Tavern in the Square is located in the Corbin Collection in the Corbin’s Corner section of West Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
Tavern in the Square is spacious and airy, there’s a large patio that can be wide open or partially or completely closed off for use in all types of weather, and West Hartford’s newest restaurant offers a diverse menu that’s an upscale take on pub fare and comfort foods with a range of options that will appeal to the burger-loving crowd as well as to those who are vegan or vegetarian, those who follow gluten- or dairy-free diets, and virtually anyone else.
“It’s a nice place to go and hang out with your friends and family – or to come have a nice dinner,” said Nick Santamaria, general manager of the West Hartford location, which is Tavern in the Square’s 11th restaurant and the first in Connecticut. Originally from Old Saybrook, CT, Santamaria previously managed one of the Boston area locations and has worked for Tavern in the Square since 2014.
Tavern in the Square fills a void between sports bar – although there are plenty of TVs at the bar and along the walls tuned to sports channels – and fine dining. “There’s tons of comfort and upscale bar food items on the menu, and there are super healthy items as well,” Santamaria said, everything with a bit of a unique twist. It’s a space people may want to stop for a quick drink and a healthy bite after the gym, or linger over a tower of margaritas or pitchers of sangria.
There are no nuts of any type in the building, and attention to allergies is an important part of the restaurant’s philosophy.
A “tavern” is synonymous with drink, and Tavern in the Square offers a wide range of choices of those, too. There are more than two dozen draft beers, many of them from Connecticut breweries including Thimble Island, Two Roads, Back East, and Counterweight, plus some Massachusetts favorites like Wormtown’s Be Hoppy and the Jacks Abby Blood Orange Wheat. Most beers are offered in a choice of sizes.
“We just switched to our summer menu,” Santamaria said of the cocktails, noting the strawberry rosé sangria and watermelon coconut margarita are popular options. There are also wines by the glass (6-ounce or 9-ounce options), or by the bottle, and non-alcoholic options as well.
Small bites ($8-$9) on the menu include highly-addictive fried pickle chips – lightly breaded in finely crushed potato chips and served with secret sauce – and “Bang Bang Broccoli, a spicy, gluten-free, vegan shareable with tempura broccoli, sweet and spicy chili garlic sauce, garlic, and scallions. “Those are wildly popular,” Santamaria said.
Wings, chicken tenders, and pizzas are among the items listed under “starters” ($12.50-$14.50) that can also double as main dishes. Wings are prepared “sousvide,” Santamaria said, prepared “low and slow” in a vacuum-sealed bag for even cooking to the perfect temperature. The wings and tenders are served with a choice of honey sriracha, buffalo, miso honey, or stone ground honey mustard – or plain – and are sprinkled with puffed rice for some color contrast and texture.
Seasonal selections join the classic cheese and BBQ chicken pizzas, and the current offering is pumpkin and goat cheese, with caramelized onions, pumpkin seed pesto, and hot honey. Cauliflower crusts and plant-based cheese are available options for the pizzas.
“We hand-stretch the dough here every day,” Santamaria said.
A variety of colorful salads can be topped with grilled chicken, salmon, or tenderloin for an added dose of protein, and plant-based cheese is an optional substitute. The earthy kale and quinoa salad – accented with purple and pale yellow heirloom carrots, roasted beets, sprouted peas, sunflower seeds, and goat cheese – with cider honey vinaigrette is substantial enough as a full meal on its own.
Also on the menu are bowls ($17.50-$24), and the healthy quinoa bowl, with roasted cauliflower, winter squash, beets, broccoli, kale, avocado, and goat cheese, crowned with a tower of crispy carrots, looks almost too good to eat. It’s a vegetarian dish served as is, can be made vegan with the substitution of plant-based cheese, or a protein can be added. There’s also a country fried Cobb bowl featuring buttermilk fried chicken and bacon, sesame salmon bowl, and a mesquite chicken bowl.
Burgers are a staple, and they are robustly sized, with options including the classic tavern burger on a potato roll as well as specialties like the picanté burger which includes crispy bacon, cheddar, tomato jalapeño relish, and chipotle aioli. Side choices include warm russet chips, house fries, sweet potato fries, or tots.
Several chicken sandwiches are also featured on the sandwich menu, including an agave lime chicken with pepper jack cheese, tomato jam, avocado, shredded romaine, and chipotle aioli, as well as a cornflake fried chicken sandwich with smoked bacon and cheddar.
The “Bayou Chicken Pasta” is one of the most popular main dishes at the other Tavern in the Square locations, Santamaria said. It features rigatoni (gluten free is an available substitute) with spicy blackened chicken, sweet corn, jalapeños, bacon, tomatoes, parmesan, and scallions. “It’s a great reheat for next day lunch, too,” he said.
The portions of most dishes are ample – and Santamaria said doggie bags are very common.
Anyone who saves room for something sweet can choose from a variety of decadent desserts including a warm skillet chocolate chip cookie filled with molten fudge and topped with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Other desserts include apple cobbler cheesecake, cannoli Napoleon, and a flourless chocolate cake.
CEO Stephen DeSousa and two friends from the Boston area founded Tavern in the Square in 2004. According to the company website, when the three “decided to join forces to create a new kind of restaurant, we knew we wanted to build it on a foundation of friendship, hard work, and organic growth. Proudly independent, proudly local, and powerfully tied to community. Rooted firmly here in New England, it was destined to be down to earth and welcoming to everyone.”
When the owners, who are all still involved and hands-on, decided to open the first Connecticut location, West Hartford looked to be the right fit. “They really liked the town itself, and the reputation it has,” Santamaria said, but they also liked the idea of being in the Corbin’s Corner area, rather than in the midst of the West Hartford Center dining scene.
“The food culture [in West Hartford] is something we wanted to be part of,” he said. The company prides itself on the research that goes into each menu item, and the commitment to locally sourcing ingredients.
The West Hartford location seats just under 300 people, including on the spacious covered patio which has retractable sides and can be temperature controlled for year-round use. They have hired approximately 130 employees, a process that started in April.
Tavern in the Square opened May 31 for dinner, and will be open Wednesday, June 1 from 4-11 p.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.). On Thursday, June 2 they will stay open until midnight, closing the kitchen at 11 p.m., and lunch service will begin at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, June 3.
Regular hours will be Sunday through Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. until midnight. The kitchen will close an hour before the bar closes each night.
Connecticut’s happy hour rules are different than those in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where the other locations are, and Santamaria said they are excited to introduce a happy hour, Monday through Friday, from 4-6 p.m. Happy hour will feature discounts on food and drink.
Starting later in June they plan to add a Saturday and Sunday brunch, from 10 a.m. until 2p.m. “We’re still finalizing the menu,” Santamaria said, but mimosa towers and a build-your-own-mimosa option will definitely be included.
Reservations are available through Open Table or by phone at 860-541-5970. A link to the menu can be found here.
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