WoMag November, 2008

Armsby Abbey is a religious experience
By Zeke Williams
Worcester Magazine
Tuesday, 25 November 2008

4 1/2 Stars

The new kid on Worcester’s main block may just be the next big thing to happen to the big city.

Armsby Abbey, the latest Alec Lopez venture, focuses on quality upscale comfort food, featuring a farmhouse-style menu with several locally grown products. On a recent frosty weekend evening, Tabitha and I made the brief trip for our first look at this four-month-old dining destination.

We took our seats at one of the two window-adjacent corner booths that look up and down Main Street. Surrounded by a bevy of throw pillows that accompany the booth, we viewed the long and contemporary-looking bar area that features an impressive list of about 130 bottled beers. They also carry a solid array of wine, but the specialized beer list is too dynamic to pass up.

We resisted the temptation to build a little throw pillow fort (seriously, the mere amount of cushioning reinforces the relaxing vibe the Abbey gives off) and turned our attention to the rotating list of not-so-typical drafts. We zeroed in on a tasty Honest Town Blackstone 80 Schilling ($5), and a tangy seasonal Mayflower Thanksgiving Ale ($5.50), which got the night going in the right direction.

Without prior knowledge of the portion sizes, Tabitha and I decided to be conservative on the cheeseboard selection and tried the individual morbier board ($8), as opposed to one of the two tempting slates at $17. A sampling of morbier cheese was joined by sliced portions of a baguette, duck sausage, and a spreadible ginger-fig and cherry conserve that worked in perfect unison with each other.

Tabitha was taken by the selection of artisan stoned pizzas, ultimately settling on the BBQ chicken pizza ($14), which boasted locally raised chicken meat and Alec’s own homemade sweet and spicy sauce.

The crust was a bit tough, but could be easily forgiven thanks to the infusion of onion and Vermont cheddar tastes, accented with just the right amount of cilantro. She washed it all down with a bottle of Heather Fraoch ($6.50).

I channeled my inner-sandwich-fanatic and chose the chicken club ($12). This sandwich had some quality size on it — two hearty slices of honey oatmeal bread supporting locally raised chicken, thick slices of Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon, tomato, Berberian Farm leaves and a creamy homemade mayonnaise.

Any time I am forced to use both hands to eat a sandwich, I applaud the size. A side of roasted potato salad was fresh, but was just a touch too bland.

Our first choice for dessert, a chocolate cake, was unavailable, so No. 2 on the wish list was the Mayan brownie ($5), spiced with cinnamon and ginger. The spice was balanced nicely with the sweet tones of moist chocolate and thick homemade cinnamon whipped cream.

Mayan brownie quickly moved to No. 1 on my future wish list.

Food arrival was prompt and our server, Becca, was kind and helpful with the menu selections while dealing with a crowd that seemed to grow steadily over the course of the meal.

The bill came to $57.95 after tax (before tip), which was very reasonable considering the substantial portions. As we walked back to the car, our first impression was that Worcester had found its next great establishment.

With the Crust Bakeshop, which bakes the bread for Armsby Abbey, scheduled to open up next door in 2009, they would be well-served to take a page from the Abbey’s playbook and concentrate on specific food selections prepared at a high level.

That and throw pillows — lots and lots of throw pillows!