13 Mechanic Street, Spencer
Dinner at Connect in Spencer? Why not? The last time we dined in that town – at the Black and White – was an outstanding experience and I’m always happy to leave Worcester for an evening.
I expected my phone’s navigation app would direct us to Spencer via Airport Hill to avoid Worcester’s congested Park Ave. But the actual route equaled avoidance on steroids; we traveled down miles of twisty country roads through seemingly unpeopled hamlets. By the time we got to Route 9, just before the Spencer Country Inn, the heaviest traffic we’d encountered was a pair of turkeys herding their family of chicks.
Activity levels picked up as we approached the center of Spencer and when we turned onto Mechanic Street, we encountered the staff assembled in Connect’s entry. It felt like a greeting party. My friend and I were urged to select a table in the mostly empty dining room.
After taking my seat I noticed a bowl of single-serve jams and jellies. That’s a sure sign of breakfast and when I asked Haley, our server, she explained that breakfast is served through much of the day. Indeed, Connect’s dining room feels like a breakfast place with that comfy faded look of broken-in jeans. The soundtrack was pure Country.
Our table also featured a vase of daisies and an American flag. A small wooden bin labeled ‘Unplug and Connect’ served as a phone holder. Up to that point I had assumed that their name, Connect Restaurant, was a promise of reliable free WiFi. Not quite. They want you to drop your phone into the bin and abstain from using it. And talk to each other.
After reciting the day’s specials, Haley brought a plate of focaccia with herbed oil for dipping, then left us to make our menu selections. In huge block letters, the front windows proclaim, ‘Italian and American Food’. Based on their moist chewy focaccia I was ready to believe the Italian boast. We planned meals to explore both specialties.
Buffalo bone-in chicken wings got us started. They arrived at the table with my friend’s shoreline dinner kickoff, a bowl of New England clam chowder. I dug into the order of five wings. In all regards, size, meatiness, buffalo-tastiness I found them quite passable. Perhaps not award-winning, but an honest effort. Strange, though, my third and last wing tasted far superior to the others. As if it had grabbed all the black pepper.
Whilst I sat rather unmoved before a stack of chicken bones, my friend was tossing kudos for his big cereal bowlful of chowder. Creamy! Loaded with tender clam meat and chunks of soft potato! He’s very particular about chowder. Connect’s charmed him.
From there we continued down our divergent dining paths. He’d selected one of Connect’s off-menu specials; Baked Stuffed Lobster. We sat through several Country tunes waiting for our entrée’s, but when the lobster arrived it was an instant hit, gorgeous dappled orange color, with huge claws and tail and a carapace packed with buttery-crisp crumb dressing crammed with chunks of white fish and bay scallops.
After feasting on the seafood dressing, he grabbed a nutcracker and got to work on the claws. As with most every bake-stuffed, the claw meat was a bit dry and difficult to extract; if you really want juicy, just order your lobster boiled. It took just a tug to extract the tail meat and by the time he was finished, he had a huge pile of debris and the countenance of maximum seafood satisfaction.
Meanwhile I was puzzling my way through one of their specialties, Chicken Parm. The menu proclaimed it ‘hand breaded chicken breast pan fried, topped with homemade marinara sauce & melted mozzarella cheese’. The chicken’s thick breading seemed to have the richest flavor; the chicken was decent; firm, thoroughly cooked and not too dry.
The marinara, on the other hand, was a puzzler. I consider myself analytical, so it was frustrating to be unable to determine the strange flavor that dominated. If this was, in fact, homemade marinara, the chef must have used an herb I’m unaware of. So, I asked my friend, a genuine Italian, to try a sample.
“What’s that taste like to you?” I asked. “It’s bottled,” he retorted. Perhaps, I thought. But there’s plenty of decent bottled marinara in the market. Other than my analytic sampling, I abandoned the pasta.
Based on the unceasing pace of people picking up takeout orders, it’s clear that Spencer is in love with Connect Restaurant. It’s a cheerful and friendly place. But if I were to return, I’d let my friend order for me. Or stick with breakfast, their chicken and waffles sounded promising.