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Worcester’s Food Wrap-Up: November

Restaurant juggernaut Danny Meyer is noted for his adage: “Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple and that hard.” Here at Mass Foodies, we couldn’t agree more, which is why November marked the start of a new column by contributor Veronica Van Jura dedicated to Atmosphere and Appetites. As an abstract painter, Van Jura has always maintained vast appreciations for both interior design and the culinary arts. This month brought her to the new home of The Queen’s Cups, which she found sleek, classy, and marvelously inclusive. Van Jura also visited VIA Italian Table where she effectively located the “best seat in the house” – a rear nook containing a privately commissioned painting of Florence and a custom engraved table. She also notes that the bar was constructed in a shape which beckons for “love at first sight.” VIA is all about feelings.

Van Jura wasn’t the only Mass Foodies correspondent to visit VIA this month. I also had an opportunity to enjoy the hard labor of Corporate Executive Chef Mark Hawley for his first suckling pig dinner. Hawley has begun tinkering with family style experiences for small groups. “Tidy plates can be very nice, but sometimes I just want to eat like a family,” Hawley explains. Every eye in the restaurant followed the platter as General Manager Keith Carolan made an ornate presentation of the suckling pig, which took Chef Hawley an entire day to prepare.

Sonoma also made its Chef’s Dinner debut at the Beechwood Hotel with a well-attended media event featuring the likes of sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi with pancetta and escargot, mushroom and goat cheese strudel, and char-grilled Korean short rib. Chef Bill Brady commented on the transition from his former outpost in Princeton, noting the weight of adapting from a “five day dinnerhouse” to a “six o’clock in the morning to midnight, seven day a week, yearlong operation.” Beechwood Co-owners Dr. Charles and Jane Birbara were on hand for the evening. During an opening toast, Dr. Birbara recalled his strong instinct that Brady would be the only chef capable of elevating the one-of-a-kind boutique space to an entirely new plane.

White Hut Cheeseburg (via Facebook)
White Hut Cheeseburg (via Facebook)

Mass Foodies was proud to publish Chris Rassias’ first on-the-record remarks about his new venture, Josephine at the Hanover Theater. Rassias is the owner of Fairmont Grille in Boston’s Hyde Park. As a Worcester native, Rassias is excited to launch a new concept in his hometown inspired by the panache of 1920’s theater. For every new restaurant, it seems like another one falls. This time, it was The Chameleon at 166 Shrewsbury Street – a storied space marked by the arrest of its former owner earlier this year.

Still, other new additions to the area’s culinary landscape are faring well. The Worcester Foodies visited Kummerspeck where they enjoyed an homage to some American classics like chicken pot pie, and shrimp and grits. Robyn enjoyed chatting with head butcher Erin Hockey who has since departed to join the team at deadhorse hill on Main Street in preparation for an impending high profile opportunity looming on her horizon. Chef Jared Forman of deadhorse hill will cook at the James Beard House this week in New York City with his team, a tremendous culinary milestone.

Contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores continued her quest for an idyllic #SundayFunday, indulging in the likes of Union Square Donuts and White Hut burgers. Rivera also sat down with the director of Julio’s Liquors Toni Deluca who set out to debunk wine’s pompous reputation. “Wine is for everyone,” she assured readers, adding, “my job is to educate both novice and advanced wine drinkers into exploring new flavors, regions and, grapes.”

Union Square Donuts (Source: Facebook)
Union Square Donuts (Source: Facebook)

I couldn’t agree more after my visit to UxLocale in Uxbridge where the staff led me to the perfect pairing. I ordered the Sausage in Vodka Sauce with the Sasyr Sangiovese and Syrah blend, a wine possessing supple tannins. The Italian wine’s inky density and earthy aromas complemented my savory red sauce and the Tuscan roots of the dish’s pecorino romano attested to a fine artisan union. I met another unlikely pairing in the last week of November at Bull Mansion in the form of KrafTea Kombucha and Cricket Creek cheese. I was surprised to find that the potent and funky properties of kombucha brought out curious dimensions of my artisanal farmstead cheese plate.

If what Meyer says is true, then hospitality put simply is how the delivery of a product makes us feel. Central Massachusetts certainly has no shortage of a heartfelt, passionate, and sentimental service industry. Among the atmospheres, appetites, exclusives, openings, closings, pairings, and pinings – hospitality is alive and well in Worcester.

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A Quick Bite with Toni DeLuca

Toni DeLuca, wine director at Julio’s Liquors, is here to humanize wine and debunk the snob-like perception of wine.

With the introduction of “Somm,” on Netflix and “A Year in Burgundy,” on Amazon Prime, the recent obsession of the esoteric world of sommeliers is opening a discussion about the bourgeois life associated with wine enthusiasts. From shedding light on a journey that borders insanity to even qualify to take the Master Sommelier exam, given by the Court of Master Sommeliers in “Somm” to following the deep traditions, viticulture, and history behind the families living in the Burgundy region of France, the depiction of this cult-like phenomenon is fascinating some viewers while scaring others from ever attempting to enjoy a glass of Pino Noir outside of their homes. Wine has always been guilty by association as it is meant to be perceived as a drink for the sophisticated, the elite and the well-informed, but Toni DeLuca, wine director at Julio’s Liquors is here to humanize wine and debunk the snob-like perception of wine.

“Wine has a reputation,” said DeLuca. “It is perceived to be something that only expert wine lovers can truly enjoy, and I am here to debunk that. Wine is for everyone and my job is to educate both novice and advanced wine drinkers into exploring new flavors, regions and, grapes.”

DeLuca is fighting against the pretentious feel that depictions like “Somm” offer to viewers and wants her consumers to understand that wine is simply the perfect complement to food. It is important to understand the courtship between food and wine and its ever-lasting affection for one another. Its complementary relationship in which wine truly serves a higher purpose is the most intriguing element of dining. “I am a wine enthusiast, some may say expert, and it is extremely clear to me that wine and food are deeply connected.  Of course, I would say that wine is the optimal beverage for food pairings, others may dispute this – but they are wrong. There is no refuting the fact that wine has natural acidity which acts in harmony with “acid” forward foods, not to mention this same acidity helps mellow and neutralize the salty “base” flavors in other dishes,” said DeLuca.

“At home, wine is the single most important aspect of my dining experience as I have full control over the selection,” she said. “Now, I am not a wine snob, but I definitely am a wine nerd. I have an ‘explorers’ palate meaning that I love to try funky, unique, and ‘off the beaten path’ wines.” Just as DeLuca, a recent survey from wine app Vivino suggests American’s favorite place to drink wine is in the comfort of their own homes. Forty-seven percent of millennial and sixty-one percent of Gen X and Boomer respondents would rather drink wine at home than at social gatherings, restaurants, or wineries according to the survey of 1,526 consumers.

Between the cost of wine at bars and restaurants and the lack of knowledge on both sides – the waitstaff and the consumer – there is a barrier that is hard to break through in the average restaurant. “The more funky and unique wines are hard to find on restaurant lists, unfortunately,” said DeLuca. “I think right now craft beer and craft cocktails are dominating the hip aspects of most beverage programs, while the wine options are pretty boring.  It seems the same few name brands monopolize most restaurant lists these days and that is a shame. If I were in the restaurant business and offered a wine list, the list would be the predominant segment on the menu, the waitstaff would be knowledgeable about making recommendations and easing the consumer into exploring wines and ultimately, I would reduce the cost of an individual glass of wine. I mean, who wants to buy an $11 glass of wine when they can buy a $13 bottle of wine at their local liquor shop?” And DeLuca is right. Millennials are budget-conscious and according to the same Vinio survey, fifty-nine percent say that the cost of a glass of wine outweighs all other influences when deciding what to drink at a bar or restaurant. This is a trend dating back to the recession as Time Magazine highlighted this shift in 2010.

While nothing compares to a pairing of Riesling and Duck a L’Orange – it is the pairing itself that scares novice wine drinkers from truly opening their palates to the endless experience that wine offers. On a mission to create a personalized experience for consumers, DeLuca hopes to “de-snob” the industry and show the side of wine that documentaries like “Somm” fail to.