“I can’t believe you’re here.”
I wake up on my birthday and roll over to see my best friend, Tofu, sleeping beside me. The night before, I found a giant present in the foyer and when I unwrapped it, she popped out! I was so shocked, I started crying. Now she’s here for my birthday. I can’t believe it. My parents and I are going to show her everything that we’ve discovered here.
For my birthday, Mom drops us off at Central Rock Gym, Worcester’s rock-climbing hub. Tofu, my older brother, Chris, and I hit the wall, belaying and bouldering for three hours straight. I end up buying a beginner’s pack: $39 (plus tax) for a month of unlimited visits, equipment, and a beginner’s induction class. Not a bad price if you ask me.
For dinner, Dad takes us to Armsby Abbey, a classy, candlelit hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Main Street. I proudly present my ID and order a pint of Trillium Secret Stairs, a Boston stout that has a deep, earthy flavor and a faint taste of bitter cocoa when I sip the foam.
It goes well with my gourmet Mac N’ Cheese ($12), an IPA-enriched delight topped with spongy breadcrumbs. According to a friend that recommended Armsby Abbey, the kitchen uses locally-sourced food for its dishes. I hardly have room for dessert which my family shares: Lemon Ricotta Tart ($8), homemade black cherry ice cream (can’t remember the price), and IPA ice cream. The latter is a creamy, grainy contrast to the tangy, gin-and-tonic ice cream that I had a while back at Figbar, a dessert restaurant in Norwich, England. Maybe this is a new thing, alcohol-infused ice cream. I like it.
Somehow, Tofu, Chris, and I save room for late-night s’mores. We splurge on goodies at Walmart, start a fire in our back patio fire pit, and have, well, s’more dessert. A good birthday indeed.
Mom gets us lunch from an S&S Deli in West Boylston. As Chicagoans, we’re new to the concept of an S&S. Getting local, fresh produce without having to go on a Whole-Foods spree is pretty cool. We sink our teeth into spicy Italian subs and then I make Tofu a ‘proper brew’ of English tea, with milk and sugar. It almost tastes like Norwich – almost. We relax in the sunlight until I have to go to work at the local pub & grill.
Afterwards, Tofu and my family go for a late dinner and drinks at the Draught House, a restaurant in West Boylston. Although they serve your everyday buffalo wings and bourbon burgers, the owners, being Greek, also allow for a section of the menu entitled ‘Greek Delights.’ I often order the sampler ($11.99) with spanakopita, dolmades, and homemade hummus. Tonight, Tofu tastes the avgolemono soup ($3.99) which she deems better than the kind she’s found in Chicago’s Greektown.
Hear that, West Boylston? You’re rivaling America’s food capital.
Friday night, Dad takes Chris, Tofu, and I to the British Beer Company on Shrewsbury Street where we split buffalo-style chicken tenders ($10.49), nachos with Newcastle chili ($12.99), pretzel sticks with beer mustard ($7.99), and – my favorite out of all – the spinach artichoke dip with crispy pita ($9.99). The atmosphere is bustling. I recognize a few British beers and ciders on the menu and my heart warms.
We plan the day tomorrow, deciding against Boston and instead agreeing to explore a different area, beyond Worcester County: Newburyport.
We wake early and drive to the beach. Plum Island is scenic and not so resort-like with gravel shoulders instead of sidewalks and old, clapboard houses. The beach dips down into the ocean, making the waves gentler. We stroll along the shore, cold water clutching at our feet, feeling less and less cold as we walk. Afterwards, we have lunch at Bob Lobster which a local calls “the best place to eat in town.” I’m not sure if my crab roll ($13.99) merits that but sitting on picnic tables by a creek and wide-open plains does feel quite special.
When we return to the main island of Newburyport, Tofu, Mom, and I get lost in the boutique shopping while Dad and Chris wander onto a Tuna Tournament by the harbor. We regroup at Oldies Market Place. Tofu and I both try on a pair of pants with Bob Dylan and James Dean’s faces on it, using a propped-up tent as the changing room.
Mom drops Tofu and I off on Shrewsbury Street (where, according to a local, is the place to be in Worcester), and we immerse ourselves in Grime, a garage-turned-to-thrift shop. It’s like being in funky Chicago again except that the vintage clothes are actually affordable, not to mention there’s no tax. Forget Wicker Park – Worcester is where the hipster urbanites should be. I fall in love with a letterman jacket that miraculously has my boyfriend’s name on it. (I end up buying it a few weeks later.)
For lunch, Tofu and I relax in a car-seat-turned-booth at Vintage Grille, also located in an old garage building. With one side of the restaurant open to the summer air, we clink our Coronas together and dig into the Hot Rod Burger ($9.99), a hot mess with deep-fried jalapeños and creamy buffalo sauce. Again, Chicago, you have competition.
We end the day with a cookout in our backyard. My family gathers to indulge in sweet corn, grilled pineapple, and lobster – it’s my first time cracking the shell and eating it so I try not to be a city girl. One of the best things about moving from Chicago to rural Massachusetts is that you get to embrace the local, fresh food culture. Sorry, Whole Foods, you just lost a customer.
With Tofu flying back to Chicago in the evening, Mom and I scramble to find the best way to put the cherry on top of her Massachusetts adventure. We finally settle on taking a hike through the Wachusett Mountain.
I love being at a ski resort when its deserted and snowless. It’s like staying over at Disney World overnight. The place is ours.
Before my dad drives us to the airport, we get a final drink at the Keeper’s Pub in West Boylston, right next door to the Finder’s Pub.
It’s definitely a place for locals. As Tofu and I enter, all the middle-aged couples stare at us unblinkingly. We settle at the bar, giggling and whispering. I cool off with a lemonade-white-wine spritzer while Tofu orders a gin and tonic which comes in a pint glass and tastes like pure gin.
Ain’t that America, to serve gin and tonics in pint glasses and offer beer in either 16 oz or 20 oz glasses – basically, a pint or more than a pint. Everything supersized. Hey, we’re not complaining.
It’s been a good week for both of us exploring Worcester County and beyond. Here’s to more adventures.
Rachel Noelle is a writer based in Worcester. Read about her here.