The Banner offers a neighborhood feel and hearty comfort food
Years ago, when the Canal District was just taking off, the Banner Bar and Grille was one of its charter members. Up to this time, the area had felt like a post-industrial frontier but has since grown to achieve true “district” status. Now, the Canal District includes dining hotspots but tips more toward sports bar and watering holes; it’s the perfect area for pub crawls.
The Banner Bar and Grille
112 Green St., Worcester
As its name implies, The Banner is more than a watering hole. In the taxonomy of dining, I’d place it in the niche “Neighborhood Hangout Featuring Food and Keno.” When I met a friend for dinner, the question we set out to answer was, “Will we extend our run of surprisingly good sports bar dining?”
The evening we chose to meet at The Banner happened to be its seventh anniversary, and a buffet table had been set up but not yet provisioned. The festivities commenced later, so we took a booth and began our inspection of the menu.
Adrienne, our server, listed the lineup of draft beers. In honor of the season, I selected Shipyard Brewing Company’s Pumpkinhead Ale. The Banner served up its Pumpkinhead draft in a glass rimmed with sugary cinnamon. Unannounced. I don’t recommend this overpowering “upgrade”; the beer stands quite well on its own.
The Banner’s appetizer menu included all those deep-fried items we’ve come to expect expect, but what caught my fancy were the Cheesy Buffalo Tots. I’m old enough to remember the introduction of Tater Tots into the American canon of industrialized foodstuffs, a wave of items that promised to lead us into a culinary paradise of convenience. Mercifully perhaps, tots receded to the back of freezer sections. And then Napoleon Dynamite mainstreamed them again with the famous classroom bullying scene.
The Banner heaped a large pile of crunchy, fried tots into a paper-lined plastic basket and paid them due respect with a generous scattering of creamy blue cheese crumbles, molten cheddar and slices of jalapeño peppers. I’d expected something red in the form of buffalo sauce, so I asked Adrienne if it was missing. “Oh no, it’s there,” she replied. “Ours isn’t red.”
True enough, there was something else drizzled on these tots that provided spicy flavor. This dish proved that even lowly Tater Tots can find tasty redemption!
With these tots, the Banner’s chef showed his prowess in a trailer park kind of way. The Reuben Burger commanded my deeper respect with its deep-flavored, crusty char exterior and slathering of thin-sliced corned beef, sweet caramelized onions, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. The thick burger patty tasted lean and beefy, so juicy that it dribbled over my French fries with every bite.
Whilst I effused over my tender burger, my friend was busy working on his hot-from-the-oven dish of Shepherd’s Pie. The Banner’s recipe was of the corn niblets, ground beef and mashed potato tradition and was served with two slabs of grilled garlic bread.
Things had become strangely quiet at our table. “Well, are you satisfied?” I asked.
To which my friend replied, “More than satisfied! It’s a nicely spiced combination of ground beef and corn topped with mashed potatoes browned under the broiler. It’s a lot of food!”
Shepherd’s Pie at The Banner: simple, wholesome and traditional. Perfect for the upcoming cold months.
The main room of The Banner has high tables for informal dining or gathering with friends to enjoy a drink and watch the many flat screens or even try your luck at a game of Keno. There are also a half-dozen dining tables, which in early evening, were occasionally used for staff mess. Which is always a good sign; when employees dine where they work, the food’s just got to be good!
By Bernie Whitmore