“Let’s go out for lunch for your birthdays,” my wife’s sister suggested. I”ll confess we don’t go out for a midday meal often. We’re much more likely to go out for dinner; but the prospect of a restaurant lunch was very inviting.
Barn siding on the walls, a comfortably scuffed oak plank floor, hand hewn beams and a lively fire lent a pubby feel to the bustling dining room. A long table on the right as we entered was clearly a business group with so many young men in blue shirts and dark beards that I thought for a moment it was their uniform. A mix of tables, business people and friends gathering, occupied the rest of the almost full dining room.
The Pub’s menu reaches around the world: poutine, bruschetta, tostadas, Thai salmon, Havana wrap, Etruscan chicken sandwich, Oktoberfest wrap and the multinational moo shu pork tacos. A dozen pre- configured burgers were offered along with encouragement to craft your own: “We can make whatever you want … just ask.” We each picked something different (no duplication please – I like to see and taste as much as I can) and were all happy with our choices. Generous, tasty, well-presented portions led to clean plates after a few minutes work.
Not surprisingly, craft beer is a big draw at the Little Pub. Close to a hundred beers are available by the bottle or on tap, the list delving deep into offerings from American brewers as well as including a wide range of international brews. Beer at lunch is a little problematic for me, but we did get a glass of intriguing dark beer from Maine to taste and share among the four is us.
The next day, my wife and I found ourselves near SoNo just before lunch. Thinking about yesterday’s lunch out, we drove down Washington street to check out the scene. A lucky parking space allowed us to easily stroll both sides of the street in the spring sunshine to see who was open for lunch.
Lots of places, it turns out: Donovan’s (with its Tables for Ladies sign); Washington Prime with a great outdoor eating space; Chocopologie in its new location; The Ginger Man, a premier beer destination; SoNo Pizza with a line for take out, Local, right on the corner, Acapulco, popular for Mexican, Estia, authentic Greek (the other Mediterranean), Match, one of the best in Fairfield County; Strada 18 for authentic pizza and pasta, the trattoria & vineria Quartino, and Oishi for sushi & izakaya. Wow! What choice! A tour of the world in a few steps.
We decided to lunch in Greece, letting Estia take us there. With a warm greeting by our waiter, Alex and a bright window table to watch the entertaining SoNo street scene, we confessed to our first visit and almost no knowledge of Greek food. Alex enthusiastically explained the menu, lobbied for his favorites, and guided us to choices that would best showcase the restaurant and his native cuisine.
The menu was filled with unfamiliar food names. Alex directed us to a sampler of the spreads common in his home: Tyrokafteri, a spicy-salty feta cheese spread; Taramosalata, a greek caviar mixture, lightly pink, salty and tasting of the sea; Melitzanosalata, a roasted eggplant and garlic spread with a background of roasted peppers; and Hummus, made in house with tahini, olive oil, garlic and lemon, all served with a plate of warm pita wedges for spreading. It was a perfect introduction to Greek food.
Way too full for a main course, we continued on with two hot appetizers. The first was Saganaki, a salty firm sheep’s milk cheese called Kefalograviera, dusted with flour and pan fried to form a crunchy crust around the soft, salty interior. Alex flambéed the cheese in its cast iron skillet with Metaxa brandy, finished it with a squeeze of lemon and encouraged us to eat it before it cooled. Our second choice, Keftedakia – Greek style meatballs – were packed with Mediterranean herbs, roasted dry to form a crunchy exterior crust and served with a cool refreshing herbed yogurt sauce – a cool counterpoint to the flavor-packed meatballs.
Despite our filling lunch, Alex persuaded us to share his favorite dessert: warm puff pastry filled with chocolate hazelnut spread. It was simple and simply addictive!
Estia has a short wine list featuring a not-often-seen collection of Greek wines. Even though wine at lunch tends to wreck my afternoon to-do list, a glass of white wine with all this Mediterranean bounty was hard to resist. We chose a Nasiakos Moschofilero, described by the enthusiastic Alex as lying between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Riesling. Sure enough, the delicious wine was fruity with a crisp but not overwhelming acidity – perfect with the spreads. I’m going to see if Craig at World of Beverage can get me some of this for summer drinking.
The ladies at the next table ordered a Greek salad with chicken to share. Too bad, they missed out on all the fun of exploring the culinary treasures on Estia’s extensive menu.
None of the restaurants in SoNo were as busy as The Little Pub, which enjoys a highway location close by corporate enclaves, and sparse competition, but each had a few tables of well cared-for diners. The restaurants in SoNo are looking forward to summer when the sidewalks are filled with visitors to the attractions, enjoying the salt air and relishing one of the most diverse, walkable, high-quality restaurant scenes between New York and New Haven. Meanwhile, get out there and “do lunch.”