Food News

The 18 Most Popular Stories of 2018 for Mass…

As Contributing Editor at Mass Foodies, I always find it intriguing to look back at the posts that gained the most traction with our readers over the course of the year. I took the liberty of breaking down the numbers to find out which stories engaged Mass Foodies’ readers above all others during 2018. One thing was clear; you like to read about openings, you love to read about closings, and you know how to pay proper tribute when it is due.

I was surprised to find that the 2018 openings of simjang and North Main Provisions did not make bigger media imprints on our site. In my professional opinion, these two establishments will have long lasting implications for Worcester’s food landscape. The closing of decade-long downtown staple The Citizen Wine Bar yielded fewer clicks than I predicted, eclipsed by the Thanksgiving holiday. Perhaps, this was thoughtful timing on behalf of Niche Hospitality President and CEO Michael Covino.

Mass Foodies subsists on the underlying principle that the foundation for strong restaurants is an adaptive and collaborative culinary community. It is comforting to find that thousands upon thousands of readers continue to share our vision year in and year out. Happy New Years from the Mass Foodies team.

Here are our 18 most popular stories from 2018:

1. Worcester Loses a Legend in Ed Hyder:

Ed Hyder’s Mediterranean Marketplace faced the saddening blow of Ed Hyder’s passing on February 5th. This Pleasant Street landmark continues to thrive as a true family business, invigorated by the dedication of the Hyder children. Ed Hyder is remembered in our neighborhoods, kitchens, and hearts.

Kummerspeck on Water Street in Worcester, MA
Kummerspeck on Water Street in Worcester, MA

2. Kummerspeck Closes:

On Sunday, October 28th, Kummerspeck folded after 15 months in business on Water Street. Chef-owners Matt Mahoney and Rachel Coit sat down with Mass Foodies for an unfiltered look at what lead to the closure.

3. Seven New Restaurants Anticipated to Open Within a Half Mile in 2018:

We started the year with seven new restaurants on the horizon including Maddi’s Cookery & Taphouse, 110 Grill, Protein House, STIX Noodle Bar, Revolution Pie + Pint, Craft Table and Bar, and Brew Beer Garden. (You can add Fuel America to that list as well.) We should note that although Protein House, Revolution Pie + Pint, and Craft Table and Bar have installed new and prominent signage downtown, they have yet to open their doors. And, what’s going on with Josephine’s anyways?

 

Breaking ground on May 7th, the Kelley Square Market will embrace community. Pictured are the site plans for the project.
Breaking ground on May 7th, the Kelley Square Market will embrace community. Pictured are the site plans for the project.

4. Kelley Square Market Breaks Ground:

Developer Allen Fletcher turned heads when he broke ground on May 7th for his Kelley Square Market, which will house 30-40 vendors along with a sit down eatery. There was a lot of chatter about construction’s impact on parking, lest we remind you that Fletcher’s lot had been made available out by his sheer good will in the past. Did we ever bother to send him a thank you card?

Lock 50, in Worcester, offer igloos to extend patio dining throughout winter.
Lock 50, in Worcester, offer igloos to extend patio dining throughout winter.

5. Lock 50 Launches a Year-Round Patio:

Lock 50 found a way to extend patio season with the addition of luminescent heated igloos. Our readers relished the photos of the transparent orbs, aglow on Water Street.

6. Blue Shades Finds Specialty Success:

Worcester got a taste for authentic Belgian Liege waffles with the growing popularity of Blue Shades on Park Ave, an establishment that zeroes in on the mastery of a single specialty cuisine. This burst of interest proved that our readers are interested in supporting specialty and niche shops with a food truck model. (I’ve said on many occasions that I believe some of the best food in the city comes out of the MamaRoux food trailer parked behind The Dive Bar.)

7. The First Look at 110 Grill:

Mass Foodies went live from 110 Grill prior to their May 22nd opening in a space adjacent to the AC Hotel. Viewers got a preview of the traditional interior built to accommodate large groups along with the charming outdoor fire pits. In recent months, the restaurant has served as a frequent filming location for Liam Neeson’s latest flick, “Honest Thief.”

8. Wildwood Mushrooms Loses Its Entire Crop to a Fire, Plans to Rebuild:

We watched Brad Allain launch his Sutton mushroom farm, Wildwood Mushrooms, with great success in February and then suffer complete loss of his entire inventory as a result of a fire on October 13th.

9. “Restaurant Row” Loses Three Restaurants in One Month:

Red Lantern completed its last dinner service on December 9th at 235 Shrewsbury Street. One block away, neighboring restaurant, British Beer Company at 225 Shrewsbury Street also closed up shop to make room for the future home of Mexicali Mexican Grill. A week later, 7 Nana at 60 Shrewsbury Street also closed permanently.

10. Worcester Pickle Pulls Out:

Worcester’s Regal Pickle Factory sold in January. Regal Pickles were favored by many area chefs; we’ll all miss the sweet smell of pickles on Mason Street.

11. Maddi’s Opens in the Canal District Under the Direction of Christopher O’Harra:

Mass Foodies attended the grand opening of Maddi’s Cookery and Taphouse on June 18th. Chef Christopher O’Harra, formerly of Flying Rhino, brings two decades of experience in Worcester’s dining scene to the newest Water Street watering hole. Owner Adam Hicks also runs Depot Street Tavern in nearby Milford.

12. The First Look at Buck’s:

In April, Mass Foodies got a first look at Buck’s Whiskey and Burger Bar in the Canal District, which is conveniently located within spitting distance of Polar Park, the future home of the Worcester Red Sox.

13. Owners of Armsby Abbey Plan to Open a Second Concept in Hudson:

Sherri Sadowski and Alec Lopez announced in February that they have a new project on the horizon. Their downtown craft beer bar and restaurant, Armsby Abbey, celebrated its tenth anniversary over the summer. Their second restaurant, Conico, will be located in Hudson with a focus on traditional Mexican cuisine. Sadowski and Lopez demand a level of excellence that takes precision and patience, so don’t expect a rushed opening any time soon.

14. Legacy Opens and Closes in Less Than a Year:

Legacy Bar and Grill opened on Mill Street in January and closed earlier this month after less than a year in business. Its location along Coes Reservoir offered ample parking and waterfront views.

15. The Hangover Pub and Broth Overcome Temporary Closing:

The Hangover Pub and Broth, both of The Hangover Corporation, reopened over the summer after temporary closure on account of previous owner, Christopher Slavinskas’ involvement in concealment of drug money for restaurateur Kevin A. Perry Jr. Broth and The Hangover have since reopened under a newly formed corporation without Slavinskas.

16. The Canal District Takes a New Approach to Parking:

Mass Foodies took a stroll with Avra Hoffman of BirchTree Bread Co. to gauge the Canal District’s parking situation given the construction that is reshaping the neighborhood’s walkability.

17. Tatnuck Grille Closes:

Tatnuck Grille closed in April with news that the space had been apprehended by the owners of Funky Murphy’s.

18. Food Trucks Attract Thousands to Worcester:

More than 2,000 people came out for the first Food Truck Throwdown in Green Hill Park in May, organized by The Dogfather, Mark Gallant. Beyond simply satisfying our appetites, food trucks have major spatial benefits which impact our abilities to activate blank territories throughout the city. We predict that the pop-up mentality will continue to grow based on popular entities like Wooden Noodles.

Food Truck Throwdown was perfect for families and foodies alike Food Feed

Five Central Mass Food Trucks To Watch For This…

If you missed the Food Truck Throwdown, let’s just say you missed out on the start of a movement. The event harnessed the concept of healthy, food-driven competition while launching something much bigger than the celebration of great street food. Since 2015, Mark Gallant, owner of the Dogfather food truck, envisioned a city that understood the importance of a well-balanced food industry catering to a wide range of food options and structured to compete with the ever-changing food trends. The Food Truck Throwdown is the tipping point in Gallant’s mission to revolutionize how Worcester foodies eat.

Coffee and Frits during the Food Truck Throwdown
Coffee and Frits during the Food Truck Throwdown.

With over two-thousand people in attendance, Gallant’s Food Truck Throwdown stands to prove Gallant’s motto that Worcester is “food truck-friendly because of its great network of food trucks who can hold their own.”

The curated list of participating food truck vendors epitomized Gallant’s sentiment about the diverse food options in Worcester. From Sabor Latino to the Grub Guru to Big T’s Jerky House, the food was as eclectic as the people in attendance. Here’s a look at our top five food trucks of Food Truck Throwdown 2018:

Big T’s Jerky House and BBQ

This self-proclaimed bbq expert food truck thrives on over 25 years of catering experience. Using “only the best cuts of meat” slathered in their own dry rubs and mop sauces then smoked in a southern pit, Big T’s Jerky House and BBQ was a hit at the Food Truck Throwdown with a consistent wait time. The Texas brisket sandwich was among the “must-have” dishes list at the throwdown.

Cheese Pizza from Anzio’s Brick Oven Pizza
Cheese Pizza from Anzio’s Brick Oven Pizza

Anzio’s Brick Oven Pizza

Providing an authentic Neo-Neapolitan pizza – an American-born favorite recipe popularized in New Haven’s coal-fired pizzeria with the use of American unbleached flour in the dough with a bit of honey for sweetness – Anzio’s Brick Oven Pizza cooks in a traditional Italian brick oven, reflecting the quality flavors in every bit. At the throwdown, the mobile brick oven made for a great slice of cheese pizza but we hear the chicken parmigiana is also a fan favorite.

Sabor Latino

This Latin-inspired food truck was a hit at the Food Truck Throwdown with a sold-out menu by the end of the day. Offering traditional Latin dishes like empanadas, yuca fries, chorizo and Cuban sandwiches, Sabor Latino remained true to its roots with ingredients like cilantro and sofrito.

Chicken Kabob Rolls from the Grub Guru
Chicken Kabob Rolls from the Grub Guru

The Grub Guru

The Asian fusion street food truck, the Grub Guru, served an eclectic range of Asian cuisine. From samosas – a fried pastry with a savory potato and peas filling served with mint and tamarind chutneys – to chicken kebab rolls, the flavors transformed the Food Truck Throwdown experience. According to an attendee, the orange chicken with fried rice was the best dish of the day.

Pangea Cuisines

Promoting healthy eating, Pangea Cuisines specializes in Paleo-friendly foods and nutritious diets. Traveling all around the eastern half of Massachusetts, the food truck has an evolving menu. The go-to dish is the mammoth burger – a juicy, grass-fed burger topped two applewood soaked bacon, American cheese, and lettuce and tomato on a bulky roll or lettuce wrap. This burger is large in both size and flavor.

Over 13 food trucks including Say Cheese, Teddy’s Lunch Box, Patruno’s Place, Scoop Daddy, The Dogfather and the Kebob King – the newest food truck in Worcester – participated in the first Food Truck Throwdown and it left us wanting more.  Oh, and congratulations to the People’s Choice Award winner, Say Cheese and the Judge’s Choice Award winner, Anzio’s Pizza.

Uncle E's BBQ Express
Uncle E’s BBQ Express deserving an honorable mention.
Decorative elements of simjang on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA Food News

February’s Food News Wrap Up

New culinary spaces are experiencing activation throughout the region by major players from Worcester’s burgeoning food scene. Let’s start with simjang, the latest brainchild of deadhorse hill’s accomplished team. A friends and family opening on Monday revealed the 1928 Buick dealership under fresh minesweeper lights in true art deco fashion. The menu included Korean inspired easy-to-order, quickly prepared dishes as well as large format items for sharing. A chain link fence lay in wait of the March 1st opening. We’re getting our love locks ready and you should to; simjang promises a torrid Worcester romance at 72 Shrewsbury Street.

Executive Chef Jared Forman standing behind the raw bar display at simjang on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA (Erb Photo for Mass Foodies)
Executive Chef Jared Forman standing behind the raw bar display at simjang on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA (Erb Photo for Mass Foodies)

Armsby Abbey countered simjang’s locks with keys of their own. A Facebook post from the owners picturing a set of keys indicated that licenses had been approved and a lease signed on Main Street in Hudson—called Cónico. The announcement of Armsby’s second restaurant came on the heels of their 8th consecutive ‘Great American Beer Bars’ honor as the Best Beer Bar in Massachusetts by CraftBeer.com. Downtown Hudson has experienced tremendous economic growth in the last few years with the arrival of tastemakers like Rail Trail Flatbread Co., New City Microcreamery, Less Than Greater Than, Medusa Brewing Company, and Amy Lynn Chase’s retail destination, The Haberdash.

Armsby Abbey might have its sights set on Hudson, but their flagship establishment will continue to shine as Main Street in Worcester makes its transformation into a densely populated neighborhood. A walkable, vibrant vision is afoot downtown on account of new development and Mark Gallant of The Dogfather knows it. Gallant is establishing “Food Truck Row,” a destination which will host a minimum of five vendors during lunch every Monday through Saturday, with the capacity for up to ten trucks. General attendance and parking will be free beginning on March 5th in the municipal parking lot at 40 Highland Street, directly behind the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. Beyond simply satisfying our appetites, food trucks have major spatial benefits which impact our ability to activate blank territories throughout the city. Gallant is organizing the first official Food Truck Throw Down, scheduled for May 5th from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Green Hill Park. Mass Foodies’ own Giselle Rivera-Flores will serve as a judge. Check out her #SundayFunday series for a taste of her sensibilities. This month, she highlighted local favorites: The Hangover Pub, El Patron, and Carl’s Oxford Diner.

Local natural food stores and ethnic markets have persevered in the wake of last month’s Whole Foods. Living Earth has evolved with an increase in prepared foods as well as added cafe seating. Ed Hyder’s Mediterranean Marketplace is busier than ever, despite the saddening blow of Ed Hyder’s recent passing on February 5th. Ed Hyder’s Mediterranean Marketplace continues to be a true family business, invigorated by the dedication of the Hyder children. Ed Hyder will be remembered in our neighborhoods, kitchens, and hearts.

Chef Al Maykel from EVO on Chandler Street in Worcester, MA Massachusetts Chefs

Chef Al Maykel Focuses On American Dining, Evolved

Pizza served at EVO Restaurant on Chandler Street in Worcester, Photo by Erb PhotoAl Maykel wants to get away. Don’t worry; he’s not leaving Worcester or EVO. Al and his sister opened the restaurant on Chandler Street in 2008 in half of their parents’ market, The Living Earth. In 2015, he just longs to explore new possibilities for the restaurant and his legion of loyal customers.

“I would love to take a food truck across the country every summer,” says Al, “I would go to different cities and towns and on the way out eat and figure out what their cuisine is. Then, on the way back, I’d hit up those cuisines in the EVO style and just cook food once or twice a day. Then, I’d bring what I learned back here.”

Al got the idea from his favorite food movie, “Chef,” in which the main character leaves his job at a prestigious restaurant for a food truck and jumpstarts his creative side. That food truck is probably a long shot any time soon. And Al has no intention of leaving his job. But he couldn’t agree more that a chef needs to connect constantly with his creative side and the movie’s “inspirational message that a chef has to be who he is to be happy and successful.”

That said, diners at EVO won’t have to wait long for Al to “get away” from what he has been doing successfully for so long to satisfy his craving for creativity.

Al’s having a blast considering the possibilities for EVO’s evolving menu. With his sous chef and team in the kitchen, he is creating the kind of fun dishes he wants to offer. They are playing with potential new menu items as specials, at private dinners, and at events like Worcester’s Best Chef, which Al won in 2013. Grilling, slow cooking, braising, roasting, smoking… Al will draw on them all, combining them with his Lebanese and Spanish backgrounds and all he has learned at EVO so far. “I love a melting pot,” says Al. “I’ve tried to incorporate different things that I like about every cuisine into our current menu, and I’ll do the same thing with the new menu.”

American Dining at Evo on Chandler Street in Worcester, photograph by Erb PhotoPlans also include introducing ingredients that you do not see everywhere or anywhere in Worcester like alligator. (Anyone thinking alligator is a joke should know what Al does: Alligator is a delicacy in southern US cuisines, particularly Cajun, and really does taste a little like chicken.) “Our chefs were looking at a picture of two cute little alpacas and said, ‘Who wants to put it on the menu?’ Everyone said, ‘Yes! Lets do it!’ We’re after something different,” he says. (Okay, alpaca meat may be too much for now, but it is lean and sweet and not just for sweaters anymore.)

In looking for new flavor combinations, Al often draws on his parents’ Living Earth market next door when inspiration arises: “Other chefs are so jealous, I know it. How can you not love it? If I ever want a random product or something I don’t need a case of, I have the only organic produce market in Worcester right next door.” Not that Al always appreciated that connection though he always appreciated their support: “My parents have owned Living Earth since before I was born, and it always had the health, organic, natural focus. Growing up that was a nightmare because none of my friends ate that stuff. Health food then did not taste like it does now. It was disgusting. I had to learn to manipulate those products to make them palatable. That helped with my understanding of flavoring and how to tweak flavors to get different results.”

Chef Al Maykel from EVO on Chandler Street in Worcester, MA preparing his meal at Worcester's Best ChefBut while Al wants his customers to be surprised by and discover new flavors at EVO, he is most concerned with how the dishes come together. “Any dish that we create will take into consideration plating, texture, ingredients, flavor, balance,” he says. “I like doing small tasting plates with a few bites that get you all your flavor profiles. I love the decoration of those plates. When you have dishes like that they are almost works of art, and you are the artist who considered every aspect for something people will hopefully try and enjoy. That is all I ask for, for my customers to try it.”

Loyal customers need not worry, however: Al has no intention of getting rid of the acclaimed comfort food – the burgers, pizzas, quesadillas, mac and cheese, and shepherd pies – EVO customers have come to expect and cherish. All the favorites are available on a consolidated menu and complemented by a finer dining side.

Finer dining is where EVO was when it first opened but the diners weren’t ready for it. Now, according to Al, they are. In fact, the new menu is really about honoring some of his favorite customers. “We have customers who come in here all the time and just say create us something,” he adds. “I love those customers. They give me room to play and let me do something different. They love food and they want to try different things. So, finding the balance between our standard everyday menu and our adventurous one where we want to go, play, and have fun.”

The key words in that sentence are “balance” and “fun.”

“The life of a chef is all consuming,” Al continues. “My wife has been so supportive. She knows there is always something I have to do. I need to take more time off to explore. I want to hike, drive across country even without a food truck, visit friends in Vermont. Balance in my life like balance with the new and old menus is my goal.”

As for fun, that’s where the creative process comes in: “Sometimes my wife or my sister will say to me, ‘I had such and such dish in this restaurant, go taste it and make it for me.’ That’s fun because I can try and figure out what that is by tasting it. That’s awesome. But the most fun is when you get that customer whose day you made with your creation. To be able to interact with them and how they feel about it? Their happiness gives me happiness. That’s what it’s about.”