Do you ever sit down at a restaurant and wonder why you aren’t eating in a train station? Well, stop. From the group that brought you The Maki Express, a bus stop-themed sushi place, comes Kingston Station—the most true-to-life train station dining experience in the Greater Boston area. Step in and you’re immediately whisked away to an evening commute. You might feel the need to fight through the horde, yelling, “Back away. I’m tired and hungry.” But it won’t be necessary. Allow the nice conductor to seat you. Can’t find a seat? Better grab a handrail—the restaurant’s foundation has been altered with a $4 million machine designed to simulate abrupt stops. So if you’re the type of person who loves eating in train stations but has yet to find the prime skirt steak button on the train station’s vending machine, keep reading. A new era in train station cuisine has arrived.
Originally built in 1879, the building at 25 Union Street stood for nearly a century as an industrial bastion in downtown Worcester. When the last manufactures moved out in the 1970s, Robert "Gus" Giordano had an idea: convert the ruggedly beautiful interior into an upscale restaurant, preserving the historical building and ensuring that he would not be eating in there by himself everyday. Inhabiting the former screw-machine department, Maxwell-Silverman's Toolhouse ensconces diners in industrial elegance, with a ceiling crisscrossed with heating pipes, a floor dotted with oblong railroad ties, and cozy illumination courtesy of more than 40 vintage pool-hall lights.
Nestled in Union Station, Luciano's Restaurant transports diners back to the 1920s and '30s with walls covered in vintage photos and framed newsprints detailing the escapes of legendary gangsters. The refined indoor dining room features plush white seating and lush, flowery carpeting, while outdoor tables allow patrons to enjoy the sun or taunt slugs with salt shakers. Free parking is available at both locations.
When Harvard and M.I.T. students need a study break, the glowing neon signs of Charlie’s Kitchen guide them to salvation. Usually, that salvation lies in the double cheeseburger—a Charlie’s staple—served with a choice of classic, beer-battered, waffle, or sweet potato fries, or fried green beans. The towering stack of meat is but one favorite from the '50s-style diner's menu. Burgers come in 11 other forms, including the ever-popular double lobster roll, while an entire section devoted to meat-free dishes sates vegetarians. Diners can even pick a live lobster from the tank for an opulent seafood feast. Whether hungry or not, guests can always grab a beer and head upstairs to the lounge, where a jukebox, weekly live music, karaoke, and trivia keeps crowds entertained. They can also savor 18 draft brews in the beer garden, which, like an exhibitionist oyster, stays open year-round.
Charlie’s Kitchen not only invites guests to enjoy nature all year, but also does its part to protect it. Three of its cars run on veggie oil, its dishwasher is solar powered, and it recycles or composts much of its trash.
Jenn and Donny have long accepted their elitist take on coffee. As college students and self-professed coffee snobs who both worked in the food industry, they bemoaned a lack of sophisticated brews and attentive service, finally deciding that innovation would be the best form of protest. They dreamt up their own café where the beans would be freshly micro-roasted, the cocoa would incorporate three types of chocolate, and every drink would be handmade by the same person who took your order. The resulting venue, Coffee Break Cafe, lined its menu with libations of all temperatures and caffeinated creeds.
The café's house blend hails from locales such as Sumatra, Colombia, Africa, and South America and is shipped from specialty roasters who prep the beans in small batches. Jenn and Donny's commitment to coffee quality is matched by their enthusiasm for the natural world—they stock organic and fair-trade options, as well as dairy products from a hormone-free farm. Though they stand by meticulous barista techniques, they are hardly sugar-shunning purists. They readily infuse hot and frozen drinks with dessert flavors, ranging from red velvet cupcake to cinnamon bun, crafting a far superior breakfast sweet than grapefruit pie. Bagels and pastries, delivered daily by neighborhood bakeries, balance out refreshing sips. The morning hotspot's communal spirit is reflected in hanging pictures by local artists, live music, and complimentary story readings for kids.
Inside the multi-level restaurant, Sweet Caroline's servers tote plates of handcrafted American fare from chef Joshua Smith's American gastro-pub menu. Sandwiches include Caroline's grass-fed bacon cheeseburger on a brioche bun, while larger plates feature pan-seared salmon filets with spring pea puree. The full bar exemplifies the restaurant's rustic, yet modern décor with its reclaimed barn-wood accents and flat-screen, high-definition TVs.
Hot Table fires up grills for all three daily meals with its menu of crisp salads, coffee drinks, and handmade paninis ($5.99 for small, $8.29 for large), which combine artisan breads with fresh ingredients and bake to melty perfection on hot table grills. Treat taste buds to dairy triumvirates with a three-cheese chicken panini, which smothers roasted chicken and salami with provolone, shaved parmesan, and blue cheese. Diners can customize their own paninis or revel in the preconceived meatiness of the swiss-steak mushroom melt. Until 10:30 a.m., Hot Table features breakfast paninis ($3.99)— such as the Vermont, a hodgepodge of sausage, cheddar cheese, and maple syrup—which go smashingly with dark roast coffee ($1.75), chai tea lattes ($2.95), or perfectly timed rimshots. Fans of fork usage can leaf through a Southwest salad ($6.99), loaded with jalapeños, crispy onions, and chipotle dressing.