01.03 Like The Bully, The Sole and the WAM Cafe

A guide to local restaurants good for the body, mind and soul

Winter in 2003. Since New Year’s Eve, it has snowed almost every day. Some mornings it is so cold it hurts to breathe. The sidewalks are bobsled runs.

If ever there is a time of year when we need restaurants that are good for the body, mind and soul, it is in January, February and March – especially this year. So we’ve put together a list of some local restaurants that will warm your body, ease your mind and comfort your soul.

On just about any winter day, Worcester’s diners are bursting at the seams with people looking for hot, filling food, Maybe it’s a hold-over from childhood winters when grilled cheese sandwiches, hot chocolate and tomato soup were all you wanted. Or maybe it’s because your body is hungering for fat — what is better than a huge cheeseburger and fries on a frigid day? Or a steaming bowl of homemade chicken soup? Or eggs and bacon and sausage and huge hunks of Italian bread toast dripping with butter?

We are blessed in Worcester with some truly great diners and whether you prefer the Kenmore, The Parkway, Charlie’s or The Boulevard, diners are on the top of the list for food that comforts your soul. You may not be getting the healthiest meals in the world — cholesterol counts soar the minute you walk through a diner’s door — but when it’s 11 degrees out and you have had to battle the elements just to get out of your driveway, who cares.

Here are some of our favorites for diner food. For breakfast, The Boulevard’s “Special” can’t be beat. Offering a couple of eggs any way you like em, Italian sausage, bacon, homefries and the above-mentioned hunks of Italian toast, this meal will keep you going for days. We also love “The Bully’s” chicken soup which is so popular at lunch-time that huge vats of the stuff are made daily.

For pasta fagiole, which is tasty and also very good for you because of the combo of beans, pasta, tomatoes and garlic, we like to hit The Parkway. And for filling snacks on cold, cold nights, the Kenmore is terrific.

Of course all these places also offer great burgers, but our personal favorite for burgers has always been Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner which has been undergoing renovation since it was taken over by Vincent Hemmeter of the famed, East Side hotspot, Vincents. We are hoping Vincent won’t change the recipe for Ralph’s cheeseburgers, which are true therapy for the winter-ravaged.

Speaking of Vincents, if you didn’t get enough turkey over the holidays and your body is hungry for some soothing hot turkey, hearty stuffing and cranberry sauce, go to Vincents and ask for a Gobbler. This sandwich, made with Italian bread, is stuffed with all the above ingredients, and the turkey is the real thing — not processed, cardboard stuff.

Also in the category of meals that comfort your soul are the hefty clam chowder at The Sole Proprietor, the cheap and spicy seafood gumbo at Coral Seafood on Green Street, the fat chicken enchiladas and black bean burritos at Tortilla Sam’s on Highland Street (also good for your body are the veggie enchiladas at Tortilla Sam’s, a restaurant that is trying to increase “healthy” menu items) and from Shrewsbury Street, the oysters on the half shell at One Eleven Chophouse and the antipasto (a meal in itself) at Anthonys.

Of course, good food is also about atmosphere, or “ambiance” in restaurant reviewer lingo. If you’re looking for a little artistic stimulation along with your lunch, the Worcester Art Museum’s Café offers inexpensive, yet creative lunch choices like the Monet Chicken Salad at $8.95,or the Homer BLT at $6.75.

To stimulate your mind AND soothe your soul, don’t miss WAM’s “Flora In Winter” exhibit during the first week in February, which will feature fresh floral interpretations of works of art.

The above-mentioned One Eleven Chophouse, The Sole Proprietor, Anthonys and some other popular spots like Tianos on Grove Street and of course, the Beechwood Hotel’s Harlequin are elegant, tastefully decorated restaurants where the atmosphere is carefully maintained by attentive staff, the flowers fresh (especially at One Eleven, where attention to ambiance includes fresh flowers in the rest rooms) and the wait and bar staff polite. Of course, you will end up paying more for peace of mind at these places, but during a winter like this, it’s worth the cost.

Speaking of cost, for meals that are not only inexpensive but also healthy for your body, Worcester has a good selection of Asian and vegetarian restaurants that offer low fat, yet tasty food without busting your wallet.

Da Lat on Park Avenue offers healthy, unusual soups, fresh veggy and rice dishes and much more for less than $10. Da Lat has long been a favorite with Worcester’s college crowd. Also a good choice for innovative Asian food with flair is the ever-popular Nancy Chang on Chandler Street, which offers all kinds of Oriental delights including Thai, Malaysian and Polynesian specialties made with vitamin rich brown rice, herbal ingredients and vegetarian chicken and shrimp.

Across town at Thai Time, there is a reasonably priced, $6.95 luncheon buffet that has very good vegetarian spring rolls, crab wontons with nice delicate crusts and well-seasoned entrees like shrimp with basil, pork ginger and chicken with cashew nuts. Thai Time, which is located a stone’s throw from Spags, also serves lovely, smoky tea.

In the Middle Eastern category, El Basha on Rte. 9 wins hands-down for real dishes that are also good for you. This is the place to go for really good hummus, falafel and tasty side salads. Everything is nicely seasoned and inexpensive. The kibbee is delicious and the grape rolls are the real thing.

Of course if you’re looking for a place to eat that offers a big selection of vegetarian and organic food, the Living Earth Garden Café on Chandler Street is the place to find things like bison burgers (which have 80% less fat), tofu stir fries and of course, Chai, the good for-you-and-tasty-too sweetened tea drink that is so popular you can even get it at Dunkin Donuts.

So there you have it. On the next truly awful winter day, treat yourself. Brave the elements and head for Thai Time’s spring rolls, the Art Museum Café’s Warhol Soup du Jour or bacon, homefries and eggs morning, noon or night at The Boulevard.

Susan Dewey can be reached at