Certainly, the food scene in Bridgeport is getting "curiouser and curiouser." And that's a very good thing. No need for a trip down the rabbit hole, however, to experience the marvelous and weirdly wonderful creations at the new Walrus and Carpenter at 2895 Fairfield Ave. The concept (brain child of proprietor Joe Farrell) is this - a slow cook BBQ house that offers haute cuisine sides and a first class beer menu where everything (except for the tequila and the pit master) is made in America.
Usually, American BBQ restaurants offer excellent meats but boring, less than note-worthy accompaniments. Here, the offerings are mostly Texas style -where the meat is slow cooked and fall-off-the-bone tender -and the main courses are paired with elegant slaws, exquisite collards and house made pickle platters. Food is plated, not just put on the plate, and that adds to the special experience. And to elevate your dining further, a fabulous selection of Craft beers by the glass or by the growler. (Some choices include Green Flash Imperial IPA and Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace.) The kitchen is led by Executive Chef Paul DiMaria formerly of Community Table in Washington, CT and the food is first class yet at the same time finger-licking delicious. Simply put - it works.
The physical space at Walrus and Carpenter is funky and very inviting. Upon entry, guests will find exposed brick walls, wooden tables and a large bar with high tops...as well as the smell of smoky, delicious meat and the sound of live music floating in from the Acoustic Cafe across the street. Manager Adam Roytmen, formerly of Match and Napa and Co., helped Farrell transform the former Ash Creek Saloon and they have hired and trained a wait-staff that is knowledgeable, efficient and extremely pleasant. There is a massive, custom built smoker in the back and ALL meats are wood-smoked for hours on end. This is a place you want to be. And this is a place where you want to eat.
First to the table was a dish from the "Bar Menu," the house-made PICKLE PLATTER. If you are tired when you walk through the door, the PICKLE PLATTER will wake up any sleepy palate. Refreshing and super tasty, bread and butter pickles, carrots, onions, beets and cauliflower arrived on a large tray and acted as the prologue to the crazy-good acts to follow. Crunchy, with just enough tartness to tingle the back of your tongue yet with a touch of sweetness to calm you back down. The ROASTED SUMMER SQUASH was a hit with smokey tomatoes, eggplant, roasted eggplant puree and a delicate and flavorful basil aioli. Next up, the GRILLED PEACHES with pork belly and goat cheese. I was hoping that this would be a warm salad but it came to the table cold. The peaches were not as ripe as I had hoped but the salad was still a winner, with fennel, greens and a whiskey maple vinaigrette to tie it all together.
My favorite was by far the SMOKED HOUSE-MADE CHORIZO. Here, a delicately poached egg was the perfect chapeau for the wonderfully textured and tasty sausage, doused with spring onion and accompanied with slightly crunchy and outrageously flavored salt and vinegar roasted potatoes. (Who does that?!?!?)
And now for something a little bit Asian, the SMOKED CHICKEN WINGS. These are NOT football game fare - these are fine-dining wings. First of all, they are enormous and the meat is as tender as can be. Coated with a mildly spicy, Thai chili caramelized ambrosia and laced with a cilantro-peanut gremolata (chopped herbs consisting of lemon zest, garlic and parsley), these wings put all others to shame.
But ultimately, the meat's the thing at any smokehouse and Australian pit-master Ben McRae and crew certainly do meat right (Check out their smoker on Facebook). We chose to start with the COFFEE RUBBED SPARE RIBS. Delectable and wonderfully moist for a dry rub, even the BONE seemed to be falling off the bone. The meat was tender and juicy, and while the coffee in the rub was subtle, the resulting flavor was richly pleasing...eliciting audible sounds of approval from the table.
Next up were the MAPLE BOURBON BABY BACK RIBS (one of the few non- East Texas style offerings) These had been in the smoker for over 6 hours and the bourbon in the glaze was VERY present. Sweet but not cloying, with the bourbon as the starring flavor, we almost called on a designated driver to take us home. But is was too early yet.
Next up was the PIT SMOKED PULLED PORK which came out perfectly tender and smoky but to some at the table, offered less dynamic flavor than some of the other meats. Our second visit changed our mind however, so, I'd say give it a try. And we felt compelled to try the SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN- after all, we had eaten so little at this point (!) - and it was most certainly worth it. Served with a black pepper biscuit and the most amazing honey-sriracha sauce, this chicken was a crispy, crunch fest with no extraneous grease whatsoever - spectacular! (Watch out Momofuku, me thinks this is the Fried Chicken dinner to beat...)
As all of the entree Meats are ordered a la carte, (other than the Fried Chicken which comes with biscuits), you'll want to establish a solid plan for your side dishes. This is one of the many places where Chef Paul DiMaria really shines.
The BRAISED GREENS came sweet and tangy, literally melting in your mouth. The SEASONAL SLAW was a creative and successful take on a classic, this one made with fennel, cabbage, celery root and peaches. And I would be remiss if I didn't press upon you the importance of trying the BAKED MAC & CHEESE, made with Gruyere and sporting a light crispy crust over a creamy interior. We had high hopes for the CORNMEAL SPOONBREAD, which had the right pudding-like consistency, but was somehow too heavy alongside the meats.
And just because we were "starving" at this point we felt compelled to sample some of the phenomenal desserts that Walrus and Carpenter has to offer. Wicked good ice cream is available from Ferris Acres Creamery in Newtown and the SWEET POTATO scoop on our dessert was decadently creamy and tasted - EXACTLY- like cool, creamy sweet potato. But the real gems on the dessert menu come from the experienced hands of pastry chef Maggie Lyon.
The DEEP FRIED BLUEBERRY PIE was killer. Sweet. warm blueberries are tucked inside a flaky pastry envelope. This was out of this world.
The STRAWBERRY CRISP was also wonderful and by this time we were ready to pass out from our gluttonous extravaganza. With many items left to sample we would have to wait until next time - and there will be MANY "next times!"
The space fits about 50 in the main part of restaurant with larger tables in the back, picnic style, that fit 15 at a time. A larger, private dining area will be opening soon and this would be a great place for a party. In the near future, there will be "pig-roasts" on offer and a Sunday Brunch, alongside a farmer's market. I cannot wait. This meal was vaguly reminiscent of the much beloved Fette Sau experience in Williamsburg, Brooklyn - similar delivery but with a much more elegant presentation.
And why "WALRUS AND CARPENTER" as the name of the establishment? I read the poem (from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland -Through the Looking Glass) and it was mildly disturbing yet wonderfully fascinating. I think I understand. The poem is all about the masterful art of seduction. So is the restaurant. Don't miss out.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" said Alice.
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to." said the Cheshire Cat.
This way, Alice - 2895 Farifield Ave. Don't be late.
Walrus and Carpenter 2895 Farifield Ave. 203.333.2733