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Summer Means Oysters, Mussels, and White Wine

Sautéed mussels with pomme puree, crispy alliums, and herbs from deadhorse hill on Main Street in Worcester, MA

Even before deadhorse hill opened, I knew about it. MassLive, Mass Foodies, Worcester Magazine, and drink master Sean Woods. I learned that they had considered opening a restaurant in New York, but eventually decided on Worcester. Worcester! To be chosen over New York! And with a frequently changing menu that uses words like gastrique and periugeux, I added deadhorse hill to my summer to-do list. Living a solid 45 minutes from Worcester, I was not sure when I would make it to Main Street but luckily our Worcester Foodies group chose it for our August meeting.

The menu is small, divided into three sections (small, large and centerpieces) which translates to better quality and more complex dishes. Our table of four quickly ruled out centerpieces as we were there to write reviews of multiple meals and not just one, though I can easily imagine myself dumping summer truffle periugeux over either a huge dry-aged prime ribeye or a fried veal chop. Or even eating it with a spoon, though that may be frowned upon. We decided to share half a dozen Duxbury oysters to start, which means we each ate one and then the men chivalrously allowed us ladies to have seconds. No horseradish or cocktail sauce to messily add to our oysters, instead they were each delicately topped with sour cream, onion, and a house made oyster cracker. Of course the oysters were fresh and perfectly chilled, but the toppings added an even crisper, more refreshing element with a bonus crunch. We should have ordered a dozen. For my meal I selected the sautéed mussels with pomme puree, crispy alliums, and herbs. While some diners were presented with a disappointingly small portion of steak, my dish had no fewer than 20 mussels (I was going to count them all but people started to look). The mussels sat over a savory pomme puree with such complex flavors I had difficulty identifying them all. There were sweet flavors, buttery from the puree, small crunchy bites, and an element of citrus that my whole table tried to find the source of. According to the internet, allium is “one of about fifty-seven genera of flowering plants with more than 500 species” (Wikipedia). Therefore, my flavors could have come from garlic, onions, leeks, chives, shallots, or hundreds of other species! This dish was so complex with its’s flavors, with each mussel dipped in the puree tasting a little bit different, that we ended up asking for more bread so I could soak up the rest!

The service was incredible and very friendly. It sounds cliché to describe service as friendly, but with such a gourmet menu I wouldn’t have been surprised by arrogance. I felt welcome the second I walked up to the bar to find one of my table mates drinking beer out of a McDonald’s promotional glass from the 1970s. My go-to summer evening beverage may be a basic Pinot Grigio, but at deadhorse hill the drinks are also carefully selected. I pointed to the 2014 loureiro, and was promptly given a tasting first. Our waitress was very knowledgeable and when we did stump her (where was the red fish caught) she went off to find the answer for us. The wait staff were wearing vintage Worcester tee-shirts which added to the welcoming atmosphere and gave me an opportunity to learn more about Worcester (why is Worcester the Paris of the eighties?).

I was surprisingly happier with my visit to deadhorse hill than I thought I would be. I was excited for the food, yes, but sometimes upscale gourmet restaurants actually feel a bit stuffy lending them to once or twice a year visits. deadhorse hill is not like that. The decor is light, airy, and sophisticated, but the Worcester tee shirts, vintage glassware, and windows open on the street make the space fun and comfortable. The food was fresh and complex, and the enthusiasm for the restaurant could be felt emanating from the staff. I will have to head back to Main Street before the summer ends to share my experience with my husband and friends.