The South Coast of Massachusetts has the good fortune to be located between Providence and Cape Cod. In other words, it’s a place tourists pass through in order to get somewhere else, while people who live there take advantage of the seacoast location and the area's Portuguese heritage to produce some interesting local specialties. Fall River is one deep food destination, as tatterdemalion and I discovered on a recent trip. Credit for research goes to tatterdemalion, who planned the day’s itinerary. Although we gave it our best LTH effort, we barely scratched the surface of what this town has to offer. I report here on sandwiches.
Fall River is home to a WWII naval museum that lies under the bridge that leads into the city. Half of the city's 91,00 residents are of Portuguese descent. The wonderful thing about LTH Forum is that one is never alone in a specific food craving. Fortunately for me, tatterdemalion shares my curiosity about New England Portuguese. He has agreed to collaborate on this topic to cover the Portuguese cusine we sampled in Fall River. In a future entry, I hope to give due respect to Fall River's chow mein sandwich, which deserves its own post.
We began our exploration at Al Mac's Diner, which is not merely famous, but "Justly Famous since 1910." We started with a "Rhody" aka Rhode Island Coffee Milk. We resolved not to fill up at our first stop. It was just as well, since we soon discovered Graham's Hot Dogs (Est. 1962) and realized that we were in for a couple of classics that were entirely new to us.
Graham’s “Not Just Another Hot Dog Place”
Initially, I thought this photograph didn't work out, but then I realized that the reflected scene shows one of Fall River's characteristic triple-deckers, the structures that housed the families of textile workers during Fall River's manufacturing heyday.
Grill with Beanpot at Graham’s, Fall River, MA
tatterdemalion enjoying a Coney Dog and a Chourico Bean Dog at Graham’s
Chourico Bean Dog at Graham’s
Hot Cheese Sandwich topped with Coney Sauce and Onions
One seldom walks away from a place like Graham’s without regrets. In this case, we were charmed by the chourico bean dog (which to me recalls Cleveland’s Polish Boy in its sweet porkiness) and distracted by the vile-looking but satisfying hot cheese sandwich. The hot cheese (not grilled cheese) piqued our curiosity, and led to lengthy questioning of the very friendly staff. It turns out that the cheddary-tasting cheese is grated, and a “secret ingredient” is added before warming. Tatterdemalion and I speculated that the secret ingredient is some sort of starch to emulsify the cheese, as it did not separate upon melting. We learned that the typical topping for a hot cheese sandwich is Coney sauce and onions. Our musings over hot cheese led us to neglect the Wimpy dog, which consists of onions cooked in hamburger drippings and served over a hot dog, chourico, beans, or a burger. We learned that no one ever orders the beans-only sandwich, but that beans in a bun with Coney Sauce and onions is a popular choice.
Our next stops were Marzilli's Bakery and Marcucci’s Bakery. Their lists of grinders offered a number of good-looking combinations at very reasonable prices. Our "small" grinder from Marzilli's was anything but small, and set us back $3.20. Most interesting, however, were the sides, which included Portuguese kale soup, clam chowder, chourico rolls, “stuffies” (stuffed Quahogs), and custard cups (aka pasteis de nata, a Portuguese pastry pictured here). I liked the chourico pizza at Marcucci's quite a bit. It is sold by the tray.The base was like a focaccia. It was good at room temperature and a bargain at 42 cents.
Chourico with Peppers and Onions Grinder at Marzilli’s
Chourico Pizza at Marcucci’s
The bread was substantial yet soft at Marzilli’s. It offered a firmer base for the meat than the soft bun at Graham’s. As tatterdemalion observed, the optimal sandwich would combine Graham’s chourico with Marzilli’s bread.
We were ready for a break from chourico when we hit Billy’s Café. That was AOK with the nice folks at Billy’s, who were happy to let us enjoy a dish of stewed salt cod and peppers from the take-out “chicken” place across the street while we drank Narragansett on tap. Billy’s has a nice Yankees vs. Red Sox theme going and native son Emeril Lagasse’s autographed picture hangs on their Wall of Fame. An obliging fellow let me take a photo of his chourico and chips.
Billy’s Café, Established 1934 “Best Chourico and Chips in Town.”
Locals belly up to the bar at Billy’s Café
Chourico and Chips, Billy’s Cafe
The Liberal Club is a place that tatterdemalion found out about. Boy, was it hopping on a Saturday night! I assume the patrons were locals, because there seemed to be quite a bit of conversation between tables.
Four chourico options were available on the Liberal Club menu:
1) chourico meat and chips
2) chourico and chips
3) chourico meat and mashed potatoes served with vegetable
4) chourico and mashed potatoes served with vegetable
Since the chips were just average industrial fries, I might try the mashed potato and vegetable with my chourico meat next time.
This close-up gives you an idea of the type of chourico they serve at the Liberal Club. It was not my favorite chourico of the day. In fact, it was soft, and reminded me of fried Spam. I may not be alone in that assessment; it seemed that most everyone at the Liberal Club was eating prime rib.
As the evening was winding down, tatterdemalion and I ended up in a part of town we had missed earlier in the day. Perhaps it was the implicit threat in this establishment that kept us from eating more. A hand-lettered sign in the window warned, “Cream-filled Pies and Pastries!”
Nick’s Original Coney Island Wieners has been in business since 1920 . It claims to be the "oldest continuous Coney Island hotdog outlet in the region." Based on the many autographed pictures on the wall, Nick's appears to be the place that visiting dignitaries hang out when in town. And by dignitaries, I mean dignitaries. Any place that The Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, and Spanky and Our Gang all ate hot dogs is a place that I must eat. That said, Nick’s is not resting on any laurels. They are open until bar-closing time. That would be the perfect time to take them up on their offer: "Buy 5 hotdogs and get 1 free!" And perhaps a melted cheddar sandwich for dessert. . .
Stay tuned for the next installments: Fall River Portuguese, Fall River Chow Mein Sandwich, and New England Clam Shacks.
And be aware that New England’s largest Portuguese festival, the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, takes place New Bedford, MA during the first weekend in August. The website (with menu and pictures) is here:
Al Mac’s Diner
135 President Ave.
Fall River, MA
931 Bedford St
Fall River, MA
1076 Bedford St.
Fall River, MA
20 Star St.
Fall River, MA
Nick’s Coney Island
534 S. Main St.
Fall River, MA