The Compass Tavern

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Canal’s Compass points the way to big flavor

The question, “What’s your favorite restaurant?” is one I find challenging. Mostly because it’s a question I can’t respond to with one simple answer.

The Compass TavernBut I’m happy to oblige, so I opt for categories ~ favorite burger, favorite breakfast, favorite pizza. … Twenty minutes later, when we get to fish and chips, I find that I really can’t provide a Worcester standout, and I start to wander. There’s that take-out window off the Russell Square tube stop, but in the U.S., I’d vote for the seaside fish shanty in Point Judith, R.I.

Then, I dined at the Compass Tavern and found a fish and chips dish superior to any I’ve had in years. Tender, flaky-fresh and huge. But wait a minute. This is breaking the narrative arc in the Compass Tavern story; let’s go back to the beginning.

The Compass Tavern is still new; it’s taken over the Harding Street location that used to be home of Smokestack. Compass has reworked the floor plan by installing a bar in the center of the dining room and surrounding it with booths. This reduces the “cafeteria feel” it had before and makes the place feel more dynamic.

When my friend and I stopped by for dinner, we were urged to sit “wherever you want.” Given that there was just one open table, I wondered aloud if this meant we could evict diners from their more desirable booths. That seemed dangerous, so we encamped at the end of a row of booths.

Our server, Hannah, introduced herself, passed out menus and asked us what we’d like for drinks. The chalkboard listed Shipyard Brewing Company’s latest seasonal brew, GingerBreadHead. Even though my faith in Shipyard runs fathoms deep, I asked Hannah if it was being received well. “Oh yeah,” she replied. “Do you want a sample?”

“Perfect!” I replied.

She returned with a generous sample in a brandy snifter, which might be the ideal glassware for GingerBreadHead. The glass’s bulbous form focused the ale’s aromatic aspects, showcasing rich molasses, ginger and cinnamon flavors. But be not afraid! This is not a cloying, sweet, candy brew. Shipyard just doesn’t do that. I ordered a pint.

Compass TavernWe paired our drinks with Compass’s Chicken Wing appetizer ~ on the bone, of course. No nuggets at this table. OK, everyone’s got wings, right? You can get them for two bits apiece at some sports bars. So how does a place set itself apart? The Compass starts by procuring big meaty drumsticks and wings. The meat is just packed on these beauties, along with the genuine chicken flavor that’s lost when some industrial process chucks away the bones.

The menu boasts several different chicken wing treatments and lets you select two flavors. I’d already tried their Buffalo sauce and knew how good it is; tonight we paired it with Cajun Spiced Rub. What a combo! The tart heat of the Buffalo sauce contrasted delightfully with the salty heat of the Cajun. A most satisfying start.

Compass TavernAnd this brings me back to the Fish & Chips. What made it so superior? That’s simple: The large filet of tender white haddock just flaked apart with each forkful of sweet and tender flavor. The breading was golden brown and buttery-crisp, with little nubs of deeper, crispier flavor. My plate-long filet was draped over a bed of crunchy-hot fries and served with a cup of creamy coleslaw. This is fish you could get spoiled on!

I’d never slather condiments on fish. But I must note that my friend sampled the Compass’s tartar sauce and insisted I try it. Yes, this sauce was certainly superior to others. And if I was hungry enough, I’d eat it by the forkful ~ but nowhere near my fish.

As pleased as I was with my meal, my friend suffered no envy. He’d ordered their Western Ribeye Steak with mashed potatoes and vegetable. From my side of the table, it looked more medium than rare, but he described it as “… perfectly grilled, just as I ordered it, with a nice peppery char on the outside, juicy and delicious.”

Compass TavernHe wasn’t a fan of the vegetable featured that evening, a medley of summer and zucchini squashes. So I helped myself to them; they were the freshest I’ve encountered since summer.

Based on a couple visits, I would reckon that The Compass Tavern positions itself as a place for friends to drop by, have a drink or two and enjoy a good meal. No Michelin stars, just honest fare crafted by local, honest hands. The Compass is the kind of place that earns customer loyalty.

The Compass Tavern
90 Harding St., Worcester
(508) 304-6044
thecompasstavern.com

By Bernie Whitmore