Metro Bis – Simsbury

Well, we’ve done it, jumped into the fray of dining out during this thing called pandemic.  Oh, sure, Happy and I did the take out thing like everyone else, and it provided a welcome change in our day-to-day menu. But, a meal cooked, packed and transported is just not the same as a freshly prepared and served dinner. Not to mention the ambiance of the same four walls becomes tedious and detracts significantly from novelty of a meal elsewhere.

I’ve been wanting to try Metro-Bis in Simsbury for some time now, but just didn’t seem to connect our schedules with the restaurant’s operating hours.  The are open on a limited schedule, Tuesday – Saturday 12:00 – 2:30 for Lunch and 5:30 – 8:30 for dinner.  I like the Sunday dinner hour for trying new places, generally less crowded with Friday or Saturday night revelers. We even ventured over there one Sunday evening, pre-CoVid, only to find the place closed.  Of course, I had no reservation.  Try not to do that, as I like to see how the staff handles the “pop-ins”.  The dark, empty building put a damper on my enthusiasm, but not my curiosity. I abandoned my usual approach and called for a reservation. Only fair, I guess, in these times of reduced seating capacity. The usual response to “just showing up”  is to not lose business and to squeeze the patron in.  Now is not a time to be shoe-horned in with a bunch of strangers.

Metro Bis is well suited for operations during this pandemic thing. Situated in a stately old mansion, the physical plant is huge, more that enough room for effective table spacing.  But in addition to the interior rooms, they have a large porch as well as tables spaced on the lawn. As it was a fine evening, everyone opted for outdoor seating. 

There is a strict mask policy in place. Whenever you are moving about, a mask is required. All servers and hosts are masked.  Obviously, at your own table and during the meal masks are not required.  To simplify things and minimize contact with menus and staff, they have a prix-fixe menu, four courses with multiple options for starters, salads, entrées, and deserts.  The single price, tip included, makes fumbling around with tabs and pens a minimum requirement — a simple signature and you’re done. I would highly recommend a suggestion I read somewhere recently. Bring your own pen. The signing of the tab is probably the scariest potential vector of transmission at Metro Bis. Have to assume they sterilize the pens after use.

As happens more often than one would expect, Happy Nottobecooking and I duplicated our dinner selections. For an appetizer we selected the spring rolls, delicate pastry puffs with chicken, rice, and vegetable stuffing, topped with a delicious sweet and sour sauce.  

I went with their roasted farm vegetables for the salad course.  The mélange of carrots, zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes was interesting and tasty. My only complaint, the carrots were undercooked in relation to the other ingredients for the dish — hard and crunchy versus soft.  Maybe that was the idea but it is not a contrast in texture I find appealing.  Par boiling the carrots prior to roasting would be something to consider.

The flat-iron steak was our entrée of choice.  Topped with sautéed onions and peppers in a red wine sauce, and seasoned with a wonderful marinade, sitting a bed of mashed purple potatoes, the steak was right sized (not too large or small), cooked to our expectations and tender.  What more could one ask for? Pared with a superb cabernet, a most flavorful and hearty meal. Have to admit the bed of mashed purple potatoes gave me visual pause, but on tasting, the seasoning was complementary to the whole.

Dessert was a blueberry mouse with white chocolate crumbles, a creative combination, visually appealing and a taste living up to its image.

AMBIANCE  =  9

Outdoors on the porch is a great option. Had to admit that I had reservations about sitting out there with busy Hopmeadow Drive running by in full view.  But the experience turned out just fine.  It is amazing how the large lawn buffers the street noise.  Other than an occasional loud motorcycle,  I was not distracted by the flowing traffic at all.  Our conversations were conducted in normal voices, even whispers at times. No trouble hearing our servers, even though they were masked.  No shouting required, no requests to repeat prior comments, just the way I like it.

SERVICE  =  9

They seem to use a “Tag-team” approach to service.  Although we had a specific waitress who took our orders, we were served by at least four other people at various times during the meal.  Even with the numbers, and the possibility of “over attention” or being “lost in the shuffle”, the Metro Bis staff has it well in hand, attentive service without being overbearing. Downside is that the patron is exposed to more idividuals, but they are all masked.

FOOD QUALITY  =  9

Simsbury has another establishment that falls into the category of “Fine Dining”.  The food and creativity shown by the chef here propels Metro Bis well above the common eatery.  If it wasn’t for the undercooked carrots in the roasted farm vegetable dish, this ranking would have been a 10.

VALUE  = 9

This category has become a difficult one to evaluate since the appearance of CoVid. Prices are up everywhere as business owners struggle to make a profit with reduced seating capacity.  But I feel that Metro Bis has hit upon a right combination of quality, creativity, and price.

COVID SAFETY  =  9

I feel compelled to add this category to the ranking as it is important to the over all dining experience today.  A few short months ago, who among us gave a thought to infection when we were dining out? We do now and we should. Hence, the added category. Metro Bis does it right.  Tables are well spaced, inside and out, yielding the required six feet for social distancing.  They, fortunately, have the space.  The staff is aware of the requirements of operating in a pandemic and are masked at all times and do not hover or touch.  There is a strict mash policy when you, the patron, are moving about the establishment.   There is immediate and thorough clean up when a table is vacated. We felt very safe there, and I am sure you will too.

Grumpy’s Redemption

Vindicated. It isn’t just me.

If you have been following my restaurant blog for any length of time, you have surely seen one where I pan the place for noise and either agreed or disagreed with that postition.  Well, now it seems that others have noticed, others who know sound, its measurement and hazards.  The attached article by Chris Berdik is a pretty good summary of the problem and some potential solutions. It’s pretty long and detailed and I’d recommend skimming for the important details.

Seems a major issue revolves around the design of “clean” spaces, filled with hard surfaces and non-upholstered furniture.  I have personally flagged metal ceilings in my reviews that show up in period buildings to maintain the “character” of a space but probably serve more to cover cracked ceiling plaster. They are definitely  a culprit.  I agree that the rush to remove anything soft and sound absorbing has proven to be a move in the wrong direction not just for a pleasurable dining experience but also diner’s health and well-being.

OHSA recommends hearing protection at 85db. Measurements in the paper approach that level. Are we soon to be greeted in the entry way to a favorite eatery with hand sanitizer and complimentary ear plugs? Hope not. Ear plugs get in the way of conversation.

There are solutions as the paper suggests. Not sure electronic sound modification is affordable to the average establishment, but there are other options. Hopefully, restaurant owners catch on soon or we may all go deaf from eating out.

There is one area of noise generation that was not covered and I feel is a major contributor to the decibel level of your favorite dining spot.  I’ve witnessed, more times than I can count, groups in public spaces where the noise level seems to escalate as the discussion proceeds. One person expressing a point is interrupted by another to counter the point by raising his or her voice to be heard over the original speaker.  The interrupter then gets interrupted by someone else or the original speaker. If the debate is contentious and  multiparticipant, each interrupter  raises the noise level until everyone is shouting to get their own points across. The irony is no one is listening. If you get more than one group in a restaurant scene on top of a background din from an open kitchen, piped in music, and the clang of utensils you’re well on your way to OSHA mandated hearing protection.

One simple way to reduce the din is to bring back common curtesy, the curtesy of allowing a speaker to make his or her complete point before jumping in with our opinion. It mitigates the need to raise one’s voice to trample on the opinion of the original speaker. And it tends to help keep emotions in check.

Could it be that simple? Maybe not, but it’s worth a trial. Next time you eat out do two things. 1. Have the courtesy to allow your companions to finish their thoughts before responding.  2. Cast your ears around to other groups and see what is actually going on. It’s a good bet that you will witness the escalating noise level of interrupted speech.

 

It’s not just you: Restaurants have gotten too loud. But there are some fixes.

By Chris Berdik 2 days ago

With restaurants getting louder than ever, a team of acoustic specialists tries to clear the table of conversation-killing din.

Comal, a bustling Oaxacan-inspired restaurant in Berkeley, California, has all the ingredients for the kind of ear-splitting ambience that’s become familiar in modern eateries: packed bar, open kitchen, high ceilings, and concrete walls. But when I join a dinner there one spring evening, it’s easy to jump into the margarita-fueled conversation and order up plates of grilled corn, carne asada tacos, and rotisserie chicken with mole.
Despite the clinking cutlery and up-tempo Latin rock music, nobody strains to hear the waitress when she points out the chipotle, habanero, and chile de arbol salsas that she plunks down with our chips.

This apparent sonic miracle is crafted by computer. An algorithm embedded in a system of networked microphones and speakers carefully controls the din. Called Constellation, the setup is the brainchild of San Francisco Bay Area firm Meyer Sound. The company, run by John and Helen Meyer, has built audio systems for concert halls, sports venues, and Broadway theaters for 40 years.

The couple first turned their ears to restaurant noise one night in 2010, when they met some good friends at an upscale tavern famed for its seasonal Mediterranean fare. The meal was superb. The racket of a packed house and an open kitchen was unbearable. Their table talk all but ceased.

While most people would just raise their voices for the evening and move on, John was inspired. He’d found their next challenge.

“We were trying to figure out exactly what interferes with conversation at the table,” John says. “What is the real problem? Why are people shouting?”

Ear-weary customers everywhere are asking the same questions. In the past decade, noise has risen to the top of annoyances in Zagat’s annual Dining Trends surveys, beating out poor service, bad food, and high prices. Restaurant critics in America’s major cities tote decibel meters to their meals. Apps like iHearU and SoundPrint help people vet their choices and share the results. Social media and mounting research about related health risks amplify complaints.

Diners might think the worst impact of a high-volume meal is a ruined night out, but University of Michigan public health researcher Rick Neitzel says eateries are part of a larger problem. Our cumulative sound exposure can increase our risk of hearing loss, heart attack, and stroke. “Your ears don’t care where the noise comes from,” he says. “They only care how much you get.”

It’s hard to pin down exactly how much extra volume is assaulting our eardrums when we eat out because most of the evidence is anecdotal. But consider a 1993 study of about a dozen dining establishments, which found that sound levels peaked at 68 decibels (a little louder than normal chitchat). Compare that with a much larger 2018 survey of New York City restaurants, in which one-quarter hit at least 81 decibels (more like a garbage disposal), the average level was 77, and just 10 percent were 70 decibels or below. The report deemed those “quiet.”

Saving dinner conversation isn’t as simple as turning down the in-house music. So some restaurateurs have started hiring consultants to diagnose their sonic ailments and prescribe a variety of architectural tweaks and sound-absorbing decor. A properly tuned environment ensures privacy for each table, and lets people chat and order in normal speaking voices—all without damping the buzz that keeps the atmosphere energetic.
John told Helen that, with the right tweaks, he could adapt Constellation—which Meyer had originally designed for concert venues—to offer a range of vibes for everything from a mellow Sunday brunch to a lively Saturday night. He and Helen began recording dinners at restaurants (with the owners’ OK) to find out what acoustic canvas they were starting with. In the center of the table, they’d plop a nest of six microphones crammed into what looked like a mesh flying saucer. The contraption captured the auditory mix from every angle so the team could later play it back and study it. Ultimately, they’d reverse-engineer the noise into something completely new.

The sprawling corporate campus of Meyer Sound was once a ketchup factory in the Berkeley flatlands. Inside a square block of low-slung, concrete buildings topped by red-tile roofs, massive factory floors with ample space for assembling speakers and other audio components surround a small, white-and-gray soundproofed chamber. This is the lab where the outfit’s handful of senior staff go to test out new ideas.

One morning, John Meyer sits in the middle of the room wearing a rumpled blue-checked shirt and tan chinos. Wire-rimmed glasses and an untamed gray beard frame his squinty, somewhat-distracted look as he peers at an array of wall-mounted speakers and dangling microphones. They’re attached to a computerized signal processor that can pick out threads of recorded sound (like the glug of pouring water or a loud laugh), modify their volume, echo, and location, and then weave them back together.
Senior scientist Roger Schwenke sits at a nearby computer. Schwenke develops hardware and software to predict and measure the acoustic effects of whatever system the firm creates. He cues up a demo of raw restaurant noise from one of the loudest rooms they’ve monitored: a busy Berkeley pizzeria. A couple of mouse clicks triggers an avalanche of chatter and music, through which intelligible bits of classic rock and debates about pie toppings briefly surface.

The shop peaks at 85 decibels, near power-tool territory but no longer unusual for American eateries. We can pin the din on converging trends that began in the 1990s. First, owners started favoring modernist or industrial looks. Out with carpeting, upholstery, and drapes that were great sound absorbers but now deemed stuffy. In with high ceilings, bare floors, and walls and furniture made of hard, sound-reflective materials like concrete, tile, metal, plaster, and glass, which send noise careening around the space.

At the same time, they merged dining rooms with open kitchens and bar areas, and cranked the music. Few reckoned with the sonic implications of these choices, according to Lily Wang, an expert in architectural acoustics and past president of the Acoustical Society of America, which shares research and develops standards for everything from hearing aids to classroom noise. “Architects aren’t trained to think about sound; they’re trained to think visually and spatially,” says Wang, who is participating in a nascent effort within the ASA to establish guidelines for restaurants.

Plus, some level of loudness seems to benefit the bottom line. Marketing research suggests that customers prefer places with lively background music, and they drink more alcohol and eat faster when the volume rises, boosting table turnover and revenue. Never mind that other studies suggest noise dulls our taste buds and leads us to favor fries over side salads and make other indulgent menu choices.

The racket is insidious in other ways too. As tables fill up and drinks flow, the ambient sound increases, causing diners to unconsciously raise their voices. This reflex, known in the acoustics industry as the Lombard effect, can start a vicious cycle. There’s no scientific consensus on the decibel level that triggers the phenomenon, but a 2018 study in a simulated restaurant found that voices started to swell when the volume ticked above 57.

At Meyer Sound, senior scientist Schwenke believes that “if the person next to you is intelligible and the people far away are less intelligible,” then your brain perceives less of a threat to you being understood, and you’re less likely to escalate to a Lombard cascade. Their challenge was to somehow modify Constellation to enhance each table’s conversation while simultaneously fuzzing out the rest.

“It was an experiment,” Meyer says of the effort, “but I knew there was a tremendous amount we could do.”

The next recording they play is from Comal. Owner John Paluska is a rarity among restaurateurs: As the former manager of the band Phish, he’d thought a lot about sound before opening the eatery in 2012. He hoped to create a fun ambience but knew that his design choices came with a real noise risk. He also wanted some acoustic control to fashion a high-spirited vibe near the bar and quieter areas toward the back of the place.
Paluska’s architect knew the Meyers because she and Helen had served together on a local school board. Helen showed Paluska some sound-absorbing panels and chatted about music systems. Then she demonstrated Constellation, which so far had been used only in concert halls to overcome sonic shortcomings, such as high-frequency tones from flutes and violins dying before reaching the final rows of seats.

At its core, Constellation is a sleight of hand pulled off by tweaking and redistributing reverb: the echoes we hear when sound waves spread from their sources and bounce from one surface to another. Absorbing these pings keeps audio from lingering, while digitally adding just a couple of seconds of echo can make a dead space in an auditorium ring like a cathedral nave. Helen calls this effect “invisible architecture.”
But restaurants present a more nuanced challenge. The sound doesn’t come from a stage; it comes from everywhere—and not everyone wants to listen to the same thing. For Constellation to help in this setting, the Meyer team would first need to deaden the space as much as possible. From that baseline, the system could capture, modify, and precisely tweak the clang from kitchens and noise from neighbors so diners could hear their own conversations.

Paluska was fine with being a guinea pig. Comal was still just a Berkeley storefront stripped down to its studs. The Meyer team began by squeezing in sound dampening wherever they could. Between exposed Douglas fir beams, they put 2-inch-thick rigid fiberglass insulation with a matte black finish so it would disappear. They hid wood-fiber insulation that resembles shredded wheat behind burlap wainscoting. And they printed the artwork—large abstract paintings and oversize Oaxacan street photography—on acoustically porous fabric stretched over sound-absorbing material in an aluminum frame. The Meyers call this proprietary product Libra panels.
Next, they wired up Constellation’s skeleton of 28 microphones and 95 speakers. They placed the mics as evenly as possible to cover each table while avoiding high-noise areas like the open kitchen. They positioned speakers so diners wouldn’t hear any of the outputs in isolation, instead catching a seamless sonic mix. The crew networked all these components through Constellation’s brain: a collection of digital signal processors that can each handle 100 gigaflops of data and combine to roughly equal the power of a dozen MacBook Pros. The computer knows which sounds come from which microphones, and lets Comal staff alter the sonic setting in real time from its iPad interface.

Imagine that you and a date are there on a crowded, buzzing Friday evening. Microphones above the table capture the vibrant mix of after-work gossip, clinking silverware and glasses, the guffaws of a raucous party nearby. The signal processor dampens and churns those sounds, and delivers them to speakers positioned in the far corners of the space. Meanwhile, ones close to you play a muted mix of room noises. This rerouting tricks your brain into focusing on your flirty banter. Constellation’s algorithm can also dim any sudden bursts that come from neighboring tables, or wash the most offensive clanks and rattles of the kitchen from the mix—all while leaving the background music alone.

At 80 decibels, the recording of Comal is definitely loud. Still, with Constellation activated, it’s easy to hear people at the table ordering jicama and cucumber salad, pork tacos, and tamales. Meanwhile, the droning ambience remained distant.
“It’s like you’re protected,” John Meyer observes. “It’s like a force field. And in a sense, it probably is, for the brain.”

Of course, it’s much easier to quell restaurant noise when you can start from scratch, rather than trying to tame the decibels of an existing eatery. For one thing, loud has become the new normal, making it easy for owners to dismiss.
Bob and Maggie Klein, for instance, had successfully run their Italian spot, Oliveto, in Oakland for more than two decades before discovering they had a volume problem. In the year leading up to a 2014 renovation, Bob decided to use a smartphone sound meter to spot-check busy dinner services, and found that they regularly hit 86 decibels. The number was comparable to other places he’d checked, but when Bob walked the dining room, he noticed people “leaning in and struggling to hear each other. And it’s common. It’s not just old people. It’s everybody.”

He empathized. A viral infection had badly damaged his hearing about 20 years ago, forcing him to use an assistive device. Even for people with healthy ears, though, listening in a crowded, noisy environment is tough. “You’re working so hard to hear the conversation that you’re not in the conversation,” he says.

The Kleins opted to install Constellation, joining a vanguard of owners moving toward better sonic management. According to Keely Siebein, a senior consultant with Siebein Acoustic, eateries are a rapidly growing clientele for firms like hers, which has nearly five times as many restaurant projects as it did a decade ago. Others in the field, the Meyers included, confirm the trend. Over the past five years, the ASA convention has held special sessions on the acoustics of dining establishments, leading to a working group on standards, which includes Siebein.

To date, seven owners have opted to install Constellation, which has a hefty price tag: between $60,000 and $80,000. The Meyers are working to cut the cost by streamlining the hardware and creating a cheaper alternative to the powerful signal processor needed for huge concert halls. For now, it’s a steep upfront investment for restaurateurs less motivated than the Kleins, who wanted to both improve diner comfort and gain the acoustic flexibility to host a variety of different events.

Meanwhile, there’s a range of more-affordable options that can help retrofit existing businesses. These include foam ceiling panels, perforated wood that allows noise to pass through to an absorbent layer, acoustic plaster with tiny fibers that will soak up reverb, and even a transparent, sound-dampening film for glass. The expense varies by material. According to acoustical consultant Nathaniel Fletcher, who works with the New York-based company AKRF, “It can go from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands pretty quickly.”

At the fully renovated Oliveto, Bob Klein shows off the iPad from which he fine-tunes his restaurant’s sound. The system is set to “automatic occupancy,” so it adjusts in real time according to changes in the space’s overall noise levels. He easily moves through settings such as “symphony hall” (perfect for when Oliveto hosts classical violinists) and “cathedral” (used for a recent performance by the choral group Chanticleer). With each, Klein claps and lets the echoes ring in imaginary rafters. Other options favor certain microphones. For example, “panel discussion” activates only a row of mics above a rear area that can accommodate a long table; guests can easily take in forums on topical issues like genetically modified foods.

This range of configurations supports Klein’s vision of reimagining restaurants as community hubs. It hints at John Meyer’s ambitions too: controlling acoustics to give one architectural space the ability to feel like many. Tackling dining noise was his first chance to make sound behave in ways that brick-and-mortar alone can’t achieve, and still serve our auditory needs.

“We can create way more structure inside a high-powered computer than you can in the physical world,” Meyer says. “It opens up a whole way of creating spaces.”

This story originally published in the Noise, Winter 2019 issue of Popular Science.

 

Wiggins Tavern – Northampton, MA

Have tried to go to the Wiggins Tavern several times since my first visit all those many years ago, but their limited hours have prevented it. The tavern is only open evenings Tuesday through Saturday 5:00P – 10:00P and Sunday for brunch from 10:00A – 2:00P. Seems we were only in the area for lunches. I’ve reviewed the Coolidge Café which is right adjacent in the Northampton Hotel previously. That review can be found in the archives.

This time we were staying overnight and I chose the Northampton Hotel, specifically to be able to repeat the Wiggins experience. You see, this was nostalgic for me. Back in ancient days I graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. My parents, grandparents, and I held a celebration meal here so the place has special meaning.

Not much has changed since 1963. Stepping down into the tavern is stepping into revolutionary America, low hand-hewn beamed ceilings, wide board, uneven wood floors, paneled walls decorated with tools and implements of the era. A cheery fire in the hearth completed the image on this cold, snow threatened evening. Can you say Ambiance?

Food quality is in the realm of fine dining. I suspect it has always been, but my memories of details fifty-seven years ago are foggy at best. I just recall it was good. The grilled Ahi tuna caught my eye for an entrée. Two large fillets, edge seared and pink in the middle filled the plate. I could have made do with one, but consumed both because they were so tasty. The subtle flavors of wood smoke mingled with the dill sauce I specified. Each dish has an option of one of a list of six or so sauces served on the side for the customer’s addition.

I should mention here that you order a la carte. Sides and sauces are to be mixed and matched with each entrée. I paired my tuna with a side of vegetable risotto. Shared it around the table as it was the size of a full meal portion. Fair warning, menu items are huge.

The tuna was cooked to perfection, pink in the middle, tender, delicious, and as I’ve noted huge. Couldn’t have asked for better. The side was a tasty mélange of risotto, sun dried tomatoes, asparagus, and mushrooms, subtly flavored and enough for a full meal in and of itself. Went well with the fish.

Each entrée comes with a fresh garden salad, again on the large side. And there are fresh-baked diner rolls, warm from the oven.

Perhaps the only drawback was the lack of brew taps in tavern. Go figure, a pub with no draft brews, only bottles and cans. Fortunately, they had BBC’s Steel Rail, a light but tasty brew that is “non-confrontational” with food.

Didn’t need it but desert was in order as they featured Indian pudding. Don’t get that everywhere and it is a favorite of mine. A staple of colonial New England and probably beyond, it looks kind of gross, the consistency of Cream of Wheat but brown in color. But when you get beyond the appearance, oh the taste. A sweet molasses tang that totally covers the cornmeal base. Smother the dish with a helping of vanilla ice cream and you’ve got yourself a desert for the ages.

Wiggins Tavern maintains a level of experience that I can only call a dichotomy. A casual colonial pub atmosphere coupled with high quality food, well prepared and served, that can only be defined as fine dining. If you can manage to be in the area for dinner, I recommend the experience.

I mentioned the nostalgia for me at being back here after so many years. I didn’t mention that Happy and I were joined for this meal by our two granddaughters, both students of Smith College right up the street. As we were enjoying the evening, I was flashing back to that time fifty-seven years ago and my first experience in the tavern. Gramps was standing with me in a little garden, now an outdoor dining patio. We were alone. I felt a tight grip on my arm and gramps said, “I want you to know I’m damned proud of you.”
That was it, as the others joined us at that moment, but it was a lot. The Grumpy male lineage is not known for its vocalization of emotion. Indeed, we are known for our tight-lipped stoicism so for Gramps to make that declaration was the highlight of the entire graduation week.

Now here I was fifty-seven years later sitting in Wiggins Tavern with two wonderful granddaughters both enrolled in Smith College, and I their grandfather. The table of time had turned. It was then I realized the courage it took for Gramps to tell me he was proud of me. I was “damned proud” of these two capable young women who had joined us for a meal. Did I tell them? No. I have explained our clan is a bunch of stoics. Oh, I have all sorts of rationalizations, not the right time or place, didn’t want to spoil the mood with somber thoughts, but in the end, I simply lacked the courage to speak my mind. I’ll do it eventually. My clan always does. There’s a graduation coming up this spring, so I’ve got till then to get it together. There’s still time—isn’t there? Perhaps it will take another visit to Wiggins Tavern.

AMBIANCE = 9
It’s cliché to say that entering the tavern brings you back in time, but it does. The low ceilings, squeaky floor boards, the décor and the fact that the tavern is in the cellar of the hotel all conspire to complete the transition. One expects to see apparitions of revolutionary war heroes seated at the bar or gathered by the fire. An exhilarating feeling to be out of your element.

SERVICE = 8
It was a slow night and our server doubled as host and bar tender, but with no lack of attention to our needs. Indeed, the arrangement lent to the atmosphere of being in a colonial pub.

FOOD QUALITY = 9
Truly fine dining in a pub atmosphere.

VALUE = 8
Fair pricing for this quality of food. Give Wiggins a try. You wont be disappointed.

Saybrook Fish House

Hankerin’ for some good, fresh seafood and don’t have the time or inclination to travel down to the shore? I’ve got three words for you. Saybrook Fish House.

Nestled on its own little island bounded by Routes 44, 179, and 202 in Canton, Saybrook is the white knight of institutions battling obsolescence on a field of failed enterprises and empty store fronts. Been here since, well, before Grumpy arrived in Connecticut and if the crowds are any indication, will be here for quite a few years more.

I’ve been here before and enjoyed the experience, but haven’t visited for a number of years. It’s one of those places that you pass by to somewhere else and comment, “we have to go back there sometime”, but never do so because it drops quickly out of your mind.

Even those times we selected Saybrook as a destination it was packed and we opted for other options. This time a group of friends decided to dine here. We made reservations—good thing, it was packed. We were there on a Friday night. Could the Catholic Church still have that much influence over dietary habits? Probably not, we’ve been by on Saturdays and Sundays and the lot was equally full. Word to the wise, reservations are advised, unless you are content with waiting.

A dining establishment doesn’t draw crowds frequently over that period of time without supplying excellent fare. That defines Saybrook Fish House, excellent seafood. I went for the baked scrod, one of the seafood options I use for comparison purposes. “Best scrod I’ve ever had” sounds a little pompous, but let me tell you this entrée was delightful. Lightly breaded with a white wine butter sauce the fish was thick, white, moist, and flakey. Just the way I like it. The sauce was herbed enough to stand on its own but not overpower the fish.

A vegetable medley was the side. Tasty and complementary, it was a letdown for me. Advertised as a broccoli and summer vegetable mix it turned out to mostly zucchini and little else. I am not a fan of that prolific squash, but ate most of the side because of the seasoning. Happy had the same side and a lot more broccoli. Perhaps they needed to stir the pot before dishing the veggies out.

Everyone at our table was into entrées from the sea. We had a couple of orders for sole and at least one for the crab cakes. Can’t comment on the quality except to say that there were no doggy bags and clean plates all around, except for my excess zuchinni.

Delights from the sea are the reason for frequenting Saybrook, but they have a menu for landlubbers, called “Staying on Dry Land”. There are four chicken dishes including Marsala, California, Teriyaki, and Florentine. A sirloin and NY strip steak round out the animal protein menu. For the vegetarians they offer pasta primavera. There is something for everyone, but the obvious reason for selecting the fish house for your destination is the seafood.

AMBIANCE = 8
The building and décor are retro sea shack, but a lot warmer and cozy. The floor plan is cut up into smaller dining spaces and interspersed with tables and booths. The was at least one working fireplace, propane fueled, but a nice touch on cold evenings. Because of the layout, even though the restaurant was packed we had little trouble communicating over a large, circular table for eight. Grumpy’s kind of place.

SERVICE = 9
It helped that the waitress knew and was known to several at our table. We were well taken care of.

FOOD QUALITY = 8
Really great seafood and right here in Canton. Not sure how they accomplish it, but they maintain the freshness of the shore fifty miles inland. If Saybrook Fish House isn’t your go-to source for seafood in the area, it should be.

VALUE = 9
Great pricing for excellent quality food, no wonder the place is always packed.

Yia, Yia’s Greek Kitchen

There’s a new Greek in town—restaurant that is—in Torrington, and it is something special. I’m not sure how long they have been here, Yia Yia’s Greek Kitchen is well hidden at the end of a small strip mall on East Main Street. We drove by the place even after fixing the location it on a map AP. There is a sign on the road, but it is small. I’ll give you a landmark, Yia Yia’s is across the street from the Shell station on East Main as you go up the hill out of town.

Kind of reminded me of restaurants you might expect in Europe, not much to suggest from the façade but a cozy little taverna on the inside. The transition is remarkable. Twinkling strings of lights crisscross the ceiling with splashes of colored foliage in corners and over the small bar making the space a good approximation of an outdoor café with whitewashed walls. Stone floors, with small tables for four complete the mirage.

The menu doesn’t disappoint and is loaded with interesting options, so many it makes selection difficult. I tend to stick with classic dishes on first visit, a dish that I have consumed elsewhere for comparison. I settled almost immediately on the Moussaka. A popular item at Yia, Yia’s and apparently very good, they had run out. Derailed in my selection process, I didn’t spend enough time reading the details of the other menu options and landed on a gyro platter with lamb. Not a poor choice by any means. The lamb was spit roasted in the classical method which results in a well-seasoned, thinly sliced, succulent meat. The platter was a twelve-inch plate loaded with the lamb, tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, wedges of pita bread, fries and a creamy, delicious tzatziki to tie the whole entrée together. In essence, my entrée was a gyro sandwich laid open on the plate but with a considerable increase in food volume. You will want a good appetite for this selection.

I ordered Dolmades as an appetizer to share with Happy. The grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice and marinated in a lemon vinaigrette were excellent. Savory and tangy, the leaves were easily cut with a fork. I could have made a meal of just the Dolmades. Only thing suspicious was the consistency of size and shape. Were they made here on site?

Speaking of appetizers for a meal, when we go back, I will entertain the option of ordering a series of them, a side or two of pita bread and a dip platter (a selection of three of a half dozen dip options). To mix metaphors or cultures a bit, a tapas approach to Greek dining. Actually, they seem to promote this. Our waiter, owner, did mention ordering “small plates”, but at that point I was on the Moussaka train, with a full head of steam, and when I got derailed, was too flummoxed to return to this option. Mistake? No. Now we have two reasons to return, Moussaka and small dish ordering.

Happy ordered an actual Gyro, with chicken. It was a handful, but manageable and if anything like the quality of my platter delicious. She confirmed the taste part.

Yia, Yia’s runs a line of craft beers that lists a couple of Greek options. Well, when in a Greek restaurant . . . I ordered a Mythos the “heavier” option of the two according to our host. A smooth ale, not at all heavy, but full of flavor. A brew you could turn to to slake a thirst on a hot summer day. At 4.7% ABV you could do some serious “slaking” before the alcohol kicked in. Anyway, a good option with the meal, not too filling or overpowering.
We are definitely going to return to Yia, Yia’s Greek Kitchen. There are too many options I wish to try. And those of you that want a Greek experience without all the hassle of travel, stop in at Yai, Yia’s, it’s like a culinary teleportation to the Isles. See you there.

Ambiance = 8
Yia, Yia’s has tried to carve out a little piece of the Greek experience and they have succeeded. See the description above. I didn’t think it was noisy, but you are be privy to the conversations around you. The tables are that close.

Food Quality = 9
A refreshing slice of Mediterranean cooking in the Torrington area.

Service = 9
The owners are on the scene and are particularly concerned with their guest’s experience. A nice feeling and I hope they can keep it up.

Value = 9
Reasonable prices for high quality, unique food, spells value.

Apple Valley Pub and Restaurant – Milford, PA

Returning from a visit to our family in Pennsylvania this past week via the scenic route, we found ourselves in Milford, PA at lunchtime. Milford is a favorite stopping point on our journey north or south and if you have been following this blog, I’ve reviewed both Hotel Fauchere and the Dimmick Inn & Steak House and we’ve stopped by each several times. As I said, Milford is favorite spot. We decided this time to try something new, so I queried the lady in the GPS as to other restaurants in the area. After going through a number of lists, we finally settled on a promising sounding Italian place that didn’t have pizza in the name and was right up the street. We were directed to a vacant building that had been a restaurant in the recent past, but was no longer in business. Oh, joy.

Looking for a place to pull over and lambast Miss GPS, I spied a little road house tucked into a strip mall of quaint looking shops called Apple Valley. The road house designation is accurate and the place reminded me of the well spaced stops in Alaska, rustic and back woodsy in appearance the façade was clean and neat. We went for it.

Turns out the small place was quite extensive with three dining rooms and an eat-in bar. The road house theme was carried inside with rough sawn planking on the walls and exposed stained columns and beams. The wall décor was also in character. We had a carving of a giant rainbow trout hanging opposite our table.

The ambiance is like the comfort of a well-worn slipper. Even as a first-time visitor you feel like you belong. The staff is pleasant and accommodating and they seem genuinely pleased to see you. Tables and booths are well-spaced, not crammed in, so you are not overhearing anyone else’s conversations. Indeed, one could hold forth in normal voice without having to overcome background noise. There was music playing, but we only noticed because the selection of tunes was the fifties variety, something we had been listening to in the car on our way here. The separation of the dining space into three separate rooms had a lot to do with sound control. Some one was thinking when they designed the space.

Apple Valley runs a selection of craft beers some local some far flung. As is the norm these days, many of the listings were IPAs. I’m not a fan of IPAs, in fact I would go so far as to say I detest the extreme bitterness of overboiled hops. My take is that you brew IPAs to cover the inferior taste of low-quality grains. What do you do if, as brew master, you are stuck with less than optimal ingredients? You hop it up and let the bitterness cover the error of your ways and there you have an IPA. I wish the fad would pass and we can get back to brewing great ales and beers.

So out of the list of tap brews I was left with the options of a wheat beer or a seasonal brew from Shiner Brewery from Texas. Now I have had Shiner Bock many times. It is a favorite brew, consistent and safe when I am in Texas. Their seasonal brew— meh. Watery, lacking in meaningful flavor, it was drinkable, but I wouldn’t order it again.

But forget the Shiner experience, the food is what this is all about. Happy and I ordered the same thing as we often do, their Apple Valley Chicken sandwich. Sound innocuous, but far from it. The Chicken, a thick cut of breast meat, was marinated in an herb and garlic sauce before grilling. The flavors of the marinade were carried over into the final entrée a wonderful tang on the back of the tongue. The meat was topped with marsala sautéed onions and wild mushrooms. The whole thing was smothered with melted Havarti cheese and wrapped in a fresh baked pretzel roll. Now that description should get your mouth watering. It did mine and Happy’s when we read the description.

The sandwich lived up to its billing. I would say without hesitation this was the best chicken sandwich I have ever eaten and I’ve had a lot as the bail-out luncheon option. It is obvious that Apple Valley cares about its cuts of meat and their preparation.

The menu lists many delicious sounding options, too many to list. They do a lot with steaks, and there are eight specialty burgers, and a full barbeque menu. If our chicken breast sandwiches were any indication of their spicing and marinating skills, I wouldn’t hesitate to order anything on the menu and can’t wait to go back and try something different.

Apple Valley is a gem of an accidental find. We may have found our new favorite stop in Milford.

Service = 9
Everyone on the staff was pleasant and accommodating. We even had a visit from the owner/manager to check if everything was okay. How often does that happen?

Food Quality = 9
I suppose a “10” would have been in order, but I reserve that rating for fine dining experiences. While a road house atmosphere, the quality of what we had was definitely up high of the list.

Ambiance = 9
They carry the road house theme well. See comments above on noise level.

Value = 9
Fair pricing for top quality food.

The Proper Brewing Company – Quakertown, PA

Hello, Grumpy here in Quakertown, PA. on a holiday visit to daughter and family. We went out to dinner at the Proper Brewing Company right here in the center of town. Yes, there is a brewery on site. Craft brewing operations are popping up everywhere.
Interesting place, Proper Brewing, and a thriving one if our experience is accurate. The place was packed and it was good foresight that we made a reservation. There were several parties waiting when we arrived, but our table was reserved and waiting for us.

Let’s set the mood here before we dive in. This is a brew-pub, smallish as restaurants go, but larger than some brew pubs I’ve seen. I’d estimate about twenty tables of so, enough to indicate that food is a strong competitor to the brew.

It was a noisy occasion, but surprisingly we could converse with elevated voices slightly less that a shout. Acceptable for this kind of place where multiple conversations buzz from nearby tables, folks all having a good time.

But it is really all about the beer. The list of crafted brews runs about a dozen varieties ranging in alcohol content from 5.3% to a heady 10% for there King Willy’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout. There is a blend of stout and cider that is listed at (?) % ABV, and with a name of Proper Snakebite it has to be darn near lethal.

I settled for an English dark ale, Willy’s Old English, not a usual item on the menu. It was pretty darn good, full of flavor, the good kind of taste not only of hops but the grains, toasted malt etc. What an English Brown is supposed to be. It came in at 5.8% ABV.
I followed up with a Prop-er Cherry Stout to taste a few of their offerings. (I wasn’t driving.) I couldn’t resist when I read the description. “Our No Name Stout very well rested on Ecuador Cocoa nibs and then blended with Chocolate Cherry coffee.” Now I am not usually a fan of fruited brews, but the combination of cherry and coffee with the stout was intriguing. It did not disappoint. Not a thirst quenching brew for the summertime, Prop-er Cherry is a fine winter brew, loaded with a mélange of flavor, no one dominant, but each one detectable as they lend to the flavor of the whole.

I have always felt that if you are going to do food at a brewery, you should pay an equal amount of attention to the food and brew quality. I think perhaps that is why we now see breweries assembling food trucks on location – leave the food prep to those who know food and focus on the brewing process. It’s a good idea, but Proper Brewing attempts to do both with mixed success.

There is creativity is the kitchen and it is reflected in their menu options. As one might expect they are heavy on pub style food. There are a variety of sandwiches and wraps with some pretty unique twists like their adult grilled cheese comprised of pesto, mozzarella cheese, tomato, and bacon.

I went with one of their flat breads, the mushroom version comprised of a ten by six-inch flatbread layered with Ricotta, onions, parmesan, tomatoes, mixed greens and a balsamic glaze drizzled over the top. Sounded good, just what I wanted, but here is where the Proper Brewing experience began to unravel.

The whole concoction of my entrée was left in the oven too long. The bottom was a dark brown with the fringes shading to black. Now there are those who swear by flatbreads that are well done to the point of charring. Personally, I do not see the point. The flavor of charcoal destroys the flavor of the dish as a whole. If I wanted the flavor of charcoal, I’d munch on barbeque briquettes right out of the bag.

To compound the error of overcooking, the level of mushrooms on the dish could have been counted on the fingers of one hand. I like mushrooms and that was the reason for my ordering this particular option. Needless to say, the dish turned out to be a disappointment.

Happy went with the fish and chips, beer battered with some of the own brews in the mix. I had a few bites and the dish was worthy of mention. Two big pieces of white fish 9 (they describe as “market fish”), encapsulated with the batter that was crispy without being tough. Eminently cuttable with a fork. The fish was tender and flavorful carrying the spices of the batter and seemed to be high quality “market fish”.

In all fairness, we were there on a Saturday night and the staff was swamped and I assume too the kitchen. Still, if you are going to be a full-service brewery/restaurant, one needs to prepare for the occasional onslaught.

Service = 7
Service adequate. As mentioned, they were extremely busy. Our waitress was as attentive as time allowed, which meant she was not always available when we needed something. We didn’t suffer any deficiencies in service that were meal spoiling.

Ambiance = 8
For a brewpub, it is quite pleasant. Noise level, even at full capacity, was within reason. Surprisingly for a Saturday night they reserved tables, which meant no wait for us. Seating is at both high pub and low regular height tables. They cram a lot of people into this small space, but somehow is doesn’t feel claustrophobic.

Food Quality = 7
See comments of my flatbread entrée above. Was disappointed with this offering, but not so much that I will not give them a second chance. And did I mention the beer?

Value = 9
Very reasonable pricing for all food items.

A Terrible Week for Tony’s

Tony LIt’s been a bad week for Tony’s. Learned through a Facebook post the other day of the passing of one on my high school classmates, Tony Labella. We were friends but we weren’t particularly close. We had a few activities in common. We were both percussionists, only his set of drums was far superior to mine and I harbored a secret envy. Neither of us ever did anything with our talent for beating on the skins as far as I know. Oh, I played in a small band in college, not with any great success. What Tony did is a mystery. He disappeared after high school when the rest of us went off to college. He informed us at a fifth-year class reunion that he was with the merchant marine corp.

After that he went to sea and I never saw him again. Oh, there were rumors of world travel, residences in exotic countries like Norway, stories passed from someone to someone else so they could never be truly confirmed.  A ghost, at least to those of us he left behind.

I only recently discovered that he had landed in Vancouver and that fair city was his home base. Wish I had known that fact sooner as my travels took me up that way on occasion. Would have been nice to see him again. I exchanged a couple of emails mostly about attending one of our annual high school class gatherings. Replies were short and terse, so I never pursued them further.

Then the Facebook posting appeared. I suppose the shock of the news had more to do with my own mortality than his. As I said, we just weren’t that close. But as one of twenty-eight in the class, each member’s passing carries a significant percentage loss for those who remain behind and we’ve lost to many already not to feel the cold breath of destiny on the back of my neck with each passing.

RIP Tony Labella.

ToniOur cat Toni had to put down this past weekend. It was the end of her seventeen-year journey through at least three homes, the last two years with us. When Toni and her sister arrived, we knew we were adopting senior citizens, but the estimated age was eleven years. A visit to the vet placed both “girls” at fifteen. We were fortunate to have them for as long as we did. Monet the sister, succumbed to age related illness a year ago. Toni soldiered on, indeed thrived as an “only cat”.

She became a lap cat, specifically my lap cat. I couldn’t sit anywhere for more that a few minutes before she’d jump up and curl up. When I say anywhere, I mean everywhere, watching TV, at meals, or a particular favorite when I was attempting to write on my laptop.

Toni had a particular fascination with the writing process, or so it seemed. She appeared mesmerized by the characters appearing on the screen. She was my feline editor, and on occasion she’d place a paw on my hand or the keyboard. I suppose the gesture was designed to gain my attention, but more often that not, I ‘d read over the last sentence on the screen and improve it. Everyone’s a critic.

Her position as cat-lap-editor became so ingrained, she rated a mention of her function in the author bio in my upcoming book Black & White, due out in a couple of weeks. The thought has crossed my mind that she was holding on until that project was in the publisher’s hands, her decline was so rapid on the completion of the book. Guess we’ll never know.

What I do know is that I am on my own now, and it’s been a terrible week for Tony(i)’s.

The Quick, The Slow, But Equally Deadly

There has been a lot written and posted on social media over the past few days about the massacre at Sandy Hook. For those of us who reside in the state, that tragedy struck close to home. We were understandably shocked as we all should be. Mass shootings are  quick and deadly. The carnage they leave behind is with us forever, particularly if it is children in the line of fire.

But with another death this week in the pens used for incarceration of kids on our southern border, I would like to draw your attention to the mass murder that is occurring there as the result of brutality and neglect of those charged with responsibility of the establishment and administration of these concentration camps.

Not as sensational or graphic as the aftermath of a rampage with an AR-15, but no less deadly, the blood of these murders is on the hands of those who reside in this administration with the power to do something and refuse, as well as those of us who stand by and say nothing.

I offer the following short story to remind all that the victims dying in chain link pens are someone’s son or daughter and to point out this carnage is as meaningless and unnecessary as a Sandy Hook.


Juxtaposition

El Segundo Barrio, El Paso, Texas

Luz Ramirez thumbed the embossed notary’s seal on the certificate, tactile proof of her new US citizenship. Her roommates wanted to go out to celebrate. Luz needed to be alone. She shooed them out with little resistance. Any excuse to party, they jumped on it.
For her, this was a solemn occasion, a first step to freedom for her and her son. At times like these she hated herself for leaving Carlos behind, but a quick glance at her surroundings the one room she shared with three other women, the two sticks of furniture they possessed including the folding card table at which now she sat, convinced her that she chose wisely. Her son had a stable life down there in her sister’s care.
Now, she possessed her citizenship papers and could concentrate on saving up to bring Carlito here. Another reason to not go out. Booze cost money, money she needed to gather not squander on frivolous things.
***
An abandoned military base somewhere in west Texas
“Hey Bull, the man wants us to kick 126 off his butt. Needs him all happy and smiling for the upcoming inspection by Senator Burgess.”
Bull Bracken felt the red rise up his neck. Didn’t like to be told what to do, least of all by Joey Theroux, his shift partner. “What’s the boss expect us to do? Last time I knew they don’t give out happy pills.”
“Didn’t say. The kid hasn’t moved from the corner of his cell since he landed here.”
“So, what? ”
“It don’t look good for the Senator.”
“You got any ideas? I’m fresh out.”
“I don’t know. We gotta do something.”
The last thing Bull wanted to be was a damned recreation director. “All right, all right. What do we know about this kid?”
“Got his file right here. Name’s Carlos. Came across near El Paso in a truck-load of illegals. Says he came in with a Maria Moreno. They sent her back home.”
“To Mexico? Without him? Never mind. Just can’t get used to them keeping these kids behind. What are we going to do with ‘em all? At least we got a name. Let’s go roust this Carlos Moreno.”
They entered the huge hanger building filled with four by eight cages built from chain link fencing, each with a number on the door. Reminded Bull of the dog pound back home in Louisiana, but way bigger and there were kids in them cages, not dogs.
The scrawny teenager in 126 stared at the floor, his back up against the far corner. He didn’t look up when Bull rattled the door. The whole cage moved. How could he not feel the vibrations in the wire? “Hey, 126? Yo, you deaf or something?”
Bull pulled out his keys. Stupid to keep them penned up like this and expect them to appear normal. One hour of yard time and the rest locked away. No wonder they acted screwed up.
Yanking the door open, Bull charged across the pen his club at the ready. “On your feet you little twerp. You’re causing us a lot of trouble and what comes down on us comes down on you in spades. Got it?”
Joey pushed Bull’s baton toward the floor. “Ain’t no way to act. You’re scaring him.”
“You got a better idea? Go ahead, genius, have at it.” Bull retreated to the aisle.
Joey inched forward. “Carlos?” The kid’s eyes shot up at the mention of his name. He flashed Joey a black scowl. This whole situation could explode at any second.
Joey stopped a few feet from the kid. “Carlos? Your name, right?”
To Bull’s amazement, the kid nodded.
Joey stuck out his hand. “We just want you to get up, Carlos, be happy like these other kids. Maybe play a little soccer—ah, football with them in the yard. That kind of stuff. You know football, right? Come on. It will be easier on everyone if you do it.”
Like a Mexican jack-in-the-box, Carlos leapt to his feet. He batted Joey’s hand to the side and screamed, “Exijo contactar con mi madre.”
The shout echoed off the high rafters. Joey backed away. The kid repeated the phrase inching toward Joey, stabbing the air with each word.
Bull was through the door, baton out. “What’s he yammering about?”
Joey stepped between the two of them. “I heard madre. Isn’t that mother in Mexican?”
“How the hell would I know. Ain’t got no use for their language. That’s what the interpreters are for.”
Joey tried again. “Carlos?”
Another nod. Dark eyes flicked from Joey to Bull and back. Bull didn’t like the hate in those eyes. They should get out of there and leave this kid alone. They’d done their job, he was on his feet. Where was his partner going with all this anyway? Didn’t serve any purpose unless they understood what the kid was saying.
Joey pressed on. “Carlos Moreno, we are trying to reunite you with your Mother, Maria Moreno, ya know, your madre.”
The kid shook his head, the motions so violent spit flew from his mouth. “Exijo contactar con ….” With a wave of his hand, he cut his words, deflated to the floor and skootched into the corner right where they found him moments ago.
Joey turned to Bull. “What was that about? Thought I might be getting through to him. Weird.”
“Obvious we ain’t getting any more out of him without someone who speaks spic. Next time they send us on one of their pet projects it damn well better be with an interpreter.”
“Good luck. Only two of them on the base and they’re always tied up.”
“Yeah, probably the senator’s idea of cost cutting.”
***
El Segundo Barrio
Been so long since Luz hugged her Carlito, but she felt him strangely near tonight, near to her heart at least. The words on the Citizenship certificate blurred. She tossed the paper away before bitter tears fell on it.
A toddler when she left, her son had become a little man. She heard it in his voice and the words he wrote. Would he recognize her when she saw him next? Their only link over the years, those letters and a few phone calls.
The last letter from them didn’t sound so promising. The gangs were in the villages now. It was not safe anymore. She had to find a way to bring Carlito here.
Her sister hadn’t responded to her last two letters, but the Mexican postal service was spotty at best. Another reason to phone. She would’ve called more often but the bodega owner charged outrageous fees to use his phone. She had no other way.
Luz would spend the money tonight to tell them of her new citizenship. She thumbed through a worn address book. There, the number, under “M” for Moreno, her sister Maria’s married name.

McLaddin’s – Simsbury, CT

I usually do not repeat a review of a specific restaurant. That’s not to say that we do not repeat a visit to a favorite or special-to-us place,  but I do not choose to bore you with repeat postings on the same place. However, I did  read somewhere recently that a restaurant reviewer should visit an establishment at least twice, particularly if the first experience was subpar. So we happened to be in Simsbury attending an author event at the Storyteller’s Cottage and found ourselves in need of dinner.

Now those of you who have been following this blog for the restaurant reviews may recall that our last experience at McLaddin’s was just two clics shy of a disaster. The place was packed and noisy, the food nothing special, and the beer, well, the beer was horrible.

Well then, why would we return? A couple of reasons. I’ve talked to folks since our last visit who have had a good experience there, the place is always packed,  and my reading up on restaurant reviewing told me  they deserved a second look.

Nothing for it then, on a rainy, miserable November night, the pub was a welcome respite from the weather outside. We were early, but there were still a fair amount of people dining and taking in a Patriots game at the bar. Not crowded and tolerably noisy except when the Pat’s did something noteworthy,  we chose a seat in the Pub.  I have to say that we were not offered a seat in the dining room again. I guess you have to ask and be pushy about it to gain access. We took the window seat over the sidewalk and watched folks dodge raindrops and puddles.

I was in the mood for a Scotch Ale, and McLadden’s is one of the few places that has them on tap. I chose a Bellhaven with trepidation considering the last experience with a lousy pour here. This one was as expected, a decent brew, eminently drinkable but in my opinion Bellhaven has lost a beat or two in flavor since moving to the new brewery outside of Edinburgh.  I knew the latter going in, but hope looms eternal among beer loyalists. Alas, ’twasn’t to be and I will scratch the brand from my list of choices. Not McLadden’s faust, this one lies with the Bellhaven.

Both Happy and I chose entrées from the Irish menu. Is there any real alternative? Yes, of course, there are all kinds of unique sandwiches,  burgers to fit any desire. No fine dining options here, just good solid food, in a fair portion. It is a pub after all.

I chose the Smithwick’s Braised Lamb Stew, chunks of tender, cut with your fork, lamb swimming in a demiglace sauce with  carrots, potatoes, onions, and peas. The sauce was delicately seasoned and complimentary to the rest of the ingredients. Sitting on top of the unusually shaped serving bowl was an artisanal puff pastry, designed to compliment the crockery.  The lamb was tender, no chewy mutton here.  All in all a truly creative and excellent dish based on a traditional Irish menu item.

Happy chose the fish and chips. The lightly beer battered fillets of cod were reminiscent of the flight deck of an air craft carrier in size. Must have been good, there was no take out bag.

Well, dear readers, on second look McLadden’s Pub in Simsbury is a viable destination for the true pub experience and good solid food. The article on restaurant reviewing was right, any one establishment can have an off night. A bad fist experience deserves a second trial. My opinion of McLadden’s goes from a thumbs down to a definite thumbs up.

Ambiance  =  7

It is a pub and has a true Irish pub atmosphere. It can get noisy when there is a large crowd. If you go and require some peace and quiet, demand the dining room. The option won’t be offered.

Service  =  9

Service was excellent.

Food Quality  =  8

Pub dining,  but good solid food with some creativity in the kitchen.  I like their Irish menu.

Value  =  9

Fair pricing for good eats, particularly considering  they are in Simsbury.