Worcester restaurant scene on rise

February 22, 2017 GMT

If you’ve ever sniffed at Worcester’s food scene, take a fresh look. New England’s second-largest city is riding a restaurant renaissance, drawing hot young talent from larger cities, including Boston, and emerging as a dining destination in its own right. The proof: Worcester’s most impressive culinary export, celebrity chef and Food Network star Geoffrey Zakarian, returns home for a live conversation (moderated by this reporter) at the Hanover Theatre on Monday. He’ll discuss growing up in Worcester, his globe-trotting gigs and plenty of insider food trends.

High-profile homecomings also characterize some of the other major updates to Worcester’s restaurant landscape. After nine years in Miami, national notice-earning cocktail guru Ryan Godspeed has returned to his native Worcester to serve as beverage director and Jack-of-most-trades at Sweet Kitchen & Bar, which recently reinvented itself from a dessert-focused joint to a more comprehensive dining room with sweet and savory small plates.

He’s been developing a new booze program designed to appeal to both long-standing regulars and the current crop of in-the-know booze geeks. “It’s all about meeting people halfway, including recognizable stuff while introducing newer and higher quality spirits,” Godspeed said.

Husband-wife team Matt Mahoney and Rachel Coit, both raised just outside Worcester, are preparing to open Kummerspeck, a restaurant and full-service deli-butchery featuring meats raised on local farms. Mahoney, alum of James Beard award-winning restaurateur Barbara Lynch’s The Butcher Shop in Boston, says there’s great nostalgia in returning to their local roots after 15 years cooking in other cities. The pair is even plotting a potential dinner series at Kummerspeck that would revive and reinvent signature dishes from beloved but bygone Worcester institutions like El Morocco.

In fact, one descendent of an iconic Worcester restaurant is helping to pave the city’s bright future in food. Last month Alexis Kelleher, already head baker at Crust Artisan Bakeshop, purchased the business from previous owners Alec Lopez and Sherri Sadowski, whose acclaimed gastropub Armsby Abbey has been credited with cata­lyzing Worcester’s next-generation restaurant boom. Kelleher, whose family owns the century-old hot dog kennel George’s Coney Island Lunch, says she plans to focus on wholesale at Crust, turning out fresh-baked breads for the spate of new spots in town.

Learn more about what’s happening in Worcester’s food scene with Geoffrey Zakarian; tickets at thehanovertheatre.org.