There’s a restaurant for every occasion, mood, inspiration, food craving, service level, and price point from a food-truck taco for a couple of bucks to the tasting menu at Per Se at $310 a head, and every price point in between. Eating out options run the gamut from don’t feel like cooking, a casual family meal, dining by the water, to ethnic food and special occasions. It takes a lot of restaurants to satisfy our dining desires.
On Long Ridge Road in Stamford (exit 34 on the Merritt) there are three diverse restaurants within a few miles of each other: Table 104 Osteria and Bar at 299 Long Ridge; Madonia at 1297; and The Long Ridge Tavern at number 2635. Each serves the neighborhood, the city, and a larger audience, too. I’ve recently eaten well at all three and marveled at the contrasts among them, each a comfortable fit for a particular mood or occasion.
Table 104, south of the Parkway – just north of Lord & Taylor, is a hip bistro with a wood-fired brick oven, marble-topped bar, barn siding accents, stylish clear light bulbs, and an outdoor patio surrounded by flowers. Last time I was visited, there were a few couples with the easy look of regulars eating at the bar The patio was the most popular seating area on our perfect summer evening. A well-dressed group in a corner cheerfully celebrated a birthday. The long time restaurant location has been updated to a contemporary, relaxed, fashionable atmosphere.
The menu speaks with a strong Italian accent as do its owners, and includes good food from anywhere Chef Domenico Lovieno finds inspiration. We particularly enjoyed the Grilled Mint Shrimp with chestnut honey, very tender Grilled Octopus, a cool and refreshing Shaved Brussels Sprouts salad with raisins and pine nuts, Cauliflower Carbonara, Barolo Braised Beef with hand cut pasta and the aptly named hot and spicy Hell Pizza. I’m always a sucker for anything from a wood-fired oven.
Italian born manager Walter Cappelli greeted us warmly. He is a constant presence in the dining room, overseeing service, helping with food choices and suggesting wines. His stint with a boutique wine wholesaler shines through the carefully chosen wine offerings, particularly a Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine, a Provence Rosé, Montinore Oregon Pinot Noir (recently touted by the New York Times) and Villa Marin Valpolicella.
Madonia, in the geographic middle of this trio of restaurants, is north of the parkway. Also with an Italian accent (Calabrian this time), Madonia is more restaurant and less bistro or osteria. While not formal or stuffy it is elegant and a little more reserved with white table cloths, shaded wall sconces, paintings on the walls, and an antique armoire and table for service needs.
Owner Enzo Bruno, a native of Calabria, greeted us on a busy Friday evening and squeezed us into the full dining room without a reservation. Couples, families, and friends filled the space with a friendly buzz. There was a lot of waving and greeting from table to table as neighbors met serendipitously. A few patriarchs presided over multi-generational gatherings.
The seasonal Italian-Mediterranean menu leans toward crowd pleasing favorite starters like Calamari grilled or fried, mussels and Burrata. Familiar main courses include housemade gnocchi, pasta dishes, Parmigiana and Milanese. The menu reaches further afield with Chili Marinated Pork Belly; Brussels Sprouts Salad; Charred Skirt Steak with Vermont butter, porcini dust and balsamico marinade; and Salmon with Honey-Herb Verjus. Bruno’s Calabrian roots show up in Ziti with Calabrian Sunday Ragu and Pennoni with ‘Nduja Calabrian Sausage. The crowd, largely Italian, was loving it.
The Long Ridge Tavern is a landmark on Long Ridge Road, one of the last “Country Restaurants” in the area, in an antique filled converted barn, with a strong New England vibe. (Remember the long-gone Chimney Corners right by the Parkway?) It’s the furthest north of the trio, up Long Ridge past Madonia in scenic North Stamford. Near my wife’s family home off Long Ridge Road, the LRT has been one of our regular stops for years.
Owners Ira and Hava Dragovic are the current stewards of this long established restaurant with buildings dating from 1850. The large and comfortable restaurant with cozy fireplaces and a garden patio is open for lunch and dinner, has live music on the weekends, and is a popular destination for Sunday Brunch Buffet. A wonderland of antiques is for sale on the second floor – an eclectic collection that spills into the restaurant.
The Tavern’s extensive menu includes some restaurant classics, beloved by many, but not often seen today: French Onion soup, Shrimp Cocktail, Chicken Pot Pie, Sole Almondine, Wiener Schnitzel, Pot Roast and Roast Duck. In addition to a selection of steaks, chops and seafood, Tavern Fare like burgers, pizza, fish and chips and roast chicken round out the reasonably priced menu. Like Madonia, you can see neighbors greeting one another, but on the weekends the crowd comes from across the region.
These three Long Ridge Road neighbors are a study in restaurant diversity, hard work, entrepreneurial vision and success by owners who are first generation Americans. Each has its own dining style, creative cuisine, and loyal local following. They’re worthy of a spot on your list of dining options.