If you have to be locked up anywhere, Bread & Water would be the place you’d request. Smack dab in the middle of a Middletown residential street, a stones throw from the lovely Wesleyan campus, stands an old jailhouse, AND a mighty, talented chef drumming up what anyone would plead for as a last meal.
Okay, I’ll refrain from the jaily jargon, and believe me, you’ll want these meals, as your first, last, and every one in between, since Chef Carl Ciarcia, jr. is wielding creativity like no other. It is no wonder, that Bread & Water has earned numerous accolades in such a short amount of time. As a matter of fact, they opened early in 2016, then in 2017 had to close after a springtime fire. So, now, barely a year after reopening they are blazing trails, recently voted South Region Restaurant of the Year among thousands, and in the final four of the CT Restaurant Association’s Overall Restaurant of the Year competition.
They call it casual fine dining. What does that mean? Here’s how I describe it: You get all the drama of gorgeous plating, nice dishware, charming ambience, and seemingly fancy doodads of an upscale restaurant. BUT, if you want to ooh and aah as the yolk from your luscious squid ink ravioli bursts at the seams while remaining gorgeous on the plate, then do so. Loudly. If you find yourself doing a shimmy in your comfy chair when the tang from the Citrus Salad and zing from spiced nuts, moves you with glee, then shimmy away without a second thought. And, if you rush up in a standing ovation when the most tender, flavorful venison LITERALLY melts in your mouth while doing a dance with the foie gras compound butter and mushrooms, then you may. Casual fine dining. Fancy, but fun and unstuffy.
Chef Ciarcia says, when really letting his passion and creativity soar, he’s “painting the plate.” And boy does he. Every dish at a tasting early this month came out like a treasure; they were gems you want to keep and remember, but play with. Bread & Water has given this chef an opportunity to bring his artistic, flavorful ideas to life. He says he wants people to be able to taste a lot of different things, not just one or two plates that end up feeling heavy on your way out. So, he hopes to offer a regular series of Tastings in order to showcase many delicious possibilities. For example, not only are they making fresh pasta, in house, Chef is turning everything up a notch by offering dessert pasta. We tried chocolate pasta! We tried a chocolate plin with whipped mascarpone and homemade ricotta filling, wild berry sauce, micro mint and shaved white chocolate.Who would have thought two of the palette’s favorite things, chocolate and pasta, could marry in such an delicious and inventive way? I was seconds from licking my plate. I refrained...mostly.
Each course was accompanied by glasses of champagne, Italian red, dry white, chardonnay and Spanish red wines, then, for a sweet finish, a ruby port. All were chosen to pair well with each plate. I’m a sipper, so I fell behind, but made sure to really pay attention to how different each pairing was from the one preceding it; I’m forever fascinated by how different the experience is when intentionally complementing each dish with a drink that brings out the maximum of the flavors on the plate.
Although the vibe is casual and fun, the decor befits that of a gallery complete with historic paintings, moody blue gray walls, and high ceilings. There’s even drapery around the windows giving the aura of drawing rooms from 19th century England. You could have dinner where an old cell used to be, sitting right against the original rock walls and jailhouse keys hanging at the entry. (If you make your way down to the kitchen---I was on the lam for a total of five minutes---you’ll see writing from prisoners etched into the rock).
Before Bread & Water, Chef Ciarcia studied in Italy, the Connecticut Culinary Institute, and was the executive chef at First & Last in Middletown. Today, he stands in his element, telling stories and and bringing art to life on every plate.
51 Warwick St., Middletown
Hours: Thurs-Sat. 5-10 p.m., Sun-Wed private events
[Photography courtesy of Stacy Meccariello]