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Sunday
Jul212013

Walrus and Carpenter Opens in Bridgeport w/ Killer BBQ & Elegant Sides

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

Walrus + Carpenter on Urbanspoon

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Reader Comments (30)

I couldn't agree more!! This place was just absolutely fantastic. I want to go every weekend.

July 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike Roth

Is it too soon to say that this is the best new restaurant in Fairfield county? Fabulous food, killer beer and bourbon selection. Awesome cocktails too! Love the black and white movies in the bar area and music is always on point. I have been probably 10 times since they opened and have never had anything bad. Great job Joe and Adam!

July 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohn anderson

Everything is wonderful as the previous review, except the food is not yet uniformly good: brisket that is not cut correctly across the grain making it very tough. Maybe some bread with service? Store bought pecan pie not as wonderful as the rest of the dessert menu. Have to try it again after some settling in time. A very promising place!

July 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterzefir68

Looking foward to trying. Thanks for the post.

July 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

No way the smoked pecan pie is store bought! I had it yesterday and it was awesome. Suddle smoke flavor gives the rich buttery pie an almost bacon like flavor...yum! My new favorite restaurant for sure.

July 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwendy

The fact that they offer Perry's Tot Navy Strength Gin will definitely get me in the door. As a matter of fact, their whole gin list looks great. The beer list looks interesting as well. Walrus And Carpenter has been added to my short list.

July 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Cantiello

Wine prices per glass are high - should offer more reasonable choices

July 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

Really?? As I recall wines by the glass were priced between $8 - $11. That is very reasonable by Fairfield County standards. How much less expensive can a glass of good quality wine be?

July 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Fair article but Ms. Green in her reporting should have stated the Walrus and Carpenter was in the former Ash Creek Saloon and why did they go out of business after moving from Fairfield to Bridgeport ???

July 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPDChef

TO PDChef- it DOES say that it is the former Ash Creek Saloon. Please see the paragraph that talks about the restaurant's physical space. Best, Sarah

July 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersarah green

Too bad this BBQ restaurant has its issues. First the food is too salty. The fried chicken is a nice dish but the heavy salt in the coating made it impossible to eat. The heavy salt continued on the BBQ spare ribs, the corn bread, well everything. Sorry. A good BBQ restaurant that is not a chain would be great but they need take the salt shaker away from the chef

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBbqlover

My apologies, but you still never mentioned why they went out, but reading other CTBites commentary on the food this place won't be hear for long either

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPDChef

Pdchef: Seriously? Have you even been there? Ash Creek was a dive bar. Walrus and Carpenter is a wonderful and welcomed addition to the Black Rock community and will be there for years to come.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwendy

Guys...let's not fight. Walrus and Carpenter kicks the food scene in Black Rock up a big notch. How about we support this newcomer and give the chef some time to iron things out. The menu is on the whole very strong and I for one am very happy to have them in the area.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBlackrock Foodie

Great that Blackrock has a new restaurant. But while CT Bites always gives a positive review I felt it important others should known the food is just ok. It is also good if the chef is reading this that he or she also knows. Not only was to food way too salty but the side sauces served had so much alcohol in it the taste was all nothing but alcohol. I wish this place much success but right now, it is needs much work to make it worthwhile to go back.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBbqlover

I've been 3 times and I think the food is excellent. Never had anything too salty??! Great new spot, not just for Black Rock but for all of Fairfield County. Well worth a visit.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTim C.

This place looks good on paper... but they couldn't execute it. Missing components to dishes, over cooked pork belly in the appetizer, burnt fried chicken, cold mac & cheese and the ribs... over smoked and way over cooked. Every course was a miss. The food was served quickly and nothing seemed fresh (think banquet food). I really wanted to like this place but it fell short in every category. Disappointing.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterConnFood

Sorry Wendy but a dive bar, really it's a BBQ establishment the problem is, is exactly what BBglover says CTBites always gives positive reviews especially since they've taken "advertisement reviews" which I stated earlier is fine in this tough economy,but seriously can't anyone right a review with real constructive criticism, that's why this blog with citizen review is great with people like BBglover and Joanne and ConnFood because I feel the #1 problem with ALL restaurants today is "CONSISTENCY", anyone can write a positive review but its refreshing to write reviews that sound more believable, oh yeah for Wendy if you'd like to go to dive bars don't go to restaurant establishments there are plenty of them in Bridgeport.

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPDChef

Hey PDChef

In response to your comments and suggestions.

I agree wholeheartedly that consistency is key in all restaurants. As someone who both writes numerous reviews for this site and spends well over 200 nights a year eating in restaurants it drives me nuts. There are times when I love the dish and a week later it is awful and I send it back. Same chef in the kitchen both nights.

To your point that CTbites does not offer constructive criticism. Here are quotes from the previous month:

• Sadly, the soup was one of the weak showings of the night, as the bean puree had a bitter flavor that wasn’t diminished by swirling in the salty salami/oyster/basil mélange at the bottom of the bowl.
• note to Chef: the salty, earthy morels were overpowering and would have been better sliced sparingly into the dish instead of served whole
• Our advice to Chef Frazer: keep it simple, and be sure to taste your foods before they leave the kitchen.
• The sauce is now more savory then sweet and I prefer the return to the more maple-syrup based option to brighten the dish.
• A few drops of hot sauce would give the dish a little kick.
• The seasoning was slightly off on the dish I sampled with the gnocchi under-seasoned, a little too much vinegar in the mushrooms and a little too much salt sprinkled on top. This is definitely a re-try for my next visit.

Hope that helps and thanks for the feedback.

Don't kid yourself, Jeff. Six sentences of constructive criticism in a month is not exactly a challenging standard.

A look at the About Us page clearly shows the perspective that CT Bites takes, to quote:
"If we happen upon an exceptionally bad dining experience, of which there have been plenty, we'll usually opt to skip reviewing the establishment altogether.

"This is probably because we can't simply separate the people from the meal. There are many people behind the food we eat – from the owners, chefs, dishwashers, waitstaff – who work exceptionally hard. This doesn't give any one restaurant carte blanche, but it does make us think long and hard before putting pen to paper.

"This approach to scouting and celebrating the new and noteworthy is meant to encourage readers to discover these places for themselves, not as a final word. This tends to be our point of view, and it hasn't budged much since the inception of CTbites."

As I have said before, it really isn't Jeff's place to speak for CT Bites. To most people who follow the site, the lack of more critical eye is obvious. It's always been my feeling that there is less of an obligation to not "separate the people from the meal" (a.k.a. tempering criticism because "we" like the people) than an obligation to not encourage people to spend their hard-earned money where they will get less than a quality experience.

I strongly believe that if more reviews read like "real" restaurant reviews, and CTBites was willing to warn readers away from over-hyped establishments (Blu Parrot, anyone?), the readers would not chronically bring up the lack of "serious" or bona fide criticism when they posted comments here.

Though to the PDChef comment I specificallly wanted to address, I can't for the life of me understand why one would write about why a restaurant closed in a review of a new restaurant at that location - unless there was a specific connection (chef/owner/whatever). I'm not making the connection. It read like a leading question - so if you have the answer and think it is relevant somehow, please add it as a comment.

As to Walrus & Carpenter, I look forward to giving it a shot.

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

I enjoy this site, not just for the reviews (many of which I agree with, but some of which I do not), but for the additional content you can't get on a site that just rates/critiques restaurants: chef recipes, behind the scenes looks, foodie events, round-ups for best burgers, lobster rolls, ice-cream etc. If you don't like the reviews or agree with their POV, nobody is forcing you to read them. Plenty of other forums out there....

I enjoyed the food at Walrus and Carpenter, and didn't find anything over-salted. Service was very knowledgeable, particularly on the beer, but a little slow (granted I went less than a week after opening). I look forward to going back and trying the fried chicken.

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike D

Pdchef, I said ash creek was dive bar not w+c.

I also enjoy this site and the reviews and appreciate that they don't bother posting super negative reviews. CTbites is here to promote and support local and small businesses not destroy them. Many of these businesses, including walrus and carpenter, are owned and run by young independent companies. Companies that a lot of people depend on to support their young families. So, if you're in the business of being negative and trying to trash businesses and help people lose their jobs then, please, find a different forum on which to do it.

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwendy

Wendy. Your comment was horrible. Nobody is trying to hurt anyone. But the opportunity to either praise or not praise a restaurant based on 'real' experience should be promoted. Just being positive helps nobody. Especially any restaurant where diners believe the food is not good then goes out of business. The feedback is helping everyone at the restaurant. Not hurting.

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBbqlover

I loved the lean, tasty brisket and the amazing greens. My husband, a Texan, was impressed with the ribs. I loved the vibe and decor too. The only negative, which is minor, the strawberry crisp was too crunchy.Thanks for turning us on to this great new place!

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersisi

I (obviously) agree 100% with Bbqlover's comment. It doesn't do the restaurant any good (in the long term) to have false praise heaped upon it, building the wrong impression with consumers.

People who start restaurants have the same basic obligation to be competent as do people who have other jobs.

But if an individual takes his/her family out to a restaurant based on uncritical reviews and blows $100 or $200 on a disappointing meal for their family, how is that a good thing? Should film critics & theater critics only give good reviews, because the performers are trying hard and have families to feed?

As one who enthusiastically praises the restaurants he likes, I don't understand why I wouldn't be just as honest about those I do not?

To Wendy's concern - do you really want to find out a restaurant is bad after you've spent your hard-earned money?

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

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