By Bernie Whitmore
When the 346 Shrewsbury St. location first opened for dining (as Juniors Pizza), the novelty and functional logic of a restaurant in a converted automobile garage was groundbreaking. After all, by simply opening a bay door, the outdoor patio was instantly connected to the dining area. And if America’s about anything, it’s cars, advertising and dining, right?
Years later, Vintage Bar and Grille has taken over the location and remains true to the garage theme. The most immediate impression one has when entering Vintage is auto parts and memorabilia. The bright primary colors used in these advertising pieces and all that shiny chrome detailing were designed to rivet our attention. At night, Vintage’s interior radiates light and color.
We started our meal with a kick, complements of a plate of Chicken Fenders. Vintage expresses the automobile theme in its menu, with section names such as Hub Cap Pizza Station and items like the All American Model T (deep-fried PB&J). Fenders are available in various options; we chose deep-fried, bone-in chicken wings with buffalo sauce. Tenders are available, but that’s a culinary dead end I wasn’t ready to take.
Our ample starter was composed of a mix of wings and drumsticks slathered in peppery hot sauce sporting a tart, vinegary edge; so saucy, it formed a pool in the plate. After each piece, I dipped crunchy carrot and celery sticks into a cup of cooling blue cheese dressing. In short: These were classic wings, capably prepared, that required a pile of paper products to clean up my messy fingers.
When I asked Kerry, our waitress, what was on tap, she mentioned Travelers Pumpkin Ale. This would be my first sampling of work by the Traveler Beer Company of Burlington, Vt., and I eagerly committed to a pint. Formally known as Jack-O-Traveler, this deep amber brew is technically a shandy that’s so rich in pumpkin pie spices, it kept its spicy-sweet flavor till the very last quaff.
Lesson learned: Try anything from a Vermont brewery. Travelers is focused on shandies and is taking this funky brewing tradition to places never imagined by the old Italian couple sitting at their table on the piazza sipping Peroni and Orange Crush.
Perhaps it was the informal atmosphere of Vintage ~ I’m not sure ~ but something led me to cast off all pretenses of having a balanced dinner, and I ordered one of the specials, Buffalo Mac ’N Cheese. My companion seized the opportunity to tease me, “Hey! There’s also a Buffalo Chicken Salad. Why not make all three courses buffalo chicken?”
Buffoonery aside, he seemed plenty attracted my bowlful of chubby, soft elbow macaroni drenched in a creamy, cheesy mixture tinted deep orange by buffalo sauce. Scattered throughout were slices of grilled chicken that retained their rich char flavor. Stretchy strands of cheese proved this wasn’t a simple Kraft affair. Not nearly as spicy as the wings, in this dish buffalo sauce provided just the right background flavor.
Everyone seems to be fond of mac ’n cheese ~ Vintage even features the dish on a pizza, and I challenged my friend to order it. But he wouldn’t take the bait and, instead, ordered F150 Steak Tips, 12 ounces of grilled chunks of beef. He reported them “cooked perfectly medium rare.” Vintage uses its own marinade, fresher and not cloyingly-sweet like others. The tips came with a towering mound of garlicky smashed potatoes and a medley of summer squash and zucchini slices, sautéed till soft and tasty.
Normally topped by a sauté of onions and mushrooms, Kerry served them on the side after my friend proclaimed, “I like the taste of beef … without toppings!”
Our meals were so large, we had no appetite remaining for dessert, but that didn’t stop us from letting Kerry recite Vintage’s product line. Starting with cheesecake, she soon mentioned a Reese’s concoction and three or four other peanut-centric items. She laughed when we pointed out the monumental risk to those with food allergies.
If nothing else, Vintage’s menu is something you can have fun with. But the cuisine is seriously good, with righteously large portions and reasonable prices. J. D. Power would call it “a superior customer experience.”
Vintage Bar & Grille
346 Shrewsbury St., Worcester