By Tine Roycroft
Sometimes a burger ~ a normal, no frills burger ~ will do just fine for dinner. A run-of-the-mill pizza is always a favorite go-to meal, too. But when you want to DINE, not just eat, there are restaurants all over Worcester that offer pretty exceptional food ~ in fact, Worcester is known far and wide for its diverse and creative cuisine. One of the reasons our city has such a positive culinary reputation is that we have chefs who push the boundaries, tantalizing our taste buds with their unique flavor combinations, innovative techniques, new methods of preparation, use of unusual ingredients, and a flair for putting together meals that make us want to take our time savoring every single mouthful. We’re going to introduce you to five of these trendy chefs and give you a glimpse into their personal food preferences and experiences, their cooking techniques, and what inspires their unique menus.
Thanks to Alina Eisenhower, owner of Sweet on Shrewsbury Street, we can have our cake and eat it too. And then we can enjoy an incredible martini after said cake has been devoured. And possibly order another piece of cake…or two. With its fashionable pink and silver décor, intimate seating and saucy ambiance, this hot dining gem is the perfect place to indulge your sweet tooth.
Originally from Great Barrington, self-taught culinary powerhouse Eisenhauer, 40, is surrounded by treats today Worcester’s most extravagant dessert bar., but she started out in the competitive world of fitness. When she and her husband couldn’t find a “good loaf of bread” anywhere, she decided to take on the baking biz. She opened up the successful Sturbridge Baking Company in Sturbridge and a few years later took the plunge into the exciting world of Sweet.
This talented queen of sugar has shown her baking chops on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” and “Sweet Genius,” wowing the judges and viewers each time with her creativity and culinary daring.
Sweet’s innovative and mouth-watering menu is filled with to-die-for desserts like S’mores, Crème Brulee and Bananas Foster as well as some desserts that you just have to see to believe (I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse months ago of the cake Alina made for none other than Axl Rose when he and G n R played the DCU, and for a woman who can turn out the most delicate, feminine, exquisitely beautiful desserts, boy can she throw down with a kick-ass rock-n-roll themed cake, too!) but there are also 35 different types of martinis to choose from, as well as a huge mojito list. These are the candy castle confections we grown-up kids used to dream about…come to life!
Dying to have Eisenhower reveal all her Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory~type secrets, but knowing she wouldn’t, I asked her a few questions about the woman who understands our sweet tooth like no other.
Pulse: What is the most daring dish you’ve ever made?
Eisenhower: I would say the dish that I won “Sweet Genius” with. It had to be a chocolate dessert dish and I created it using bone marrow and coffee beans.
Pulse: How do you come up with new recipes?
Eisenhower: I get inspiration from different things, which could be why I did so well on “Sweet Genius.” I can get inspired by one ingredient and just build from there. Sometimes I’m inspired by something really classic, I love the history of dessert, the traditions. Sometimes color inspires me too.
Pulse: What’s your favorite summer dessert?
Eisenhower: Anything with fruit! I love a good Strawberry Shortcake or anything with fresh peaches.
Pulse: What’s craziest cooking technique you’ve employed?
Eisenhower: They’re all crazy and fun and exciting! I love experimenting. The tool that is on the top of my wish list right now, and my wish list is pretty long, is a thermal immersion circulator under vacuum pressure. It allows you to cook things like beef in vacuum-sealed bags in water baths at low and stable temperatures. It really preserves the flavor.
Pulse: What would you like to see happen to the Worcester dining scene?
Eisenhower: More of what’s already happening. I want to see it continue to evolve through chefs who are committed to seasonal and local ingredients. I think food is coming full circle by returning to its cultural roots. I think we’ll be focusing on traditional recipes that are indigenous to specific areas.
Pulse: You’re surrounded by amazing pastries nearly 24/7! How do you keep from eating everything?
Eisenhower: It’s a myth that dessert makes you fat! It’s the food that you eat BEFORE the dessert that makes you fat. At least, that’s what we tell each other.
Pulse: If you could make a dessert for a celebrity, who would it be?
Eisenhower: It would have to be a celebrity chef, and I’d love to make a dessert for Anthony Bourdain. I’d serve him something true to my style ~ whatever was the best I could give him.
Pulse: We know you’re very generous with your talents ~ what are your favorite charities to work with?
Eisenhower: Share our Strength ~ they want to end childhood hunger by 2015. And Icing Smiles ~ it’s like the Make-A-Wish foundation. It’s for terminally ill children or their siblings and they make kids the cakes of their dreams.
For more info on Sweet, go to www.sweetworcester.com.
(Pulse readers! Could you work all day around the yummiest treats you can imagine and resist the temptation to eat them all???)
Patrick Carroll, owner and executive chef at Gumbo, knows all about bringing food, friends and culture together ~ it’s his goal for his New Orleans Kitchen and Oyster bar.
Carroll, 35, opened his restaurant on Water Street in May 2012 and has been getting some great feedback. The Johnson & Wales University graduate, who previously worked at Flip Flops Bar and Grill in Holden, knows how to please folks with good, flavorful food and a comfortable ambiance.
Walking into Gumbo is like easing into a different time or place where there’s nothing to do but relax and enjoy. Stone and brick walls and a fireplace bring a sense of security and warmth to the diner. The lighting adds to the comfy mood and beckons you to kick back in your chair with Gumbo’s delicious Shrimp and Grits dish.
He was surprised at just how many Worcester residents have ties to mysterious and boisterous New Orleans through college, vacation homes, and relatives. Now everyone ~ from the deep South or not ~ can gather at this dining hot spot and dig into the House Jambalaya, bite into the Bison Burger, or slurp some Backwoods Gumbo.
And Carroll, the man behind the dishes, is just as cool as his menu:
Pulse: What are five non-edible kitchen items you can’t do without?
Carroll: In any kitchen, you need duct tape, scissors, band-aids, burn cream and bamboo skewers.
Pulse: How do you come up with new recipes?
Carroll: By tasting. It’s all about interesting combinations. I play a lot at home, as we do here in the kitchen. I always work around what’s available, what’s fresh, what’s local and how to work them in different and interesting ways.
Pulse: What’s your fave summer food?
Carroll: Anything with steak. I love doing steak or grilled vegetables. Just go to the farm stand and grab whatever looks good. I make sure I have no dishes to do when I’m done.
Pulse: What’s the most daring dish you’ve ever tried to make?
Carroll: When I first started cooking I had a big party and did a salt-crusted leg of beef. You really have to trust yourself when you’re cooking something like that because you can’t see the meat under all that salt.
Pulse: Guilty food pleasure?
Carroll: Definitely gummy worms.
Pulse: Any food you won’t eat?
Carroll: Well, I’m allergic shellfish… which is tough.
Pulse: Favorite late night snack?
Carroll: Oodles of Noodles.
Pulse: What cutting edge cooking techniques have you tried?
Carroll: I can’t say I’ve done anything too crazy, but I’m always up for trying something new.
Pulse: What’s the spiciest food you ever tried?
Carroll: Ghost chilies. I needed a lot of recovery time after trying one of those.
Pulse: Strangest food you ever ate?
Pulse: Is there any dish that is your culinary nemesis?
Carroll: Souffles! Whenever I make a soufflé, it just doesn’t work. I don’t think I have the patience to make one right.
Pulse: What would you be if you weren’t a chef?
Carroll: I’d be on “American Idol.” And I’d rap.
Pulse: What would you like to see happen to the Worcester dining scene?
Carroll: Just continue to grow. Worcester is becoming a destination for dining ~ the type of place where people will drive to and really think about where they’re going to eat, knowing that they’ve got great options. I’d like to see all of us do well and with the emergence of new places and the great places Worcester already has, it has tons of potential.
Pulse: What do you think is the next big trend on the cuisine scene?
Carroll: I think it’s going to be kicked-up comfort food. We’re already starting to see a return to comfort food now, but it’s going to be those dishes cranked up a couple of notches.
For more information on Gumbo, go to www.gumboworcester.com
You can’t find Southern fare like this just anywhere, so we’re super-lucky to be able to experience a whole flavor palate and style of cooking that used to be reserved just for folks in and around New Orleans!
Brian Manzi of Café Manzi’s
Brian Manzi, owner of and chef at Cafe Manzi’s on Shrewsbury Street, has the restaurant business in his blood. This self-taught chef co-owned the former Manzi’s Village Café with his father and has cooked up divine dishes at Primo’s, The Flying Rhino, and Bread and Pasta. But Manzi’s culinary dreams came true when he opened his own place on the street he grew up on.
Café Manzi’s specializes in Italian, Middle Eastern, and traditional American food. They use only fresh ingredients and Manzi, 32, puts his heart and creativity into each dish. Breakfast and lunch are served Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday is totally dedicated to breakfast fare. The Cafe is transformed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when Manzi serves up outrageously good dinners (with an invite to BYOB) in the glow of candle light. And remember Manzi’s name when planning your next function, as the Cafe has wonderful catering available for private events.
No matter the time of day, Café Manzi has something that will satisfy. Need something yummy to kickstart your morning? Try the peanut butter pancakes or French toast. Stop by with a friend for lunch and delight in one of the excellent wraps or salads. Or plan a romantic night out and order the Steak Diane, which will get your mouth watering, or try the Lamb Stew or Stuffed Grape Leaves that will leave you warm and satisfied.
And Manzi is just as interesting and versatile as his food.
Pulse: What’s the most daring dish you’ve ever made?
Manzi: Stuffed eel. We’re Italian and we eat a lot of seafood at Christmas. One year we had an extra eel and I said to myself, “I’m going to try to stuff it.” It came out alright.
Pulse: How do you keep Café Manzi on the cutting edge?
Manzi: I’ve been cooking for a long time and I’ve worked in a lot of nice restaurants. With my experience, I bring a lot of different ideas to the table. I like to make a lot of different specials and switch the menu up from time to time. I also watch a lot of culinary shows and pay attention to what people love.
Pulse: Spiciest dish you ever had?
Manzi: I had a habanero dish at a Thai restaurant once. It was part of a challenge a bunch of us were doing and it was so hot it was ridiculous. I could only finish ¼ of the meal.
Pulse: How about a guilty food pleasure?
Manzi: Love a good cheese sauce. I love Alfredo sauce, but can’t have that too often. It’s just not healthy for you.
Pulse: What’s the most adventurous cooking technique you’ve tried?
Manzi: We did a dish at the Worcester’s Best Chef competition and we created a frothy foam made of mascarpone cheese as part of the dessert round.
Pulse: What would you like to see happen to the Worcester dining scene?
Manzi: I’d love to see it grow even more.
And because our featured chefs are so involved in our community and our community’s future, we wanted to know whether Manzi has a favorite charity.
Manzi: I like Wigs for Kids ~ you donate hair for wigs for kids going through chemotherapy. Everybody in my family does it. That’s huge for me ~ my mom passed away from cancer, so that’s why we donate to little kids.
For more info on Café Manzi’s, go to www.cafemanzis.blogspot.com ~ or even better, stop in to sample Brian’s amazing creations ~ it’s not every chef who can make Italian, Middle Eastern, and American dishes all special and leave you wondering just what his secret ingredients are, but Brian does just that!
(Pulse readers ~ would you be brave enough to try stuffed eel?)
The Flying Rhino Café and Watering Hole is a unique restaurant that encourages the adventurous spirit in all of its customers. Inside, the bold and funky décor sets the mood for a fun dining experience filled with friends, laughter and great food. The main room is spacious ~ perfect for grabbing a group of your besties/buds and starting the night off right. There’s also delightful sidewalk and deck dining available, should you visit for a delish lunch or early supper and want to enjoy the summer sun. The creative dishes are the definition of gourmet innovation and the environment is chill, funky and fun-loving. Try the Georgia Peach Duck or Cool Lime Salmon and you’re hooked for life.
At the culinary helm is Chef Mark Hawley. Hawley’s been in the restaurant business since his brother first got him involved as a dishwasher at 15. He’s worked in some incredible restaurants, like 111 Chop House and VIA Italian Table in Worcester. Now, at 31, the self-taught chef is designing dishes and receiving praise up and down Shrewsbury Street and well beyond.
Hawley consistently makes certain the meals are great ~ and good for your health as well. The Flying Rhino has joined Woo Food ~ a local movement promoting super healthy menu choices. The menu also offers tasty gluten-free dining options.
And big-hearted Hawley has an upbeat attitude that almost outshines his food.
Pulse: Tried any crazy cool cooking techniques?
Hawley: The craziest thing I’ve ever tried, and I’d never serve this to a customer ~ was cooking a salmon in a dishwasher. You wrap it in plastic wrap, wrap it tightly, then run it through the dishwasher and the salmon gets steamed.
Pulse: How do you stay on top of food trends?
Hawley: We’re not locked into any specific genre of food or ethnicity at the Flying Rhino. So I can try new things and use all of these awesome local ingredients that are fresh and healthy.
Pulse: What’s your process for creating new menu items?
Hawley: I always start with the protein. It could be a steak or a piece of fish. From, there, I just concentrate on what’s seasonal.
Pulse: What’s the most daring dish you’ve ever attempted?
Hawley: I’m not a baker by trade. So anything involving baking, even just a simple cake, is pretty daring for me.
Pulse: What’s the next big thing in the culinary world?
Hawley: I think we’re going to bring food back home. We’re getting crazy now with the molecular cooking and that’s cool. But I think we can expect to see a trend in the way of reinvented traditional cuisine
Pulse: What would you like to see happen to the Worcester dining scene in the future?
Hawley: I’d like people to get a little more adventurous. I think they’re starting to, but I’d love to see people break out of their traditional eating patterns and move out of their comfort zones. It helps chefs be more creative. We like our job more and we get an opportunity to shine a little more. And our customers get a chance to try something they’ve never had before.
For more information on The Flying Rhino, go to www.flyingrhinocafe.com or head over to the restaurant and see what we mean about Mark’s extraordinary preparations!
(OK, Pulse readers ~ salmon cooked in a dishwasher ~ would you give it a try?)
Peter Rano of Joey’s Bar and Grill
Joey’s Bar and Grill, located on Chandler Street, is a well-known, well-loved place to have a romantic date with your partner or gather friends for a night of catching up ~ or to bring your parents when they’re in town visiting. There’s a strong family vibe at this restaurant ~ you walk in and immediately feel at home with the warm, rich wooden decor and large inviting bar area where there’s room for everyone to sit down, get comfortable, and try the amazing Homemade Sangria. The main dining room is open and typically bustling with activity and there’s a function room that’s a perfect size for all of your private party needs. The staff is friendly and treats diners like old friends ~ which they might actually be, as both Joey’s staff and customers are known for their loyalty.
The food at Joey’s pays homage to tradition, but loves to energize the flavor with twists and trends.
You can’t go wrong with dinner options like Chicken Frangelico, which they simmer in a hazelnut cream and serve with butternut ravioli. Or their Lamb Shank, served with a white bean and tomato ragout. And the man behind the menu is 25 year old Peter Rano. He’s a self-taught chef who’s been cooking up a storm at Joey’s for about 5 years…and loves it. This guy is as warm and inviting as the restaurant he works in and the sumptuous meals he creates.
Pulse: How do you stay on top of the trends?
Rano: We do our best to pay attention to hot items, whether it’s produce or special cuts of meat. We really pay attention to fish. You can get fish anywhere, but we look for the very best pieces of fish, and we also get fish that aren’t from around here. I like to try new things, I want to keep giving people the best.
Pulse: How do you come up with new, exciting items?
Rano: It’s lots of experimenting and researching. I love going out, trying different restaurants, trying different types of food. Seeing what other chefs are doing to make people happy. Then I come back, I’m inspired, and I create something that’s totally new and that has my own twist.
Pulse: What’s your favorite summer meal to grill?
Rano: Grilled scallops and grilled corn salad
Pulse: Any guilty food pleasures?
Rano: Thin crust pizza. Without a doubt. And on the top, I’ll go for any kind of sausage or cured meats.
Pulse: How about a favorite late night food?
Rano: Chicken wings. I’ll try any type of flavoring, any type of sauce. Just sign me up, I’m there.
Pulse: If you could be on any Food Network show, which one would it be?
Rano: I would go on the “The Great Food Truck Race.” That’s really all about food for the people. You’re really interacting with you customers all the time. I’d serve up a pulled pork sandwich, a really good and thick burrito. And definitely a burger.
When you choose a place for lunch or dinner, you want to walk away after the meal remembering the flavors ~ both familiar and new ~ and maybe even pondering what tricks the chef pulled out of his culinary magic hat to create the innovate food that’s already calling you back for more…and Peter, with his delectable sauces and taste combinations, is master of that kind of food…just try to resist!
For more information on Joey’s Bar and Grill, go to www.joeysbarandgrill.com.
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