Friday, September 16, 2011

Worcester does festivals

Not to sabotage myself, but I'm totally on a roll with my weekly postings! I'm hoping this new found motivation finds its way into other aspects of my life, such as showing up to work on time, cleaning my apartment, getting to the gym... you get the picture.  For now, I'll take my success with the blogging and ride that wave for a while.

It's been said ad nauseam that bad things come in threes.  Well, I don't believe that.  I think when bad things happen, people are just hyper-aware of the other sucky things in their life.  I'm sure millions of people disagree with me, but to those individuals I ask  - what is your explanation when four craptastic things happen to me in a short period of time? Have I begun a second series of three that will only bring about more despair?  I hope not.

To combat this dreary outlook, I present, for your consideration, the opposite that good things come in threes and it appears that downtown Worcester agrees with me.  Last weekend I attend not one, not two, but THREE festivals downtown that were worth blogging about.  When it rains, it pours... (another overused phrase).

1. Open Road Festival.
Location: Institute Park
Theme: Eco-friendly, sustainable, tree-hugging, local artist community
Highlight: Really well designed t-shirts and stellar food vendors.  Evo and Sweet T Southern Kitchen were vying for dominance of the deliciousness market.
Low point: I might still smell of patchouli oil and I really hate patchouli oil.  I know it is often the preferred Eau-de-earth (which I guess is true because I think it smells like dirt), but I can't stand the scent.

This festival, started by a young Worcester native, highlights the local music scene, budding artists, and eco-friendly options for consumers.  It's kid friendly, but not pet friendly (so if you decide to go next year, you have to leave the pooch at home).  We went early in the day, so it was still getting started.  There was a small crowd, but lots of free goodies -granola bars, coconut water, candy - just make sure to recycle your wrappers! Tickets were $10 in advance, $15 at the door, but if you have a Woo Card (yay me!) it was $5 at the door. It was a relaxed atmosphere, where artistically inclined, herb-loving individuals could enjoy one of the last beautiful days of New England summer.

2. Shrewsbury Street College Shuffle
Theme: Giving College kids more food!
Location: Shrewsbury Street participating restuarants
Highlight: Free Sam Adams pint glass from La Scala and peanut butter pancake from Cafe Manzi's
Low point: 25% of the restaurants served pizza, so by stop three we were more than done with pizza for the day.

This event is unfortunately limited to members of the Worcester college community and their families, but honestly, I'm sure you know someone who goes to or works at one of the 10 Worcester colleges. I think it started out as a means for Shrewsbury Street to make even more money and to foster some good intercollegiate relations.  Apparently the colleges of Worcester don't play well with others.  The set up was like your typical "Taste of" event.  We walked from restaurant to restaurant sampling an assortment of Italian foods.  The $10 admission was a steal! The portions were more than any of us could handle and the food was impressive over all.  I was able to try a few places that I had been meaning to check out and no one really disappointed - although beware the Margarita cupcake from Sweet actually has SALT sprinkled in the frosting, it's a strong after-taste to say the least.  I was glad to have a chance to stop by Juniors, my favorite Shrewsbury Street spot, where the WPI Jazz band was playing some great tunes. It was a good time, but I was stuffed by the end.

3. CanalFest!
Theme: Reviving Worcester's 19th Century glory!!
Location: Harding Street (Behind Union Station)
Highlight: The Silverbacks stellar performance, costumed interpreters with working weapons, and NPS rangers!
Low point: A temperature spike of 10 degrees to make it about 80+ degrees Fahrenheit with limited shade available.
Admittedly, at this point we were dragging, but the atmosphere at Canalfest was hopping!  The music was great, seriously, if you haven't seen the Silverbacks, you have to check them out.  The food smelled wonderful, but we were still full from the "Shuffle."  It was great, FREE, family fun.  There was no entrance fee, unlike the other festivals and there was a lot of free entertainment for everyone.  Vendors lined the streets and two large craft tents held a wide variety of gifts, books, toys, and jewelry.  The point of the festival is to raise awareness and funds for the re-opening of the Blackstone Canal.  The National Park Service is trying to revitalize the route of the canal to protect the land and create a more beautiful landscape for hiking and biking, much like Rhode Island has done on the Providence end of the canal.  They had a river simulation where kids could kayak in a "canal-like" pool, to show some of the more adventurous options a re-opened canal would provide.  CanalFest is an annual event that draws a huge crowd and provides a real service to the Worcester community.

Over all it was a great weekend! Maybe next year they can spread it out over a few weeks so I can blog about them separately!!!!

Until next time....
<3 K

Friday, September 9, 2011

Plouffe's Yankee Diner: The Worcester Diner Series

The Worcester Diner Series is still alive! While I've spent just about every weekend this summer traveling, Jack and I made a point to check out Plouffe's Yankee Diner! I realized it had been some time since I'd posted an addition to the Worcester Diner Series (or anything at all) and doing some breakfast spot research seemed like a perfect way to spend my Sunday morning midday by the time I finished laundry and got out of my apartment.

By this point, most of you are aware that I love diners. Really, give me a greasy spoon any day, but there's something unbelievably satisfying about a place that manages to prepare my favorite comfort breakfast food with a gourmet twist. That's what you'll find at Plouffe's Yankee Diner on Route 20 in Charlton, MA. Previously known as just "The Yankee Diner," the Plouffe brothers, Michael and Brian, have reopened the historic lunch car diner, bringing a new taste to your typical New England Diner.

Let's start from the outside and work our way in, shall we?

I promise not to bore you with too much architectural history, but Plouffe's is a true Worcester Lunch Car Company dining car.  That means it was built by the same people as The Boulevard, The Miss Worcester and dozens of other National Register of Historic Places holding diners across the US. It's preserved fairly well (I say fairly and not extraordinarily, because one of the past owners put a vinyl-sided, front lean-to entryway smack dab in the center of the facade.... the nerve!)  with most of the original decorate features still in tact.  The original porcelain refrigerator sits in the left corner of the main grill, matching the colors of the barrel roof and the antique wooded counter stools. (The refrigerator needs some pricey electrical restoration to bring it back to working order, so if we have any bleeding heart preservationists in the crowd, I'm personally starting a  Save the Fridge fund for this diner - so be in touch.) the windows are for the most part original with some great decorative iron and stained glass flourishes and almost all of the original interior wood work still adorns the walls.  You definitely feel like you are stepping back in time, but not in a Twilight Zone sort of way.  The team at Plouffe's have made a dedicated effort to try to keep any maintenance as historically accurate as possible without tipping the scales to cheesy which happens more often than not, so for that I commend them.  They've also done some stellar landscape work out front that makes the entrance inviting and homey (a valiant effort to combat the vinyl...).

Plouffe's packs in a crowd for weekend breakfast (and weekday as well, I've been told), so plan to eat at the counter or wait for a few minutes for a booth because the seating is limited, but well worth it.  Their menu includes all of the traditional diner fare, eggs any way you like them, homefries, bacon, sausage, HOMEMADE HASH. Yes, I said it, homemade deliciousness... honestly, I wanted to order an extra side of hash to take home for later.  Their pancakes are HUGE and in addition to your typical buttermilk and blueberry, they've got great specials like Pecan with brown sugar sauce.  New to their menu is Brian's Brunch Burger, a 1/3 pound all beef patty, bacon, and American cheese that is served on a "French toasted" bulkie roll topped with a perfect mix of ketchup & Vermont maple syrup. It's a huge hit with the regulars.

For lunch, they've got burgers, Rubens, the Yankee club, pastrami, and Philly Cheese-steak all with hand-cut french fries and a pickle.  Be sure to try the clam chowder and the award winning chili, too! (Jackson ordered the soups as a side for breakfast!) Everything is totally fresh and when available Plouffe's always buys their products and produce locally.  They serve Polar sodas, Good as Gold coffee, and their pickles are from Regal in Worcester! The diner's chef and co-owner, Michael Plouffe, always adds a few specials to the menu to give it some flare.  This week their website advertises Swedish Meatballs with egg noodles.

What makes Plouffe's stand out from the plethora of other Worcester diners, is their Friday night dinners.  Each Friday, Chef Michael opens his doors from 4:30-8:30PM to serve some local favorites and some top quality, but low-cost meals.  Jackson and I made a repeat visit last Friday to try it out.  We brought his sister along and the three of us made a point to order 3 different entrees to share around.  Jackson ordered the Prime Rib dinner (he had the last piece - it was late in the night) and it was heavenly.  Emily ordered traditional Fish and Chips - beer-battered fried haddock with hand-cut fries and homemade coleslaw. I had the baked haddock, it was delicious.  They offered a side of seasonal veggies, mashed potatoes with gravy or fries. No one went home disappointed or sadly with any room for dessert, but have no fear they always have a few dessert options for those still tempted.

The atmosphere at Plouffe's is casual family dinning.  You'll almost definitely meet both owners if you stop in.  Michael is behind the grill and Brian, the business partner, will be at the register or if needed helping serve.  They are completely open to special orders and substitutions, in fact, at dinner on Friday Michael prepared one little girl an order of french toast, even though breakfast wasn't actually still available, but she had her heart set on it.  Another endearing moment witnessed Michael chasing down the server with the fruit garnish that he adorns every plate with.  Michael sheepishly apologized to the patrons while assuring everyone that he felt personally responsible for the presentation on each and every plate. It's personal touches like this that will keep me coming back.

The guys were nice enough to send some photos for the blog! Thanks guys!

So what have we learned from this post?
1. I should never blog when hungry.
2. Check out Plouffe's Yankee Diner!

Until next time....
<3 K

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thursday Night Lights!

And she's back in the game!  Funny story, it turns out that you have to actually be in Worcester to blog about Worcester.  Strange, huh?  I've bounced back and forth from Boston, to Newport, to DC, to San Francisco, to Plymouth, and Cape Cod this summer - oh wedding season.  But, with the start of the school year things seem to be calming down a bit and my blog should be picking back up!  I've got some big plans for my September posts...

Last night, I was part of history, or so I was told quite frequently by the Holy Cross community.  I attended the first ever night game, under the lights, at Fitton Field.  The Holy Cross Crusaders took on the UMass Minutemen in their season opening home game.  And in all honestly, this was my first ever college football game.

I love football, but unfortunately, when I was applying for college, I didn't consider that it might be cool (let's be honest, it would have been pretty damn sweet) to go to a Division 1 school.  I was worried about academic programs, scholarships, etc, and that landed me at Salve, studying preservation, living in a mansion by the sea, so I really can't complain.  However, what I didn't realize is that our football team, the mighty Seahawks, played on a Newport high school field.  Yeah, we were that good.  The few games I went to were sad to watch.  The poor Seahawks.  It's really too depressing to recap.

My husband, who I was dating at the time, went to UMass - Go Minutemen! - and we went to one football game while I visited.  However, we missed the beginning of the game, showed up for halftime, along with most of the crowd, because we were actually there for the awarding winning marching band.  Oh the irony... the crowd skipping the game and coming to watch the band... teen drama screenwriters everywhere are convulsing at the thought.  Needless to say, I'm not counting that as true college football either.

I went to GWU for grad school, thinking to myself, "Hey! This is a pretty large school, with an athletics budget that rivals Salve's endowment, there must be a great football team."  Well, I was horribly mistaken.  The Colonials don't have a football team.  There really isn't much space for a football stadium in Foggy Bottom, but it's the principle of the thing.  Alas, four more years of higher ed -Jackson took his time finishing his masters (teasing... he worked full time)- and no college football to speak of.

At that point, I wasn't too upset about my lack of a college football experience, until I met someone who went to a SEC school and told me about their game day traditions. I heard tales of tailgating, epic post-game parties, and even dress codes that put gals in dresses and guys in shirt and tie.  How cool is that?! Sunday best for Saturday football... be still my heart!  Admittedly, this inspired some buyer's remorse when it came to my educational choices, but as with all things, I moved on.

Now I find myself back in Worcester and the buzz this week had been the Holy Cross vs. UMass game.  I decided I'd see what a well-funded football program looked like.  I gathered Jackson and his fellow UMass classmate, Chris and a colleague of mine and we made our way to Fitton Field.  (Historical note:  Fitton Field is named for Father Fitton, the Catholic priest who, in the early 1800s, was responsible for pastoring the entire northeast -well from Maine to Rhode Island.- and converting large settlements to Catholicism.  He also purchased the land that Holy Cross sits on, hence the namesake...I know this because a costumed interpreter at Old Sturbridge Village told me so.)

I'm not sure how many of you know this, but like the great city of Rome, Worcester, MA also has 7 hills. I'm not quite sure I can name them all, and depending on where you grew up, they often go by different names, but Fitton Field sits at the base of College Hill, which is also called Pakachoag Hill or Mount Saint James.  Anyway, College Hill was PACKED last night.  There were about 16,000 people, which for a small school like Holy Cross, is quite a turn out. Parking was kind of a nightmare and I would bet that half of Worcester's police force was directing traffic.  The stadium was swimming with Holy Cross's purple, with a trim of UMass maroon. It was all very exciting! I had previously decided to root for the offense.  I have loyalties to both teams, so cheering for good plays made by the offense seemed fair.  Besides, in football, I don't like to root against anyone - I'm a fan of close games and ties.  Unless we are talking about the Manning brothers.  I pray for their failure.  Peyton Manning makes me seethe with anger and I used to be a fan of Eli - I tried to inspire sibling rivalry to throw Peyton off his game - but then the 2008 Super Bowl happened and Eli joined my list. So, yeah... like I was saying, I was getting into that college game day spirit, and then the game started...

Despite what Gordie Lockbaum (a HC football great) announced over the local radio station, this was not a well-played game of two athletically strong teams.  It was kind of boring as football goes.  There were rookie mistakes that most high school football teams can avoid and both teams had a lot of trouble moving the ball.  UMass dominated for the majority of the game, which appeased my husband and Chris, but even they were disappointed with the overall caliber of event.

I do have to give credit to the prep work done by the HC and Worcester community. The field looked great, the tailgating layout seemed well designed, the concession stands were well stocked and the line kept moving, the energy was high.  Despite the larger crowd and the overwhelming parking situation, traffic flowed fairly smoothly. On the flip side, I think Holy Cross is breaking some ADA laws with their handicap accessibility and seating, just saying. Oh and a special shout out to the highly intoxicated woman sitting on the visitor's side, who cussed out my husband for standing in the handicapped area to keep his friend company (he was standing because there were no companion chairs provided), I hope for your sake there is no such thing as karma. 

Overall, I had a good time.  I think I'll try to catch another game this season and see if the team improves over the course of the semester.  I really do enjoy football, so it's hard to truly disappoint me.

I can't enthusiastically recommend the game or say it tips the scales in Worcester's favor, but I it wasn't a wasted evening.

Until next week!