This week marks two years since the birth of this column – an effort to report on all of the lunch offerings Springfield has to offer. Before we embark on another year, we'd like to look back at our seven favorite meals of 2011 and also highlight three relatively new places in town that we look forward to trying in the coming months.
First, the retrospective: They may not be the fanciest, most expensive lunches, but the seven meals listed below just happen to be the most satisfying, in our opinion.
– No gorditas, chalupas or deep-fried anything at this Morris Avenue restaurant. Picante's quesadillas are thin and filled with tiny chunks of tender skirt steak, onions, tomatoes and a light sprinkling of cheddar and jack cheeses. On the side of the plate is a small salad of shredded Romaine lettuce, diced onion and diced tomato, with a light lime-based dressing. Also on the side: three thin slices of avocado and a dollop of sour cream.
– Don't be misled by the name; this tiny shop is deli, diner and convenience store rolled into one. The chicken Caesar wrap may take a few minutes to prepare, but that's because everything is made to order. The chicken in the wrap is still warm, browned on the edges (no rubber chicken here), cut into tiny bite sized pieces, complemented by tangy Caesar dressing and crunchy Romaine. The wrap has just enough dressing to give it a good flavor, but not so much as to overwhelm or to make anything soggy.
– At Marino's, where Mountain Avenue meets Route 22, you're likely to be surrounded by people enjoying a meal slowly—not grabbing a burger or sandwich on the run as we Americans tend to do. A hot bowl of bouillabaisse here comes with a generous amount of shrimp, haddock, Chilean sea bass and other fish in a hot, fennel-spiked tomato broth. With a side of Vermont-baked crackers, it's almost a meal in itself.
– The sharp bite of bleu cheese goes perfectly on a thick burger at this Irish pub on Morris Avenue. For a slight variation on a favorite, add sauteed onions or bacon to the tavern burger. It's served open-faced, covered in blue cheese on a large kaiser roll, with lettuce and tomato. Even a medium well burger here is juicy. The fries here are hot and golden, with a little crunch.
– On the other side of town, on Route 22, Springfield's other Irish pub offers Kobe sliders--three burgers on small buttery brioche rolls. The California slider is topped with a slice of Swiss. The blue cheese burger comes with a generous amount of the sharp, tangy cheese. And slice of bacon on the bacon slider is thick and folded in thirds. The fries on the side are well-seasoned and cut very thin, some of the best in town.
– You'll have to wait for the weather to warm up a bit to enjoy J&M Curbside Cafe, which serves good, old-fashioned Sabrett hot dogs—made with natural beef casings that give the famous "snap" when you bite into them. The chili on the chili dog is homemade, a little spicy and by far the truck's best seller. It's all ground beef and spice—nothing too greasy and clearly not from a can.
- With finely chopped turkey, corn, cannellini beans and peppers, this thick soup has a considerable spicy kick to it. The turkey eliminates several calories—and a lot of grease—from a dish traditionally made with ground beef, without sacrificing flavor. The signature wrap is a healthy mix of grilled chicken breast, turkey bacon, reduced-fat cheddar cheese, Romaine lettuce, tomatoes and onions, all held together with a zero-carb signature sauce and a wrap--a satisfying 550 calories.
Looking forward to this year, Springfield offers at least three new dining options that we have not yet reviewed:
Tokyo Hibachi on Morris Avenue serves Glatt Kosher Japanese food, with plenty of lunch specials for dine in or take out.
has opened in the former Food Town space. The space benefited a good face lift. Bright lights and wide aisles make the store much more inviting than its predecessor. The new grocer offers a salad bar and full-service deli counter.
– Wild mushroom barley, vegetarian chili and minestrone top the soup offerings at The Ice Hut on Mountain Avenue. Open since last summer, this Kosher establishment serves a solid lineup of ice cream and desserts, so the soups are all vegan – no meat or dairy.