There are a few things I am forbidden from telling you about my afternoon of foraging with Julia Auger and Jared Forman.
I can tell you that traveling to their secret spot takes two hours roundtrip. I can tell you that Forman sometimes refers to it as “Ramptopia.” I can tell you that I was asked to turn my geotags off. I can tell you that they did not go so far as to blindfold me. But, I cannot tell you where they brought me or how we got there.
As proprietors of deadhorse hill and simjang in Worcester, Auger and Forman practice a modern philosophy of hospitality. This means taking excessive measures to guarantee an optimal guest experience—even if that requires braving the untamed forest in search of wild bounty.
Chefs favor ramps and fiddleheads as the first sign of spring. Ramp season is short, lasting about a month as soon as the weather grows seasonable. Fiddleheads are equally elusive, calling for wet and swampy conditions.
You don’t need to go off the grid to sample these rare treasures of New England. A variety of farm stands west of the Quabbin reservoir have ramps available for purchase and many of your neighborhood chefs have done the hard work for you.
Executive Chef Tim Russo is pickling fiddleheads at Lock 50 to extend their availability over the next two months. He also charred and packed his ramp haul in oil to make chimichurri and salsa verde set to appear in feature dishes all season long.
City Bar and Grille
Chef/Owner Al Soto has fiddleheads and ramps on the menu at his new westside hot spot, City Bar and Grille. Expect a dose of grilled ramp aioli with your first course at CBG’s Mad River cocktail dinner on May 15th.
BirchTree Bread Co.
This week, BirchTree Bread’s specialty toast features roasted fiddleheads along with a fried duck egg and asiago cream sauce served on seeded levain. Keep an eye out for fiddleheads on future Wednesday and Friday pizza nights.
If you aren’t lucky enough to enjoy your ramp-stuffed trout over an outdoor grill after hours of manual labor in the pouring rain, enjoy your ramps the civilized way—in the dining room. Forman has a kurobuta pork chop on the menu right now dressed with wild ramps, fiddleheads, and mushrooms.
Armsby Abbey no longer uses foraged ingredients, but you can still find ramps and fiddleheads on the menu for special occasions. Executive Chef Sean Dacey was serving up pickled ramps in his fried vegetables along with a horseradish cream puree, aged sheep’s milk cheese, and a fried egg. The ramps used were a one time purchase from a farm and once gone they are gone (hint: they’re gone). He has also devised a tasty carrot-ramp vinaigrette to properly dress the spring salad for Mother’s Day brunch. Like the ramps, you’ll only be able to get the fiddleheads through Mother’s Day before they are off of the menu!
There was a short time in my adult life when the mere mention of “pink wine” produced wrinkled noses and piteous stares from my sophisticated friends. A glass of white zinfandel rendered the drinker not only cheap, but also destined for a hangover.
With the rise of Instagram came America’s widespread introduction to a proper rosé. Yes, it was pink, but it could also be dry and delightfully sessionable. Plus, it was attractive and French—like Brigitte Bardot or an Hermès bag.
By 2013, American millennials had developed an unquenchable thirst for rosé.
My yearning for rosé continues to correspond directly to the temperature. When the weather gets warm, I want crisp pink wine, light salads, and fresh seafood. Mesmerizing instagram shots are also a must. Worcester has plenty of spots for sunny day sipping, snacking, and snapping. Here are a few of my favorites.
Bocado Tapas Wine Bar Pairing: Bocado offers a wide selection of “light reds” or rosados from Spain and Portugal. Pair with tapas frias like the gazpacho or the ensalada de madalena, made with chopped lettuce, red onion, hearts of palm, tomato, avocado, and manchego. For the Gram: Bocado is located just up the block from one of Worcester’s ghostly manufacturing murals. This hand-painted advertisement for Heywood Boot and Shoe Company features a faded red heart. Murals by street artists Adam Fu and Earth Crusher are also within walking distance, located at the rear of the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center.
The Sole Proprietor Pairing: The Sole’s selection of rosé sparkles all summer long. Pair with a Buster Roll made with blue crab, apple, avocado, and cucumber then topped with crisp smoked salmon. For the Gram: Buster the giant inflatable crab was conceived more than 25 years ago when The Sole Proprietor closed for a week’s worth of renovations. Owners knew they would need a boost to make up for the dip in sales. Buster still brings in the crowds year in and year out. Just a short walk from the Sole, you’ll also find the iconic iron bridge at Elm Park and more than a dozen striking Pow! Wow! Worcester murals at Elm Park Community School.
North Main Provisions Pairing: North Main Provisions offers the makings of a perfect picnic. Ask owners Nate Rossi and Alexis Kelleher to help you pair a bottle of rosé with just the right artisanal cheese. Pick up a loaf of naturally leavened bread next door at their flagship establishment, Crust Bakery. For the Gram: Take your picnic haul up the hill to Bancroft Tower, Worcester’s breathtaking feudal castle and have at it.
Lock 50 Pairing: Lock 50 has hosted entire evenings dedicated to rosé. As such, the staff is exceptionally knowledgeable when it comes to thinking pink. Pair with the chilled Spanish octopus served with salsa verde and Aleppo pepper. For the Gram: In many ways, Lock 50 has succeeded in becoming the most Instagrammable restaurant in the city. Aside from the eye catching igloos, Lock 50 is home to a special mural painted by esteemed Native American artist Spencer Keeton Cunningham. Owners are opening a new restaurant called Russo across the street with a camera-ready cave room this spring.
deadhorse hill Pairing: deadhorse hill has the strongest natural wine program in the city on account of manager, Julia Auger. Her intimate relationship with winemakers from around the world distinguishes deadhorse’s rotating wine list. Visit with a partner or pal on a Tuesday or Wednesday to enjoy their $45 date night experience. For the Gram: Just a few paces from deadhorse’s front door, you’ll find stunning murals by artists Arlin Graff and O.G. Slick on the Palladium Theater. Owners opened an equally vibrant Korean-American eatery on Shrewsbury Street called simjang, which features another of Graff’s mesmerizing works.
The Farmer and the Fork Cafe at Tower Hill
Tower Hill Botanic Garden’s two conservatories are lush and aromatic even in the dead of winter. The Limonaia (Lemon House) is brimming with bright camellias and bold citrus fruit. The Farmer and the Fork Cafe offers a seasonal menu that includes healthy grain bowls along with soups and salads. Guests can enjoy the fire place in the Great Hall after working up an appetite in the Orangerie, Tower Hill’s 18th-century-style greenhouse.
The AC Lounge
If I could bring the bar from Crazy, Stupid, Love. to life, it would look like The AC Lounge. The space is bright, posh, and metropolitan. Hotel bars have a certain formality about them and a level of anonymity given the number of out-of-towners. This is not the sort of watering hole where everybody knows your name; enjoy it.
The Civic Kitchen + Drink
The Civic has played host to a series of themed events over the last few months, including a Great Gatsby dinner party straight out of West Egg. Guests partied like it was the summer of 1922. The staff manages to take The Civic’s signature patio vibe indoors during the colder months. This spot is the perfect cure for the winter blues.
It’s easy to picture the small Italian village from which Chef Rico’s vision was born when you sit down at Avellino. The menu is rich with handmade specialties including house-cured pancetta and freshly pulled mozzarella. For the full effect, Chef Rico offers monthly cooking classes modeled after his grandmother’s Italian kitchen.
Rose 32 Bread
Rose 32 is a world class operation dressed down in small town clothing. Master baker Glenn Mitchell studied and trained in France before launching a small bakery in California with his wife Cindy that quickly grew into a national conglomerate. Glenn never lost sight of his love of baking, as exhibited by his top honors from Coup du Monde de la Boulangerie, the World Cup of baking held in Paris. The Mitchells may have retired from West coast living, but their little Hardwick bakery will make you feel like you’re in sneezing distance of San Francisco.
Simjang has tiki drinks, a fluorescent color palate, and an oyster bar that’s straight fire. You can play video games upstairs and mainline rosé froyo downstairs. Remind me again why we aren’t there right now?
Author of Drinking Like Ladies, Kirsten Amann, joins us for an interview during her book signing at simjang. Kirsten opted to donate her proceeds from the evening to Girls Inc., a local organization that equips girls to navigate gender, economic and social barriers and grow into healthy, educated and independent women. Heidi Paluk, Sr. Director of Advancement and External Relations gave us the rundown on Girls Inc. We also heard from Sarah Lee of simjang, Erin Jansky and Casey Clancey of the Young Professional Women’s Association, and Derek Grimm of the Bartenders Guild. We open with a chat about campus sexual assault as it pertains to The Bachelor and our local colleges. Photos by Unity Mike.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.)
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Can we just agree daylight savings time blows? I’m not saying the sky spitting rain into the upper-30s air would be entirely tolerable with a 5:30pm sunset. But dark at 4:30 after a brutal stressful day? It seems downright cruel, inducing enough crankiness to make a non-violent person contemplate punching the cheer out of anyone. I could see myself jumping on the Hanover stage at Elf that night and cold cocking the actor that plays Buddy the Elf. Which would of course lead to my getting my ass kicked by said actor and a horrified audience, being thrown in jail, and then failing to make bail because everyone including my family hates me for punching Buddy and ruining the show… and Christmas. You feel my mood?
I was in this damp down state of mind and weather when I found myself on Shrewsbury Street between appointments. Seeking a salve for my ill temper – okay, rage against the season – just because “the man” made me turn my clock back an hour, I stopped in Nuovo, hit the bar, and ordered up Alex Gjonca’s Albanian Appetizer of oven braised liver, garlic, feta cheese, and hot pepper – a dish that I “discovered” when I profiled him for Foodies a couple of years ago. It proudly captures his and wife Loretta’s Albanian heritage amidst the tasty Italian fare that fills the rest of their menu. I asked for a good glass of red to go with it and ended up with a cabernet. I wasn’t listening when the bartender told me what was poured.
The liver was rich and warming as I remembered, and the wine was yummy – deeply tannic and balanced with those berry jammy flavors I love. Mood, lifted.
And I might have kept all this to myself if I hadn’t looked at the check before I paid it. The wine turned out to be the Vaillancourt 2018 Christmas Wine, a reserve cabernet sauvignon from Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. It’s a new wine sourced by Luke M. Vaillancourt to be sold this season through his family’s two-generation folk art business in Sutton. Now, full disclosure, Vaillancourt is a sponsor of Mass Foodies and Luke is the site’s founder and publisher, but I wasn’t at Nuovo at his behest or Vaillancourt’s. I was there to lift my funk with a delicious glass of wine and a tasty plate of food and got it.
But as I am wont to do, I started overthinking my way into this story: What did it mean for Luke to pursue this culinary passion as part of his family’s business? It’s not like wine and Vaillancourt’s chalkware is a classic combination like bacon and eggs or grilled cheese and tomato soup. It seemed to me more like milk and cockles not milk and cookies. Sure, it goes with Luke’s passion: He, Ed Russo, and another partner launched the Worcester Wine Festival in 2017. Yet still, to bottle wine is to go to extraordinary lengths to execute on a vision, especially when there is not a natural pairing. But what do I know? It worked. And lucky me that I got a sip or two of little that remains of the 672 bottles produced this season. (Less than 3 cases remain between Nuovo, VIA Italian Table, and Uxlocale and as well as at Julio’s and the Vaillancourt’s retail gallery.)
Inspired, I checked in with a few of my favorite couples and families to hear what they do to pursue their culinary passions this season. My thought was that the holidays should be a time of great cheer, but for those in restaurants and food (and indeed all) retail it must be exhausting: the hours grow longer as the days grow shorter between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. How do you retain and show what the holidays mean to you and your family while still making it about everyone else – even if you work with your family? It must be a slog with little time for yourself and those closest to you, right?
Leave it a guy from Queens, New York to tell me I had it all backwards. “The holidays are when ‘normal’ people get into the spirit of giving,” said, Jared Forman of deadhorse hill and simjang. “This is where the hospitality industry is all the time. It’s always with us. You’re into our groove this time of year.” For Jared, like all chefs who cook seasonally in the New England, the fact that there is less local fresh food available makes it even more fun, because it forces him to be more creative with what he has and to do more with less. It seems like a cruel irony that the restaurant is slower in the summer when Jared is overwhelmed by New England’s bounty and packed with people and events when December hits, but he loves the feeling when lots is going on, even if that means catering an event on his day off.
The creativity extends to the look of the restaurant – the province of Julia Auger, Jared’s long-time girlfriend, who runs the front of the house and the wine program. Instead of flowers, she worked with Five Fork Farm to fill deadhorse hill with winter foliage that looks and smells incredible: “The aroma of the New England forests and the organic ambiance is amazing and just adds to the holiday spirit.” As for a personal connection, deadhorse hill’s Feast of the Seven Fishes menu offered December 18 to 24 is based on the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner Jared had growing up. “Our parents, family and friends have been coming to deadhorse hill on Christmas eve to join us since we began doing the dinner,” Julia says. “It’s unique to the season and always served family style. We now see other families returning, making it a tradition for them and theirs. It means a lot to be included in their family.”
Bill Aldrich and Jeanette Harmsen of Theatre Café just down Main Street from deadhorse also show their passion by creating special menus for the holiday gatherings they cater and donating food (like to the family of the firefighter who died this past weekend in Worcester and to the St John’s food pantry). But what really stood out to me was when Bill talked about how they give meals to regular customers during the holidays whom they know are on limited budgets. They know how much it means.
“It can be difficult to bring the holiday spirit ‘home’ during this absolutely busiest time of the year,” Bill says “During November and December, we average around 80 hours each week, so we have very little time to decorate and celebrate. We tend to treat ourselves to dinner out a bit more than usual and plan family holiday time for January after the rush is over. We also try to reward our dedicated staff for their efforts throughout the year. But I love making the experience great for our guests, so it’s rewarding on both levels. We don’t suffer in the end.”
The idea of customers extended family means a lot to everyone I spoke to, but perhaps none more than the sister and brother team of Miriam and Gregory Hyder, whose father Ed passed away last February. This is their first Christmas at Ed Hyder’s Mediterranean Marketplace and at home without him. Family is definitely on their minds, especially as Miriam is due with her first child just 12 days before Christmas. But when I speak to her, she tells me it’s “Christmas crazy right now” and she is far less concerned about the baby due Thursday and more with the fact that she can’t get any anise oil from her supplier in New York City which is going out of business after 100 years. “I’ve got Italian customers who need this for their cookies, and I have one bottle left. I need to figure it out.”
Hyder’s 43rd anniversary also fell in December and for the fourth straight year they did a tasting of the exquisite Cavedoni balsamic vinegar (straight from little spoons, no bread necessary), which makes a nice foodie gift. “This is what we do,” Miriam adds, revealing how her dad used to hand out envelopes of scratch tickets to everyone because he didn’t have time to shop. “We go flat out until we get out Christmas Eve, turn out the lights, and say, That’s it, we did it! I get a little jealous of the people at home making those cookies. But really this is our family.” To this, Gregory adds, “It sounds strange but the joy of making it easier for everyone else keeps us going. People come in here and they’re happy, looking in baskets, talking, seeing friends. You can’t get that in a supermarket or big box.”
“That’s like what Worcester is: family. It’s about family,” adds Sammy Cheng, who owns Blue Shades Coffee and Liege Waffles on Park Avenue with his wife Crystal. Their ten-year old son Evan is (seemingly diligently) doing homework in the back. Crystal is six months pregnant with their second child. And none of the holiday craziness phases them at all. Because they always know and are grateful they have each other.
“My family were refugees from Vietnam in 1981,” Sammy tells me. “My father saved enough to buy a boat and we escaped to a detention center in Macau when I was seven. My sister was born in the center. We were sponsored by a Jewish organization and ended up in Worcester. We were the lucky ones, and we never forgot it. We worked hard until we could buy our first business, a gas station, where I learned to run a business in 2003. I opened this place in November 2016, and I’ve added things Worcester understands like ramen and pork belly until they get the waffles. But I am here with my family every day. We get that here.”
We all should. So grab a waffle, try some balsamic, feast on fishes, and really try to support all the great family places in this city, especially those that have families working them like Meze Greek Tapas, Theatre Café, Armsby Abbey, Crust, BirchTree Bread, Lock 50… And if you want to have a glass of Vaillancourt’s wine at Nuovo and liver isn’t your thing? Try Alex and Loretta’s spinach pie. While available most of the year, this is one dish they especially share with family, friends and customers this time of year – and it takes a lot of passion to keep making because it takes a lot to make.
“The making of spinach pie is something that has always gathered our family around the table for years and especially during the holiday season. The process, while time consuming, is one that we have been practicing for many, many years,” Says Loretta. “We start off by first making filo dough from scratch and then layering the dough into sheets on a pan using butter or olive oil between each sheet. From there we stop halfway and add our stuffing. Typically this is a combination of cooked spinach and cheese, some Greek yogurt, butter, milk and eggs. However, there are also special occasions where we use meat fillings, leek, tomatoes, and onions. From there we continue adding the dough layers and finally once all the dough has been used, we bake it in the oven and wait for that yummy smell to fill up the kitchen.”
Listening to Loretta, I felt like a jackass for wanting to punch anyone, let alone an elf. It’s easy to get self-centered and overwhelmed when you are having a craptastic busy day and feel anything but giving. What I should have remembered is that’s when you give more. That’s when you make spinach pie even if the restaurant is sold out for days, you are catering events on your day off, or searching for anise oil while waiting for your water to break. I was right to use that down time to take care of myself, but I should have also used it to think about others, which I guess I did eventually. That’s also the piece of advice I got from Jared – a lesson for all of us amateur cooks and bakers and givers of gifts this season: Take a moment to think about what you’re doing in the few quiet moments you have.
In other words, plan to be thoughtful, not just generous this season. Even when it’s dark at 4:30 in the afternoon.
When I mention that I’m a nutritionist to strangers, the top response revolves around sharing information about their diets; and lately, it’s sounded something like this: “That’s awesome, I don’t do gluten, soy, dairy, nuts, or refined sugar.” My immediate thought process turns to why – is it due to an allergy, intolerance, or preference? There is a big difference between all three, yet all are impacting today’s restaurant scene and will continue to shape it in the future.
Food allergy rates are on the rise with recent statistics from the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) finding that up to 15 million Americans (5.9 million of them being children) have a food allergy. These numbers account for the 50% increase in food allergens over the past three decades. The top 8 most common food allergies are milk, eggs, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, and wheat; with peanuts being the most common food allergen, especially in children. An allergy, which is an autoimmune response, can be a life or death situation. In contrast, intolerance is a reaction to food that creates non-life threatening symptoms — we can tolerate it, but we might not enjoy what comes when we eat it. At the very end of the spectrum is a dietary preference, meaning people choose to eat the way that they do.
Most people don’t appreciate the effect that food allergies have until they are personally affected by one. The idea of shedding light on how food allergens impact us not only mentally and physically, but all the way down to how it’s shaping the food industry, is highlighted in “The Peanut Problem” on Netflix’s documentary series Rotten. The episode explores food allergies on a scientific level; and how the rapid increase in food allergy cases takes a hit on the food industry, from farmer to chef. Take a farmer for instance – the rise in food allergies, such as peanuts or wheat, decreases the need for the crop, putting the harvest in question. Now for the chef – if a restaurant isn’t allergen friendly then it is closing its doors to people who have a food allergy, as they can’t eat at their restaurant.
How important is it for chefs and restaurants to be allergen friendly? Rotten contributor Chef Ming Tsai was one of the first chefs to develop an allergen-friendly environment in his restaurant using an extensive spreadsheet of ingredients, known as the Food Allergy Bible, in all dishes. He did this not only due to the demand from the public but also due to his son’s food allergies. Ming sees it as an investment that pays off, as customers who are able to eat at his restaurant go the extra mile to come back and recommend it to others.
Chefs agree that the rise in allergies increases the need to incorporate an allergen-friendly environment in their restaurants. This starts with the menu planning and ends in efforts made in the kitchen for allergen safety. The safest restaurants to visit with an allergy will be ones that make their food from scratch. Ellen Benson, general manager of simjang, stresses the importance of taking allergies into account before approaching a menu item. She states that they “are always considering if that allergen can be avoided or not and if it has the possibility of cross-contaminating other products around it.” Another strategy that can be helpful to ensure customer safety and satisfaction is adding transparency about menu items and ingredients sourced, something that Armsby Abbey prides itself on doing.
Rotten continues to highlight how “food allergies have made the dinner table a high-risk environment, and it’s the chefs who have to navigate that minefield every day and night.” Yet before the chefs can do so, it’s up to the staff in the front of the house to be the main line of defense. The importance of staff awareness and education is crucial, which is echoed by local Central MA chefs. At Armsby Abbey, the staff is allergen certified through Serv Safe and are educated daily with pre-meal meetings. Additionally, they host classes throughout the year to promote awareness. At Lock 50, “Front of the house staff reports to the kitchen before placing any orders with potential food allergies. All chefs and cooks are aware of any potential common food allergies and take special care to keep them properly stored and to sanitize all equipment and hands after handling.”
A common issue that can make it even more difficult on the chef, restaurant, and those with food allergies is the diner who has a dietary preference yet states they have an allergy. Thinking about the extra time, effort, and money that goes into allergy safety and preparation, it can be extremely frustrating when a diner states they have an allergy when in reality they have a preference. An oft-expressed example is when someone requests something allergen-freer free, then orders something with that allergen and eats it (i.e. being “gluten-free” and then insisting on ordering a gluten-containing cookie for dessert.) This not only makes it confusing for the restaurant staff but also the general population. The consensus among restaurants, as explained by Executive Chef Tim Russo of Lock 50, is that it’s important to know the difference. He expressed that “if a guest has an allergy, much caution is taken by the staff to protect the safety of the guest. It is important for the guests to specify if they have allergies or if they just have dietary preferences.” To combat this, Benson states that at simjang “we often ask if it’s an intolerance, preference of allergy so we are able to approach them as serious as they are.”
Since the rise of food allergies, preferences, and health trends, we’ve started to see allergen-friendly alternatives that deliver great quality food; all the way down to items that you wouldn’t expect to taste as good as they do. Chefs are not using allergies as a restriction on their creative talents and menus. This is amazing, especially if you’ve felt like you’ve been missing out on your favorites due to an allergy. As Executive Chef Tim Russo explains, “no matter what the case may be, we always do our best to make sure our guests have plenty of enjoyable options on our menu without sacrificing their dietary needs or putting themselves at risk with an allergic reaction.” If you have a wheat allergy, you might think that restaurant classics like breads and pizza are off limits or that alternatives won’t measure up to the real thing; yet restaurants like The Boynton and The Rail Trail Flatbread Co. do an excellent job at creating alternatives attracting the gluten-free crowd. Other restaurants are highlighting efforts to ensure allergy safety by having designated allergen friendly spaces, such as having separate gluten-free fryers, which can be seen at restaurants like Maddi’s Cookery and Taphouse and simjang. It’s admirable to see restaurants in Central Mass taking these steps into account all while not harming the integrity of the chefs’ creations.
So how can you go about navigating the restaurant scene if you have an allergy? My main tip involves doing research and asking questions. Your best bets will be to visit restaurants that cook meals from scratch due to flexibility — if you have an allergy they can easily remove that ingredient. When you get to your restaurant of choice, be transparent with the wait staff and explain your allergy, intolerance, or dietary restriction situation. What are your go- to restaurants that are allergen-friendly?
A few of your favorite restaurants want you to try cooking at home this summer. No joke. Just ask Lynn Cheney of Lettuce Be Local whose unique spin on the CSA is changing the way Central Mass thinks about food. She has strategically selected three pickup locations at area restaurants in different neighborhoods of the city in order to foster ease and walkability for residents. Pickups can be made at deadhorse hill downtown, Lock 50 in the Canal District and simjang on Shrewsbury Street. Orders can be personalized based on each member’s needs from week to week and offers accessibility to Cheney’s wide network of farms, previously only available to chefs. The CSA does not include dairy and meat at this time.
If it’s meat you’re after, look no farther than Walker Farm. I should warn you that obtaining Joanie Walker’s beef can be as challenging as Elaine Benes ordering a cup of soup. Joanie only sells to chefs who will do justice to her herd of grass-fed Red Devon cattle known for their healthy, hearty, marbled meat. You’ve probably enjoyed the results of her love and labor at Armsby Abbey, deadhorse hill, or the International’s Fireplace Room. Joanie’s reputation is steadfast among local foodies for producing the highest quality beef in the region. I visited Walker Farm in New Braintree in order to fully appreciate Joanie’s patience and care for her cows. (Rest assured, I went home with a freezer full of meat.)
This month, the Worcester Foodies visited 110 Grill where they admired the “very cool outdoor patio and fire pit that was bustling on the beautiful summer evening we visited.” 110’s ambience was dubbed “casual elegance” by the group. Lindsay said, “Big windows along the front of the restaurant allow you to overlook some of downtown Worcester’s new sights. I can’t wait to spend and evening on the patio trying some options from the cocktail menu.” Stephanie added, “I was born and raised in Worcester and I really enjoy seeing my city grow and thrive.” The evening marked Worcester Foodies’ 86th consecutive monthly outing. They found a wide range of crowd pleasers from light and casual salads to comfort classics such as Meatloaf or Mac and Cheese and even all out NY Sirloin or Rib Eye Steak options.
Contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores continued her #SundayFunday series with trips to Boston’s Barking Crab and Worcester’s Hacienda Don Juan. Regarding the Barking Crab she wrote, “On any given day, the patio tables are lined with patrons enjoying the summer breeze and the distinct smell of the sea as they order signature items like the Crabby Coolers – a 32 oz drink of choice, usually with alcohol – or admire the King Platter – a 10lb lobster and mixed crab bowl as it is served to a nearby table.” Hacienda proved equally transportive on account of their corn loving dishes made with pupusas, tortillas, and tamales.
Mass Foodies welcomed a new writer this month. Dana Harrison, MS. Harrison is a nutritionist, educator, and fitness instructor with a simple approach to nutrition, health, and wellness. Harrison’s philosophy is, “Eat, move, love, and learn. It’s all a balancing act.” Her goal is to help others find their own balance through health and wellness with a concentration on nutrition education. She has amassed over 25,000 followers on Instagram with the handle @eats2know. Her inaugural article raised a toast to toast, getting personal with BirchTree. Harrison sees toast as a tool for portion control with a variety of nutrients and flavors.
Contributor Veronica Vann Jura visited Buck’s Whiskey & Burger Bar to scope out the atmosphere. She admired the original artwork by Tony Freitas, the narrow layout reminiscent of a ‘country-road,’ and even the tidy restrooms. The only thing missing from Buck’s was apparently the line dancing. There’s an idea for August…
One of Worcester’s most anticipated restaurant openings was this past spring as simjang opened their doors in March on Shrewsbury Street, in the space that once housed Sweet Kitchen + Bar.
The name simjang comes from combining a few Korean words – Sim for “heart” and Jang for the concept of the “world around us.” Executive Chef and Co-owner Jared Forman (deadhorse hill) and Chef de Cuisine Mike Wenc have led the team since the opening and the Foodies were anxious to try the latest addition to the always changing Worcester restaurant scene.
Simjang has been well received by the community at large. Having spoken to many about their experience, most people have found the menu to be a bit intimidating at first but after some explanation by a well-trained staff, feel comfortable enough to go outside their comfort zone and enjoy some traditional Korean ingredients, flavors, and dishes.
The layout of the space itself hasn’t changed since Sweet was there, the big industrial-styled dining room and the open view of the kitchen are basically the same. The décor has been updated to fit the contemporary theme of the restaurant and our Foodie sister Amy tells us, the brightly colored painted mural behind the bar (by POW! WOW! Worcester muralist Arlin Graff) is meant to reflect the meaning behind the name simjang. The mural is beautifully vibrant and sets the tone for what to expect from the food!
Once we all arrived we were seated immediately and our server (Joy) began the process of taking drink and app orders. To start, we were served a delightful plate of kimchi-style pickled small tastes which were well received by the group. Looking down the long table I saw a variety of drinks from bourbons to fanciful, tall sweet drinks with a few Narragansett Tall Boys mixed in for good measure.
The shareable chicken wings and thighs seemed to be a popular way to start the evening’s activities. “The miso-soy garlic chicken thighs were some of the most delicious “wings” I’ve ever tasted. The sauce made you want to take another bite, and the skin was super crispy, while the tender chicken on the interior was moist and flavorful. This item alone is enough to bring me back for more,” said Evan.
Apps complete, the main dishes began to arrive. Amy offered, “I ordered the Kimchijeon (scallion kimchi pancake) and was not disappointed. The size was substantial and offered hearty pieces of pickled muscle giving the pancake a true level of distinction and robust flavor! Scott ordered the same meal and thought it was “delicious” as well!
Robyn ordered the Mulgogi (whole fish) which was served with green empress, daikon, apple, fried shallot and cashews and she described “…it was amazing and something I would go back and order again. It was flavorful and cooked to flaky perfection.
Evan offered that simjang was “innovative Korean-American fusion with menu items that are unique in their own right but familiar enough to take a chance and order something delicious. For my meal, I ordered the Bibimbap with Pork Belly which was a delightfully bright dish with fresh veggies, a fabulous textured creation with the crispy rice, and a fried egg to top it all off. The pork belly was rich and fatty, like the best bacon on steroids you could eat. All in all, one of my best restaurant experiences from start to finish in a long time”.
Julie was very enthusiastic, “The Nuri buttered rice was uniquely delicious and really a meal unto itself. I also had the haemul jjigae (spicy seafood stew) which was served piping-hot and full of flavorful fish, scallops, and shrimp. The spice brought the dish to a different level”.
Stephanie added, “I went way out of my comfort zone and the staff and chef made every accommodation possible because of my food allergies. The Pineapple Fried Rice is a must try and absolutely fabulous”.
“The food was fantastic, a delicious mix of flavors with great tastes. I do think the portion sizes of my meal were on the small side. I had the pork rib special and thought it was appetizer sized for the main dish,” said Dana.
Personally, I had the Nori rice and the Bibimbap and found both to be tremendous. The fatty, melt in your mouth pork belly, combined with the crispy fried rice and fried egg made a flavor-packed, fulfilling comfort-food meal that left me wanting to return.
To the person, we all felt the service was outstanding. Our server Joy was very attentive, knew the menu very well and had great input about choices. As it happens with our larger group, some meals arrived very late to the table but we will chalk that up to the size of our group.
Overall we were incredibly pleased with our experience at simjang and many of us made a point to say we will definitely return to try some new items.
May means outdoor dining, a reality made simple with the launch of 110 Grill in downtown Worcester. I had the opportunity to tour 110’s new space for a Live segment with General Manager Patrick McClelland who expressed his excitement about the restaurant’s proximity to the AC Marriott. Lights still need to be installed on the patio, but guests are welcome to dine before dark in the meantime; stay tuned for fire pits. If you’re curious about the parking situation, rest assured that 110 Grill validates after 5 p.m. and anytime on the weekends.
I joined Renee King of the Queen’s Cups on a tour of Good As Gold Coffee, one of her Canal District neighbors. I have driven past Good As Gold hundreds of times over the years, but this was my first venture inside. New advanced air roasting technology allows these local crafters to ensure steadfast consistency for customers. Their custom air roaster controls how heat is applied to the coffee bean, impacting the outside coloration of the roast color as well as the inside by taking measurements 10 times per second. What now separates Good As Gold from other roasters is an ability to provide more consistent coffee and dial in their recipes. Good As Gold is currently the only roaster in the United States with this precise technology. You can expect an autumn collab with the Queen. (Stay tuned for Coffee + Dessert #1!)
This month, Mass Foodies contributor Jim Eber took a chance on Crust Artisan Bakeshop’s Coney Island pizza. Alexis Kelleher’s homage to the “Up” dog, an iconic preparation with all the fixings, was created to trigger the same nostalgia she feels whenever she sets foot in her family’s eatery, Coney Island. Kelleher and her partner Nate Rossi are expanding their footprint to offer fine wine and cheese, a compliment to their signature fresh baked goods at Crust. The new entity will be called North Main Provisions.
Giselle-Rivera Flores broke the news that Chef Jay Powell has sold the Twisted Fork Bistro in Leicester to open a new venture in the town of Auburn. The new project will be called the Twisted Cochon BBQ and Grill. Flores also treated the family to a tea party at Fancy That in Walpole for her new series, #FamilyEats. In addition, she zeroed in on the community, applauding public markets like Allen Fletcher’s new Kelley Square Market project. Rivera wrote, “In the midst of a growth spurt, Worcester looks back on its roots in an attempt to infuse what the city needs the most: a common space to define and explore shared values among the diverse culture that breathes life into Worcester’s identity.”
The Worcester Foodies braved torrential downpours to test the waters at simjang on Shrewsbury Street. The crew found it easy to step out of their comfort zone under the watchful eye of Chef de Cuisine Mike Wenc and his knowledgeable staff. Robyn sprang for the Mulgogi (whole fish) and reveled in its flakey perfection. What a way to delight in May.
Save The Date for the 2021 Worcester Wine Festival Grand Tasting at Polar Park in Worcester, MA.