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February’s Food News Wrap Up

Decorative elements of simjang on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA

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 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.

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Chef Al Maykel Focuses On American Dining, Evolved

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

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.”