More memories

In the tradition of my Chicken Verdicchio, Peking on Mystic, and musical memories postings, more recollections of the Boston area in the early 60s. Something of a focus on food and dining, with occasional linguistic interludes.

Cambridge food. Two eating places in Harvard Square that have closed in the past 15 or so years:

Iruña, a Spanish restaurant specializing in, yum, paella. It was located just off what is now JFK St. (then Boylston), below Mt. Auburn St.

Elsie’s Lunch (a.k.a. Elsie’s Sandwich Shop) on Mt. Auburn St., an unpretentious place with fabulous sandwiches. (While my wife was in Boston Lying-In Hospital, giving birth to our daughter, her roommate desperately craved a sandwich from Elsie’s and her husband happily brought it in.)

What I can’t remember from those days is what Ann and I did for lunch on weekdays. I was taking linguistics courses at MIT and Ann was working in the Science Teaching Center there, so we must have eaten at Tech or close by, but I can’t dredge up any memories of where.

Boston food. Starting from the top of the line, Locke-Ober (website here). From the Wikipedia page:

Locke-Ober, located at 3-4 Winter Place, is the third oldest restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts, after the Union Oyster House (1826) and Durgin-Park (1827). Locke-Ober features French cuisine and seafood.

Winter Pl. is off Winter St., which runs between Washington St., site of Dowtown Crossing (shopping at Filene’s, Filene’s Basement, Jordan Marsh, etc.), and Tremont St., along Boston Common.

A fabulous piece of Old Boston: wonderful setting, wonderful service, and, most important, wonderful food.

[Linguistic interlude. Ann and I were taken to dinner there by Steve Isard, who was working with me at the Mitre Corp. We had often given Steve dinner at our house; he then explained the Locke-Ober expedition by telling us (I’ve inserted brackets to bring out some of the structure of the complex sentence):

I want to give you a dinner that is
[as much better
[than the dinners you usually have]]
[as the dinners you’ve given me are
[than the dinners I usually have]].

This is an instance of what’s sometimes called a “double comparative”, though that term is better reserved for double expression of comparison on a single word (two types: more happier, mostest — with discussion here). Instead, what Steve produced (no doubt with rehearsal beforehand) has comparative clauses at two levels, one within the other. It’s grammatical, but (because of its parallel clause embeddings) challenges our sentence-processing abilities. It’s a pleasure to appreciate, but should be reserved for special occasions.]

Back to Boston dining. In the North End, I mentioned [Ye Olde] Union Oyster House, sometimes described as the oldest restaurant in the U.S., in an earlier posting: website here, Wikipedia page here. And then there’s Durgin Park, with its communal seating at long tables and sharp-tongued servers. Like Locke-Ober, both continue to flourish.

(The Union Oyster House was where Ann and I introduced Paul Kiparsky to raw clams and oysters on the half-shell. He was initially quite dubious, but then took to them with pleasure.)

Two of our favorite downtown places, both unpretentious but satisfying, are gone now: the Prince Spaghetti Restaurant and the Essex Deli.

The Prince Spaghetti Restaurant was a creation of the Prince Macaroni people, who are still in business making pasta of all kinds. The Prince company started with a pasta factory in North Boston, then moved it to Lowell in the 40s. But the restaurant, on the west side of Washington St., at Avery St. (which runs between Tremont and Washington), flourished for some years. Here’s a photo, taken by Nathan Bichajian in the late 50s, of the restaurant (with signage directing people to the Avery Hotel):

Across the street from the Prince Spaghetti Restaurant was the Essex Deli, source of blintzes, pastrami sandwiches, killer pickles, and more.

(Not far away was the Combat Zone, now gone. Taking up part of lower Washington St., adjacent to Chinatown, and part of Stuart St., it supplied servicemen and others with cheap entertainment and the possibility of sexual services. It was where I got my first piece of gay porn.)

Shopping in Cambridge. The public face of Harvard Square has changed incredibly over the years. Cardullo’s gourmet shop (at 6 Brattle St.) is still there, but many other places have vanished.

Now that it’s Christmas time, I’m reminded of the shop Versailles et la Petite Gallerie, source of high-quality wrapping paper and wonderful gifts, and Design Research, both now gone.

Also gone is Corcoran’s Department Store, which closed at the end of 1987 (the site is now an Urban Outfitters). Which brings me to another

[Linguistic interlude. During my first week in Cambridge, I went to Harvard Square in search of some small piece of household furnishings, I forget what, and stopped someone I took to be a local to ask for advice. Oh, he said, you wanna go ta Cochran’s. Or at least that’s what I heard him say.

Where’s that? I asked. He looked at me as if I was a lunatic. And pointed across the street — at Corcoran’s Department Store.

Ah, Boston r-lessness, yielding a long low central vowel, combined with the elision (syncope) of the medial unstressed vowel, so that Corcoran ends up being minimally different from Cochran.

My ear was not yet attuned to the local phonetics.]

As the days go by, I’m dredging up more and more. This should be enough for Free Shipping Day, the holiday we celebrate today in my country.

7 Responses to “More memories”

  1. Erin Says:

    My Bostonian husband has Corcorans in his family, and even the r-ful speakers pronounce it like Cochran, I suppose because the pronunciation of names is more fixed than other words.

  2. Jan Freeman Says:

    I’m really enjoying this series; I got to Cambridge in 1971, when we had the Hunan restaurant (Central Square) for fresh, spicy Chinese. Did you ever have pizza at the Hacienda in Somerville? But as I recall it was Elsie’s (Deli?) and then, just a few doors down, Tommy’s Lunch — home of the first Atari Pong game I ever saw.
    OK, now how about an OSU food tour? Larry’s bar, Char-Bert’s, that High St. dinette with a counter like Woolworth’s? I once lived several floors above a bar called the Last Round-Up. Yes, there were Murphy beds in the apartments. (But no bedbugs! Those were the days!)

  3. Greg Says:

    I really miss a little basement restaurant in Harvard Square called The Skewers. Harvard (which owned the building) tore it down to build a glass monstrosity of an office building.

    Did you ever eat there? I was sad when it went.

  4. Things she did « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (on chicken verdicchio here, on Peking on Mystic here, on restaurants in Cambridge and Boston here). That’s when Ann became celebrated, in our circle of friends and acquaintances, as a cook. […]

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