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The idea of "brunch" is one that comes with certain associations. For me, I'm thinking of that "Barefoot Contessa" woman, preparing food like Quail Eggs Wrapped in Pinon-Smoked Fawn Bacon, then serving it to yacht owners who look like Tim Gunn.
That would be a far cry from the sweet reality of Chef Metal's Hell Fire Grill, recently opened in the kitchen of the Bank Street Café in New London. Chef Metal - Steve Blanchard - typically cooks Sunday brunch for about 100 bikers, but don't let that thwart you. There are plenty of family types, as well, because Chef Metal is the great social equalizer, plus his food is pretty spectacular.
On Father's Day, The Vegetarian Who Walks Among Us (TVWWAU) and I dropped by to sample the Chef's offerings. We were pleased to see the Café has undergone a facelift. While not markedly different in terms of décor, it's shiny, freshly painted, and friendly.
The Sunday Brunch menu is small but representative, with egg combo platters, omelets, French toast, and breakfast sandwiches. But Chef Metal also crafts biscuits and sausage gravy and - tattoo the following on your forehead like Guy Pearce in "Memento" - a pulled pork omelet. There are folks who have Nobel science medals on the mantels who haven't come up with anything as cool as a pulled pork omelet.
How, then, did it come to pass that I didn't try the pulled pork omelet?
Well, I also wanted biscuits and sausage gravy. For a small extra fee, you can get an added meat, and so I asked for a side of pulled pork. Presto!
It all arrived with an alarming amount of food: two giant, fluffy biscuits covered in thick, peppery, gray-brown gravy liberally speckled with crumbles of sausages. Chef Metal uses the high-end Jimmy Dean sausage - applied with a veneer of his own secret spice rub. The gravy itself is anchored with a bacon grease/flour formula, and it's all pretty spectacular.
This comes with two eggs - scrambled with such a light touch they seemed to levitate over my fork - and beautifully seasoned home fries. Yet, a whole side of the plate was then heaped with torn hunks of deliciously tender smoked pork shoulder! Again with the rub for added flavor - only Chef Metal takes the smoked meat and flash-sears the outside on a crisper. The contrast is almost a carmelization against the mellow pork.
My wife did try an omelet - the three-egg veggie variety ($5.95), highlights of which were the structure's light, buttery touch; the chef's just-made, jalapeno-infused pico de gallo; fresh mushrooms; and loads of cheese. She also got some of the home fries and a side of wheat toast.
Now, the Hell Fire Grill is also open for dinner seven nights a week. Chef Metal is a veteran of bar-and-grill cooking and, as with his brunch touches, he can take even the most mundane or predictable fare and offer splendid, tasty and creative spins. As such, the nachos, burgers, sammiches, and appetizers are all cutting edge. We picked up dinner a few nights ago.
As an appetizer, we actually ordered garlic mashed potatoes ($5.95). As the chef says, "It's like a burrito but, instead of a flour tortilla, I use crispy cheese and wrap it around the potatoes." Insane! He quick-melts a slab of cheese, right there on the grill - no, it doesn't melt - then rolls up the taste-spangled 'taters inside the cheese. It's served with sour cream and is feloniously fun.
Eileen followed with a veggie burrito stuffed with the pico, beans, squash, zucchini - and a crumbled veggie burger patty. Just a monstrously big offering that worked out to three different meals.
I had to try the cheeseburger because so many regulars insisted. It's a half-pound, hand-crafted shaped like a ragged hockey puck. It goes on a sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, onion and a wedge of carved cheddar, and here's the magic part. Chef Metal puts the meat on the grill but also shuts it up in a hubcap so that steaming becomes part of the cooking process. The flavor is truly a joy.
The menu is in early stages. There will soon be regular steak nights and, rumor has it, some Cajun-style directions with possible gumbo and po'boys. There is much greatness here.
in the Bank Street Cafe
639 Bank St., New London
(860) 444-1444, bankstreetcafe.net
Cuisine: Creatively rendered brunch and bar & grill standards.
Atmosphere: Immortal New London bar favored by longtime city residents, bikers, and folks in the know. Genial and welcoming.
Service: Can be slow at peak times, but settle back and enjoy the fun.
Prices: Sunday brunch ($4.25-$9.95), dinner appetizers ($4.95-$8.95), sandwiches, burgers, and dinners ($4.25-$18.95).
Credit Cards: All major.
Handicapped access: Easy egress.