Worcester Foodies #76 visiting Sahara on Highland Street in Worcester, MA

Authentic Middle Eastern Dining at Sahara

After 75 consecutive months of dining together in Worcester, it becomes quite difficult to continue our foodie journey without repeating restaurants, but we manage to persist. This month Giselle selected Sahara, a Middle Eastern restaurant on Highland Street that prides itself on gourmet Lebanese cuisine.

There were 16 of us in attendance and upon arrival, it seemed we all had one thing in mind: what would we be drinking? Although many of us couldn’t even pronounce the Lebanese wines at first, we asked for samples and found that we really enjoyed them. Dana ended up ordering the Lebanese Clos St. Thomas Gourmet Rouge which he described as dry with juicy fruit flavors. Luke also went for a Lebanese wine, Chateau Ksara, a red blend aged for 18 months in oak.

Chateau KsaraNext came the appetizers. The simplicity of Sahara’s grape leaves allowed the hummus to be the star. Everyone who tried the hummus really enjoyed it, especially Robyn who noted her love of Tahini. After quickly finishing the first course, our table came to an agreement that Sahara possesses one of the better hummuses in all of Worcester.

Between the 16 of us, surprisingly almost everyone ordered a different entrée. Some kept it simple with Fatoush Salads while others experimented with dishes such as Port Said Shrimp, Mughrebeeye, Stuffed Cabbage Leaves, Sheikh el Mishi, and various Shawarma plates.

Port Said Lamb paired with Chateau Ksara from Sahara on Highland Street in Worcester, MA
Port Said Lamb paired with Chateau Ksara from Sahara on Highland Street in Worcester, MA

Julie enjoyed her Port Said Shrimp over rice pilaf. The shrimp was sautéed in butter with lemon, mushrooms and a hint of garlic. The sauce was light but had a dominant lemon flavor which she felt enhanced the fresh seafood. Her one wish would be that for the price ($18) there was a little bit more rice.

The Mughrebeeye (huh?!) is a chicken dish that Sahara claims can please the most finicky guests. Lynndzie thought it was excellent and has plans to come back for it. Steve also enjoyed the Mughrebeeye.

Steve said, “The dish smelled amazing when it was served. The taste of nutmeg, and I believe, coriander and turmeric made me instantly think of having this dinner in front of a fire place on a cold snowy December evening.”

I ordered the Sheikh el Mishi ($19), which Sahara likes to call “The King of eggplant dishes!” I wouldn’t disagree with them on that, it was quite large and full of eggplant, ground beef, onions and various spices. My only complaint was that the thick tomato sauce made it a very heavy dish and it was very hot inside the restaurant. Like Steve, I would absolutely order this again on a chilly fall or winter night.

As a group, we agreed that the size of the restaurant was great for large parties but the inside could use a little love. It has an upscale look to it with the gold chandeliers, but the peeling paint on the walls and the dirty carpet were eye sores.

Sahara is open until 2 a.m. every night and offers free, live entertainment every Friday and Saturday evening. (I hear it gets packed on the weekends!) Whether you go for something exotic or an old staple, Sahara’s authentic Middle Eastern cuisine is sure to please even the pickiest eaters.

Mass Foodies' Worcester Foodies enjoying their 75th consecutive month of dining out in Central Massachusetts — this time at Pepe's Italian Restaurant.

Pizza and Pasta Perfection at Pepe’s Italian Restaurant

In July, the Foodies ventured to Pepe’s Italian Restaurant, a neighborhood eatery on Franklin Street in Worcester.

With so many pizza variations on the menu, it’s lucky that Pepe’s allows half-and-half pies, because the Foodies were eager to try a little bit of everything.

“Tasting Pepe’s brick oven pizza instantly reminded you of all of the good things that a nice slice can offer,” said Evan, after trying his half Margherita and half fungi combo. “A Margherita pizza is one of my personal favorites because of it’s simplicity; you let the dough, the mozzarella, basil, and sauce do the talking. I could not get enough of this pizza.”

Evan observed that the Fungi half of his pizza was equally delicious and only wished for more mushrooms.

Pizza at Pepe's Italian Restaurant.
Pizza at Pepe’s Italian Restaurant.

Stephanie had the “Best of Both Worlds” pie, which is on the menu, and includes a half Firecracker and half Potato Pizza finished with a ranch dressing drizzle.

“The Buffalo Chicken portion provided perfect spice, while the crunchy cucumbers allowed for a bit of a cooling effect. The Potato half was salty and savory. The ranch drizzle that covered both varieties of the pizza added an extra kick to each slice,” Stephanie said. She added, “This combo was amazing, like the wings and skins of pizza!”

Joe also gave the Fungi pizza a try and said it was in a word, “fantastic.”

Every pizza-eating Foodie loved the 16-inch pies because of their thin, crispy crust. Giselle, who had the Rocky pizza, said the crust was, “phenomenal,” though it left her wanting for more arugula, prosciutto, tomatoes, and shredded Parmigiano.

Some of the others opted for Pepe’s pasta specialties rather than pizza and they did not disappoint.

“The chicken carbonara dish I ordered for dinner was amazing. It was creamy and flavorful with a very large number of bacon bits throughout. It also came with a good portion of cooked white meat chicken tenders,” Robyn said. “I ordered mine with spaghetti and the creamy-ness of the carbonara sauce soaked into the pasta nicely. I would order this dish again in a heartbeat. I would even venture to say it would be hard NOT to order this dish again when I go back to visit Pepes,” she concluded.

Giselle also had the seafood diablo pasta, which included shrimp, haddock, mussels, baby clams and calamari sautéed in a spicy sauce, served over pasta.

“This dish was beautiful and the flavors were just right. The spicy kick at the end made me want to order a second serving,” Giselle said.

Joe also sampled some of the Baked Eggplant Parmigiana and said it was “equally as delicious” as his pizza.

“The baked eggplant was thinly sliced and tender and was topped with a deep rich red sauce and creamy cheese,” Joe said.

Amy opted for a lighter dish and ordered the baked haddock.

“The meal did not disappoint. The fish was nice and flaky with a cracker topping that was beautifully toasted and a light lemon and olive oil drizzle,” Amy said. “The broccoli was perfectly steamed with a light crunch and served with a size of homemade rice pilaf. Pilaf is a religion in my home so I was very pleased that is was made in-house.”

Beyond the food, everyone loved the large open space where Pepe’s is housed. The Foodies also noted an excellent patio space outside, which would be lovely to enjoy on a nice day.

Joe spoke for everyone, commending the service when he said, “I was really impressed by our server Megan…she was great, always nearby and handled our large group all by herself.”

After all, in the iconic words of Danny Meyer, “Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple and that hard.” At Pepe’s, it’s not just about the food.

Worcester Foodies celebrating 74 consecutive months of food with 435 Bar & Grille in Leominster, MA.

435 Bar & Grille: Leominster’s Hidden Gem

On the recommendation of our member Lynn, the Foodies gathered at 435 Bar & Grille in Leominster. Tucked away on the second floor of an old mill building, requiring a back door and an elevator ride to find it, 435 Bar & Grille certainly feels hidden. And after the Foodies dined there this month, they found that it was an absolute gem.

Once you enter the restaurant is extremely inviting with a wide open space, big windows and beautiful exposed brick. A massive circular bar feels like a great place to catch up with friends or sip a pre-dinner drink.

The trim, yet diverse menu 435 offers made diners want to try a little bit of everything.

The Poutine was a popular appetizer selection, with Robyn calling it a “must try.” She said the fries were crispy, the short rib meat tender and the gravy delicious. “The meat was tender, the sauce was salty, and there were so many cheese churds!” Stephanie said of her Poutine order.

Almost everyone said they had a hard time choosing an entrée because so many of the items on the menu sounded so good.

“I ended up choosing the Pasta and Chicken which was outstanding,” said Joe. “Nice portion, sweet wine sauce, tender pieces of chicken breast over pasta.”

Braised short rib and lobster tail with pickled mustard seeds, celery root puree, spinach and port wine demi from 435 Bar & Grille in Leominster, MA.
Braised short rib and lobster tail with pickled mustard seeds, celery root puree, spinach and port wine demi
Dana opted for the bacon-wrapped Meatloaf and commended the restaurant for being flexible and pairing it with roasted carrots rather than the asparagus on the menu. “I wouldn’t call it a traditional meatloaf, as it was less firm and structured, but the flavor was fantastic. The bacon complimented the meat nicely and the dish was an overall success. One of the nicer meat loafs I’ve had out,” Dana said.

Stephanie got a “huge portion” of eggplant parmigiana, which was “breaded and fried perfectly” and paired with an enormous bowl of al dente pasta.

Both Robyn and Evan tried the Bolognese. “I would venture to say this is one of the best Bolognese I’ve had anywhere,” Robyn said. “It came in a large bowl filled to the brim with homemade Pappardelle pasta. It came in a rich tomato sauce with chunks of carrots. Topping this dish off was freshly shaved Parmesan cheese.”

Evan described the Bolognese as “incredible.” He said, “The thick, ribbon like pasta was cooked and seasoned perfectly. The sauce was rich and had large chunks of meat large enough that you could’ve cut them with your fork. It was honestly one of the best and largest pasta dishes I have had in recent memory.”

David and Lynn both tried the fig and serrano ham tart. Though labeled a tart on the menu, it was a bit more like a flatbread pizza. “I enjoyed my unique flatbread. The soft egg was a delicious addition,” Lynn said. David said the “ingredients and flavors were wonderful.” He paired his with a beat salad, that was served with burrata cheese, pea tendrils and a squid ink dressing. “The flavors, textures, and contrast with the plaques quitting in the dip dish was amazing.”

Beyond the food, everyone agreed the service was fantastic. The speed and quality with which the food came out combined with friendly and attentive service made dining at the 435 comfortable and fun. Definitely worth the trip.

Comfy, cozy dining at Dianna’s Neighborhood Bistro

Walking into Dianna’s Neighborhood Bistro feels a bit like walking into your grandmother’s kitchen. This quaint, BYOB restaurant on the corner of June and Chandler Street in Worcester is what one Foodie called “the type of mom and pop shop that this city is known for.”

Cooking for such a large group was a challenge for the kitchen this night (the Chef noted there are only two and a half people in the kitchen) so while some of the food took a little time to make its way to the table, most agreed it was well worth the wait.

Robyn said her Pollo Lorenzo was so good that she’d have a hard time not ordering it again on a return trip to Dianna’s. “This dish was amazing. I loved the mixture of creamy gorgonzola sauce with artichokes, asparagus and broccoli. The chicken was pounded and lightly breaded and was cooked to perfection. The dish also came with cherry tomatoes which made a nice colorful contrast to the other ingredients. A very large amount of spinach ravioli were nestled at the bottom of this dish absorbing the creamy sauce,” Robyn said.

Julie enjoyed the Haddock & Salmon special at Dianna’s Neighborhood Bistro
Stephanie couldn’t get enough of the Pollo Lorenzo, either.  “The Gorgonzola sauce in my meal was to die for!! And I really loved the added veggies in the dish. Asparagus and artichokes are my favorite! The chicken was also very tender and juicy and had a nice crisp on the outside,” she added.
Joe applauded the plentiful portion of Chicken Piccatta which “served over penne, was tender and sautéed to perfection, topped with a rich wine and lemon and caper sauce.”
Julie ordered a special of baked haddock and Dijon-encrusted salmon over a bed of linguine aglio and wasn’t disappointed. “My fish was fresh and cooked perfectly, the Dijon crust on the salmon was crunchy and gave a great texture to the fish. The linguine had onions and fresh cut grape tomatoes and plenty of garlic. My meal was delicious,” she said.
Lynn loved the cozy atmosphere – “perfect for date night” – and raved about the homemade soups.
While most felt their meals were very good, a few found Dianna’s to be just slightly off the mark.
Dana said his steak special, which consisted of a New York strip topped with sautéed red peppers and onions in a balsamic sauce, was a bit overcooked and found the balsamic sauce “overpowering.” But he added….”That said, I do realize that ordering steak in an Italian restaurant probably isn’t the best idea. I tasted my wife’s Pollo Lorenzo and it was delicious, so it seems like they do Italian very well, but the other stuff a bit hit or miss.”
Evan said his Vitello Forestier with fresh veal medallions, sautéed with Portobello, Cremini and Shitake mushrooms, shallots, prosciutto, garlic and a brandied demi-glace over house made Pappardelle pasta “had the makings to be extraordinary.” Unfortunately, he felt the veal was a little overcooked. “However, the brandied demi-glace could’ve been eaten with any combination, it was that good,” Evan added.
All in all, the Foodies seemed to agree that Dianna’s is a great addition to the neighborhood dining scene and while a few dishes were slightly off, most were right on the mark. We recommend trying his friendly neighborhood, BYOB bistro yourself!
Mass Foodies' Worcester Foodies take Bull Mansion in March.

Foodies Take The Bull By The Horns at Bull…

It’s hard to say which the Foodies enjoyed more during their visit to Bull Mansion this month: the food or the ambiance.

Okay, well, it was the food. It is always the food.

But the ambiance of the four-story historic Worcester mansion certainly held a charm to the food-obsessed group of diners. The overall stately feel of the converted 140-year-old mansion left the diners in awe – and that was before they even tried anything on the menu.

The Menu of Bull MansionThe mansion provided the perfect backdrop for an evening with a few cocktails and a delicious meal. Several cheese and charcuterie boards welcomed the Foodies to Bull Mansion’s unique and fresh menu. Items like turducken and chocolate brie may have sounded strange at first, but the Foodies said they tasted absolutely divine. The boards were a fitting introduction to the rest of the Bull Mansion menu.

From burgers to pasta, Bull Mansion’s seasonal menu didn’t lack for options.

Donna’s fresh pappardelle pasta with wild mushrooms and a goat’s milk cheese cream sauce couldn’t have been more perfect: “My pasta was perfect. Cooked Perfect, sauce-to-pasta ratio was perfect, mushrooms were fresh and cooked perfect, the flavor was delicious! Perfect!”

Joe, who also had the fresh local pasta, described the sauce as “rich and flavorful” with breadcrumbs adding a nice crunch.

Amy described her beer-braised pork shank with a tomato-Gansett beer gravy as “beautifully rustic.”

“The Moroccan Lamb Tagine was a nice lamb shank cooked perfectly and was complimented by Yukon potato, carrot, couscous, spices and had a great flavor and was a great value,” said David.

Julie said her salmon came on a puree that she could only describe as “amazing.” Bull Mansion was even able to class up the burger with something they call their “Mansion Burger.”

“The slices of bacon were more than I was expecting to get and the house-made slaw made for a refreshing bite, by adding a creamy element and a fresh crunch. The fries were cooked to a crispy, dark consistency and were seasoned generously…fabulous!” Evan said.

This author had the best soup she’s ever had. It’s hard to get too excited about soup, but Bull Mansion’s potato bisque was creamy and cheesy and made me literally want to lick the bowl clean.

A few minutes with Bull Mansion owner Victoria Mariano explained exactly how the meal came to be as fantastic as it was.

“You can taste the local farm influence,” Mariano said.

She said the meat is all local – with “happy” pigs, Mariano noted. She even has a farmer she calls daily.

With so many events and live music scheduled regularly at Bull Mansion, it won’t be hard for the foodies to find an excuse to go back and enjoy another great meal.

The Pork Shank From The Bull Mansion in Worcester, MA
The Pork Shank From The Bull Mansion in Worcester, MA
Mass Foodies' Worcester Foodies group enjoying Taco Tuesday at Plaza Azteca on Lincoln Street in Worcester, MA

#TacoTuesday Done Right at Plaza Azteca

Mass Foodies recently celebrated #TacoTuesday the right way – with large (because why would you ever order the small?) margaritas and tons of delicious Mexican food – at Plaza Azteca on Lincoln Street in Worcester.

This small New England-local chain dishes up fresh Mexican food with all your favorite staples and margaritas so big you could swim in them. After the foodies took over a whole section of the restaurant, they were greeted with a drink menu featuring brightly-colored pictures showing all the varieties of fruity, frozen or otherwise and massive margaritas. If you’re looking for a suggestion, Robyn loved the “amazingly large” strawberry pineapple frozen margarita, though a simple “skinny” margarita pleased many diners just as much.

Writers for Mass Live and Mass Foodies enjoy the table-side guacamole station at Plaza Azteca on Lincoln Street in Worcester, MA.
Writers for Mass Live and Mass Foodies enjoy the table-side guacamole station at Plaza Azteca on Lincoln Street in Worcester, MA.

Patrick said it best: “Always a must try at any Mexican restaurant, the guacamole was a great way to kick off the night.” Plaza Azteca offers tableside-made guacamole that delighted the foodies. Not only was it delicious, but it was fun to watch. Giselle said, as always, it was “fascinating” to watch someone create a dish. The tableside option also pleased those who would prefer guacamole without cilantro, onion or tomato. Some foodies also tried other appetizers including a cheese dip and chicken wings – both a big hit.

The wait staff serving Mexican to the Worcester Foodies group at Plaza Azteca in Worcester, MA.
The wait staff serving Mexican to the Worcester Foodies group at Plaza Azteca in Worcester, MA.

Plaza Azteca’s menu offered plenty of variety and the foodies found huge plates full of favorites. Foodies tried a range of the usual Mexican offerings, including tacos, fajitas, enchiladas and more.

“My go-to Mexican dish is Pork Carnitas and since I do have a favorite in the city, I was a little worried the Carnitas at Plaza Azteca might not meet my expectations. Not only did they meet my expectations, they might actually rival my current favorite. The Carnitas were tender and packed with authentic flavors – a little smoky with a nice char on the ends,” Amy said.

In the kitchen at Plaza Azteca Worcester, preparing the Pina Loca (Grilled Pineapple stuffed with Chicken, Steak, Peppers and Onions in a "al pastor sauce" topped with melted Cheese with a side of white Rice) being cooked.
In the kitchen at Plaza Azteca Worcester, preparing the Pina Loca (Grilled Pineapple stuffed with Chicken, Steak, Peppers and Onions in a “al pastor sauce” topped with melted Cheese with a side of white Rice) being cooked.

Giselle went traditional on #TacoTuesday and ordered the Camarone Tacos. She said they were great and “with a small serving of rice, it was a filling dish.”

Patrick went with the Super Mix Enchilada plate and got to try five different kinds of enchiladas covered in lettuce tomato and cream fresco. “The shredded beef took the cake, but the beans and cheese enchiladas, along with the veggies, were delicious too,” Patrick said.

Dana loved the large portions and said his fajitas were excellent.

Most were too stuffed to try for dessert, but Giselle took one for the team and ordered the Fried Ice Cream for her table.

“The fried ice cream was like biting into a cold bowl of frozen Frosted Flakes. Yummy and completely unexpected,” Giselle said.

All in all, Plaza Azteca is a perfect destination for the next #TacoTuesday!


Part two of #TacoTuesday at Plaza Azteca in Worcester: Join us for a dinner conversation with Mass Foodies’ Luke Vaillancourt!

Posted by MassLive.com Worcester on Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Worcester Foodies visit French Quarter in Rutland, MA

Foodies Visits the French Quarter in Rutland, MA

January brought the Foodies to The French Quarter in Rutland, MA on a recommendation from our member David, who has enjoyed this small hidden gem with his family. As we arrived, the owner happily greeted us and explained we were in for a real treat, describing the menu as  “…a mix of Asian and Cajun cuisines, with a little fun mixed in.”

Located in a small plaza on Rte 122A, you might drive right by the French Quarter if you didn’t know where it was, but don’t  – this hidden gem is worth searching out.

The casual atmosphere, combined with the friendly smiles and service helped to make our group feel more than comfortable as we trickled into the BYOB bistro. Some appetizers were ordered and shared including some delightfully fresh Spring Rolls, a few orders of Veggie Dumplings, hot Crispy Wontons and Curry Samosas that came with a spicy dipping sauce that caught the attention of more than a few people. “We shared a few apps at our end of the table and those alone made the trip to Rutland more than worth it”, said Julie.

As we opened our wine and passed around the Wachusett Brewery IPA variety pack, we scanned the menu, discussing amongst ourselves what we might want to order. The French Quarter offering is extensive and as advertised, the Cajun, French and Asian influences are easily seen as vermicelli noodles, rice, lemongrass, hoisin sauce, curry and Cajun seasonings dotted the menu landscape.

Robyn ordered the Soup Du Jour – a Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Soup which she described as “flavorful”. The Basil Fried Rice was an interesting combination of fried rice, chicken, kielbasa, onions and basil and the Spicy Cajun Shrimp was a huge portion of shrimp, pickled carrots, cucumbers and lots of other fresh veggies over noodles.

Evan said the restaurant “combined the freshest ingredients with homemade flare” to create his spicy Chicken Pad Thai dish. He added, “the cozy space created an intimate environment for our large group and the owners and wait staff were very personable and social. All these factors made for a memorable night”.

Stephanie ordered the Grilled Beef Poutine and seemed more than pleased with the dish offering “it was really good, tasty, and huge!” So big in fact she passed the dish around for others to enjoy!

Once dinner was complete, the Foodies thoughts turned to the large display of desserts. There were cookies, puff pastries, cakes and more. One Foodie, at our end of the table, thoroughly enjoyed a huge piece of chocolate cake but the French inspired chocolate beignets were definitely the biggest hit. Robyn added “I do the think the hidden gems in this place are the pastries and French inspired desserts. And David, Robyn and Lynn all thought….”the Chocolate Beignets were fantastic.”

Another thing our group all agreed on, the service during our visit was outstanding. Dana added “the staff was very friendly and they handled our large group well.”

Overall the trip to Rutland to visit the French Quarter was well worth the ride and we suggest you try it too.

Oak Barrel Tavern serves up simple comfort food in…

This month, the foodies escaped the cold with heaping servings of comfort food at the Oak Barrel Tavern, which just opened earlier this year. The most striking thing about the restaurant for many diners was the transformation the space had undergone. Before opening this June, the new owners completely gutted the former Tweed’s space. Beautiful wood features and industrial flourishes made up the transformation. The bar itself is large, bright and inviting. The rest of the restaurant is cozy and comfortable – there’s even a fireplace with some comfy leather chairs at one end.

Mac and Cheese at the Oak Barrel Tavern
Mac and Cheese at the Oak Barrel Tavern

“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,” said Evan.

The menu was largely filled with the “pub grub” the foodies expected to find in a tavern. There were a few twists you don’t always see on a bar menu, including several varieties of mac and cheese and country fried steak.

Many of the foodies started with items from the “Tavern Treats” section of the menu, which were shareable small plates. The Bavarian-style soft pretzels with a Wisconsin beer cheese sauce for dipping earned high praise. “The soft pretzels were warm and salty, like you would expect and the cheese dipping sauce was wonderful,” said Stephanie of the pretzels. Joe recommended the chicken wings saying, “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 main entrees, everyone seemed to gravitate toward their perfect comfort food – of which the menu had many offerings. Most left slightly disappointed with their food, though. “My overall feeling of Oak Barrel Tavern’s food is that it is your basic ‘pub’ food that can be found pretty much anywhere,” noted Scott.

The chicken fried steak was small and the mac and cheese was a bit bland, diners said. Some did find fulfilling entrees, while others said perfectly-cooked green beans stole the show for them.

“The fish was delightful, beer battered and fried, hot and a huge portion. Lots of crinkle fries too along with a small portion of very tasty cole slaw. The fish, while fried, wasn’t heavy yet light and very flavorful,” Joe described his fish and chips. Julie delighted in her order of a veggie burger and 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!” Julie said. Stephanie’s side order of a Worcester Wedge had her ready to go back for the full salad. “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.”

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

One thing everyone agreed on was that OBT offered excellent service. Attentive wait staff, quick with both the food and drinks, made everyone feel welcome. “OBT would be a great place to go out with friends or coworkers after work to hang out and grab a few drinks,” said David. OBT made the foodies feel so welcome, they spent the better part of four hours there without even realizing it.

“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,” said Evan.

Mass Foodies' Worcester Foodies Group Visiting Oak Barrel Tavern on Grove Street in Worcester, MA
Mass Foodies’ Worcester Foodies Group Visiting Oak Barrel Tavern on Grove Street in Worcester, MATavern
Bootleggers Prohibition Pub on Chandler Street in Worcester, MA

Stepping Back In Time At Bootleggers Prohibition Pub

This month, the foodies took a step back in time with a trip to Worcester’s new Bootleggers Prohibition Pub. After discovering the secret entrance – which yes, can be found using the giant billboard out front – diners walked into an industrial-style restaurant playing old Westerns on the TVs and roaring ‘20s music from the speakers. Bootleggers was formerly EVO Dining until the Maykel family (with chef Al Maykel at the helm) decided to gut the entire place – concept included. They went with a prohibition-era pub instead and while some felt they didn’t fully commit to the concept, most enjoyed the bit of whimsy that came along with the visit.

The Cohiba Street Taco from Bootlegger Prohibition Pub 2 on Chandler Street in Worcester, MA
The Cohiba Street Taco from Bootlegger Prohibition Pub 2 on Chandler Street in Worcester, MA

As always, the best way to start at a speakeasy is the cocktails. Bootleggers has a full drink menu full of all the prohibition-era cocktails you’d expect. It also has a litany of moonshine cocktails, made with moonshine of all different flavors, including strawberry, blackberry, cherry, peach, apple pie and something called ‘ole smoky blue flame.’ Bootleggers easily makes this sometimes harsh drink more approachable with its flavor selection. The Moonshine Mule, a Catdaddy moonshine with ginger beer, honey, lemon juice and bitters, was tried by one foodie and then ordered by many. The prohibition-era cocktails also delighted diners, with the Old Fashioned and the French 77 winning rave reviews from foodies. Of course, there’s also a wine list and a beer selection, which includes a Bootleggers house made brew, for the slightly less adventurous. All the foodies agreed – Bootleggers is a great place for a drink.

Many foodies were won over right away with Bootleggers “Bluenose Bites,” essentially appetizers, section of the menu. When asked about the Coney Island Fries, Robyn told us, “It was amazing, I would come back just to order these delicious nuggets of goodness again.” The Southern Fried Lollypop Wings, which include three spicy wings served with coleslaw and bourbon-infused maple syrup, the Still-Potsticker, which offer three steamed and seared pork- and kimchee-filled dumplings accompanied by a spicy Korean BBQ sauce, and the Italian Meatballs, which have three meatballs made of hot Italian sausage and beef served over a tomato sauce and garnished with shaved cheese, were all big hits among the diners.

Chef Al Maykel visiting diners at Bootlegger Prohibition Pub on Chandler Street in Worcester, MA
Chef Al Maykel visiting diners at Bootlegger Prohibition Pub on Chandler Street in Worcester, MA

Each of the foodies easily found something intriguing on Bootleggers’ extensive menu. Along with some traditional pub grub fare, the menu also included sections for tacos and loaded hot dogs. Many enjoyed sandwiches, which donned names to fit the era include The Gatsby, a pressed Italian roll with havarti, cheddar, fresh mozzarella, bacon, tomato, fresh basil and garlic oil served with warm tomato sauce for dipping, and The Goodfella, capicola, pepperoni, provolone cheese, banana peppers, tomato, sweet onion with garlic oil and balsamic vinegar served in a pressed Italian roll. The burgers, even the veggie burger, were enormous and included unique heaping toppings. The Topless Floozie has a buffalo dry-rubbed patty topped with a fried egg, coleslaw and cheddar cheese, while the Blackberry Moonshiner Burger came covered in blackberry moonshine barbecue sauce topped with blue cheese, apple cider fromage, bacon, lettuce and onion. The street tacos section of the menu offers a few different options, including the Cohiba and the Naked Clam which has fried Cajun claim strips over shredded lettuce, sweet onion and tomato with a Sriracha lime agave drizzle. Dogs include ones topped with sauerkraut and horseradish mustard to a chili dog with banana peppers. Those foodies who tried for a high-end entree, namely the Seafood Fra Diablo, found little to be desired, unfortunately. Drew said, “When I ordered it, I was not told they were out of scallops, and was served the dish incomplete to what is advertised. The shrimp were tiny rock shrimp. The muscles were good and the calamari was average.” Overall, everyone agreed they’d love to go back for another taste. Donna said that, “the drinks alone were worth a trip to hang at the very cool bar” and Evan agreed, saying, “With so many delicious looking/sounding dishes and all at a very reasonable price, I will be sure to head back to the Bootleggers Prohibition Pub.”

In November the Worcester Foodies paid a visit to Bootleggers Prohibition Pub. Here is what they ate and here is what…

Posted by Mass Foodies on Thursday, November 10, 2016

Carefully slicing meat at Terra Brasilis on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA

Brazilian Barbecue in Worcester Offers Authentic Flavors to Foodies

Worcester’s Seven Hills have seen their fair share of eateries over the past decade; in fact, there is some question as to whether the upcoming restaurant boom will even be sustainable. One thing that we’ve observed, however, is a correlation between experience and success. In a time where choice is abundant, Jack Trout’s aptly named book, Differentiate Or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition, rings true for some of Central Massachusetts’ best restaurants. Weeks after opening, Mass Foodies’ local Foodies group ventured to Worcester’s newest Brazilian restaurant, Terra Brasilis to see if they bring a different experience to the Worcester restaurant scene.

A diner choosing fried fish from the Terra Brasilis buffet on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA.
A diner choosing fried fish from the Terra Brasilis buffet on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA.

To begin with, the space has some history. The much loved Piccadilly Pub resided here for nearly 40-years before closing in 2012. After that, several short lived restaurants tried to capitalize on brand and location as Paparazzi and The Pic, before closing last year. With Terra Brasilis moving in, there seem to be very little changed in the layout and seating—the thick knotty pine booths still reside in place and the bar sits next to the newly installed buffet fixtures in front of the new barbecue pit. Upon entering the restaurant, the group was eagerly welcomed and shown to their seats where it was explained how the restaurant worked: the waitress will serve drinks from the bar to you at your seats while you grab a large plate and visit the buffet. At the end of the buffet, you pay by the weight of your plate and are given a ticket which you use if you decide to have seconds, desserts, or non-alcholic drinks from the register. At the end of the night, you see the hostess stand by the entrance to settle your bill. Mass Foodies contributor, Donna Dufault, explained, “The service was very personable. There are not many (if any) weigh-and-pay buffets, so the explanation was helpful.” Scott Erb added, “The fact that the staff was so pleasant and attentive the entire time–from seating us, to bringing us drinks, through clearing the plates—really made us feel at home.”

A diner chooses her proteins, rice, and vegetables at Terra Brasilis buffet on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA.
A diner chooses her proteins, rice, and vegetables at Terra Brasilis buffet on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA.

With a large selection of food, it was nice to see some familiar items that would make the less adventures happy while also having truly authentic items to give a taste of the chef’s home country of Brazil. But, let’s face it, no one goes to a buffet looking for a fine dining experience. There is a certain stigma that a buffet has, thanks in part to the “all you can eat Chinese buffet” movement that allows Americans to over indulge without thinking about quality or price. The buffet here, however, was clean, well lit and offered a variety of hot and cold, pickled and sautéed, options. “Being a vegetarian,” explained contributor Julie Giacobbe, “I was able to find a variety of rices, vegetables and non-meat products that didn’t make me feel as though I was missing out.”

Weigh-And-Pay allows diners to control how much they eat (and pay) and choose only what appeals to them at Terra Brasilis buffet on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA.
Weigh-And-Pay allows diners to control how much they eat (and pay) and choose only what appeals to them at Terra Brasilis buffet on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA.

The main stage of any barbecue place (Brazilian or otherwise) is the meat. Terra Brasilis offered seemingly countless meats, both safe and expected (e.g., garlic beef, bacon wrapped chicken, and pork loin) and traditional and exotic (e.g., spicy sausage, and chicken hearts). They are open roasted and carved to the diner’s preference and most of the meats were prepared using rubs and spices that are common to the Brazilian culture and palate. The only complaint that was repeated amongst the group was that many of the meats were overdone. “Unfortunately, my chicken was inedible because it was so dry—meanwhile, my husband’s was perfectly moist,” Robin Lane stated. “There seemed to be some inconsistency in the meats—some cuts were perfect, others were dry,” added Amy Peterson. This is the caveat with open flame barbecue, specifically in a buffet setting. Most Brazilian barbecues offer pampas style service—where they come to the table and carve the meat directly onto your plate—which accounts for the idle cooking time (meat continues to cook despite not being over the heat source, which, means that a perfectly cooked slice could be dry once you walk to the table, sit down, and enjoy some of the other items on the plate).

The dessert at Terra Brasilis on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA can stand on its own legs.
The dessert at Terra Brasilis on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA can stand on its own legs.

The finale, however, was the desserts. Made in house, the cakes were opulent slices made from scratch (with the exception of the cookies from the “Oreo cake,” understandably) that were larger than the plate. Evan Dufault, taking a break from his Oreo cake explained, “The Oreo cake was rich and decadent. It seemed to be soaked in milk which made it extremely moist. The Oreo cookie crumbles and the homemade frosting gave the cake wonderful texture and was borderline sinful. Easily the best part of the meal, as dessert usually is.”

Let there be meat.Regardless if the meats may have disappointed some, it was forgiven immediately when the bills were paid—most of the dishes were $10 and, some, even less. During the night, there were several other parties enjoying the Brazilian barbecue, but the steady stream of customers coming for take out was notable. With colleges back in session in Worcester, being able to load a take-out container for under $10 worth of sustenance is a no-brainer. We’ve seen this similar success with Bay State Schwarma and Grill, an eatery on Water Street that offers cafeteria style service with middle eastern fare, and have no doubt that the value proposition of enjoying authentic flavors of different cultures is a sweet spot for differentiation in Worcester’s culinary stew.

To survive in “an era of killer competition” any business must differentiate itself from its competitors. While many restaurants need to do this with their menu, ingredients, service, or atmosphere, Terra Brasilis has a leg-up simply by being one of the only restaurants with a weigh-and-pay buffet model… add the authentic flavors and exotic selection of meats, any shortcomings can easily be forgiven. We look forward to see how they progress with the time and evolve with the city’s economic development.

A plate put together by a diner at Terra Brasilis on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA.
A plate put together by a diner at Terra Brasilis on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA.