Tavern on State, owned by Chef Emily Mingrone, is the latest to join the dozens of exceptional restaurants in the New Haven area. I was fortunate to check out the new digs, sit down with Emily, and sample some of the exciting items on the menu.
The restaurant boasts a tavern vibe, but perhaps more in appearance than what’s on the plate. Rich, warm woods welcome you inside a space that seats about 45 (with an additional 45 outdoors) but this is where your notion of tavern starts and ends.
Traditional tavern fare might include burgers and fries, nachos and the like, but a menu that features a blue cheese & truffle burger with thick bacon & red onion on English muffin, Spicy crispy chicken skins & chicharrones, Fried cheese curds with smoked tomato dip, or chilled oysters with yuzu kosho & cucumber, is anything but traditional.
The menu here is as eclectic as it is sophisticated; it raises high the burger bar. It is tavern fare reimagined, and certainly for the more discerning palate that can see beyond a standard plate of fish and chips, jalapeño poppers, calamari, and pepperoni pizza. I have had plenty of tavern fare in my day, and tavern fare doesn’t look or taste like this.
Mingrone takes the familiar and comforting, and elevates it to new heights. Take the tots & caviar with red onion crema & dill as an example. Tots, the ultimate in comfort food, becomes almost sophisticated when paired with black sturgeon and salmon caviar, drizzled with the crema, and enhanced by the dill. These tots could be passed around in the most upscale of Park Avenue apartment, but they don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are, and that’s what makes them so fantastic.
Mingrone’s customers are those with an affinity for flavor, whose palates appreciate the unexpected, who welcome dishes with an edge, veering on unconventional. For the love of butter, I couldn’t get enough of the grilled octopus with crispy fingerlings, pickled peppers & chili butter – I wanted to jar up the remaining sauce and enjoy it the next day. The octopus, grilled to perfection, complemented by charred fingerlings and pickled chili peppers and large culantro leaves (not to be mistaken for cilantro) leaves offering a cooling respite from the heat which doesn’t immediately come into play.
Back to the blue cheese & truffle burger with thick bacon & red onion on English muffin. This ain’t your steakhouse blue cheese burger. Infused in a Bechamel-like sauce, the cheese and truffle join forces for the ultimate flavor explosion. Beneath it rings of onion, and slabs of thick, chewy bacon. No need for ketchup here, I prefer to dredge my fries in the cheese sauce.
Even the salads are unexpected. The grilled romaine with bagna cauda, lemon, pecorino and crumbs will put any Caesar salad as we know it to shame and the Beef tartare with pickled ramps & ciabatta offers new twist on an old favorite and also will not disappoint. And then there was the dish of all dishes…
The griddled cornish game hen in the style of scarpiello is a total game changer. Deboned, butterflied and pressed, we have nothing less than a crispy and tender masterpiece. Yes, that’s exactly what I said. Accompanied by sausage, cherry peppers, garlic, parsley and fennel pollen it’s a must to order and then I dare you to disagree with me that this is not the best around.
As I scour the menu in front of me I make a mental note try the smoked salmon rillette & roe with black pepper crisps, as well as the poutine with slow roasted pork shoulder, gravy & curds. The grilled whole trout with Israeli couscous, blistered tomatoes & arugula looks absolutely delicious as well… I can’t wait to return when it opens.
About Chef Emily Mingrone:
Emily’s introduction to culinary world began in her teens, while working for her father’s catering business in Branford, CT. Under the tutelage of her CIA trained dad, she discovered her passion for food and the desire to create unforgettable experiences for clients, friends and family.
Upon graduating from culinary school in 2009, Emily began her career working under Chef Denise Appel at Zinc Restaurant in New Haven where she honed her skills and began thinking more creatively about food and hospitality. From there Emily became an apprentice at Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport to so she could best learn the art of butchery. She was Chef de Cuisine at Jessup Hall in Westport and most recently at Match Restaurant in South Norwalk before coming to New Haevn to open Tavern on State, her first restaurant.