Readers Choice Spread

On Monday, Nov. 18 in the Granite Room at Wachusett Mountain, The Holden Landmark Corp. celebrated the winners of The Landmark and The Leominster Champion’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards. A special Thank You to Auntie Ellen’s Creative Confections, Athens Pizza, Black Diamond Restaurant at Wachusett Mountain,

Edible Arrangements, Gerardo’s Italian Bakery, Mexicali Fresh Mex Grill, Specialty Sandwich Co., Thai Island, Val’s Restaurant and Executive Chef Scott White for providing a delicious assortment of appetizers and desserts and The House Tones for providing the musical entertainment for the evening.

Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Val’s cooks up specials for Restaurant Week

By Sandy Meindersma CORRESPONDENT

Val James, owner of Val’s Restaurant, Holden, has created a special menu for Restaurant Week.


HOLDEN — Worcester’s Restaurant Week is heading to the suburbs. Val’s Restaurant on Reservoir Street is one of the nearly 50 restaurants participating in the event, and one of only a few not located in the city.

Aug. 3-14, patrons at any of the participating restaurants can choose a three-course dinner from a prix fixe (fixed-price) menu for $20.09 that includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert. The price, if you hadn’t noticed, is in honor of 2009.

Valerie James, Val’s owner, said that while most of her regular menu offers items for less than $20, she and her staff have developed a special menu for the week.

“We’re really excited to be participating in Restaurant Week,” Ms. James said. “We chose a beef, a pasta and a seafood entrée for the week.”

Ms. James said the beef is black diamond beef tips, with caramelized butter, mushrooms and onions, served with sweet potato fries. The pasta features sautéed chicken with sun-dried tomatoes served over fettuccine with a vodka pesto sauce with pecorino cheese grated on top. The seafood offering is salmon served with tomatoes and a basil vinaigrette sauce.

For appetizers, Val’s is offering a capri salad, also known as a caprese salad, with beefsteak tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, as well as Alaskan crab cakes and fried calamari.

To top everything off, there is apple crisp, made on-site with ice cream and homemade caramel sauce, strawberry cheesecake, or frozen sherbet with a strawberry sauce.

Ms. James said the restaurant is also offering a martini special, to help everyone get into the celebration mind-set.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” she said.


Recently, my Friday dining gang and I had an event later in the evening in Jefferson and that gave us the perfect reason to stop along Route 31 in Holden for some pre-event sustenance. I’d always wondered about what Val’s had to offer, and this was just the occasion to find out. As soon as we faced the challenge of finding a parking place it became apparent that most of Holden had shown up to dine with us. Dinner was very good and I decided to return soon to give Val’s a closer, more leisurely look.

On the weeknight my friend and I returned to Val’s it wasn’t as hectic as that previous Friday and we were immediately led to a booth in the main dining room. Jen, our server, welcomed us and took our drink order. It should be noted that on busy nights, waiting for a table is a pleasure in Val’s spacious, comfortable lounge; bowls of salty snacks are provided for nibbling as you talk with friends and anticipate the meal ahead.

Val’s previous incarnation was as a popular pizzeria in Holden; that history is still evident in the menu’s calzone and “specialty wraps” sections. But their current menu spirals toward extensive. Usually when I see such “menu reach” I steel myself for a freezer-to-microwave operation. However, that fear was laid to rest the moment our appetizer arrived.

We shared the Lobster & Artichoke Spinach Dip. A thick, savory sauce containing pieces of artichoke hearts and flecked with spinach was baked piping hot and sealed with a stretchy shell of melted cheese. Initially I watched my friend use one of the grilled flatbread wedges to haul out big chunks of lobster meat and feared I would get the short end of the lobster stick. Then I hit a lode of lobster claw meat! There was far more lobster than one would dare expect. Homemade? Decadent? Oh yeah! And easily enough for two.

We were off to an excellent start, especially when we paired the dip with the crisp apple and tropical fruit flavors of Oggi Pinot Grigio.

Then Jen brought a large plate of fresh garden salad layered with mixed greens, red onion and cucumber slices, grape tomatoes and black olives. Val’s stocks each table with a wine bottle of their own Italian dressing, allowing each diner as much dressing as they like. Herbal and zesty, on my previous visit even I enjoyed it on steaming hot yeasty buns.

My friend continued with Val’s Steak au Poivre entrée, classically inspired with a crust of cracked peppercorn and served with Dijon brandy cream sauce over baby greens. It was grilled exactly as ordered, juicy-pink in the middle and served with a baked potato outfitted with sour cream and plenty of butter. He thought the potato looked a bit small – but then anything seemed to shrink in the presence of my huge entrée.

I’d heard so much about the Fisherman’s Platter that I had to order it. The risks of the classic New England deep-fried seafood platter are many; most are too oily, some are primarily French fries with a veneer of seafood, and some are just…bad. But Val’s easily navigated from these treacherous shoals. Each of the fish ~ snow-white haddock filets, sweet whole belly clams and tender scallops ~ tasted as if it had been breaded and fried separately. Thus, each retained its individual delicate flavor.

One bonus of my daily running habit is a large appetite. But it shrank from the task of Val’s Fisherman’s Platter. There was just too much fish to finish and I made but a dent in the pile of tasty French fries and onion rings. At seventeen bucks, this must be one of the better deals around.

Even though Val’s has been in business for years, one doesn’t hear about them outside of Holden. With such quality cuisine, good service and value, they’re just too good to keep secret any longer.

‘Worcester Telegram & Gazette’

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New look, new entrées for Val’s

By Barbara M. Houle FOOD EDITOR

Valerie James brings a personal touch to dining at Val’s Restaurant in Holden. (T&G Staff/TOM RETTIG)

Val’s Restaurant, 75 Reservoir St., Holden, has reopened after three weeks of renovation.

The changes are impressive.

Before we get to the interior, we want you to know that owner Valerie James of Worcester has tweaked the menu, adding lots of interesting new dishes. She got rid of pizza, but some specials, such as Mom’s Famous Spinach Pie, will never go away, she said. The spinach pie is a treasured family recipe.

James has spent 18 years in business in Holden. She owned the Pizza Palace, a take-out pizzeria in the Big Y Plaza for six years, before opening Val’s in 1996.

Last March, James was inducted into Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of Massachusetts. Members include chefs, hotel executives and restaurateurs.

James’ son, Christos James, works part-time for his mother. Her daughter, Joanna James of Miami, Fla., helped design the restaurant’s trendy new bar, which seats 18. Tables in the bar area accommodate customers waiting to be seated in the dining room. The comfy couch in front of the fireplace might keep us from moving on, especially on a wintry night.

On the menu: homemade soups, salads, Val’s original burgers, calzones, sandwiches, sauté and seafood specialties, kabob dinners, seafood and items from “The Butcher’s Shop.”

Prices are pretty reasonable. Classic dishes, such as fisherman’s platter (haddock, whole belly clams, scallops and onion rings), is $16.99. Specialty sandwiches start at $6.99; a 10-ounce New York strip sirloin steak is $13.99.

Val’s oven-baked pasta dishes, $6.99, are served with garlic sticks and family-style salad. Add $2.99 if you want meatballs, Italian sausage, boneless chicken or wild mushrooms with the meal.

Hours: lunch, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4 to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Closed Mondays.

Val’s new function room seats about 65. Call (508) 829-0900 for more info about bookings.

A restaurant critic in a Telegram & Gazette review about Val’s noted how attentive James was to customers. She walks around Val’s making sure everything is just right, he wrote.

Things haven’t changed. Her new digs just give her more room to schmooze.

‘The Landmark’

Expansion at Val’s will close restaurant for one month

You’d have to have been born in town and old enough to vote to call Val James a newcomer to the Holden scene. The owner of the successful family restaurant on Reservoir Street has been in business for 18 years, seven years with pizza and sandwiches in the Holden Commons Plaza and for the past 11 years, in larger full-restaurant digs just down the street.

The new wing of Val’s Restaurant, slated to open in November. Brittany Durgin photo

But for the energetic businessowner who cut her teeth on the restaurant business (her parents owned a similar place in Mansfield), it was time for a change.

“It came to a point in my life where it’s either sell or expand,” she says.

So she’s expanding.

The 3,200-square-foot extension will shift the entrance and add a waiting area, a sit-down bar and a function room, as well as expanded kitchen quarters. The centerpiece of the new area is a stone fireplace.

Moving the bar, entrance and function area will increase by about 30 seats the space available for everyday customers. It will also allow Val to offer a larger function area.

The changes coming to Val’s, however, won’t just be in the new wing and the new kitchen area.

Her family restaurant is undergoing a complete facelift, with a new décor, new equipment and even some menu changes (more of everything, plus some new gluten-free items).

Val is used to being the head with the help of the “wonderful” men who do a lot of the cooking. And though she loves her job so much she doesn’t count the hours, she’ll soon be taking on a new head chef. It’s a necessary move with the expansion.

The challenges, far from daunting James, are just what she’s been wanting, but she hasn’t forgotten the old days or the old ways. When she started the business in Holden Commons Plaza with her pizza and sandwiches, it was a small storefront where Parrot Pizza now does business.

She remembers being a little daunted by all the space at her present location, formerly Crickets Restaurant.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God! Am I going to fill this place every night?’” she recalls.

No problem. That 2,800-square-foot space required a 1,500-square-foot addition a few years later.

The added function area, however, wasn’t quite enough, and James got sick of turning folks down.

Now 3,200-square-feet of growth that includes a 75-person function room will, she hopes, alleviate that problem.

A few things will remain the same: both her children, Joanna and Christos, and the “Val’s family”

the employees who’ve become her adopted family will still be there, as will the pizza and sandwich business that has a special place in her heart.

The change will necessitate closing down for about a month, probably from the 8th of October to November, when Val plans a big opening – for everyone.