Our past few restaurant experiences have been real train wrecks but not Steaming Tender in Palmer, Mass. We are all aboard with its incredible railroad station restaurant theme, friendly service and excellent food, all based on a first visit.
Ideally located just a few minutes off Massachusetts Turnpike (Route 90, exit 8) as a standalone dining destination or a perfect alternative to the cookie cutter food destinations on the highway, Steaming Tender has a lot of history in its caboose. Located in Frederick Law Olmsted Park at the 19th century Union Station designed by famous architect, Henry Hobson Richardson, Steaming Tender features 30 ft. ceilings, high brick arches and train and railroad memorabilia collections virtually everywhere you look. The old time railroad ambiance of Steaming Tender is unlike any other restaurant of this genre and much better done than any other railroad theme restaurants we have dined at in New England. In addition to the charming, time-stands-still dining hall (as well as outdoor seating surrounding the restaurant), Steaming Tender also showcases a living outdoor museum with “a variety of vintage transportation, including a 1909 New Haven Railroad passenger car, an 1890 Wells Fargo hotel-style Stagecoach, a 1920s Pumper car, various sleighs and wagons, and a gorgeous 1915 Porter Steam Locomotive & Tender,” as so well stated on the Steaming Tender web site. It’s simply an incredible sight.
On our way to Cooperstown, N.Y., and in no mood for processed fast-food at prices that are no longer cheap, we took the chance of trying Steaming Tender, hoping its location “right off the highway” wasn’t one of those situations where you are still driving 15 minutes from the highway exit. On the contrary, the rather frayed but charming historic Palmer center is virtually around the corner from the highway with Steaming Tender located at the end of the original Palmer Union Station dirt road where one can still see two rail lines with trains coming and going right next to the restaurant.
Upon entering, the kind hostess told us that there would be a long wait as a huge reception was taking place. Seeing the disappointed looks on our faces, she found a way to get in us within a minute where we were promptly greeted by an incredibly friendly and efficient waitress who was “taking the pressure off” the primary server for that section. The crowds created a busier scene than a train station, and, we wondered if our food would be derailed for a half hour or more.
Happily, in less than 15 minutes, our food orders made it to the table delivered by a smiling waitress seemingly so happy that she could quickly serve food to a family with still lots of driving ahead. The burger was perfectly chair-broiled, juicy and generously served; chili, flavorful and striking the perfect balance with its beef, sauce and seasonings; and the lobster bisque as good as any that you’d get by the coast at a seafood restaurant. On an ensuing visit, a grilled reuben turned out to be absolutely delicious.
Being careful with our budget and not having a lot of luck lately when we do go out to eat, the words “We have to come back here” have been recently absent from our dining out vocabulary. Steaming Tender is an exception, however. We can hardly wait to return!
Admittedly, Steaming Tender is not always a cheap eats destination — we just made it that way when having lunch (the bill came out to much less than similar meals in Cooperstown). That’s the beauty of the restaurant, however, as you can make it a stop along the way or a special night out. Looking at the menu, we look forward to trying one or all of the following in the short term and far down the tracks: maple apple pork loin, half roasted duck, pot roast dinner, Delmonico steak, full rack of baby back ribs, pistachio salmon, broiled New England sea scallops, baked lobster mac and cheese, whiskey bread pudding, and “old fashioned carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.” Steaming Tender also offers an extensive adult beverages selection and gluten free and kids menus, as well as a Sunday breakfast and Wednesday lunch and dinner buffet, at this writing. They also offer catering, and group rentals (including children’s birthday parties) in the beautifully restored Parlor Car for up to 35 people.
Steaming Tender could have easily been one of those novelty restaurants that relies more on style than substance. Judging from the crowds, the food, and pride of ownership, Steaming Tender is, on the contrary, certainly on the right track as a truly fine restaurant and authentic travel attraction!
Steaming Tender is located at 28 Depot St., Palmer, MA. Tel. 413-283-2744