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LEOMINSTER — If we’ve learned anything about dining in Central Massachusetts it is this: if Bill Brady’s involved, it’s going to be extraordinary. He was the concept-man – chef at the outstanding Sonoma restaurants of Princeton and the Beechwood Hotel in Worcester. It never fails, when I dine at Bill Brady’s restaurants, I taste something new; learn something new; and leave with a great dining experience.
Now he’s come home, literally, to his native Leominster and put his name on a restaurant project of his own. When we finally made the trip to Leominster for dinner at Brady’s we found Bill and his wife, Kim, relieved to have the volatility of pandemic disruptions behind them and ready to serve dinner from an exciting menu.
We began our exploration of that menu with oysters on the half shell.
Four oysters, each nestled on a bed of rock-salt, were elegantly lined up, single file, on a long rectangular serving dish and separated by half-slices of lemon.
I approached my first oyster with analytical curiosity and encountered a mixture of creamy sauce topped with a tracing of cheese slightly browned under the broiler. Beneath that, finely chopped greens and small chunks of tasso ham lent smoky-salt tones that, assuredly, did not overwhelm the flavor of tender oyster meat, still clinging to the shell.
Dropping the scientific approach, I let myself appreciate my second oyster in total; the subtle union of flavors was trademark Bill Brady.
As I had scanned through the menu, it occurred to me that I would have been happy with any of the entrees; the breast of duck served with rhubarb compote stood out. However, it was the Crab Boil of soft-shell crabs that really grabbed my attention. It’s so rare to find soft-shell crabs on a menu in Massachusetts where king lobster dominates.
Brady’s chef lightly breaded and deep-fried two large soft-shell crabs and served them over a tomato-based broth studded with chunks of red bliss potato and kernels of roasted corn. The crabs were surrounded with steamed-open cherry stone clams that contributed their flavorful juices. The menu listed andouille sausage but tonight’s crab boil was flavored with large chunks of tasso ham – an ideal replacement that contributed smoky spice to the peppery broth.
But the crabs! Their thick bodies and claws yielded ample chunks of tender meat that was snow-white and shredded apart, moist with that classic crab flavor. Their thin shells crackled beneath the golden-brown breading. I don’t say this to get some shellfish feud going, but whenever I have soft-shell, I wonder why people go through all the labor of cracking king crab legs.
True to tradition, I matched my entrée with a glass of beer, in this case Moonhill Brewing Company’s tribute: Brady’s Brew, a clear IPA that could make coverts out of all those bitter-averse lager drinkers.
My friend’s entree, “Boneless Korean Short Ribs,” came served over a mound of purple sticky rice and kimchi. The portion of eight slices of rib meat (yeah, I counted) was thickly drizzled with miso aioli. The meat was tender and darkened with Korean spices, each fatty-moist and packed with meaty flavor. In his opinion, the dish called for just a bit more of that flavor-contrasting kimchi.
We ended our meal by sharing a portion of flourless chocolate cake that was classically served warm and gooey and garnished with artful swirls of chocolate sauce and a small sphere of vanilla ice cream. In this case, dessert seemed fitting; it unified all these deliciously diverse flavors.
Pandemic epilogue: after a year of home cooking in semi-isolation punctuated by sometimes-mangled takeout experiences, I’ve wondered if the dining culture that took so long to nurture in Worcester could be resurrected.
An evening at Brady’s helped to answer that question with warm hospitality, robust flavors, and impressive presentation. It felt like a welcome return to normal.
True, there’s wide-spread concern over reassembling kitchen staffs who were sent home a year ago and now find themselves wielding a bit more power in the labor market. I trust that these issues will establish new balancing points.
In the meantime, though, these labor concerns have reminded me of when I started out in the backroom of restaurant kitchens scrubbing pots and operating dishwashers. The restaurant caste system was acutely real to me, especially when I’d open my pay check and see how little my sixty-hour workweek was worth.
We should never forget to appreciate the entire team responsible for our dining experience.
The contact info/address of Brady’s is as follows:
37 Mechanic Street, Leominster, MA
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