by Nancy Kalajian, photos by Kayte Deioma
Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a beehive of all that is old and new in Boston. With over 15 million tourists and local visitors each year, the Marketplace, which includes Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market and South Market, is Boston’s buzziest attraction.
While Faneuil Hall retains its historic meeting hall facility above various shopping venues, Quincy, North and South Markets are full of dining and entertainment options and over 80 retail shops. The four historic brick structures are grouped around a cobblestone promenade where good weather finds jugglers, human statues, musicians and magicians offering continuous free entertainment and vying for the attention of walkers, diners and shoppers.
Quincy Market, named for Mayor Josiah Quincy, was built in 1825-1826. It was designed by Alexander Parris in Greek Revival style with twin column-heavy arcades meeting in a central rotunda, somewhat reminiscent of marketplaces in old London. For many decades, Quincy Market served as the main distribution center for Boston’s food industry, but it needed a facelift. It was refurbished and re-opened to the public in 1976 with a food court and a bevy of retail shops.
The Quincy Market Food Colonnade features over 30 eateries, a fun place for a meal, a quick bite “to go” or to snack your way through a wet afternoon. I’ve done all three.
Vendors display menu items behind glass counters. Some even offer samples. Many of the kitchens are in full view so you can easily take a peek to see what’s going on. Check out already prepared foods simmering in steam trays or burgers being freshly fired on a grill. From a slice of cheese pizza at Pizzeria Regina or a Boston Barker, an all-meat hot dog at The Dog House, to fresh oysters at the busy Walrus and the Carpenter Raw Bar, there’s certainly something for every budget, taste and diet.
On a recent visit, the huge order of fried clams at the Fisherman’s Net made my dining companion pretty content. West End Stroller provided more healthy options, including a lightly dressed seafood salad wrap; seasoned fries accompanied the order providing a tasty starch that I craved that afternoon.
We spotted at least five eateries featuring fish and/or calm chowder, and had sample tastes from each. Boston Chowda was the winner in my book; it’s even been a two-time winner of the annual Boston Harborfest Chowderfest. The Chowda’s creamy consistency, generous clams and potato chunks, served in a hearty bread bowl ($5.95) was satisfying and filling. According to the manager, they buy their bread bowls in the North End (Italian section of town) and often sell hundreds of orders in one day.
I continued down the hall quickly to burn off some of that chowder! I ended up at Kilvert & Forbes, one of the oldest bakeries in the Colonnade. Since my first taste of their huge, flavorful macaroons at their grand opening during the Bicentennial in 1976, they always draw me back. I am happy to report that their macaroons are still outstanding, if a little pricey at $2.25 (plain) and $2.95 (partially chocolate-covered).
The Carol Ann Bakery also showcases a visually appealing assortment of delicacies. I was tempted by the horseshoe-shaped almond-flavored pastry, covered with sliced almonds, which proved addictive.
The rotisserie chicken at A La Carte is always tender and freshly cooked, even just before closing time. Served in a seeded roll, the chicken breast is sliced, covered with your choice of BBQ or mayonnaise sauce, slices of tomato and lettuce. Platters offer a choice of vegetables and starches.
The Prime Shop specializes in roast beef and turkey. The turkey platter comes with two sides, including a choice of stuffing. I like the potatoes, whipped with butter, and the large roasted chunks of potatoes. The huge bird on display behind the glass counter is thinly carved and weighed in front of your eyes, until the scale rests at four ounces. I kind of like this approach since I receive the same turkey portion as the previous customer. No questions asked. The turkey tastes very natural, not very salty and reminds me of Thanksgiving holidays (except, my family carves thicker pieces) without the stuffing (my choice!).
On several visits to Quincy Market, I noticed that lines for The Philadelphia Steak & Hoagie were pretty long. I could see why after ordering their basic Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich. For $4.72, the sandwich is made to order with a roll that reminds me of France’s best. When the sandwich was handed to me, I didn’t see any cheese so I inquired about its whereabouts. The slice of American is placed inside the roll and then covered with a generous portion of just-grilled shaved steak; the results are pleasing.
For those diners who prefer international fare, options include Mexican, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese. You’ll even notice that some eateries reflect a United Nations of sorts, with someone from Algeria working at a dessert shop or someone Chinese slicing a pizza.
Once you have the goods, where do you sit for comfortable nibbling? In the central atrium, there are numerous square stools and tables, as well as standing room counters. It’s a great place to meet fellow travelers since the seating arrangements are in pretty close quarters. It gets quite crowded during the busy lunch and dinner hours. Numerous ceiling fans provide some relief even on hot, humid, rainy days. Sitting upstairs can serve as a quiet respite from the hustling and bustling crowds on the first floor; and can offer more privacy. There are staircases leading up either side of the rotunda. Large photo reproductions illustrate life around Quincy Market in years past. An assortment of huge signs, representing former establishments, decorate the rotunda. You can peer down into the first floor rotunda and wonder where everyone is coming from, where they are going, how their food tastes or what you might eat next if you are still hungry that is.
The message written in gold around the base of the central rotunda reads, “This building has served the people of Boston as the central market of the city since its dedication in August 1826,” Though its scope has become even larger, with people form all over the world enjoying the market place, whether as a visitor or employee, it’s still meeting its mission to serve the people.
If you are in Quincy Market in the evening, listen for Owen Plant, a local musician who plays guitar and sings folk songs with a light Jamaican twist. The acoustics are surprisingly good, highlighting the strengths of this talented musician who has four CD’s under his belt. Owen plays at Quincy Market’s central atrium a few evenings each week.
Glass canopies, connecting to the outside of the buildings’ arcades, provide a safe enclosure for retail shopkeepers to sell their wares, even in a downpour. The Bull Market, a cavalcade of wooden pushcarts, line the periphery of Quincy Market. Craftspeople and artisans rent the carts by the week to showcase and sell their unique wares.
Numerous reputable, sit-down restaurants can also be found at Quincy Market, as well as North and South Markets. In Quincy Market, Chef Bill Bradleys’ Rustic Kitchen features creative Italian cuisine and Cheers Café replicates the popular TV bar.
In the North Market, Durgin-Park, one of Boston’s oldest restaurants is known for its somewhat brazen wait staff and serving huge portions. Occupying the Faneuil Hall end of North Market, McCormick and Schmick, takes such pride in the freshness of their seafood that they don’t have a freezer for anything except ice and ice cream. Their menu changes twice daily based on what fish they can get fresh in their twice-daily shipments.
Another popular, but pricey favorite is Chef Todd English’s Kingfish Hall in the South Market; try the “Dancing Fish” or the daily seafood specials.
Quincy Market hours vary but are usually open early in the day to late in the evening. The latest recorded message states Quincy Market’s hours to be Monday through Saturday 10AM to 10 PM. Please call to confirm hours. Visit www.faneuilhallmarketplace.com, Tel: 617- 523-1300. Fax: 617-523 1779.
The closest “T” stations are at Government Center, (green and blue lines), Haymarket (orange line), State Street (blue line) and Aquarium (blue line). Paid Parking is also available at 75 State Street at night and weekends with validation.