Worcester fiction #1: “You’ll get stabbed.” Fact: This is a very generic thing to say. I’m currently moving to Philadelphia, and people tell me I’ll probably get stabbed in Philly, so I’m pretty sure people just like to say this. Sickos.
Worcester fiction #2: “There’s nothing to do.” Fact: Yeah, Worcester’s a small city, but, like any city, it’s filled with hidden corners of unique delights. Sorry we’re not, I don’t know, Paris or London, but try not to be ungrateful.
Overall, many people don’t really know much about what we affectionately refer to as “The Woo” at all, including (understandably) how to pronounce it: “Wuh-stir,” not “War-chester.” Who lives in the three-family triple-decker houses that line a vast majority of the streets? Clarkies who volunteer at the The Boys and Girls Club or student-teach at the local high schools come to realize that families do, some families who aren’t that well-off. Noting the obvious connection between poverty and crime, you’ll forgive me when I suggest you either accept it as it is, do something to make it better, or kindly remove yourself from our city.
There are many creative people just making their way in Worcester, whether it be with food, music, art or intellectual pursuit. I
go went to Clark University so I that’s just my point of view, but regardless of what brought you here, I hope we can agree that Worcester is pretty darn cool.
People get married here, okay? If you want to escape the crowded campus green on those first days of spring, head over to Elm Park for a guaranteed spot on the wide expanses of grass in front of the pond or closer to the playground area if you want to overhear kids saying funny kid things as part of their imaginary games. An ice cream truck and a hot dog truck are here pretty constantly during warmer months, but there’s also a PriceChopper across the street for any last minute picnic food. Elm Park also boasts continuously changing installations of sculptures as part of Art in the Park, which are always good conversation pieces, perhaps good for a first date? (Sm)arts are hot.
Best Food Celeb
Doctor Gonzo of Doctor Gonzo’s Uncommon Condiments
90 May Street, Worcester // (866) 374-6696
This guy has a wild selection of super spicy, super flavorful homemade condiments, but his personality is even more notable. You’ll curiously enter his small shop having heard vague mention of “Moose River Adirondack Blackfly Mustard” and “Smoke Isle Elixir” and stay there for an hour chatting about music, various travels or creative culinary endeavors. “The Good Doctor” Stu Esty believes in Worcester and the power of people and has a true passion for both. He hosts monthly themed grilling competitions in which participants must use at least one of his products in their truly unique concoctions. For $5, onlookers can sample the final products and grab some of the home brewed beer that these vastly talented participants typically bring along.
Best American Dining
104 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester // (508) 752-3862
Quality without pretension. Now you have somewhere besides dumb old T.G.I Friday’s that still pleases everyone with their huge menu of burgers, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, classic entrees and salads. You got your smoked chicken baked macaroni for the picky eaters and a Mediterranean tuna entree for the broader horizons. While it’s still suitable for when the family is in town or a good meal with a couple sports-indifferent friends, there is a sports bar element about the place as well. There’s always some sort of game on with beer and wing promotions during all NFL games.
Must order: BBQ chicken spring roll appetizer
Clarkies: Best Bar to See Everyone You Know
897 Main Street, Worcester // (508) 753-6150
With a dimly lit bar area, old wooden booths and a couple of pool tables, Moynihan’s steers clear of trendy BS and has been the go-to spot to grab a beer for generations of Clarkies. Worcester’s oldest pub also brings in a local crowd, and the two demographics are actually known to interact at times, which is kinda cool. With a pretty standard selection of booze and a fairly limited menu, basically chicken wings and fries, the draw here is the laid back atmosphere. Old faithful. There’s also trivia night every Wednesday that is where you’ll really, really see everyone you know. Winner gets a free pitcher and a plate of wings and fries. And, you know, having won before, I can tell you the fries are very good.
Best Girls Night Out
166 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester // (508) 926-8308
Mezcal is a level of upscale where you won’t feel silly getting all dolled up to go, but you won’t be like “Why are there only suit-wearing businessmen and their wealthy families here?” Their guacamole comes in three varieties and their margaritas come in 15, so agree on a plate and a pitcher and get ready to share an incredible combination of food and drink while you gossip the night away. Their vast selection of tequilas (pictured below) will excite any enthusiast, but the waitstaff will more than understand if you’ll just take “whatever” and can point you in the right direction. Grab a reservation online for big groups and bring a couple bucks cash for valet parking (it’s free but you tip them) in case you can’t find a spot on the street.
Must order: Tropical guacamole
425 Park Avenue, Worcester // (508) 753-6036
You may or may not be surprised to learn that Worcester has a very large population of Vietnamese folks, which has led to a large number of Vietnamese restaurants. All pho, all the time. Da Lat is a tiny, mostly take-out venue that has Clarkies constantly raving and walking back to campus several times a week, smile on their face, boba tea in their hand. While most Chinese places around campus tend to have bad reputations (“everyone who goes there throws up after;” obviously an exaggeration), Vietnamese steps up and takes its place as the main don’t-feel-like-cooking, getting-take-out option from an Asian region of the world.
Best Hidden Treasure
Sweet T Southern Kitchen
35 Blackstone River Road, Worcester // (508) 756-0100
Sweet T opened up within the past couple years, so the word is still being spread on this one, and I’m proud to do my part. Owner Michaun Fowler makes everything from scratch daily and has a constantly rotating selection of southern sides like fried okra and black eyed peas that are a treat us New Englanders rarely get to enjoy. It’s a casual and BYOB atmosphere, which makes it a great destination for a low-key evening out: comfort food, a beer and a friendly staff with lots of regulars who can’t get enough of Michaun’s moist and perfectly seasoned country fried chicken. Another southern favorite: white gravy. White gravy is so much better than brown gravy. Come on.
Must order: Country fried chicken
13 Lord Street, Worcester // (508) 753-9978
Dino’s is located on a small residential side street that will make you feel like you’re in the wrong place but you’re not, so it’s kind of a mini-adventure. They’ve got every Italian classic at a reasonable price with soup or salad and bread, the whole deal. The menu is easy to understand for people who don’t like to translate from Italian and has plenty of beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian options for all tastes. Many people will point you to VIA for good Italian, which they do have, but Dino’s tastes just as good but offers a lower price bracket and a more comfortable environment. Go off the beaten path for this one.
Must order: I love eggplant parm but feel weird picking your favorite Italian food for you ’cause they’re all good
Best Huge Breakfast Indulgence
300 Southbridge Street, Worcester // (508) 753-5600
Their french toast be crazy. Pictured below, Miss Worcester is an old-fashioned dining cart that has kept much of its original structure. Their menu is pretty classic too, barring their french toast specials that stuff anything you can imagine between a gigantic stack of thick french toast slices. S’mores, strawberry cheesecake, coconut custard… Grab a hunk of rich, buttery sugar rush early Sunday afternoon to absorb any lingering hangover before homework hours are upon you. As you can see, it’s pretty small, so waiting for a table or not are left up to luck. If you have some time to kill, walk across the street to the Worcester Flee Market, open Sundays, for an interesting experience.
Must Order: French toast. Any variety.
Best Local Bar
124 Millbury Street, Worcester // (508) 753-4030
While Moynihan’s (mentioned above) and the less than pristine Blarney Stone are most conveniently located near Clark, Worcester offers a selection of bars outside this radius that are equally likely to show you a good time. Nick’s is a favorite among them offering craft beers, a German-centric menu, no cover and frequent live music. Winner of the general “bar” category; just a cool place. Definitely more of a “dive bar” than “hoppin’ club” atmosphere, so social interaction with reputable strangers does not have to take place through dry humping. For the latter, a lot of dance clubs come and go in Worcester, so the standard changes often. Right now, I got nothin’. Sorry to leave you hanging, sexy mamas.
Best Place for Cheap Spices
ARTichoke Food Co-op
800 Main Street, Worcester // (508) 752-3533
We have the technology available to eliminate the need to buy a whole canister of cloves for a single recipe! ARTichoke sells local and organic eggs, milk and produce, when available, in addition to every spice imaginable in bulk at incredible prices. That means that you bring a little jar or plastic bag and buy one teaspoon of Chinese five spice blend for 10 cents or so and be on your way. They also have a variety of beans and grains in bulk that are convenient to sample if you’re looking to add variety (and more nutritional value) to your typical side of white rice. It’s cash only, and you do not need to be a member of the co-op to shop there.
Best Parents Weekend Pick
Worcester Restaurant Group:
Sole Proprietor 118 Highland Street, Worcester // (508) 798-3474
VIA 89 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester // (508) 754-4842
One Eleven Chop House 111 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester //(508) 799-4111
These restaurants basically represent fine dining in Worcester. As you can probably tell by the names, Sole Proprietor specializes in seafood, VIA in Italian food and One Eleven Chop House in steak. Sole Proprietor is the one that gets mentioned the most, but seafood vs. Italian vs. steak is pretty “apples and oranges,” so just choose your favorite “genre” among the three. They are all equally expensive restaurants, however they each have happy hour specials with $6 bar menu items, and there’s always lunch for a more money-conscious meal, so there are ways around it. If your parents reluctantly allowed you to choose Clark despite the “bad area” it was in, some nice salmon, veal or steak will change their mind!
Other Parents Weekend Picks: Flying Rhino Cafe, The Boynton, The People’s Kitchen
Best Street Festival
StART on the Street
Park Avenue, Worcester
Pretty much any artsy soul in the Worcester area looks forward to StART on the Street, a multi-block craft fair fun for the whole family and all of their dogs. Definitely not an “old lady-ish” craft fair by any means; these sellers not only know how to use a computer but typically run an Etsy shop as well. In addition to unique jewelry, pottery, wall art and anything else that would make an amazing gift, there is music, local food stands and best of all, kettle corn. The festival is usually in September, but the people who put it on have added a Spring edition and StART at the Station in the winter in the train station. It’s a fun day.
Best Ice Cream
Meola’s Wayside Ice Cream (seasonal)
165 West Boylston Street, West Boylston // (508) 835-9747
Sadly, Worcester is kind of devoid of ice cream places. There’s Friendly’s, of course, which we New Englanders learn in college is not actually a national chain, but where’s the cute little ice cream shop we all know and love? Try heading way down Park Ave., one of the major streets that borders Clark and WPI. Like 20 minutes down there. And finally up on a hill is Meola’s Wayside Ice Cream with their cookie monster, Kahlua brownie, German chocolate cake and other such flavors loaded up with chunks of anything and everything sweet. Note that this is a cash only establishment. It’s only open seasonally and closes early sometimes (very early for us young party hardiers), so call to check before you make the trip. Sit outside at the picnic tables in the adjacent warehouse and hope no one obnoxious thinks it would be entertaining to play the random piano in there.
Must Order: Coffee heath bar frozen yogurt or any frozen yogurt if you want to feel a little bit better about it. They’re ice cream comparable.
Best Seasonal Excursion
Tougas Family Farm
234 Ball Street, Northborough // (508) 393-6406
Tougas Farm just knows what they’re doing. They have it all: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, peaches, blueberries and apples and are open from about June to November. Word to the very, very wise: Go during the week. You’re a college student, you can find at least one afternoon free with a couple of friends. This place gets crazy mobbed on the weekend with parents and their kids who just want to sit in the stroller anyway. You’ll probably want ice cream or a smoothie and waiting in line is just no fun. The employees are well-informed on what prime fruit looks like and where it’s located that day, so you can get right to the good stuff. They often have deals on larger quantities, so get as many people as you can to buy in and clear out the freezer. Check their Facebook page before you head out because sometimes the area they set aside for that day ran out of fruit. Lastly, don’t forget to pet the adorable goats in their little goat pen. Pretty cute.
Best Sunday Brunch
At Moynihan’s Pub, 897 Main Street, Worcester // (774) 312-6966
A unique entity: WooDaddy Waffles is a business created a couple years ago by recent graduates of Clark’s Community Development Masters program who make insanely creative waffles from the kitchen of Moynihan’s every Saturday, 10-2 and Sunday, 11-2. Some of their heavy hitters are huevos rancheros waffles, falafel waffles and chicken and waffles. They host monthly community potlucks and encourage everyone to attend so you can get to know the people who probably live right down the street from you. Also, it’s free as part of their mission to make these types of things available to everyone.
Must order: Chicken and waffles
Best Gourmet Pizza
806 Pleasant Street, Worcester // (508) 754-8884
Pizza snob alert. Corner Grille is the flattest of flatbread pizzas, with a nearly paper thin crust that showcases the array of toppings you can and should order for each pie. If you prefer food that can pass for “artisan,” then your pizza lives here. Take for example the Harvest Moon Pie with brown sugar, roasted butternut squash, caramelized onion, sausage, toasted pumpkin seeds, cheese and a brown butter drizzle. An inordinate amount of textures and flavors all gathering in your happy mouth! They also have wraps that range from the standard cheeseburger to the more international tabbouleh. Lastly, they have brownies that are very tall and thick.
Must order: Harvest Moon Pie
Best Classic Pizza
974 Main Street, Worcester // 508-890-7888
On the other hand, this is the thicker crust, gooey, greasy and delicious stuff right next door to campus that you’ll want to go for when you want pizza. For your regular neighborhood pizza place, they have a wide selection of special pies for people like me who are still pizza snobs and prefer ranch dressing or something on their pizza, so this place actually makes everyone happy. They are also known for their “sub of the month” deal: $2.99 for a small, $3.99 for a large. The question is, will you ever be lazy enough to get this stuff delivered from literally a few yards away from your house? Probably yes, at least once.
Must order: The Southerner: Cheese, ranch, grilled chicken and bacon
Best Frozen Yogurt
141 Highland Street, Worcester
Worcester was a little late on the fro-yo boat, but here we are, and it’s smooth sailing from here. WooBerry emphasizes the health aspect of their non-fat and low-fat yogurt offerings and uses compostable dishes, spoons and napkins, so that gets them cool points. What I really like about them is that their yogurt actually tastes like yogurt: tang town. You can sweeten it up yourself with their array of fruity, nutty, bob, candy (not healthy) toppings, or with local honey and maple syrup. Their flavors change on the daily and sometimes include gelato, which is a welcome surprise.
Must order: Peanut butter frozen yogurt
Best Random Worcester Site
Salisbury Park, Massachusetts Avenue, Worcester
Now, most people would probably vote for the unintentionally crude Burnside Fountain “Turtle Boy” statue downtown which depicts a young boy, ahem, ”riding” a turtle. That’s all fine and well but I’m a subtle kinda gal and Bancroft Tower is a subtle kind of bizarre. Worcester native George Bancroft founded the US Naval Academy among countless other accomplishments. His “friend and admirer,” Stephen Salisbury III thought he was such a cool guy that he decided to build an exceedingly random mini-castle type thing upon one of Worcester’s many hills. Because how else would you commemorate a friend? Technically, he was Salisbury’s father’s friend, but nonetheless… it’s a funny thing to see perched in a tiny park in the middle of a typical neighborhood. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, you cannot climb the tower and must admire it from the ground.
Best Lunch Spot
490 Grafton Street, Worcester // (508) 753-0224
I’ve revealed the goodness of this site to you before as the home of Worcester’s best sandwich, but they have a great selection of other sandwiches, and their Italian bakery-style pizza is incredibly satisfying. It’s a take-out bakery with a few tables, so it’s a good low-key destination that is still special considering that you’re probably gonna sample at least one of their many, many desserts. Negotiate a selection of cannolis to split with your companion. It’s next door to a bank and a CVS. Every time I go I feel like that’s super convenient even though I don’t usually use either of them.
Must Order: A focaccia sandwich. I don’t care what you put on it, that bread makes it magic.
Best Clarkie Staple
Annie’s Clark Brunch
934 Main Street, Worcester // (508) 756-1550
The infamous Ann Jenkins closes down the place on Sundays and Mondays, but every other day of the week, every week of the year, that woman is flipping countless eggs and pancakes long before any of us would even consider waking up. Traditional breakfast fare and comfort food lunch options in this tiny cash-only diner are by all means a Clarkie staple. She gives you tons of food for a great price to the point where you wonder why other restaurants feel the need to charge so much? I mean, the woman’s been in business for ages; she’s doing something right! As a local celeb, Annie’s had her fair share of interviews, but she won’t even stop working to answer questions — only to call you honey from across the grill as she plates up some homefries.
Must order: A cheesy omelet
Best Coffee Shop
932 A Main Street, Worcester // (508) 756-9446
At Clark you’ll see a few Starbucks cups and a decent amount of Dunkin’ Donuts cups, but cups from “Acoustic” are the most plentiful of all. They’ve got all the coffeehouse favorites along with breakfast sandwiches, salads, subs, wraps and paninis and are known for their vegetarian options as well. Their baked good selection includes things you “probably shouldn’t but might anyway” eat for breakfast and actual dessert items that say “treat yourself.” This is the place to kill 20 minutes between classes or grab a quick lunch when the dining hall is no good. If you want caffeine, they have caffeine up to a gigantic cup containing more espresso shots than I can remember right now, but you probably don’t wanna know.
Must order: Croissant
Jen Cantin graduated from Clark University with a degree in English and Journalism. She shares other (a)musings at Deep Fried Epiphany and dedicates this post to the beautiful Worcester, Mass., everyone she met at Clark and everyone who suggested places for this post.