Dining Review: deadhorse hill Combines Unexpected Flavors and Sublime Textures

NOTE: In deference to deadhorse, I’m respecting their aversion to the uppercase when I refer to their name and menu items. 3cross also has this, but to a lesser extent. Spell check will just have to suffer.

Months before it opened, when I first saw the new façade of weathered barn board and the name “deadhorse hill,” I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be a typical restaurant; it certainly didn’t look like a place destined to serve dainty watercress tea sandwiches.

And it isn’t.

But what would it be? And how might it contribute to Worcester’s dining scene? These, alas, are questions not easily answered; they require at least a couple visits to answer in any completeness. A visit to the website puts some of the pieces together with intriguing profiles of the business partners and some historical background regarding the deadhorse name and the building’s history.

Now the good news: For those of us who appreciate big and bold flavors, surprising ingredient and texture combinations and a varying menu that changes with the availability of quality ingredients, deadhorse is a place you’re going to immediately respond to – in a good way.

It starts with the cocktails. Just reading it was fun, some examples: square, plumb & level (“bourbon, flowers & hops, sparkling , lemon”) or the six demon bag (“rhum, burnt cinnamon, pineapple shrub, citrus”). Hewing to my preference for craft beers, I was delighted to see Worcester’s own 3cross brewing company’s handup IPA. The bartender sent me a half-mason jar – the last of the keg – to assuage my disappointment on news that they’d run out.

My second choice, Ravenna IPA by Cold Harbor Brewing in Westborough, Mass., was served in a snifter. Set side by side, their visual contract was attractive; handup was clear with a thick foamy head, Ravenna cloudy with just a tracery of foam. Both tasted hoppy, slightly bitter and bright.

Thick slices of sourdough bread came in a deep broad bowl that had been schmeared on its inside wall with tangy homemade cultured butter. Speaking of bowls, it appears that all deadhorse’s glassware and china are flea market finds, like a well-worn country cupboard.

Our appetizer of memphis ribs were ideal with any brew. This half rack was dry-rubbed to give it a tasty crust that sealed in the moist meat. This was instant rib relief, an antidote to all those sticky-sweet ribs that have become the universal standard. I’ll take dry-rub any time – you get more meat flavor, less sugary ketchup. They were served with red cabbage coleslaw and bread and butter pickle slices.

The evening’s menu of five entrées included, strangely enough, one of my favorite finned fish, seared bluefish. Bluefish doesn’t make it to many menus, but I’ve enjoyed it from an early age, when my father would bring home a pile after surfcasting on the Connecticut coast. Its flesh is off-white with a somewhat bluish cast and has a deeper fish flavor that casual fish eaters tend to shun. It’s local, and it’s luscious.

The kitchen at deadhorse prepared the bluefish in a tasty-rich romesco sauce, a Spanish recipe of finely chopped red peppers and almonds. For textural contrast, the chef added crunchy chick peas. I dredged every forkful of flaky, moist fish in the deep pool of romesco. This is an example of two big flavors merging into one harmonious dish. Sublime.

My friend’s entrée was another study in unanticipated flavor combinations. His pulled pork shoulder was a mound of smoky-flavored pork shreds served over a broad bowl of chick peas and topped with sautéed radish and turnip greens. Women seated at the table next to us were browsing the menu and asked him about flavor.

“The beans are in a very spicy sauce that adds a nice peppery backdrop to the chunks of tender pulled pork,” he said. He was a bit reluctant to report that he’d licked his plate clean.

But that’s dining at deadhorse hill … flavor surprises in a most unpretentious setting. This is dining adventure, an exciting addition to Main Street. We didn’t order dessert, but the bill came with tiny homemade marshmallows – each bursting with vanilla flavor and satisfying any lingering longing for sweet.

Finishing his description to the women next to us, my friend added, “What more can you say about a place that makes their own butter and marshmallows?” Plenty more, I suspect.

deadhorse hill • 281 Main St., Worcester • 774-420-7107 • deadhorsehill.com

By Bernie Whitmore