World Flavors Right Here in Central MA
We all have our favorite restaurants, our go-places that never let us down. But eating out in Central MA can be so much more than just a meal out ~ it can be an adventure, the discovery of new flavors, preparations, and dining customs. It can transport us to foreign lands and broaden our taste buds’ horizons. Here in Worcester County, we are lucky to have a wealth of ethnic restaurants specializing in foods from around the world. In this issue, we’ll bring you interviews with the chefs and owners of Indian, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, Brazilian, Italian, Mexican, German and Irish restaurants ~ and we hope that learning about new spices, food combinations, and traditions will inspire you to explore the variety of ethnic dining options that are right in our back yard.
A few tips? Do a little research about a new type of food and impress your date on Saturday night. Folks coming into town for Parents’ Weekend? How about choosing something other than the usual burgers or chain restaurant? Not sure what to order? Ask you server to describe some of the flavors and ingredients…and maybe to make some recommendations for appetizers, entrees, etc. And definitely order a variety of items off the menu so that you and your dining companions can really get a feel for the cuisine…and what better time to embark on this culinary adventure than during the 2nd annual Worcester Restaurant Week, held August 2 -15. Area restaurants are offering 3 course meals for just $22.10 ~ what a great price to try some different cuisine and maybe even discover a new favorite dish! Head to www.worcesterrrestaurantweek.com for a complete list of participating restaurants ~ and then get ready to treat your pallet to some extraordinary flavors!
Pampas Brazilian Steakhouse
By Sally Horowitz
In Southern Brazil, where the cowboys (gauchos) used to herd cattle, there lies a temperate and fertile area called Pampas. And although hilly Worcester is a far cry from the lush South American Lowlands, at Pampas Brazilian Steakhouse, the buffet of fresh appetizers is always full, and the aroma of authentic charcoal-roasted steaks and pork wafts from the doors. Here, a displaced cowboy could feel at home.
In the style of traditional Brazilian churasscarias, Portuguese for barbeque, customers are seated at tables and handed double-sided red and green cards. Place the green side up and grillers (who are decked out in customary gaucho garb) come to the table with skewers of garlic steak, lamb and bacon-wrapped chicken, among other delectable choices. As long as the green side is up, the grillers keep coming. The red side means “Enough!”
But Pampas is not all about meat ~ they also offer roasted pineapple and a host of vegetarian-friendly appetizers. Owner Breno Campos lived in Rome before settling in Worcester and the buffet table shows the influence of Italian cuisine ~ it carries salads, pasta, and grapeleaves among several other dishes. But still, it’s the Brazilian fare that is center stage and the biggest hit with customers. “People get angry if we don’t have [traditionally prepared] collard greens out.”
But whether it’s steak or salad, only the finest and highest-grade ingredients are used. All food is made fresh, ensuring that a meal at Pampas is healthful as well as flavorful. After all, a cowboy has got to stay fit.
14 East Central Street, Worcester
By Tine Roycroft
Marlborough has a hidden gem of a restaurant simply named Beef Grill; it offers an array of Brazilian food that will tantalize the taste buds. Owner Neusa Vasconcelos has created a cute spot where Worcester County can come for healthy, fast and nutritious Brazilian fare.
Start off your meal at Beef Grill with some yummy appetizers ~ Mandioca Frita (fried yucca) or Picanha com Mandioca (steak with fried yucca) will spark the palette. A variety of delicious juices are available (try the guava!) so you can remain hydrated while choosing your entrée.
Beef Grill has a wide selection of your favorite “standard” pizzas, such as Pepperoni or Vegetarian, but for a taste of Brazil, order the Galinha com Catpiry pizza. It’s a warm, sinfully good pizza made with chicken and Catupiry cheese. Catupiry, a mild-tasting cheese, truly showcases the chicken, while the sauce used by Beef Grill adds great bite.
The sandwiches on the menu are made from fresh ingredients and are perfect to grab-and-go. The X-Chicken sandwich includes chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, corn and bacon, while the X-Filet sandwich offers beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and corn.
The A La Carte menu features items that all include beans, rice and fries and one order can feed two people. The Picanha na Chapa, or grilled steak, is a local favorite; give the Picanha na Chapa com Catupiry (grilled steak with cream cheese) a try, too, and you will not be disappointed.
Of course the main thrill of the Beef Grill is its famous barbecue. Choose from chicken wings, chicken with bacon, chicken hearts, pork, sausage, beef ribs, garlic beef and much more ~ it’s a carnivore’s fantasy.
And if you just can’t get enough of Beef Grill’s food, stop by their “All You Can Eat” Brazilian Buffet and Barbecue offered Monday through Friday. Pick and choose between favs like Carne ao Forno (baked beef) or Farofa (Yucca flour, carrots and eggs.) All this deliciousness is only $7.99.
416 Boston Post Road, Marlborough
By Tine Roycroft
Tradition is king at El Basha, a restaurant specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine, and the crowds have been coming for years because of it. Owner George Sakhat, a Worcester resident, says that the business began as one family’s undertaking in January, 1990.
“My mother and father opened El Basha (at the Belmont Street location). And the family consisted of three brothers and one sister,” Sakhat said. “All young and single and willing to work hard.”
The family went on to open two other locations – one on Park Avenue in Worcester and another in Westborough – bringing complex and beautifully executed dishes to the neighborhoods. Both Worcester locations have a fully-licensed bar, while the Westborough location requires guests to bring their own alcohol.
Today, Sakhat is the owner and loves every aspect of his job – especially the shrimp kabobs.
“People ask me all the time where I eat,” he said. “I tell them I eat at El Basha about six times per week. We have healthy meals and so many of them! I don’t need to go anywhere else.”
With over 24 delicious appetizers to choose from, 8 varieties of fresh salad and a host of healthy entrees that will please the carnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike, a diner cannot go wrong. Just about every item is made from scratch and everything offered ~ from the chicken shwarma to the baklava ~ is created with Sakhat’s secret weapon: the watchful eye of his mother, Aida Sakhat.
“Mom is still involved,” Sakhat said. “She visits all of our restaurants to make sure all of her recipes, which are her own and based on her vision of how the meals should be prepared, are being followed.”
In addition to the spectacular cuisine (for those of you wary of trying Middle Eastern food for the first time, don’t be ~ the flavors are wonderful and there is nothing “unrecognizable” on the menu), the El Basha restaurants surround guests in an authentic Middle Eastern feel, from the background music to the style of the décor to the warmth of the staff. El Basha is a wonderful oasis, almost a mini-excursion to the Middle East, and its menu truly does offer something for everyone without sacrificing authenticity.
424 Belmont St, Worcester, 508-797-0884
256 Park Ave, Worcester, 508-795-0222
2 Connector Rd, Westborough, 508-366-2455 (not participating in Restaurant Week)
By Sally Horowitz
Worcester has a wonderful regional dining scene, and when you crave authentic Middle Eastern food, head over to the elegant Sahara Bar and Restaurant. They’ve been serving top-notch kebabs, fatoush and pita for the past 15 years.
With dusty blue and yellow walls (“We painted it to look like the desert,” says owner Farid Aoude), large chandeliers, and gold-framed paintings adorning the walls, Sahara offers an oasis from the bustling Elm Park area. Friday night means live music at the eatery. And about once every two months, belly dancers come to saunter and sizzle as diners feast on the restaurant’s chicken shawarmas.
With an extensive menu of traditional dishes as well as some creative fusions (Shrimp Thermidore, anyone?), the food is generally more savory than spicy. The popular fatoush salad with grilled chicken or lamb (vegetarians can order most dishes sans meat) is a blend of imported Lebanese spices with a vinaigrette and feta cheese topping. The complimentary, award winning-winning hummus is served with a pita basket on the side and drizzled in olive oil. And don’t be shy about asking for drink suggestions ~ their well-stocked bar carries Lebanese wines like St. Thomas, as well as some more common refreshments.
Sahara is confident in their winning combination of wine, music, dancing and good food. “Try it and you’ll be happy,” they promise. And they’re right ~ Middle Eastern flavor craving satisfied!
143 Highland Street, Worcester
Ristorante Via Alto 27
By Bernie Whitmore
I don’t usually think of Italian cuisine as ethnic; its fusion with American is generally so complete that most of us treat it as just another dining option. And for a native Italian, dining out in the US can be a jarring experience ~ our portions are larger, pacing is faster and the variety of ingredients, especially produce, is more limited.
These are a few differences noted by Christiana Ernst, owner of Via Alto 27, who moved here from Rome just three years ago. The cuisine she serves is authentic Italian ~ gone are the run-of-the-mill, Americanized flavors and preparations. Her story is something straight from Hollywood: happily running her grandfather’s business in the Vatican, the church abruptly suspended leases for the entire building. So she and her American husband decided to make a complete change and came to Massachusetts to open a restaurant. In Clinton. In the midst of a major economic recession.
She settled on an excellent location ~ an old JCPenney store in the center of town that was built before the era of prefab ‘engineered’ materials. Christiana regretted that they had to remove the antique tin ceiling, but they were able to keep many of the original features: a mezzanine on the back wall and, up front, display windows which have been converted into dining areas that successfully put intimacy in plain sight. The refined décor is urban-cool and the acoustics have an echo that reminds me of old European restaurants.
Christiana described her cuisine as Northern-Italian: “We try to use local produce when available… Italian is all about vegetables.” While she personally favors the eggplant and lasagna dishes, their Secondi Piatti (entrees) feature chicken, veal and beef. When I last dined at Via Alto 27 I had Chicken Picatta, chunks of boneless chicken sautéed in pan drippings and white wine with artichoke hearts and a scattering of capers. A squeeze of lemon made these flavors come alive.
When the subject turned to dessert, Christiana glowed. “I make my own desserts; my white chocolate cheesecake with peaches won Best Dessert in the 2010 Worcester’s Best Chef competition!”
27 High Street, Clinton
Lidio’s Restaurant and Lounge
By Rachel Shuster
Established by Chef Marcus DiNardo in 1995, Lidio’s Restaurant and Lounge has been a family favorite for years. Chef DiNardo, a native of Leominster, is a Johnson & Wales Culinary graduate with a style characterized by a fantastic mix of herbs & seasonings; each flavorful dish he creates is a result of 25 years spent mastering the art of cooking.
Bartender and waitress Amy Getty, who has been at the restaurant for a decade, shares that over the years, Lidio’s, named after Chef DiNardo’s father, has gotten its produce and herbs straight from both the Chef’s and his father’s gardens. The fresh herbs and vegetables make a tremendous difference in how the food tastes ~ and add that special bit of Italian love. Many of the actual dishes on the menu are named after family members, too, which honors the strong Italian belief in family.
Lidio’s various pasta, veal, poultry, beef, vegetarian and seafood dishes bring in rave reviews, and Getty explains why: “Nothing is pre-made, everything is fresh and not frozen. Marcus is extremely creative in his dishes. He doesn’t necessarily go by recipes. In fact, sometimes he makes up dishes as he goes! Lidio’s is also very accommodating in that if you don’t find something you love right on the menu, as long as the ingredients are in the kitchen, you can design your own dish and the Chef will create it! Lidio’s also serves specialty dishes based on catholic holidays (try the tilapia on Fridays!) and even frogs’ legs on leap years.
What dish does Chef DiNardo suggest trying first for a true taste of traditional Italian? The eggplant parmesan. “It is sliced to order, baked and cooked in the shape of an eggplant,” he says. Once people feel more comfortable trying new flavors and presentations, they can move onto the restaurant’s best seller, Chicken Pre-Pesto, which has all the flavors of pesto but with the fresh ingredients kept whole (as opposed to being chopped or pureed like the pesto sauce many of us are used to). Whichever meal you choose, you can pair it with a traditional Italian beverage like Limoncetta or Campari. Lidio’s in-house baker, Tracy Sladen, who has been at the restaurant for 15 years, bakes right onsite in the kitchen ~ plus, not only can you experience the delicious baked goods in the restaurant, you can even take them home!
“We don’t advertise to everyone. We advertise to those who we know like our style of food and our tastes, then we rely on those people to tell others how good it is,” Chef DiNardo says. And it is soooo good!
1045 Central St, Leominster
By Bernie Whitmore
Put together a group of friends for a special occasion and you can usually count on at least one who resists Indian cuisine. But after a dinner at Surya Restaurant, everyone ~ especially the fraidy-cat ~ goes home happy. When I had the opportunity to sit down with Pankaj Sharda, owner of Surya, I decided to discover how this could be.
“Our secret is dependable food. We don’t pre-make our meals. Every single entree on our menu is made fresh from scratch. Fresh ingredients; consistent recipes by the same chef.” Pankaj was referring to his father, who’s been Surya’s chef for the past eleven years and ran Sweetheart Indian Restaurant on the other side of Shrewsbury Street before that.
“Some people are afraid of curry…our food is Northern India style and we don’t use curry. The best food is from the North ~ we use more vegetables and our food is healthier. We use Indian chili powders, cinnamon and aromatics for digestion and health. My father creates recipes with cashews, cinnamon and coriander in his own blends. When he came to the US, he Americanized the dishes and made his own names.”
One of Surya’s more popular dishes is Mali Kofta; they look like meatballs but are made with minced vegetables simmered in cardamom, saffron and cashews in a light cream sauce. Anyone, except perhaps the most devoted carnivores, will find them delectable ~ and they are just part of a generous vegetarian offering.
Another dish, Chicken Masala, is more Americanized, so it would be a good starting point for someone a bit fearful of Indian cuisine. “It doesn’t have strange odors or flavors. Very healthy, mild and not too strange,” Pankaj promised.
Surya’s dining room is clean and functional. Its walls are hung with colorful pictures that piqued my curiosity. Pankaj explained, “They’re symbols of my Gods…it’s my religion. In business we believe you have to keep the God to be successful. Make sure you don’t leave them behind.’
299 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester
The Bollywood Grill
By Rachel Bryson-Brockmann
After immigrating to the US from India in 1896, Malkiat and Surjit Gill knew they wanted to bring a taste of India to the United States. In a span of over two decades, the pair and their families have opened up three Indian restaurants in Massachusetts, including the Bollywood Grill in Shrewsbury.
The Bollywood Grill expands the dining experience to include not only food, but culture as well. The restaurant is decorated in the fashion of Bollywood, the Indian Hindi Film Industry, with Bollywood movies playing and walls and tables decorated with images of Bollywood stars.
Parvinder Narula, who oversees the Shrewsbury and Framingham locations, says the best thing about Bollywood Grill is the freshness. “Everything is homemade,” he said. “All the ingredients and spices are freshly ground in the kitchen, which gives the dishes an unmatchable fresh quality. And we get all our ingredients from local vendors.” The Bollywood Grill offers authentic Indian food from all regions of India, not just one.
Narula recommends the Barra Kebab ~ tender pieces of lamb chops marinated in special sauce for three days and then cooked on skewers in a tandoori oven. For anyone not familiar with Indian cuisine, he also recommends the Tikka Masala ~ chicken pieces cooked in a tangy and spicy red sauce.
As for dessert, he suggests the Kulfi, which is a traditional Indian rice pudding flavored with cardamom and blended with almonds and raisins. And don’t leave without getting a drink ~ they’re all original creations, such as “Slumdog Millionaire,” named after the blockbuster movie.
97 Boston Turnpike Rd. at Quinsigamond Plaza (Rt. 9), Shrewsbury
(508) 793 – 9888
Racha Thai (Thai)
By Lynn N. Capri
Racha Thai’s unobtrusive front hides a restaurant specializing in delicious Thai offerings ~ a cuisine that its website describes as “an international phenomenon.”
First off, the Racha Thai wants to dispel the notion that all Thai food is spicy. In truth, the dishes run the gamut from pleasantly mild to pungently hot. Customers just need to inform their waiter of how well their palates handle spice and their dish will be seasoned to accommodate their tastes ~ whether they are on the mild side or the wild side.
The menu lists more than 100 dishe, including the classic Pad Thai, Thai Curry Squash, Duck Choo Chee, and Cashew Nut Chicken. For those who love curry, Racha Thai is heaven ~ their chefs prepare red, yellow, green and massaman curry dishes, each with its own subtle differences. You could spend days just savoring all the delicious options.
Pad Thai is a dish that has evolved, depending upon where you are eating it, either very little or quite significantly from its origins. In Thailand, the version most often served is dry and light. However, the version served in the west (i.e., the United States) may be covered in red oil and be a bit heavy tasting. Both versions, and many in between, are very popular and often thought of as the “go-to” dish when diners simply can’t make up their minds.
Racha Thai offers its Pad Thai dish as a weekly special: “Stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chili pepper, plus any combination of bean sprouts, shrimp, chicken, or tofu, garnished with crushed peanuts and coriander.” It is usually served with a piece of lime, or, if you are actually in Thailand, with a piece of banana flower. And when you spend an evening at Racha Thai, soaking in the flavors, the ambiance, and the gracious service, you will feel as though you’ve been transported to Thailand.
545 Southwest Cutoff (Route 20), Worcester
Yoong Tong Thai
By Ellen O’Connor
Anna and Tom Sahasakmontri are doing what they love and what has been the family business for at least two generations.
Their father owned and operated a restaurant in their home city of Bangkok, Thailand. The brother and sister decided 15 years ago to try their hand in America and they now own and operate two Thai restaurants – the Yoong Tong Northborough and the Yoong Tong Chelmsford. The two sites keep them both quite busy, but they love every minute of it.
“I like to see and meet people and I like the customers,” said Anna. “We love the business and we enjoy it.”
That’s a good thing, because they are both at work pretty much every day of the year. The Northborough site is open seven days a week and Chelmsford six.
The Yoong Tong restaurants offer Thai recipes that have been in the Sahasakmontri family for generations. The food they serve is made with only the freshest ingredients and never with MSG.
“We also use ingredients that are good for health,” Anna explained, adding that they have several vegetarian offerings on their menus. They can handle special dietary needs due to allergies, health conditions or simply preference, too. All the customers have to do is ask.
One of their special dishes is the Thai Mango Curry. It is seasonal and is being offered now.
“It is a signature dish and it is very famous,” said Anna.
Thai food can be spicy, but it does not have to be.
“We can make it mild or spicy,” said Anna, noting that they can make it mild enough for children.
Mild, spicy, meat or vegetarian, Thai food does not get any more authentic than at Yoong Tong ~ it’s the tastes of Bangkok in our backyard.
78 Main Street (Route 20), Northborough
61 Central Square, Chelmsford
By Leeanne Griffin
At Worcester’s Apsara, chef and manager Vinh Ly is highlighting the cuisine of his childhood home, Vietnam. The restaurant opened in January, serving what Ly calls “fresh, authentic, sophisticated Southeastern Asian cuisine in a relaxing atmosphere.”
Ly and his family came to America in 1988, when he was six years old, and he attended Worcester schools. With kitchen experience he’d gained over the years, Ly set out last year to become a first-time restaurateur, working with business partners Stephen Hopkins (owner of Blue Jeans) and his son, Justin (manager of Loft 266) to open the eatery.
“Many of my recipes were handed down and taught to me by my mother,” Ly said. “But with [my restaurant experience], I’m able to add a little twist to most of the dishes.”
Apsara’s menu features traditional Vietnamese and Cambodian food ~ noodle and rice dishes, pho and other soups, curries, marinated and grilled meats and seafood.
“Asian cuisine is very diverse. The flavors range anywhere from sweet and sour to sweet and salty,” Ly said. “I use such ingredients as oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, lemongrass, garlic, chives, mints, cilantro and chili peppers.”
He shops for spices and other ingredients at Worcester’s Mekong Market. Fish deliveries come from Worcester’s AP Fish and produce is delivered weekly from GHE, a Boston food supply company. Desserts, including a popular coconut cake and passion fruit cheesecake, are made locally by Worcester’s Something Sweet by Michelle.
As Southeast Asian cuisine can be unfamiliar to many, Ly and his staff are prepared to walk diners through the menu choices. “My wait staff does a really fantastic job of explaining every dish,” he said. “They’re extremely knowledgeable about my menu. And on occasion I may even come out to talk to the clientele about a specific question they may have.”
Ly says customers “playing it safe” often order things like Apsara flat noodle (chow fun noodles with vegetables and choice of meat or seafood), bun (vermicelli noodles with meats, vegetables, sprouts and peanuts) or Khmer curry (meats and veggies sautéed with coconut milk, curry and lemongrass.) He says vegetarian or vegan diners can substitute tofu and vegetables in most dishes.
Though dishes in “the old country” tend to use every part of the animal, Ly says, he’ll shy away from using items like tripe, coagulated blood, or hearts and livers so as not to scare his American audience.
His favorite dish, though? “The catfish,” he says of the best-seller, a whole fresh catfish served crispy with veggies, rice and house sauce. “This is one of my favorites to recommend since it never seems to disappoint.”
264 Park Ave., Worcester
Pho Dakao (Vietnamese)
By Lynn N. Capri
If you are in the mood for an eating experience change-of-pace, look no further than Pho Dakao; the restaurant features an array of food from Vietnam, a type of cuisine that offers plenty of healthy eating options.
Appetizers include fresh summer rolls, Vietnamese crepe, roasted quail, wonton soup, and, of course, the traditional Vietnamese delicacy of shrimp paste on sugar cane, which is ground shrimp lightly seasoned and molded around a piece of peeled fresh sugar cane. There are also several salads to choose from, including papaya salad, which is served with a special homemade sauce.
No meal would be complete without one of the Pho Dakao’s famous noodle soups. These soups come with a choice of beef, chicken or seafood. They are loaded with scallions, onions and cilantro and you can pick your favorite type of noodles ~ either yellow or white. The soups are served with a plate of bean sprouts, fresh basil, a slice of lime, and a small green chile pepper on the side. Other soups on the menu include the old standby of chicken noodle, which is recommended whether or not you feel a bit of a cold coming on.
The entrees are as varied as they are tasty. There is curry chicken with vegetables, sliced pork sautéed with broccoli, striped bass steamed with ginger and scallions, and beef sautéed with lemongrass, sliced onions, green and red bell peppers, snow peas and roasted peanuts. There are also vegetarian options, such as vegetarian noodle soup, tofu sautéed with Chinese broccoli and tofu with vegetable medley.
If you have room for dessert, Pho Dakao offers a very traditional (and delicious!) one: a deep-fried banana drizzled with honey.
Portions are large but not overwhelmingly so, all the dishes from start to finish are freshly prepared, and they offer taste combinations that are unique enough to keep sophisticated palettes happy while at the same time being delicate enough to appeal to first-timers.
593 Park Avenue
Playa del Carmen
By Sally Horowitz
It’s only a happy coincidence that the owner of Holden’s Mexican restaurant and cantina, Playa del Carmen, is also named Carmen. The restaurant’s namesake is actually a strip of beaches in the Mayan Rivera: “It’s very beautiful. It’s a tourist place but it has a small population. It’s a nice place to relax.”
Carmen, a native of the Dominican Republic, moved to the US in 1984 and discovered a talent for management. She dreamed of running her own business and finally opened Playa del Carmen in 2008. She chose Mexican food over her native cuisine because she finds the Mexican culture extremely interesting. Also, she knows her audience ~ many Americans are already familiar with and enjoy the food (who doesn’t love a good burrito?).
She hired a Mexican chef to ensure an authentic dining experience. Guacamole is made right at the table. Spices, chips, salsa and several of the desserts are all made fresh. For those with a sweet tooth, Carmen recommends the flan. And for those unfamiliar with Mexican fare, she suggests one of their popular shrimp fajitas. The spinach enchilada is a particularly delectable choice for vegetarians. And the large families that regularly dine at Playa del Carmen are thankful for the kid-friendly nachos.
Playa del Carmen has become so popular that another location opened in Sturbridge in March. “I like working with people and I like the restaurant atmosphere” says Carmen. And with most dishes under $10, it seems she also likes providing customers with a meal that is both affordable and authentic, true to the flavors that are so much a part of Mexican culture.
700 Main Street, Holden
By Rachel Bryson-Brockmann
When you’re craving some Mexican food, don’t you dare head to Taco Bell. Instead, try out Ixtapa Cantina in Lunenberg ~ its food is delicious, very fresh, and still inexpensive. And the place is fun, too.
“On Tuesday nights, a child gets a full meal from the kids’ menu, including ice cream and soda for $1.99,” said Jamie Brambila, manager. “Blinky the Clown” also makes the rounds, face-painting and giving out stickers and temporary tattoos. Monday through Friday, 11am-2pm, there are All-You-Can-Eat Tacos (with all the best ingredients you can imagine) for $6.99, and on Sundays, there is a live mariachi band from 5pm-8pm.
The Brambila family opened their first of four Ixtapa Cantina in Newington, NH, seven years ago. They pride themselves on using only the freshest ingredients and creating authentic dishes for both fans of true Mexican food and for those who might be trying it for the first time. Brambila recommends the classic Arros con Pollo, chicken sautéed with mushrooms, onions and bell peppers served with rice and melted Jack cheese, for anyone unfamiliar with Mexican food. And be sure to try to salsa ~ it’s made on location, and comes in varying different degrees of heat.
Ixtapa has many vegetarian options, too, with the most popular being the Veggie Green Burrito, which comes with the works ~ rice, black beans, onions, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole, and cheese.
For dessert, Brambila recommends the traditional flan or the fried ice cream. And as for drinks, the margaritas are where it’s at. “We are known for our margaritas,” says Brambila. With choices like Cadillac Margarita, El Presidente Margarita, and Rosarita, all made with Cuervo Gold Tequila and hand-shaken, they’re sure to bring a bit of Mexican fun to your night.
308 Mass Ave., Lunenburg
Nick’s Bar and Restaurant
By Rachel Shuster
Nick’s Bar and Restaurant serves some serious authentic German cuisine. Manager Nicole Watson says that Nick’s opened in 2007 because the owners felt there was a “niche for it and a need for it.” Serving German specialties such as Brotzeit Plate, Kase Spaetzle (German macaroni and cheese) and the traditional soft pretzel, Nick’s is definitely one of a kind in Worcester. “German food is hearty, filling, comfort food,” Watson says.
Not sure what to get? For someone just trying out German food, Watson suggests the Sauerbraten, which is roast beef marinated in red wine, vinegars and spices. “It’s a sweet and sour taste, which are common flavors in German food,” Watson adds. “Also try the Black Forest Noodles, a pasta dish made with bacon, caramelized onions, mushrooms and cheese. Feeling adventurous? Try the Liverwurst sandwich or the Gulasch Mit Pilzen, a spicy dish made with beef, mushrooms, and tomatoes, turned into a hearty stew that Watson says is “not for the faint of heart.” About 98% of the ingredients and spices used in their German cuisine is bought locally. However, they do import some sausages and other German specialties through an import company.
As for sweets, “Germans love sweets,” Watson says. The dessert menu is almost as popular as the drink menu. Nick’s serves traditional German and European beers such as Hosprau, Paulaner Hefeweizen, Radeberger Pilsner and the ever popular Oktoberfest. During September and October, Nick’s celebrates the holiday Oktoberfest with an extended menu, traditional German music, dancing and contests. On birthdays, you might have to wear the metal helmet with braids that Nick’s has made a tradition in the restaurant! As for what sets Nick’s apart from other restaurants in Worcester, Watson says, “The ambiance for sure. It’s an old world atmosphere, an outside of time, European feel.”
124 Millbury Street, Worcester
By Rachel Shuster
Stanley’s Lunch has been operating since 1934, specializing in Lithuanian cuisine. Such ethnic specials such as meatloaf, French-Canadian meat pie, kielbasa, spanakopita, spinach quiche and stuffed cabbage are staples at Stanley’s. Manager Michael Piontek, along with his mother, runs the establishment and describes it as a “mom and pop place, serving not your typical food. You won’t find pizza and subs here.” The recipes have been passed down from generation to generation and are compilations of family traditions. The home-cooked feel and taste of the food can’t be beat, except for perhaps the warm and welcoming atmosphere in the restaurant. “My grandfather opened the restaurant when he came over to America and found the opportunity to open the place,” Piontek says. “We have definitely found a little niche in this type of food and dining.”
Originally a bar, Stanley’s offers food that appeals to those who share the Lithuanian culture, but also those who want to try something new. “I recommend the kielbasa to start with for those just trying something new for the first time. It’s mild and not spicy, but delicious,” Piontek says. No matter what you get at Stanley’s you’re definitely in for some delicious Lithuanian food that you won’t be able to find anywhere else ~ and, according to Piontek, “…that most people don’t get at home.”
231 Pleasant Street, Gardner
O’Connor’s Restaurant and Bar
By Rachel Shuster
This uber-popular Irish/American based restaurant and bar is not only in its 21st year of business, it’s also just getting better and bigger (both the menu AND the building itself!) with each passing year. Restaurant Manager and native of Ireland Kieran Hennessy was immersed in the restaurant business back in Dublin, Ireland before coming over to the states in 1989. “There was a decline in my profession in Ireland, so I applied for my visa, got it, and came over to America, where I already had family and decided to try it,” he says. Being a part of such a welcoming and successful establishment means so much to Hennessy. Not only is the restaurant known for its hospitality, but also for its amazing Irish food. “Most customers ask about bangers and mash, a traditional Irish dish made up of mashed potatoes and sausage,” Hennessy says. But with the incredible variety offered at O’Connor’s, be sure to check out other traditional favorites like the smoked salmon and the lamb pie. In fact, you could dine at O’Connor’s every weekend for months and not run out of authentic Irish dishes to try.
Is there anything on the menu that customers seem leery of? Absolutely ~ the most questioned dish is the grey corned beef and cabbage. “They always ask, ‘Is it really grey?’” Hennessy says with a chuckle. That particular item, delicious as it is, it usually taken off the menu for the summer and put it back on for the fall and winter season as it’s more of a seasonal comfort food. As for dishes Hennessy suggests for those just getting into the Irish spirit, there’s the Guinness beef pie or chicken curry, both great sellers. “We do like to cook with beer and liquor!” Hennessy says with a twinkle in his eye.
At O’Connor’s, you can find dishes from other cultures, such as Italian and American, but everything still has an Irish twist ~ right down to the décor (photos of Ireland, humorous signs with traditional Irish sayings), the music, the mind-blowing number of beers and ales (and the display of taps), and the warm, you’re-part-of-the-family welcome guests receive whether it’s their 100th visit or their first. “The hospitality is outstanding here. You’re always going to get a wonderful welcome. The whole dining experience is based on how we learned to welcome people in Ireland,” Hennessy says.
1160 West Boylston Street, Worcester
The Celtic Tavern
By Rachel Shuster
The Celtic Tavern is a traditional Irish pub that proudly stays true to its Irish roots. Manager Maureen Toscano describes it as a “traditional Irish experience with unique dishes sure to provide a memorable experience.” She adds that they have an eclectic staff that enhances the experience of the restaurant, which is decorated in traditional Irish style.
The ingredients are local and recipes are created by the chefs themselves. Some of their signature Irish dishes include bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, Guinness stew, Guinness battered fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage and chicken boxty. For those stepping into the Irish culture for the first time, Toscano suggests they try the bangers and mashed: “This dish offers tradition, and is a fairly simple dish, but it has that extra Irish influence and really lights up your tastebuds,” she says. “It’s really the flavor of Ireland in a dish.”
The main feel of Irish food is “hearty and warm,” Toscano says. “Meals that make you feel warm and comfortable. We also use warm spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon,” she adds. As for traditional Irish beverages, The Celtic Tavern offers the Irish favorites like Guinness and other stouts, but also specialty drinks such as the Celtic Cosmo, Irish Coffee and the “Top of the Morning.” The specialty drinks make a special appearance on St. Patrick’s Day when The Celtic Tavern really celebrates its Irish heritage. Other special events include traditional Irish bands that play every other weekend. Toscano adds that The Celtic Tavern provides a “unique atmosphere that will bring you the feeling of actually being in a pub in Ireland. It’s comfortable, it’s a happy feeling, it’s like home.”
45 Belmont Street, Northborough
Second Annual Worcester Restaurant Week Kicks Off
By Paul Giorgio
The second annual Worcester Restaurant Week will begin on August2nd and continue until August 15th. Almost 50 locally owned independent restaurants are participating this year. According to Katie Krock of Worcester’s KJ Barron’s Fine Wine & Spirits, a presenting sponsor, “This is a great dining value in tough economic times. You can get a three course meal at the area’s finest restaurants for $22.10.”
Paul Barber, owner of the Flying Rhino Café, one of Shrewsbury Street’s most popular restaurants, stated that, “This is a way that we can give back to our customers. You will get an appetizer, entrée and dessert for a low price of $22.10.” He continued, “Some of our entrees are priced in that range, so you are really getting the appetizer and dessert for free.”
Among the Presenting Sponsors of the event are UniBank, KJ Barron’s Fine Wine & Spirits, CSX and American Express. Sponsors include Valet Park of America, Stella Artois, Mercadante Funeral Home and Winn Development. Supporting Sponsors for this year’s event are Enterprise Cleaning, Polar Beverages, Integrity Merchant Solutions and Victory Bar & Cigar.
Media Sponsors include WXLO radio, Oldies 98.9, The Pike, WCRN, TasteWorcester.com, Vitality Magazine and Pulse Magazine.
For a complete list of participating restaurants, visit www.WorcesterRestaurantWeek.com
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