Dining review: Tatnuck Grille offers a neighborhood vibe with plenty of choice

Of Worcester’s many neighborhoods, the Tatnuck area may be least recognized as a dining destination. That’s too bad because it obscures from wider view the Tatnuck Grille, a restaurant whose executive chef, Angel Barbosa, cooked for Coral Seafood during its golden age on Green Street. Taken alone, that should attract people’s attention. Browse the seafood sections of Tatnuck’s menu and you might even experience a flicker of déjà vu. I did.

That menu also features very interesting appetizers. How about Ahi Tuna Nachos Style? Salad, chicken, beef, seafood and pasta sub-menus drill considerably deep into their areas ‑ especially the “Chicken Farm” section. This is all complemented by a “Specials” page and more offers on a chalkboard. We hadn’t been to the Grille in years, so we hewed to some of their “core competencies.”

First, though, what kind of place is this? Is a “grille” some sort of retro lounge lizard haven? Not at all. In the case of Tatnuck Grille, imagine a Friendly’s that’s retained its family vibe but extended it to the sports bar format of beer taps and large-screen TVs, which compete for wall space with posters of comedy troops from the dawn of the Age of Television (black-and-white era). The energy level is medium-high; overall, the decibel level is low enough to enjoy conversations with friends.

As mentioned earlier, Tatnuck’s menu is wide-ranging. This can be great for diverse groups, but it can also make decision-making difficult. Indeed, after initially choosing the Saltimbocca Chicken Breast, I noticed the exciting Steamer special on the chalkboard. Shellfish in, chicken out. Then, I took a closer look at “Baked Seafood Dinners,” specifically, Parchment Paper Haddock. Intriguing; I haven’t seen this treatment offered on a menu in years. Haddock in, shellfish out.

It proved a good decision! The dish was attractively presented with a rectangular parchment paper pouch split open and rolled back to reveal a thick topping of a myriad of little shrimp strewn with shredded crab meat. Underneath this, the haddock fillet was flaky, moist and tender.

When a chef employs the parchment paper treatment, an envelope of oven-proof paper must be constructed to hold the fish and other ingredients during the baking process. In this case, a light sauce with a touch of vermouth and citrus provided the liquid for steaming. It’s a method that traps in the flavors and juices of the haddock. There’s also an element of drama when placed before the diner.

My friend chose a more standard item ‑ the 14-ounce Black Angus New York Strip steak. He reported it to be both delicious and reasonably priced. It was distinctively coated with a tequila marinade and finely minced green peppers. “These seasonings added a little zing to the finish of the steak. I’m not sure what the spice mixture is, but it enhanced the meat,” he declared.

Tatnuck Grille’s entrees were offered with a choice of potato and vegetable. We chose the baked potato with an oiled and salted jacket… even tastier after I stuffed mine with butter and sour cream. For the vegetable, we went with sliced pickled beets, firm and sweet, served cold in monkey dishes. This is a vegetable that’s suffered too much neglect and disrespect; I applaud the chef for offering them.

On the mid-week evening that we chose to dine at the Tatnuck Grille, there was rarely an unclaimed table and the bar was lined with an after-work crowd. It seemed an ideal spot for neighbors and friends to get together for dinner and a drink. The waitstaff were friendly, and Angel popped out of the kitchen once or twice to check if people were satisfied.

Return visits are in order; there’s much more menu to explore.

Tatnuck Grille – 638 Chandler St. Worcester – (508) 792-0000 – tatnuckgrille.com

-Bernie WHITMORE

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