By Bernie Whitmore
Joey’s Bar & Grill
344 Chandler Street, Worcester |508-797-3800
Dinner at Joey’s has always been a good time. At the edge of Coes Pond, it was a bit out of the way, but the place did virtually write the book on informal dining; they featured a friendly staff, a reasonably priced menu spiked with creative dishes, and a proprietor who cares about his customers. Some days we were extra lucky and had Angela wait on us ~ but the cuisine’s never been a chance affair, we’ve always left satisfied and with a smile.
With these memories in mind, I’ve been a bit wary of Joey’s move to Chandler Street. I mean, why tamper with success? It didn’t help that for their first few months in the new location it was all but impossible to get a table without waiting longer than reasonable in Worcester. I had to assume they’ve done something extraordinary in order to have attained this level of popularity… and I wistfully recalled the old Joey’s.
Then, on a cold and drizzly June weeknight, we finally found Joey’s less than packed and decided it was our chance to see what everyone was so excited about. We were greeted enthusiastically and immediately led to a booth. The dining room’s been updated, with a wood-paneled ceiling and a few transplanted pieces from the old Joey’s. Even better, within moments we began to recognize the staff and before long Angela was teasing us and just as friendly as ever. After a few minutes of catching up, she took our drink order ~ I ordered a glass of Harpoon IPA; the orangey color and tangy-sharp bitter flavor are a classic you can enjoy any time of year ~ and left us with menus.
We decided to start with an order of Lobster Rangoons. Traditionally made with crab, this is a dish that I usually regard with aloof disdain. But Joey’s has reworked the tired formula by “coming honest” and packing theirs with real bits of lobster meat and plenty of lobster flavor. They haven’t totally jettisoned the cream cheese base, but they’ve devised a recipe that would be a hit at any cocktail party.
The menu referred to seasonal specials, but as near as I could tell the season was still winter with specials including Braised Lamb Shank, my friend’s entrée choice. Perfect for a chilly evening, this is a dish that defines the term “comfort food.” Served over a mound of buttery mashed potatoes, the long, thin bones were laden with slabs of meat that, after hours in the oven, was tender and flavor-packed. The huge shank was served with a forest of broccoli florets, deep green and crunchy. Dishes like this make the colder months something to look forward to.
Other entrees were a step into the warmer time of year. My Grilled Spicy Jumbo Shrimp, an order of four, were served over orzo mixed with melty feta cheese, bright red roasted pepper strips, and shiny tomato halves. Fresh basil and green wilted spinach leaves rounded out the flavors and color. The meal was a study in glowing primary colors, but the shrimp were the main event; perfectly grilled, they were fresh and juicy with little bits of char that burst with rich flavor.
We finished with a towering wedge of Bean Counter’s lemon cream cake. Most of Joey’s desserts are home made and very tempting. But it had been a while since I last had a slice of the Bean Counter’s star feature (in my opinion) and it’s as good as ever, with subtly flavored layers of cake spread with tart lemon cream and mousse.
People in the business of selling stuff believe they can get our attention with two simple words: New! Improved! Most of us yawn and change the channel. But Joey’s move to Chandler Street is exactly that: they’ve kept all the things they excelled at and moved them to a new, bigger and better location.
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