Get ready for small plate magic; not tapas, but top notch for sure. Conspiracy in Middletown is most certainly your next date place. Or, the next spot you bring your coolest group of friends.
So, the few of you who read my ditties know, besides what’s on the plate, I get swept away by some detail of the location I have the opportunity to pass some time in. At Conspiracy, the decor is funnnnkkkyyy for sure; there’s netting, a ship’s wheel, a bicycle, and a tree-like chandelier. The bar is massive for a relative small, unconventional space, but adorned with so much to look at. Not only is it hugged by Tiffany Blue tufted comfy stools---and Tiffany Blue whatever, gets me every time---there’s the wildest Tiffany Blue-ish deer head at the top of the bar. I took a double take to make sure. And, underneath those gorgeous seats you’ll find decorative aluminum plating wrapped all the way around the bar. It’s an eyeful of funk and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
From a slew of creative craft cocktails beckoning to pre-prohibition days and deserving of every imbibers attention, you will have a difficult time choosing. The names are fun, like Missionary’s Downfall, Get Off My Lawn and One Night in Bangkok, and the concoctions and supply seem never ending. They offer Tiki Mondays, an excuse to pull out your floral attire and get freaky (ok, maybe keep the freaky for home). But, if you have trouble choosing a drink, you can get a flight to get you going. There’s even an array of Absinthes from all over Europe. I’m a sucker for coconut, so after a flight I dove into the Mauna Loa, a coconut washed armagnac, over proof bourbon, spiced liqueur, jackfruit, and lime.
So, the only conspiracy happening here is how owners Mark and Jen Sabo, with the seriously talented Chef Chris Sassi, create such magic in their very unconventional tiny kitchen. Chef Sassi also just won “Best Chef” in CTNow Best Of Hartford’s Readers’ Poll awards. Adjacent to the bar, the kitchen is open and squeezed into a very small space, but, impressively, seems to be a nook of organized chaos. The building used to house a dance studio and an old movie theater hence their inventive nod to the building’s past with popcorn choices like, Black Garlic Wasabi Sea Salt or Bourbon Caramel. And, let me tell you, they were as fun and tasty as they sound.
Time Out. I kinda wish my last name was Sassi. How cool is that?
Anyway, moving on….
THOSE SMALL PLATES
So, when I was a wee lass, nut allergies were a whisper in the distance, which meant PB&Js were the norm, and, the only unique detail to boast about was what brand of peanut butter you liked, the type of bread mom made you eat, or the flavor of your jam or jelly. Jam always held more status. And, if you got to lunch time and your grape jelly hadn’t soaked through your bread, you were winning at life.
Flash forward to Conspiracy 2019 and you’re winning again. This is just the adult PB&J you’ve been waiting for: Spread atop a sliced baguette, you get a coconut pistachio butter with a concord grape compote on top. It really is a little party of so much flavor. The kid in you will do a jig, but the cool adult will just order a second round.
One of the biggest surprises was how well Chef Sassi highlights veggies to be stars in their own right. The plate of Drunken Carrots are to die for...they are indulgent like a good steak, both sweet and smokey, with bourbon cardamom, black garlic creme fraiche and apricot. Not to mention they made for one of the most gorgeous plates of the night.
Talk about indulgent, the shrooms, often referred to as the steak of the veg world burst with tons of flavor. I mean what do you expect when you blend a king of vegetables with soy, miso, sake, and shallot. Wow. They were rich bites of all out deliciousness deserving of their menu name: Royal Mushrooms.
But wait, there’s more…..
The Hog + Beef Meatballs are just down right bougie, stuffed with fig and brie, and kissed with whiskey bacon jam and finished with a coriander, spring onion cream. So much going on, but you can handle it.
The sexiest bite, however had to be the Fava Toast with fig balsamic glaze, grape tomatoes, and smoked goat cheese.
The niche at Conspiracy has been very warmly received and has opened up such a great new opportunity for Middletown visitors. Chef Sassi mentioned, “The small plates is something that’s been a passion of mine for several years, so, to have a place entirely devoted to small plates breaks the mold of the conventional way of eating out. What’s better than experiencing several different dishes and flavors and journeys for the cost of a single regular entree?”
I agree. It’s super smart, very creative, and gaaa damn delicious.
“Being a craft cocktail bar in Middletown is a hustle,” mentioned owners Mark and Jen Sabo. “We’re not a big city, the town isn’t (yet) a place people 100 percent think of as a destination, so we have to grind and push the boundaries of creativity and innovate and change constantly...our guests respond to variety and innovation, so we are constantly looking to deliver that.”
If it was even possible to manage more tasty bites, my guest and I tried the S'mores, to finish a journey of exquisite flavors. Like the PB&J, this treat paid homage to its childlike original and yet, had a cooler, dressed up vibe. Toasted graham cracker crumble, marshmallow creme anglaise, spiced chocolate, and brûlée marshmallow all painted on a plate, that was part art, part throwback summer memory.
Not only do you need to get yourself to this fun, funky spot in Middletown for some of what I’ve shared here, but keep your eyes peeled for their unique events. In addition to Tiki Mondays, meet Chef Sassi every Thursday for his Tasting Table which includes five courses with drink pairings, and wait...there’s even a Monthly Drag Show, hosted by the lovely Scarlet Blue aka Jarred Kyser, one of Conspiracy’s newest badass bartenders, adding to their list of impressive bar stars.
350 Main Street