Revved up over Vintage Grille.
COLUMN: DINING REVIEW
Been cruising Worcester for a fun place to have a burger or pizza where you can bring the kids and still catch up on the televised sports du jour? Well, start your engines and race down to the Vintage Grille on Shrewsbury Street.
Vintage Grille, which grew out of Junior's Grille, appears to be kid-friendly and while we were there, a small, family birthday party occurred on the patio. Vintage is also a place to enjoy football on a Sunday afternoon with three flat-screen TVs tuned to different games and a smaller TV red-lined at the Speed Channel.
On Sept. 22 the Vintage will celebrate its grand opening from 2 to 10 p.m. with complimentary appetizers, raffles, giveaways and live entertainment.
Dinner or lunch at Vintage is a fun experience without the corporate kitsch and phony nostalgia that occurs at most themed restaurants. The building was a garage at one time and the bay doors go up to accommodate outdoor dining. At any moment you can expect a Harley or a muscle car to pull into the parking lot.
The whimsy and old-time automotive theme is reflected on the menu. Nearly every selection has its automotive moniker with standouts like Hubcap Chips, F150 Steak Tips, All-American Model-T and Hot Rod Burger.
Chuckling through the starting line portion of the menu we turned to the Portabella Dip Sticks ($7.99) and Muscle Car Mac n Cheese Bites ($6.99).
The dip sticks were amazing. Thick stick-like slices of battered portabella mushrooms were lightly fried and doused with a tangy garlic aioli. The frying took some of the moisture out of the mushrooms and prevented the sticks from being mushy. The garlic and earthy flavor of portabella came through loud and clear. The appetizer passed all the tests except one - that of presentation. The sticks were piled on a bare plate with no thought of dressing them up with a lettuce leaf or other adornments.
As the name implies, the Muscle Car Mac n Cheese Bites were huge, robust, and demanded attention. Vintage Grille's signature macaroni and cheese was formed into meatball-sized globes and deep fried to a consistent golden crispness. We waved the checkered flag over this appetizer after the first bite.
The mid-September evening air turned a bit chilly so we decided to soup up with the Vintage Chili ($3.49 for a cup) and Sicilian sausage soup ($3.49). The chili was a great ride, with Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese, ground meat in a gently spiced chili sauce and topped with sliced jalapeno. The addition of a chili sauce brought the dish up to its hot billing.
The Sicilian sausage soup was solid but finished out of the money. Essentially, the soup was an Italian vegetable soup with garbanzos, orzo and assorted veggies in a chunky tomato-based broth. While there was the fleeting flavor of Italian sausage and fennel, visible hunks of sausage were noticeably missing. The soup would have made it to the winner's circle if there was more sausage involved.
We moved into the passing lane and zipped by the salad station, which had tempting offers such as the Shelby Salad ($5.99), Rt. 66 Caesar ($6.99), Chock Block Wedge ($6.99) and the Tire Iron Blackened Steak Salad ($11.99).
While racing toward entrees, we also lapped the Hub Cap Pizza Station and its attractive Mac n Cheese pizza ($12.99), shrimp scampi pizza ($13.99), chicken, broccoli Alfredo pizza ($12.99) and the fruits and veggies pizza ($12.99). The pizza at the Vintage Grille is made with fresh, hand-stretched dough and in-house sauce.
Entering the final lap, we ruled that The Big Cadillac ($11.99) was aptly named. A generous side of meatloaf was topped with grilled, sweet onion and a house sauce. Garlic, Parmesan mashed potatoes and grilled summer squash completed the meal.
The meatloaf was moist, slightly crumbly and had a superb blend of spices and beef flavors. It was so good that it received the highest complement from my meatloaf-loving partner, "Well, it's almost as good as mine."
The grilled squash was pleasingly firm and crunchy and bore little resemblance to boiled, mushy squash that we grow accustomed to. The potatoes were the perfect counterpoint to the meatloaf and provided that luxurious comfort food that most of us crave.
My cravings tend more to seafood and I caught a trophy meal with the Fish Tail Haddock ($12.99). A generous fillet of haddock was covered with sliced tomato, calamata olives, feta cheese and a garlic/white wine sauce. Served over a bed of sauteed spinach, the dish was so good that not a speck of it remained when our server came around to collect our plates.
The olives and feta cheese transformed the usually bland haddock into a Mediterranean delight. I had to ask for bread to go with the meal and I was disappointed with four cold slices of unremarkable Italian bread served with tiny bricks of butter wrapped in aluminum foil. A little more attention to the bread would have made the entree perfect.
Our dinner for two with beers as auxiliary fuel, came to an economical $59 before tax and tip. We expect to get a lot of mileage from the meals at that price and plan to bring the junior pit crew the next time we pull into the Vintage Grille.
346 Shrewsbury St., Worcester
* * *
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Phone: (508) 752-0558
Credit cards: Visa, Maste Card.
Prices: Low to moderate.
Parking: Private parking in front of building.
Pluses: Owners on premises; friendly and attentive wait staff; old-time automobile garage decor; outdoor dining; standard American cuisine.
Minuses: Merged dining area and bar; limited menu.
About the Stars
Perfection: * * * *
Very Good: * * *
Good: * *
Below Par: *
Serious Flaws: No stars
Restaurant reviews are the opinions of reviewers based upon at least one visit to the restaurant. The reviewer is accompanied by at least one companion. Recommendations from readers about restaurants they would like to have reviewed are welcome.