All along the coast you'll be tempted by seafood in its various forms. You can get fried clams by the bucket at divey shacks along remote coves and busy highways. The more upscale restaurants offer fresh fish, grilled or gently sautéed.
Live lobster can literally be bought off the boat at lobster pounds, especially along the Maine coast. The setting is usually rustic -- maybe a couple of picnic tables and a shed where huge vats of water are kept at a low boil.
Inland, take time to sample the local products. This includes delectable maple syrup, sold throughout the northern reaches. Cheese is a Vermont specialty, especially cheddar. Look also for Vermont's famed apple cider and Maine's wild blueberries.
In summer, small farmers across New England set up stands at the end of their driveways offering fresh produce straight from the garden. You can usually find berries, fruits, and sometimes home-baked breads. These stands are rarely tended; just leave your money in the coffee can.
Restaurateurs haven't overlooked New England's bounty. Many chefs serve up delicious meals consisting of local ingredients -- some places even tend their own gardens. Some of the fine dishes we've enjoyed while researching this guide include curried pumpkin soup, venison medallions with shiitake mushrooms, and wild boar with juniper berries.
But you don't have to have a hefty budget to enjoy the local foods. A number of regional classics fall under the "road food" category. Here's an abbreviated field guide:
- Beans: Boston is forever linked with baked beans (hence the nickname "Beantown"), which are popular throughout the region. A Saturday-night supper traditionally consists of baked beans and brown bread.
- Clam chowder: The obligatory Boston dish of choice, clam chowder consists simply of chopped clams, milk, and some butter, flour and/or salt pork to thicken the mixture up into soup form. Interestingly, Rhode Islanders eat a reddish version incorporating tomatoes or tomato soup in lieu of the milk.
- Johnnycakes: A Colonial recipe largely lost to time, the Johnnycake still survives in Rhode Island's wayside diners. They're heavy pancakes made from cornmeal and molasses rather than the usual wheat flour and sugar.
- Lobster rolls: Lobster rolls consist of lobster meat plucked from the shell, mixed with just enough mayonnaise to hold it all together, then served on a hot-dog roll.
- Maple syrup: Nothing says New England like sweet local maple syrup. You can get the stuff in all six of the New England states, but the best is supplied in New Hampshire and Vermont. Come in late spring for open-house days at the local sap houses, where sugar makers boil up the sweet stuff and ladle it onto pancakes, ice cream, or snow.
- Moxie: Early in this century, Moxie outsold Coca-Cola. Part of its allure was the fanciful story behind its 1885 creation: A traveler named Moxie was said to have observed South American Indians consuming the sap of a native plant, which gave them extraordinary strength. The drink was "re-created" by Maine native and Massachusetts resident Dr. Augustin Thompson. It's still popular in New England, although some folks liken the taste to a combination of medicine and topsoil.
- Necco wafers: Still made in Cambridge by the New England Confectionery Company, these powdery wafers haven't changed a bit since 1847. The candies are available widely throughout New England.
Finally, no survey of comestibles would be complete without mention of something to wash it all down: beer. New England has more microbreweries than any other region outside the Pacific Northwest.
Popular brewpubs that rank high on the list include the Great Providence Brewing Co., the Commonwealth Brewing Co. (Boston's first brewpub), the Portsmouth Brewery, Federal Jack's Brewpub (Kennebunkport), Vermont Pub & Brewery (Burlington), the Windham Brewery at the Latchis Hotel (Brattleboro), and a clutch of minibreweries in Portland, Maine -- at least a half-dozen, at last count, all making mighty good beer.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.