For most of the last decade, Community Table always made its way into conversations about the best restaurants in Connecticut. Owned by Keith Anderson — a finance legend who co-founded BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager — Community Table was inspired by his then-16-year-old daughter, Greta, who “wanted us to become more actively involved in the community, create jobs and assist local farmers and vendors,” Anderson says.
The idea became reality in 2010 when the restaurant opened with Joel Viehland as executive chef. That same year the establishment was nominated for Best New Restaurant in America by the James Beard Foundation. It was the first of many accolades. When Viehland, who now owns Swyft in Kent, left in 2015, his one-time sous chef, Marcell Davidsen, took over the kitchen.
Despite continuing to receive accolades, the restaurant shut down in May 2017. Anderson explains that Davidsen and the restaurant’s general manager both “gave notice for unrelated reasons last year, and as an absentee owner, I had little choice but to close the restaurant.” He adds, “the combination of outcry from our wonderful customers and our joy of sponsoring such a great restaurant led me to search for a new partner who could be hands-on and help me reopen Community Table.”
He found that partner in Joann Makovitzky, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who has worked at New York City restaurants such as La Caravelle and Dean & DeLuca. Together, Makovitzky and Anderson brought in Paul Pearson as executive chef. Pearson is a native of Yorkshire, England, and was trained in traditional cooking techniques. He worked with renowned chefs such as Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc in Europe and, more recently, and on this side of the ocean, at the White Hart in Salisbury.
After being closed for a year, Community Table reopened in May. It has hit the ground running with its new chef and a fresh, locally inspired menu. On a recent visit, this menu featured a variety of local vegetables, meats and cheeses. The slow-cooked Maine halibut served with a toasted corn husk broth could make a fish lover even out of the normally seafood averse. Another slow-cooked winner is the pork belly. These thick cuts of meat are cooked for 12 hours and served with grilled caraflex cabbage, honey from Washington’s Steep Rock Honey, and roasted baby carrots. The result is a dish with all the flavors of barbecue pork — thick, fatty meat and a sweet red sauce — but presented in a subtle, elegant manner that is not out of place in this upscale restaurant.
Makovitzky says the halibut is a prime example of Pearson’s talent. “This dish could be a disaster if there isn’t a skillful chef and team,” she says. “He spends a good deal of time working with purveyors sourcing ingredients that will excite the palate.”
I first visited Community Table when Davidsen was in charge of the kitchen. During this period there was a Nordic influence to many dishes, and the meal began with some of the best bread I’ve ever had. Both the bread and Nordic influence were gone on my return visit, but Community Table continues to do many things exceptionally well. Desserts such as the panna cotta and chocolate crémeux are among the best in the state. Head bartender Michael L. Moore’s cocktail program is also a strength. Both the Manhattan and Hemingway daiquiri were excellent.
As is often the case, quality does not come cheap. A meal for two with two entrées, two desserts, and three appetizers came to more than $200 and left us full, but not stuffed. (We also got two cocktails for $15 each, and a seltzer and coffee were both $5). However, if money is no object, or you are looking to splurge, this is a great date location.
Community Table has the same interior feel as it did before its hiatus. There is a sleek, square bar area and an equally sleek dining area with dark wooden tables, and gray and white colorings. “We changed some wall paint color to create a slightly softer aesthetic and had KMR gallery [in Washington] curate the art. I think the art adds a lot to the space,” Makovitzky says. “The Andersons built a beautiful building and created an interior environment that is extremely appealing. There was very little reason to change anything. They struck the perfect balance of a relaxed, elegant country setting.”
The philosophy that first launched the restaurant remains unchanged as well. “We source the best local ingredients we possibly can and prepare them to enhance their natural expression,” Makovitzky says.