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The “Rockwellesque” Dining Options of the Norman Rockwell Museum

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA is notable for American Illustration Art and a setting for #foodisart.

Enjoying the warmer weather we turn to a summer series visiting museums to partake in a summer journey of art and food, after all, #FoodIsArt. (Eat at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Peabody Essex Museum; Worcester Art Museum; Norman Rockwell MuseumIsabella Stewart Gardner Museum… and more).

From The Problems We All Live With – a 1964 iconic painting depicting Ruby Bridges, a six-year old African American girl on her way to William Frantz Elementary School, an all-white public school during the New Orleans desegregation crisis – to the Four Freedoms – a series of four 1943 oil paintings referencing President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms State of the Union address – Norman Rockwell’s art epitomizes the essence of American life. Between the raw edges of his later work that infused the concerns of Americans with depictions of poverty, race and war to his optimistic outlook on the simple charmed country life, Rockwell portrayed the country through a clear lens and marked his expressions as an American tradition. Breathing life into the Rockwell legacy stands the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts – the town he called home for the last 25 years of his life.

The Connoisseur at the The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.
The Connoisseur at the The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

The museum itself is ‘Rockwellesque,’ housing the largest and most significant of his works in the Berkshires. To complement its portrayal of the life Rockwell built through his paintings, the museum offers an equally appropriate ‘Rockwellian’ rendition with its culinary offerings.

Catered by executive chef Brian Alberg of The Red Lion Inn – a staple inn in New England since the 18th century and a supporter of the artistic traditions through artist residencies and pop-up performances – the Terrace Café is a simplistic adaptation of Rockwell’s America. The Terrace Café overlooks picturesque Berkshires scenery, offering a seasonal dining area reminiscent of Stockbridge’s charming beginnings. Adorned with flowers pots, American flags and the sweet smell of fresh air, it balances the reasonings of Rockwell’s artistic style and encourages life’s imitation of art.

Chef Alberg – an active culinary member of Chefs Collaborative and Boston Chefs as well as the founding chair of Berkshire Farm & Table – understands the food movement of the Berkshires and Hudson Valley and intertwines his beliefs of freshness into the picture-perfect frame built by Rockwell. Dishes at the Norman Rockwell Museum ring true to the American family’s traditional views on what lunch is comprised of: sandwiches, salads and sweets.

The Freedom from Want at the The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.
The Freedom from Want at the The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

The three S’s ring true to the guests of the museum with names meant to embody Rockwell’s famous works like The Connoisseur – marinated grilled veggies with Monterey goat cheese on focaccia bread – The Runaway – a roast beef with horseradish mayo on a challah bread – and The Freedom from Want – a turkey breast sandwich with cranberry mayo, lettuce, and stuffing on multi-grain bread. While many may argue that Rockwell’s museum deserves a menu of sophistication and fine cuisine to celebrate his legacy, it would be counterproductive to the museum, its guests and his work. The menu –carefully crafted to include references to his art, like the stuffing in The Freedom of Want – does not overstate its importance to guests of the Norman Rockwell Museum and instead, continues Rockwell’s work through food as an art form.

Rockwell, “without thinking too much about it in specific terms,” showed the America he “knew and observed to others who might have not noticed.” He stated that his fundamental purpose was to ”interpret the typical American” as he was a “story teller” and he did not fail us. The Terrace Café is an extension of his influence.

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British Beer Company’s Turkey Burger

The Turkey Burger from British Beer Company on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA

For those of you familiar with Shrewsbury Street, you will know that there’s a relatively new kid on the block taking over where the old Coral Seafood and the Urban Kitchen used to reside. That restaurant would be the British Beer Company (or BBC for short). Those of you who might remember both spots would recall that both were kind of bland in the decor category and somewhere in between average seafood eatery and wannabe-sophisticated overpriced dining. The new BBC is neither of these things. As soon as you walk in, you can’t even believe it is the same space! The stained glass windows, the uniquely British colors and decor around the restaurant and bar, and a second floor that wouldn’t have even been imaginable in the previous restaurant spaces are all captivating from the time you enter until the time you leave.

Wanting some privacy, we were escorted to a booth which was very comfortable and adorned with soft leather seats. The area did a great job of keeping outside noise out so you could enjoy a nice conversation at a decent decibel level. Thoroughly famished from a long day at work that saw me ingest two cups of coffee and a small bowl of soup, I was ready for my burger!!! Trying to steer clear of the usual suspects on the burger menu (a lot of flavor combinations I have had before), I decided to branch out ever so slightly…I ordered my first turkey burger. *collective gasps, women fainting, the whole nine yards* But hysterics aside, this burger was a house made turkey patty which was grilled, and topped with caramelized onion, smoky bacon, bourbon sauce and fresh avocado on a grilled brioche bun ($11.99).

Now turkey can tend to be very dry and can easily be overcooked if not kept an eye on. In this case, the turkey burger held up surprisingly well. The meat was sufficiently cooked, and the grill was a nice touch; lending some smokey, charred notes to the meat. There was evident sweetness coming from a combination of the caramelized onion and bourbon sauce. The sauce was more like a glaze, and I wish I had more of it. The bacon did what bacon does and rocked out. Nicely crispy and rich, the bacon helped add flavor to the turkey, because if there’s one thing The Hangover Pub has taught Worcester, it’s that everything is better with bacon.

The avocado was the surprise of the dish though. It’s creaminess helped cut through a lot of the rich flavors that this burger packed. Plus it made me feel better about myself, eating something that is relatively “healthy.” You were really looking for the smooth texture against the sauce and the crunch of the bacon and the burger meat. Then again, saying that is kind of like getting fast food and ordering a Diet Coke to help ease the pain. The fries were delicious and crispy, as all fries should be. They were hearty and cut larger than most fries that you would get at other restaurants. Fried golden brown, they were a nice break from the delicious burger.

Finishing my Sierra Nevada Summerfest and watching the All Star Game on one of the many TVs around the establishment, gave me time to reflect on where I’ve been and the many delicious burgers I’ve eaten. Taking in all the British beer signs and looking at the enlarged photo of Buckingham Palace hanging from one side of the room to the other, made me happy that I lived so close to a city that is beginning to take pride in itself. Taking pride in the products that they offer, from farm to table establishments, small breweries and pastry shops, local favorites, and countless watering holes, Worcester certainly has come a long way in the last few years.

Knowing that my next burger is not too far off, I leave BBC full and satisfied. With many different offerings from across the pond, it gives diners on Shrewsbury Street a different dynamic that transports them to Great Britain. Where will my burger quest take me next? Have suggestions for my next burger, tweet me @EDioufUC5 and your suggestion just might make the list. Until next time…