As we walked to a meeting at City Hall, my neighbor expressed disappointment that after a recent encounter with a friend there was no place downtown to get a cup of coffee. That was cue for me to shift into Worcester Booster mode and point out the several new coffee houses within seconds of the Common.
Unlike so many others, she is relatively new to town and still catching up with what’s going on. Far more common are the ‘natives’ who just assume nothing will ever happen in Worcester. To those people I say, “Open your eyes and pay attention! You’re missing out!”
A prime example of the expanding growth in the city’s center came on my recent evening at Craft Table and Bar. On the half-flight of steps down from Franklin Street, I still wasn’t ready for the total overhaul of this ancient space. It’s a long room, arrayed on the right with a full bar; plenty of beer taps and wine on display. Facing that, a row of high-top tables divides a dining room that is anchored in front by a semi-private dining space.
Weirdly enough, what really converted me into a believer was the bathroom. It’s huge, cutting-edge and pristine. Whoever recovered this space from the rundown wreck it once was left no stone unturned; the place is totally transformed to urban-chic with a welcome shine.
I met my friend at Craft Table on a Tuesday evening; we were initially crestfallen to learn that they only offered the bar menu that night. Undeterred, I scanned it and found a narrow range of intriguing options. So, we stayed. It helped that the waiter was so friendly and engaging; she was generous with information, advice and her time.
We started with a couple appetizers. First, their charcuterie and cheese board; sticks of sharp cheese teamed up with razor-thin slices of serrano ham that we loaded onto crumbly shards of toasted bread. Flavor contrasts came in the form of sticky pumpkin seed brittle, stone-ground mustard and spicy-sweet pepper jam.
Then we turned our attention to the Ahi Tuna Wonton Nachos. Very exciting! This exceeded any tuna poke I’ve encountered. Chunks of red ahi tuna were crusted with sesame and then tossed with creamy avocado, hot jalapeno slices and furikaka, spiced with sriracha andn finally cooled with umami wasabi mayonnaise. These nachos were served over a bed of crispy wonton ‘nachos’; visually attractive with delightful flavor and textural contrasts.
If “Craft Cuisine” implies meals conceived with imagination, made by hand using local ingredients, then Craft Table seems to be living up to its name. I’d soon discover what happens when ‘craft’ meets the mundane grilled cheese sandwich.
My entrée, Short Rib Grilled Cheese, was two fistfuls of meaty devastating decadence. Rich, sour dough bread was sliced thick and then grilled until its texture was toasted buttery golden brown. The sandwich was then layered with melty, gouda cheese and crammed with a couple inches of soft-braised, short rib meat blended with sweet red onion marmalade.
The result? Irresistible, meaty candy with a profoundly beefy flavor, moist and sweet. One half of my sandwich went home for tomorrow’s lunch. Cutting through the meaty richness was my glass of Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing Company’s Cat’s Meow IPA was a perfect match with its crisp, hoppy bitter flavor. Cat’s Meow has been appearing in several restaurants – it’s a solid choice on its own or with any dish.
My friend’s Craft Burger extended the winning streak. Served on a glistening pretzel bun, the handformed patty was topped with black peppered bacon strips, pickled red onion and curly leaves of arugula. It was cooked exactly as ordered, red in the middle. This burger packed yet another beefy blast of flavor. Both meals came with shoe-string fries drizzled with truffle oil and tossed with shreds of parmesan cheese.
By now, we all know what craft brewing is and the excitement it’s brought to the beer experience. To underscore that point, Craft Table and Bar has plenty of local craft brews on tap. If they can bring that same artisanal sensibility to hamburgers and grilled cheese; I can’t wait to return on a night with the full entrée menu.