Restaurant review: Me & Ma's in New London

The original Me & Ma's was a tiny breakfast/lunch bistro on New London's Pequot Avenue, next door to Fred's Shanty and equally susceptible to the seasonal clientele mentality.

Having earned a solid fan base through super friendly service and absolutely fresh and wonderfully prepared soups and sandwiches, the Me & Ma's folks took a deep, speculative breath in this quicksand economy, put faith in their work, and moved their operation into a lovely, bigger, year-round, two-room spot on Bank Street that used to house the Java Lounge, Steak Out and Gianni's Italian Grill.

It's an attractive, comfortable place, and you'd feel equally at home in a suit or surfer shorts and a T-shirt. The main dining room features semi-private booths and tables; the pub has a large bar, two flat-screen televisions, and plenty of seating, including two window-front spots from which to observe the eclecticism of Bank Street foot traffic. The décor is all dark wood and mellow lighting.

Most important, Me & Ma's is open for dinner now with an expanded menu and fresh seafood specials, clever bar-snack options and a liquor license, as well as the same excellent salads/soups/grinders menu that formed the structure of the original.

Two things to memorize.

First, this is very much a family operation with core cooking and restaurant skills, and with other family business interests that include a commercial fishing boat. That means, second, that the nightly fish specials are something to trust and anticipate. Indeed, the printed menu includes very little seafood because Me & Ma's can't predict what will come fresh off the boat on any given day - and as such the chalkboard specials feature the latest catch.

Speaking of which, at the far end of the main dining room is a small seafood market where you can buy and take home fresh-caught wares from the family boat. Good to know.

We were mightily impressed on some recent visits as we two-stepped across the various menus.

Tomato, basil and mozzarella skewers ($8) comprised a generous and wonderful "Caprese on a stick," according to my wife. Chunks of chilled tomato and cheese impaled on flowers-bedecked spears, topped with ribbons of chiffonade basic and drizzled with a tangy balsamic reduction. Plenty for a party of four.

Grilled veggie sliders ($7) were three tiny sammies: stacks of zucchini and yellow squash - briskly seasoned and perfectly cooked with melted mozz on fresh rolls, and accompanied with lovely hand-carved steak fries.

From the "bar bites" segment, fried cheeseburger raviolis (six for $6) were great fun: a puree of, well, cheeseburgers, tamped into crisply fried ravioli shells and served with a designer version of the ketchup-mustard standard. I could eat a thousand of them.

Ma's signature sandwich options include two killer paninis, an Italian and a veggie. I wept consumed the former ($10), making hog-snort noises as I ate and it dwindled to nothingness. There were all the requisite meats in generous supply - genoa, capicola and pepperoni - with provolone and a sorcerer's formula of hot banana peppers and roasted red peppers. The focaccia bread was a lovely thing, and the entire construct was pressed to a precise temperature and texture.

But ... once more with the fresh fish thing. A few nights ago, I had an entrée special of grilled swordfish ($15.95) that was just amazing. An inch-thick, football-sized hunk of fish, delicately nuanced by lemon and butter and criss-crossed with grill marks, was expertly cooked and, clearly, had been swimming in the Atlantic about four hours previously.

A choice of potato and fresh grilled vegetables come with the fish, and a baked potato and the squash/pepper medley sang lovely background vocals to the star of the show.

Me & Ma's is an all-star addition to the New London restaurant scene.

Me & Ma's

385 Bank St., New London

(860) 447-1288

Food: Quality soup, salad and sandwiches, with upscale pub entrees and stunningly fresh nightly seafood specials.

Atmosphere: Dining room and bar area, both of which are exceedingly welcoming. Dark woods, comfy booths, tables and bar stoods.

Service: This is very much a family operation, from the wait staff to the kitchen to such ancillary aspects as the commercial fishing outfit that supplies the daily seafood menu. Spend an hour there, and you'll feel like you're part of the family.

Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-midnight Fri. and Sat.

Credit cards: All majors.

Handicap access: Three different entrances, including one from the side parking lot which is easily negotiable.

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