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The March Wrap Up

The raw bar at simjang on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA (Erb Photo for Mass Foodies)

As is typical of New England, March came in like a lion and out like a rhino with a host of key developments for the Central Mass food scene.

B.T.’s 26 hour smoked beef brisket paired with Wormtown Buddha Juice X2IPA

On March 28th, Drew Day was named Executive Chef of Flying Rhino on Shrewsbury Street as former Executive Chef Chris O’Harra announced his transition to Maddi’s Cookery and Taphouse, set to open on Water Street by early May in the space that previously housed The Perfect Game. Maddi’s will mark the second restaurant for Adam Hicks, who also owns Depot Street Tavern in Milford, which opened in August of 2014. O’Harra was recently awarded first prize in the people’s choice category at the Worcester’s Best Chef Competition.

While Day and O’Harra were parting kitchens this month, two other Central Mass chefs joined forces. Chef Rick Araujo of Civic Kitchen & Drink in Westborough teamed up with B.T.’s Smokehouse Director of Operations William Nemeroff of Sturbridge for a night of award winning barbecue. B.T.’s smoked beef brisket has built up a loyal following to the tune of over 120,000 pounds of hand selected, hand rubbed beef brisket sold last year. Araujo and Nemeroff looped themselves into captivating harmony for the evening with Wormtown Brewery along for the thrilling ride.

Bibimbap from Choose and Mix in Worcester, MA
Bibimbap from Choose and Mix in Worcester, MA

B.T.’s whet our appetites for barbeque and Choose & Mix swooped in for the assist. Contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores visited this Korean hot spot on East Mountain Street for “bulgolgi – thinly sliced beef tenderloin strips in flavorful Korean barbecue sauce – and galbi – Korean barbecue ribs.” She found the eatery welcoming, affordable, and loaded with flavor. Flores also visited Millbury’s new doughnut hotspot, Rocco’s, located at the former address of the Queen’s Cups. Members of the Astrella family have doughnuts “embedded in their DNA,” as evidenced by what Flores calls a frenzied social media buzz in addition to the long (but quickly moving) line out the door.

Contributor Jim Eber spent some time at simjang’s raw bar on Shrewsbury Street with Executive Chef Jared Forman whom he deemed, “a chef intimately connected to what he serves.” The two sampled sexy oysters, fat kid’s oysters, punchy oysters, crisp beginner oysters, and coppery oysters. If Eber’s praise is any indication, he’ll be back at the deep rock maple bar very soon for a Jang and a dozen more.

Stack of Doughnuts from Rocco's Doughnut Company in Millbury, MA
Stack of Doughnuts from Rocco’s Doughnut Company in Millbury, MA

Next door at Volturno, owner Greg Califano Jr. kept busy teaching pasta classes in his private function space as well as the Neapolitan pizzeria fresh outpost in Framingham. Volturno’s new location maintains the rustic charm of its counterpart, offering the added intimacy of a smaller space. Guests still have a view of the wood burning oven, and we were pleased to find that the “2 for 1” deal on Mondays and Tuesdays is graciously honored in Framingham as it is in Worcester. Pasta classes are offered monthly at each location and no two are ever the same.

In bleaker news, both Broth and The Hangover Pub shuttered their doors after former owner Chris Slavinskas pleaded guilty to charges of making a false statement to federal investigators relating to the ongoing Kevin Perry saga. Perry’s indictment resulted in the shutdown of The Usual, Blackstone Tap, and The Chameleon.

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B.T.’s Smokehouse and Civic Kitchen & Drink Execute an Evening of Excellent BBQ

When Chef Rick Araujo asked how many people were visiting Civic Kitchen & Drink in Westborough for the first time, more than half of the hands in the room went up. Most of the newcomers had come on account of Civic’s collaboration with B.T.’s Smokehouse, the barbeque sanctuary in Sturbridge that has amassed a cultish following and national recognition for its brisket – something Director of Operations William Nemeroff will tell you is hard to come by in New England.

This event embodied pairing in every essence of the term. Not only did Araujo and Nemeroff loop themselves into a captivating dichotomy, Wormtown Brewery likewise found itself along for the thrilling ride. Brand Ambassador Kyle Sherwood was on hand for the evening, easing guests into an easy drinking Helles Lager, which he refers to as a ‘brewer’s beer’ in his acknowledgment that there’s very little to hide behind in the style’s margin of error.

Nemeroff and Araujo talked smoke all night, though it’s safe to say they never blew any our way. The first course arrived on hand crafted plates, featuring cold smoked Faroe Island salmon. The Faroe Islands are a small, remote island group noted for boutique production of Atlantic Salmon and a commitment to fish welfare and sustainability. In Nemeroff’s care, the salmon had undergone a two day cure of 50% sea salt and 50% sugar before cold smoking over hickory and applewood, procured locally in Sturbridge. The fish maintained its supple oily texture, pairing nicely with homemade creme fraiche to balance its richness. The plate was finished with sphericated dill pearls made from white wine, lemon, and fresh dill. A pour of Wormtown Irish Red Ale boasted a light and toasty malt to accompany crisp wedges of fresh rye bread.

The second course proved our highlight of the evening, pairing a double smoked pork jowl and cheddar grits with Wormtown African Queen Be Hoppy IPA. The prized jowl had been brined for 8 days, smoked once, cooled for 24 hours, and smoked again. Little plum rumtopfs accompanied the jowl, preserved with a traditional German technique. Each Vermont plum had been carefully packed into a mason jar and sealed with sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, and a healthy cap of rum, last August. Interestingly enough, the grits hailed from Four Star Farms which regularly provides Wormtown with a plethora of hops for brewing. On the beer pairing, Sherwood said, “Just like grapes, when you grow a hop, you get unique flavors. This hop from South Africa called African Queen has a really unique earthy, honey, tea flavor to it.” Wormtown opted to pair the unique hops with local honey to accent the African Queen along with the beautifully executed citrus notes in their Be Hoppy. “One of our brew staff, Chris keeps bees for local honey. With increased production, we obtained additional honey from Boston Honey Company to secure enough local honey to brew this beer on a large scale,” Sherwood explained.

B.T.’s 26 hour smoked beef brisket paired with Wormtown Buddha Juice X2IPA

The third course was as tantalizing as one might expect. B.T.’s 26 hour smoked beef brisket is cause for commotion. If you don’t believe me, stop by B.T.’s and wait in what I deem the most worthwhile line in Massachusetts. B.T.’s sold 120,000 pounds of hand-selected, hand rubbed beef brisket last year.

It was dessert that presented the biggest surprise, namely to the chefs. As they told it, when it came time for the final course, both apron-clad men looked at one another to inquire about the whereabouts of the banana pudding. Realizing they had both come up empty handed, the duo embraced collaboration in every sense, whipping up a delicious treat from scratch in the eleventh hour. Sherwood paired the pudding with Spies Like Us Imperial Stout, which he calls a “larger beer,” referring to its lofty alcohol content. Sorachi Ace hops provide a pepper note on the back end of the beer, tempering its sweetness along with that of the dessert.

By the end of the night, Araujo and Nemeroff felt certain that their respective crowds had been turned on to something new. Guests left with equal confidence in their knowledge that something truly original had transpired over the course of the evening. Partnerships like that don’t happen every day.