It’s all good at BroadStreet Bar & Bistro

Every town has that place, the one you've been meaning to go to but haven't yet had the chance. Since its opening in February, BroadStreet Bar & Bistro has been that spot for me.

I walk by, glance in on happy people sipping pinot, nibbling on complimentary bread with chive butter and grilled goat cheese salads. I think: could that be me someday? Last weekend it was.

The atmosphere at BroadStreet Bar & Bistro is cool and sleek. The layout is open, and the color scheme is earthy reds and yellows. There's a silver tiled pizza oven at the back; along the right wall is a bar that's hip but not trendy. Windows clear across the front of the restaurant are reminiscent of Edward Hopper's diner scene in the painting "Nighthawks." This is Hopper, Pawcatuck-style - elegant in its restraint.

Save for the kids' section and dessert, the food options fit onto one page. Yet, there's admirable variety here, from appetizers like arancini (Portuguese croquettes of meat and cheese and risotto, $7) and chicken liver pate ($6) to entrees like homemade meatloaf ($12) and pulled pork pizza ($10).

I was most impressed by the starters. There are creative dishes you don't see too often and new takes on old favorites. The pan-fried calamari ($8) was a smartly executed Mediterranean version of an appetizer that sometimes feels dulled by its ubiquity. The rings and tentacles were moist, not at all rubbery, lightly battered and golden brown. They came tossed in calamata olives, spicy pepper rings, diced tomato, sliced garlic, basil and lemon juice. The combination was lighter than the average calamari and twice as flavorful.

The crab cakes ($8) are a smaller, rounder, some might say cuter, spin on this standard app. The two cakes weren't overly breaded; they were fried the way I like them, with a light crisp on the outside and a soft, almost mashed potato-like consistency on the inside. The cakes came with a dollop of saffron garlic mayonnaise on top and mixed greens in a mustard dressing at the center of the plate. The combination had a distinctively light taste for an appetizer that can sometimes run a little on the heavy and oily side.

When considering your main course, you have some options at BroadStreet. You can go the route of handmade pizzas cooked in a wood oven ($9 to $11), some rather classy-looking burgers ($8 to $10), pastas ($11 to $13) or a main entree ($12 to $19). I tried just about a little bit of each.

The margherita pizza ($9) was a flawless take on the classic pie: New York-style crust topped with a thin layer of marinara, mozzarella and parmesan, then balanced out with fresh basil. The crust had a chewy texture to it and that smoky grey and white dusting you get from a pizza straight out of a wood or coal oven.

The fettuccine mushroom alfredo bake ($11) is the ideal winter meal, but this place is air conditioned, so you can try it in summer too. The meal is served in a round baking dish and comes with seriously liberal portions of cheese and alfredo. The mushrooms are cut thick and compliment the pasta and thin slices of garlic. It's simple, robust and there's enough to take home for a meal or two the next day.

The last dish I tried was the black sesame-crusted salmon ($15). I'd be lying if I said I was crazy about this, but I think it does have appeal for some. The salmon filet comes coated in black sesames seeds; it's topped with a wasabi vinaigrette and served over a bed of wilted greens. It was a good piece of salmon and well cooked, but there were more than a few too many sesames in the coating; something a little subtler would have been enough. I applaud the risk taking with the drizzling of wasabi sauce but thought it lacked dynamic flavor and the redemptive element this dish needed.

Lastly, the kids menu is quite the deal, with all items priced $5 or less. This includes a hamburger and fries, chicken and fries and mac and cheese. We got my son the chicken and fries ($5), a simple yet classically tasty meal of three breaded chicken tenders and a large plate of fries prepared pomme frites style.

The service at BroadStreet Bar & Bistro is commendable, but if you like to let it linger like The Cranberries, you should know it's rather speedy. It seemed like I'd just taken my first sip of ice water when our server appeared at the table with a smile and our calamari and crab cakes.

The other diners were varied in age and attire: young couples on dates, older couples on double dates, ladies in dresses, men in hats. The unifying characteristic seemed to be people who enjoy good food, good service and a good price - which they got.

BroadStreet Bar & Bistro

59 West Broad St., Pawcatuck
(860) 599-5559

Cuisine: New American

Price range: $8 to $18 for entrees

Service: Friendly, attentive and accommodating

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Handicapped access: Entrance is at parking lot level.

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