Loving Worcester Action: Eat Local Food

All over this country are would-be third places – not just coffee shops and diners but potlucks, bean suppers, church dinners and chili cook-offs – that can make us feel like we belong where we live.
— Melody Warnick

Jakey just started his first year at South High this fall, but this past summer before his big leap into high school, Jakey decided to go on his own personal quest.  He vowed to teach himself how to cook but he skipped all that simple stuff - putting a slice of bread into the toaster or flipping an egg on the stove.  No, he was into hardcore cooking.  He perused the cookbook section of the Worcester Public Library and took stacks of books home.  His family became the beneficiary of his new found skills.  He made them Indian samosas, chapati breads, yeast breads, and dreamed of expanding his repertoire to scallion pancakes.  He experimented with the colors and tastes of previous unknown (for him!) spices adding the yellows of turmeric and the spicy curry to his dishes.  

His "learning about food" experiments in his own kitchen were coupled with forays to different ethnic restaurants out in the the city.  He wanted to learn about East African cuisine and discovered a hidden gem on West Boylston Street, a restaurant owned by a Kenyan family from Somalia.  If you think Jakey just crossed the threshold of that restaurant without some preparation, then you don't know our young man.  He prepared for his visit.  He checked out more books at the library on the history and culture of Kenya, Somalia and East Africa.  He really delved into the lingual roots of Somali and Swahili, just two of 287 languages spoken in East Africa.  He actually learned some key phrases in both Somali and Swahili so he could greet the restaurant owners in their root language. Jakey then told his parents that they had to go to this restaurant on July 1st, Somalia's Independence Day.  

 

Jakey with Fatima at Fatima's Cafe on West Boylston Street

Jakey with Fatima at Fatima's Cafe on West Boylston Street

Fatima's son took the order of Jakey's family at Fatima's kitchen on July 1st. Jakey drew the young man out into a full conversation about the language, culture and history of Somalia and Kenya and peppered him with questions about his family's personal life in Africa.  Cooking up her  magic in the kitchen in back, Fatima felt so moved by the young man  out front who had taken the time to know intimately the story of her country and to learn how to ask, "do you sell duck juice?" in Swahili.  Anyone who devoted this kind of energy to understanding her place in the world must be fed.  So she kept sending out food to the table - lentil soup, fried East African donuts called mandazi, samosas and Somali Anjero with the fermented stretchy bread used instead of  utensils to pick up the vegetables and meats.  The food kept on coming out of the kitchen.  More and more dishes...  Jakey's mother was a bit concerned about the final bill but when everyone in the family was stuffed and the bill finally came, it was little more than $30.  When Fatima packed up the leftovers into containers, she added even more mandazi doughnuts to the already large stash.  "Thank you," Jakey told her in Swahili.  Even when the family exited the restaurant and were half way to their car, Fatima ran out to them and gave them even more food to try at home.  Jakey reported that he heard Omar, Fatima's husband say to the son, "Wow!  This boy knows more about the history of Somalia than you!"

Here is one teaching lesson from this absolutely-true story of Jakey at Fatima’s kitchen:  There is something intimate in the act of feeding someone and being fed.  The sharing and providing of a meal can be the ultimate life sustaining act of giving.  We feed those we love.  We feel loved when we are being fed.  Even though there is a monetary transaction going on when we go out to a restaurant, those local chefs and restaurant owners who go into the business for the love of people and food, may have something more to offer – connection, caring, community.   

If you want to experience an authentic bit of local life, don’t wander into the nearest Burger King… Generic eating and drinking establishments might feel comfortable, but they do nothing to build affection towards a place.
— Melody Warnick

Melody Warnick thought that maybe she would become more attached to her town if she could find a restaurant where everyone knew her name and her favorite dish.  In her “love where you live” experiment on eating locally, she was determined to become a regular at a restaurant.  She and her husband chose a local American bistro in the heart of her town.  They went for dinner there at least once or twice a week and ordered the same dish on the menu.  How does one become a regular?  She asked when the experiment dismally failed.  The high turnover in wait staff meant they never got the same person twice.  After a couple of months of the same food at the same place, they got a bit bored and decided to drop the experiment.

I feel badly for Warnick.  It feels somewhat miraculous to cross over the threshold into "regular status”.  My son and I should know.  We are regulars at the Goldstar Restaurant over on Grove Street.  We sit right up front on the swivel stools at the counter so we can get a great view of Tony as he works his fast magic at the grill.  Deb, the waitress knows exactly what we like.  “Will it be the usual?” she asks.  Yes, it always is – the veggie omelet with broccoli and cheese, done very well, almost burnt with no toast or hash browns and an unsweetened ice tea for me and for Joseph, his usual chocolate chip pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse with a swig of apple juice on the side.  We’ve had this meal for many years now and we no longer have to spell out the details.

Where’s the little guy? Where’s Joseph?
— Tony at the grill when I occasionally go to the restaurant without my son
Alex works in the back kitchen on the busy weekend mornings.  He knows exactly how I like my omelet cooked.

Alex works in the back kitchen on the busy weekend mornings.  He knows exactly how I like my omelet cooked.

Originally from Albania, Tony is now a star at the grill.  He can crack six eggs shotgun in the row with just his one hand.  My son and I sit there mesmerized watching him cook so fast. “You make the best omelets,” I often tell him.  He always gives Joseph a fist pump when he first greets him.  “Hey, hey, hey!”  Tony smiles as if he were happy we were there.  ‘What’s up, little guy?  What’s up, Joseph?”

Originally from Albania, Tony is now a star at the grill.  He can crack six eggs shotgun in the row with just his one hand.  My son and I sit there mesmerized watching him cook so fast. “You make the best omelets,” I often tell him.  He always gives Joseph a fist pump when he first greets him.  “Hey, hey, hey!”  Tony smiles as if he were happy we were there.  ‘What’s up, little guy?  What’s up, Joseph?”

Want to feel more attached to Worcester?  Find someone like Tony or Fatima who know how to feed you outside of your own home and kitchen.  Forget the chain restaurants and find the little places way-off-the-beaten-track where you can get to know the owner, the chef, the people who wait the tables.  A special thank you to Chris Robarge.  Within half an hour on facebook, we riffed off of each other, generating this starter list of restaurants.  Some are well known and others are as yet undiscovered gems.  Let’s eat local!

 

  1. Fatima's Cafe
  2. The Broadway on Water Street(Check out the matzah brie and challah french toast)
  3. Annie's Clark Brunch in Main South
  4. Maria's Kitchen in Main South
  5. Get a hotdog at George's Coney Island
  6. Try the burrito bowl at Talytas Cafe on Front Street
  7. Nu Cafe
  8. Armsby Abbey on North Main Street
  9. Anokye Krom on Millbury - Try the peanut butter soup.. a bit of Africa!
  10. Pomir Grille on Shrewsbury Street( Can you believe that Worcester has its own Afghani restaurant... We remember Fowzia when she was the children's librarian at the WPL)
  11. Try Vincent's meatball sandwich
  12. Miranda Bread on Shrewsbury Street (best iced coffee in Worcester, amazing pressed sandwiches and ham and cheese croquettes)
  13. Mare L. Monti on Wall Street - Italian!
  14. The Sahara (Middle Eastern food)
  15. Saigon on Main Street - Vietnamese
  16. Da Lat (yummy spring rolls - cheap and great Vietnamese food!)
  17. Cafe Reyes on Shrewsbury Street (ymmy Brazilian food with a social mission to train Latino men in recovery in the restaurant industry)
  18. Have a corned beef sandwich at Weintraub's Jewish Deli on Water Street
  19. Hacienda Don Juan
  20. Fuente De Vida (Salvadorean pupuseria next to Moe's on Main Street)
  21. Basil 'N Spice (Thai!)
  22. Thai Time
  23. Bay State Bakery (yummy middle eastern on Water Street)
  24. Egg Roll Lady Fish Shack (or die!!)
  25. Corner Lunch Diner
  26. Wonder Bar (pizza institution on Shrewsbury Street)
  27. All the diners!  Miss Worcester, Boulevard, Kenmore
  28. Sole Proprietor ("The Sole")
  29. Pampas Churrascaria
  30. Herbie's
  31. Midnight Munchies - Late Food Night
  32. Red Pepper (Chinese on Main Street)
  33. Sazon Latino on Chandler Street
  34. Belmont Vegetarian
  35. Wormtown Brewery
  36. 3Cross Brewery (for beer lovers and bicylists!)
  37. Breen's Cafe on Cambridge Street
  38. Ralph's Diner on Grove Street
  39. Chickpea Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant on Park Ave.
  40. Armsby Abbey
  41. Bocado Tapas Wine Bar
  42. Bull Mansion New American Bistro
  43. Deadhorse Hill
  44. The Hangover Pub (especially great for bacon lovers!)
  45. Lock 50
  46. Lou Roc's Diner
  47. Oak Barrel Tavern
  48. Volturno Pizza on Shrewsbury Street
  49. John and Sons Deli on Chandler Street
  50. Loving Hut ( vegan yummy Asian food, try second Saturday of each month, all you can eat buffet!)
  51. Maury's Deli on Main Street
  52. El Patron in the Canal District - authentic Mexican
  53. Goldstar Diner
  54. The Pickle Barrel (cheapest, yummy breakfast around!)
  55. Birch Tree Bread Company (the new "in" place for artisinal breads, lunch at Crompton Place in the Canal District)
  56. Wooberry (frozen yogurt!)
  57. fatimas made a wgbh list along with the newer places a few months back. i was glad to see that since its so good and those places are often overlooked by lists. not a lot of people visit here from afar for those places, but the kind of people we want living here move here partially because of them ;)