Boston's a town full of strong opinons—from sports to politics, passion is in the DNA of this town. And so it goes with food: Everyone here has a favorite shop, market, or dish. And increasingly, residents are finding shops where everything from craft beer to game meats is produced with top-shelf, artisan flair. Because for Bostonians, there's no room for second best.
3 Little Figs
The team behind 3 Little Figs got their start selling baked treats at Jamaica Plain’s City Feed and Supply, also featured here. They opened their own tiny shop in Somerville’s Davis Square in 2011, where they sell a seasonal rotation of sweet and savory baked goods, sandwiches, salads, cold-brew organic coffee, and tea. Many of their items are vegan, and their eggs are free-range. Everything is baked fresh daily, and they use exclusively natural, organic, and locally sourced ingredients from all over the Northeast. New York state’s Gimme! Coffee is their house espresso and coffee, while sandwich ingredients come from nearby Carlson Orchards and Jones Farm. Native Massachusetts honey completes many of their sandwiches. Speaking of sandwiches: The “Village” sandwich—roasted sweet potato, arugula, goat cheese, sundried tomato, honey, and olive oil on 7-grain bread—is a tangy, tart, wholesome must-try.
Boston Craft Beer Cellar
This narrow cavern in posh Belmont Center is a beer lover’s sanctuary. Here, local brews get top billing. In fact, founder Suzanne Schalow insists on carrying exclusively micro, artisanal, and craft beers—labels from major corporations occupy zero space on her shelves. It helps that she has deep ties to the local brewing community: Before opening the cellar in 2010 with partner Kate Baker, she worked at beloved Harvard Square beer bar at Cambridge Common. There, she cultivated friendships with up-and-coming artisans. As a result, her shop is one of the few in the area to carry obscurities like, say, People’s Pint from Greenfield, Massachusetts. And a recent visit showcased prime real estate for funky newcomers Mystic, a year-old brewery run by a husband-wife team of MIT fermentation scientists, and Night Shift Brewing, started by three friends in a tiny Somerville kitchen. While the shop stocks craft beer from all over the world (more than 900 varieties at last count), a devoted section of the store—and window displays—are reserved for New England originals like Cisco and Pretty Things; hometown favorite Jack D’or is a top seller. The cellar donates ten percent of net profits to the Belmont Food Pantry.
City Feed and Supply
A country store smack in the center of the city, City Feed was founded in 2000 as a gathering place for urbanites to shop, swap stories, and feast locally. Senior Manager Morgan Ward, a veteran buyer for high-end specialty markets in Boston, devotes himself to making this shop a beacon of sustainability and local support. “I try to make decisions on behalf of people’s intentions,” he says. Showcasing humanely raised, nitrate-free meat is one of his passions. So is supporting local farmers.
Ward sources food that’s produced within 100 miles of Boston. To do this, he manages his inventory through Farm Fresh Rhode Island. This nonprofit links independent farmers and their inventories with markets in real time; it also employs at-risk youth in its kitchens. Even closer to home, City Feed helps fund Jamaica Plain’s Spontaneous Celebrations, a cultural organization that celebrates the neighborhood’s rich ethnic diversity through the arts.
On a day-to-day basis, the shop’s sandwich counter is the place to be. The counter itself was repurposed from the store’s original yellow-pine antique floor. Sidle up to it and order the cult favorite “Number Nine,” also called the Farmer’s Lunch Sandwich. It’s a baguette slathered with mustard, mayonnaise, Granny Smith apples, lettuce, and all-natural pickled green tomatoes, a City Feed signature that is also sold by the jar.
This perpetually crammed specialty market is Cambridge through-and through: thoughtful, civic-minded, and impeccably pedigreed. It’s the local go-to for obscure cheeses as well as pates, organic and biodynamic wines from small producers, and homemade baked goods. Ihsan and Valerie Gurdal, along with son Kurt, are affable cheese ambassadors who are often seen shaving off sample slices for serious shoppers. Formaggio stocks a wealth of cheeses from New England artisans, many from Vermont. Twig Farm washed rind from Cornwall, Vermont, was a recent favorite, as was Cabot’s clothbound cheddar, aged at Vermont’s Cellars at Jasper Hill. There are also plenty of cheese vessels and accompaniments: They stock a small selection of breads that spotlight the work of local bakers; Bonnie’s Jams, founded by Cambridge native Bonnie Shershow, debuted here. (Her low-sugar, pectin-free jams pair sublimely with cheese.) There are also house-made sausages, duck, and rabbit pates. The shop makes a strong effort to source cheeses from small, sustainable producers and will happily discuss each cheese’s provenance; they also compost all organic waste. In addition, Formaggio is a happy pilgrimage for independent local brewers, who frequently host beer-and-cheese pairings here. This shop is 30 years old; they also operate another shop in Boston’s South End.
The nerve center of suburban Acton, Idylwilde has sprouted from a rural roadside farm stand into a green-focused specialty market housed in a rambling Dutch barn. The Napoli brothers, grandchildren of Italian immigrants who once ran a small farm outside Boston, moved the stand to Acton in 1969. Now they run the farm with their grown children at the helm. Their 21st-century incarnation includes sandwiches made on local Iggy’s bread with house-made preserves, a line of jams and honeys, and fresh-squeezed juices. Jalapeno pepper jelly, brandied peaches, fig preserves, and pumpkin butter are specialties. What they don’t make themselves, they source from local purveyors—maple syrup from Vermont’s Butternut Hill Farms, ice cream from Maple Valley Creamery in Western Massachusetts, and milk from Oakhurst Dairy in Maine. Towers of seasonal produce from the backyard farm welcome visitors as soon as they step onto the front porch. In the winter, picking a Christmas tree is a local rite of passage, and many hometown folks—from teenagers to retirees—work the cash registers. The Napoli family is well known in town, and the brothers sponsor a variety of community efforts throughout the area. They also recycle all plastic and cardboard on-site.
Brian Quinn (better known as “Q”) and his wife, Beth, launched in 2000 with nothing more than a cart and a camping stove. They roasted on command at concerts and at farmers markets, and many people called them nuts. But the gamble paid off: In 2012, the couple opened a small brick-and-mortar shop in Somerville’s student-friendly Davis Square. At this smoky hideaway, they roast more than 20 varieties of sweet and savory nuts on-site, using all-natural ingredients. Beth is usually on hand to mingle with customers and answer questions. Many of Q’s selections are vegan, and almost all of the flavors are exotic, like cayenne mango, bananas Foster, and Key Lime ginger. To accompany their nuts, Brian and Beth carry Christina’s, a local ice cream purveyor that operates a shop just down the street. The Quinns also sell a selection of spreads from Deborah’s Kitchen, a local business that specializes in all-natural, low-sugar spreads with bold flavors like Hot Hot Peach. When the Quinns aren’t holding down the fort in Somerville, they continue to make the rounds at farmers markets. As they build momentum, they plan to donate a portion of their profits to local charities.
This butchery, which opened in 1939, is renowned for its selection of peculiar meat and game. On any given day, you’re likely to find iguana, python, or camel patties. It’s also famous as Julia Child’s grocer of choice; she sourced all of the meats for her The French Chef cooking series here. The butcher shop is now a modern marvel that combines rare finds with organic sensibilities. They source a variety of local meats and free-range duck eggs; smoking and confit are done in-house. House-made turducken, a top seller at Thanksgiving, is made from local duck and turkey; organic chicken comes from Misty Knoll in Vermont. Pork is pesticide and antibiotic-free, while grass-fed beef hails from Archer Angus, a family-run farm in Maine that prides itself on happy cattle and progressive herd nutrition. Overwhelmed by the selection? David Crespo, the chipper lead butcher, is happy to dole out advice and discuss each cut’s origins. After shopping, swing by the sandwich counter for homemade duck confit crowned with roasted root vegetables atop local Iggy’s bread—then buy a carton of SoCo Creamery ice cream from the Berkshires for dessert.
The Chavushian family rises at five o’clock every morning to bake their secret recipes, developed through trial-and-error by the family patriarch who ditched a corporate career overseas to pursue his true love: cooking. On any given day, customers will discover baklava, dips, hummus, vegetable-stuffed eggplants, and plump grape leaves, each made on-site and available for sampling. Lahmejune, Armenian-style pizza filled with savory ground meat, is also homemade every morning. The family purchased the hole-in-the-wall shop in 1979 and quickly gained a following with their warm service and family-style goods; they began baking on-site in 1984. Over time, they’ve developed signature items. One special favorite is their “nutty cheese spread,” an unlikely blend of feta, cranberry, walnut, pistachio, garlic, and onion—a kitchen experiment that somehow worked. There’s also a graze-worthy fresh olive bar and a wine cellar that stocks hard-to-find Armenian wines. On the weekends, curious travelers from all over New England stop by for the authentic Mediterranean treats. Meanwhile, locals in this tight-knit community rely on Sevan for their groceries and appreciate their civic-mindedness: The family regularly donates food to their next-door neighbor, the Taxiarchae/Archangels Greek Orthodox church.
This Italian meat market draws crowds to a quiet corner of Roslindale for one thing: homemade sausages. Vivacious Tony DeBenedictis, a Neapolitan immigrant who speaks with a thick accent, makes hot and regular sausages by hand every Wednesday and Thursday (as such, these are the best days to visit). The 73-year-old claims that he doesn’t have a secret recipe—just a lot of love, a dash of salt and a sprinkle of pepper, preferably while opera music warbles in the background. Tony also loves to ballroom dance, which keeps him energized for sausage-making. In addition to his dancing workouts, he attributes his neighborhood success to honesty and hard work: “You get it back from people,” he says. He’ll celebrate 50 years in business next year and says that “if God is good, I’ll keep going,” which is happy news for the legions of loyal customers who have journeyed to his store since it opened. In addition to his handmade sausages, he stocks a variety of imported meats and cheeses. He’s closed on Sundays and Mondays, because as he admits, “I’m 73! I can’t work every day.” His family also assists him at the store from time to time, but Tony’s still in charge of those sausages.
This bustling farm opened in 1884. Today, the Wilson family grows over 150 crops on more than 600 acres in Lexington and on their sister farm in nearby Litchfield, New Hampshire. Head farmer Jim Wilson, who seems to know everybody in town, takes huge pride in the variety of his crops, which he says are the most diverse and vast in New England. He’s probably right: Here, sweet corn alone occupies more than 90 acres of farmland. The Wilson family makes nearly everything on their property except for milk. Creamery items come from Shaw’s Farm, an independent family farm a few miles away in Dracut. To showcase their produce, Wilson’s also operates a grocery headed by Jeff “Chef Jeff” Peters, who uses seasonal fruits and vegetables to make to-go quiches, soups, and stews. He also runs cooking classes tailored to the season; at Thanksgiving, townspeople assemble to learn the finer points of turkey-carving.
The shop is festooned with homegrown seasonal décor. In the fall, pumpkins and gourds fill the open-air nursery; during the wintertime, shimmering wreathes hang from the walls and poinsettias brighten the doorways. Wilson’s was an early implementer of IMP (integrated pest management), an environmentally aware system of managing crops. And, as a mainstay business in Lexington for five generations, the family has strong community ties. They routinely donate products to nearby churches and food pantries, especially around the holidays.