Matt O’Neil, Chef/Owner- A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, Matt learned alongside some of the best chefs in Massachusetts, including Anthony Caturano at Prezza & Copia, Barbara Lynch at No. 9 Park & The Butcher Shop, and Mark Chaput of the prestigious Vineyard Golf Club, where he began his career. Born in Swampscott, Matt jumped at the chance to fill a culinary void on the North Shore when the opportunity arose to open The Blue Ox in 2009. Since then, Matt and his team have garnered some of the most prestigious awards from the biggest names in media around Greater Boston. His Sin Burger won Boston Magazine’s “Battle of the Burger” three years straight and brought him to Miami to compete in South Beach Food & Wine Festival. Formerly ESPN’s ‘Cooking Coach’, Matt cut his teeth on air and most recently was featured on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.” The Blue Ox is Matt’s expression of an upscale casual American restaurant offering traditional dishes in a nontraditional way.
Having garnered many prestigious awards since its opening, The Blue Ox, an upscale casual American restaurant offers traditional dishes in a nontraditional way. Chef/ Owner, Matt O’Neil, a Swampscott native, sources premium ingredients from the top purveyors in the area and presents a unique wine and cocktail list boasting small production wines and local spirits all at a great value to his guests. He brings a little bit of Boston to the North Shore.
Appetizer: First Choice
Blue Ox Clam Chowder | applewood smoked bacon, Tabasco, chives
Lil Gem Salad | roasted Vegetables, shaved fennel, ricotta salata, pink peppercorn dressing
Spicy Tuna Tartare |cucumber, cilantro, scallion, chive cream, ox chili sauce, hand-cut potato chips
Stuffed Baby Bellas | broccoli rabe sausage, brioche crumble, Meyer lemon cream sauce
Burrata Cheese | rhubarb & beet puree, crostini, crispy zucchini blossoms, toasted pistachio vinaigrette
4 Island Creek Oysters on the Half Shell | champagne mignonette, lemon
Entree: Second Choice
Grilled Vegetable Skewers |Romanesco, cipolini, portabello, mixed peppers, quinoa salad, salsa verde
Roasted Faroe Island Salmon | Sardinian Couscous, ramp pesto, sweet peas, roasted carrots
Tuna Nicoise Salad |olives, mixed bliss potatoes, crab stuffed deviled egg, haricot verts, Dijon vinaigrette
Herb Roasted Boneless ½ Chicken | Yukon gold mashed, sautéed spinach, garlic white wine sauce
Bourbon Braised Rabbit & Parsley Gnocchi | ramps, exotic mushrooms, crispy carrot ribbons
Grilled ‘Oak Whiskey Barrel’ Filet Mignon | Yukon gold mashed, grilled asparagus, port demi-glace…plus 5
Dessert: Third Choice
Strawberry White Chocolate Chiffon Cake | whipped cream, strawberry sauce
Seasonal Fruit Tart | crème anglaise
What’s in a cocktail’s name? More than you might expect.
By Kara Baskin Globe Correspondent
Bartenders love to get creative when christening drinks. Of course, sometimes things go too far: Recently Cambridge’s Friendly Toast quickly plucked a Strange Fruit cocktail from their menu after a customer noted that is was named after Billie Holiday’s song about lynching and racism. Oops.
Many cocktail names are a potent mixture of history, folklore, and pop culture. Take the Bloody Mary: Urband legend says the timeless hangover cure is named for England’s Queen Mary I, infamous for her Protestant executions in the 1500’s. Or the Tom Collins, supposedly named for a notorious 19th-century practical joke.
The Boston area is home to plenty of fascinatingly named tipples, too. Here are a few with unusual, mysterious, or historic origins. Let’s indulge in a bit of drinkable history, shall we?
Sixth century: At Fort Point’s Drink, the warming St. Kevin Sling immortalizes Irish saint Kevin of Glendalough, the mythical hermit who built a monastic community later known as the City of Seven Churches, now a popular tourist attraction. It uses the new-to-Boston Glendalough Double Barrel Whiskey – something Kevin never would have touched.
15th century: At Lynn’s Blue Ox, a Bear Hunter rye whiskey cocktail is mixed with Barenjager honey liqueur, reportedly originating in 15th-century East Prussia. “Barenjager” means “bear hunter,” According to lore, woodland hunters trying to lure innocent bears into their traps concocted the first variations of the sweet drink. (Apparently even bears can’t resist a stiff cocktail.)
1860s – 1890s: Back Bay’s Clio asks diners to pick sides in America’s most infamous family feud. Choose The Hatfield, made with apricot liqueur, or The McCoy, with yellow chartreuse.
1890s: Visit the North End’s Ward 8 to drink their eponymous cocktail named in honor of powerful Ward 8 czar Martin Lomasney, a polarizing figure in North and West End politics in the 1800s. The cocktail was invented in 1898 at the late, legendary Locke-Ober restaurant to buoy Lomasney after a particularly hard-won race.
Early 1900s: If you’re feeling melancholy, visit the new River Bar in Somerville’s Assembly Row and sip a Hollow Men, named for the classic T.S. Elliot lament about post-World War I Europe. Bar manager Thea Robin Engst thought the poem’s last lines – “this is the way the world ends/not with a bang but a whimper” – mirrored the rye cocktail’s herbal and bitter notes.
1919: At Nebo near the Greenway, try a Molasses Flood Mojito, named after the 1919 North End disaster. The drink reminds owners Carla and Christine Pallotta of growing up on Endicott Street, where they smelled the lingering scent of molasses on warm days.
1960s: Downtown, Legal Crossing gets frisky with its drinks, many of which pay homage to a grittier, seedier Boston. The rum-based Bob Lee’s Islander is named for a 1960s-era Chinatown Tiki bar famous for its staggeringly strong Scorpion bowls. The party ended in the 1970s, when the bar closed due to financial difficulties. A vodka drink, Good Time Charlie, immortalizes a legendary seamy, long-gone Combat Zone bar.
1970s: Kenmore Square’s Eastern Standard recalls the underbelly of punk rock with their Sid and Nancy rum cocktail, a twist on the classic Tom and Jerry. The Sex Pistol’s Sid Vicious murdered his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in a dingy room at New York City’s Chelsea Hotel, and he later died of a drug overdose.
1991: At Deuxave, hoist an Andrea Gail, named to honor the Gloucester fishing vessel lost at sea during 1991’s “perfect storm.” It’s a new take on a Dark & Stormy, using Left Hand Brewing Company’s Good Juju ale and Cape Cod’s Twenty Boat Spiced Rum.
2014: At Somerville’s Foundry on Elm, Medford residents might wonder about the origins of a Hot Medford Mess. Don’t worry, they’re not trying to spark a town rivalry: The drink is named after a key ingredient, GrandTen Distilling’s Medford rum. Foundry does make a political statement with the Referendum, though, a drink commemorating Scotland’s 2014 quest for independence. Naturally, it uses Highland single malt scotch.
Even more unusual drinks:
CLOSE FOR COMFORT Newton’s Sycamore is known for its outstanding cocktail program. The mellow bistro mixes a beverage called Family Jewels made with gin, Dolin Veritable Génépy Des Alpes liqueur, sweet vermouth, Cynar, and orange bitters. A popular Valentine’s Day choice? In Harvard Square, Alden & Harlow sells a Kon Tiki Tropical Itch. Made with rum and gin, it’s possible to drink a few of these and wake up not quite knowing why you’re itchy.
A BIT DANGEROUS The new Viale in Central Square has a drinks program run by cocktail maven Patrick Gaggiano. While there, bring a Knife to a Gun Fight with bourbon, Aperol, zucca, and Laphroaig rinse. If you forgot your weaponry in a tipsy haze, then it’s Death in the Afternoon, mixed nearby at Kendall Square’s Blue Room. It’s made with absinthe and named after the book by Ernest Hemingway (who was, of course, a dedicated drinker.)
A LITTLE FRIGHTENING Cambridge’s Cuchi Cuchi is a beloved after-work spot for strong and funky drinks. Curse an evil boss with a sip of Satan’s Whiskers, made with gin, sweet and dry vermouth, orange curacao, orange bitters, and orange juice. At Downtown Crossing’s JM Curley, a concoction called Bobby’s Bones showcases bone marrow-fat-washed scotch – a variant that does sound a bit deadly indeed.
FAMILY TRADITIONS Ever since he cooked at the late, lamented Gargoyles in Somerville, chef Jason Santos has maintained a tradition of selling weirdly named cocktails. At his Back Bay Harry’s, look for MA! The Meatloaf, made with Ipswich rum, pistachio, lime, and allspice. Just like dinner at mom’s, right? At Abby Lane in the Theater District, sneak a sip of Grampa’s Special Juice, a potent rye and maple liqueur combo.
STYLISH SIPPING Somerville’s backbar is a fitting place to impress a date, so it’s only natural that they sell an Improved Tuxedo – a fresh take on a martini, made with gin, sherry, maraschino, and absinthe. Still, sometimes you just need to unwind with a strong, soothing drink. The South End’s Toro comes to the rescue with dark rum, Laird’s brandy, lemon, and pumpkin syrup. The name? Yoga Pants, of course.
Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Scott Kearnan
St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and Boston knows how to celebrate. But even if you won’t be hitting the parade route, here’s where to hunker down for a pint of Guinness, some (semi) traditional Irish dinners, and good company. Irish eyes will be smiling – and forks clanging, too.
Celebrate with special menus. Plenty of restaurants are getting into the St. Patrick’s Day spirit with special menu offerings. Here are a few places to find them.
Anna’s Taqueria. The small local chain is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with a one-day-only cabbage & corned beef burrito (pictured): slow-roasted corned beef, steamed cabbage and carrots, topped with Anna’s beans and rice.
Bar Boulud. Star chef Daniel Boulud’s Boston outpost is putting a classy spin on corned beef and cabbage. You can get it with a “French twist” for $23 from Sunday, March 15 through Tuesday, March 17 – and rather than Guinness, a sommelier’s choice wine pairing will also be available for seven bucks.
The Blue Ox. On March 17, chef-owner Matt O’Neil is honoring his Irish heritage with Guinness –and-herb braised corned beef ($25) served with grain mustard, pickled cabbage and roasted baby carrots.
The Independent. The Somerville pub recently underwent a slight culinary overall (details here). But on Tuesday, March 17 they’ll unleash a more temporary slew of specials. Opening early (11 AM), The Independent will feature one-day-only plates like an Irish Breakfast ($12 for two fried eggs, grilled tomato, black and white pudding, Irish sausage, Irish bacon, fried potatoes, Irish baked beans, and Irish soda bread); bangers & mash ($13); and Guinness beef stew ($16), among others. Plus special whiskey-based cocktails like The Brotherhood (Jameson with Benedictine, Grand Marnier and lemon) and Ceangoba Toddy, apple-cinnamon infused Jameson with Benedictine, served warm.
Puritan & Company. He may be a descendent of Mayflower passengers, but chef Will Gilson will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a three-course prix fixe boiled dinner ($40) with an option for local craft beer pairings.
South Street Diner. One of Boston’s only 24-hour restaurants is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day for 86 straight hours, from 8 AM on Saturday, March 14 through Tuesday, March 17th. You’ll find a $10 (!) corned beef and cabbage special with potatoes, carrots, homemade Irish soda bread and a pint of Guinness. Plus: a special menu of Irish breakfast with bangers, brown and white pudding, and Guinness floats. Want something lighter? They’ll also offer tall boy PBR and Narragansett beers for only $2.50.
Lynn – For those who might not be aware, next Wednesday is “National Clam Chowder Day.” And to celebrate, the Blue Ox Restaurant on Oxford Street will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sales of their chowder to My Brother’s Table.
Not only does My Brother’s Table provide nourishing meals for the hungry, the nonprofit organization delivers meals to home-bound individuals and at-risk seniors 365 days a year.
Created by chef Matt O’Neil, The Blue Ox’s clam chowder is a twist on the classic New England version that’s packed with fresh local clams, crisp applewood-smoked bacon and laced with just a touch of Tabasco for a slight kick. Perfect for clam chowder aficionados and guests looking to keep warm during the wicked winter weather, The Blue Ox’s clam chowder is a delicious way to celebrate everyone’s favorite food holiday, while keeping the needs of hungry neighbors top of mind.
It has been a staple on the North Shore dining scene since opening in 2009.
With a focus on locally sourced premium ingredients from the top purveyors in the area, and a unique wine and cocktail program, the restaurant boasts creative takes on American classics enhanced by a diverse selection of locally distilled spirits, small production wines and beers.
The Blue Ox is open for dinner Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5-10:30 p.m.; and Sunday from 4-9 p.m.
For more information, visit www.theblueoxlynn.com or call 781-780-5722
I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) On Wednesday February 25, in honor of National Clam Chowder Day, The Blue Ox restaurant in Lynn will donate a portion of the proceeds from each bowl of clam chowder purchased during dinner service to My Brother’s Table, a local non-profit that serves nourishing meals to the hungry and delivers meals to home-bound individuals and at-risk seniors seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Created by Chef Matt O’Neil, The Blue Ox’s Clam Chowder is twist on the classic New England version that’s packed with fresh local clams, crisp Applewood-smoked bacon and laced with just a touch of Tabasco for a slight kick. Perfect for clam chowder aficionados and guests looking to keep warm during wicked winter weather, The Blue Ox’s Clam Chowder is a delicious way to celebrate everyone’s favorite food holiday, while keeping the needs of hungry neighbors top of mind.
COST: $10 (tax and gratuity not included)
What were some of my favorite restaurants of the past year?
Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2014. I have already posted my Top Ten Wine lists, my Favorite Wine Related Items & Favorite Spirits and Drink Related Items. Now, I want to concentrate on my Favorite Restaurants of the past year.
This is certainly not a complete list but is more a sampling of memorable restaurants I have experienced and/or posted about over the past year. You will even find a few Favorites from outside Massachusetts as I traveled a little bit this past year.
Favorite Suburban Restaurant. The Boston area doesn’t have a monopoly on excellent restaurants. The Blue Ox, in Lynn, is a great neighborhood spot with a talented chef. You’ll find of delectable comfort food, from fried pickles to chicken wings, but also more elevated cuisine like Duck Breast and Grilled Swordfish. Their cocktail program is excellent, using many local spirits, and the wine list will also please. With its reasonable prices, and fun atmosphere, this is suburban restaurant you need to seek out.
By Scott Kearnan
After stuffing yourself with a turkey feast, you may need a little help settling your stomach – for the next few days. That got us thinking: Where can one find some unique, creative or otherwise top-drawer digestifs around Boston? Here’s a guide to particularly interesting picks and impressive menus that will give you something satisfying to sip on.
The Blue Ox. Like port, but find it a bit heavy? Bar manager Charlie Gaeta recommends Banyuls Blanc, a somewhat rare digestif made in the South of France from white grapes and fortified by pure distilled alcohol. Its similar to port, but the swap of brandy for a neutral spirit yields something slightly lighter and refreshing, says Gaeta.
Casa Portugal. Wake up with Aguardente (Portuguese “firewater”) that is similar to a clear brandy. Made from Vinho Verde region grapes, it’s traditionally enjoyed alongside espresso or coffee after dinner.
Coppa. Fernet is a favore among industry types, but can be off-putting to lighter palates. Coppa’s beverage director Brittany Casos recommends Braulio, an Amari from the Alpines in Northern Italy, which has similarly piney notes (perfect for the holidays) in a less aggressive form.
Eastern Standard. Naomi Levy, a recently anointed bar star to watch, suggests the Brazilian digestif Cachaça, particularly the Leblon Reserva label. Cachaça is a spirit distilled from sugar cane juice, and the reserve is aged in cognac casks. The result: a complex, smooth spirit with notes of honey, caramel, and pine nuts.
Empire. Last year’s 30 Under 30 honoree Joe O’Connor guides us to Gammel Dansk, a dry Danish liqueur that is peppery and herbal. Danes tend to pour some at festive occasions, and it is even considered acceptable as a morning drink at celebratory breakfasts.
Foundry on Elm. Manny Gonzalez, beverage director at this Davis Square American brasserie, suggests sipping slivovitz, a Czech distilled spirit made from Damson plums. (It’s often called “plum brandy.”) Served at room temp, it’s a traditional good-time tipple, and Gonzalez particularly likes the R. Jelinek label.
Merrill & Co. Under the direction of last year’s 30 Under 30 honoree Kevin Mabry, this South End seafood spot has become known for its sherry program. The just-revamped bar menu spotlights fine finos, amontillados, and olorosos to be serbed neat, and house cocktails like Chipiona, which pairs Fino sherry with gin, vermouth and celery bitters.
Nebo. You grab grappa at any number of Italian restaurants, but this Atlantic Wharf spot boasts a bread selection of more unusual digestifs from the boot: like Strega, a mint-and-fennel-flavored liqueuer, and Tuaca, an oak-aged Italian brandy with notes of vanilla and orange.
Via Matta. Because a digestif signals the end to a meal, might as well enjoy it with dessert. Via Matta does with its affogato (pictured), a traditional dessert that typically tops ice cream or gelato with an espresso shot. Michael Schlow’s Back Bay favorite adds Italian liqueur Averna to the mix, creating a cool ice cream-meets-coffee cocktail in the process. Bellissimo!
By Melissa C. Gillespie
In some ways, choosing a wine for Thanksgiving dinner is difficult, given the great variety of foods and flavors. There’s white and dark meat. There are tart cranberries, creamy mashed potatoes, and spiced pumpkin pie for dessert. You may want to serve a little of several different types of wine so guests can taste a wine with each dish. Or you may want to pick one good all-purpose wine.
Here’s a rundown of wines that are a smart move to bring to dinner this Thanksgiving, courtesy of Charlie Gaeta, Beverage Director and General Manager at The Blue Ox in Lynn, MA.
This red varietal from Beaujolais in the South of Burgundy is light, fruity and has the high acid levels that make it really versatile with food. Beaujolais’ reputation has suffered a bit due to the amount of mass-produced Beaujolais Nouveau that was being released every late November. However, there are a lot of producers today making very serious wines from this region, especially when you get to Cru Beaujolais. These are the 10 top villages in Beaujolais where gamay really becomes a world class grape with a distinctive sense of terroir (think granite soil). Two things to note: the way it’s made is through a process called semi-carbonic maceration. Without geeking out over the wine-making, this method yields the fruit & aromatics of the gamay grape while reducing tannic level. The French have a term called “gouleyant,” which describes the way fine Beaujolais slips down the throat. In good hands, from one of these crus, you can see what they mean. Surprisingly, even Cru Beaujolais from a top producer will set you back $20 at the most.
Why it’s a smart move to bring dinner this Thanksgiving: put a slight chill on it and finally end the argument of white or red.
Suggested producer: Marcel Lapiere is the guy when it comes to Beaujolais. His wines labeled Morgon (1 of the 10 crus) are some of the finest in the region and still under $20/bottle. He also has a really fun wine for under $10 called ‘Raisins Gaulois’ which simply carries the Beaujolas designation.
A red grape from Emilia-Romagna, Italy. It is packed with red fruit and a cleansing acidity. It is a sparkling wine so it brings a bright, refreshing sense to the palate and pairs with a ton of food, which makes sense as it’s coming from one of the gastronomic capitals of the world – Bologna. This is another wine that has received a bad reputation due to the Coca-Cola-like Lambrusco of yesteryear. Today, however, there is a revival of excellent and elegant Lambrusco.
Why it’s a smart move to bring to dinner this Thanksgiving: get some insider cred by breaking out a bottle (like the Beaujolais) of something some of your friends and family still might have less-than-stellar preconceived notions about. It’s always fun to bring something everyone can enjoy that trumps their expectations.
Suggested producer: Cantina della Volta. Christian Bellei, the winemaker, makes this Lambrusco di Sorbara in Methode Classico, the Italian term for wines made through the same process as Champagne. He makes it from organic grapes from a single vintage. This is as serious as Lambrusco gets but without the hefty price tag.
This is a red variety from Croatia. It is light, low in alcohol and has a ton of red fruit (ripe strawberry in its youth) with zippy acidity. It also has an unmistakable earthy quality on the finish that brings a little rusticity without the barnyard-y profile to Thanksgiving dinner. This profile pairs well with many dishes. It’s most successful along the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia.
Why it’s a smart move to bring to Thanksgiving dinner: It’s light & delicious (so you can drink it earlier in the day) and also a conversation piece. For years, there has been an incredible amount of research on tracing the actually DNA origins of the Zinfandel grape back to Croatia. Researchers believe this is a cross between the Zinfandel grape & another indigenous Croatian varietal. Try is on your CA Zin-loving cousin and see what he/she thinks.
Producer: Dingač Vinarija: A crazy story of (now) 300 households getting together to make one collective wine on the Peljesac Peninsula near the Adriatic Coast. A world away, but the spirit of Thanksgiving is definitely in this bottle.
A sparkling wine made in the same tradition as Champagne, outside of Champagne without the varietal restrictions. Try something from the Loire Valley that is Chenin Blanc-based. It will be a great way to start any meal or have with appetizers prior to the big feast without breaking the bank for a big house Champagne. Dry, crisp, citrus, honey & yeasty/brioche flavors abound in this varietal.
Producer: Château Tour Grise – an organic/biodynamic producer. Some of these wines in the market have been sitting in the bottle for 10 years and have developed as beautifully as vintage Champagne.
From pinning recipes onto your cozy seasonal Pinterest board, to picking up a pumpkin spice latte on the way to work, pumpkins are shown some serious lovin’ this time of year. The leaves change to auburn and crimson, cable knit sweaters and beanies come out of the woodwork and chic leather boots hit the cobblestone. Seriously, what is more perfect than fall in the northeast?
Autumn also calls for indulging in pumpkin everything … most especially on the holiday that celebrates this incredibly delicious fruit. Sunday, October 26 marks a special date on every fall-lover’s calendar. National Pumpkin Day. Whether you are preparing to snuggle up on a park bench with a divine pumpkin cream cheese brownie, or make a pitcher of pumpkin cinnamon sangria for the evening, savor your pumpkin the right way!
We have put together a savory roundup of pumpkin delights to honor this beloved fruit (and yes, pumpkin is a fruit not a vegetable). Enjoy and indulge in your sinfully sweet desires. It’s National Pumpkin Day for Pete’s sake! Local Boston-area restaurants are keyed in on the pumpkin hype, so join in on the scrumptious scoop…
The Blue Ox
(191 Oxford St, Lynn, MA)
Pumpkin paves its way into desserts, refreshing appetizers and eloquent dinner dishes. The Blue Ox highlights a top-notch dining dish: Pan Roasted Cod ($25). This entrée is comprised of cinnamon brown butter, pumpkin and leek risotto, in addition to a rejuvenating apple and arugula salad.
Beginning Thursday, October 9, restauranteurs Matt and Joanna O’Neil of The Blue Ox in Lynn, will debut a weekly Secret Supper Club series designed to provide guests with an exclusive and customized dining experience. Every Thursday, one party of four to eight guests will enjoy an intimate and original four-course dinner with wine pairings served in the main dining room. The catch? The secret menu is revealed upon arrival! Guests who participate in the weekly Secret Supper Club series will be envy of the restaurant as they’re led to a table boasting a standout white-tablecloth setting. Once seated, Chef O’Neil will begin the guests’ personalized culinary journey, taking the diners through each course and paring all the way through dessert. As the experience winds down, each guest will be presented with a surprise parting gift from the house.
For more information visit, www.theblueoxlynn.com
By Scott Kearnan
They’re here: the Top 10 results of Boston’s Best Burger Survey. (If you haven’t already, check them out here.) But as we were compiling the results, it became clear that there were many more beyond the Top 10 that deserved a tip of the hat. So here’s your at-a-glance overview of some honorable mentions that landed outside the elite 10, but still deserve a round of applause. Just wipe the ketchup off your hands first.
Worth the Drive
It’s heavenly. Shout out to the Sin Burger at The Blue Ox in Lynn, which scored strongly and proved that Bostonians will make the 30-minute drive (or train ride) to the smaller North Shore city for chef Matt O’Neil’s burger, topped with applewood-smoked bacon, truffle aioli, and Swiss. It’s been a good month for the burger, which also beat out 20 other patties to win Boston Magazine’s “Battle of the Burger” competition for the second year in a row.
By Melissa C. Gillespie
Labor Day means it’s time to fire up the grill. Chances are good that you’ll be grilling up some hamburgers – it’s practically mandatory on any American grill. To guide along the path to burger perfection, Chef Matt O’Neil, owner of The Blue Ox in Lynn, serves up his tips for grilling the ultimate hamburger this Labor Day weekend.
Cut of beef
The type of meat used is very important. Chef O’Neil says there’s no better option than using high-quality chuck beef. Chuck beef offers a great fat to meat ratio, something you want in order to keep your burgers juicy and delicious. You can blend cuts like sirloin or short rib into the mix to increase flavors and textures, but having a majority of the blend be chuck is important (80% of his burger is ground prime chuck). It keeps to tradition, is packed with flavor, and has the consistency to hold up to high heat on a grill, retain moisture, and keep its shape.
Ratio of fat to beef
One of the biggest mistakes people make is going too lean on their beef mixture. Without fat, burgers become dry and dense, something nobody wants to eat. For optimum flavor and consistency, Chef O’Neil recommends using ground beef that’s 80% lean and 20% fat. Remember – a portion of the fat is going to cook out while you’re grilling so you need to make sure there’s enough in there to keep the patty tender and juicy. He recommends a range of not lower than 75% lean or higher than 85% – you want to be somewhere in the middle.
Buying frozen burger patties from supermarkets and big box stores might seem convenient, but fresh is best. Whether you’re grilling for two, or groups of twenty, it’s worth putting in the effort to make your own burgers. He recommends you do your research to find a reputable and trustworthy butcher in your neighborhood that carries high quality properly aged meat, or at the very least, asking your supermarket butcher to grind your beef to order. When ordering, make your butcher aware of the cut(s) of beef that you want, their intended use, and your ideal meat to fat ratio.
Whether you’ve made your own burger patties or opt for the pre-made kind, seasoning is a must. If making the patties, season with plenty of salt and pepper as you go so the flavors are incorporated into the meat. Additionally, try adding an egg yolk or two to help bind the mixture, which also adds a richer flavor. Adding ingredients like finely chopped shallots or diced sweet onion are also a great option. Incorporating other ingredients into a burger mixture really depends on your flavor profile. Be creative, but don’t go overboard, you’ll end up masking the natural flavors.
Chef Matt O’Neil and Joanna O’Neil, co-owners of The Blue Ox in Lynn and residents of Swampscott, celebrate their win as Boston Magazine’s Battle of the Burger champions for their restaurant’s “Sin Burger” alongside the team from Boston Magazine. The Blue Ox’s winning creation features a prime beef burger topped with apple wood smoked bacon, truffle aioli, tomato and lettuce on a brioche bun.
For the second year in a row, The Blue Ox’s “Sin Burger” was named the winner of Boston Magazine’s Battle of the Burger competition, which was held earlier this month at Cruiseport Boston. The Blue Ox is owned by Swampscott residents Matt and Joanna O’Neil.
Over 20 restaurants, including Union Bar and Grille, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar, Wahlburgers and Saloon, were selected to take part in the event and offer guests samples of their stand-out burgers. Reigning champions, The Blue Ox in Lynn, offered hungry guests, “The Sin Burger” and for the 2nd year in a row were named the winner of the event by the highest amount of votes! “The Sin Burger” features a prime beef burger topped with applewood smoked bacon, truffle aioli, tomato and lettuce on a brioche bun and was created by Chef Matt O’Neil.
Blue Ox in Lynn: Excellent Neighborhood Spot
I don’t have a valid excuse. I should have done it years ago but, for no specific reason; it didn’t happen until recently. Friends advised me to do it, and I read very positive comments in the press, but it just didn’t motivate me sufficiently. However, after doing it once, I know that I must do it again, and then again. Am I am here to urge others to do the same.
What did I finally do? I dined at The Blue Ox in Lynn, which describes itself as “an upscale casual neighborhood restaurant” that “offers an approachable American menu,”
The Blue Ox, which opened in 2009, is owned by Chef Matt O’Neil, a Swampscott native, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He has previously worked at such restaurants as Prezza and No. 9 Park, and eventually decided to strike out on his own and open his own restaurant. The Blue Ox has received lots of positive press, and I know a number of people who have dined there and raved about their experiences. Most recently, Chef O’Neil and the team at The Blue Ox were the 2014 Champions of Boston Magazine’s Battle of the Burger, and had also been the 2013 Champions. When I dined there a couple weeks ago, I realized what I have been missing for the past five years.
On a Thursday evening, at almost 7pm, the restaurant was quite busy, and somewhat noisy. The restaurant is divided into two sections, the main dining room with a dining section and bar, and a second dining room. We sat in the main room, at a table next to the front window, which gave us a bit more privacy than some of the other tables. Though loud, the noise level wasn’t oppressive and we were still able to have a normal conversation. It is more just a lot of energy, especially in the bar area, It definitely has a nice, neighborhood feel, a place to stop after work, for a night out with friends, or just a good dinner.
The Beverage Director, Charles Gaeta, has created an interesting drinks list, including wine, beer, and craft cocktails. The wine list has about 16 wines by the glass ($8-$13), and the bottle list has plenty of diversity and many bottles under $50. There are some lower mark-ups on wines over $50 and wine lovers should appreciate the variety of wines that are available. There are plenty of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon choices, but you will also find wines made from Peccorino, Assyrtiko, Muller-Thurgau, Zweigelt, and Kadarka. If you need a recommendation, Charles will help you select a wine to accompany your dinner. There are about 30 beers available ($3.50-$15), 6 on draft, with plenty of local choices.
Their cocktail list is intriguing and definitely a compelling reason to check out the restaurant. They have about 16 House Cocktails (reasonably priced at $11 each), broken down into four groups. First, there are Locally Distilled which are all cocktails using spirits distilled in Massachusetts. A great way to support some worthy local companies. Second, there are the Wonders of the Agave Plant, cocktails using Tequila or Mezcal. Third, there are a couple Classic cocktails, onto which the restaurant has put their own spin. Finally, they have a couple Barrel-Aged cocktails. With all of these choices, I knew I needed to check out several of the cocktails.
I began with a Barrel-Aged Manhattan, which was aged in oak for about two months, and you can notice the large, square ice cube in the glass which means the drink won’t get diluted as quickly as it would with regular ice cubes. The Manhattan was smooth and complex, with an added depth to it which is probably attributable to its aging. I would have been satisfied to sit at the bar and sip these all evening.
The Tonight’s Today cocktail is made with Ethereal gin, Manzanilla sherry, grapefruit liqueur, lemon oil, rosemary, and a touch of sparkling rose in a Muscat “showered” glass. Though I am not usually a gin guy, this was a tasty cocktail with lots of herbal notes but also hints of brininess from the sherry. Definitely a nice summer drink.
The North Country Old Fashioned is created from house infused bacon bourbon, VT maple syrup, and Ox maple bitters. It was nicely balanced, with mild flavors of bacon and maple, neither overwhelming the other, or the drink. The Sibling Rivalry has Bully Boy vodka, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, St-Germain,lemon, and rhubarb bitters. It has a clean, smooth flavor with hints of sweetness and a kick of ginger. The Dark n’ Stormy is made with house-spiced Old Monk 7 Year rum, Fever Tree ginger beer, and lime. It has a strong ginger flavor, enhanced by intriguing spice notes.
The restaurant is open for dinner from Tuesday to Sunday. Their Dinner Menu is relatively small, but with plenty which should interest any customer. I like the fact they have not tried to create a monstrosity of a menu, with dozens upon dozens of choices. You will find Appetizers (8 choices, $6-$16), Soup & Salad (4 choices, $10-$11, with extras), Burgers (3 choices, $13-$16), Pasta (3 choices, $22-$24), Entrees (5 choices, $22-$25), and Sides (6 choices, $6-$7). They also have a Gluten Free menu. On the evening I dined, there were a few different Specials too.
Of the Appetizers, I had to check out the Fried Maitland Mountain Farm Pickles ($9), with grilled lemon & thyme aioli and aged balsamic. When fried pickles are done well, they can be delicious, but far too often they end up as limp and soggy. So, it would be a good test of the kitchen to see whether these friend pickles were worthy or not, and they passed with flying colors. Maitland Mountain Farm is an organic, urban farm in Salem, MA, well known for their pickles. The friend pickles had a tasty, clean and crunchy coating over a crisp and flavorful pickle. A nice way to begin our dinner.
One of the Special Appetizers was Chicken Wings, which had initially been rubbed with Cajun seasoning and then cold smoked in whiskey barrels. Afterwards, they were battered, fried and tossed in a house made honey hot sauce. Finally, they were covered with Great Hill Blue Cheese & Tarragon dressing, sliced scallion, and black sesame seeds. Fortunately they give you wet naps as these are messy, and you’ll be sure to devour them. The smoky spice of these wings was excellent, and it was a crunchy bite to the tender, moist meat inside. The sesame seeds added an extra crunch and the dressing helped to cut the spice. If they are a Special again, be sure to order some.
The Spicy Tuna Tartare ($16) is probably their signature Appetizer, and they mix the tuna with cucumber, cilantro, scallion, lemon juice, EVOO and their homemade chili sauce. They then place chive cream atop their house made aged potato chips, and place the tartare atop it. It had a very nice taste to it, well balanced though personally I would have liked a bit more spicy heat to it. The potato chip added a salty crunch and I thought that was a nice addition to the dish.
The Classic Caesar Salad ($10), with crisp romaine hearts, garlicky croutons, Ox Caesar dressing, & Parmigiano and the Pear Salad ($10), with roasted hazelnuts, goat cheese, and maple vinaigrette, both used very fresh ingredients. The cheese were stars in both salads.
Another Special was this Duck Breast dish. The duck was cured for a week in a coriander, fennel, brown sugar cure and then cold smoked for an hour. I love duck and this was a compelling dish, with slices of perfectly cooked duck with some interesting herbal notes and hints of sweetness.
Charles, the Beverage Director, recommended a California Zinfandel with the duck. Though a number of people recommend this same pairing, I have often found Zinfandel to be too big and tannic for duck but I was willing to take Charles’ recommendation. The 2009 Canard Vineyard Zinfandel ($75/bottle) was excellent, and worked very well with the duck. It was smooth, with restrained tannins, nice black fruit flavors and spicy accents. It isn’t your typical Zinfandel and Charles was dead on in his pairing suggestion. And as the Canard generally retails for $45, the wine has a low markup as well, making it a good value too.
As for Entrees, one of the Specials was a Grilled Swordfish, which was topped by a Napa cabbage slaw and served with a crispy Kurobuta pork and Maitland Mountain Farm red onion & parmesan risotto cake. The Swordfish was tender and meaty, enhanced by a cucumber and Champagne vinaigrette sauce. A delicious piece of seafood, and the risotto cake was also tasty, with a nice exterior crunch and a flavorful interior.
The Blue Ox Burgers ($16) comes with two ¼ lb. burgers stuffed with gorgonzola dolce and topped with Applewood smoked bacon, tomato, lettuce, grilled lemon & thyme aioli. The burgers come with herb French fries though I asked to substitute their hand cut potato chips. All of their burgers are made from Prime beef and are hand packed each day, which also means there is limited availability. The burgers were juicy, with a strong gorgonzola taste, which also oozed out once you bit into the burger. For blue cheese lovers, this is an impressive burger. The brioche buns are fresh and work well with these burgers, actually helping to add a little sweetness to balance the tang of the cheese. And the potato chips were crisp and addictive. An excellent dish of comfort food.
For dessert, the Sticky Toffee Pudding ($10), with toffee caramel sauce, whipped cream, and caramel sea salt ice cream is a good choice. The moist pudding “cake” went well with the sauce and ice cream, and it wasn’t too heavy. It was perfect for two of us to share after everything else we had already eaten.
Our server, Matthew, did an excellent job and I have spoken to others who have been served by Matthew and also raved about his performance. The food and drinks are excellent, and I like the neighborhood vibe of the restaurant. I now understand why so many people have recommended this place to me, and I will be sure to return soon. I have absolutely no excuse now. I give The Blue Ox my hearty recommendation.
Have you dined at The Blue Ox? What are your thoughts?
(Disclaimer: I received a media comp for this dinner. Please be advised I was under no obligation to actually review this restaurant and if I chose to review it, I was under no obligation to say anything specific, whether positive or negative, about my experience. All of this content was solely at my discretion. I will be returning to the restaurant soon, on my own dime, and will definitely report back on any differences I encounter.)
Charlie Gaeta, general manager and beverage director at The Blue Ox
By Scott Kearnan
Why we’re watching him: Because he ditched a job in finance to follow his passion. At The Blue Ox in his native Lynn, Gaeta has transformed from self-taught wunderkind to a well-trained expert; he’s studied at Boston University’s Wine Resource Center and is “currently working the way through” the Court of Master Sommeliers. In the meanwhile, he crafts a killer program that emphasizes small batch distillers and marries the classic with creative, often using homemade vermouths or wood-smoked whiskey.
Favorite Drink to Make: “When I’m in the weeds I actually enjoy making a proper Manhattan. There is something oddly calming about measuring out, stirring and straining this classic. It’s kind of like being in the eye of the hurricane, even if it’s just 1 minute.”
Funniest experience on the bar: “We do a pretty extensive barrel aged cocktail program. I have one customer, a local lobsterman we work with, not to be named, who loves them all. We use recycled bottles and label them with duct tape and a sharpie. After a private event, I came behind the bar to find a lot of interesting “art work” on all of the bottled cocktails behind the bar. Let’s just say he’s suspect number one.”
His hangover cure: “A quiet restaurant. I live a block away from the restaurant so when I get in it’s early enough where it’s just our prep cooks. I fill up a quart of iced water, make a double espresso and grab a piece of applewood-smoked bacon off one of the trays in the back kitchen. It’s the closest thing to a brunch I can get after a long night, but it always works.”
One customer he wishes he could pour a drink for: “My very good friend Pete Frates who is a really good customer but is currently fighting ALS and unable to get to the restaurant much. A perfect Old Fashioned would definitely be the drink I’d make him.”
Chef Matt O’Neil of The Blue Ox in Lynn wins Boston Magazine’s 3rd annual Best Burger Battle in Boston, Wednesday, August 13, 2014 (Photo by Melissa Ostrow/courtesy of Regan Communications)
In a moment of steer delight, chef Matt O’Neil owner of The Blue Ox in Lynn, was crowned Battle of the Burger champion Wednesday night at Boston Magazine’s third annual beef beatdown. More than 20 restaurants, including Union Bar and Grille, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar, Wahlburgers and Saloon faced off at Cruiseport Boston.
Guests were caught in the delicious crossfire and snagged samples, including those of O’Neils winning “The Sin Burger.” That vegan-converter consisted of a prime beef burger topped with applewood-smoked bacon, truffle aioli, tomato and lettuce on a brioche bun.
Among the noshers were Celtics newbie Kelly Olynyk, car czar Herb Chambers, local band Sweet Tooth and the Sugarbabies, and event MC 92.9’s Jason Rossi. Joe’s American Bar & Grillfinished in second place, and Lincoln Tavern took third.
I don’t know if anyone’s ever called Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Ed Markey “cool,” but he earned “chillin’ like a villain” street cred yesterday as he took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with help from members of the Boston College football team.
Harvard Square – Union Square Donuts is popping up at The Sinclair on Saturday September 20 for a friendly donut-and-drink competition. The Sinclair’s Matt Cunningham will compete against the USD team to create the perfect mini donuts to pair with a boozy coffee cocktail and a mimosa. Tickets are $20, and the event runs between noon and 3 p.m. Call (617) 547-5200 for a reservation.
Lynn – At Boston Magazine’s annual Battle of the Burger event, The Blue Ox in Lynn took home the crown for the second year in a row. Chef Matt O’Neil’s “Sin Burger” includes beef, Swiss cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, truffle aioli, tomato, and lettuce, served on a brioche bun.
Watertown – Eat Boston (no relation to Eater Boston) is hosting its next big event on September 13, 2014: FTW! Food Trucks Watertown, featuring trucks, a beer garden, and entertainment. It’ll take place behind 311 Arsenal Street from noon to 4 p.m., and tickets are “pay what you want” (between $2 and $12). They’ll go on sale soon, but you can sign up for a notification now. Eat Boston events tend to sell out quickly.
Today is National Oyster Day so what better way to celebrate than rounding up all the cheap oyster deals and specials in the Greated Boston area! $1 oysters anyone?
Here are some deals especially for National Oyster Day on Tuesday, August 5th 2014:
Social Restaurant and Bar; 320 Washington Street, Newton, MA
$1 Oysters on 8/5/14 for National Oyster Day
The Blue Ox; 191 Oxford Street, Lynn, MA
$1 Island Creek Oysters all night long at the bar only
If you are looking for more oyster deals, check out Eater Boston’s awesome $1 Oyster Guide for even more ideas. Also, don’t forget to check out Boston on a Budget’s Cheap Eats page (newly updated!) for more oyster deals for every day of the week as well as other food specials!
Happy National Oyster Day! Where will you be celebrating tonight?
This week we brought you a look at 9 Secrets of the Boston Food Scene, including a host of off-the-menu orders. But you’ll have to head to the smaller nearby city of Lynn to find one of our favorites: the cold-smoked filet mignon ($32) at The Blue Ox. Chef-owner Matt O’Neil recently made our list of 7 Must-Follow Social Media Stars, thanks to the help #ChefTips he posts from the restaurants Twitter handle. And other toques may want to take notes when it comes to this dish, which isn’t on the menu but is treated as a “permanent special.” The fabulous, juicy filet has quite the complex flavor from being cold-smoked over the staves of old whiskey barrels from Ryan & Wood Distilleries in Gloucester. The aged, oak-y quality is pretty sublime, especially sitting in a port wine sauce with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. Lynn isn’t known for its dining scene, but this plate is a perfect example of why The Blue Ox (which also boasts a locally famous “Sin Burger”) has emerged as one of the North Shore’s major dining draws. (191 Oxford., Lynn; 781-780-5722)
Joonbug has the juicy lowdown for urbanities…
By Alexa Mellardo
With National Tequila Day just around the corner, all urbanities should know the juicy lowdown … specialty cocktail scoop, that is.
Joonbug has the ultimate roundup prepared for Beantown to throw it down tequila style this Thursday, July 24th . Our list of restaurants will be serving up luscious cocktail specials in honor of the occasion. It’s time to celebrate…
The Blue Ox (191 Oxford St. Lynn, MA)
The Blue Ox will be serving ‘Rockaway Beach’ ($11) to thirsty guests. This zesty cocktail gets its name from The Ramone’s song and is made with Espolon silver tequila, muddled lime & mint, homemade grenadine, green Chartreuse and Angostura bitters.
By Gillian O’Callaghan Globe Staff
It has always had unique characteristics and now saltmakers on the North Shore and the Cape have allies in restaurants and home kitchens who recognize the subtle difference a variety of salt can make on the tongue.
Last fall, longtime friends Heather Ahearn and Alison Darnell went to the farmers’ market in Salem to shop for dinner and realized that their entire menu was locally sourced – except for the salt. The industrious duo headed down to a quiet corner of Salem Harbor, filled a gallon jug of sea water, and set it on the stove to boil. Many hours later, there was salt in the bottom of the pot.
“once we saw that salt,” recalls Ahearn, “we didn’t turn back.” The pair’s venture, Atlantic Saltworks, was founded last year. The business partners join the ranks of a small but growing group of srtisan New England saltmakers, including Marblehead Salt Co., launched by Andrew Busheil, also last year, and the two-year-old Cape businesses, Cape Cod Saltworks in Orleans and Wellfleet Sea Salt Co., of Marshfield, Maine, in business for 16 years. All these companies use the evaporation process to make salt, rather than harvesting salt from mines.
“In the last two to three years there has been an exponential growth in saltmakers who are finding their own story and are figuring out how to make their own salt,” says Mark Bitterman, author of “Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes,” on the phone from Portland, Ore. He recently tasted Atlantic Saltworks’ product and was smitten. “It’s a very beguiling salt. They’re leaving a lot of the briny, rich flavors of magnesium. I love that.”
Developing that flavor came after the entrepreneurs sampled seawater at 20 spots along the North Shore, from Swampscott to Newburyport. They settled on the waters off Gloucester. “The salinity was almost the same everywhere, but we were shocked at the differences in flavor,” says Ahearn. They will soon start construction on a production facility in Gloucester, thanks to a recent successful Kickstarter campaign.
To create the unique characteristics of his sea salt, Bushell collects seawater from 14 different locations off the Marblehead coast. He learned the 1,600-year-old process for making delicate flaky salt over eight months spent at an ancient monastery on Mount Athos, on a Greek peninsula. All of the company’s profits are donated to aiding Syrian refugees through the St. Paul’s Foundation, where he is executive chairman. Earlier this year Bushell transformed the 125-year-old garage next to his home into a state-of-the-art production facility, where he is combining, he says, “a totally new way of using modern equipment to do something very old.”
At A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem, a sprinkle of Bushell’s salt tops the flying Dutchman spiced caramel latte. Co-owner Andy King describes the salt as “soft on the palate and melting on the tongue, which makes it wonderful for finishing pastry or drinks. It’s definitely a product that deserves to be featured, not buried, with other supporting ingredients.” Restaurant and bar manager Charlie Gaeta of The Blue Ox in Lynn adds Marblehead Salt’s flakes to his “local Bloody Mary,” which also features vodka from Roxbury’s Bully Boy Distillers and a pickle garnish from Maitland Mountain Farm in Salem. “We never bring in a local product just because it’s local,” says Gaeta. “It has to be really good.”
In restaurants and home kitchens kosher salt has become the standard (its description as “kosher” comes from its use in the Jewish tradition of salting meat to draw out blood as part of the koshering process). Larger granules make kosher salt both easier to pick up with the fingertips, and to distribute evenly. And without the additives present in table salt, most notably iodine, kosher salt is often considered to have a cleaner taste.
Natural Salt fans, however, including author Bitterman, want to change this widespread preference for kosher salt. “Moving to kosher salt from iodized table salt is like moving from Twinkies to Ho Hos,” he argues. “They are both industrially processed foods.” Anyone who focuses on using unprocessed, whole ingredients, he says, should choose naturally occurring sea or rock salts.
As with many trends, sea salts gained popularity because of their use by chefs. Matthew Tropeano, chef of Pain D’Avignon Café-Boulangerie in Hyannis, keeps bright white Maldon Sea Salt in his kitchen for finishing many dishes. “It’s beautiful flaky salt from England that chefs all over use.” He is also smoking Maldon salt in a hot smoker he fashioned from a discarded dishwasher.
Maldon also appeals to Cassie Piuma, co-owner of Sarma. The Somerville chef adds it to nut and sesame crumbles that top a number of dishes at the Mediterranean tapas restaurant. “First for flavor, but also for texture. It elevates the crunch texture as well as adding seasoning.”
Cooking food in a salt crust keeps the contents moist by protecting them from dry oven heat. The presentation – a whole chicken or fish in a golden brown crust that must be chipped off – is dramatic. Chef Mitchell Randall of Boston’s Ostra, a huge fan of this technique, is serving a salt-crusted branzino. “A lot of people think that it is really going to be salty and overpowering,” he says. “But it’s a pristine way to cook, with [a paste made from] kosher salt and egg whites; there are no other flavors influencing it other than the bones and skin. It is the most pure way you are going to eat any fish. Nothing else is influencing it like the flavor of the grills or other things that you are cooking in the kitchen or what else is in the oven with it. It is just totally itself.”
Preserving lemons in a salt brine is an ancient North African technique. The bright fruits are quartered, generously salted, and tucked into sterilized jars filled with the juices from the fruit. For an additional layer of flavor, add peppercorns or cinnamon sticks. Pop them into the fridge and in several weeks, they will be transformed into a mild seasoning.
Soaking dried beans in salted water before cooking helps weaken their skins, avoiding the crunchy bean phenomenon. Mix 2 to 3 tablespoons of salt with 1 gallon of water and let the beans soak at room temperature overnight (if you’re in a hurry, even a few hours in the salty bath will help soften them). Drain and rinse well before cooking.
Some recipes instruct the cook to salt eggplant to draw out the bitter juices. In French, the technique is called “degorger.” After salting, you have to rinse the eggplant and dry it. Use the method to soften strands of raw zucchini that will not be cooked, and shreds of cabbage before making slaw.
Many cooks add a pinch of salt to every confection to heighten the other flavors. Hawaiians salt pineapple before eating to bring out the sweetness, and other salt melons (particularly watermelon), mango, and guava. The French salt small radishes (and eat them with butter).
A SAMPLING OF SALT
Table salt is mechanically mined, refined salt, usually with added iodine. The most common of the two types of kosher salt is mechanically mined and named for its use in preparing meats according to Jewish dietary laws. Less common are kosher-certified natural salts, such as the one made by Marblehead Salt Co., that meet Jewish dietary laws.
Flake sea salt comprises thin, light, dry and crisp crystals that vary in size and shape. This variety, as Maldon Sea Salt, crumbles easily and adheres to cooked food.
Solar evaporated, unrefined crystal sea salt is milled to a fine, medium, or coarse grain. These are most of the sea salts in the world and range from dry to moist, white to gray.
Hard crystals with very little moisture, mined sea salt such as Himalayan and Peruvian pink salts, come from deposits on land rather than the ocean.
Flavored or blended sea salts contain herbs, spices, citrus, or other flavorings. Sea salt that is either cool-or warm-smoked over a fire to make smoked sea salt is usually brown in color, with the characteristic smoky taste.
By Scott Kearnan
The Boston food scene is long on bloggers and social media types angling for their own corner in food-centric Internet circles. But to help you cut through the clutter, we found a few of the local folks whose Twitter, Instagram and other social media handles are especially interesting to us right now. If you’re not already following them, start. And since there are many more out there deserving a shout-out, stay tuned as we continue to cast our net for important social media butterflies.
Yes, you can learn something through social media – and not just the details of the Kimye wedding. The Blue Ox chef-owner Matt O’Neil frequently posts helpful kitchen hints using the hashtag #ChefTips, which makes him one of our favorite follows for illuminating tricks like “Put a damp towel/paper towel under your cutting board to create traction & prevent it from slipping around.” These kind of tips: we’ll take ‘em. Twitter: @TheBlueOxLynn
Food and Dining
This isn’t your college roommate’s Jäger.
It’s Bärenjäger, which in German means Bear Hunter. It’s a honey liquor used by Charlie Gaeta, beverage director at The Blue Ox in Lynn, who invented this cocktail which tastes a little bit like Drambuie.
Here’s the recipe:
The Bear Hunter
-Rye Whiskey, 1 ¾ oz.
– Bärenjäger, ¾ oz.
-Orange bitters, about half of an eyedropper.
Mix ingredients. Add ice. Stir.
Pour over large ice cube. Add a splash of ginger ale.
Take a slice of orange rind (with as little pith as possible) and squeeze it over a lit match over the top of the drink. This will make the flame flash as the burnt orange essence is splattered into the drink. Rub the rim of the glass with the orange rind and toss it into the drink.
fork & dagger
the food blog by Cheryl Fenton
It’s National Burger Month, and I’ve never met a burger I didn’t like. Actually, I have, but its (medium) rare. (Get it?) When I was asked my dinner wish for Mother’s Day, I said, “Fire up the grill, Darling.” To get everyone into a burger mood, I tapped Chef Matt O’Neil at the Blue Ox in Lynn for a few tips on getting it right. He seemed the likely grill master, since his Sin Burger (applewood smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, and truffle aioli, above) has won burger awards. I love Sin. Wait that came out wrong.
Anyway, while you read over O’Neil’s burger wisdom, I’ll just sit back and wait by the grill with one of Blue Ox’s Hot N’ Dirty cocktails, my new favorite local libation of Knockabout gin, sriarcha, spicy pickle juice, and a Maitland Mountain Farm pickle. Happy grilling!
1. Meat type is very important. High-quality chuck meat is the base for a great burger, in my opinion. I’m all about blending meats to increase flavors and textures, but for me having a majority of the blend be chuck is important. (Eighty percent of my burger is ground prime chuck). It keeps to tradition, and also has the consistency to hold up to high heat on a grill, retaining its moisture and holding together well.
2. Choose a lean to fat ratio of 80 percent—no less than 75 percent and no more than 85 percent.
3. It’s very important that you buy the freshest ground meat possible direct from a butcher you trust. Ask your butcher to grind what you want for you. The fresher, the better.
4. Whether you’re buying the patties or making them yourselves, be sure to season as you go. When mixing the meat, add salt and pepper to the mixing bowl, and also to the finished patty before cooking. This makes a huge difference. When making the patty, try adding egg yolks and chopped shallots to enhance richness and flavor. Get creative if you like, but remember: Less is more. Don’t go overboard. Form patties to 3/4-inch thickness for eight-ounce burgers, slightly less for six-ounce.
5. Form tight, even patties. Use a mold if available. This will ensure even cooking. Chill and let meat and fats sit in the fridge for at least an hour after forming patties. Before cooking, let the burgers come up in temperature by removing them from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Season right before cooking with salt and pepper. I prefer grilling burgers over high heat to medium rare.
Now that you’ve got the skinny on making big fat burgers, happy grilling. As it turns out, we did everything wrong last Sunday. But that’s what the summer is for: practice.
As the Bruins take on the Canadiens in Game 7, Pauli’s Restaurant in the North End has created a sandwich in honor of the home team: the Killer B, a chicken cutlet topped with bacon, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and honey mustard sauce.
MokSa in Central Square is offering all-you-can-eat sushi event Monday beginning at 5 p.m. for $29 per person.
Lucas Sousa, most recently executive sous chef of Vidalia restaurant in Washington, has begun as the new executive chef at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro.
The MET Back Bay and the Metropolitan Club in Chestnut Hill host their ninth annual soft-shell crab festival, though June 11, with the delicacy prepared a different way every night.
And Shanti in Roslindale is now offering a four-course vegan menu for $25 every Monday night.
Food & Dining
Matt O’Neil, the chef at The Blue Ox, makes honey hot chicken wings.
By Scott Kearnan
The Boston area is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to food artisans. But many of the same small-batch purveyors pop up again and again on local menus – so we scoured for some new and under-the-radar names that are doing great (and delicious) things.
Maitland Mountain Farm
Why We Love Them: Because this small, 2.5 acre farm (filled with free-roaming chickens) in Salem proves that size isn’t everything. In just a few seasons it’s established a reputation for its impressively high yield of flowers and (often pickled) veggies.
Signature Item: Holly’s Spicy Pickles
Where to Try: Blue Ox fries them up and serves them with grilled lemon, thyme aioli and aged balsamic
Where to Buy: They’re a regular vendor at several North Shore farmer’s markets, including the Cape Ann Farmers Market, coming up next on April 19.
Looking for the best steak in Greater Boston?
Skip those luxurious big-city steakhouses and head instead to the City of Sin. You’ll find the best steak in Boston at The Blue Ox in Lynn, a neighborhood gem in the heart of an up-and-coming downtown that has drawn rave reviews since opening in 2009.
Chef-Owner Matt O’Neil’s smoked filet mignon is, well, sinful: a perfectly charred steak with black crust that contrasts beautifully with the red tender, juicy beef inside. The steak is accompanied by a port wine demi-glace and choice of sides ($32).
Oh, and the best part: The filet is cold smoked in-house with bourbon-barrel oak from Ryan & Wood Distilleries of Gloucester. The smoke adds great depth, complex flavors and intoxicating aromas – not to mention a great little local culinary storyline. You smell the steak before you cut into it.
“It’s a man steak with a lot of smoke and tons of flavor, but still simple to prepare. It’s our signature. People love it,” said O’Neil, who worked for Boston chefs such as Anthony Caturano (Prezza) and Barbara Lynch (No. 9 Park).
O’Neil and his staff go to great lengths to ensure that the steak is cold smoked – the goal to add only aroma and flavor without first cooking the beef. They pack the smoker with ice, which keeps the temperature low and produces a moist steak.
The bourbon-barrel wood-smoked steak dovetails nicely with the restaurant’s great beer and cocktail program, highlighting local spirits such as Berkshire Mountain Bourbon, Bully Boy Vodka and Privateer Rum.
The Lynn food and drink scene will soon have another great addition: O’Neil expects to open a brewery, Bent Water Brewing Co., in the near future. He’s currently scouting out locations in Lynn.
By Scott Kearnan
Spring is nearing, but let’s be honest: it’s still really, really cold out there. (Really.) The perfect antidote? A hot cup of clam chowder, New England’s hearty signature stew. We could spend all day debating where the best bowl can be found, but we would always miss someone’s favorite bowl. Instead, we rustled up a handful of indisputably great clam chowders that all stand out for a different reason. They’re tops in their categories, and every one is a favorite.
Spiciest Surprise: Blue Ox
Want a pick with a little perk? This celebrated upscale gem in Lynn serves up a sophisticated bowl of clam chowder spruced up by smoked bacon, chives and Tabasco. Especially in winter time, we like a place that’s willing to turn up the heat.
By Scott Kearnan
To us, chefs are celebrities and restaurant life is the height of drama. (You’ve seen Hell’s Kitchen, right?) And so, inspired by Ellen Degeneres’ recent Oscars selfie alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest, we reached out and requested some #kitchenselfie submissions from restaurant teams around the city. Here are some of our favorites – and here’s hoping we round up even more fun, creative crew photos soon.
Most Expressive: Blue Ox
The faces here run the gamut: from gleeful grins to a grimace, from fear in the foreground to general badass-ery in back. As they say in the biz: Great versatility.
Leading Lady: Jody Adams at Rialto
If Boston’s culinary scene had a Meryl Streep equivalent, it would probably be star chef Jody Adams. So we love that she rallied her team full of rising talent (including our recent 30 Under 30 honoree Peter McKenzie) for the #kitchenselfie spotlight.
You think the city’s crowded? Check out the kitchen cast assembled at this sophisticated suburban American in Concord. Their submission featured the most number of faces at 13. Someone has long arms.
Most inebriated: Bronwyn
The team at Somerville’s standout German and Central European restaurant sort of broke the #kitchenselfie rules, since their submission was neither in the kitchen, nor a selfie. We understand; obviously everyone needed their hands free to hoist a bier. Or maybe they just had one too many, and forgot. Either way, #winning.
Most Excited Chef: Chris Coombs at Deuxave
He was deadly serious during cutthroat competitions at Chopped, but past 30 under 30 honoree Chris Coombs was slightly more stoked in front of the #kitchenselfie camera. The cheery Deuxave team clearly found his glee contagious.
Funkiest Bunch: Commonwealth
Chef Nookie and his Commonwealth crew sent us this snapshot during their weekend “Marky Mark and the Funky Brunch.” Backwards caps + chef-driven duckface + throwing signs + that cook shirt = Good Vibrations, y’all.
Cutest Crew: Harvest
The adorableness is palpable in this shot. Chef Mary Dumont, with her arm slung over a shoulder, is the centerpiece of a team that looks so sweet and squeaky clean, they’re fit to frame. We kind of want to hang out with this crew.
Best Supporting Actress Look-alike: MJ O’Connors
When did Kate Hudson start working at this Irish pub? That blonde on the right has a second career as a body double if she needs it.
Best Sequel-style Shot: Post 390
Between the row of repeating dishes and reflective mirror, we somehow feel like we’ve seen everything here (at least) twice.
Inside Track by Gayle Fee
South End socialites The Hat Sisters, aka Tim O’Connor and John Michael Gray, getting their signature facial hair shaved at Barber-shop Deluxe so they can regrow new looks for the Community Servings’ annual Mustachio Bashio fundraiser April 1 at the Lenox Hotel. (It was the first time John Michael shaved his ‘stache in 40 years!) … Ex-“Baywatch” babe Traci Bingham and her BF Devin Hill hitting the Boston Launch of ELEQT, a social media network for trendsetters, at Nine Zero … YouTube sensation Chris P. Bacon Pig on Wheels, a 1-year-old pot-bellied pig born with a hind leg deformity, and his owner, Dr. Len Lucero, visiting kids at the Franciscan Hospital for Children, where Chris demonstrated how he gets around in his custom piggy wheelchair … Eastern Standard drink slinger Jackson Cannon guest bartending at barmini, Jose Andres’ culinary cocktail lab in D.C. …Matt and Joanna O’Neil, chef/owners of The Blue Ox in Lynn, whipping up their “Sin Burger” (named, of course, for the City of Sin) for Rachael Ray and the other judges at the Amstel Light Burger Bash in Miami.
Chef/Owner Matt O’Neil of The Blue Ox cooks up his stand-out “Sin Burger” at the 8th Annual Amstel Light Burger Bash in Miami, Florida. The burger (named for Lynn, Lynn City of Sin, of course!) was one of 31 burgers to compete for Best Burger to be judged by celebrities such as Rachel Ray. They were the only Massachusetts restaurant at the competition and made it to the second round at last night’s event. The “Sin” Burger, which is on the menu at The Blue Ox, is hand packed by Chef Matt O’Neil every night and features 100% USDA prime beef, applewood smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, truffle aioli, lettuce and tomato and is served on a brioche bun.
Lynn – The Blue Ox owner Matt O’Neil was to be cooking with gas on a Miami beach today, hoping to bring home the title of best burger in the 8th Annual Amstel Light Burger Bash in South Beach.
“I’m on my third trip to Publix,” said Joanna O’Neil, Matt’s wife, from the road in Miami Thursday.
The O’Neils arrived in South Beach two days before the competition to have time to prep. Matt O’Neil is expected to turn out 2,000 3-ounce “Sin Burgers” during the event, which starts at 3 p.m. His creation is prime beef topped with applewood smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, truffle aioli, lettuce and tomato on a brioche bun. It’s named for being sinful and also as a play on Lynn’s infamous verse, “Lynn, Lynn, city of sin.”
The Blue Ox in one of 31 restaurants participating in the event hosted by Rachel Ray and sponsored by Amstel Light beer and the only eatery from Massachusetts in the mix.
“Matt is holding up well,” Joanna O’Neil said. “It’s very impressive the way this is all orchestrated.”
To make things easy on himself and to make sure he had what he needed, Matt O’Neil took a few precautions. Joanna O’Neil said they learned Florida doesn’t carry the same applewood smoked bacon they use, “so we cooked off 140 pounds of it (Wednesday) and had it shipped down.”
They also shipped down the truffle aioli, she said.
“We did pack some things though,” she said. “We packed five gallons of cut shallots and took them with us on the plane. Everyone in the airport kept wondering what smelled so good … he was smart taking necessary steps to make life easier.”
O’Neil needed to make life somewhat easier because while others were busy Thursday creating burgers with a meat packing machine, he had an assembly line going and was packing them by hand, Joanna O’Neil said.
“He packs them by hand in the restaurant so he wanted to pack them by hand here,” she said.
Blue Ox and burger fans can chart O’Neil’s progress and find out who wins one of the several burger titles by checking out the Oxford Street restaurant’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/The-Blue-Ox/143401125696935
The Artwork – We are proud to be hanging the artwork of celebrated Martha Vineyard based painter, Traeger DiPietro. As another connection to the community, this artist, and Swampscott native, has designed pieces for the restaurant highlighting downtown Lynn. You can see more from Traeger at his website: www.traegerdipietro.com
Reservations can be made by calling 781.780.5722 or using the form below.
Hours of Operation
DINNER – Tue, Wed & Thur 5:00-10:00pm ~ Fri & Sat 5:00-10:30pm ~ Sunday 5:00 – 10:00pm
BAR – Tue – Sun 4:00pm – close
The Blue Ox is open for dinner six nights a week Tuesday through Sunday.
Reservations are recommended and we welcome parties of all sizes.
Don’t see your desired time/ guest count available? Call us! Our availability is more extensive via phone.
Hours of Operation:
Tue, Wed, & Thur 5:00-10:00pm ~ Fri & Sat 5:00-10:30pm ~ Sun 5:00-9:00pm
Tue – Sun 4:00pm – close