In the days before Worcester had a credible dining culture, it was, nonetheless, sprinkled with decent places to eat. Yet, to get creative cuisine, it seemed as if we were forever leaving town and heading to the MetroWest region, where options were more diverse.
There were exceptions, though, and when it came time for the group to make a decision on where to eat, as soon as someone suggested The Boynton, well, debate over. Part of the reason is location. Highland Street always had a people-friendly, out-of-the-workaday, Worcester groove that’s fun to visit. But more than that is the Boynton itself; the diverse menu and friendly atmosphere has achieved a rare thing in this town of tribes: a place where college students, faculty and the community at large blend into one.
My most recent visit to The Boynton was on an early May weeknight, when what seemed to be an endless winter had finally retreated. The queue for a table was estimated at 15 minutes; we spent it in a small waiting area that was mostly silent as everyone thumbed their iPhones and waited to be texted that their table was ready.
Once we’d been seated, Nickie, our server, welcomed us and assisted me in selecting an IPA. Ten years ago, The Boynton overhauled its dining room and added a major system of beer taps – the selection is formidable and changes regularly. She guided me to a glass of Entitled Brewing American IPA. Entitled is a brewer from Hingham; the IPA wasn’t so hoppy as to trample my food courses, and its flavor was softened with faint floral and herbal notes. Meanwhile, my friend decided to get a jump on summer with Curious Travelers’ Lemon Shandy.
To extend the summer theme, we decided to split one of the evening’s appetizer specials: Fried Clams – whole belly. What a treat! Presented in a shiny chrome deep-fryer basket, they were juicy and sweet with no heavy oily flavor; just a perfectly fresh taste of the sea.
These clams didn’t have a trace of sand and came nestled over a bed of mixed greens, which was a bit of a bummer because it reduced my initial anticipation of how many would fit in that mini-basket. I had to remind myself: It’s just an appetizer course. And it succeeded perfectly in whetting our appetites with four or five clams each. But they were so scrumptious, I wanted them all for myself!
It seems Salmon Rebecca has been on The Boynton’s entrée menu forever, so tonight I decided to give it a try. My recommendation? Don’t wait as long as I did; order it.
Six large chunks of salmon were sautéed just until firm and fall-apart flaky and then drenched in a mild tarragon lemon sauce and served over a deep bed of angel hair pasta. Adding contrasting colors and depth of flavor were soft leaves of spinach and strips of tart sun-dried tomatoes. As I enjoyed this dish, I recalled another dinner, a week earlier, where I suffered an over-cooked, dried-out salmon steak. I’ll take The Boynton’s any day; even the half portion I brought home made tasty dining the next day.
OK, here we are in the month of May, and my friend’s ordering the Pilgrim’s Pride Sandwich. This is, basically, Thanksgiving dinner on a bulkie! In rebuke of my ridicule, he insisted it was a nice light meal that tasted great with his glass of Shandy. Then, he enthused, “This is real turkey! Not that fake loaf stuff!” The sandwich was piled thick with slatherings of cranberry sauce and moist stuffing. The Boynton plated it up with a tumble of golden steak fries.
“Where’s someplace good for lunch?” my non-Worcester workmates often ask. After giving them a few suggestions, I rarely hear anything more. Except for The Boynton, that is, for once they’ve tried it, they insist on going back. The Boynton is so good, it lures suburbanites from chain restaurants!
This should serve as a reminder to us that some of Worcester’s bedrock restaurants – places that have been in business forever – are still there. And some, particularly the Boynton, are better than ever.
117 Highland St., Worcester
By Bernie Whitmore