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Dinner at Off the Rails followed by a Railers hockey game: it seemed like a perfect Saturday night in downtown Worcester. As soon as we saw the crowds around the DCU Center, though, the reality of post-pandemic America collided with our plans as we realized thousands of others happened to agree! The restaurant was packed and booked for the night. 

We ended up with hotdogs at Coney Island (always a happy event) and delayed dinner at Off The Rails till Sunday. 

When you visit their website or take one step through their doorway, it’s immediately obvious that Off The Rails is country-music themed. Not the traditional “I hear a train a-comin’” country music standards – OTR’s soundtrack is shinier pop-country with huge crossover appeal. The cuisine is pure Americana – classic recipes with imaginative variations and roots in the Deep South. It grabbed our attention and didn’t let go till the last bite.

Another major theme is bourbon. The menu offers an extensive list with informative descriptions that will be helpful should you care to assemble your own flight. Beyond that, though, bourbon flavor adds depth to many items in OTR’s meal menu. For refreshment I turned my attention to their list of draft beers.

After trying a sample, I ordered a glass of Left Hand Brewing’s Peanut Butter Milk Stout. Normally I’d be suspicious of such a brew, but I’m familiar with and trust this brewer. Pouring dark as Coca Cola, its thin lacy tan head was creamy-rich; peanut flavor was mildly assertive. Overall, this stout let roasted malts and deep chocolatey flavor dominate. Yeah, it was a bit sweet, but well within my tolerance.

We could have started with any item in OTR’s innovative appetizer list; each of them had promise, though their Gas Station Eggs (pickled eggs with hot sauce) would have required a whopping leap of faith. 

Instead, we shared a plate of Texas Lolli-pops; lengths of andouille sausage wrapped in thick meaty bacon and then grilled and drenched in brown sugar bourbon barbeque sauce. Spicy andouille, smokey bacon, sweet bourbon served over creamy coleslaw: a memorable flavor profile that proved, once again: it’s always better with bacon.

My entrée, Shrimp and Grits, is an item I once regarded with skepticism as it gained traction here in New England. OTR made me a true believer with their thick tomatoey sauce rooted in the trinity of Cajun cooking – bell pepper, onion and celery. The chef united these ingredients with a master’s skill in the balancing of flavor and texture to create a delectable sauce worthy of five very large juicy shrimp. What further delighted me was their plating of my meal: the shrimp were served alongside a large portion of creamy cheddar grits – not over them. This allowed me to sample each individually and mix by the forkful. Perfect! 

Lovers of fried chicken will take note of OTR’s Buttermilk & Herb Fried Chicken. A full leg quarter and a wing section were coated in a crackly-crunch of tasty breading that kept the meat incredibly moist. The meal was served with more of that crisp coleslaw and a cup of creamed corn. However, this wasn’t the canned corn you had as a kid – the kernels tasted fresh and looked as if they’d been sliced right off the ear and were cooked in rich truffled cream sauce.  

All these robust flavors served as a prelude to dessert. Our serving of Bourbon Caramel Bread Pudding was, hands down, the best. Ever. Sorry New Orleans, Off The Rails’ bread pudding was served in thick slices studded with chunks of honest-pure melty dark chocolate, and topped with bourbon-flavored caramel, all gooey and sweet and dabbed with a big dollop of fresh whipped cream. What I especially loved was the crust, chewy with nuggets of chocolatey char.

My neighbors don’t hesitate to point out that OTR’s Commercial Street location has bad mojo; many others have tried and failed to succeed here. Yeah, the weight of history could be a challenge. But I suspect the outcome will be different this time: business alliances with the Railers hockey; addition of a music venue, and linkage to the Palladium Theater should keep Off The Rails in focus. Cuisine the likes of which we enjoyed this evening should keep their prospects squarely on track.