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COOK’s Illustrated

February 23rd, 2014 apcook15

I’ve had the opportunity to work in some pretty amazing positions during my time at Holy Cross, but I have to say, giving weekly tours through the Admissions Department has become somewhat of a favorite activity of mine since I started last semester. We’re heading into some peak tour season now, with seniors bringing their application/decision process to a close and juniors just starting their own ordeal journey. I wish you all the best of luck, and I’m here to answer any questions you might have! Over the months, I’ve noticed one question in particular that comes up pretty regularly from touring families: what really sets Holy Cross apart? Email me and I’ll give you the full answer in its Game Of Thrones-length novel form. But for now, I thought I’d just focus in on an area that many people seem to overlook: the city it’s located in! Worcester (that’s WOO-ster, to all you out-of-towners) is the 2nd biggest city in New England, only behind Boston in size, and that means it offers all the great things you’d expect from such a big city.  Even Worcester itself, with all its museums and theaters and such, is too big a topic to cover in a single blog, so I’ll instead concentrate on answering yet another question I’m frequently asked at the end of tours, by the people I’ve tired out climbing the campus’ hills: what’s there to eat in Worcester? You can’t get any better than Kimball Dining for on-campus food, but where can you go if you’re looking for some off-campus cuisine?

Well fear not, faithful reader – in terms of the food it offers, Worcester is second to none (a fact for which I am constantly giving thanks). I’ve done some extensive research on the matter, and here are just a few of my findings that I can offer up in the way of recommendations. The real question isn’t so much, “what is there to eat?” as it is, “what am I hungry for?” I’m leaving out all the generic fast food places; come on, those are boring. No no, this is all uniquely Worcester fare, and hopefully you’ll be drooling over it by the end. Dieters, turn yourself away; some of this is strictly Atkins and South Beach unapproved. But man, is it tasty.

We’ll start with a good old American classic: hot dogs! Fortunately, there are not one, but TWO can’t-miss hot dog joints in the near-Holy Cross vicinity. I’m in no position to prefer one over the other, so the only advice I can give is… try them both!!!
The first restaurant, literally about a four minute drive down the road from the college’s front gates, is Coney Island Hot Dogs. FANTASTIC franks here, and I especially recommend the chili dog with onions, washed down with the restaurant’s chocolate milk. One of the great things about this place? It’s probably the most “poor college student”-friendly budget I can think of. It’s a date night for two with all the fixings for well under $15. I can’t comment on the authenticity of its name (I’ll leave that to those of a New York State of Mind), but boy, the real Coney Island itself can only be missing out if its dogs aren’t like these.

Coney Island Hot Dogs
For our second helping of everyone’s favorite ballpark food, we have Hot Dog Annie’s in the nearby town of Leicester. This one’s a bit more of a Sunday afternoon drive away, but the trip takes you through the awesome small town of Paxton (I’ll bet my tuition this is the first time you’ve even heard of it) and past some of Paxton’s beautiful forested reservoirs along the way. The go-to entree here is the special BBQ dog with a side of root beer. I was in Paxton every weekend growing up visiting my grandparents, and had many a meal provided by Hot Dog Annie’s grills. Between this and Coney Island, it’s the Sophie’s Choice of frankfurts!! Hot Dog Annie's

Moving on now to other fare; we have Water Street in Worcester! This is an area perhaps better-known to college kids for its night-life scene, but it’s a crime that most people don’t take advantage of Water Street’s phenomenal restaurants. Truly, there are few better lunch locations in the entire city than Weintraub’s Jewish Deli. Some places will give out bread or maybe chips in the way of an appetizer before the main-course, but Weintraub’s goes one better and serves out sliced-up kosher pickles! The personal pick here is the corned-beef sandwich on a bulkie roll, with a dollop (or two, or three) of mustard on top. Delicious!

After lunch, head straight across the street to Widoff’s Bakery for some dessert, and make sure you bring back some of its fresh-that-day bulkie rolls for the “roommates.” My guess is they’d also probably want you to bring back some of Widoff’s cannolis or shortbread cookies, but hey – you know them better than I do.


And now we come to perhaps the most distinctly-Worcester stop on our culinary expedition: the diner! A fun fact about diners; they, along with the rocket, the yellow smiley face, and many, many other incredible things, were invented in Worcester! This being the case, diners in Worcester are as easy to find as a Starbucks in Seattle (and a lot less pretentious). Arterial health be darned, I maintain there’s no better place to eat for breakfast than at a diner with bacon grease as the preferred cooking oil of choice, and Worcester has such fine establishments to offer in spades. Two in particular I’d like to single out, Miss Worcester on Southbridge Street and The Boulevard on Shrewsbury Street, would both merit top marks from any self-respecting diner connoisseur with a set of taste buds. You can’t really graduate from Holy Cross without first patroning a genuine Worcester diner. In terms of a meal at any of these diners – you can’t go wrong!

And to end, I’d be remiss without at least MENTIONING Worcester’s golden mile of food that is Shrewsbury Street. This is most likely the recommendation you’ll hear from a Holy Cross student; it’s not even a specific place, we’ll just point you in the general direction and allow you to pick from the frankly embarrassing wealth of choices there. Want sushi? 7 Nana’s got you covered. Mexican? Head over to Mez-cal, or stop by its brand new location in downtown Worcester. Italian? You’re on your own here. If you can’t be satisfied by any of the incredible Italian restaurants situated on every other block,  there’s probably no hope for you. Two personal favorites over the years have become Leo’s Ristorante and Dino’s Ristorante (a Crusader hangout of yesteryear). With this kind of selection, the slopes of Mt. St. James certainly have their work cut out in preventing the freshman 15, although, in fairness, they still seem to get the job done anyhow.

So – did I miss any? I’m always looking to further my “research”, so if anyone’s got recommendations or additions to make I’m all ears. I’ve been familiar with the Worcester area my entire life, so I can tell you the food scene is constantly changing and expanding for the better. This, among an immeasurable amount of other things, is just another reason to love Holy Cross! Happy winter break to all the high school students, and I’ll see you on campus for tours. Come hungry!

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