If you’ve ever read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, you probably rethought the idea of Sunday brunch, even for a split second. The acerbic TV personality denounced the whole tradition as “an open invitation to the cost-conscious chef, a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights” and “punishment block for the B team cooks.”
Tony has clearly never had brunch at Worcester’s Armsby Abbey.
Where to start? Here’s Armsby Abbey in a few bullet points:
- They believe in “slow food.” Farm-to-table cooking has become majorly trendy in the past five or so years. But this is the real deal – farmstead cheeses sourced from all over New England (including selections from my absolute favorite cheesemakers, Cato Corner in Colchester, CT) meats and eggs from farms and dairies in Worcester County, house-baked breads and craft cocktails with fresh-pressed juices and house-infused spirits.
- It’s a mecca for beer geeks.Here’s the most recent tap list. And here’s the writeup in Draft magazine, naming Armsby Abbey as one of the country’s 100 best beer bars.
- Brunch is an event.The restaurant just happened to be taking reservations for smaller parties this past Sunday, because of Valentine’s Day. The place was absolutely jumping when we walked in – every table and seat at the bar was filled.
But when “brunch” means dishes like quiche with roasted leeks and Great Hill blue cheese; Belgian sugar waffle with Ommegang Abbey Ale, dried fruit and bourbon compote and salted bacon whipped cream; and stuffed French toast made with honey-oatmeal bread, chocolate-hazelnut-cherry mascarpone cheese filling, espresso infused whipped cream and cultured butter…yeah, you’d get your ass in a seat ASAP, too.
I like my breakfast savory, for the most part. So I gravitated right to the Croque Madame (pictured above,) an open-faced sandwich with practically a whole pig’s worth of applewood-smoked ham, melted Gruyere and sharp Vermont cheddar on housemade ale bread with Dijon aioli. The pile of decadence was topped with a beautiful fried local egg and served with a lemony lentil salad on the side.
Sometimes there just aren’t any words to express the rush of pleasure with that first bite. Sometimes all you can do is keen or moan and take a sip of the beer perfectly matched with your entree. Oh, did I mention all the brunch dishes have beer pairing suggestions? Mine was Oppigard’s Well Hopped Lager, a small-batch lager from Sweden.
Rob also took the savory route, with this chicken-and-hash plate:
House-roasted chicken from a Vermont farm, root vegetable and kale hash on top of velvety creamy polenta and topped with the same local fried egg. Great blend of flavors. It got me thinking about potential at-home polenta recipes. (Beer pairing: De la Senne Zinnebier)
Our server was excellent. Despite the packed house and the plates flying out of the kitchen left and right, she somehow perfectly timed it so our beers arrived at the table one beat before our entrees. We were impressed.
Cocktails are a huge draw at the bar, too: I watched the bartender fix at least a dozen craft Bloody Marys, several with strips of bacon as garnish. The “Bloody Mary bar” allows guests to choose from 8 flavored/infused vodkas, tequilas or gin, plus a variety of house-pickled vegetables as toppers. It made me wish I actually liked Bloodys.
There’s also bacon-infused bourbon, luxurious mimosas and prosecco blends, spiced sangria and two drinks that could probably pass as dessert: a Bananas Foster rum cocktail and an Angel Food Cake martini with a shredded coconut rim. And unlike many farm-to-table restaurants who draw the line at serving New England wines, Armsby has local bottles from Sharpe Hill (Pomfret, CT) and Westport Rivers (Westport, MA.) Like I said, they’re the real deal.
My one and only gripe: the high-top table with stools instead of backed chairs. So minor, but I hatehatehate feeling like I’m tipping backward when I’m eating. Not to mention, nowhere to hang my purse.
But, real talk: If we’re being upfront here, my only real issue with Armsby Abbey is that it’s not in my backyard.
Armsby Abbey, 144 Main Street, Worcester, MA. 508.795.1012, armsbyabbey.com.