Washington Street, the epicenter of South Norwalk and a resurging dining scene, welcomes another new dining experience worth exploring. Cask Republic is a modern take on the communal tavern, now open at 99 Washington Street, formerly occupied by The Gingerman. The new restaurant delivers on its tavern promises with chef-driven comfort food and drink – American at its culinary core with an abundance of global influences.
Cask Republic reinforces both the notion that South Norwalk is once again surging as a Connecticut dining destination, as well as the growing appeal of the Cask Republic brand that is now in three of our cities. Washington Street has seen many restaurants come and go, but most exciting for diners is this renewed focus and investment in quality. Restaurants such as Match, Mecha Noodle Bar, and Brucolino have renewed, refurbished, and expanded their concepts, doubling-down on South Norwalk. Cask Republic is the latest in this group to invest in this reinvigorated neighborhood, replacing sister restaurant, The Gingerman, with this more upscale, craft food-driven cousin.
The driving force behind Cask Republic is Skal Restaurant Group, the owner of three Cask Republic restaurants in New Haven, Stamford, and Norwalk as well as The Gingerman restaurants in Connecticut. Christian Burns, the founder of Skal Restaurant Group, got his start in the restaurant business following experiences in New York attending the French Culinary Institute, and working at Bobby Flay’s restaurants as well as with The Gingerman in Texas and Connecticut. Christian bought The Gingerman in Connecticut, and then created the Cask Republic concept, which has continued to evolve since the first restaurant opened its craft beer-focused doors in New Haven about five years ago. The Stamford and Norwalk locations which subsequently opened and have continued to refine its approach, investing in culinary talent and an elevated focus on the food as well as the beverage.
“Although I want a great bar that people can enjoy, Cask Republic is a dining destination first and foremost. I wanted to do more than beer, so two years ago I built the Stamford location, where we started to bring wine and cocktails along with great beer, all while elevating the food to a whole new level," said Christian Burns.
The menu is a modern and elevated take on American classics with a global lens, led by Cask Republic’s Culinary Director, Carl Carrion, with Executive Sous Chef for South Norwalk, Jeffrey Rodgers, who work closely with Christian on the menus printed weekly.
Libations, in the form of seasonal tap cocktails, are always a good place to start. These offerings change frequently, but you can bet on a tequila, gin, and vodka-based cocktail along with a sangria. My personal favorite is the margarita – the latest being a smoky and tart concoction of Mezcal with guava juice, ancho chili, agave syrup, fresh lyme, and Tajin.
Skipping the raw bar and chopped salad section (there are no such thing as New Year’s resolutions for CTbites editors), I suggest starting with the list of about 14 shareable, and comforting “small plates” such as the Shrimp & Grits, Korean BBQ wings, and Braised Short Ribs. The shrimp & grits is served with cotija cheese and Andouille sausage, a rich and comforting cold weather dish. Korean BBQ transforms traditionally prepared wings into a sweet and spicy dish thanks to a soy, sugar, and chile paste sauce. Braised short ribs are made even more rich with an egg yolk float, and smoked sea salt. It’s the attentive details found across the menu, such as that smoked sea salt, that subtly elevates Cask’s menu from good to consistently satisfying.
The large plate selection is smaller in number, but with portions about twice as big. The cult favorite (and what I would call a most enjoyable dish) is the Lamb Pastrami Reuben with its caramelized onions, white cheddar, thousand island dressing, and pickles (all made in house), served with hand-cut fries. It’s the more urbane version of the reuben you may have eaten growing up.
A mustard-crusted salmon with green onion risotto and charred tomato vinaigrette is just a solid dish with a pleasant variety of texture, subtle layers of flavoring, and a decent portion. Other large plates worth mentioning for their popularity: the I.P.A. citrus marinated chicken served with charred jalapeno grits, wild mushrooms, roasted brussels sprouts, and an I.P.A. glaze, as well as the hickory-smoked grilled ribeye with gorgonzola, blistered tomatoes and roasted garlic-butter.
“Something most people don't know about Cask Republic is that our food is all hand-made. We don't cut corners with frozen meats, fish, pasta, appetizers, soups, desserts, or even fries. Our chefs make it all in our kitchens from scratch,” explained Christian Burns.
Cask Republic’s interior is both expansive – large windows, huge scaled furniture such as a communal table and oak bar that takes center stage – and also intimate, with lounge spaces and a soon-to-open garden patio with seating for 60 opening in the spring. So what’s different in South Norwalk compared with other Cask Republic outposts? I think the better question to ask is why hasn’t Cask Republic opened sooner in South Norwalk, which is a perfect match for the Cask concept and South Norwalk’s diverse crowd.
“The food and beverage has evolved in South Norwalk. The city has a great mix of different people, from the corporate set to families, to a younger late night crowd. Cask Republic attracts everybody,” said Christian Burns.
Cask Republic is located at 99 Washington Street in South Norwalk, CT. Information at: http://caskrepublic.com/norwalk.