Opening a restaurant is always a leap of faith, especially in hard times. While many do not last a year or even a season, here are five in Connecticut whose owners and chefs have bet on an economic recovery and taken the gamble to start (or in at least one case, restart) restaurants that share their dreams and vision with the dining public. Enjoy what 2012 brought to Connecticut’s hungry mouths.
77 West St.
Simsbury, CT 06070
“Inspired New England cuisine” is how chef and owner Tyler Anderson describes what he presents to his patrons every night at his Simsbury establishment. Set in a renovated 340-year-old mill, Millwrights is truly a part of the history and culture, gastronomic and otherwise, of the area. The waterfall that once powered the old Hop Brook Mill and the glistening pond that surrounds it only add to the charm and authenticity of the place – but it is what’s on the plate that really shines.
Hearty, locally grown food is served up in a menu that varies with the seasons. This fall, duck and venison crowned the court of dinner offerings, just as cauliflower soup and quince and apple compote on the local cheese plate draw attention to the starters and desserts.
Millwrights may be new, but so much about it is also old and comfortable and very, very New England.
74 High St.
Canaan, CT 06018
When Tom Gailes was stationed in England with the US Navy, he met a lovely lass named Wendy and brought her back to his northwest Connecticut hometown as his bride. The pair opened and ran a series of English-style pubs (modeled on one ran by Wendy’s father) first in Canaan and then in Sheffield, before retiring in 2007. Retirement, however, did not sit well with either Tom or Wendy, so this spring they opened a new restaurant, Limey’s, which is tucked away inside the Canaan Country Club.
Neither the name nor the menu is original – both are borrowed from the restaurant they ran just over the state line in Massachusetts for seven years prior to retiring. Wendy, as always, oversees the kitchen, which produces authentic and very tasty shepherd’s pie, fish and chips and on special occasions, such fine and filling fare as beef Wellington and spotted dick (which, despite the name, is not a medical condition but a traditional pudding with raisins and currants, long a staple of captain’s tables in the Royal Navy).
There are of course burgers, steaks, soups, salads and even rack of lamb, but it is the prime rib with Yorkshire pudding and British pub fare (and beer) that brings loyal customers back time and time again.
Tom and Wendy are both in their 70s, but after being out of the restaurant game for four years, they both became restless, decided that retirement “was not for us” and leapt at the opportunity offered by the country club to once again do something that they loved.
532 W. Main St.
Cheshire, CT 06410
Feel like bananas foster pancakes for breakfast? How about pumpkin pancakes with whipped cream and chocolate chips? Such is the morning fare at The Place on West Main in Cheshire. Lunch is equally sinful at this lovely restaurant started by Lori and Chris Sheehan in May, with a prosciutto and mozzarella panini stuffed with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes and a balsamic caramelized onion and goat cheese quiche among the many scrumptious choices to be made. There are also thick milkshakes made the old-fashioned way with the “teenage” crowd in mind, adds Lori, as well as wings, burgers and fries to go along with the shakes.
The Place is no mere café. There is always something new and unusual on the menu. Buffalo chicken mac and cheese, pasta fagioli and a breakfast pizza (fried dough topped with three eggs – Chris’s favorite) are just some of the unusual surprises that make the Sheehans’ place on West Main THE place to start your day or go to lunch in Cheshire.
The Place does not have a website, but it does have a Facebook page, whereupon are featured specials and announcements by the owners and their fans.
60 Charles St.
Westport, CT 06080
Hurricane Sandy destroyed 30 homes and seven businesses in Westport, but the Blu Parrot survived. Opened mere weeks before the super storm by Westport’s own Adam Lubarsky and chef, friend and business partner Steve Alward, the Blu Parrot was just about the only place people could go for food, drink and live music after 10 p.m. even before Sandy, explains Lubarsky. The house chili, cold beer, saucy baby back ribs and the piano man were quite comforting to residents who sought the Blu Parrot as a post-storm refuge.
Lubarsky, who got his start as a busboy at a local restaurant more than 40 years ago, has a long and storied career in the industry. Blu Parrot was and is his dream, and one that literally hell and high water could not stop from becoming reality. Alward is also a local boy. The lifelong friends are both Staples High class of ’73, and together ran the Georgetown Saloon for 26 years.
There is a 200-square-foot stage with professional lighting for the jazz, blues, swing, gospel and rock musicians (some of which include local talent), and the Blu Parrot is decorated with the work of local artists, including that of his late mother Thelma.
The cuisine is both “regional” and “global,” explains Alward, who adds that it is “varied and reasonably priced.” He should know, for as he notes in a video, “I’ll be in the kitchen cooking it every single time that we’re open.”