Bernie Whitmore

Not so many years ago, Worcester was a town you had to abandon in order to find a dining experience built on quality, innovation and fun. Then the Shrewsbury Street dining district coalesced, and creative cuisine returned to town. It seemed a miracle.

The excitement still echoes and now many of us think, ‘Why leave town? We can get a good meal right here Worcester!’.

There is some truth in that, but with each excursion to new restaurants in the surrounding towns I’m finding this attitude might be a trap. In recent months, it seems that whatever direction we point the car in, we’re finding worthy dining experiences throughout the suburbs.

The latest of these culinary treasures is Reunion Tap & Table in Grafton. They’ve transformed what I’d reckon to be a mundane strip mall space into an oasis of earth tones: dark wood table tops, deep-green glazed wall sections and matte-finished dishware. They’ve fused cozy with spacious and country with sophisticated.

Sara, our server, seemed as interested in us as we were with the menu and genially brought us up to date with Reunion’s brief history. The establishment bills itself as a tap room and their list of drafts is interestingly national in scope. I chose a West Coast IPA, Firestone Walker’s Union Jack, and enjoyed its deep bitter hops, a very ‘uncluttered’ flavor. Although, my preference remains with our New England IPA’s and their more complex citrus, herbal and piney tones.

Reunion Tap & Table
198 Worcester Street, Grafton
(774) 293-5501

Appetizers feature three variations of Poutine and I was leaning toward “Breakfast”: bacon, fried egg and hollandaise sauce. But, in deference to my friend’s keto diet, we decided to share the Smoked Salmon. Typically, this dish would take the form of butter-thin slices. However, at Reunion it was presented in a serving bowl; coarsely chopped, mildly smoked salmon was flavored with red onion jam (not too sweet) and a generous toss of capers. All this was topped with crunchy shards of thinly-sliced pretzels. The flavors merged in that bowl formed the perfect appetizer: a touch smoky, a touch sweet, delicate salmon, and piquant capers. This dish was a delightful introduction to Reunion’s wide-ranging flavor palette.

From there my companion moved to his entrée of equally keto-friendly Prime Sirloin, a ten-ounce club cut sliced across to reveal its crimson center – perfectly prepared! A simple treatment with salt and cracked black pepper gave it honest beef flavor. The kitchen substituted mashed potatoes with a medley of sautéed vegetables: cubed butternut squash, cauliflower florets, shredded leeks and wild mushrooms. The richness of the mushrooms merged with the free-flowing beef juices to form a robust flavor perfectly suited for cold winter evenings.

My entrée, a special that evening, was also designed for mid-winter comfort dining: Braised Oxtail with Gnocchi. It arrived in an earthenware baking dish; dozens of tender gnocchi drenched in a parmesan cream sauce scattered with shitake mushrooms. Every element of this dish spelled richness! Realizing this, the chef draped emerald-green broccoli rabe over the entire affair for color contrast and a welcome punch of bitter flavor.

As I explored my dinner, each time I thought I’d forked a piece of oxtail, it revealed as yet another meaty shitake mushroom. Perplexed, I asked Sara about it. She explained that the oxtail, braised slowly for hours, had turned to flecks that was incorporated into the creamy-rich parmesan sauce.

How do you top that? With a refreshing Crème Brûlée, perhaps! Reunion’s version is classic all the way, served in a shallow fluted baking dish, its fragile crust of golden burnt sugar cracked open to a vanilla bean infused eggy custard. Pure, honest flavors.

Throughout our meal I was impressed with the menu’s sensitivity to season. And even more excited to anticipate a return in the springtime when the flavors and ingredients should, hopefully, blossom with tender freshness.