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Chef Michael Muscarella: The Man Behind The Burgers

Chef Michael Muscarella from The Fix Burger Bar on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA

The man behind the burgers just might be one of Worcester’s most unlikely chefs.

Michael Muscarella, chef at The Fix Burger Bar on Shrewsbury Street, began his professional life about as far away from the kitchen as you can get. With a marketing degree, Muscarella was an inside sales manager for a company that dealt in heavy machinery — excavators, wheel loaders and the like.

“I was good at it and the money was good, but I just wasn’t happy with it,” Muscarella says.

So, he threw it all away and did something radical. Muscarella enrolled at Salter College to study culinary arts. He’d always loved food, but until that pivotal moment had never considered making it his life. He’d already spent a quarter of a million on his marketing degree, so he sidestepped the big culinary arts schools. But he wanted some education before jumping in. Then, when a friend of his became the general manager at the Whistling Swan in Sturbridge, Muscarella got his first taste of working in the kitchen. It’s a make it or break it industry, but Muscarella was a quick learn. And Whistling Swan led to his next job, and a formative experience at that — working in The People’s Kitchen under then-chef Bill Nemeroff.

“For me, that was awesome,” the 37-year-old Muscarella recalls. “TPK was doing a new menu every week. They were throwing everything away and starting over.”

It was a learning environment — the kind that demanded creativity — and the standards were high. When Nemeroff went on to head up Ceres Bistro, then under the management of Niche Hospitality Group, located at the Beechwood Hotel, Muscarella went with him. That’s when Niche’s Michael Covino approached Muscarella about a new venture. The concept was simple, but required the right flare — a restaurant devoted to burgers.

“So, burgers are a really classic dish. It’s an iconic American dish. And it’s a great dish,” Muscarella says. “It’s ground beef, soft bun, french fries, you only have a couple of ingredients, but because so many people have experienced it, you have an opinion about it — a fairly informed opinion. So, any sort of dish like that I feel that it’s really difficult to get just right.”

With a population full of burger experts, nearly everyone has a place they think has the best burger they’ve ever eaten, Muscarella says. His goal has been to make The Fix that place.

So, what does make a good burger? For The Fix’s chef, it’s a flat top burger — cooked on a griddle rather than a grill, allowing the meat to cook in the fat.

“I want a little bit of crust, good seasoning, a solid quality piece of meat,” Muscarella says. “It’s all about the texture. Just enough crust.”

The Fix’s burgers run just under a half inch in thickness. From there, the options are robust — 20 to 30 different toppings, 15 different sauces.

It’s a simple food, honed to perfection.

“Just because something is more complicated and more difficult to make does not mean it is necessarily better,” Muscarella says. “I really enjoy this concept because of the kind of vibe it has. It’s not super expensive. It’s comfortable. We have interesting food, really great cocktails. I find that more interesting. I’m not interested in what super-rich people are eating.”

The Fix Burger Bar has an extensive menu of not only meats, but fixin's.The concept is spelled out clearly right on The Fix’s website: “The Fix menu is designed to make you feel good. We think juicy burgers, cold beers, house-made sodas and spiked shakes do just that.”

It’s the perfect challenge for the one-time sales manager turned chef. Working with a small crew in the kitchen, Muscarella enjoys the fact that the success of the food is up to him and his team.

“If we want to start serving eel burgers then we can do that,” He says.

They don’t serve eel burgers (yet), although The Fix has offered up bison burgers, lamb burgers, duck burgers, wild boar burgers — yes, there’s a house-made veggie burger, too. The most popular is the crunchy burger, made with lettuce, fried prosciutto, parmesan crisp, potato chips, garlic mayo, mustard pickle and served on a sesame roll.

When it comes right down to it, the food, the atmosphere — Muscarella’s whole reason for jumping into the long-hours and hard work of the restaurant business — it all has to be deliciously fun.

“Why is it so great?” Muscarella asks. “Because it is so great. You’re going to have tasks that look almost insurmountable — like the wheels might fall off tonight, but somehow you pull it together … this happens all the time … you pull it together and make it.”

The Fix is located at 166 Shrewsbury St., the former location of Mezcal.

House Grind Burger with Focaccia Roll from The Fix on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA
House Grind Burger with Focaccia Roll from The Fix on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA
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Comings and Goings

Worcester, long known for its wide variety of culinary options, certainly has something for everyone. But it seems that with every new eatery that opens, we lose another.

Sadly, it seems as if we have lost one of Worcester’s finest restaurants (IMO) with the closing of Zipango Sushi Bar and Grille on Shrewsbury Street. Zipango, long known for its intimate dining room, fresh sushi and wonderful fusion cuisine, appears to have become a victim of the tough economic times. We wish the wonderful staff from Zipango’s all the best and thank them for many, many wonderful meals and memories.

Also closing recently was the City Park Grill (we hardly knew ya!), Vinny T’s on Lake Quinsigamond (the deck on the lake was fantastic so the opening of Buca di Beppoâ is much welcomed!), 55 Pearl (will a restaurant ever work in that space?), Castellana’s (read more below) and the Vietnamese/Cambodian restaurant, Apsara.

On a more upbeat note, Worcesterites have a number of new gastronomical options as we welcome new restaurants including Ceres Bistro at the Beechwood Hotel and Smokestack Urban Barbeque in the old Castellana’s space on Harding Street.

Ceres Bistro is a Niche Hospitality Group-managed gem that features a “farm to table” dining experience utilizing fresh, seasonal products, purchased from local purveyors whenever possible. This spectacularly designed restaurant features a beautiful stained glass-domed dining room, floor to ceiling glass walls overlooking the patio and a warmly decorated club room for private dining.

The Smokestack Urban Barbeque is the brainchild of Richard Romaine of Romaine’s in Northborough. This exciting new restaurant features delectable BBQ, served in a warm, casual and fun atmosphere. Everything you would expect to be on the menu at a BBQ place is there, along with some interesting twists and turns.

At the end of the month Niche Hospitality is anticipating opening The Peoples Kitchen of the Citizen (or TPK for short) located at one exchange place, directly above The Citizen, where Il Forno once resided. The menu, which will change daily, will feature an exotic selection of meats, cured on location, and is said to be “comfortable, approachable and ever-changing.”

So as you can see, a restaurant closing in Worcester, albeit sad, means that somewhere else in the city someone is putting there hopes and dreams into opening something for us to enjoy. Lets get out there and support these ambitious folks!