Cal Mare Springfield, MA

A City Should Be Measured By Its Brunch And…

From a food perspective, a city’s worth should be measured by its brunch. For years we’ve overlooked Springfield but with Chefs Michael Mina and Adam Sobel introducing Cal Mare’s brunch menu this past January, they have made a destination out of an option.

Mass Foodies focuses a lot of its content in the Heart of the Commonwealth—arguably focusing on Worcester and its neighboring towns. A lot of this is natural, if not involuntary, after Worcester seems to have to defend itself from the “big city in the east.” Regardless, Worcester is reaping the benefits from immense investments in the city and to say that we need Boston’s once vibrant culinary scene would be hyperbole. However, having played defense for so many years, we sometimes forget not to turn into the bully we’re trying to overcome. This became most apparent after a recent visit to the “Wild West.” Sorry, Springfield, we pulled a Boston.

Let’s dive in. First, Springfield’s major presence is MGM casino. Anyone having ever attended a casino knows that, outside of Las Vegas, the casino’s business is getting customers onto the gaming floor by any means possible; food and entertainment is usually secondary. MGM Springfield, from the get-go, has focused on becoming a community within the city. By embracing the historic architecture, partnering with existing organizations, and upgrading city infrastructure, it put its money where its mouth is. This is apparent with the food options within the casino, all having street access to allow non-gamblers to quickly pop-in for lunch, dinner, or… brunch.

Cal Mare is not a new concept. Tried and true, Cal Mare Springfield is a sister restaurant to California’s original name sake and offers the same focused menu…. coastal Italian. It’s easy for any diner, casual or professional, to rag on Italian—it’s the only food category that a simple dish like lasagna, can be made countless ways without straying from its generally accepted definition.

Yellowfin tuna Tartare from Cal Mare Springfield, MA.To experience the range of flavors, brunch at Cal Mare should be shared with friends. One might easily consume just a starter and main dish to be full, but with such an extensive menu there are options that shouldn’t be overlooked. To start, our party of four began with the sweet Atlantic Oysters, half-shelled with limoncello mignonette and a Calabrian cocktail sauce; Yellowfin tuna Tartare which had a beautiful spice from the Tonnato sauce and pickled hot pepper which balanced with the savory of capers; the Little Gem Greens, which were simply mind blowing that such small, delicate portions could pack such flavor—the truffle vinaigrette played beautifully with the familiar flavor and texture of onion dip and parmesan; and ended with the Roman Sweet Buns which was a meal unto itself, a modern take to the sweet bun that, again, combines a complex level of flavors and textures as the whipped Mascarpone balanced the Nutella, highlighted through a salted caramel. To cleanse the palates from the wide range of starters, the house granola and yogurt was a beautiful way to subdue everything with a calming, smooth, orange blossom honey. While not everyone can get behind “family style,” starting brunch with a spread like this is a sure way to experience Chef Mina and Sobel’s culinary depth.

Italian Cheeseburger—a great brunch option from Cal Mare Springfield, MA.As for the main courses, there were two that really stood out from the rest. Although a brick pressed chicken is something found on many menus, its usage of chickpea and Pancetta offered a round experience that, when topped with fried sage, brought out flavors that you might not always expect from a dish of this nature. The second main course that is of note is the Italian Cheeseburger. The safest, American-looking meal on the menu, it is most likely the most approachable regarding preconceived notions of what to expect. While its plating was insignificant (burger, bun, fries, ketchup), the burger itself was not. With giardiniera replacing an American relish, and a spicy aioli made from combining garlic, olive oil, Calabrian Chili, and emulsified with egg replacing an American condiment; combined with a striking provolone, replacing an American cheese (you get the picture). The Italian Cheeseburger pushed the envelope when it comes to taking something “safe and standard” and elevating it to something that you’d be hard pressed to finish despite being full from the starters. Add sides of crispy smashed potatoes and bacon to ensure your taste buds go into overdrive.

Springfield has a reputation. Reputations are very hard to overcome. When you have corporations as large as MGM investing so much into such a small footprint, it should be noticed. While naysayers will never stop trolling the numbers, it’s vital to understand that what the city of Springfield has done with MGM goes beyond opening a casino—it’s created a community. And, like anything Italian, community revolves around food. With Cal Mare’s brunch, Springfield is serious. Sorry we treated you the same way Boston treats Worcester.

Cedar Street Grill in Sturbridge, MA

Worcester Foodies Visit Cedar Street Grille in Sturbridge

Recently, Mass Foodies’ Worcester Foodies ventured to Sturbridge to visit the Cedar Street Grille on Stephanie’s recommendation. And if you haven’t been there yet, you need to make the trip.

As many of our readers know, Sturbridge is well worth the short drive if you are looking for restaurants to indulge in some outstanding food! From world-class BBQ at BT’s Smokehouse, classic Italian at Rovezzi’s, award-winning sushi at Baba Sushi and lots of eclectic options in-between, Sturbridge offers up a variety of menus to satisfy any craving.

Cedar Street Grille’s atmosphere is casual and comfortable, with warm décor and calming colors that fit perfectly. The layout offers multiple small dining areas as well as a front bar area perfect for enjoying drinks and sharing food. Evan thought “The interior was quaint and perfect for a romantic evening out”.

The Menu and More

The restaurant’s menu offers a few appetizers, a mix of small plates and a list of larger entrees giving you plenty of options depending on how you want to dine.

Stephanie thought “The restaurants’ tapas menu made it easy for sharing and allowed us to try a variety of different things, which was really great”.

Burger Sliders at Cedar Street Grille

The small plates at Cedar Street Grille encourage sharing around the table with options such as Lamb Meatballs, Duck Confit, Burger Sliders, Garlic Shrimp and lots more. The large plates include Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Hanger Steak and Pan Roasted Salmon to name a few.

Starting off with Drinks and Appetizers

Once we all arrived at Cedar Street Grille were seated immediately in a room off the main dining area to accommodate our large group. A seasonal drink menu was presented which included some interesting options, one of which was a Pear Martini that Scott felt was “quite good” and Aaron added his Espresso Martini was “very well done”. Looking down the table I saw a traditional Old Fashioned, some craft beer options and plenty of glasses of wine being enjoyed along with lots of apps and small plates.

Salmon Steak at Cedar Street Grille

The Deep Fried Goat Cheese and Mac & Cheese seemed to be popular small plate choices. Evan commented, “the fried goat cheese had a crispy exterior and a creamy, rich interior that was a textural delight”. He also thought the Buffalo Mac & Cheese was “one of the best I have ever had, bar none. The small cast iron pan kept the dish warm and pasta was covered in velvety cheese sauce”. According to Katie, the Flash Fried Brussel Sprouts with roasted garlic and lemon aioli were “amazing.”

On to the Main Courses

For her meal, Julie indulged in the Swordfish Steak which she thought was “fantastic”. She added, “the fish was tender and flavorful, and the restaurant provided portions that were big enough for two people”.

Robyn and Dana shared the Beef Sliders and thought they were “cooked perfectly”. In addition, Robyn had a Caesar Salad and thought “the dressing was one of the best she has ever had and she would go back for the salad alone…it was that good”.

The Fried Chicken with Red Bliss Mashed and Spinach Rockefeller

Aaron and Jamie seemed to enjoy the Cedar Street Grille. The Fried Chicken with Red Bliss Mashed and Spinach Rockefeller looked to be an incredible portion and as Aaron told us, was “the best we ever had”.

Our end of the table shared the Pan Seared Scallops and we were more than impressed. The three large scallops were delightfully light and the warm Parsnip Puree and Maple, Raisin and Almond Agrodolce added a sweet and sour flavor that paired perfectly.

We also shared a Harvest Salad that was a perfect starter. Full of Roasted Butternut Squash, Toasted Almonds, Robinson’s Farm cheese, Dried Cranberry and topped with a Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette the salad was an early Winter delight!

Harvest Salad with Butternut Squash, Toasted Almonds, Robinson’s Farm Cheese

For my meal, I opted for the Grilled Pork Tenderloin. The pork had a honey Dijon marinate that added some sweetness. Finished with Brussel Sprouts, Bacon and a Port Wine Demi, this meal seemed to be a signature of Cedar Street Grille. I would definitely return for this!

Outstanding Service

Given our large party and the fact most of our meals were shared small plates, the food arrived in a timely manner. Our servers were always close by to help with drinks, water and to clear empty dishes. Clearly, this was not the first time the restaurant had encountered a group of our size.

Overall our experience at Cedar Street Grille was excellent with many commenting it stood out as one of the best meals they had in 2018. Many folks added they would be making the trip to return soon!

Cedar Street Grille is at 12 Cedar Street in Sturbridge, MA and is part of the Table 3 Restaurant Group which also operates The Duck, Avellino and The Barn at Wight Farm.

Civic Kitchen & Drink Says “Thank You” with Open…

On April 2, 2017 Civic Kitchen & Drink is hosting their first ever FARMER’S EXPO to showcase and thank the farmers, brewers, bakers and friends who helped them during their first year and who have become part of the extended family at Civic Kitchen & Drink. The public is welcome to come meet the actual farmers, brewers and bakers whose product is behind every plate and glass at Civic!   At this event you will meet representatives from Lettuce Be Local, Julio’s Liquors, Harvey’s Farm, Pecorino’s, Nourse Farm, Lilac Hedge Farm, Wormtown Brewery, Cold Harbor Brewery, Nashoba Winery and more!

The event is a great way to check out Civic Kitchen & Drink – it runs from 3:00-7:00pm and is free and open to the public!

Country Fried Steak at Oak Barrel Tavern

Country Fried Steak at Oak Barrel Tavern

A little blurb on the atmosphere and ambiance. As I’m told, this used to be the old “Tweed’s” restaurant and has now changed hands and is under new ownership. I had never been to Tweed’s before, so I have no prior experience as to the its previous atmosphere, but I’m told this is much better and nicer. Oak Barrel Tavern has seen a great renovation and apparently it’s too the liking of many people I was with this night. For me it clearly looked renovated and was clean and well lit with “open” lighting. We were sent to the back room and had our own area for our group. That was nice. It fit our group of 12 people and had room for many more. If you were having a small event, it would be a nice room to have it in.

I ordered the Country Fried Steak. I was thinking, “You don’t see that often on a menu.” Naturally, I had to try it. I’ve had many country fried steaks in my life as I spent a good part of my life growing up in the south. I’ve had some amazing home made country fried steaks and also many great ones from restaurants down south. That being said, I’m a bit spoiled and I’m very aware of this, which means when my country friend steak arrived, I was disappointed. Very small, overcooked and a bit burned on the breading. The breading itself was pretty much nonexistent. I was looking forward to a wonderfully cooked light but fluffy breading, but alas It wasn’t there. It was served with either mashed potatos or crinkle cut fries. I should have had the mashed potoatos. The fries looked like they were poured out of a bag of frozen fries from Orida. It also came with green beans on the side. Those were my favorite part of the meal. My overall feeling of Oak Barrel Tavern’s food is that it is your basic “Pub” food that can be found pretty much anywhere. If that’s your thing, then I think you’ll love it. I admit I’m pretty spoiled and was hoping for something special, but it’s not a place a “Foodie” would go to have a great meal.

Our server was very attentive and helpful. Service is very important to me and I have to say it was very good and friendly.

Overall, I don’t think I would go back to this place for food. It was a nice atmosphere and the staff was pleasant. If you just wanted to hang out with friends and have a drink and have some pub food, I’m sure this would be a fine place to do that. If you are a foodie and are looking for something wonderful, it’s definitely not your place.

The Left Coast Burger at Oak Barrel Tavern on Grove Street in Worcester, MA

Vino and The Left Coast Burger at Oak Barrel…

Oak Barrel Tavern, located at 229 Grove Street, is a contemporary style tavern with a menu full of comfort foods and an extensive drink list. I live in on the east side of Worcester which is filled with restaurants so naturally being the lazy person I am, I never venture out to this part of town, but I’m glad I did.

I started at the bar and ordered the chalk board special, the OBT mule. I love a good Moscow mule, especially one with a twist. This one had Absolut Oak vodka with fresh lime juice and ginger beer ($10). The oak added a smoky flavor which I really enjoyed. Once the rest of the group arrived we were seated in the back room and quickly began our night.

Our table started with some “tavern treats”, huge Bavarian soft pretzels accompanied by beer cheese and spicy mustard, as well as the RI style calamari that were served with huge fried jalapeños. After my moscow mule I continued on with a glass (or 3, oops) of Sauvignon Blanc; served in huge branded OBT wine glasses. I was torn between a salad or burger for dinner but ended up going with the burger and I kind of regret it.

The idea of it sounded great; a burger topped with avocado, fried jalapeños, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado/poblano aioli served with your choice of a side for under $12. I asked for it medium/medium-rare because I like them juicy but it came out very rare. I did enjoy the edges of this burger but when I got to the middle it was too pink for me. I wouldn’t tell someone not to order it or not give it another try, but I’d just make sure to ask for it cooked medium-well to be safe.

Although the burger took a turn for the worse, the service was wonderful. Our server Matt was engaging and seemed to be on top of things. Our drinks, apps and entrees came out in record time although the restaurant seemed pretty full for a Tuesday. I also noticed they host Trivia every Tuesday which would be another good reason for me to come back again.

Overall, I did enjoy Oak Barrel Tavern and do plan on coming again for appetizers and drinks at the bar. I’m dying to try the OBT Buffalo Chicken Dip and Randys Clam Chowder. I’d definitely recommend this spot for an after-work spot with co workers or a casual, cozy date night.

Country Fried Steak at the Oak Barrel Tavern on Grove Street in Worcester, MA

Country Fried Steak at the Oak Barrel Tavern

As I walked in the door I was stunned to see the detail and effort that was given to renovate the space that had formerly hosted Tweed’s for many years; the bar area and restaurant had a nice look and feel to them. We stopped in at the bar for a quick drink and were greeted by friendly bartenders and a decent beer and drink selection.

Oak Barrel Tavern offers a fairly traditional Pub/Tavern menu with classics like meatloaf, fish and chips, mac and cheese. After reviewing the menu I decided to go with what was described as an OBT signature item – The Country Fried Steak. The Country Fried Steak was served with mashed potato’s and green beans. The green beans were lightly grilled and had a nice taste to them and the mashed potatoes were also pretty good. The Country Fried Steak was rather small and non descript. While it is described as OBT classic I have the sneaking suspicion that it may have been a pre-portioned food service item. It was served with a brown gravy and was ok, but not something that I would have called a classic item on my menu.

Service at the OBT was good. Our server Matt was helpful and came around and checked on us and grabbed drinks whenever we needed. The atmosphere was nice and it had a comfortable pub feel and was nicely renovated with good attention to detail. OBT would be a great place to go out with friends or coworkers after work to hang out and grab a few drinks.

The Meatloaf from The Oak Barrel Tavern on Grove Street in Worcester, MA

The Oak Barrel Tavern Meatloaf Provides A Refreshing Riff…

If you can remember what the interior of Tweed’s used to looks like you will remember a lot of wood, old décor, dark greens and carpets…pretty much a recipe for failure or something you might expect to see on the latest episode of Restaurant: Impossible. However, the end result is the Oak Barrel Tavern, which is an establishment that even Robert Irvine would be proud of. The atmosphere was bright and inviting, with a plethora of woods, stones and textures that make the space really pop. A combination of modern lodge and classic pub tavern is the best way to describe it, with all the modern amenities you have come to expect from new restaurants. You will hardly remember what the old interior looked like with such a drastic re-do.

There were a wide array of choices on the menu that it took some studying to narrow down what I was going to order. The recent trend that we are seeing are restaurants offering smaller plates to share (think tapas) at a more reasonable price. OBT is no different. After picking out the Bavarian Soft Pretzels ($7.99) as a starter, which were salty and chewy by the way, I decided on the OBT meatloaf ($15.99). Now before you ask why, I have to admit that meatloaf was a standby in my household growing up, so it’s one of those dishes that I associate with as comforting. It’s not something I have often now as an adult and I order it even less seldom than I make it, but I still wanted to give it a try and throw it back to my childhood. It was advertised as being grilled and basted in Sriracha Bourbon sauce, while being served with mashed potatoes and green beans. I opted to substitute the mashed potatoes with tater tots, hoping that the tots were going to be homemade. Unfortunately, I was disappointed as they were of the generic variety. While deliciously brown and crispy, I am still searching for a place to make their own tots. The meatloaf seemed slightly underwhelming as well. It was a little dry, and had it not been for the Sriracha bourbon sauce to give it a tangy, spiciness, it would have completely fallen flat. The green beans however were cooked perfectly al dente and seasoned beautifully. It’s not often that I get to say that the vegetable was the highlight of the meal. The meatloaf was topped with onion rings, and while they were delicious, they seemed out of place in the presentation of the meal. The portion size was great though, as it definitely filled me up and left me no room for dessert.

Being such a large group, I was surprised in our service. I thought the wait staff did a great job getting everyone’s drinks, share-ables and main dishes out in a timely manner. Time and time again, we see that we can overwhelm a kitchen and the quality suffers as a result. The dinners came out at a nice interval and were hot and ready to eat. We could not really ask for a better end result.

I was quite happy with the overall experience had at the OBT. It was a breathe of fresh air in an otherwise exhausted space and it pays dividends. The décor is one of my favorites in recent memories and can easily see myself there to enjoy a casual meal or catch a game. The menu had enough of variety and familiarity to satisfy whatever craving you might have. While my meal wasn’t everything I had hoped it would be, it still will not deter me from going back in the future. As a group, we were enjoying the space and everyone’s company so much that we quickly realized we had spent the better part of four hours together. I’m sure that the OBT will gain all the old Tweed customers and then some if they can continue to improve on their solid foundation.

Veggie Burger on a multi-grain bun with lettuce, tomato and mayo from Oak Barrel Tavern on Grove Street in Worcester, MA.jpg

Oak Barrel Tavern Offers A Delicious Veggie Burger Option

Walking into the Oak Barrel Tavern I could not believe it was the old Tweeds, what a wonderful job they did updating it. At the far end of the restaurant is a gas fireplace and some cozy seats around it to enjoy a drink. The bar area is large and they incorporated some oak barrels for decoration that look fantastic. I almost like the bar area more than the dining area it is so cozy.

The menu had a lot of tempting items on it, I loved the variety and twists on the mac & cheese, though, I opted for the Veggie burger with lettuce, tomato, mayo on a multi-grain bun with a side of crinkle cut fries. It was a large, delicious burger with a lot of veggies and even bits of potato in it (not the typical frozen, bland kind). The fries, well, they were crinkle cut, what more can I say? Delicious, and they happen to be my favorite!

Matt was our waiter. He was very attentive, always around for drink refills or whatever we might need. Our food came out fast which was a bit surprising seeing as the restaurant was pretty busy for a Tuesday.

I would suggest the Oak Barrel for some great pub food, interesting variety of pub items or just go to enjoy the bar area or the fireplace! The food arrives quickly and the service is great and the overall atmosphere is comfortable and cozy.

Truffle Mac and Cheese at the Oak Barrel Tavern on Grove Street in Worcester, MA

When All Else Fails… Mac and Cheese!

Immediately upon walking into Oak Barrel Tavern, I was in complete shock. When we walked in all I could say was “Wow!” The interior was gorgeous! I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, many restaurant renovations tend to fall flat with the renovation part and often don’t change much at all, but in the case of the new Grove St. tavern, I was pleasantly surprised. If you remember Tweed’s, the old restaurant that occupied this space, you probably remember going there with your grandmother or after the Worcester St. Patrick’s Day parade. The decor was a bit older and kind of dingy, but it was one of those places that you just went as a regular and didn’t think much of it.

The Oak Barrel Tavern is totally different. There is a beautiful bar on the right-hand side when you walk into the wide-open space and another circular bar ahead of you on the other side of the dining room. There are several high-top tables as well as booths welcoming any patron willing to come in for a bite or grab a drink after a long, hard work day. The night was drizzly, but inside the restaurant was warm and inviting. Metal and wood adorned the space that reminded me of the tavern in the famous “Gaston” song from “Beauty and the Best”. The bar was, in the very least, extensive. I had looked at the menu online in preparation and there were so many wonderful options, which even included 2 ciders!

Oak Barrel Tavern offered many “Shareable” plates along with enough entrees to appeal to pickiest of eaters. We opted for the Bavarian Soft Pretzels paired with Wisconsin beer cheese sauce. This was a nice way to start the evening. The soft pretzels were warm and salty, like you would expect and the cheese dipping sauce was wonderful.

For my meal, I ordered the Truffle Mac and Cheese. I have been reluctant to get Mac and Cheese on a Foodies trip because I usually like to make the meal part of the adventure and get something a bit out of my comfort zone. Anyone that knows me, knows that Mac and Cheese is on top of my list of favorite meals. The Mac and Cheese At Oak Barrel was no different, though it didn’t wow me, the same way other mac and cheese dishes have other places. For me, the dish was a bit bland. The cavatappi, which is quite frankly the best pasta choice to use for mac and cheese was wonderful and perfectly cooked, but the cheese blend just didn’t do it. It just was not cheesy enough and there wasn’t much of a sauce to it. I think if I were to get this again, I may add chicken or something else to spice it up.

I also ordered a half-sized Worcester Wedge. This, is what stole the show for me! The crisp iceberg lettuce was topped with jalapeno bacon, which offered the most delightful heat to offset the salty bleu cheese crumbles and the balsamic glaze was wonderful and added a sweet tang to each bite. I would come back to get this salad in a heartbeat!

The service was nice. Nothing over the top, but definitely not bad. The waitress was very attentive with the drink orders and the food was delivered very quickly.

Overall, I would definitely go to Oak Barrel Tavern again! I think it is located in a nice spot for people working in Worcester to go to and grab a bite and a drink after a long week or a long day. And with so many menu options, I am sure there is something you will find!

The Beer Battered Fish and Chips from Oak Barrel Tavern on Grove Street in Worcester, MA.

Fish & Chips at Oak Barrel Tavern Gets High…

Having been to Oak Barrel Tavern a few times before, I was excited to have our Foodies Group try this new upscale pub where Tweeds had resided for so many years. Make no mistake about it, Oak Barrel is completely new, completely renovated and no where do you see the remnants of Tweeds at all. The decor is very appealing and comfortable. Walking through the bar area, pas the open kitchen and to the dining room you pass by a very nicely situated gas fireplace which I am sure will be comfortable to sit by in the winter. The menu, while not super ambitious has a few interesting dishes not always found in your typical pub dining scene. The craft beer selection is good and from what I could tell from our table, the wine selection was just as good.

The menu has exactly what you would expect from a pub, lots of familiar sounding apps plus a few not so familiar like Fried Pickles and Peppers, Sugar Cane Shrimp and a nice looking Hummus Platter. We opted for the Bavarian Pretzels mostly because we had them once before and they were great. Same thing this time, you get 3 large, salted pretzels, served nice and hot with a great cheese sauce and an even better hot brown mustard. Side note….the chicken wings at OBT are really good. I have had them with a few beers at the bar watching baseball and football and the flavors are fantastic – especially the OBT Stinger wings!

For my main dish I was torn between the Jalapeno Bacon Mac & Cheese and the traditional Beer Battered Fish & Chips. Since a few of my dining compatriots had already ordered a few different versions of the Mac & Cheese, I order the Fish & Chips figuring I might be offered a taste from my dining friends. The fish was delightful, beer battered and fried, hot and a huge portion. Lots of krinkle fries too along with a small portion of very tasty cole slaw. The fish, while fried, wasn’t heavy yet light and very flavorful.

Our server Matt was very attentive, stopping with at our table often to refill glasses, get drink orders and bring napkins when needed. Even though it was a Tuesday night the room was busy but our food came out timely and from what I could tell, served nice and hot from the kitchen.

Overall I like Oak Barrel Tavern for what it is….a neighborhood pub, serving better than average pub food at reasonable pricesn a comfortable and nicely decorated atmosphere. The craft beer selection is nice and the bar area, which I have sat in many times is a great place to watch a game with friends, enjoy cocktails and appetizers. I would recommend OBT highly for a casual dinner!