There’s good reason the parking lot at Little Pub is jam-packed before noon—and through the wee hours. When you step inside, you’ll swear you’ve entered a lively Austrian ski chalet, complete with distressed wooden ceilings, stucco walls, wrought iron chandeliers and a blazing stone fireplace.
Whether you cozy up to the hopping bar or take a seat next to the fire (if you’re lucky enough to snag one), this relative newcomer feels like it’s been here for ages. In actuality, Little Pub, which sits on busy Ethan Allen Highway in Ridgefield, was home to an antiques shop until four months ago, when Daneen Grabe, of Fairfield, worked her magic on the space, transforming it into one of the area’s most popular hangouts, drawing fans from across the state, and a large contingent of Europeans who find it feels like home.
Armed with a posse of girlfriends who are more accustomed to eating organic salads than massive burgers at lunch, I find the menu, stacked with traditional pub grub, a novel change of pace. The twist here is that the chiefly American offerings — from fiery wings to sliders to crocks of mountain chili — are a sizeable notch above the standards, both in quantity, quality and presentation. And you can’t beat the prices.
One caveat: If you’re counting calories, be forewarned. Even the salads are piled with decadent diet-busters, like the Iceberg Wedge, smothered in Maytag Blue cheese and cherrywood-smoked bacon. In fact, you’ll find that crispy rashers of bacon play a starring role on the menu and figure prominently in another house favorite: the Dagwood-sized BLT. Rounding out the appetizers are Salt-and-Pepper Calamari, Chicken Quesadillas, Spinach and Artichoke Dip and a mountain of nachos with cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses and beef-and-bean chili big enough for the whole table — and probably the one next to yours.
As your mother probably warned you: Don’t fill up on appetizers. The deceptively titled “little bites” are anything but, as are the main dishes, which are oversized and served with liberal sides of classic or sweet potato fries. Not one to mind Mother, I start out with a crock of the righteous Tortilla Soup, highly recommended by a fellow foodie who spends her days seeking out Connecticut’s most authentic Mexican dives. It arrives piping hot, with a heady broth of shredded chicken and tomatillos, seasoned with toasted cumin, paprika and ancho chili powder, and topped with melted cheddar and a heap of tortilla strips. I wade through the tortillas until I get to the rich and perfectly seasoned soup, cooked low and slow. The tender meat falls apart and melts in the mouth.
The menu offers a temping range of hearty pub choices — from Guinness Beef Stew and Shepherd’s Pie to hot Reubens and cool salads. But after watching — and smelling — the endless parade of enticing burgers, served by efficient waiters, three of my girlfriends go for the gusto and order off the Branchville Burger section. As promised, the burgers are all freshly ground, hand-formed, cooked to order and served with lettuce, tomato, pickle and fries.
Each patty is a half-pound of naturally raised Montana beef, judiciously sprinkled with salt and pepper. All the burgers are champs — from the “pure and simple” burger to one topped with caramelized onions, sweet and hot peppers and melted provolone to one with melted cheddar and thick-cut bacon (see what I mean about the bacon?). The he-man “Ventura Highway” burger is not for the feint of heart: The patty is studded with peppercorns and topped with Gorgonzola, cherrywood-smoked bacon (natch) and house-made avocado-cilantro relish. Even one friend’s turkey burger (I’ve rarely met one that doesn’t resemble a hockey puck), is juicy and seasoned to perfection. The only flaw: the cilantro-chipotle spread is overkill on top of the melted Jack cheese.
Though I normally don’t order pulled pork from anywhere but a bonafide barbecue joint, Little Pub’s Pulled-Pork Sandwich calls my name. So I roll the dice and come up with a winner. The tasty, slow-cooked, fork-shredded pork with house bbq sauce, is tender and tasty. The creamy coleslaw, not so much (wish it had less mayo and more vinegar). After finishing off the pork, I ditch the bulky bun and devour the addictive sweet potato shoestrings instead.
Another winner on the sandwich board is the Thanksgiving Turkey Wrap. On a previous visit, this hand-carved, oven-roasted turkey sandwich was a standout. The ying-yang of the tart cranberries, savory cornbread stuffing and fresh roasted turkey make a great combo. But, we’re all a little over Thanksgiving foods at the moment.
The doctor in our group is in the mood for lighter fare and opts for the Ahi Tuna Tacos, arguably the healthiest choice at our table. Though tuna isn’t something that you’d typically see on a pub menu, Little Pub’s chef Timothy Passaro is finicky about using only A-1 ingredients, and this plate is a refreshing alternative if you’re seeking a lighter bite
The deconstructed taco platter contains sashimi-grade ahi tuna, served rare, attractively fanned out on the plate, accompanied by a bracing grilled pineapple-jicama-mint salsa, baby field greens and a so-so wasabi-lemon sauce. (I would have preferred a soy/ginger sauce).
Though we make a valiant effort to polish off our mammoth meals, our husbands, no doubt, will make a bigger dent on our return trip. Which, by the way, will be soon. I’ll let you in on a little secret: In about a week, Little Pub’s après ski-style deck is gearing up to make its winter debut. The outdoor heaters and furniture are in place, and the awning will soon be installed to ward off winter’s chill. Though miles from the nearest slopes, you can order a beer or a hard cider or hot mulled wine from the pub’s impressive list of brews and beverages and imagine you’re in the alps—or at least in Vermont. You can even bring the kids, if it doesn’t spoil your après ski fantasy.
Some insider dope: Parking is tight and haphazard. There’s a car dealership next door that offers spots in the evenings; park there. In the daytime, it’s every man for himself. Little Pub has a no-reservations policy. It’s tiny and fills up quickly at peak hours, so be prepared to wait. Come hungry; portions are hefty. Appoint a designated driver: Big George, the bartender, is generous, too. Call for live music schedule. Don’t forget to ask about specials, like the recent “If it's Sunday, it must be meatloaf!” all-day special, featuring Poppa's country-style meatloaf, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy for $12.95.
Little Pub 59 Ethan Allen Highway, Ridgefield. 203.544.9222
Mon - Thurs:
11:30 am - 1:00 am
Fri - Sat:
11:30 am - 2:00 am
12:00 pm - 1:00 am