Except for the rock tunes that blare from the speakers, this little shop of horrors seems right out of a WGBH Mystery! episode, with its Victorian architecture and hundreds of ceramic black cats peering down from the bookcases. A vast library of thrillers, horror stories, and other books lines the shelves. Kate herself tallies the tabs and helps customers navigate her stock, which runs from the common (Stephen King) to the obscure (the "strong women" category). Acknowledged as the regional hub of the craft, Kate's hosts monthly meetings of the Mystery Writers of America, and nationally known authors hold book-signings here. 2211 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA katesmysterybooks.com/.
Just off the road that Norman Rockwell called home, year-old Seven presents itself as an unassuming yellow house that turns out to be far from ordinary inside. On the ground level, where wood floors glow under recessed lighting, the stylists buzz around hair and manicure stations stocked with Pangea Organics and other all-natural products; pedicures take place on suede benches raised above deep tiled tubs. Upstairs, among a handful of spacious treatment rooms, Alex Vinogradov—a former go-to masseur for Kirov ballerinas—works knotted muscles back into shape. 7 South St., Stockbridge, MA 1262, .
Need someone to look after your critters? While you're away, DoggieDay will walk Spot four times a day, clean Fifi's litter box, grab your mail, water your plants, inject your diabetic gerbil with insulin, and taxi Dirk the boa constrictor to the vet—all for a competitive fee. Unlike most services, DoggieDay covers almost all of Greater Boston, and is registered with Pet Sitters International. Future services in the works include dog training at home while you're at work and massage therapy (for your pets, not you). 295 Devonshire St., Boston, MA .
The French are hardly known for their brunches, but don't tell that to the staff of the South End's flagship contemporary Parisian bistro. Besides, after devouring a pressed duck, Gruyère, and tarragon mustard sandwich, you really won't care. Nor will anyone you're brunching with—they'll be too distracted by their own exemplary omelets (the melted leek, cremini mushroom, and goat cheese rendition with caramelized onion home fries is out-and-out terrific), the energy that flows through the room's mahogany and taupe interior, and the view of Tremont Street through the broad front windows. 569 Tremont St., Boston, MA aquitaineboston.com/.
The Coolidge, with its impressive lineup of indie features, gives film bluffs a place to call home. Adding to the charm: a new art-deco inspired marquee, a throwback to the picture houses of old. With a stellar schedule of surprise hits (Monsoon Wedding) and midnight movie series ("80s Midnite Movie Explosion," "We Love John Cusack!"), the nonprofit theater gets extra kudos for supporting local filmmakers and creative programming. This year's special guest appearances have been attention-getting, too: The Indepenent's Janeane Garofalo and Jerry Stiller, director John Sayles, and the controversial Tammy Faye Bakker Mesner. Now, that's what we call entertainment. 290 Harvard St., Brookline, MA coolidge.org/.
It may not be the 1890s anymore, but Crescent Ridge Dairy still delivers glass jars of milk—really good milk—to doorsteps across the western (and many southern) suburbs. Smooth and clean-tasting whole, chocolate, 2 percent, and skim are dropped off in retro metal containers at customers' requests, then replaced each week. The company also carries more than 100 products, from hamburger buns and chowder to margarine and laundry detergent. But really, it's the dairy that counts; the 2 percent milk couldn't taste more wholesome, and the chocolate sports the richness of a melted candy bar. 355 Bay Rd., Sharon, MA crescentridge.com/.
The white sand goes on forever—or at least for four-and-a-half miles. This North Shore strip has the dunes, the best-blended concession stands, the most peaceful ambience—all in a preserved marshland setting that makes the parking fee ($9 to $15—half price after 3 p.m. every day) worth it. Besides, proceeds go to the Trustees of Reservations to protect historic homes in the area. If the greenheads are getting nippy, as they can in August, head uphill and tour the grounds of the historic Crane estate, and make a pit stop for fried clams at Woodman's around the corner. Argilla Rd., Ipswich, MA .
Turning out memorable meals in private homes—which often means tight quarters and picky palates—is a task that could sap any chef's muse. No surprise the catering arm of the vaunted L'Espalier/Sel de la Terre group is more than up to the challenge. Planning a small fete, we laid out the hurdles: seafood allergies, vegan diets, decorating don'ts. Au Soleil fired back with scads of ideas, including using petits fours as favors and dressing the table with bouquets of our favorite blooms. From intimate dinners to 600-person galas, this event-maker handles every gathering with aplomb. 148 Hampden St., Boston, MA 2119, ausoleilcatering.com/.
Anatomy of a Winner: Whether you're shopping for an elegant dinner party or a simple weeknight meal, you're sure to find a bevy of options at this Somerville meat specialist. That's because the butchers here break down whole animals to create a variety of tasty cuts. Here's how they carved up a Berkshire/Yorkshire hybrid pig. 1. Pig head, for an adventurous crowd. 2. Boneless pork loin, which is perfect for roasts. 3. House-ground sweet Italian sausage. 4. Garlic-and-thyme sausage farce, for making stuffing. 5. Pig skin, for frying into cracklings. 6. Rolled porchetta, filled with garlic and herbs. 201A Highland Ave., Somerville, MA mfdulock.com.
After a few years of flirtation with more-is-more sashimi decadence, we've come back around to sushi that's simple, delicate, and pure. No gold-flaked lacquer, please. And hold the foie gras sauce, while you're at it. We prefer to actually taste how fresh the fish is. This is Oishii's enduring formula: seafood, allowed to shine beneath only the most carefully chosen sauces. But that doesn't mean the presentations aren't artful: Crowned with just a garnish here or a flower there, each piece gleams like a jewel, a tribute to minimalism. 612 Hammond St., Boston, MA 2118, oishiiboston.com.
Talk about knowing your audience. With its giant bucket of crayons on the hostess stand and army of highchairs standing at the ready, this seafood favorite not only welcomes tots with open arms—there's even a balloon sculptor and free sundaes on Sunday evenings—but it also serves the grownups in tow some very respectable chow (think ceviche and wood-grilled lobster). The latter accommodation, in fact, nudged the Summer Shack ahead of perennial pick Full Moon, which, while wonderful for its party vibe and fully stocked play area, keeps the food on the so-simple-you-could've-made-it-at-home side. 149 Alewife Brook Pkwy., Cambridge, MA 2140, summershackrestaurant.com.
The award-winning fare at Martha Stone's home-cooking-meets-haute-cuisine establishment is deliciously all over the map: a strawberry soup made from fruit grown in Middleborough, a salad sprinkled with Westport cheese, homemade bread punched up with garlic from Carver. A 15-year food-business vet, Stone calls on deep ties to local farms in her quest for fresh, organic ingredients, and even attends farmers' market meetings to keep up with what's available. She leaves no stone unturned, and we return the favor by leaving no plate unpolished. 517 Old Sandwich Rd., Plymouth, MA 2360, .
Food lovers are advised to use the buddy system at Evenfall: You'll definitely need someone to shore up your self-control in the face of chef Scott Pelletier's seductive creations, which include pan-seared duck breast with lemon pappardelle, fava beans, and wild mushrooms, and orange-infused pound cake with mint macerated strawberries and strawberry sorbet. Besides, you'll want someone to ooh and aah along with you over the artistic presentation of your meal—and possibly drive you home after that last irresistible cocktail from Evenfall's master mixologists. 8 Knipe Road, Haverhill, MA 1835, evenfallrestaurant.com.
The turquoise-and-orange Caribbean fantasyland that is the East Coast Grill plays home to an eclectic, winning formula of Nuevo Latino, barbecue, and fresh seafood dishes. Chef Chris Schlesinger has scoured the globe, not to mention the local environs, for the best purveyors of crustaceans and fish: Check out the blackboard of daily seafood specials to see what we mean. You'll find all manner of oysters, clams, mussels, and shrimp in addition to fish filets, including the point of origin of each. Favorites: barbecued oysters, house-smoked salmon, pepper-crusted tuna. 1271 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA eastcoastgrill.net.
This has become a crowded category, thanks to a rack of new barbecue joints around town and in the suburbs. But we're going back to basics. Redbones, the funky, down-home joint in Davis Square, is the granddaddy of Boston barbecue, thanks to its efficient waitstaff, not to mention the biggest helpings of chicken, ribs, pork, and fish you've ever seen. Fortifying side dishes include succotash, hushpuppies, collard greens, corn fritters, and our favorite: Redbones' signature black beans and dirty rice. The homey bar has 24 great beers on tap. 55 Chester Street, Somerville, MA redbones.com.