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A new menu at Walden Grille

And a dumpster...where?

With our small town bursting with big happenings this week – we've got the Concord-Carlisle High School senior prom Wednesday night,  the graduation ceremonies running simultaneously Saturday with the Friends of the Concord Free Public Library Book Sale and the Lucky Duck fundraiser at Emerson Playground, one would think we couldn't possibly fit in any more news. But that was before I caught up with three lady friends at the Walden Grille last Thursday.

I speak for many when I say the Walden Grille is as much a Concord icon as the North Bridge, even though it does not have its roots wrapped around the events of the American Revolution. It is located at 24 Walden St., which back in 1903 was the site of the town's first firehouse. That must count for something. The Grille is special because it's one of those few places you can go in town and a) enjoy a pleasant lunch, b) enjoy a pleasant dinner, c) enjoy dinner and a drink at the bar, d) catch up with friends, e) run into someone else you know from town, and … well, the list goes on and on including plenty of free parking.

I stop by every few months to catch up with goings on of friends and munch on Walden Salad, (crisp lettuce, cranberries, walnuts, yum etc.) Thursday night I met with Enid, Lauren and Pat. While we were swapping end-of-school-year stories about our kids, Enid started turning the menu over and over. She couldn't find the Walden Salad. We all looked at our menus, as if they would say anything different and, we too could not find the Walden Salad.

We checked with our waiter. He smiled. No we did not miss it. The Walden Salad was taken off the Grille's new menu, which was debuting that very night. (June 3.) The four of us looked at each other. Who makes these decisions? Why didn't we get a phone call about it or something? The waiter assured us that the new items on the menu were rather delicious, as the staff got to sample each dish. Reluctantly we ventured into the new selections, which we believed was heavy on duck and mango.

Our waiter was correct. Lauren and I each had the duck confit ($12) a fall-off-the bone tender breast of duck perched on a mound of frisse lettuce. A cream sauce of cherry, mango and cilantro was drizzled on the dish. Pat ordered the ribeye steak ($23) and that disappeared with her sincere compliments to the chef, Peter Spear, who we later learned is behind the new menu.

Last month Spear, a Chicago native, left a position as chef at the luxurious Franklin Hotel in Chapel Hill, N.C., to become executive chef at the Grille. "We're trying to go for a change in the food," said Spear, adding part of his mission includes bringing the menu forward to more of a modern local bistro style.

Yes, he admitted, the Walden Salad is gone ("Forever???" I ask. "For a good little bit," he answered.) but he was told the clam chowder had to stay, so he made it his own by deconstructing then reconstructing it. "You'll see it on (the menu) in quotations," Spear said adding the new ingredients include prepared bacon powder, roast-off potatoes, little steam neck clams, sautéed fresh clam meat that's stuffed back into the shell, chowder ice cream and fried onions. "Lots of people are enjoying it," he said.

Spear plans to keep the Grille's new menus smaller and updated regularly. I'll be honest, when I first saw the changes I was a little taken aback and we almost decided to try another restaurant. However, I'm glad we stayed because our meals were beautifully presented, made with fresh ingredients, tasted delicious and were reasonably priced.

However, while we four mourned the loss of the Walden Salad, Enid stepped out of character and started talking trash. Pat, Lauren and I were astounded with what she had to say.

A week earlier Enid, her husband David and their kayak, (either Jo or Meg, I can't remember which) were paddling along the Concord section of the Assabet River eyeing the beauty of the banks and catching a glimpse of a heron or beaver here and there. They got a real change of scenery from beneath the surface. The Karrs came across a dumpster, fortunately with its lid sealed, filled to the brim with bagged trash. The photo, taken by Enid, captures what they saw. She was kind enough to include a photo of what the dumpster would look like on land. She and David contacted the Concord DPW about having it removed. It is guessed that the heavy floods earlier this spring forced the dumpster into the river.

By next issue, I hope to report that the dumpster has been removed. I also plan to try Spear's clam chowder. Anyone want to meet me at the Grille?

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