Trying dishes that are uncommon — or even unheard of — at home is one of the best parts of traveling. New England, with relatively small states and strong culinary traditions, sets the bar high for this type of experience.
Many iconic dishes connect the local foodways, like soft, rich creemees, which support Vermont’s famous maple and dairy production. Some classics are surprisingly limited in their spread, like the thin, blackened New Haven-style pizza that wins accolades nationwide yet clings chiefly to one Connecticut downtown. Others refuse to recognize human-made state borders — obviously Maine has no monopoly on fantastic lobster rolls, nor is New Hampshire the sole home for apple cider doughnuts, despite their mastery of these delicacies.
Here are six regional specialties — from Rhode Island’s quahog clam stuffies to super beef sandwiches in Massachusetts — to better appreciate the people, resources, and tastes that make up New England.
Apizza in Connecticut
Pronounced “ah-beetz” in the local Italian American parlance, the revered New Haven-style pizza thrives in the neighborhoods around Yale University. Dating back to the 1925 opening of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (better known as Pepe’s) in the Wooster Square neighborhood, apizza is “a hotter, crispier, and dirtier descendant of Neapolitan style pie,” mighty thin and deliberately charred on the bottom — and the idiosyncrasies don’t stop there.
For example, the cheese-less tomato pie is a standard option at the various high-quality purveyors of New Haven apizza, so diners must specifically order mozzarella, or “mootz,” as a topping. Another local favorite is the garlicky white clam pie; for those hesitant to commit to it, there’s a split pie at Sally’s Apizza with finely chopped clams on one half, rosemary and thinly sliced potatoes on the other.
Lobster Rolls in Maine
As the top producer of lobsters in the U.S., it’s fitting that Maine also has its own type of lobster roll: large hunks of sweet lobster meat stuffed into a center-cut hot dog roll, adorned with just a slick of mayonnaise to accent the subtle crustacean. Of course, mayo is controversial, so many places also offer alternatives.
When it opens for the season in May, picturesque McLoons Lobster Shack in South Thomaston lets customers opt for warm butter instead, Connecticut-style. Similarly, Bite Into Maine, with two food trucks and a takeout shop in Greater Portland, sells a flight of mini versions so diners can compare those from Maine and Connecticut, plus picnic-style (coleslaw, butter, and celery salt). And Portland’s Eventide Oyster Co. (which also has a Boston location near Fenway Park) expanded the lobster roll canon with a luscious brown butter sauce and a fluffy steamed bao.
Find a favorite on a coastal crawl of essential Maine lobster rolls.
Roast Beef Sandwiches in Massachusetts
The Massachusetts “super beef” or “three-way” sandwich combines tender shavings of medium-rare roast beef with barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, and American cheese, all contained — barely — within a Kaiser roll. The messy, gratifying specialty and its subtle variations grace menus throughout the state, including those of Boston experts like Cusser’s Roast Beef and Seafood, but a road trip north of Boston demonstrates why this is properly known as a North Shore-style sandwich. See what the fuss is about at institutions like Nick’s Roast Beef in Beverly or at one of the Kelly’s Roast Beef locations, which claims to have created this sandwich in Revere Beach in 1951 (and officially inspired mega-chain Arby’s).
Apple Cider Doughnuts in New Hampshire
Fresh, tangy-sweet apple cider finds one of its finest expressions in the apple cider doughnut, a cake-y, warmly spiced delicacy that’s well-represented in New Hampshire. While some farms only produce deep-fried cider doughnuts during the fall apple harvest, many understandably stretch the season: Cider Bellies Doughnuts, for one, reopens in the spring at scenic Moulton Farms in Meredith with an enchanting maple-drizzled cider doughnut. At its several locations, Lull Farms offers anything from fresh meat and produce to apple-picking opportunities, but cider doughnuts remain consistent on the menu — with or without cinnamon sugar, though the crunch the sugar adds is a textural triumph. White Mountain Cider Co. in Bartlett sells warm apple cider doughnuts year-round from its market, then ups the ante at its restaurant in the evenings, plating the treat with ice cream and caramel sauce for dessert.
Stuffies in Rhode Island
Rhode Island harvests more than 20 million large, hard-shell quahog clams from its coastal waters annually. Many of these bivalves become stuffies: quahog shells filled generously with chopped quahog meat, breadcrumbs or crackers, and a wide variety of flavorful additions. Sage and celery stuffed clams evoke Thanksgiving dressing, while bacon bits and sweet green pepper harken to another regional classic, clams casino.
Because Rhode Island is home to the largest Portuguese-American population in the U.S., Portuguese flavors are also prominent — chouriço sausage and smoky paprika alongside extras like celery, onion, and sweet or hot peppers. Enjoy a fluffy, piquant example at Quito’s on the Bristol waterfront, order some frozen by the dozen from Iggy’s via Goldbelly, or attend Quahog Week in May to eat your fill.
Maple Creemees in Vermont
A soft, dreamy swirl of maple and dairy, two prized regional specialities: This is the maple creemee. It’s higher in fat and richer than soft serve, and it’s smoother than Vermont’s most famous ice cream export (the candy-studded kind from Ben & Jerry’s).
While creemees come in a variety of flavors, maple is a must for first-timers — the subtle sweetness, depth of golden spiced flavor, and delicate hint of sugarhouse smoke tastes like an early spring day in the Green Mountain State. Find cups and cones at dairy farms, ice cream stands, drive-thrus, and sugar shacks throughout Vermont, but seek out Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier for creemees featuring this eighth-generation farm’s own maple syrup, or Canteen Creemee Company in Waitsfield, where the Bad Larry creemee is crowned with maple crystals, maple drizzle, maple cookie crumbs, and even a fluffy cloud of maple floss (aka cotton candy).