February 27) for his monthly "informative variety talk show," Member's Lounge, featuring an assortment of guests, panelists, and the 'All of Us' solo quartet, "the world's only solo quartet."

Reid has spent most of his life in the Boston area; he grew up in Melrose and mostly lived in Somerville's Sullivan Square from 1998 to 2009, from which he has fond memories of Taco Loco and the pre-fire incarnation of Tapatio. There was a year in the middle when he lived in London, where he started doing stand-up and joined a rare minority of people who enjoy British food. Reid is also the proud owner of a collection of every TV Guide from 1980 through 1995, and he has a new podcast called TV Guidance Counselor where guests pick an issue at random, decide which shows they'd watch every night during primetime that week, and then discuss their choices.

A lover of storytelling, tape trading, Batman, and most importantly, food, Reid chatted with Eater about his local dining memories, his pre- and post-show food rituals, the most disgusting thing he ever saw when working at Hilltop Steak House, and much more.

What childhood food memories do you have from around here?
I pretty much hung out in Harvard Square all the time because I was a punk rock kid. I used to love Formaggio [Delicatessen] in the Garage. They had the best sandwiches. They were, like, $7, which was really, really pricey because I was a teenager, but it was homemade rye bread with herb mayonnaise and warm turkey and cucumbers. This is the only time I've seen a place do this — they cut them lengthwise, and they were really thin. I still dream of that sandwich. I have not found its equal, but I used to get that once a week.

What are your favorite places to go now?
Before shows, if I'm remotely close to Cambridge or Watertown, I always go to Deluxe Town Diner because I like breakfast for dinner. I like Park because they have meat pies, one of my favorite things. I just can't get enough meat pies. I actually really liked British food when I lived in England, which everyone makes fun of, but I really like meat, I love them. Park has a meat pie of the day every day, so I like that. I like the Friendly Toast, especially the cheesy fries, which is one of my favorite things on earth. You get the spicy and sweet and the blue cheese. Very good. And I like L.A. Burdick because I'm a big hot chocolate fan.

With your love of meat pies, have you been to KO Catering and Pies?
I have not. I don't go to Southie very often, but I've heard of it, and I'm kind of intrigued by it. What types of pies do they have?

A few different kinds with beef, vegetables...they also have sausage rolls.
My wife is British and misses sausage rolls. There used to be a place in Brighton called The Battery, an Irish-style fish and chips place, and it was good. We'd go out of our way to go there, but it did not last very long. They had proper fish and chips and meat pies and sausage rolls.

Are there other places that you like to get British food around Boston?
I haven't really found any, although there's The Haven in JP — Scottish food. Really, really good stuff. But I don't find it that often. If you're looking for British food, usually Irish will suffice, and you can find it around here, but there really aren't even that many places for that stuff.

Aside from breakfast for dinner, do you have any other pre- or post-show food rituals?
I always eat, like, a ton of food. There are people who can't eat before they get on, which is crazy to me. I'm like, wouldn't you just be hungry the whole time? Or distracted, at least? Because most of the time, if I'm not thinking about meals I've eaten in the past in a fond way, I'm thinking about what I will be eating the next time I eat, so I feel like if I don't eat before a show, it would be very distracting. And I will binge on baked goods if a show goes badly. There have been times when whole cakes have been consumed. Oh yes.

Got any embarrassing stories from restaurants?
I was at Fuddruckers, which is already embarrassing to begin with. I'm a huge Batman fan, and I have a lot of Batman t-shirts, and I was on a date. At Fuddruckers they take your name and call your name when your food's ready, and the kid was like, what's your name? It's Ken. Oh, don't you mean Batman? And I'm like, no, my name's Ken. "OK, Batman," he said. I sit down, and when our food was ready, he came on the speaker system and went, "Na na na na na na na na" [sings Batman theme], and that's it. And so everyone in the restaurant was like, we're all paying attention now. I stood up in my Batman shirt and got a huge reaction from everyone in there. That was pretty embarrassing.

What did your date think?
It was our only date. I also worked at the Hilltop for a number of years, which I have hours and hours of stories about, just disgusting things that happened.

How did you feel when you heard it was closing?
I can't believe it took this long. That place was on life support for decades.

What's your favorite Hilltop story?
This is probably very disgusting, but there was a guy with a colostomy bag, and it got full, because he was eating, so he changed it at the table and put the full one on the table. One of the other patrons asked him if he could just not have it on the table, which I think is a fair request, and he took umbrage to that, so he stood up and picked it up and then spiked it like a football on the ground. It was horrific. And the only time I've ever done the Heimlich maneuver was at Hilltop, when I saved an old lady's life.

What was she choking on?
Like a huge piece of prime rib that she didn't even chew.

Did you work at any other restaurants?
I worked at Maggiano's when I was in college. I was very, very poor and had no money for food, and I would see people getting just refire after refire of food and throwing it out. But the food was good. They had good pumpkin cheesecake. That was the last restaurant I ever worked in. I think everyone should have to work in a restaurant for at least a week. People would just generally be better people if they had to wait tables for a week.

We've been thinking about pizza a lot lately on Eater. What are your feelings about pizza? Any favorites?
I'm a huge pizza fan. Every Friday night my wife and I get two pizzas, his and hers, and we watch two movies, so it's Pizza Double Feature Night. I purposely don't book shows on Friday nights, which everyone thinks is crazy, but I'm like, nope. We rotate around where we get the pizza. Stella's Pizza in Watertown used to be my absolute favorite. Their Buffalo chicken pizza is fantastic. When we used to live in Somerville and work over there, Stella's was just far enough away that it would be cold, so I actually bought a pizza delivery bag so that after work we could get Stella's and get it home and still have it hot. I also love Leone's in Somerville, which is the best. It's Sicilian-style pizza; the white pizza with spinach is very good. Sometimes we go next door to the other pizza place and get Buffalo fingers, chop them up, and put them on top.

What's the best meal you've had locally?
My favorite meal is Billy's Roast Beef in Wakefield, MA. It's one of a million of the famous North Shore roast beef places, but having tried them all, it is absolutely the best, and I've been going there since I was nine. The super beef with horseradish, lettuce, sauce. That was the one thing I missed when I lived in the UK. That was the only thing I couldn't get. Another North Shore thing — have you ever heard of the chop suey sandwich? It was a big fad in the 30s in the beach resorts on the North Shore and in Maine. There's only one place that still does it; it's at Salem Willows. There's a Chinese food place at the Willows, which is weird, and it's set up like a beach pizza place, but it's Chinese food. They still do chop suey sandwiches, and it's the last one out of, like, thousands that used to exist.

Is it...good?
It's pretty good. I mean, you can tell it was from a time when people were a little less exposed to ethnic foods, so it's not quite adventurous, but the novelty of it is kind of fun.

What would you like readers to know about tomorrow's show?
It's a variety talk show. There are stand-ups in it, but no one's doing stand-up; it'll be weird. It's a fun, weird show. We always have a meal special for the show, and there's just a lot of fun weirdness. There's a panel discussion — we have Stacy Buchanan, who's a documentary film director; she's making a movie about New England horror. And there's Henry Santoro and Colneth Smiley — they're all doing the panel discussion. There are so many stand-up shows around, so this is just something different. It's a monthly show. There's a lot of interaction, including a mystery object the audience has to guess. Last month, I had frozen an object in a block of ice and it slowly melted on my desk, and people had to guess what was in the ice, so we'll have a similar thing this time. It won't be in a block of ice. Last time it was a CD copy of "Shaq Diesel," Shaquille O'Neal's rap album.

Ken Reid hosts Member's Lounge tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. at Johnny D's. Tickets are $15.
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