The meal at Bailey’s Backyard begins with a basket of cornbread.
Made from a classic Southern recipe Executive Chef Forrest Pasternack’s grandmother taught him, it’s served with a side of molasses and melted butter for dipping or drizzling over the bread — Pasternack’s preferred method. These hearty pieces of cornbread are brought to each table at the start of the meal and are worlds better than the bread served at most restaurants. They serve as the introduction to a wholesome and sophisticated evening of dining at Bailey’s Backyard, an American restaurant that has been open since 1999 and dedicated to farm-to-table cuisine since 2013.
It had been a long time since a member of our staff had visited the restaurant, so I stopped by in December to update our food scouting report. It is a small but cozy restaurant in downtown Ridgefield, just off the main drag. During my visit, I enjoyed a variety of dishes with influences ranging from Japan (an enjoyable brisket ramen) to France (an excellent foie gras) to fusion (strange but enjoyable cheeseburger dumplings).
23 Bailey Ave., Ridgefield
Hours: Brunch, Sat. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Lunch,
Tue.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner, Tue.-Thu. 5-9:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 5-10 p.m.
Bailey’s is at its best when it surprises with hard-to-find and unusual flavor combinations. The standout dish was the foie gras and doughnuts appetizer. Hudson Valley foie gras (fattened duck liver) is seared at a high heat, then rested until it is medium rare. The foie is served with an assortment of creative ingredients, including, but not limited to, toasted pecan nut purée, dehydrated figs aged in red wine, and Hawaiian black volcanic salts. The foie gras is placed on pieces of a warm, house-made doughnut with vanilla sugar. The resulting plate is a symphony of sweet and savory flavors, the fluffy softness of the doughnut serving as a counterpoint to the dense richness of the foie gras.
Despite these impressive flavors, whether you enjoy your visit to Bailey’s Backyard or not may depend on the thickness of your wallet. If the sight of many entrées in the high $30s causes your blood pressure to spike, Bailey’s Backyard may be out of your price range. The quality of the ingredients (unfortunately, local costs more), the service and the Fairfield County location wholly match these prices. Seared Long Island duck breast, served with radish and fairy tale eggplant, creamy polenta, bok choy, herb salad and sour apple sauce, was excellent. But at $32, it was on the lower end of the entrée price range and had me wondering if it was worth the investment.
All such miserly thoughts fled my mind when I bit into a dining companion’s prime skirt steak. This grass-fed and grain-finished steak is served over a bed of melt-in-your-mouth creamed spinach, while the steak itself is soft and tender.
Bailey’s Backyard was opened by Sal Bagliavio, who served as the chef until 2013 when he brought in Pasternack as executive chef and switched the focus of the restaurant to farm to table. “Bailey’s was always an innovative new American restaurant utilizing high-quality ingredients, but for me, after my wife and I started a family in 2008, the importance of knowing where our food comes from and what was in it became a priority,” Bagliavio says. “The transformation has been very well received by our guests. The advantages have been cleaner eating for all and establishing great relationships with local farmers and artisans.” He adds, “There are some challenges. In addition to utilizing local we also adopted many environmentally friendly practices and changed the way we do business. Prices have risen a bit, but it reflects the quality of our products and our less of an impact on our environment.”
Beyond the food itself, Bailey’s Backyard features a solid wine and beer list and some well-crafted original cocktails. I enjoyed both the White Mary (a twist on the classic Bloody Mary served without tomato juice and featuring cucumber vodka, vermouth, lemon, cilantro, fresh cucumber and celery) and the My Name is Earl (made with Woodford bourbon, elderflower, amaro cherries and orange bitters).
The staff is attentive and was helpful answering many questions about the menu and cocktail list. Pasternack spends a good deal of time in the dining room sharing tidbits about the various dishes and talking food in general with patrons. I overheard him offering guests at the adjoining table tips on where to get Mexican food nearby.
For dessert I ordered the cranberry posset jar, which had a burst of sourness that was a bit too tart for my taste but would be perfect for cranberry lovers. My table also shared an order of apple hand pies. These hot pockets filled with sugar-glazed apples had a deep-fried dough flavor, and, like the cornbread that began the meal, were hearty and full of flavor, the perfect punctuation point to an enjoyable evening.
Ambiance Laid back, while the quality of service, food and price is more what you’d expect at a fancier establishment. The space was formerly a coffeehouse, and two separate dining areas are on the smaller side. Though guests are seated close to one another, sound-absorption material on the ceiling works wonders and you can actually converse with your dining companions without straining your voice, as is necessary in too many restaurants today.
Service Friendly and efficient. The team is clearly well coached. Questions were answered in a helpful way, and when we lingered after our meal to talk for a few minutes, we were not rushed even though the restaurant was crowded. Pasternack also stopped by our table to discuss several dishes, a nice personal touch (he was unaware our visit was for this review and that I write for the magazine).
Food New American cuisine for Bailey’s means fresh, local ingredients are incorporated in a variety of ways using various global influences to great effect.
Price Starters/appetizers: $9-$19 (foie gras $19, cheeseburger dumplings $9, brisket ramen $16); entrées: $26-$38 (duck breast $32, skirt steak $31, tandoori seafood stew $38); dessert: $9.