All publicity is good: Breen's Cafe steak and cheese trending after flurry of Facebook posts – Worcester Telegram

WORCESTER — There’s a legend about Breen’s Cafe that goes something like this: In 1938, when Cambridge Street flooded, a man in a canoe paddled in the front door, poured himself a draft beer, then paddled out the back.
If such a flood were to happen today, the paddler might be more likely to grab a steak and cheese, especially if he’s spent anytime perusing posts on the 23,000-member Facebook group Worcester Eats, the stories, discussions and reviews on local eateries administered by the Telegram & Gazette.
The only problem is, these days there might not be any steak and cheese left.
All it took was was one slightly negative Facebook comment from a female diner, surprised that a place with a sign reading “cafe” would actually be a neighborhood bar, for hundreds of Breen’s devotees to get as feisty as Carla Tortelli might if someone got out of hand at Cheers.
Peggy Hanigosky posted on Sept. 12 to the Worcester Eats page after going to Breen’s, apparently based on recommendations from others on Facebook.
Hanigosky criticized the chalkboard menu and found the bartender “rude,” though it seemed just the opposite of unfriendly with a few folks even yelling, “Norm!” when a local guy by that named walked in Thursday night.
Hanigosky’s post sparked a flood of comments — more than 400 at last count — mostly in favor of Breen’s and a few taking her to task for her review.
“I’m sure the bartender found you charming, as well,” one wrote.
But she did get a little support from another poster who wrote, “Well, I love Breen’s, but in her defense I see her point….folks on this site do hype it up like it’s a date night out, lol.”
The thing is, Breen’s is a favorite for date nights for Jen and Chris Lavin who often drive over from Leicester and spend less than half what they might at more swanky eateries.
“Look at this, it’s huge,” Jen said, pointing at her steak and cheese. “This half is for my lunch tomorrow. It’s so good. I’m a cheap date!”
The giant sandwich only set them back $10, and would likely be the envy of the other teachers at her school during lunch on Friday.
Matthew Hanlon’s mother, Noreen Hanlon, runs Breen’s, and does much of the cooking — she’s prepping homemade soups at 7 a.m. because it’s fall now.
Matthew Hanlon said the impact of the Facebook post has been rather surprising. His family, who’ve owned the restaurant for years, knows that any publicity is good publicity but they never expected to be running out of bulky rolls for sandwiches.
“For about a week, we were just slammed,” he said.
There were the new faces wanting to try the food and the old faces of those offering support in the face of the negative post, though within a few days Hanigosky was singing the praises of the steak and cheese, and denying that she used a profanity to describe the bartender during her visit.
“I said he was rude. I also said Massachusetts is ranked as the number one rudest state,” she wrote. “I did say the cheesesteak was good and yes I’ll be back to try the hamburger. I (heart emoji) the pickles! Look at how many people came to Breen’s defense!!!”
Matthew Hanlon said Breen’s is a neighborhood establishment; nothing fancy or pretentious. Televisions, tuned to football, hockey, basketball or baseball — sometimes even the Woo Sox who might be playing right down the street — line the walls.
There’s Keno and signs supporting public safety workers. Customers must pay cash, Breen’s is old school and doesn’t take plastic, Noreen Hanlon’s brother, Jim O’Brien, explained.
“We’re not trying to be something we’re not,” Matthew Hanlon said, adding that while he’s happy for the booming steak and cheese sales, he wants folks to know he also makes a well-loved Cuban sandwich, and there are $5 sandwiches filled with Noreen’s fresh ham or egg salad.
“I’d just like to get the word out that we do have other sandwiches,” he said with a laugh.