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The March Wrap Up

The raw bar at simjang on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA (Erb Photo for Mass Foodies)

As is typical of New England, March came in like a lion and out like a rhino with a host of key developments for the Central Mass food scene.

B.T.’s 26 hour smoked beef brisket paired with Wormtown Buddha Juice X2IPA

On March 28th, Drew Day was named Executive Chef of Flying Rhino on Shrewsbury Street as former Executive Chef Chris O’Harra announced his transition to Maddi’s Cookery and Taphouse, set to open on Water Street by early May in the space that previously housed The Perfect Game. Maddi’s will mark the second restaurant for Adam Hicks, who also owns Depot Street Tavern in Milford, which opened in August of 2014. O’Harra was recently awarded first prize in the people’s choice category at the Worcester’s Best Chef Competition.

While Day and O’Harra were parting kitchens this month, two other Central Mass chefs joined forces. Chef Rick Araujo of Civic Kitchen & Drink in Westborough teamed up with B.T.’s Smokehouse Director of Operations William Nemeroff of Sturbridge for a night of award winning barbecue. B.T.’s smoked beef brisket has built up a loyal following to the tune of over 120,000 pounds of hand selected, hand rubbed beef brisket sold last year. Araujo and Nemeroff looped themselves into captivating harmony for the evening with Wormtown Brewery along for the thrilling ride.

Bibimbap from Choose and Mix in Worcester, MA
Bibimbap from Choose and Mix in Worcester, MA

B.T.’s whet our appetites for barbeque and Choose & Mix swooped in for the assist. Contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores visited this Korean hot spot on East Mountain Street for “bulgolgi – thinly sliced beef tenderloin strips in flavorful Korean barbecue sauce – and galbi – Korean barbecue ribs.” She found the eatery welcoming, affordable, and loaded with flavor. Flores also visited Millbury’s new doughnut hotspot, Rocco’s, located at the former address of the Queen’s Cups. Members of the Astrella family have doughnuts “embedded in their DNA,” as evidenced by what Flores calls a frenzied social media buzz in addition to the long (but quickly moving) line out the door.

Contributor Jim Eber spent some time at simjang’s raw bar on Shrewsbury Street with Executive Chef Jared Forman whom he deemed, “a chef intimately connected to what he serves.” The two sampled sexy oysters, fat kid’s oysters, punchy oysters, crisp beginner oysters, and coppery oysters. If Eber’s praise is any indication, he’ll be back at the deep rock maple bar very soon for a Jang and a dozen more.

Stack of Doughnuts from Rocco's Doughnut Company in Millbury, MA
Stack of Doughnuts from Rocco’s Doughnut Company in Millbury, MA

Next door at Volturno, owner Greg Califano Jr. kept busy teaching pasta classes in his private function space as well as the Neapolitan pizzeria fresh outpost in Framingham. Volturno’s new location maintains the rustic charm of its counterpart, offering the added intimacy of a smaller space. Guests still have a view of the wood burning oven, and we were pleased to find that the “2 for 1” deal on Mondays and Tuesdays is graciously honored in Framingham as it is in Worcester. Pasta classes are offered monthly at each location and no two are ever the same.

In bleaker news, both Broth and The Hangover Pub shuttered their doors after former owner Chris Slavinskas pleaded guilty to charges of making a false statement to federal investigators relating to the ongoing Kevin Perry saga. Perry’s indictment resulted in the shutdown of The Usual, Blackstone Tap, and The Chameleon.

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Chef’s Best: The Nemeroff Experience

The Inaugural Chef's Best Dinner Series with chef William Nemeroff at Old Sturbridge Village

Walking into Old Sturbridge Village for Mass Foodies’ inaugural Chef’s Best event was a delightful surprise. Greeting your guests with champagne tends to have that effect.

Transportation to OSV's Vermont Covered Bridge for's Chef's Best dinner
Transportation to OSV’s Vermont Covered Bridge. Photo by Erb Photography.

The concept behind Chef’s Best is simple. A chef, in this case Chef Bill Nemeroff, creates a menu to showcase his best work. Nemeroff and his team took advantage of the opportunity to tap into the uniqueness of their tranquil 200-acre surroundings, all reserved just for us.

After imbibing our champagne, a horse drawn carriage carted us to the Carding Mill for appetizers and cocktails. Our short ride gave us a chance to see the OSV grounds. This outdoor history museum depicts a 1830s rural New England town fully equipped with a bank, a school, three water-powered mills, farm animals, and authentically costumed staffers.

Assuming its nostalgia and quaintness would be sanguine would be incorrect. Instead the change of scenery was refreshing. We were far from the exposed ductwork, concrete flooring and industrial design of trendy, modern restaurants—and we liked it. There was a disarming wholesomeness to the scene. Hearing our horses trot away generated an upbeat energy signifying the makings of a very special evening.

Chef's Best Spinach and Baby Kale Salad (Cob Bacon Lardon, red onion, pickled egg, cornbread crouton, roasted green tomato vinaigrette)
Spinach and Baby Kale Salad (Cob Bacon Lardon, red onion, pickled egg, cornbread crouton, roasted green tomato vinaigrette) Photo by Erb Photography.

The preplanning of Chef’s Best was noticeable as we left the mill behind us and headed toward our intimate dinner under the Vermont Covered Bridge. The OSV team hung twinkly lights on the lofted ceiling, pressed the linen, and lit candles in a way Martha Stewart would marvel and applaud.

We were told a few times that this was the first dinner under the bridge, but definitely not the last—meaning you can’t bring your table to the farm any old day of the week. However, there’s hope for your dining dreams.

The ambient lighting and the drink menu—mint juleps, pinot noir and chardonnay—made an already social group even more gregarious and comfortable. In table-to-farm dining you’re not there to see and be seen. Frankly, it’s too dark. Instead the setup replicated the perfect dinner party—you don’t have to cook or clean and the food tastes like home cooking.

This caliber of food isn’t found in most homes but it was in Nemeroff’s. His Aunt Rose’s southern cooking inspired his comfort-food menu.

The dinner began with Nemeroff sharing what his Chef’s Best menu entailed.

Chef's Best Fried Murray Ranch Chicken Breast (House made sage sausage gravy, mashed Yukon gold potato, braised collards)
Fried Murray Ranch Chicken Breast (House made sage sausage gravy, mashed Yukon gold potato, braised collards) Photo by Erb Photography.

To start, a spinach and baby kale salad with cob bacon lardon, pickled egg, and cornbread crouton topped with roasted green tomato vinaigrette along with a piece of fried okra was served in addition to homemade biscuits.

For the main course, fried Murray Ranch chicken breast with house-made sage sausage gravy, mashed Yukon gold potato and braised collards came out in a hearty portion. Considering we don’t enjoy a lot of Southern influence in the Northeast, it was a treat to feast on crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside, authentic fried chicken.

And for dessert, they prepared a beautifully balanced banana pudding.

Since the menu consisted of my favorite food, fried chicken, and my least favorite food, bananas, I experienced a broad range of emotions before the salad came out. Excitement for fried chicken, disappointment for bananas, but happiness because I would eat fewer calories, then sadness because I longed for a cobbler and ice cream.

Banana Pudding by chef William Nemeroff for Chef's Best
Banana Pudding by chef William Nemeroff for Chef’s Best. Photo by Erb Photography.

Luckily Nemeroff had the antidote for my neuroses in the form of a well-timed anecdote. In his introduction, he singled out one of the salad’s inclusion of his least favorite foods: okra. Chef said, “If I go to a restaurant and there’s something I don’t like on the menu, I order it.” He said he assumes if he doesn’t like something it’s because he hasn’t had it prepared the right way. Nemeroff’s life lesson to never let your personal bias come between you and sugar was right on. His banana pudding satisfied the night’s biggest banana discriminators.

At the end of the meal, our group of 40 whistled and cheered as Nemeroff walked toward us for a few closing words.

To me, this was a highlight of the night because Nemeroff applauded his servers. He said he’s never worked with a group that is more willing to try new ideas. “Even when I said let’s set up under the bridge and carry our heaviest OSV plates 150 feet from the kitchen to the table, they responded, ‘Sounds cool!’”’s inaugural Chef’s Best event will be hard to beat. Apart from the personal stories Nemeroff shared; apart from the atmosphere—the journey—through the Village; apart from the delicious combination of flavors that don’t often find themselves on Nemeroff’s menus; Chef’s Best was able to create a sense of community and appreciation that was profusely felt from chef to diner. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.

Chef's Best Group Dining Under the Vermont Covered Bridge at Old Sturbridge Village

Sign up for our eNewsletter to be the first to know about, and purchase tickets for, all upcoming Chef’s Best dinner series or read about it online. The series happens quarterly and throughout the Commonwealth. Know a chef or location that should be included? Please contact us to let us know your thoughts!