So far reviewed:
Revere Beach, Wonderland
Singing Beach, Manchester-by-the-Sea
Crane's Beach, Ipswich
Crane's Beach, Ipswich
Crane's Beach and Russell Orchards: Adventures on the Ipswich Essex Explorer
There are many things that I hope for when I first look over a beach. White sand, sunny skies, seagulls calling, waves gently crashing, blue water beckoning, a sense of calm and peace. Which is why, when I made it over the gentle sand slope up to Crane's beach and stood surveying the scene, I nearly had one of those cinematic moments where I drop to my knees, pull at my hair, and scream, "WHY, WHY,WHY?!!!!"
Yes, the sight of hundreds of people packed in front of me almost induced hysteria. But I kept what little dignity I had, largely because I'd already read about the crowd at Crane's beach, and also the remedy. The beach is huge, like a few miles long, and if you turn right at the entrance, and walk for twenty minutes or so, you get away from the circus crowds, and are left with this.
The downside is that there are no lifeguards once you get past the crowds, but I am not really an ocean swimmer. I like to sit on the sand and breathe in the calm, then dip my toes in the water, maybe go in as far as my knees, and then splash about like an elephant, pick up some pretty shells, and call it a day. And I have to say, under those criteria, Crane beach was a hit. Among its other virtues, the sand sparkles. That's right, it sparkles. Whatever bits of shell and mineral wash up here, I noted as the water bubbled over my toes that I could see little bits of glitter swirling about me.
Crane's beach alone would've been worth the time and effort to get there, but I had other fish to fry. So I hopped on the bus (which was on schedule), and took the ten minute ride to Russell Orchards, a place where a city girl can have a little bit of a farmyard holiday and still make it back to the city before dinner. You will find a barn filled with a an ice cream stand, a produce store, nick-nacks, wine tasting, and most importantly, a fully functioning bakery.
These folks make their own cider donuts, fresh. And they are in such demand that it is probable they will be straight out of the fryer when you buy yours. The same is true of their full size pies (blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb, and apple on the day I visited). When I picked up my hefty blueberry pie, it wasn't just warm on the bottom, it was HOT...as in, just came out of the oven, HOT. And that was in the afternoon. So as far as I can tell, the farm is basically cooking up a storm all day, and the goodies are flying out the barn just as rapidly. I'll grant you, it was summer and it was a weekend, but I have a feeling that apple-picking season is no less joyous and busy on the farm.
That said, let me point out that waiting for you outside the barn is...nature. I wandered off to the blueberry patch to pick my own carton of blueberries in my flip flops and was not only followed by a very strange looking pack of fowl (turkey?) but soon noted the preponderance of biting flies, wasps, ants, etc. It belatedly occurred to me that this is why they sell bug spray in the store.
|Pretty pond with ducks and chickens.|
|Pretty apple tree. Picking season isn't until September for apples.|
It also occurred to me as I saw the body of a long-deceased birdy being eaten by wasps (stuck in the netting above the blueberries), that possibly there was a reason some people were just buying the cartons of blueberries in the barn store, rather than coming out to pick their own. After that, a stinging fly went for my foot, and I started to imagine that every little tickle on my legs were ticks and ants...and yes, I hot-footed it back to the store.
Now, you are probably wondering, how does the barn bakery stack up on taste and value? Well, the cider donuts were hot, crispy, and mildly flavored. I inhaled one at the speed of light, and noted people walking out with ten and twelve at a time. Personally, I expected more of a cider flavor, but the aroma was heavenly and I certainly wouldn't say no to another helping. The scone was not too dense and had a nice flavor of rhubarb, the goat cheese and vegetable pocket was quite tasty, and the little peach-berry tartlet was a tender bite. But now to the hard part: the blueberry pie.
It looked as it ought to look when I cut into it, a flaky golden crust with a juicy interior of wild blueberries and jellied goo of the Gods (well, how else do you describe a good pie filling!) It had even bubbled up a little over the crust, which is always a good sign. My foodie buddy and I were alight with anticipation as we lifted our forks. And....well, what can I say, there was not a lot of flavor. It tasted like they forgot the salt, the berry flavor was extremely mild, and the crust was...not bad, but not wonderful either. It is the first and only time I've ever had to get up and fetch the salt shaker in order to feel that a pie tasted right...and we even snuck in a squirt of fresh lime juice to give it a little more flavor. It was not that the pie was an abomination...but it was not the level of excellence that I would expect from a farm bakery that specializes in pie. That said, I believe the visit to the orchard and the purchasing of goodies is, in and of itself, so unique and fulfilling an experience that you should absolutely go.
|Inside of barn store|
|The mysterious octopus carrot. I dared not buy it!|
For those on a budget, please note that the store is by no means inexpensive. Most of their pies are $20. And when I went up to the counter with this canvas tote bag, I nearly spittled up a lung when the lady informed me it was $40. So don't go expecting dirt-road apple-stand prices.
Logistics: It's $18.25 for a round trip from North Station to Ipswich (on the Newburyport/Rockport line). When you get off the train in Ipswich (a 40-minute train ride), the Ipswich Essex Explorer bus will be waiting right at the train station. For $5, you can hop on/off its route to Crane Beach, Russell Orchards, Wolf Hollow, and the Ipswich visitor center. Note: the Ipswich Explorer bus can't give change, so be sure you have exactly $5 on you. It's a ten minute ride to the orchard, and another ten after that to the beach. A very doable day trip from Boston for someone who doesn't have a car. IMPORTANT: The Ipswich Explorer only runs in the summer and only on weekends, so check their schedule before you go.
Info on the Ipswich Essex Explorer: http://www.canntran.com/purpleLineCrane.cfm
Crane Beach: http://www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/northeast-ma/crane-beach-on-the-crane.html
Russell Orchards: http://www.russellorchards.com/
Luberto's Pastry and Last Stop, Wonderland
As a former historian, I tend to ascribe good qualities to places strictly because they are old. And Revere Beach, being the oldest public beach in the U.S., and the town of Revere having been one of the first places colonized in 1624, I was prepared for something with panache and charm.
Oh, girl. When are you going to learn? "Old" in Boston can mean a lot of things other than panache and charm. I stepped off the T at Revere into neighborhoods with broken church windows, balconies slanting precipitously toward the ground, corner grocery shops that looked like you'd better know the owner's name before you went in. It is, in short, not the kind of place where you should plan on taking a leisurely stroll. I made haste to find a public bus and rode the rest of the way to Luberto's, which is situated on the main drag in Revere.
And oh my, was it worth it! Luberto's is a very Italian bakery, with mirrored walls, and a plethora of pastry.
It is the kind of place where the owner's son comes out to introduce himself and shake hands, matriarchs order towering stacks of boxes, and some of the old-time Italians that are still left in this neighborhood sit at the tables for coffee hour.
Everything that you can find in the North End, from ricotta pie to cannolis to Italian cookies to half moon pies to pistachio macaroons..is also at Luberto's. Just minus the throngs of tourists and lack of seating and the prices. For $7.25, I had a Neapolitan, ricotta pie, a bag full of cookies, and a soda.
The macaroons were delicious, the ricotta pie was magnificently smooth, and I had a hard time coaxing myself out of that oasis of goodness back onto the "mean streets" of Revere. But go, I did. After all, there was still Wonderland to visit. As I sat on the bus, I conjured in my mind the lovely sea air, the soft sand, the sparkling, cool, deep blue water...all of the things that this California Girl loves about the ocean.
I can't quite say that Revere Beach lived up to that.
Yes, there is sand. Yes, there are shells. Yes, there is water. But something is missing here that I can't put my finger on. As I watched jet fuel waft down off planes taking off from Logan, and I looked at the dirty sand, and the unfriendly wave break, and the deserted boardwalk...it seemed to me that joy and beauty were not at a maximum here. I took out some of the cookies from Luberto's as a consolation snack as I walked back to the T. I can't say I'll be coming back to Wonderland, a stop so ill-named that I have to consider the possibility that it was an ironic title. But if you have a car, I do strongly recommend a trip to Luberto's!
Singing Beach and Captain Dusty's Ice Cream
Perhaps it is because I have a writer's imagination. When I hear of a beach named Singing Beach and am told that the sand sings when the water washes over it....I immediately think Broadway spectacular of singing mermaids. This, plus the fact that Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea is a forty minute ride on the commuter rail, is what drew me out of the city yesterday.
A lot of commuter rail outings end in tourist traps of a variety that cause me fits of vapors (don't get me started on Salem, MA). But Manchester-by-the-Sea is different. There were a lot of people on the beach for a Monday, true. But most of them were residents of this small, suburban neighborhood that boasts a little harbor, big vacation homes, and a modest downtown. In other words, this really is the kind of place with an ice cream stand, one grocery store, and a handful of restaurants (not to fear, Bostonites, there IS a Dunkin Doughnuts here, if you feel you're about to go into withdrawal).
|View from the train|
Well, what can I say. It was a glorious twenty minutes before I had to take cover. And more importantly, I tested the theory of the singing sand.
Twas a very subtle singing, friends. Very subtle. But I think you must keep an open mind in order to hear mermaids singing.
And if those mermaids won't sing? Well, lucky for us, just down the street from the beach is Captain's Dusty's Ice Cream, a fair consolation prize by any standards. This little depot does not have a lot of bows and whistles inside. The flavors are written on white board, and there is no grand display case with the ice cream. But that hardly matters. What is important is that Captain Dusty considers this a BABY CONE.
The large was so big that it was threatening to topple off the cone....the first and only time I've ever had to ask an ice cream server to "please, put some of that back in the case." And the taste of it, be it ever so humble vanilla, with no chance of being homemade or designer ice cream, was really glorious when enjoyed on a sunny day walking back from the beach and waiting for the train back to Boston.
The commuter fare to Singing Beach is @$18.
For more information on Singing Beach: