The Village Tavern in Ridgefield is just as you expect a New England tavern to be. Exposed brick and dark wood furnishings greet you upon arrival. Handsome forest green paneling and plaid fabrics offer a feeling of comfort and familiarity. On the far wall, local Connecticut artist Sharon Leichsenring dazzles with a larger than life wall mural representing “abbondanza," paying homage to Brunetti's Market, a Ridgefield staple, and the former occupant of the space. The Village Tavern fills a void in the area’s already rich culinary landscape. Their elevated comfort food ranges from simple to sophisticated. Chef Minin will tell you that he creates “American food that has been kissed by an Italian.”
I had the privilege of attending a media event and was fortunate to sample a wide range of the restaurant’s offerings. The Tavern’s cocktails, influenced by the Prohibition Era, are creative and offer a modern twist. However, it was the food that captivated my attention. When one thinks of tavern style fare, one typically thinks of casual dining. Here we mustn’t mistake casual for mediocre or typical pub fare. Yes, you will find burgers on the menu, but there are also choices that could appear in some of the most celebrated, upscale dining establishments and certainly would be deserving of such.
To start, two appetizers were delivered to our table. The King Napoleon brimming with crabmeat, herbed cheese with wonton crisps, and a beurre blanc sauce, was rich and decadent. The herbed cheese and tender crab meat offered a nice juxtaposition to the crispy wontons. Following was the Duck Turnover. Enveloped in puff pastry, a flavorful duck-filled center is enhanced by poblano peppers and caramelized shallots, accompanied by a cilantro pesto for dipping. The combination of the cilantro, peppers, shallots have a flavorful and delightful effect.
Next came the salads. We sampled two, the In the Tin and the Ribbons. While I adore salads I find that most options bore me terribly. These two did anything but. The In the Tin was a delightful surprise. It made me think that this might have been Andy Warhol’s treatment of the iconic iceberg wedge. Yet this was so much more. Presented on a plate surrounded by tomatoes, a soup tin covers chopped bibb and iceberg lettuces, avocado, crumbles of blue cheese and toasted pepitas. An herb dressing pulls the flavors together. This salad is as much delicious as it is fun to watch as the tin can is carefully removed allowing the salad to cascade down onto the plate. Wonderfully spring-like and quite elegant is the Ribbons. Shaved cucumber, multi-colored heirloom carrots, fennel, and radishes dressed in a parsnip lemon vinaigrette bring the art of the salad to a new level. Wonderfully crisp and aromatic, this tastes as fresh and vibrant as it looks.
We can’t have an Italian in the kitchen without a couple of pasta dishes. The Mezzaluna is unconventional and unexpected. Fresh raviolis are filled with an airy mixture of ricotta made from both cow’s and sheep’s milk. Lentils, arugula, shaved Parm and heirloom tomatoes offer the finishing touches. This offers an earthy contrast to the Gnocchi we had that was presented with an entire lobster tail in the shell. Pillowy bites of potato gnocchi bathed in a zucchini busera sauce seemed to melt in my mouth. This ain’t no lobster mac and cheese, this was, in my opinion, out of this world. From the surf we eased on over to the turf with the Root Beer Lamb. Let us not be deceived by the name. This incredibly tender, bone in stewed shank was not sweet as the name might suggest. If anything the sweet effervescent beverage deflected some of the natural gaminess of the meat which rested on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes in a wonderfully rich tomato-based gravy. The portion is generous and this would be a great dish to share. (Or not!)
From the elegance of the lamb shack we diverted our attention to the ultimate tavern fare, the VT Burger. This deconstructed house-ground burger with aged cheddar is presented on a wooden cutting board in the shape of the state of Connecticut on which appear sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon, a pickle spear, ketchup and mustard. You owe it to yourselves to take one bite of the burger before layering on the other ingredients. I daresay this Italian has mastered the American cheeseburger and I dare all you burger aficionados to tell me this isn’t one of the best burgers in the state. I nearly forgot to mention the fries, but here, the burger clearly takes center stage. As it should.
Why is it that no matter how full you are there’s always room for dessert? The Crème Brulée was not as I expected it to be. The rich and creamy chocolate custard desert here reminded me more of a mousse than a typical crème brulée which some may find a bit confusing. If you like chocolate, you won’t be disappointed. Rounding out the night were the House Made Profiteroles. No unexpected surprises here, just the hollowed-out pastry shell filled with sweet vanilla flavored custard and drizzled with caramel.
Chef Germano Minin came to Ridgefield by way of Palmanova, Italy with a Culinary Arts Degree from the Instituto Professionale Alberghiero in Friuli, Italy, Chef Minin began his stateside culinary career as the Executive Chef for the Bice Ristorante Group in Scottsdale, AZ and Washington, DC. From there, he spent time in Scottsdale, Arizona working with some of the top Italian bistros in the area, including the popular Coco Pazzo, until he ultimately began his own venture as Chef-Partner of the Piccolo Group at the highly touted Hostaria del Piccolo in Santa Monica, California. Seeking the perfect place to raise his family, the former Chopped winner relocated most recently to Ridgefield to open this American tavern with his Italian inspiration.
The Village Tavern seats up to 130 guests and is open day and night, 7 days a week. A warm weather patio accommodates 40 people.
Village Tavern 378 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877