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Worcester’s Top 17 Food and Restaurant Stories of 2017

Simjang will open in 2017 on Shrewsbury Street, in former Sweet location.

In 2017, Worcester’s restaurant scene welcomed a number of newcomers to the table in our proverbial dining room, which continues to grow at a rapid rate. Ramen bowls, butcher blocks, Szechuan sandwiches, and wine wars all found their welcome here. Still, a few of our biggest breaks bid so long (and in one case, good riddance) to members of the culinary community. Here are the top 17 Mass Foodies stories of 2017:

    1. Sweet ClosesTelevision darling, Alina Eisenhauer announced Sweet Kitchen and Bar’s last day of service in July. The closing marked a new beginning for Eisenhauer who has turned her attention to consulting, private events, and the growth of her YouTube channel.
    2. Broth: The minds behind The Hangover Pub launched a new concept in October called Broth. The adjacent space marked an entry point for ramen in Worcester, toting approachable bowls inspired by American traditions like Thanksgiving. Executive Chef Michael Arrastia explained to Mass Foodies that the inspiration for Broth came during a visit to momofuku, citing his admiration for Chef David Chang.
    3. simjang: Upon Sweet’s exit, the deadhorse hill team unveiled their plans for a new concept at 72 Shrewsbury Street called simjang – a concept dedicated to Korean culture and cuisine. Mass Foodies was awarded the first look inside, where internationally renowned artist Arlin Graff was hard at work on a heartfelt custom mural. Executive Chef Jared Forman gleaned plenty of experience in his three years working for Chef David Chang at momofuku noodle bar and momofuku Ssäm Bar. You can kiss 2017 goodbye and needle deadhorse employees for the simjang scoop as they recreate an original menu from the historic Bay State House hotel on New Year’s Eve.
    4. The Queen’s Cups Relocates to the Canal District: The Canal District erupted with excitement last January when The Queen’s Cups announced that it would be moving to Worcester. Since then, the previous home of Bucky’s Garage has been overtaken with cupcakes, pupcakes, and Mass Foodies’ personal favorite – Matildas. Perhaps the biggest success story of all is that owner Renee King has established 56 Water Street as a wifi-free-zone where friends and neighbors gather regularly to share in one another’s company. Unimaginable!
    5. Nonna’s & STEAM on Ice: In February, Niche Hospitality Group outlined its fast-casual bundle for the Worcester Ice Center as an integral piece of Cliff Rucker’s community hockey vision. A year later, Nonna’s Pizza & Pasta and STEAM Energy Cafe have officially opened their doors (and their parking lots) to the Canal District neighborhood.
    6. Sonoma Checks Into The BeechwoodSonoma Restaurant surprised everyone in May when chef/owner Bill Brady announced that he would be relocating his highly regarded Princeton establishment to the four diamond Beechwood Hotel in Worcester. For Brady, the shift meant a departure from his role at Worcester Technical School in order to keep up with the demands of a full service restaurant.
    7. KummerspeckAll eyes were on Rachel Coit and Matt Mahoney, proprietors of Kummerspeck. Kummerspeck, which translates from German as “grief bacon,” opened in August after a series of local pop ups. The Water Street eatery serves up reimagined comfort food as well as the adventurous offerings of a classic butchershop. Both chefs cut their teeth in Boston’s dining scene, working for famed chef/restaurateur, Barbara Lynch. Coit, former Sportello sous Chef, and Mahoney, former ButcherShop chef de cuisine, eased into the central Mass dining scene with stints at BT’s Smokehouse and Armsby Abbey.
    8. The Rice TruckTeri Goulette first worked her way into our hearts with one of the region’s most popular food trailers, Say Cheese! August marked the purchase of Goulette’s first official food truck, The Rice Truck, inspired by her mother’s famous fried rice recipe.
    9. Sushi Miyazawa: Chef and Owner Norihiko “Nori” Tsukuda boasts 30 years of sushi experience, including his time training with the chef to the Emperor of Japan. In July, Mass Foodies was introduced to Sushi Miyazawa’s modest decor as well as its modest prices. The Chandler Street space seats just 20 customers at a time and allows patrons to BYOB.
    10. Rogers Leaves Niche for Food Hub: It seemed Chef Rogers was everywhere in 2017. As the Executive Chef de Cuisine of Niche Hospitality Group, Rogers forged relationships in countless facets of the community. In many ways, Rogers’ announcement in March that he had accepted a position as Kitchen Operations Manager of the Worcester Regional Food Hub came as no surprise. Given his staunch commitment to the city of Worcester, it was only a matter of time before his humanitarian nature led him down the path to public service.
The Usual on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA
The Usual on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA
    1. The Usual, The Chameleon, and The Conviction: Someone else exited Worcester’s restaurant scene on the very same day as Chef Rogers, albeit less gracefully. Owner of now defunct establishments, The Blackstone Tap and The Usual, Kevin A. Perry was arrested and charged in connection with using the proceeds of drug sales to purchase and renovate nine properties in Worcester County, including both restaurants. Soon after, The Usual became The Chameleon, which we found shuttered in November. This week, we learned U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman granted government control for sale of both properties. Here’s hoping 2018 brings a fresh start.
    2. Worcester Wine Festival: In October, Worcester’s Inaugural Wine Festival drew over 1,300 attendees to festivities that included a grand tasting, brunches, paired dinners, and educational seminars. Mass Foodies is already looking forward to another round of wine events in 2018 from September 4th-9th.
    3. Mama Roux: Jonathan Demoga’s custom food trailer, Mama Roux, took up residency in The Dive Bar’s beer garden in May. Demoga gained his expertise in southern cuisine while working for the famed Brennan Family of New Orleans. Mama Roux has already built a cult following around its Szechuan Hot Chicken Sandwich which is very particular in its use of Regal Crown Pickles, an artisan pickle producer based in Worcester. The coveted sandwich is made with buttermilk fried free-range organic chicken thighs, doused with szechuan spiced chili oil, and served on a Martin’s potato roll.
    4. JosephineIn November, The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts announced that Chris Rassias of Holden had signed a lease to open Josephine, a new restaurant anticipated to launch before the close of their spring season. Rassias shared with Mass Foodies that the concept would be inspired by the traditional aesthetic of 1920’s theater.
    5. Farewell to Chef Evangelous: In December, Armsby Abbey owner Sherri Sadowski wrote a heartfelt goodbye to longtime Executive Chef Damian Evangelous who will be moving to California with his wife Lauren (Revelry Coffee) in February. Executive Sous Chef Sean Dacey will assume his role as the new head of Armsby Abbey’s kitchen.
Valentino's opening in May on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA
Valentino’s opening in May on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA
  1. Valentino’s: In April we had hope that the dormant former home of Cafe Dolce would find a rebirth with the ushering in of Valentino’s Press and Pour. While “press and pour” connotes morning for most, Valentino’s hours are geared toward afternoon and evening customers with the exception of Sunday brunch. If Cafe Dolce could make it work in the aughts, we’re sure they will too, but the coffee program absolutely needs sprucing.
  2. Bootlegger’s Folds to Living Earth: We weren’t surprised when we learned in September that Bootlegger’s Prohibition Pub would be closing in favor of a Living Earth expansion. The Chandler Street sign reading, “SECRET ENTRANCE AROUND BACK,” was a little on the nose. Regardless, Mass Foodies is crazy for all-natural, wholesome shopping and as far as we’re concerned, Living Earth is a Worcester institution.
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Worcester’s Chef Alina Eisenhauer of Sweet Launches New American Cookbook Project

Alina and her local team with her cookbook project's cover dish.

Worcester’s food scene is booming. High and low, big and small, growers and game raisers, chef-driven and concept-driven, comfort food to refined plates, baked goods to bar stools, fickle customers to foodies, tacos to tasting menus… Worcester has it all with something new seemingly announced every week. It is some kind of wonderful.

Yet there is one thing this Worcester scene does not have: a cookbook author. (Geoffrey Zakarian is from Worcester but he is not of Worcester.)

Until now. Alina Eisenhauer of Sweet Kitchen & Bar plans to publish her first book, Cooking from Memory: A New American Cookbook in 2017. The book is about food as our common ground: recipes and stories from Alina that connect us to ourselves, one another, and a mosaic of flavors that make up American food. But how the book will be created, like Worcester itself, is different from most cookbooks.

Alina’s doing it herself. More correctly, Alina is using a local team, an independent publisher, and most importantly: Kickstarter which is officially live.

Through friends, family, customers, colleagues, social media connections, and a few total strangers willing to buy a book, cupcake, or something more in advance, Alina hopes to fund the book now and deliver it by the end of the year – something no traditional publisher could offer.

Cooking From Memory, Chef Alina Eisenhauer's new book going on Kickstarter.
Cooking From Memory, Chef Alina Eisenhauer’s new book going on Kickstarter.

“I have known what I wanted Cooking from Memory to be for years: A recipe book about the way I and we all connect to food,” Alina says. “What I didn’t know was that I wanted to crowdfund it and create it myself. I thought I wanted to go a more traditional route. But would traditional publishers understand me? Worcester? The connection I wanted to capture through stories and recipes to my family and friends, this city, chef community, staff, and customers? Especially to my mom – this is dedicated to her! Probably not and even if they did I would have to spend months on a proposal just to prove my concept to those publishers and then it would take months to get it printed. I wouldn’t have a book until the end of 2018 earliest!”

And even then, Eisenhauer noticed, she would not only lose some control of how she wanted the book to feel but likely have to commit to buying back a few thousand books to sell at Sweet. A long discussion with her family and friends, local connections, and some quick number crunching and she realized: For the price of a few thousand books she could assemble her own team and execute her own vision for Cooking from Memory.

“No matter what I’d still have to do the same things I would do to create the book for a publishing house,” Alina adds. “I’d have to write the book, create and test the recipes, cook the food for the photos. So why not own it all and do it myself and make it look and feel like I wanted? So I assembled a terrific local team including Scott and Donna at Erb Photography and Sophia at Dolce Vittoria design group. I found a publisher in Story Farm who could help put it together and print it quickly and beautifully. As you can see from the sample pages, we have already given our book a clear direction, amazing design, and fantastic photography and writing to make Cooking from Memory a reality better than I imagined.”

Full disclosure: one of those people is yours truly. I knew Alina from my profile of her for Mass Foodies and of course loved her food. But things got real last August when my first cookbook, Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey (2008) with Efisio Farris, was selected by Chowhound as their book to cook from for the month. Alina saw, reached out, and asked me to be her writer. (I like to call myself a “professional with”: YOUR NAME IN LIGHTS with me.) We talked through the fall, generating concepts and recipe lists, ultimately settling on Cooking from Memory. We met with uber agents Lisa and Sally Ekus from Hatfield, who outlined the different directions – possibilities and pitfalls – and ultimately introduced us to Story Farm. We decided to go this route.

I have worked with chefs and cookbooks for more than 20 years now and maybe the single biggest change I have seen is the evolution of what used to be called self-publishing and today is better known as independent publishing. And yes, there is more than a semantic difference. Self-publishing conjures memories of cheap manifestos of poor quality. More importantly, self-publishing used to mean you couldn’t get someone to buy your idea and you HAD to do it yourself. At Kinkos. On copy paper.

No more. One look at our sample pages and there is no doubt this is a beautifully executed book. In the age of the solo-preneur, Alina has been able to assemble a team that rivals that of any traditional publisher. (I know: I worked at and with many.) And like Alina said, she keeps the control of the timing, look, and feel. It is an incredible amount of work to do it right, but ultimately very fulfilling.

If we get it done that is. We have already invested lots of time and a little money to get the Kickstarter launched. Now, it is up to all of Alina’s and the team’s connections. We need our communities to back this play and make this Worcester’s first chef-in-residence cookbook.

A cookbook is an expensive project. The funding goal is the minimum Alina needs, less Kickstarter fees, to lock in the publishing process and start the work to print at least 5,000 copies of a high-quality hardcover full color cookbook this year. The first stretch goal is a little more than $100,000 to cover all printing and design, photography, writing, recipe testing and conversion, copyediting, and proofreading.

“I’ll worry about my time and food costs after the team,” Alina says. “But I promise to make it worth everyone’s while with great stretch rewards if we get there!

And it’s not like backers won’t get something for their support – most will get a cookbook delivered as soon as it is ready. A limited number can get more, including their memories and a recipe based on them captured in the book or a dinner based on the book at Sweet. The book also gives back: for every book sold Alina will give donate at least $1 to her favorite charity: Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

We’ll be covering the path of this Kickstarter and the cookbook production as it happens on Mass Foodies, but for now let’s make some memories together.

Cooking from Memory: A New American Cookbook
Cooking from Memory: A New American Cookbook