Worcester's Classic Food Scene Is No Joke
We explored old school Worcester with #localcelebrity, Shaun Connolly, and it turns out Wormtown has had a healthy restaurant scene for a long, long time.
Worcester’s usually the butt of a joke but comedian Shaun Connolly knows the city’s more than a punchline. Born and raised in the “Heart of the Commonwealth,” Connolly’s roots run deep here. His mother ran halfway houses, his father was a journalist for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and Shaun was a school teacher here for seven years while helming Worcester’s DIY comedy scene. He’s so ingrained in the community that when he moved to the North Shore in November, the city held a roast in his honor.
So he’s the perfect guide to take me around to some of Worcester’s more classic establishments. A lot’s been made about the city’s current status as a foodie destination and hub for culinary innovation but that’s actually not a new phenomenon. Worcester’s always had a healthy restaurant scene and we’re checking out a few amazing places that have stood the test of time.
I meet Connolly at the boxcar diner Boulevard. Opened in 1936, Boulevard is everything you want from a diner. Compact, homey and a little worn at the edges. Shaun says the 24-hour eatery was the hang in high school and is a popular post-bar spot. Worcester is littered with boxcar diners because, for a period, the Worcester Lunch Car Company manufactured and shipped them all along the East Coast.
Shaun orders an egg sandwich ($4.25) and I go for a BLT ($4.95). The food is simple and delicious. There’s not much innovation going on here but that’s a good thing. Sometimes all you want is a solid meal to satisfy those early morning or late night cravings.
Connolly is easy to talk to, which often isn’t the case with comedians. We chat about his life in Worcester and how he came up through the comedy ranks. He’s worked hard to get where he is. For years he’d drive from Worcester to Boston, play a club and then drive back late night so he could get up at 7:00am for school, sometimes sleeping in his work clothes so he could sleep until the last minute.
We head over to our next stop, George’s Coney Island, an historic hot doggeria that’s been open since 1929. We walk in under the iconic, high rise fluorescent sign that towers over the building. Connolly hosts a show here appropriately called Hot Dog! and he gets a hero’s welcome from the staff who take our order from the counter. We each get two dogs “up” ($1.75 each) with secret chili sauce, chopped onions and mustard.
The hot dogs hit the spot, with smoky, salty chili sauce balanced out by the tang of the mustard and biting raw onion. Shaun washes his dogs down with a chocolate milk and I opt for another New England classic, Moxie.
Our last stop is to Vincent’s. Opened in 1997 and located within a residential neighborhood, Vincent’s blends into the block in a way you’d never see in Boston’s more rigidly zoned city centers. It’s a dimly lit dive bar, filled with dusty taxidermy, sports memorabilia and the covers to bawdy crime novels inlaid under the enameled bar top. Connolly insists we order meatball sandwiches ($7.25) because, “It’s my favorite meal in Worcester.”
The sandwiches come out on thick cut white bread which is super soft and perfectly prevents the meat and red sauce from falling out. Our outing becomes a family affair as Connolly’s parents show up, followed shortly by one of Shaun’s friends and his parents. Everyone’s excited about Worcester, buzzing about the revitalization of downtown, the Railers hockey team and whether the Paw Sox are coming to town. We move outside to a beautiful garden patio where the phenomenal blues singer Jon Short has a Sunday residency. For whatever reason, Delta Blues have found a foothold in Worcester.
And it’s things like this that make this city so amazing. It’s filled with character and hidden secrets that you won’t find in Greater Boston. So maybe think twice about cracking wise about Worcester being a blight on the Bay State and make sure you make room for seconds.
Boulevard Diner – 155 Shrewsbury St., Worcester, 508.791.4535
George’s Coney Island – 158 Southbridge, St., Worcester, 508.753.4362, coneyislandlunch.com
Vincent’s – 49 Suffolk St., Worcester, 508.752.9439