WORCESTER - There's a place where you can start your meal with a plate of crispy Buffalo Chicken Wontons, move on to a Philly Cheesesteak and finish it off with an Italian Semifreddo. This place is known as The Flying Rhino Cafe & Watering Hole in Worcester.
"The rhino flies around the world; he gets any menu he wants, any recipe he wants and brings it back," explained owner Paul Barber. "We do a new menu every six months, and it's from his adventures out there that we find great recipes."
If it sounds like Paul is a little crazy, that's because he just might be; but along with Executive Chef Christopher O'Harra, he's created a restaurant so wonderfully wacky that you can't help but love it.
"There's a method to our madness," Paul promised. "It's really just funky, cool, artsy, light, not pretentious at all. It's whimsical."
It's hard to tell what's more whimsical here at the Flying Rhino: the ever-changing, always eclectic menu; or the restaurant's décor, marked by bright colors, towering artwork and a giant rhino head.
Once you adjust to the atmosphere, it's time to settle into the menu where you'll find classic cultural dishes like Bayou Shrimp and Andouille Sausage served over roasted red peppers and creamy polenta grits, as well as some funky fusions like the Korean Short Rib Tacos topped with radish kimchi and spicy pepper aioli.
There are Tuna Stackers boasting fresh yellowfin, chunky guacamole and cucumber salad, Buffalo Chicken Wontons stuffed with bleu cheese and served with homemade buttermilk ranch, and Sweet Potato Poutine layered with thin fries, pulled pork, cheddar cheese curds and gravy.
"You're thinking to yourself, 'How do these flavors come together?' But then you bite into it, and you go, 'Oh my god. It's delicious,' said Chef Christopher.
Most of these creations can be found in the appetizer section, and staff encourages you to try them all, offering three different sizes.
"We have a bite, doublebite and superbite," Chris explained. "The bite is enough for two people to share. The double bite is good for a little larger party, four or five. And then the superbite is good for upwards of eight to ten to twelve people."
Entrees may not come with a supersized option, but the flavors are just as plentiful. For classic American cuisine, Flying Rhino offers a variety of burgers. The standard is the Rhino Burger topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and cheese on a hand-packed patty.
"It's not real rhino meat because that'd be illegal," Paul said, "but it is the best burger in Worcester."
For something more creative, try the Cowboy Burger stacked with bacon and fried onion strings, then smothered in barbecue sauce.
"When you're out on the range, you gotta have barbecue sauce and bacon," Paul stated, "and it's to die for."
There are also sandwiches like Slow Roasted Beef, caramelized onions, pepper jack cheese and a dab of wasabi cream, and the Ivory Tusk, a chicken cheesesteak Paul and Christopher say is better than anything you'll find in Philly.
"A good cheesesteak is that it has to be sliced thin. It's gotta have that flavor of the grill coming off into the chicken that's seasoned right, and it's gotta have that good, cheesy flavor," Paul described.
"It's so simple; it's so delicious. It's the best cheesesteak you will ever have," promised Christopher.
While Philadelphians love their cheesesteaks, New Englanders hold lobster rolls to a high standard. But here, you'll find a lobster sandwich that's anything but traditional: the Lobster BLT.
"I think it's something people don't even think about doing because they think, 'Oh lobster rolls gotta be New England lobster roll," said Paul. "This really is a marriage of two great things - the BLT and lobster. It's real lobster, who doesn't love bacon, lettuce and tomato? Looks great and tastes even better."
If you don't want your main meal served between two slices of bread, there's the Black Cherry Duck over decadent Parmesan polenta cakes; Korean-Style Short Ribs with crunchy cabbage and udon noodles topped with a fried egg; and the Sticky Pork, made with tangy hoisin glaze, wasabi-ginger-carrot puree and light zucchini pasta. This dish is definitely one of Worcester's best.
"It creates flavors and a combination that you wouldn't expect," Christopher said.
There's a lot you wouldn't expect about the Flying Rhino, and though it may look a little wild, Paul says it's really quite simple.
"It's about friends, family, enjoying a good time, being entertained, and really experiencing something new, something comfortable and something fun."
You can find the Flying Rhino at 278 Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, and online at flyingrhinocafe.com.
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