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Sure, pizza, salads and wraps are standard eats around the region, but it's always a pleasant surprise when a restaurant strives to make the common a little less so.
At the Common Loon in East Lyme, diners will encounter a selection of American-Italian fare - some classically prepped, some updated for more modern sensibilities - that reflects a foodie's devotion to creativity, reliability and flavor.
First, the classics. Many restaurants offer breads to start with, but the Common Loon offers a generously filled basket of warm, rustic baguette, pita and naan for a mere $5. The perfectly garlic-ed hummus and brown sugar and honey butter that come with the delicious breads make this appetizer item money well spent.
Now, if you're seeking the cure for what ails you, consider the Angel Hair Pomodoro ($15). A giant portion of pasta decked in stewed plum tomatoes, garlic, basil and, per the menu, "a touch of butter and white wine" hit all the right notes. The tomatoes were bright and just a tad toothy (in a good way); the pasta, perfectly cooked, with the garlic allowed to underline it all.
Another classic, the Caesar salad ($8 for dinner size), was the only disappointment over two visits. For me, the house-made dressing was far too pungent and fishy and way too generously applied. I like a little crunch to my greens, and what looked like nice specimens of greens were overly soaked in dressing. If you like a strong Caesar, ask for the dressing on the side.
On to bigger and better, though. Common Loon offers a selection of pizzas, from a Build Your Own option ($10 and up) and Seven Cheese to the fabulous Roasted Chicken and Garlic pie ($11). Atop an excellent, well-olive-oiled crust that's somewhere between thin and Greek-style is an inspired blend of toppings: roasted chicken, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, rosemary, goat cheese, calamata olives and mozzarella. We sampled this pie sans olives, and it was still absurdly delicious - so much so, even my pizza-snob husband loved it.
In similar style, the TMC sandwich ($8; on the lunch menu) presents a great blend of simple whole foods: tomato and fresh mozzarella (heated to perfect stretchiness) meet with chicken breast, pesto and balsamic vinegar on a mighty fine, toasty ciabbata roll. The sandwich was very well-executed and very good. I selected a side dish of macaroni salad to go with, and must hereby recommend it. Penne dressed in a balsamic blend becomes extra delicious mixed with roasted red peppers and olives.
Among the more exotic offerings is Common Loon's Asian Pork Wrap ($9; lunch menu). This wrap is a flavor bomb that keeps on giving after the first bite, thanks to a marinade of Korean barbecue sauce. Take a bite and wait a sec for the subtle, tingly heat to warm your palate - the crunchy kimchi slaw and spinach mixed into the wrap will help allow for full savor. The heat will unfold, activate more tasting receptors and make the next bite of wrap even better. It was an unexpected surprise for both of us.
Indeed, Common Loon itself is an unexpected surprise, as its location in an old, faded plaza off Route 1 doesn't offer much roadside appeal. But once you take a seat inside, you'll be assured the proprietors mean business.
135 Boston Post Road
East Lyme, CT 06333
www.commonloonrestaurant.com; the restaurant's Facebook offers details about live music and specials
Hours: Dinner served Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. Lunch served Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 3 p.m.
Cuisine: Italian-American fare fit for foodies and families
Atmosphere: Nice table layout in a space decorated in cheery folk-foodie art. A separate barroom offers more tables. Live music is a regular bonus.
Service: Well-meaning, able, but servers we encountered were a tad green.
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, Discover (website notes "Amex soon.")
Wheelchair access: No steps leading in; entryway and interior both spacious