“What is that beautiful smell?”
I was at Charles Square farmers market in Harvard Square when I overheard a little boy ask his mom that question on one Sunday afternoon. The boy ran around the market, trying to find the sweet, seductive aroma. His nose led him to a stall with a man standing in front of a roasting wok. The little boy asked him what it was and the man, while stirring his wares in the hot pan, answered with a big smile, “Chocolate.” I saw the kid almost jump up and down with excitement. The smell was from chocolate roasted nuts – roasted fresh and sold by Q’s Nuts.
Brian Quinn, whom customers know as Q, is the owner of Q’s Nuts. Every Friday and Sunday from May to November, Q sets up his stall in front of the Charles Hotel for the farmer’s market. Q’s Nuts are offered in original sweet roast and exotic flavors. Some of the most popular flavors include Original Sweet Roasted Pecans, Key Lime Ginger Cashews, Sweet and Sassy Almonds, Yerba Mate Almonds, and Mexican Chocolate Pecans. The nuts are roasted everyday in small batches and packaged immediately, and on most days – when the weather permits – Q brings his roasting wok in the stall and roasts the nuts there, wafting a sweet, mouth-watering aroma in the air.
The Q’s Nuts stall is small but it is busy, and you can often see Q and his 15-year old son Aedan manning their booth. And with his hefty built, Q is hard to miss, in the same way Chef Mario Batali is hard to miss. He looks like him too: same long hair pulled back into a ponytail, same easy smile, same aura that depicts seriousness in his craft. Except Q does not wear bright orange clogs. And he has a goatee. He’s like a motorcycle-loving Mario Batali. A motorcycle-loving, nut-roasting Mario Batali.
Q and Aedan after packing up their stall at the farmers market
Last year, the first time I discovered Q’s stall, I was lured by the smell of roasted nuts too. It is rich and sweet, and envelopes the air with a comforting, caramel-like flavor (from the sweet glazed nuts) or a warm chocolate scent (from the chocolate roasted nuts). I can relate to that excited little boy because I almost jumped up and down myself when I first smelled those nuts, and more so when I first tasted them. My favorite is Mexican Chocolate Pecans. The nuts are not dipped in chocolate; rather the chocolate is roasted into the nuts, giving the cashews a rich chocolate-y taste with crunchy crumbles of burnt sugar and chocolate. They taste amazingly fresh and flavorful.
Q understands that fresh ingredients are key to making good food. His products are made with all natural ingredients, with no preservatives of any kind. His love for cooking extends beyond roasting nuts; during one of my visits, he gamely shared some interesting recipes using crushed nuts for chicken and pork loin. His recipes, like Molto Mario’s, are based on pure, simple ingredients. And his roasted nuts, with their enticing aroma and distinctive tastes, are the ones that draw both children and adults to his stall.
If you want to check out Q’s Nuts, they are available every Friday and Sunday at the Charles Square Farmers Market, every Tuesday at the Harvard University Farmers Market, every Thursday at the Kendall Square Farmers Market, and at some retail locations.