By Shannon Mullen / Illustration by Jennifer Taillon
The economic crisis was just beginning when Sherri Sadowski and her husband Alec Lopez opened Armsby Abbey, a farm-to-table gastropub in the heart of Worcester. “People would stop by and ask us if we were okay,” Sadowski remembers. It turns out there’s enough appetite for charcuterie, farmstead cheese, and dandelion greens in this gritty, industrial city that the Abbey is thriving, and its success is helping fuel Worcester’s emerging local food scene.
Sadowski and Lopez say their secret is an unbending commitment to their mission, which centers on sourcing the majority of their ingredients from local farms around Worcester County. “Berberian’s Farm is the core of this whole thing for us,” says Lopez. “They produce—with amazing consistency—a lot of the things we use heavily, including our tomatoes, corn, and greens.” Meat comes mostly from Adams Farm in Athol, chicken from Vermont, and the root cellar at Terrosa Farm in Barre helps supply the restaurant with vegetables through the winter months.
The menu changes with each season or when available ingredients vary, which happens so often that paper copies are printed in-house. “We go through a lot of ink…and printers,” Sadowski says. Among its core clientele, the Abbey counts some locals, plus regulars from Worcester’s academic community and the area’s increasingly imported biotech, medical research, and engineering workforce. Sadowski adds that proximity to Boston helps draw people who wouldn’t otherwise consider Worcester a culinary destination. “Worcester is not what anyone thinks it is,” she says. “It’s changing so fast.”
When Sadowski and Lopez are not in the Abbey’s kitchen or next door in their new bakery, Crust, they frequent the following establishments in and around town that share their commitment to local food made fresh:
1) Armsby Abbey 144 North Main Street, Worcester 508.795.1013 armsbyabbey.com
2) Volturno 72 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester 508.756.8658 volturnopizza.com
New to “the Woo” last Spring, Volturno specializes in Southern Italian cuisine utilizing locally sourced seasonal ingredients, wood-fired pizzas, handmade pasta, and tasty salads, with a full bar. “Add a nice bottle of vino and you’ve got a great recipe for the perfect date night,” says Sadowki.
3) Bagel Time 194B Park Avenue, Worcester 508.798.0440 bageltimeusa.com
Crusty bagels made from scratch daily. Sadowski’s favorite is the sunflower bagel with tomato cream cheese. Bagel Time also offers homemade pastries, breakfast sandwiches, smoothies, and locally roasted coffee.
4) On the Rise Bakery 1120 Pleasant Street, Worcester 508.752.3809 ontherisebaking.com
Located on the west side of Worcester, this little bakeshop is a favorite destination for baked goods and cakes made from scratch. “I love their apple cake, and the lemon scones are little pillows of heaven,” says Sadowski. “Chef/owner Elizabeth Casey has been baking for most of her life and it shows!”
5) Sol of Mexico 538 Pleasant Street, Worcester 508.756.2660 solofmexico.yolasite.com
Fresh corn tortillas are always available here, hot off the press. The burritos are a local favorite. Sadowski’s picks: “Fresh guacamole, homemade tortilla chips, and fish tacos washed down with a grapefruit soda.”
6) Sweet Pastry Shop & Dessert Bar 305 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester 508.373.2248 sweetworcester.com
Full service bar featuring cocktails, appetizers, and desserts inspired by fresh, local ingredients. “This is the ultimate ‘girls night out’ location,” says Sadowski. “The salted margarita cupcakes are simply divine.” She also recommends the decadent French donuts filled with chocolate ganache and served with bourbon vanilla ice cream.
7) Wooberry 141 Highland Street, Worcester 508.459.2311 wooberryyogurt.com
It seems like froyo chains are popping up on every corner these days, but Wooberry is the rare indie shop. The owners source “as many local products as possible from farms and producers in Central Massachusetts.”
8) Canal District Farmers Market 200 Green Street, Worcester 508.753.7303 canaldistrictfarmersmarket.com
Worcester’s newest farmers market is in its inaugural season, offering a range of local produce, as well as cheese, eggs, meats, fish, breads, pastries, chocolate, and wine. The market also features food trucks, artists, and free horse and wagon tours of the historic Canal District. “A passionate attempt at a full market experience,” says Lopez. “It’s certainly the best market Worcester has ever had.” Open air on Thursdays 3-8pm until October 31st, then organizers plan to move everything inside for the winter months.
9) Gibson’s Dairy Farm 42 Sunderland Road, Worcester 508.753.1095 gibsonsgoods.com
Family owned and operated in Worcester for more than 50 years, Gibson’s supplies Armsby Abbey with local organic eggs, whole milk, and heavy cream, among other staples. The dairy store is open year round and in the warmer months Sadowski says Gibby’s ice cream stand is a must. “There’s nothing better then a pistachio cone on a hot day, but beware of the large portions,” she warns.
10) Outlandish Farm 164 Haynes Hill Road, Brimfield 508.317.9100
This young 28-acre farm in Brimfield supplies the Abbey and specializes in heirloom organic vegetables, including tomatoes, squash, herbs, and melons.
11) Berberian’s Farm 68 Otis Street, Northborough 508.393.8079
A family operation for generations in Northborough, and a key player in the Abbey’s local supply chain. “We visit the farm 3 or 4 days a week to supply the restaurant, and to stock our personal kitchen,” Sadowski says. Berberian’s farmstand is open from May through November, featuring heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, summer/winter squashes, peppers, beans, herbs, and a variety of greens, as well as products from other local farms, including honey and baked goods.
12) Tougas Farm 234 Ball Street, Northborough 508.393.6406 tougasfarm.com
Also in Northborough, Tougas farm is open from Memorial Day through Halloween for pick-your-own berries, cherries, peaches, and dozens varieties of apples and pumpkins. The farm stand is always open, selling homemade baked goods, preserves, and picked fruit. Sadowski’s favorites: homemade peach smoothies, fresh pressed apple cider, and sugared cider donuts. She says it’s worth a day trip with the kids, who will love hayrides and feeding baby farm animals.
Shannon Mullen is a film producer and freelance public radio reporter whose work airs regularly on Marketplace, All Things Considered, and other national programs. Her culinary experience includes stints as chef aboard a 1929 wooden motoryacht based in Newport, RI and as garde manger in the kitchen of a French bistro in Portsmouth, NH.