Fans of craft beer and elevated pub grub have a home in Stamford at the new Cask Republic on Summer Street. Lines of draft beer stretch down the bar in the dozens, awaiting pairing with menu items created and overseen by executive chef Carl Carrion.
The Cask Republic's first, and only other, location is in New Haven, so there shouldn't be too much competition for customers with its second pied-à-terre next to The Fez and across from Buffalo Wild Wings in Stamford. Walk into the new Cask and you'll see a large front room in which a good many tables and chairs are ringed by cushioned booths and myriad framed photographs, with a long black bar dominating the right hand wall.
The bar, one of two in The Cask Republic, is clearly meant to be the center of both attention and action in this future hub of Stamford nightlife, and features 51 taps poking their way through sheets of copper. Illuminated liquor bottles flank the taps, with gas lamps and Edison bulbs lighting the entire expanse.
Past the bar and built into the back wall is a special vintage room for aging very special brews. The bottles and small kegs are very visible through the glass facade of this extremely well lit beer cellar, if that's what you want to call it, and there is a semi-private nook with couches and well padded chairs between it and the corner of the bar.
The windows on the front of The Cask Republic are removable during summer months, but a winter opening served this spot very well. The space utilizes a lot of wood and, between the muted tones and the mild light from the electric lights and two gas fireplaces, it possesses a kind of warm, home-y feel. Visitors to owner Christian Burns' other ventures, The Cask Republic in New Haven, and The Ginger Man locations in Greenwich and South Norwalk, will be familiar with his personal touch in his restaurants' look and feel.
Executive chef Carl Carrion is a graduate of the New York Restaurant School,and has cooked under Rocco DiSpirito at Union Pacific. Small plates offered a sneak peak at the food he'll offer alongside all that beer. My first experience with the food was in the form of oxtail croquettes with watercress, radishes and smoked paprika aioli. The oxtail provided just enough umami to spread itself through the herbed, potato-heavy outer layer and crust of the croquettes, and the aioli added a welcome bit of kick.
The menu also listed spiced butternut squash with maple glazed pepitas, applewood smoked chicken, moulles frites, duck fat fries, curried chick pea fritters, a marinated beet salad, and cauliflower and Brussels sprout gratinado with double smoked bacon and Manchego cream, but I didn't see those anywhere in the crowd at the sneak peak event. What I did see was the crowd fairly fighting each other to get their hands on second and third helpings of bacon popcorn, which was dense with savory smoke.
Beer can be expected to find its way into many of the dishes at the Cask, and I sampled a few of the smoked short rib meatballs with Captain Lawrence IPA BBQ glaze and Maytag bleu cheese. They were intensely tangy and flavorful with plenty of moisture from the fatty meat.
I was considerably less impressed with an hors d'oeuvres of pastrami on toast with shredded hard cheese. I couldn't decide if there was a condiment throwing off the flavor or if the meat was oddly cured or what, but a member of the staff passed by and told us it was actually lamb pastrami, and I reevaluated my expectations somewhat. We'll see where the pastrami appears on the full menu and give a fair chance in a later review. I appreciated a following passed course of salty, paper thin house made potato chips served with a mild, but intensely creamy gouda dip.
The star of night was the duck confit pizza with caramelized onion, balsamic figs, and goat cheese. The Stamford Cask Republic's kitchen features a new, wood fired pizza oven, and the pizza was very nicely done in very high heat, yielding an ideal crust which was crisp and crunchy, but still chewy. There was a good deal of olive oil to the flavor, overlain by the sweetness of the figs, the unctuous duck, and the savory herbal pesto. It's a fairly decadent pie, and possibly destined to become the location's flagship pizza. A plain pizza will be offered for purists, and a culatello pie with walnut pesto, smoked mozzerella, Brussels spouts and fresh tomatoes, as well.
Walk past the fireplace set into the large front room's rear wall and you'll see a smaller back room stretching straight back to its own fireplace, with a smaller bar topped in white marble immediately the right. This back barroom has eight more taps of its own, and is available to host private events.
Even a short review of The Cask Republic wouldn't be very complete without talking more about the beer, and the multinational bottle list, even in the abbreviated form I saw, was still impressive, and studded with high end imports from B. United in Oxford.
Burns and the Ginger Man/Cask Republic staff paid a visit to Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. over the New York border a month or so ago to create a new beer in cooperation with Capt. Lawrence brewmaster Scott Vaccaro. The collaboration beer was dubbed Ryeghts Of Passage, and made its debut on Wednesdaynight. "Ryeghts" is a rye brown ale made with Crystal hops, and weighing in at an unabashed 7%. It pours a clear, reddish brown with a lasting, lacy head. There is a super clean scent, with only hints of the beer's components escaping their liquid state, and just a tiny bit of grain to the nose. Ryeghts is smooth as a veal cutlet on the first sip, with toasty, caramelized rye sliding across the palate. It finishes crisp, with a slight sprinkle of toast and some fruity hop accents from the Crystals. I sampled this beer, and then I sampled it some more, just to be sure. This is all part of my tireless effort to help you, our readers, stay well and accurately informed.
Don't want to take my word for it? Inform yourself, as many times as needed: The Cask Republic opens for business today. The heartlands of Stamford's bar/restaurant scene have received a small, but very appealing, upgrade.