This is my second dual review, in which I ask a non-food writer to accompany me to dinner and take notes throughout the meal. It’s a tough request but I can usually find someone who will help me out. Last time, my friend Amy and I visited Bistro B in Bridgeport.
This time, I asked Nick Gamma to join me. Nick is a design director, photographer and, perhaps most importantly, a hophead. The man loves beer (to the point of obsession), which made him the perfect person to take to Stamford’s Cask Republic. We were ready for some interesting and perhaps hard-to-get craft beers, but the food was a big unknown. Would this be a bar with amazing beer but just a so-so food menu, or would the food stand up to the beverage selections?
We went on a Thursday evening, and the place was hopping. (Ooh, I really didn’t intend for that pun, but I’m going with it.) A young after-work crowd overtook the bar area, which is beautiful with traditional dark wood, shiny brass and a fireplace. The atmosphere was festive but the noise level was deafening. I was more than happy to grab a beer and move to a quieter back room. Immediately I liked the menu. Too often lately I’ve been seeing menus with appetizers in the $10 and up range. Sometimes you just want something small to munch on with your drink, so I was happy to see the “Snacks” category on the menu, with offerings like BBQ Roasted Peanuts ($3), Baked Soft Pretzel ($6) and Chicken Liver Mousse ($8). The Bacon Popcorn ($3) was exactly what you’d expect: a basket of fresh, hot popcorn flecked with real bacon. It was fluffy and delicious, although not something to get particularly excited over.
The smoked shortrib meatballs ($13), however, proved to be something worth talking about. In appearance, they look like any other saucy meatball. But one bite and you realize you’re tasting something exceptional. Spicy and rich, these are the meatballs of royalty. Turns out that the secret is they’re basted with a barbecue sauce made with the hoppiest IPA they have on tap. In this case, it was Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA.
That same sauce was the base for the chicken IPA pizza ($14). A crust of wood-fired flatbread was topped with the sauce, chicken, bacon, gorgonzola, onions and mache greens. All of the ingredients resulted in a many-layered taste of sweet, salty and bitter. It was hard to resist just one more piece.
There were other small plates that I’d love to try, such as the black bean risotto or the Caribbean crispy pork bites, but it was time to try some of the large plates. I can say, given my druthers, I never would have ordered the house-made lamb pastrami Reuben ($16) but I am so glad we tried it. Meltingly thin slices of lamb “pastrami” were topped with caramelized onions, smoked gouda and Thousand Island dressing, piled on top of grilled rye bread. I love a good sandwich and I’d say this one has got to be on my top ten, for sure. Nick agreed; he thought it was fantastic.
The other large plate we sampled was slow-roasted wild Canadian salmon ($26), which was served on a bed of butter beans with tomato, onions and sherry. The fish was very mild and sweet, but as Nick said, the beans and onions were the star of the show. It was a nice change of pace from the usual potatoes or rice that often accompany fish. To accompany the salmon, we had a Weyerbacher Brewing Co. Merry Monks, Belgian-Style Tripel. I know absolutely nothing about Belgian-style beers, so I had no idea what to expect and relied on Nick’s tasting notes. It had a wonderful banana/clove undercurrent to it, which meshed beautifully with the sweet fish. This was one of those food and beverage pairings that actually creates a unique taste experience. I’d definitely recommend trying it.
Lastly, we had the dry-aged New York Strip, accompanied by roasted red potatoes with bacon and a fried egg. This was paired with Slumbrew Square Porter. Nick hit the nail on the head with his review: “The steak was okay, but the potato side dish was insane! The smokiness of the bacon and steak worked surprisingly well with the chocolate and coffee notes of the porter.” Indeed, the potatoes were the kind of dish that will haunt you until you have it again.
Dessert was probably the weakest part of the meal, but even then, it was very good. A miniature blueberry walnut cheesecake was paired with a Brewdog/Evil Twin collaboration beer called My Name is Sonja Imperial IPA. This was a beer that Nick had looked forward to trying all night. He commented, “The beer was fantastic. What made it so interesting was that it was an imperial IPA brewed with blueberries. That’s not a combination that I’ve ever seen and I didn’t think it would work, but it did. The blueberry wasn’t overpowering and I think that made it work.”
We were both in complete agreement about Cask Republic. The beer menu alone is worth the trip, but the food proved to be a worthy rival. Whether you go to sit at the bar and have a few appetizers, or take a seat in the back room for a (somewhat) quieter meal, chances are you will find that Cask Republic is a gastronomic amusement park. You’re in for a fun ride.
Cask Republic, 191 Summer Street, Stamford; (203) 348-2275. www.caskrepublic.com.