Legend has it that nearly 750 years ago, King Alfonso X decreed that to assuage the plague of public drunkenness, the taverns of Castile must serve food with their wine. Small slices of bread, often with cheese or ham, were the simplest and cheapest fare available. Rather than using plates, the serving wenches placed these tasty bits atop the wine glass. This topping, or “tapas,” not only fulfilled the royal requirement, it also kept the flies out of the wine. For this, perhaps even more than for his famed patronage of the arts and astronomy, the 13th-Century Spanish ruler is known to history as “Alfonso el Sabio,” or “Alfonso the Wise.” The Spanish kings hold no writ in Connecticut, but the royal decree continues to be observed in “tapas” restaurants all over the Nutmeg State. Here are five of Connecticut’s best tapas bars to choose from.

Photo Credit: Barcelona

971 Farmington Ave
West Hartford, CT 06107
(860) 218-2100

What someone named Adam Greenberg may appear to lack in Spanish ethnicity, he more than makes up for with sheer talent and style. The executive chef of the small, yet vibrant Barcelona restaurant presents more than 40 tempting tapas treats, some as inexpensive as a mere $3.50 (for the house-cured olives or roasted-garlic bulbs). House-made empanadas can be enjoyed for $6.50, but the real treasures in this gem (tucked away behind a weathered old fence) are Greenberg’s Duck Confit Risotto, Duck Fat Potatoes and Grilled Pork Tenderloin. The tenderloin comes with applewood smoked bacon and gremolata—a mix of parsley, garlic and lemon zest. He also serves up some wonderful seafood tapas, including the Razor Clam and Taylor Bay Scallop Escabeche, where the fish is seared and marinated almost to the point of being pickled and then served cold. Greenberg’s most humorously creative tapas dish, however, is his Crispy Pork Belly Bacon and Eggs – pickled ramps with an egg served sunny side up. Greenberg is temporarily helping out with a Barcelona startup in Atlanta (the first outside of Connecticut), but sous-chef Roy Reid, whom he trained, has maintained the high standards of his mentor.

Photo Credit: Ibiza Tapas via Facebook

Ibiza Tapas
1832 Dixwell Ave
Hamden, CT 06514
(203) 909-6512

How can you argue with the food critics of the New York Times or the Hartford Courant, both of whom have praised this little wine bar as being “very good” and “inventive” at presenting that quintessential taste of Old Spain tapas? Neighborhood regulars say Ignacio Blanco is prized as much for his hospitality as for the flavors on his menu, especially his salted sea bass – the preparation of which can be viewed in a short video on the restaurant’s website. Many meat and vegetable tapas are available, both hot and cold. Among the most popular dishes is the Abondigas de la Abuela: veal and pork meatballs made with potato, pepper, white wine and saffron broth. Ibiza Tapas may be small – with a second location now open in Northampton in Massachusetts – but its fame has spread across the pond. In April, Iker Gonzalez, the celebrated chef of San Sebastian’s Hotel Maria Cristina, came over from the mother country to present a tapas and other tasting menus at both Ibiza wine bars and also at the main restaurant, Ibiza of New Haven, from which the two tapas places sprung.

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Photo Credit: La Paella

La Paella
44 Main St
Norwalk, CT 06851
(203) 831-8636

Any restaurant that serves langostinos as part of its tapas calientes menu has to be respected, especially when it demands $25 for these giant grilled prawns. La Paella also serves Maryland Crab Cakes – the real ones, made with lump crab meat and not just the mushed up crabbiness usually found up north – on that same tapas menu. To avoid confusion, the cakes are called “txanguro a la donostierra” on the menu. La Paella offers many other succulent seafood delicacies in both the calientes and frias (hot and cold) sides of the tapas menu. You can also find an ubiquitous Spanish potato, onion and egg omelet and the old but favorite “jambon” or Spanish ham. As legend has it, a little slice of ham was the first tapas ever served.

Photo Credit: Mezon via Facebook

56 Mill Plain Road
Danbury, CT 06810
(203) 748-0875

Not all tapas bars have to serve only Old World dishes. Mezon of Danbury, for example, mixes up its menu with tapas from the former Spanish colonies, adding Caribbean and South American touches to spice up and enliven the classics. The dishes here live up to the restaurant’s boast of having an “Old World Tradition” with a “New World Flavor.” The selection is not especially large – certainly nothing like the 40-plus choices to be found on the menu at Barcelona – but there is something for everyone: meat lover, seafood fiend and vegetarian alike. While many wine bars serve olives, garlic bulbs or other vegetable tapas, Mezon has a separate vegetarian menu. The queen of this particular list is undoubtedly the Hongos Gorgonzola – mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese with grape vinaigrette in a walnut crust. For those seeking more meaty fare, there are Cubano Sliders (roasted pork with ham), Coxhina Brazileira (fritters with shredded chicken, Catupiry cheese and corn) and Arepas (Venezuelan corn cakes with either chipotle short ribs or chorizo).

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Tapas Mediterranean Café
854 Cottage Grove Road
Bloomfield, CT 06002
(860) 882-0756

Not all tapas bars need be Spanish, as the “Best Greek” Tapas Mediterranean Café on Ann Street in Hartford can attest. Every Wednesday and Thursday are “Tapas Seafood Sampler” nights, during which the restaurant serves up a massive platter of shrimp and other delicacies. Its regular menu of “tapetizers” include a vegetarian Dolmas plate (stuffed grape leaves), as well as an assortment of meats and seafoods. Traditional tapas patrons may wince at a menu that includes not only “tapetizers” but also “tapas cheese fries” and “tapas nachos,” but the food is as plentiful and satisfying as the menu is whimsical and playful. Are spanokopitas (spinach pies) and flatbread pizzas really tapas? The waiters here will reply with an enthusiastic “yes” – and then offer you a side of falafel balls.

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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience, most notably but not exclusively in the fields of international relations and history specifically military history. His work can be found at Examiner.com.