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#SundayFunday: Traditional Thai at Rice Violet

Rice Violet on Main Street in Worcester, MA

Placing an emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components, Thai cuisine is famous for its balance of five flavors: sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy. While some dishes blend all of the flavors into a signature taste, others are served as compliments to the overpowering flavors of spice and bitterness. Thai chef McDang characterizes Thai food as demonstrating “intricacy; attention to detail; texture; color; taste; and the use of ingredients with medicinal benefits, as well as good flavor.” His description fits the mold of which Rice Violet was sculpted from.

Shrimp fried rice, chicken satay and crab ragoons from Rice Violet on Main Street in Worcester, MA
Shrimp fried rice, chicken satay and crab ragoons from Rice Violet on Main Street in Worcester, MA

Sitting on the corner of Main and Exchange Street in downtown Worcester, Rice Violet breathes cultural life into an area slowly shying away from diversity. From its bright colors that line the exterior of the restaurant – giving itself a pop of personality – to the ethnically hired staff, Rice Violet looks to remain authentic in a time where authenticity is scarce. Its fluid menu caters to a wide range of eating lifestyles including vegetarian and gluten-free dishes – an underserved market in the Worcester culinary scene. The menu, filled with recipes directly from the central part of Thailand – considered the Bangkok Style of Cooking – mix effortlessly with innovative modern Thai dishes, giving Rice Violet a broader audience of food aficionados.

Pork dumplings, chicken satay, edamame – seasoned Japanese snack of steamed soybean pods and seasoned salt, and samosa bag – a crispy wonton wrapper stuffed with potato and curry powder, are only but a few of the a la carte dishes that can be paired with salads like the famous Thai papaya salad (som tum) – a salad with green papaya, tossed with tomatoes, chili lime dressing and tin peanuts served with sticky rice or simply paired with shrimp fried rice – a universal favorite. The eclectic menu serves one purpose: to be the center of any social occasion, if not, the social occasion itself. As we know, American restaurants are about the individual experience – with a recent shift in the restaurant culture to mimic that of European ordering styles – and it focuses on each individual’s starter meal, entree, and dessert – in that order. While in Thailand, much like the European countries, ordering meals is about sharing and enjoying as much food together as a unit. As a general rule, Thai diners order the same number of dishes as people present; however, all dishes are shared and enjoyed together. Watching a table of six order five or six dishes and all serve themselves a portion from each dish is not a rare sight at Rice Violet, but instead, it is the norm. The best part of shared dinners at Rice Violet? They honor the “bring your own beverage” policy which makes them undeniably approved as a #SundayFunday destination.

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In Praise of … Crust’s Coney Island Hot Dog Pizza

Coney Island Pizza from Crust on Main Street in Worcester, MA

David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s 1985 cover of Martha and the Vandella’s “Dancing in the Street” is a perfectly serviceable collaboration. But the video. Oh, the video. It’s an absolute train wreck. The clothes (really guys?), the “dancing,” the ridiculous emoting. For two great artists and performers, the video is the veritable opposite of a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup’s two great tastes that go great together.

This is what popped in my head when I first saw that Crust Bakeshop was mashing up the legendary Coney Island “up” hot dog (homemade chili sauce, raw onion, and mustard) with the excellent pizza Crust Bakeshop just started making on Thursday nights (from 4-8pm only). And I had to have it. Just to know. An idea like this can only break one of two ways: deliciously defying logic so that you’re happily willing to sacrifice an artery or two or you smile politely when asked what you thought and say, “Thank you for trying.”

In this case, I am delighted to report that more is more. The Coney Island Hot Dog Pizza just works. Pizza is among the perfect foods – and if I am going to have something besides my hand convey the inappropriate number of “Up” dogs I already consume, might as well be some damn fine pizza done right by Crust. Plus it’s a family affair: Crust owner Alexis Kelleher is the daughter of the owners of George’s Coney Island. The pizza is a tribute to the beloved Worcester institution’s 100th anniversary.

The Coney Island pizza ($17) fits snugly in a 17” box and easily feeds 2-4 depending on your willpower or willingness to fight your friends and children for the last slices. A layer of Coney’s famous chili sauce goes down in place of red sauce, then mozzarella cheese shredded and sliced, followed by chopped Coney Island dogs. After cooking it is finished with minced onion and yellow mustard. (And relish and/or ketchup if that is what you’re into – I won’t judge. Okay, maybe about the ketchup.)

So how did this love child of old and new Worcester faves, come about? “We started pizza night with one regular and one special pizza and it caught on. We’d been talking about doing some kind of collaboration for the 100-year anniversary, and my mom said, ‘Well why don’t we try it with the pizza?’” The head-slapping moment was a hit and turned into a plan to offer the pizza as a special the second Thursday of every month in conjunction with Coney Island’s comedy night. (On that night only you’re allowed to bring it in to Coney.)

For Kelleher, the effect of the pizza cooking in her store is a Proustian moment: the hot dog as madeleine. “The smells are so familiar to me,” she says. “They trigger something. My mom asks me, ‘Why do you think people like it? Why don’t they just come get a hot dog?’ I think taking something that you love and making it a little different is fun.” Maybe the only downside is it’s available only once a month. Or maybe that’s an upside – an incentive to start running so I can blow the benefits all to hell once a month!

Crust’s pizza is a wonderful addition to Worcester’s surprisingly strong pizza scene (Dacosta’s, Pepe’s, Volturno, Wonder Bar, Nonna’s, and BirchTree twice a week) and a great way to grab extra stuff from the bakery after 3pm one night a week.

But the Coney Island pizza? Go ahead dance in the streets for that one.

Editor’s Note: Earlier in 2018, we broke that Crust Bakeshop will be expanding as North Main Provisions!