111 Lives Up to Its Billing!

The Boston Sunday Globe
By Vanessa Parks

When 111 Chop House first opened, a billboard on Route 290 in Worcester said something like, “For a great steak, Exit 15. Otherwise, take I-95 into New York.” A year later, the restaurant has lived up to its billing.

A recent 12-ounce filet mignon ($22.99) was, simply, perfection. Tender and flavorful, it melted in one’s mouth. Though we haven’t had a steak in New York in awhile, we’re willing to bet that going that far wouldn’t get you a better one.

As the name implies, the Chop House is heavy on meat. (The “111” in the name is a reference to the street address.) The standard items on the menu are various steaks – roasted beef tenderloin ($22.99), veal rib chop ($22.99), barbecue rack of St. Louis Ribs and rack of lamb with honey Dijon crust ($24.99). And there are “signature entrees” that change weekly.

“We always have a duck dish, a shrimp and pasta dish, a short ribs kind of meal and a couple of pork items,” said Madeleine Ahlquist, who owns the restaurant along with husband, Robb. The Ahlquists have run the popular Sole Proprietor Seafood and Spirits in Worcester for years.

“It was always a goal to find another food group,” Madeleine said. “We just ventured out into the meat world.”

They razed a small neighborhood market and built their new restaurant from scratch. Peter Niemitz of Boston, whose credits include Clio, Tosca, Aquataine, Betty’s Wok and Noodle Diner and Not Your Average Joe’s in Watertown, designed the interior. The result is decidedly not like anything else in Worcester. There’s a lot of dark wood, and classic, understated chairs upholstered in dark red velvet. Huge colorful European prints cover the walls, as do small black and white photographs of jazz musicians.

Huge retro-yet-modern lights hang low over the dining area. It is undoubtedly the most attractive restaurant in Worcester.

“We wanted an upscale big city steakhouse kind of look,” Madeleine said.

They got it. But the restaurant also has big-city kinds of prices. Only three of the regular menu items are served with side dishes. Vegetables are extra, with prices ranging from $2.99 to $4.99. If you add, say, asparagus and potatoes to your meal, you’ve added $8 to the price of the dish. The weekly specials, with side dishes included, are reasonably priced.

All entrees are served with a choice of salad. We opted for the wonderful, and huge, house salad – crisp hearts of iceberg lettuce with blue-cheese dressing and tomatoes. Other choices are a field-greens salad or a marinated cherry tomato and Bermuda-onion salad. The Caesar salad, normally $4.99, is $2 with an entrée. Don’t bother paying the extra – the Caesar is fine but not a standout; it’s a bit heavy on the anchovies.

To the aforementioned filet mignon ($22.99), we added broccoli with hollandaise ($2.99) and au gratin potato ($3.99). The broccoli arrived at the table at room temperature at best, and the potatoes tasteless. Both sat uneaten, but the steak was so very good that it hardly mattered.

We also tried the roasted sliced beef tenderloin ($22.99), described on the menu as a Chop House classic. One of the menu choices that comes with vegetables, the beef is served with a beef reduction, over mashed potatoes with blue cheese, and with yellow and green zucchini. This meat, too, was tender and delicious. The mashed potatoes were good, too, though the taste of blue cheese was hard to detect.

Finally, we tried salmon Oscar ($18.99), “oven-baked salmon stuffed with crab meat,” and served with mashed potatoes and asparagus and red peppers, garnished with hollandaise sauce. Everything on this plate was mouth-watering. The salmon was fresh (one might expect nothing less from the owners of the Sole Proprietor), the mashed potatoes were delicious, the asparagus cooked perfectly.

Some of the other signature entrees available that week were braised lamb shank with white truffle and wild mushroom risotto ($16.99), and rainbow trout served with bacon and chive mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach, and white wine and caper butter ($16.99). For dessert, we tried apple brown betty a la mode, ($5.99), profiteroles ($5.99), and The Millennium Dessert ($7.99). The brown betty is a blend of cinnamon, apples, vanilla ice cream and a delectable brown sugar topping. The profiteroles, French vanilla ice cream served in a puff pastry shell and topped with chocolate sauce, were excellent; the rich chocolate sauce was especially good. And the Millennium Dessert is really a treat, to the eyes and tastebuds. A semisweet chocolate clock tower is served on raspberry puree filled with white chocolate mousse.

All the desserts are made on the premises, except the chocolate tower. And, since all the desserts are huge, we found we had made the right choice by passing on appetizers, enticing as they were. Some of the choices: barbecue duck ravioli ($5.99), oysters Rockefeller ($8.99), Irish smoked salmon ($5.99), roasted quail with cornbread stuffing and French lentils ($8.99), and a chilled seafood platter, with shrimp, oysters, clams, and mussels, ($16.99) – or add whole chilled lobster ($29.99).

We also passed on wine, but the Chop House has an impressive wine list, with prices ranging from $17 (Beringer White Zinfandel, 1998, among others) to $275 (Opus One, Napa, 1985). In all, there are about 250 wines on the list. “We love wine,” Madeleine Ahlquist said.

The 111 Chop House is a lovely addition to the restaurant renaissance occurring on Worcester’s Shrewsbury Street, a stone’s throw from the Centrum in the heart of one of the city’s Italian neighborhoods. If you go, make reservations. We waited 20 minutes on a Sunday night.