A community like Black Rock, with its venerable harbor which once saw spies make nighttime landings delivering intelligence bound for George Washington himself, needs an anchor. A neighborhood of both quiet streets near the shoreline promenade of St. Mary’s By The Sea, and a bubbling churn of food projects and musical nightlife to its north, meet on a line drawn down the center by Fairfield Avenue.
For seven years the mid-Avenue balance point of this neighborhood was restaurant, bar and sometime music venue Walrus+Carpenter. That ship has sailed to Westport, passed in the other direction by Mark Turocy, and his new community gathering spot, Black Rock Social House.
Turocy has come to Bridgeport the long way, having done stints at The Comedy Store, Angel City Brewery and Au Fudge in greater Los Angeles, but he may be a more familiar face to Connecticut residents as the former GM of Rizzuto’s Oyster Bar in Westport and Atelier Florian in New Haven. More local flavors emerge from the kitchen in Black Rock via chef Jacob Raitt II, a local whose food we’ve had at both The Chelsea in Fairfield and The Cask Republic in Stamford. The two have created what they call an international comfort food menu with an emphasis on gluten-free cuisine. Their new venture is enough of an outlier in the area that we couldn’t wait to bring you a first look soon after the restaurant’s opening in March.
“Chefs always love a challenge,” Turocy says. “When I was at Florian, everywhere, every night we had someone asking for gluten free, and I thought this is an idea that has legs.” He and chef Raitt saw eye to eye on the idea, and they were off. “We’re going to highlight one different country’s comfort food each month: Mexico in May, Ethiopia in June, Jamaica in July ... all gluten free.”
Beyond its location in the heart of Black Rock, the space’s interior layout was always one of its strengths. The long bar area which has provided the setting for countless meetups, conversations and before/after-show drinks has been both retained and freshened. Split-level dining areas for meals a little more formal and private provide room for a good number of guests, whom the Social House will welcome seven days a week. Happy hours run every day from 3 to 6 p.m., and all day on Mondays.
Turocy says they’ll continue the musical legacy of the space, but with a complete shift to jazz, with daytime music at brunch and later in the evening on Wednesdays. “We don’t want to be a concert. It’s meant to be a background, an ambiance to the social atmosphere so people can talk and enjoy themselves.”
A running series of Sunday jazz brunches incorporate selections from the “Noshables” menu of small dishes, like fried green tomatoes, watermelon and prosciutto salad, and a Fritto Misto of shrimp, calamari, peppers and asparagus in puttanesca sauce. Scanning through the eggs, bacon and waffles one Sunday, a less common Mediterranean shakshuka stands out. This arrives in a small iron pan bubbling with roasted tomato, bell pepper and onion, topped with two shirred eggs. The dish is tasty, and I appreciate the originality interspersed with the more traditional brunch selections. The shakshuka is accompanied by a ramekin each of very pleasant housemade hummus and tzatziki to dress up each bite as you see fit, and toast points for spreading, which unfortunately does not arrive. Three-dollar mimosas and Bellinis are available to reduce the sting.
A return trip for dinner reveals a more comprehensive menu, partially dedicated to a charcuterie selection featuring housemade kielbasa and merguez sausage, and enticing cheeses from Grana Padano to Humboldt Fog with associated fixings. I begin by selecting a beef carpaccio, and a Smoky Pom from the cocktail specialties. Campfire tones of mezcal add body to any drink, and balance well with the tequila and pomegranate syrup in the cocktail, livened with a dash of bitters and lime zest. It’s a good pairing with the Grana Padano carpaccio, which is arranged as a base underneath a small arugula salad tossed with a bit of shaved cheese, toasted Marcona almonds for flavor and crunch, and pickled mushrooms, adding an excellent hit of acidic umami.
Elsewhere on the Noshables menu you can find tastes like fresh ceviche, clams casino, elote, confit chicken wings, and crispy Yukon potato with Peruvian huancaina sauce.
The centerpiece “Comfort Food” menu has options from shepherd’s pie and pork belly al pastor to bouillabaisse for international flavors. I’ve also heard good things about the grilled octopus, but I’m interested to see how a gluten-free restaurant does pasta. The housemade fettuccine is topped with grilled shrimp, asparagus and confit tomatoes after being tossed in a very liberal dose of creamy tomato pesto sauce. The shrimp and vegetables play well with each other in both flavor and texture accompanied by the tremendously rich sauce, while the fresh pasta is noticeably chewier than varieties using standard wheat flour. It is al dente taken to a bit of an extreme, but I have no problem clearing it to the last bite.
Whether it’s small plates, entrées or attractive-looking desserts such as the poached pear on sweet mascarpone and almond brittle with port syrup, a gluten-free menu shows no limitations, and provides plenty of variety to the offerings at Black Rock Social House. The accompanying cocktail menu and attractive list of local beers from Two Roads, East Rock, Firefly Hollow, Back East and New England Brewing Co. on tap along with bottled and canned selections means — drinking or eating — there’s likely something here for you. At a place called “Social House,” I believe that’s the point.
Black Rock Social House
2895 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport
Hours: Mon.–Fri. 3-11 p.m., Sat. & Sun 11 a.m.–11 p.m.