Take a virtual tour through Medford, where you'll find Italian specialty foods, doughnuts, mini patty melts, and more.
It's around lunchtime in Medford. It's rainy and cold, and there's not as much hustle and bustle as one might expect from a busy suburb just north of Boston. Medford — locally pronounced somewhere in the range of "Medfud" or even "Meffa" — is famous for a lot of things that may not be known to most. It's said that the popular Christmas song "Jingle Bells" was written here, and it's the birthplace of the ice skate, too. Fannie Farmer, author of the famous Boston Cooking School Cookbook, is a native; her book introduced Americans to using standardized measurements in cooking and delved into the science of cooking, a novel topic for that era.
Medford has always had a large Italian population that is still prevalent today. Bob's Italian Foods, located on Main Street but just a little ways off of the main drag, specializes in sandwiches and popular Italian-American staples: pasta dishes and antipasto platters. The red glow from the neon lights hangs heavy, and the line for sandwiches snakes around the cramped store. Everyone ordering a sandwich seems to be a regular. The aromas coming from the sandwich station are heavenly — assorted meats, cheeses, and sauces all being melted together in between fresh bread. Next to the sandwich action, squares of Sicilian pizzas sit on display. Just beyond that, closer to the entrance, a wall of antipasto rests behind a refrigerated display case. Above that, a shockingly large round of provolone cheese sits on the counter.
Bob's isn't alone in the Italian specialties market. A simple drive down Main Street offers several options to purchase imports. In addition to the many Italian specialty stores, there are also two main donut shops in town — Demet's and Donuts With A Difference. Demet's Donuts has the look of a vintage Dunkin' Donuts with burnt orange leather seats and a counter with donuts displayed proudly behind it. Most of the donuts have sold out by the afternoon, and the place is almost deserted, save for a trio that is cozied up in the back of the shop, looking like they've been there all day, gossiping loudly about the goings-on on in town. The atmosphere in Donuts with a Difference, located in Medford Square, differs slightly. It's smaller, in a quaint and homey sort of way, with just a humble donut display case located behind the register and a long counter with plush barstools for people to occupy while they tear into their treats.
Right near Donuts with a Difference is Ebisuya, a Japanese grocery store. The store has rows and rows of soy sauces, mirins, and rice among many other items, as well as a sushi bar up towards the front. A couple doors down, Chilli Garden offers a special lunch menu. There are only a few lone men sitting inside, and all are on their phones. A fish tank holds giant orange fish shimmying around bubbles, and televisions are set to the news station. These are the sorts of restaurants that have been here forever and that locals rely on.
Ushering in a new school of restaurants, Tenoch is another Medford Square resident. They pride themselves on their tortas (Mexican pressed sandwiches) as well as other Mexican specialties. A popular spot for lunch, Tenoch constantly has a long line as people grab their lunches to go. A couple choose to stay and eat, and a family of three sits in the corner.
On the other side of town, over in West Medford, Snappy Pattys offers bite-sized patty melts in a variety of flavors. The intimate space has an open concept with a kitchen that is visible from everywhere in the restaurant. The largest part of the space is the L-shaped wooden bar that sits in the middle while small tables surround it. For a more upscale dining experience, Bistro 5 offers Italian tasting menus as well as an a la carte menu with an ever-changing assortment of homemade dishes.
Although it's quiet in Medford in the afternoon, there's still a certain feel to it as one moves from one part of the city to the other. This isn't a touristy town, even though it's an area rich in history. It's a living and working community where people have a generous variety of dining options that have always been there, plus some new ones that are popping up with increasing frequency. In every establishment visited, it's easy to get the sense that everyone else dining there is a regular, which creates an atmosphere of familiarity, even if you aren't a local.