lettuce cup From Niche Test Kitchen in Worcester

For the 50th Foodies get together, we gathered in the Niche Hospitality Group’s Test Kitchen. The first time event entitled “Nose to Tail” offered a number of pig tastings from each of the Niche restaurants. Each restaurant provided 2 test items of pork dishes from bratwurst with pickled vegetables, to a spiced spread of head cheese and even pork with an oyster on a half shell. The menu items were selected as trial pieces for the restaurants, which meant that we, as Foodies, had a large task at hand, to help taste and critique the items that could even appear on future menus of the Niche locations.

I walked into the Test Kitchen, not really knowing what to expect, but was delighted to see that we were in an actual kitchen! The space was occupied by shiny prep tables, ovens, stove tops and some of the top chefs at their craft for these Worcester hot spots. The cocktail inspired setting also featured a few pub tables in stools which was perfect for the bite sized hors-d’oeuvre menu and also for mingling with the other foodies. To pair with the trial food was also a bar menu that included mixed drinks and wines that has been selected for our input as well. I went for the Riesling which was actually drier than I normally would have had, but it was nice, and still had a good sweetness to it. The Sangria was also an absolute must and with spring finally here, this refreshing fruit drink was made up of all things that makes me think about warm nights laughing with friends. Everything felt like an exclusive party, something where you had to know someone to get in, and that was the most exciting part for me. Along, with trying to determine what my favorite menu item would be, it also was so great to see how everything was prepped and getting to talk to so many different people in the industry. Chef Rogers even was kind enough to eliminate all tree nuts from some of the items so that I could try absolutely everything, which made me feel so special!

Now for the important part, the food. Given there were about a dozen things to try, I have narrowed my favorites down to the Spiced Pork Spread, Lettuce Cups, Oaxacan Chorizo Tacos and for dessert the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cheesecake. The Spice Pork spread was definitely the most “out there” menu item for me as it was a pork pate made from head cheese paired with pickled mustard seed and toasted baguettes, along with some delicious local cheeses. Once I was able to get passed the thought of eating meat from the head of the pig, it was actually quite wonderful. The lettuce cups were fresh and crunchy romaine wraps with crispy pork, shallots, and blue cheese. The tangy blue cheese it was really made this for me and the pork was so tender and juicy. Also, by putting it all on the lettuce wrap, really made it feel more guilt free. The Chorizo Tacos were definitely my number. I am a huge fan of tacos to begin with, so I was very excited for these especially, but the matching of ingredients was wonderful. The corn specifically was a really nice touch and something I had never considered putting in my taco, but with the pickled radish and cilantro it really added great contrast to the spicy beef. The homemade corn tortilla was perfect and nicely warmed. Now for dessert, well, this is where I got really excited because the chef left the cashews out of my portion so I could try the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cheesecake. And oh my goodness, I am so glad he did! The creamy and smooth cheesecake with chocolate would be wonderful by itself, but the ancho chile powder, which originally made me really nervous, was amazing! It added the perfect smoky flavor and cut down on the ultra sweet dessert to make it more savory and not totally overpowering.

All in all, I am really looking forward to these items popping up on the Niche menus in the near future. I think they will be wonderful additions to what are already very creative and tasty menus, and I will definitely bringing my friends out to taste test them all.