Apr 19, 2012
09:11 AM
Café Connecticut

A Run for the Roses in Westport

 

The first time we dropped by the Spotted Horse Tavern, late-ish on a Wednesday night, the place was packed to the rafters with a young, boisterous crowd that spilled out onto the porch and sidewalk. Where had all these people been hanging out before, we couldn’t help wondering—Sono, maybe? For Westport, this is a niche that has long needed filling—and owners Kevin McHugh, Pete Mennona and Tommy Febbraio must be delighted at the rapturous reception they’re getting. The place is an unambiguous smash hit.

Area residents with lonnngg memories will be reminded of The Ships or, better yet, the Players Tavern (where Dressing Room is today). Those with shorter memories . . . well, I think they were all on the premises that night! The Spotted Horse is set in a charming old, Federal-style house (circa 1802) on formerly scruffy Church Street. Out front, old-timey propane lanterns lend a warm glow, and there’s outside seating enclosed by a white picket fence. The rough-hewn wood interior—comprised of a single dining room and a sizable bar area—features fireplaces, reclaimed stall doors and exposed beams, and striking photo portraits of equines. (Can you think of a better place to watch the Derby?!).

And the food? Chef Pedro Garzon’s tavern-style menu is an appealing amalgam of small plates, salads, sandwiches and burgers—but I have to say we weren’t wowed by the dishes we tried. Our Crispy Point Judith Calamari was tough; the Skewered Hanger Steak Pintxos, requested rare, was way overcooked, too; and the romaine-heart Caesar salad, though tasty, was wilty around the edges.

Service is friendly, a little too friendly—our waitress actually sat down at our table to share, in conspiratorial tones, her menu picks—but well-meaning.

So, they’ve got some kinks to work out-—but it’s still early days. (I’ve heard great reports on the Black Truffle Burger (with caramelized onions, black truffle butter, Bel Paese cheese and an egg sunny-side up) and the Lobster & Avocado BLT). And we haven’t a doubt that Messrs. McHugh, Mennona and Febbraio—all seasoned professionals—will have things in hand in a twinkling.

Our money’s on the Spotted Horse for a long run. It’s a clear favorite in the high-stakes restaurant game. Stop in for a mint julep—and see for yourself.

The Spotted Horse Tavern, 26 Church Lane, Westport, 203/557-9393.

A Run for the Roses in Westport

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