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at the Worcester Hibernian Cultural Center
By Bernie Whitmore
Weeks of buzz preceded our visit to Worcester’s new Irish pub. First there was confusion about the name: Finnian’s Rainbow? Mulligan’s Pantry? Flannigan’s Wake? It’s actually quite simple; what could be more classically Irish than Fiddlers Green? Set back from Temple Street, there’s plenty of parking to accommodate both the pub/restaurant and events at the Hibernian Cultural Center.
On the night I joined some friends for dinner the restaurant was crowded and our waitress stressed. People were anxiously awaiting an event to begin in the Cultural Center and were just busting with information and anticipation. We sat down and soaked in the chatter.
Soon we were served our drinks and bowls of popcorn. The regular menu lists appetizers and a variety of sandwiches such as corned beef, Reuben, chicken breast and turkey. Our waitress recited the day’s half-dozen hot entrée specials. Armed with a glass of Harp beer, I dug into the popcorn and we planned our appetizer selections.
Everything matters when forming first impressions. So far, the rich dark woodwork, the elaborate mahogany bar and scattering of Irish knick-knacks on the walls were all favorable. It’s “newness” sets it apart from pubs in Dublin ~ much more Guinness needs to spill before leprechauns feel at home. But Fiddlers Green had pleasant surprises in store…
First came the salads; dinner plates heaped with deep-green crunchy romaine studded with cherry tomatoes, black olives and cucumber slices. A tumble of croutons and thin-sliced red onion curls added more texture and flavor. Balsamic vinaigrette and creamy parmesan peppercorn dressings were served, as requested, “on the side.” This may be Fiddlers Green’s “basic salad,” but it would do any restaurant proud and was plenty large enough for sharing.
Our first appetizer, Shrimp Cocktail, came out with the salads. Eight medium-sized shrimp were tasty and served around a plastic cup of zesty cocktail sauce. Fiddlers Green Potato Skins were more noteworthy. Two large potatoes cut lengthwise into quarters were baked in their skins ‘til creamy soft, topped with gooey cheddar cheese and generous heaps of crispy diced bacon. Other places are serving this dish pre-assembled from a factory ~ Fiddlers’ are real and packed with great potato flavor.
My natural skepticism was melting like butter and sour cream on a piping-hot potato skin!
Based on our waitress’s enthusiastic recommendation, I tried a cup of Chicken Tortilla Soup. It was served in a large mug and looked, well, interesting. Then I tasted it! Brimming with chunks of chicken and fresh vegetables, the broth was tomato-based and tinged with spicy heat. Strips of crispy crackers floating on top provided the tortilla connection. On any cold late-winter day a serving of this soup would be perfect…and was.
We were just as pleased with our entrees. Traditional Corned Beef Boiled Dinner came with a wedge of soft cabbage, boiled snow-white potatoes and carrots served with ten slices of corned beef. My dining companion proclaimed the beef “Moist, Tasty!” It was served with slices of Irish soda bread.
Across the table, another friend was enjoying Sirloin Steak served with carrots and a butter-topped baked potato. Ordered medium, the meat was cooked perfectly.
Another dining companion and I both chose as our entrée the Chicken Pot Pie, which was served in a casserole dish topped with a golden pillow of flaky puff pastry. I think these puff-pillows look silly, so I spitefully began to bash it into flaky bits. And, Lo! It actually made a crust! Underneath, a piping-hot creamy white sauce was loaded with fresh carrots, peas and chicken. My fellow pot-pier ate her puff much more delicately, savoring its buttery goodness. We agreed: Delicious!
Fiddlers Green relies on culinary skill and fresh ingredients. As far as I can tell, they might not even own a freezer or can opener. Moreover, hot entrees arrived at the table hot…and stayed that way!
Our dessert, Bread Pudding, was served warm, drizzled with caramel sauce, and topped with whipped cream. A fitting end to the meal, it was homemade and not at all cloying.
Before this evening, I associated Worcester + Irish with a big parade, an excellent city councilman and the occasional Guinness from a local bar. To these great things I can now add Fiddlers Green, with some of the best home-cooking (and a great beer selection!) in town.
at the Worcester Hibernian Cultural Center
19 Temple Street, 508-795-0400