Downtown Worcester has never really been known for its restaurant scene. Sure, there’s a few places to grab lunch, but after 5 PM it’s usually a ghost town.
It’s not that anyone hadn’t tried to bring nightlife to the heart of our city either. A while back 55 Pearl opened up, but couldn’t sustain the lack of foot traffic (or any traffic) that Main St. serves up after the sun goes down. Irish times closed down, Woosta pizza moved acrossed the street and no one could find it anymore, McFadden’s Mcfaded away, and even the Galleria closed its doors. For a while, downtown seemed like it was destined to be just a bunch of empty buildings.
With time comes change, and change has brought a new life to downtown. The Citizen, Armsby Abbey, The Muse, Bull Mansion, Rice Violet, and Deadhorse Hill are all leading the way to what I hope becomes a revitalization of the dining and nightlife in downtown Worcester.
With its industrial look, farm fresh menu, and unique vibe Deadhorse Hill has definitely made its impact on the food culture of downtown.
Sourcing locally, changing the menu seasonally, and being cooler than the ice behind the bar is now the norm if you want to open up a place anywhere north of chandler on the main drag.
Parking is still a little rough downtown and on a Friday night when the Palladium has a show going on, finding a decent place to park is a bit of a challenge. I managed to find a place a few blocks over, and in no time at all I found myself sitting at the bar ordering a cocktail.
The bar serves as a cafe and lunch counter during the day, and at night offers up a place to sit while waiting for a table. The dual purpose space really works well, and the need to keep your doors open from lunch till dinner in downtown is crucial — kudos to them for thinking things through.
The bar spans just about the length of the dining room. It’s filled with vintage bottles of liquor, LED lighting, and a variety of mismatched cocktail glasses. It’s definitely impressive, and clearly meant to be the focal point of the dining room.
The cocktail, beer, and wine list gathers interesting and different varieties of drafts and spirits you might not have heard of, but will definitely want to try. The bartender took great care in crafting my Old Fashion and it was perfect.
Now onto the menu and arguably my biggest gripe with my experience at Dead Horse.
We know you guys are edgy, hip, and ahead of all the trends when it come to food, but not all of us are. The menu at Dead Horse reads more like an ingredient list rather than your traditional menu. Its starts off listing the options of “small”, “pasta”, “large”, and then “also”. Of course we all know that “small” = apps., “pasta” = is well pasta, “large” = entrees, and “also” can be assumed to be snacks or tapas. So they should just say that. There’s no need to make anyone play some cryptic word game when ordering diner.
I started my evening with an order of wild hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. If you’re wondering what that is, don’t worry — I was too. To me, anyway you serve a mushroom whether it be roasted or sauteed it’s going to be good, so it didn’t bother me that there was no other description. The mushrooms came out sauteed in a good amount of flavorful herbed oil and were absolutely delicious. I then moved on to my second course Fried brassicas.
Again if you’re reading this and wondering what the heck is fried brassica you’d be well within your intellectual rights not knowing what it is. Brassica species and varieties commonly used for food include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, choy sum, rutabaga, turnip and some seeds used in the production of canola oil and the condiment mustard. Just say fried broccoli. Your chef comes off as a pompous know it all when he uses words like brassica instead of broccoli. I guarantee that the kitchen would have sold twice the amount of orders that night if they had just changed a simple word.
Beyond the language used to describe this dish, it was incredible. Fried but not battered, beautiful crowns of broccoli laid atop a silky puree of Israeli hummus. This dish could easily have been a meal of its own. A vegetarians dream. So flavorful and crispy the broccoli had this chard, fried flavor that was mellowed out by the lemon and herbs laid atop a authentic mediterranean hummus.
Surprisingly, for the season I thought there were too many seafood option for entrees. After all the fish I ate this summer, I decided to go with the aged duck breast. Again, just like my other two choices, no description on how it was to be prepared, or sauces that might accompany the dish, so I put my trust in the chef and waited patiently.
Once my meal came out I was very pleased with its presentation. A towering dish of light pink duck breast was placed before me. The center of the duck breast had been cooked perfectly and fanned out atop an enormous and delicious potato croquette smothering a pile of braised greens.
The outside of the duck breast, however, had quite a thick cap of fat and skin. It was rendered to a nice golden color, but I wished it had been rendered a little more. It could have been a bit crunchier, the thick layer of skin made the breast chewy to the bite. The flavors and techniques used in preparation where all outstanding and translated through well to the dish. Overall, it was a very delicious end to a wonderful diner.
The Bottom Line:
The food is outstanding. My only qualm with the menu is the language and descriptions. Deadhorse hill uses fresh, local ingredients and doesn’t over complicate their dishes with ingredients you’ve never heard of, if written in layman’s terms. The ingredients are all pretty basic but get distorted by over the top chef lingo.
Service was wonderful. The bartender and staff all looked pretty relaxed and could offer up a suggestion of their favorite menu items or cocktails without a second of hesitation. They also offer up bread baked across the way from crust before your meal, and a small treat to refresh your palate when they deliver the check. It’s the little things, that really make the diner experience more pleasurable
Atmosphere and ambience
Both get a high score in my book. I’m a sucker for the that modern industrial look. Funky art and paintings that grab your attention, vintage bar nick nacks, and bold light fixtures all add tot that elegant city night vibe.
The cocktails are all priced accordingly well, and the “also” category serves up rather inexpensive bar snacks. Apps and pastas are a little pricey but well worth the local and fresh taste. The entrees are all on the higher end of the spectrum. With a majority of seafood and steak making up the dinners, finding something under 30$ is a challenge. They even offer a hung, dry aged prime rib dinner for 110$.
I wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone who isn’t adventurous culinary-wise or on a limited budget. To everyone else, the price reflects the quality and skill, set forth by the staff to deliver a pleasurable dining experience.