In today’s Conversations with Clayton, I’m talking with my good friend Mike Abelson. He is one of New England’s top sports reporters and broadcasters. He has covered the whole gamut of college and high school sports for more than a decade. Mr. Abelson has been featured on ESPNPlus more often than most 30 for 30 films.
He is the original XFL and NIT superfan. He is one of the top sports broadcasters on Reddit. Check him out today on the call for Oregon-UCLA and Texas A&M-Mississippi State on @RedditCFB.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Mike and I discuss Kevin Youkilis’ influence on New Hampshire fashion, diners in New England, and his disdain for Fenway Park.
Clayton Trutor (CT): Why does everyone in New Hampshire look like Kevin Youkilis?
Mike Abelson (MA): I take great umbrage with this statement as my fiancee is from the Granite State and most certainly does not look like Kevin Youkilis.
I do think the fact that so many places in New Hampshire have the word “notch” in their name does have something to do with it as Youkilis was known to notch big hits when needed. And there is Franconia Notch, which is close to Francona. And the Old Man of the Mountain, also known as the Great Stone Face, was a part of Franconia Notch. The great silent film star, Buster Keaton, was known as the Great Stone Face and I love his movies. So I think my love of silent cinema is why people from New Hampshire look like Kevin Youkilis.
CT: Rank the New England states and include 250 word essays on the best place to eat in each state.
MA: 1— Massachusetts — It’s the beating heart of New England and has been where I’ve resided my whole life, so it gets the number one ranking.
Best restaurant: Balani (Waltham)
This is the type of restaurant that gets an homage in a movie. It’s that good. An Asian-fusion spot on the super busy Moody Street, Balani rules. The menu changes seasonally and when I was there I had a tropical fried chicken dish over rice. It was amazing. And instead of chips or bread as a starter there were these puffed shrimp balls. Crispy, melt-in-your-mouth thin, and absolutely perfect. I sat under a faux cherry blossom tree that really tied the theme of the place together. This place was dining at its absolute finest.
Honorable mention: Redbones (Somerville), Avellino’s (Medford), Lobster Hut (Plymouth)
2— Maine - I absolutely love The Great State of Maine. It has everything. It’s also surprisingly big. Maine is larger than South Carolina and just about the same size as Indiana. Those statements feel wrong but are true. A state full of rustic beauty, idyllic beaches, and some sneaky fun cities. Love The Great State of Maine.
Best Restaurant: Dysarts (Bangor)
This is family-style dining done right. None of that garbage Applebee’s and Friday’s nonsense. This is the place to go for hearty food, good vibes, and a chilled night out. The type of place with a great turkey club and homemade soup and blueberry pie. Love it here.
Honorable Bangor mention goes to Fork and Spoon in downtown. The best chocolate chip cookie in New England I’ve had so far in my life.
3—Rhode Island - I went to URI and grew to love the Ocean State immediately. Small yet complex, Little Rhody will always have my heart.
Best Restaurant: New York System (Providence)
They sell hot wieners here. Not hot dogs. Hot wieners. This place is an absolute dive. Sharing a wall with a local music club, this place is late night heaven. My old is two all the way (that’s meat sauce, mustard, onions, and celery salt) with fries, a burger, and a diet coke. Haven’t been in a few years but damn is that place great.
Honorable mention: Tilly’s (West Kingston)
4 — New Hampshire - The country cousin of New England, New Hampshire is beautiful if not a bit strange. The southern chunk of it is the stretch of Boston suburbs and Manchester is a legitimate 100,000-person city. But the Seacoast rules. The mountains are beautiful. If only there was more than one road that west across the state east/west.
Best Restaurant: Old Ferry Landing (Portsmouth)
You know the idyllic spot where you can sit on the water, bask in the sunset, and eat a fresh lobster roll? This is the spot and I’m hard-pressed to find one that does it better. Portsmouth is an absolutely perfect town for a night out and OFL on a summer’s night is perfection.
Honorable mention: Maddie’s (Salem), Molly’s (Hanover)
5 — Vermont - The natural beauty here is matched by how white-knuckled it can get when driving off the highway in winter. There are no billboards along the highways so you enjoy the lush colors on your ride up 89 or 91. Burlington is a great town to spend the weekend for any reason. I’d recommend it to anyone.
Best Restaurant: Fire and Ice (Middlebury)
Family-run for decades, Fire and Ice is New England townie elegance at its peak form. An all-you-can-eat salad bar comes with every meal and it may be better than the meal itself. And when I was last there I had the best steak and cheese I’d ever had. Warm and welcoming, I love Fire and Ice. If only Middlebury was in any way easily accessible, I’d go up more just for a meal.
Honorable Mention: The Malt Shop (Stowe)
6 — Connecticut. In these rankings 2-5 are pretty interchangeable and do change based on how I’m feeling. Connecticut is permanently sixth. Connecticut is just the traffic jam that connects Boston and New York.
Best Restaurant: Vernon Diner (Vernon)
This is my favorite restaurant in America and emblematic of the Nutmeg State’s one true redeeming quality: food. Connecticut’s food history is everything New Jersey brags about without the bragging.
Vernon is a 24-hour diner that serves anything and serves it better than any other palce you’ve had it. Matzo ball soup, pancakes, club sandwiches, pasta salad, broiled tilapia, anything and everything this place somehow manages to do perfectly each and every time. It’s right off 84 so getting there is easy. Just go.
Honorable Mention: Capitol Lunch (New Britain), Louis Lunch, home of America’s first hamburger, (New Haven)
CT: What’s the whole North Shore/South Shore thing about?
MA: I think every state deserves some type of directional something. Massachusetts has the shores. The North Shore is fully of townie towns, nice beaches, and the wonderful historic Salem. The South Shore has a bunch of boring old money, mediocre beaches, and little to do outside of shop or go to Plymouth. I do love Plymouth though although Plymouth Rock sucks. It is the rock of questionable integrity with zero curb appeal. The Pilgrim Hill Museum though is legit and I highly recommend everyone get there.
CT: What job are you least qualified for?
MA: I am least qualified to work in the service industry. I’m a firm believer that the customer isn’t always right. It wouldn’t end well for me in that line of work. I would also be a bad lion tamer because the lion would eat me. Don’t do jobs where you might get eaten.
CT: Can you swim? If so, tell me about your most terrifying experience in a backyard pool and at the beach?
MA: I can swim. I love to swim. I’d love to have a lap pool someday. I have no terrifying stories from the water but I do have one dumb one. When I was 14 I was at summer basketball camp at Salem State. At the end of the day we could use the university pool. So I was about to jump off the springboard when a friend called me from the pool deck. I turned around, said whatever, and when I spun back to start my jump my foot missed the board and I slipped through the opening between the board and the support railing. Gashed the top of my foot and the inside of my leg. So there I was, oozing blood, trying to bandage up as all the girls from the field hockey camp came in to use the pool too. They had to walk right past my bloodiness to go swim. Great times. Just the best.
CT: Why do some Dads wear short pants all year and others only wear Lee jeans and have never worn a t shirt?
MA: I’ll answer that question with a question: Why is there a plurality of high school football coaches that insist on wearing a hoodie and shorts despite the weather? I don’t understand the fashion choices of our current generation of older men.
CT: Describe the worst seats you’ve ever had at a sports event.
MA: It’s all Fenway Park related. That place is a nightmare to sit in for anything. I took a tour and was in the last row of seats atop the green monster. I had about 70 percent of the field obstructed. I once had nice grandstand seats many years ago but the pole in front of me fully obscured home plate. I covered the Dartmouth-Brown football game a few years ago. Sitting in the baseball press box watching football go 100 yards in the other direction was the worst. Also having no announcements piped into the box or have the heat turned on on a 20-degree November night sucked too. If I never went back to Fenway it would be a day too soon.
CT: Describe your greatest sports video game victory.
MA: I never played many sports video games. I have always preferred platformers.
CT: When you think of Cincinnati, you think of _______.
MA: When I think of Cincinnati I think of the city’s eternal mayor: Marvin Lewis.
CT: What is the worst name for a pet you’ve ever heard called out in a public place?
MA: I haven’t heard too many bad pet names in my day. I’ve heard a lot of strange names for people, but not pets.
CT: What’s the best nickname for Robert and why is it Bobert?
MA: My dad is a Robert and I do call him The Bobert with regularity. It is a lovely nickname. Nicknames need to be pleasantly, harmlessly ridiculous to stick, in my opinion.
Follow Mike Abelson on Twitter and patronize all his goods: @ABELS0N