13 East Mountain Street, Worcester

Phone: (508) 853-3303


Bernard Whitmore

People often ask me to list my favorite restaurants. With a barely suppressed grimace, I’ll come up with a few names, but it feels like being asked ‘Who’s your favorite musician?’ At any moment that could range across a spectrum of genres. 

So it is with restaurants and cuisines. Try to be more specific! There’s a range of great options in town, but on a typical weeknight what I really enjoy is a place where I can relax with friends and enjoy an honest meal. Affordable by all; informal and welcoming to all.

Which brings us to Benny’s Cafe. I met with neighbors on a Friday night several months ago when the place was so packed we could barely cram our way into a booth. We enjoyed ourselves, but it was so loud and busy the staff seemed besieged and I couldn’t get a true measure of the place.

Clearly, Bennie’s has a huge following, so I resolved to return and get a better sense of the place. That promise was kept when I recently met with a couple friends on a Monday night. It was busy, but we easily found an available booth, sat down, and grabbed some menus.

Bennie’s Café is located at the summit of West Boylston and East Mountain Streets. It’s a small place divided by a partition: to the left is a bar, the other side is their dining area with booths and high tops. Their menu is a mix of American cuisine’s comfort food standards. 

The variety of entrées, appetizers and salads is compact in a way that I find reassuring. Anyone can offer a huge menu if they stock a freezer with ready-made items that they dunk into the deep fryer. Small menus are no guarantee of quality, but they generally signal a kitchen with skills.

Having said all that, we skirted by the appetizer item of tater tots, a classic freezer-to-fryer item of eternal popularity, and ordered Bennie’s Grilled Buffalo Wings, half with Jamaican jerk sauce, the other with Buffalo sauce. Benny’s portion was ideal for sharing, eight wings and drumsticks arrived with crunchy-fresh celery sticks and a cup of blue cheese dressing.

As soon as we sampled these wings, the three of us exclaimed at once: These are yumm! Jamaican jerk dressing, a dark brown sticky mix generously slathered over the meaty wings, was sweet and exotic with a rich cinnamon-allspice-clove flavor that I found especially compelling. The spicy heat of their Buffalo dressing was a perfect flavor contrast. I didn’t try the blue cheese dressing instead; I used my allotment of celery to scrape up the remaining sauce puddles.

Anticipating sticky fingers, our waiter had provided lots of extra napkins and a heap of wet naps. Indeed, the service she provided throughout our meal was friendly and adept. For example, when I asked about Cold Snap, a Sam Adams hazy white ale, she offered me a sample. Its citrusy herbal flavor tasted so good I ordered a glass of it.

Benny’s entrées include Meatloaf dinners and Mac & Cheese, as well as some burger options such as tonight’s special Smash Burger. The entire back page of the menu consists of a wide variety of hot sandwiches. We took that as a tip-off and ordered accordingly. 

Jenny chose another of Bennie’s daily specials: BBQ Pulled Pork Cheddar Melt. Thick shreds of tender pork drenched in sauce were heaped into a bulkie roll and topped with caramelized onions and melty cheddar cheese. She especially praised the quality of the bulkie roll. Each of our sandwiches came with a lunch-sized bag of Wachusett potato chips and a plastic cup of refreshingly tart dill pickles slices.

I ordered one of my favorites, Pastrami & Swiss on dark rye. At other places I’m forced to request it, but as if reading my mind, Bennie’s waiter asked if I wanted Dijon mustard. “Yes!” The fist-thick pile of pastrami slices was tender and on the lean side, but fatty enough to be rich and moist and delicious. The sandwich crew layered both sides of the meat-stack with barriers of warm Swiss cheese. This assured the bread didn’t get soggy from all the juices. Nice touch!

Across from me, Paul was complementing Bennie’s Grilled Reuben on dark rye; a stack of medium-thick slices of corned beef over a layer of sauerkraut and creamy thousand island dressing. We each agreed on how generous Bennie’s portions were and were challenged to finish our sandwiches. Our return trip was a success! The vibe at Bennie’s Café was welcoming and the food was delicious. Let’s go back for Smash Burgers!