I traveled to New Hampshire last week with a new batch of colleagues. Well, they’re not new colleagues, but I had never traveled with them before – and it was totally fun! Rather than just race headlong towards Manchester with no breaks or time to smell the roses, we decided to stop in Worcester, Massachusetts, for a dinner break and a respite from the road. There’s something great about gathering ‘round the table with a bunch of women who respect one another and find common humor in workplace fodder. For whatever reason, Urbanspoon was failing me, and my Food Network app was giving me bupkiss, but Google and a local Worcester (pronounced Whister for you non-new Englanders out there) website had my back, and led us to Armsby Abbey, in the downtown area. This place held scant resemblance to my two favorite abbeys, namely Westminster and the one from Sound of Music, but it did have sangria and pork belly on the menu, so I wasn’t complaining.
Armsby Abbey specializes in artisanal beers, but we didn’t have any of those. I hope I’m not letting you guys down all the time when I don’t sample beer! But I had some kind of white sangria, and loved its citrusy, bright, summery lilt. I also liked our waitress, who was most definitely a hipster, but more of the earnest/helpful nerd variety than the arrogant/hat-wearing kind. I didn’t catch her name, but she whispered to me that she was glad I ordered the rillons. Me too, Miss Worcester Mass, me too. To star our meal, my coworker B enthusiastically demanded the olives. Good call, BMB. Good call.
The nicoise were mellow and buttery, the large green babies were tart and salty, and the kalamatas were assertive in that Greek way they can be. This was a generous portion for $8, and we gobbled them up properly. Next, C also a starter that she shared, and it was good, too:
The pita quarters were a little lackluster and dry for me – I wish they’d brushed those suckers with oil and let the flat top kiss them for a moment or two – but the hummus was homemade and just slightly chunky, and I adored the unique edition of lightly dressed arugula, which brightened up each bite of earthy hummus with its trademark peppery bite.
I thought about getting the spring pea and mushroom pizza, or the Argentine beef sandwich, or even the bone marrow, but I had to be true to myself, you know? That meant the ras el hanut rillons AKA heritage breed pork belly, cooked in duck fat, seasoned with middle Eastern spices and service with apricot mostarda and pickled shallots. What a gorgeous mouthful.
Now hear this: anyone who tells you that a bucket full of bacon isn’t a sensible dinner is an idiot. Don’t believe any jerk who says so, even is she has a medical degree or something like that. Pork belly, which as you know is really just thick, juicy, tender-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside bacon will make you happier as a main course than any old dried out chicken breast ever could. At the Abbey, it’s lightly spiced with a Morrocan blend of cinnamon, clove, cardamom, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and pepper, known as ras el hanout, then fried up in duck fat – the most decadent of fats. The acidic yet mild pickled shallots and vivid fresh apricot and grainy mustard sauce cut through the lush richness of pork fat to provide the palate with a needed break. It’s a heady meal, an indulgent one, and an absolute must-do. Cholesterol be damned!
Colleague C ordered a bowl of tomato black bean soup for her dinner, which was sparking with heat from chiles, but also the freshness of summer tomatoes. The yummy, crusty bread served alongside was almost dripping with butter, and made a fabulous dipper for the spicy soup.
I am obsessed right now with that AT&T commercial where the girl says, “We want more, we want more; we really like it, we want more!” Well guess what? I really liked the food at Armsby, and I want more. That’s a pain in my tuckus, on account of the fact that I live nowhere near Mass., but it is what it is. I want smoked marrow, I want the charcuterie platter that T was going to order until she found out it had headcheese or cheeks or something on it, a couple of those fun, thin-crust pizzas, which looked amazing, and of course, y’all know I’m a sucker for mac and cheese. So the next time New Hampshire crops up on the work schedule, look out Worcester. I’m coming. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!