Don’t look now, but there’s a Bear in your Tavern

Birthdays are often wonderful, especially when they are filled with delicious food.  And boy, did I have a foodie birthday this year!  Let’s start with my actual birthday eve, last night, at the Capital Grille.  With impeccable attention to detail and making special occasions as special as can be, they started with a card and confetti:

happy birthday

So festive!

They also brought out bubbly, which paired nicely with our (not pictured) oysters:


Making a girl feel special

And finished off with a dessert plate, which our server Michael customized for me upon overhearing me mention I hate cheesecake (which I do, don’t judge me):

happy birthday dessert

So instead, we were served my very favorite coconut creme pie.  Which is tart, salty, sweet, smothered in hand made whipped cream, and perfectly decadent

That’s just the level of consideration and attention to detail that can be expected at the Capital Grille.

IIn addition to the glorious celebration dinner listed above, I was fortunate enough to finally attend a Bears Smokehouse and Millwrights pop up dinner in the Millwrights Tavern on Monday night.  This will be a ‘thing’ every Monday night for the forseable future, and it involves taking Bear’s glorious BBQ and giving it a high end twist with Tyler Anderson’s signature cooking style.  Behold: “The Cook and the Bear”

rum cocktail millwrights

Behold also my Sloe Gin Fizz (sloe gin, lemon, and soda)- Chris Parrot never disappoints

The menu is divided into small plates (priced at $4) salads (priced at $8) proteins ‘from the smoker’ (at $6.50) sandwiches ($10.50), sides (also $4), and sweet stuff, aka dessert ($6).  It’s quite affordable and, well, let’s just look at some food porn shall we?

cocktail and pickles at millwrights

Tyler always makes a good pickle.  It helps that he works with the Community Farm at Simsbury and always sources fresh and local.  Also pictured: a “Dirty Holiday” cocktail (tequila, coconut, pineapple, and lime)

corn on the cob at millwrights

Grilled corn with the flavors of Greek salad.  Like Mexican style corn, this is drizzled and drenched in decadent toppings.  It’s, quite obviously, corn season, so the best time of the year to be eating the stuff anyway.  Tyler’s preparation of it is very signature of his style – a simple vegetable dish elevated with masterful flavors and a twist on a traditional technique. 

beet salad

It might seem difficult to order a salad when there’s so much meaty BBQ to be had – but get your dang salad.  It’s good for you – pictured is the: “smoked beets, ricotta, and walnut pesto.”  The beets packed flavor and texture and the citrusy, earthy flavors balanced nicely against the creamy cheese sauce.

ribs and mac and cheese at millwrights

You should still get BBQ.  Obviously.  Pictured: baby back ribs, baked beans, and mac & cheese with chicken cracklings.  Of all the things on this plate, the mac and cheese really sang to my soul.  In the way that only creamy cheese and crunchy chicken cracklings do

brisket sandwich at millwrights

The burnt ends sandwich – with the flavors of french onion soup.  It was difficult for me not to order this one for myself.  Burnt ends – the fatty, juicy ends of the brisket – are my favorite item to order at Bears Smokehouse.  But I restrained myself and will get it next time, because I simply, absolutely needed this:

best chicken sandwich at millwrights

The nashville hot chicken sandwich, iceberg, pickles.  Also known as the chicken sandwich against which all others will now be judged and found wanting.  Sorry Chick Fil A.  I don’t need you or your bigot chicken anymore.  I’ll take this local, better version instead.  And pair it with a nice Maine “Baxter” IPA.

The cozy Millwright’s Tavern is a perfect back drop for a decadent BBQ dinner – moving into the fall, this will be epically good comfort food.  Please go, check it out, and enjoy.  It’s a unique local collaboration which we are very fortunate to have here.


“Scales, Shells & Steak” with Chef Billy Grant at Rose’s Berry Farm

Farm to Table is not a trend.  It’s not an artisanal burger, a kale garnish, a terrifying insistence on not using plates (which is more of a European phenomena, thankfully, at least for now…) – the point I am making is – it’s not a passing foodie phase.  Not that there’s anything wrong with foodie trends, executed correctly – I love a good gourmet burger personally.  But Farm to Table is much more than that.  It’s a lifestyle, and it’s also nothing new.

Farmers have always known that the best of foods are the ones you grow yourself, with love, on a place where you know the land.  And CT chefs have been tapping into our rich terrain for the same reasons – because food tastes better when it’s fresh and grown with love, and when you eat it outdoors in the summer, it’s a magical experience.

Having attended several Max chef to farm dinners over the years, I was very, very excited to have been invited to attend the “Scales Shells & Steak” pop up dinner at Rose’s Berry Farm.

I attended with my good friend Amanda, who I knew would love it as we had visited Grant’s for her birthday earlier this year.


We met some great people at our communal table also!

Chef Billy Grant has long been one of my favorites in the area – I interviewed him back in the day for when it was the Advocate’s website, and he has been the long time driving force behind Share Our Strength ever year


Plus, he likes the selfie

This was also my first trip to Rose’s Berry Farm, but I will most certainly return with Penelope soon – it’s a gorgeous, large, lush farm, with a great playground space and lots of pick your own options that are very family friendly!

Our dinner started out with a decadent array of appetizers on a pretty table scape with fresh flowers:


Among the offerings: BBQ Oysters, fresh local berries, arancini, mussels, and much more!

There was also a tasty raw bar and plenty of smaller passed appetizers – the mini lobster rolls were my favorite.  Amanda and I both sampled, and enjoyed, the signature 44 North Vodka berry lemonade before switching to wine (hello unlimited sparkling rose – I was happy not to be driving).  The wine pairings were en pointe with the food offerings and, like the appetizers, the very friendly staff was pouring with a heavy hand throughout the evening.

On to the mains:


Chilled Tomato Gazpacho (watermelon, pickled cucumber, avocado, and cilantro)

Although undoubtably a very wise choice for a hot, beautiful summer evening, this was my least favorite item of the evening.  I think that was due to the watermelon and cilantro combo – I like watermelon, and I’m “ok” with cilantro, but I think the herb tends to lend itself better to spicier, heavier foods and would have preferred basil instead.  Having said that, I was in the opinionated minority on this dish, as the rest of the table really enjoyed it and vociferously said as much whilst eating it.

squid ink pasta

Housemade Black Cavatelli Pasta (Octopus, sepia, scungilli, nduja, green olives, spicy tomato, and toasted breadcrumbs)

Good heavens yes.  This involved two of my favorite things to eat: black pasta and octopus.  The dreamy cavatelli’s texture balanced perfectly against the well executed octopus, with the breadcrumbs providing JUST the right amount of contrasting crunch to make this dish delectable.  I would love another large bowl of it, right now, as I am writing this.


The main attraction: Smoked Prime Rib of Beef (local corn, zucchini and summer bean salad, red wine glazed cipollini onions & horseradish gremolata)

Continuing with the BBQ motif touched on by the oysters appetizer, the prime rib had a trace of smokey BBQ flavor, enhanced by the thick, sweet au jus which accompanied it.  To be honest, the star of this dish was the fresh corn and vegetables – again accentuating the beauty of farm to table fare in the amount of honest and startlingly clear flavor in each and every bite.  The staff thoughtfully handed out to go boxes at the end of this course, as the previous courses and enormous appetizer array had decimated quite a few people’s appetites (my own included).  Amanda took the leftovers home from both of us for prime rib omelettes the next day for her family – genius!


Last, but certainly not least: Pistachio Cake (mascarpone sorbet & Rose’s Berry Farm fresh blueberries)

I’m not a huge dessert person – give me a good cheese plate almost any day to finish off a meal.  But this pound cake aroused me from my food coma and piqued my palate enough that I finished off the entire plate (if you’d asked me before I tasted it, I would have said such a thing was impossible – but it was just that good).  A very healthy dosage of lemon zest kept the cake from being too sweet, and the just-picked fresh local berries were bursting with ripe summery goodness.  A great showcase, again, for the local produce at Rose’s, and a wonderful way to finish the meal.

Thanks again to Chef Billy Grant, along with his Chefs de Cuisine, Corey Cannon (Bricco Trattoria) and Eric Sass (Grants) for a truly phenomenal meal.  Be sure to follow them on Instagram @briccotrattoria, @grantsrestaurat, and @restaurantbriccowh for more gorgeous food shots, and of course, tag your own when you go!  And you should, often.


I’m concluding with this lovely montage shot for the evening, courtesy of Bricco West Hartford’s Instagram