Donovan's in SONO Serving Up a Pretty Good Bar Burger

Jeff "jfood" Schlesinger

My ongoing Burger search continued into South Norwalk and Donovan’s Restaurant. Located on the corner of Washington and Water Streets, Donovan’s is an historic landmark, founded in 1889 by Jeremiah Donovan. Donovan was a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives, served in the Connecticut Senate as well as the United States House of Representatives, before returning to Norwalk as its Mayor. Rumors abound that a number of presidential candidates were seen "taking a break" while making their tours of New England.

When you enter the single dining room, you can understand why. It exudes a relaxed atmosphere with its wood walls, long bar with fifteen stools, a few low tables for a dozen guests, high-top tables for another two dozen and a round table tucked into the front corner. The walls are adorned with several TVs and a collection of vintage prizefighter pictures from former owner "Battling Bat Kunz." The restaurant and bar were restored in 1979 to its original Victorian style when SONO was a far cry from its currently vibrant scene.

The menu is very eclectic and ranges from finger foods, shared food, sandwiches, to dinner sized entrees. Whether you are looking for Cajun popcorn shrimp, a southwestern chicken quesadilla or Chicken Parm or Lobster Sliders to share with your beer, or a Shepherd’s Pie to accompany your stout, Donovan’s offers a full range of options. To begin the meal, Donovan’s also offers one of the best New England Clam Chowders in the state, recognized by its first place finishes in previous ChowdahFest competitions.

But this was a burger search, so I veered from the Chowder, Chili Nachos and Fish & Chips and ordered a medium-rare bacon cheeseburger with fries.

The burger arrived open faced. On one half was the eight ounce patty topped with a slice of melted cheese and two slices of bacon. The other half was topped with lettuce, a slice of tomato and two slices of pickles. A mound of French fries filled the plate. I cut the burger in half and it was properly cooked to medium-rare and the juice was already soaking the bottom bun. A quick taste of the meat indicated a nice flavor, not as deep as grass-fed, but was beefy. The patty was tightly compressed, but still retained a lot of juiciness and the exterior had a good char. The bacon and cheese were very basic, the bacon contributed a little saltiness but the single slice of cheese added very little to the flavor. The simple Kaiser roll did nothing for the burger, if it were my choice I would change the roll immediately. Likewise the French fries were less than basic, and just a bit over-salted. Too bad since the burger really deserved better fries.

Overall, I really liked the atmosphere, the décor, the overall feel of Donovan’s. The burger was pretty good, even with a mediocre roll and fries. It definitely has a chance of making the Best of Bar Burger list next spring. 

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