Without the sign and parking lot, The Spinning Wheel could be confused with any of the dozens of Revolution-era homes which have rambled and grown their way into modernity across Newtown and Redding. A covered slate patio and large, paned windows overlook grassy lawns bursting with species of flowers which look half-tamed and natural to the landscape.
While this magazine does not pay me for my floral acumen, I can’t help but note the greenery of the space outside the Redding restaurant, a feature that was included prominently in a Connecticut Magazine review of The Spinning Wheel nearly 50 years ago. (That ’70s article mentions that azaleas and lilac grown on the grounds serve as table centerpieces.)
That article, from 1972 and one of the magazine’s earliest reviews, predated my visit by exactly 49 years this July. It’s the reason the magazine, marking its 50th anniversary in this issue, dispatched me to this longtime eatery. The review was written by Connecticut Magazine’s first restaurant critic, Margaret Primavera, who began by noting that the Warings (Bayard and Beatrice) were in their first weekend as owner/managers of The Spinning Wheel the night of her visit, having just taken over from the Tottle family who owned and operated the restaurant since 1925. Beatrice (formerly Beatrice Bella “BeBe” Shopp), had been Miss Minnesota and Miss America, 1948, before wedding Korean War navigator Bayard. She was noted in our review “as outgoing and personable an asset as any business could hope to find.”
The main building of The Spinning Wheel itself dates to 1806, and even then was built around the core of an earlier fireplace erected in 1742. This working hearth still stands with square-shouldered bulk by a front door, slightly angled as though expecting you, and turning itself from conversation. Multiple rooms in the modern floorplan seem capable of hosting public as well as private events simultaneously, as long as they’re smaller than a fraternity party or society wedding. The small bar is its most modern room, apart from a lintel inside the door which looks like it once welcomed visitors arriving from outside on horseback.
The Spinning Wheel, one-half of its multiple centuries since our review, is a new update on an old soul.
I plunked down on the bench side of a two-top between the booths and bar itself, and scanned the tap handles. When in Redding, I chose the Redding Beer Co. Summer Witbier. I was happy to see the visibility through the honeyed cross section of this beer was better than the late-July haze I drove through to land it on the table in front of me. A thick fluff of head lasted and laced down the glass as I scanned the menu. A bit of cloves and the fresh bread of unmalted wheat were revealed on nose and tongue, followed by that smooth mouthfeel and light weight enjoyable in a summer wit.
In 1972 the appetizers offered included madrilene with sour cream, eggs anchovy, and herring in cream, ranging in price from 65 cents to $1.25. Seeking neither baitfish nor a jellied consommé of tomato juice, I reviewed the Wheel’s current lineup — loaded potato skin “Cannonballs,” a vegetarian chili bowl, bacon mac & cheese — and selected the Thai chicken poppers. These smelled delicious with tangy chilies, and have real meat to them once bitten, without excess breading. The sauce is sweet and lightly searing on the lips, and mine met teeth with a crunch from a fried exterior and sesame seeds. The bed of Asian slaw is sparing but a pleasant, vegetal change of pace. The poppers lead me to think the “Flying Chicken” wings would be similar, especially with spicy honey sriracha sauce. Each are $12, or roughly the cost of a meal for one in 1972.
A chalkboard on the far wall advertises a happy hour 4–6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, with $2 off all liquor drinks and buy-one-get-one draft beers and glasses of wine.
The bar is hung with blueprints of homes in the surrounding area, a design choice of current (family) owner, Chris Rountros, a trained architect. “All the art here is architectural, even the ironwork you see around the building,” he says when I note the blueprints. “These are all local farms and houses.”
The Rountros brothers are first-generation Greek Americans. They grew up in the restaurant business at their father’s Windmill diners in Danbury and New Milford.
From the Tottles in 1925, the Waring family would sell to an English family, the Butlers, from whom the Rountros family acquired The Spinning Wheel in 2014. The building, Rountros says, was in sorry shape, “boarded up, practically falling down,” when he, his restaurateur brother, Anthony, and financier brother, Alex, decided to buy and restore it. “Lots of the old New England restaurants in the area had closed down one by one right around then, but when you went inside here, you could see the potential.”
Of his own lineage, Rountros says: “We come from a long line of really great cooks — grandparents with no formal training but who made good food. We want that sensibility.”
Saying this sparks his memory, and he references an article on The Spinning Wheel from the Sept. 12, 1957, edition of Redding Times he found on the premises during restoration: “ ‘We don’t do chefs, we do good, old fashioned cooks.’ Mrs. Waring said that, and that’s it: we try to do comfort food well.”
The ethos is immediately noticeable when reading the current menu. Maple-glazed Brussels sprouts, chicken and eggplant Parmesan, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, burgers and artisan stone pizzas take up the majority of space. It’s a modern, unassuming tavern menu.
From our 1972 review: “The menu is brought and we find that it is devoted exclusively to American fare, with very reasonable full dinner prices ranging from $4.50 for stuffed clams to $6.95 for roast prime ribs of beef.” The Warings reported that their chef (in 1972) was particularly noted for his fish and chicken dishes, and Ms. Primavera ordered the baked stuffed shrimp ($6.75) and rainbow trout with seafood stuffing ($6.50) and “found both pleasing.”
I ordered a glass of Altos malbec from Argentina, and the Spinning Wheel meatloaf for an entrée. It arrived thick cut and crowned with golden curls of fried onions, resting on smashed spuds reigning over a field of mushroom gravy and a frontier of baby carrots. A bit on the autumnal side for just this side of midsummer, but there’s never a wrong season for the ultimate comfort food. The onions were mini rings, and not frizzled away to nothing more than crispy oil strips, so they retained some sweetness which complemented the beef and pork mixture with balsamic glaze, and played well with the gravy and carrots. Substantial and consistent without becoming dense, the meatloaf with its gently seared brown crust isn’t, on its face, chateaubriand for two, or sufficiently restaurant-y to be beyond the ability of a talented home cook. It is simple food done well: pleasing, filling and relaxing. Memorable enough to gnaw at the corners of the hungry mind weeks later and justify the trip.
“We hire cooks from all over,” Chris told me when we spoke afterward. “There are no targeted people or ultra-specific experience here. The hardest part in operating a restaurant is just getting started with everyone. Once you get a team together,” he laces fingers, “it all comes together.”
Coming together is appropriately thematic at this public house. “Large-footprint places are hard to sustain,” Rountros says. “We do lots of catering, wedding events for that half of the restaurant — it’s been important to our success.”
He expands on the local support, and says their takeout business became a hub in the community during the 2020 COVID shutdown. “People came in their cars twice a week, sometimes. Now, they come in and say, ‘I’ve been coming here forever, I used to park cars here.’ People send us postcards when they’re away.”
Nearly 50 years ago, this magazine said The Spinning Wheel “Blends Old and New.” The current tagline is “Historic with Modern Delights.” What we see now is a country New England restaurant keeping the tradition of generations of families alive by feeding many more, old and young.