“Slippery, slurpy, stinky,” says Alton Brown — food television personality, author, and more — describing a memorable Boston dish, the hand-pulled noodles at Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe. “It was pretty great stuff,” he says, recalling a 2014 visit when he was in town for his Edible Inevitable tour. “It stands out mostly because I didn’t expect it [in Boston]. I expect great seafood, I expect clam chowder, I expect that kind of Boston fare, but I didn’t expect those noodles.”
Brown is returning to Boston later this year as he embarks on the final five-week segment of his current tour, Eat Your Science. (See dates and ticket information for all of the New England tour stops below.) “I'm glad to be coming back to Boston,” he tells Eater. “I'm glad to be coming back to Boston when it isn't the middle of winter — and because I like playing there. Good crowds. We had a really good show last time with the Edible Inevitable tour, and I think Eat Your Science will go over even better.”
As he did during his last tour, Brown is using a social media hashtag to determine where he should eat while he’s in town, going by a strictly numeric system where the places with the most votes win out. (To provide recommendations, see the city-specific hashtags below.) In particular, he’s looking for breakfast, lunch, coffee, and late-night dining recommendations, although late-night dining usually comes down to what’s available for delivery after the show, since Brown and his crew are typically heading right out to get to the next city on the tour. Unfortunately, this aggressive schedule also means that there’s only an opportunity for dinner on a rare day off.
But Brown doesn’t get tired of crowdsourcing his meals, which he also tends to photograph, post about online, and talk about at each night’s show. “People really love to see that because they're the ones who sent us there,” he says. “You’ve got to eat, right? It helps me. Auditoriums, it’s really easy to have them all kind of blur together after a while, but when you can attach to a town a particular meal, that really anchors in your memory, so it makes it a richer experience for me, and it certainly provides a basis of connection with the community.”
The downside is that it’s hard to make repeat visits to favorite spots because he’s always trying to cover all the new recommendations and relying on fans’ votes to determine his itinerary. “The one place I wish I could go back to...there's a place that I really love [in Boston], a wine bar that serves canned sardines,” he says. “Haley.Henry. I adore that place. I think that they're doing such ingenious work there, and with nothing — they don't even really have a kitchen. I hope to go back there.” He visited during his 2016 book tour, finding Haley.Henry’s way of selling wine to be “extremely innovative.” (They’ll open any bottle of wine if a customer commits to two glasses of it.)
Brown speaks highly of the Boston food scene, complimenting its fairly newfound ability to break out of its traditional mold. “I think that it has the same challenges that any city with a great kind of classic cuisine has,” he says.
“I think that Boston was a great food town before a lot of other great food towns came into being because of tradition, but eventually that tradition can start to hold you back, and I think that Boston is just now starting to get to the point where it's figuring out a way to own its tradition and own its past but not be held back by it. Cities that everybody's talking about right now, like Los Angeles — what kind of local food tradition does Los Angeles have? Well, taco trucks, but it's easy for [the Los Angeles food scene] to spread out and experiment and even be avant-garde. It's just tougher when you're so firmly established as kind of a food mecca, which I think Boston is. We automatically expect beans, seafood, brown bread, chowder — and those things are great — but you have to be able to move past them, which I think Boston’s doing.”
As for seafood, Brown weighs in on the all-important lobster roll debate, warm with butter or cold with mayo: “Yes,” he laughs, indicating both options. “I tend towards the warm with butter. I will eat the cold with mayo all day long, but given my druthers, I’m going to go warm with butter. I think it brings out more of the actual flavor of the lobster, and in the end, I think that a lobster roll ought to be about the lobster.”
The ever-popular Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, Maine is currently at the top of his list for lobster rolls: “Simple but perfectly done and with bread that was just right,” he says. “Getting the roll right is a really, really big deal. I’m not saying that there isn’t anything in Boston that would beat Eventide, but I haven’t had it yet.” (Meanwhile, Eventide’s new concept is getting closer to opening in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, and although it’ll be a different restaurant, there will be a lobster roll on the menu.)
Fans who saw Alton Brown’s previous tour know a bit of what to expect this time around, from big food demonstrations to live music and more. This tour will contain those aspects as well, but it’s a completely new show with a game show component, lots more science, and plenty of audience interaction. “Don't raise your hand if you don't really want to be on stage for a long time doing things and being dressed in strange protective garb,” he warns.
Brown is keeping the details of the big science demos a surprise for audiences, but “they are large, extremely impractical for the home cook, and I’m potentially going to be injured on every given night of the tour,” he says. “I haven't had any audience members or volunteers injured yet, so that makes me feel good.” No ponchos needed for audience members in the front, but he does recommend that those in the first row avoid wearing open-toe shoes. You’ve been warned.
As for music, “there’s everything from a lullaby to a tango to a punk rock number,” he says, “and we’re going to be doing a number that we only do around the holidays called ‘Grandma Forgot to Brine the Bird,’ which is about a very, very bad Thanksgiving experience.”
For those who leave the show itching to learn more about the science of food, Brown recommends checking out his Good Eats reruns, which are always airing on the Cooking Channel. There’s also so much food science being written these days, whereas in the early days of Good Eats, Brown and Harold McGee were pretty much holding down the fort.
“Now it’s kind of blossomed,” Brown says. “So many great people are writing about it.” He has high praise for The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt, published in 2015. “That's the book I wish I had written if I had time to write a book that big,” says Brown. “It's a massive tome, and I think it's one of those books we're going to find ourselves using decades from now. [López-Alt] is certainly one of the top five recipe writers in the country right now.”
So when Brown comes to town, bring curiosity, bring closed-toe shoes if you’re sitting in the front, and bring the family. “As always, my shows are family shows,” says Brown. “We love when families come together and have a good time, so that's a big emphasis of what we do in the show.”
When this tour ends in mid-November in Tennessee, that’s it for this particular show. “I’ll be putting this show to bed,” says Brown, “so if you want to see Eat Your Science, this is the last chance.”
New England tour stops and their associated hashtags for fan recommendations (can be used on Twitter and Facebook):
- Mashantucket, CT (at Foxwoods) — Friday, October 27; #ABRoadEatsFoxwoods [tickets]
- Boston, MA (at the Wang Theatre) — Saturday, October 28; #ABRoadEatsBoston [tickets]
- Stamford, CT (at the Palace Theatre) — Sunday, October 29; #ABRoadEatsStamford [tickets]
- Burlington, VT (at Flynn Theatre) — Monday, October 30; #ABRoadEatsBTV [tickets]
- Concord, NH (at Capitol Center for the Arts) — Wednesday, November 1; #ABRoadEatsCON [tickets]