Food is medicine. At an unprecedented moment of municipal economic growth and global health decline, there are plenty of days when all I want to do is hunker down with a cheesecake and watch what happens. Luckily, Worcester has a lot to offer in the comfort cuisine department. I believe it’s important to allow ourselves the small pleasures in life. Here are a few consistent local spots, perfect for hiding out to nosh amidst the drudgery of yet another pandemic winter.

Bean Counter Bakery Cafe

270 Grove St., Worcester, MA 01605

Everyone has a Friday after-work routine. Mine used to include a cold beer at the local watering hole with my colleagues, but ever since COVID, I’ve sought out more solitary alternatives. Now, my favorite end-of-the-week reward comes in pastry form. I have Bean Counter Bakery to thank for that.

I’ve been visiting Bean Counter since I was a little girl when I would accompany my mom on the weekends for “study dates.” Back then, she was cramming for college exams, and I was conquering coloring books. Mom always let me order a fancy gourmet hot chocolate and a treat. I favored the lemon tart.

Sweets from Bean Counter Bakery Cafe are the perfect comfort food. Photo by Sarah Connell Sanders.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed a new Bean Counter outpost opening up shop on Grove Street along my route to work. I took it as a sign. The dessert case was calling me. 

Bean Counter’s mini cheesecakes are my favorite Friday indulgence. I am especially fond of the chocolate strawberry varietal, which sometimes only makes it halfway home. 

Armsby Abbey

144 Main St., Worcester, MA 01608

I worked as a server at Armsby Abbey from 2013-2018. During that time, dishes came and went from the menu nearly every day with one exception: the mac and cheese. 

Armsby Abbey’s elite cheese offerings definitely contributed to their superior take on an American classic. During my tenure, the mac and cheese always had a Vermont cheddar base, but the remnants of tangy chevre, smoky blue, and unctuous brie might find their way into the mix after taking stock of whatever farmstead cheeses the cooks had in-house. Likewise, the recipe included an IPA which could rotate depending on the draft list. 

On my last shift at the Abbey, as a closing gesture, the executive chef offered to make me anything I wanted from the kitchen. I thought about the bone marrow or a big bowl of handmade pappardelle. In the end, nothing felt more fitting than an order of mac and cheese with a side of jerk sauce, so spicy that it was practically hallucinatory. 

These days, nine times out of ten, I visit Armsby Abbey with the express purpose of trying something new. But on the occasion I need a hug or a vacation, I find the next best thing is usually a bowl of Armsby mac and cheese. 

Chashu Ramen & Izakaya

38 Franklin St., Worcester, MA 01608

Unlike my other suggestions, Chashu Ramen & Izakaya is a new addition to Worcester’s dining scene. Walk across the common, past the ice skaters and the twinkling lights of City Hall, and it won’t be long before you stumble upon nourishing bowls of ramen and sumptuous steamed pork buns. Little plates of charcoal grilled beef tenderloin and chicken thighs sizzle on sticks. Frigid winter evenings practically demand it.

The restaurant itself feels like an escape from reality. Murals envelop the walls paying homage to the anime flicks broadcasted on monitors across the bar. An open kitchen allows guests to peer into the hectic activity taking place on Chashu’s line. For an extra layer of warmth, ask your server to make a recommendation from Chashu’s extensive sake collection or order a cup of matcha for yourself. Both can be expertly paired with Kasutado egg custard streusel. 

Don’t go to Chashu with a grab-and-go mentality. Everything is made to order and ticket times reflect the amount of effort put into each dish. When it comes to comfort food, your enjoyment should not be rushed.


Sarah Connell Sanders is a correspondent for the Worcester Chamber. The Chamber Exchange editorial team can be reached by email here.

This story was originally published in the February 2022 edition of Chamber Exchange: The Newspaper, a quarterly publication of the Chamber. All newspaper editions are archived here.