03.03 The scoop on Worcester’s small, but good, coffee houses

Before Starbucks beans the competition, try these neighborhood spots

In a city that perks with four major coffee houses, there is a real difference between the coffee varieties and delicacies offered by these well-known, neighborhood businesses, that are probably more than a little nervous that the country’s biggest bucks coffee-house vendor — Starbucks – will soon be opening its doors in Worcester

Before settling into Starbucks, try these four independently run places where you can feed your caffeine addiction in style; Java Hut, The Bean Counter, Café Dolce and The Kingdom.

The Java Hut, which is located on Main Street, has a lot to offer. There are a wide variety of coffee features — not only a house blend, but also a decaf and a feature of the week. Along with the infamous Psycho Blast, smoothies, steamers, chai’s, teas, you can also find bagels, supreme deli sandwiches, homemade soups and desserts. The Hut also offers live entertainment. Every month there are different singers, artists and performers that take the stage.

The Bean Counter offers a variety of coffee as well as cappuccinos, steamers, juices and frozen drinks. Along with a menu that is available for catering and take out, there is a different side to this popular coffee spot. Along with an eclectic menu, The Bean Counter also offers vegetarian and vegan desserts. Located on Highland Street, The Bean Counter sits right in the middle of one of the city’s busiest college communities.

If you are looking for more of an upscale coffee house with individual tables and wait staff, Café Dolce on Shrewsbury Street is the place to be. Serving up imported and flavored coffees, as well as twenty dessert choices and liquor and wine, Dolce offers a unique atmosphere for true coffee drinkers.

In a sort of renaissance setting, The Kingdom, located on Richmond Ave, is a quaint spot in Worcester’s Tatnuck area. Offering gourmet coffees and drinks as well, this coffeehouse offers chessboard tables and sporadic entertainment throughout the months. When it gets warmer, the outdoor seating is perfect for an early morning or late afternoon cup of java.

So even though City Hall got all steamed up with the news that Starbucks is coming to town, don’t forget the four fabulous coffee houses that Worcester already has to offer! Starbucks is sure to be good, but many of the city’s java lovers are comfortable with neighborhood spots that have been delivering good beans for years.


03.03 Hot & Now

The Shrewsbury Street Spring Shuffle

With the melting of snow and hopefully rising temperatures, look for the restaurants of Shrewsbury Street to get out the umbrellas for outdoor dining. Several restaurants already offer diners the choice of eating al fresco, but a few more are hitting the pavement this year.

The big news is that quite a few of the eateries will not only be offering customers the choice of eating outdoors, but imbibing will be possible as well. Worcester’s License Commission has approved a plan to allow Worcester restaurants to serve both food and alcohol outdoors during the summer months.

Among those seeking approval from the Commission are the Flying Rhino, Zipango, Anthony’s and Amore Café. A couple of places already serve outdoors. These include Primo’s, Bread and Pasta, Bottom’s Up and Porto Bello. This should give the street an even more happening feel to it.

It’s good news that there is a good mix of eateries offering different types of food. It’s not all just Italian!

The Flying Rhino offers creative American Cuisine, with plenty of fish, steaks and on-the-lighter-side sandwiches. It also has a great bar scene later a night.

A few doors down from the Rhino is Zipango, a Japanese sushi bar. The sushi here is very good, and Zipango’s has developed a loyal following. They also have a good bar.

Bottom’s Up, across the street from the Rhino and Zipango, is strictly a bar, with a nice outdoor seating area. This is one of the few places on the street that features live music.

Anthony’s Restaurant, next to the park is a little more elegant and also offers very good Italian cuisine. It’s not just food here. With great views of the park, pleasing ambiance and excellent food, this is one of Shrewsbury Street’s destination restaurants.

Primo’s, across the street from Anthony’s and next to the Boulevard Diner, has been serving food al fresco for a year now. You can enjoy Italian food under the wide umbrellas that dot the sidewalk along the front of the restaurant.

On the opposite side of the street is Porto Bello, another Italian American eatery. They too have had outdoor dining since last summer. It’s only a few seats, but you get a good sense of the street from one of their tables.

One of the last places on Shrewsbury Street before you hit Union Station is Amore Café, a hip place whose menu leans toward Italian fare, but offers much more. Amore consistently gets rave reviews.

So once the remaining piles of frozen snow have finally melted, head outside for a good selection of dining choices on Shrewsbury Street. This new option is giving the big boulevard a little continental flair — and hopefully will shorten the wait for a table on Saturday nights!


03.03 Sweet Surya touch spices up Shrewsbury Street

For generations, people looking for simple, good food, found their way to Worcester’s Shrewsbury Street. If you got tired of the Italian restaurants on virtually every block, you could always hit the diners — Macs, The Parkway, The Boulevard.

No matter what the country of origin, the food wasn’t sophisticated, but the portions were huge, filling and cheap. Ambiance wasn’t big and neither were a wide range of ingredients, but who cared — on “Chewbry” Street, as the locals called it, you weren’t looking for diversity. You just wanted to sit down at a comfy counter with padded swivel seats or a wooden table with a red-checked cloth and chow down.

In those days, people came for La Scala’s antipasto with homemade sausage. For Ringo George’s meatball sandwiches at the Boulevard and Paul Mac’s soups and burgers. For three to four bucks you could get enough food to feed a small state.

But in 2003, a lot of spice has been added to Shrewsbury Street’s melting pot. The Italian immigrants who first opened up restaurants and businesses here would probably be amazed if they strolled down today’s big boulevard. In the last five years, lots of new restaurants have opened up. The cuisine of countries from around the world can be found in buildings that once housed such diverse businesses as a 1900’s Italian bank (now the sight of the popular Primo’s) optometrist offices, spas — even a 19th century stage coach repair shop. That repair shop morphed into an automobile shop — today it houses one of Shrewsbury’s Street’s very finest restaurants, Anthony’s.

In 2003, Shrewsbury Street has a Japanese sushi bar. A real Chicago-style steak house. A cafe with French cuisine. A coffee-house with international brews. And in the old optometrist’s office, is an Indian restaurant called Surya, offering dishes like Novratana Korma (which has 9 different fresh vegetables cooked in a rich gravy with yogurt and spices), which is served in a serene room where the sounds of a bubbling fountain and soft Indian music soothe diners.

On a nasty, snowy day, we headed down Shrewsbury Street to visit this warm Indian oasis for ourselves, having heard that the food is very good, the service friendly and the prices reasonable. Since the snow was really piling up along Shrewsbury Street, Surya was even quieter than usual, which made it possible for us to really unwind as we listened to the splashing fountain and the other-worldly sound of sitar music.

The atmosphere in Surya is restful and elegant. Rich-looking tablecloths of gold, blue, red and green and artwork featuring colorful, velvet and mirror Indian motifs are the right setting for Surya’s polite, Indian wait staff who try hard, despite language barriers, to help diners understand the substantial menu.

The menu features a good selection of soups and appetizers, several tasty bread selections and a wide range of chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetarian entrees. The lunch menu is considerably shorter, but does feature plenty of good entrée choices, as well as soups and appetizers from the dinner menu. Drinks include Lassi, the yogurt drink made with strawberries, mangos or bananas and sweet Masala tea.

We started our meal with coconut soup and Paneer Pakora, homemade cheese slices filled with mouth-watering spices. The Pakora were served with a delicious Papadam sauce and a zippy mint chutney sauce that gave our tastebuds a buzz. The coconut soup was yummy — not too sweet or thick, nicely spiced and very comforting on a beastly winter day.

For our main course we chose chicken and mixed vegetable curry, both of which were cooked carefully and spiced with a delicate touch. The vegetables in my dish were bountiful and fresh — and best of all, not over-cooked. Tender pieces of chicken in a golden curry sauce pleased my companion. Served with steaming white rice and lots of crispy, flat bread, the entrees were perfect for a low-fat, tasty lunch.

Both entrées cost around $5.00. The most expensive thing on the luncheon menu costs $5.95, a very reasonable amount to pay for lunch these days, especially when you’re getting freshly prepared meals with quality ingredients. With our appetizers and drinks, the total bill was a little more than $18.

We bundled out of Surya’s into the snowdrifts, feeling soothed and comforted by polite service, very good food and the gentle music of India. Not bad at all for an afternoon on ‘Chewbry Street.

Surya’s is located at 299 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester. For information, call (508) 752-3700.

Menu for two
Coconut Soup
Paneer Pakora
Mixed Vegetable Curry
Chicken Curry


03.03 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’

New York’s 50 Cent, the unequivocal “baddest” man in hip-hop today, has delivered rap reality in his freshman major label album, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” With bootlegs and anticipation abounding, the 16-track effort was released close to three weeks earlier than its scheduled date — and broke into the pop charts.

Most mainstream fans were already aware of 50 Cent after constant radio play of his “Wanksta” from the soundtrack from the movie 8 Mile. Soon to follow, “In Da Club” became the first single off of “Get Rich”…and 50 Cent was worth more than any other rapper in the country.

Armed with Dr. Dre and Eminem as executive producers, 50 Cent uses a candid approach that easily rivals the edgy lyrics of his newfound mentors. “I’m innocent in my head/ like a baby born dead/ destination heaven,” raps 50 in “Patiently Waiting,” the first of two songs where he shares vocal duties with Eminem.

The frightening honesty is matched with humor, though, on “21 Questions,” a courting monologue: “I love you like a fat kid loves cake/ You know my style I say anything to make you smile.”

Indeed what anybody listening can hear is personality coming through. 50 Cent is a tough man with no reason to sugar coat his words. He has been shot 9 times and claims to have been on the other end of the gun as well. That why when he raps the song “Many Men (Wish Death)” — a song about his enemies wanting him dead — you believe him. 50 Cent comes with real street credibility.

Put on the backburner by the late Run-D. M. C. member Jam Master J, 50 Cent released tracks basically on his own to independent DJs and bootleggers on the sidewalks of New York. That’s where 50 Cent was befriended by Eminem and Dre, but that’s also where he made his enemies.

“I’m back in the game Shorty to rule and conquer/ you sing for [explicative] and sound like the cookie monster,” raps 50 Cent on back down, glibly attacking Ja Rule and his more pop-friendly rap style. Bad boy 50 Cent attacks Ja Rule as a comedic lightweight.

The irony, though, is that 50 may become just as familiar to radio and MTV as Ja Rule. Although he is not the most carefree of rappers, the beats on “Get Rich”…are very accessible. Add to this, songs featuring Nate Dogg and Eminem, two men not foreign to the mainstream rap scene. 50 Cent, a man who lived in and for underground popularity, probably will not be able to avoid a mainstream presence on the radio.

But this is not necessarily a bad thing. With good beats from a good production team and rap from a proclaimed “bad man” that is real and entertaining, hearing 50 Cent on the radio or on your CD player for a while is nothing to be disappointed about.


03.03 Your Show of shows

Riotous ‘Mr. Show’ leaves no medium untouched

If, as the cliché goes, “Laughter is the best medicine,” then Mr. Show may just be the cure for the madness of final exams or any stress that ails you. Check your local video emporium, bookstore or library for title availability.

Mr. Show – Seasons 1 & 2 (DVD)

The same Boston comedy scene of the early ’90’s that spawned Worcester’s Denis Leary and bad boy Joe Rogan of “NewsRadio” and “Fear Factor” also produced David Cross, one half of the unconventional duo known as Mr. Show. With former “SNL” writer Bob Odenkirk, with whom Cross had worked on the Emmy-winning but very short-lived “The Ben Stiller Show” in 1992, the pair put together a live act, and by 1995, was ready to hit the airwaves. The show, which ran a respectable four seasons on HBO, featured some of the most innovative and daring sketch pieces since Monty Python (okay, since Kids in the Hall, at least.)

This 2-disc set features every episode from the first two seasons, including “The New KKK”, which features black men in white robes frolicking to a catchy new jingle, and “Jeepers Creepers: Semi-Star”, a brilliantly staged slacker musical featuring Jack Black of Shallow Hal and Tenacious D infamy.

Not releasing all four seasons at once will leave fans both new and old wanting more, though this first batch, which features of some of the smartest writing in decades, is packed with delights that are not always caught the first time out, making it ripe for repeat viewings. (Fans who still lament the untimely passing of “The Ben Stiller Show”, rejoice – Warner Brothers is releasing all 12 episodes, plus the unaired 13th episode, on DVD this spring.)

Mr. Show – What Happened?!

Before Naomi Odenkirk, wife of Mr. Show’s straight-laced half, Bob, set out to produce his directorial debut, Melvin Goes To Dinner, she compiled this incredibly comprehensive account of the renegade duo’s origins and rise to prominence. With the exception of the unreleased Mr. Show movie and bootlegger’s favorite, Run Ronnie Run, she leaves no stone unturned, detailing not only the circumstances that led up to the convergence of Bob and David, but itemizing each sketch of each episode with obsessive relish, meticulous care for which fans will surely be grateful.

While other writers might have just focused on the two stars of the show, Ms. Odenkirk wisely pays tribute to the thankless cadre that made up the supporting cast and writing team, as well, many of whom still work with Bob and David. For more on Mr. Show (and the ongoing Run Ronnie Run debacle), point your browser toward

David Cross – Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! (CD)

Part of the reason that ’60’s counterculture icon Lenny Bruce is remembered is because he not only shattered taboos, but also challenged his audience to reexamine why certain subjects were so off-limits in the first place. This double-disc release from Mr. Show’s David Cross illustrates why he, too, may be remembered in much the same way. Cross, who presently narrates Fox’s new “Wonder Years” wannabe, “Oliver Beene”, unleashes his personal brand of sarcastic wit, unapologetically riffing on subjects such as the Catholic Church (suggesting that God molests children by proxy) and 9/11 (noting that George Bush was the same idiot he was on 9/10). The angry yet thoughtful timbre with which Cross delivers his material is more like that of a spoken word performance artist like Jello Biafra or Henry Rollins and less like shtick-dependent stand-up. It may prove too confrontational for some, though Cross himself will be the first one to tell you that while safe and toothless may get you on Leno, it probably won’t get you remembered. This enhanced CD features an extended Quicktime trailer of the upcoming live DVD.


01.03 The seriously inventive sound of Nine Volt Superhero

Debut EP to be released this spring

You could call Nine Volt Superhero a Wormtown super group of sorts. But while most super groups fail to capture the sum of their members, Nine Volt Superhero is an example of how musicians from very different backgrounds can come together and push each other forward in a new direction.

Guitarist and vocalist Pete DeGraff logged his time playing bass in bands like Halobox, Cast Iron Hike (a band that was king of the New England all ages hardcore circuit), and Villain. While DeGraff and guitarist Liam Sullivan were doing horror rock with Villain, bassist Jon Plet was making pop-punk with Puddle, and drummer Ed Barnett was pounding out Who covers with the tribute band Substitute, warped folk with Bob Jordan, and groove music with the Cartridge Family.

For Ed, the seriously inventive sound of Nine Volt Superhero is a long way from imitating Keith Moon every night. It’s also the first time he’s sung lead, and it puts him among a rather ominous cast of drummer-vocalists. “Fuck Phil Collins, and fuck Don Henley,” he laughs when comparisons are made. “Drumming and singing seems to most folks like a circus act. But there was Karen Carpenter.”

“People like us for our front man,” jokes Liam — having a singing drummer means they don’t have one. It also means that Nine Volt Superhero have a lead vocalist with a soaring voice. While an early demo showed the band leaning towards an instrumental math rock direction (“Math rock for idiots” cracks Ed), the band now uses vocals nearly all of its tunes, and is heading into more uncharted territory.

The two things most apparent on the songs that have been recorded for Nine Volt Superhero’s debut EP — a 25 minute affair set to be released this spring — is how important dynamics are for the band. Taking its artistic, if not necessarily musical cue from both classic rock and 80s heroes like the Cure, each tune stretches across a wide range of sounds and textures.

Although they’re favorites at the Lucky Dog and have successfully trekked out to Buffalo, Providence and Boston, the band has so far spent more time in the studio than playing out live. While many Wormtown bands play out several times a month, Nine Volt Superhero have barely played six gigs in the two years they’ve been together. “That should change once we have a really solid disc we can send out,” says Jon, who movie fans will instantly recognize as the longtime Starship Video employee with the hip taste in hats.

Pete is the Lucky Dog’s resident sound man and one of the most respected knob turners in town, so its no surprise that he’s taking his time with the group’s disc in between projects other bands hire him for. “I keep figuring I need some new piece of equipment, and by the time it comes I’m waiting for something else,” he says.

Another distinguishing feature is that both on record and live, Nine Volt Superhero is a band that lets you hear all the words. It’s a fresh approach in a day when most bands seem to write lyrics only to have them drowned out by super-cranked amps. “I just like music where you can hear the words,” says Ed. The result is music that’s both passionate and interesting.

For Ed, the seriously inventive sound of Nine Volt Superhero is a long way from imitating Keith Moon every night.

Another distinguishing feature is that both on record and live, Nine Volt Superhero is a band that lets you hear all the words. It’s a fresh approach in a day when most bands seem to write lyrics only to have them drowned out by super-cranked amps.