Recapping recent dining reviews from Day critics

Hot Rod Cafe is known for its wings, and food runner Sage Caristo-Mobley is pictured taking several orders of wings — spicy garlic pepper dry rub wings, buffalo blue cheese wings and garlic parmesan wings — to a customer at the New London restaurant on Jan. 29, 2016.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Hot Rod Cafe is known for its wings, and food runner Sage Caristo-Mobley is pictured taking several orders of wings — spicy garlic pepper dry rub wings, buffalo blue cheese wings and garlic parmesan wings — to a customer at the New London restaurant on Jan. 29, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Smokey O'Grady's

306 Flanders Road, East Lyme

(860) 739-7084

Among other things, Smokey O'Grady's reminded me of one of those important rules for life: don’t judge a book by its cover. One could easily by-pass the nondescript building on Flanders Road or write it off as one of many dime-a-dozen venues that cater to the beer-and-sports crowd, but to do either of those things is to miss out on outstanding chicken wings and clever takes on classic pub fare. (Irish Nachos anyone?)

I’ve never been a big chicken wing person, but Smokey’s taught me perhaps one other important rule for life: not all chicken wings are created equal. The kitchen’s mastery of sauces and dry rubs, plus expert preparation set Smokey’s wings apart from their many competitors in the region. Experience more of Smokey’s sauce-ing savvy courtesy of the barbecue menu, which offers a quick tour of your options with the Barbecue Trio ($15.95), a hearty sampling of chicken, pulled pork, and boneless ribs. At least a dozen burger options (including a veggie burger; $7.95) and just as many wraps on offer will likely tempt most palates.

Plus: beer — several varieties of which are available on tap and bottled.

Now that summer is upon us, may we suggest any of the above on Smokey’s patio? There’s no pool table out there, but ample seating and fresh air should make up for it.

— Marisa Nadolny

Hot Rod Cafe

114 Bank St., New London

(860) 447-2320

It almost seems unnecessary to review what is arguably the most popular night spot in New London. On the other hand, this is a nation of 300,000,000 people, some of whom have never tried the superb tavern fair at Rod's.

The joint is most renowned for its wings ($11.95 for 10), which are meaty with a thin-crisped exterior and available in enough flavors, rubs and sauces to keep you experimenting for a long time. Those who prefer to avoid the bone-in aspect of wing-eating will delight in the fact that chicken tenders come with the same flavor options. I'm addicted to the Old Bay seasoning version and, if that seems an overly simplistic construct, well, so what? It's freakin' great.

This is a fun place with a beautiful outdoor deck, plenty of craft beers on tap and a tremendous staff. We'd go there more often if the menu had at least a few non-salad vegetarian entree options. Behold, though: a recent fried plantain platter with veggie filling ($7.95) was a remarkable discovery for my meat-eschewing wife, and we're hoping Rod will add it the menu permanently.

Also worth noting: The half-pound cheeseburger ($12.95 with fries) is, along with the burger at Kamp Dog, the best in New London. (Well, the Dutch Tavern cheeseburger is similarly brilliant, but regulars don't like that secret getting out. Truth demands that I include this, though.)

— Rick Koster

Mezza

45 Williams Ave., Mystic

(860) 415-4656

thepitaspot.com

It's hard to make a mistake when ordering off the menu at Mezza, the Lebanese restaurant on Route 1 in Mystic. In fact, you could probably close your eyes, point a few times, and go home more than happy with your decision. But if you like going the more deliberate route, I have a few suggestions.

Pomegranate juice with seltzer ($5) is a sweet and refreshing drink to start you off and activate the taste buds. In terms of starters, the simple yet incomparable grilled maloof pita with shredded purple cabbage marinated in olive oil, butter and garlic ($8) is a must try. The Mezza platter ($15) is a tasty and well-priced mix of vegetarian standards: hummus, baba ghannouj, tabouli, falafel and stuffed grape leaves.

For dinner, there are plenty of options for meat-lovers and abstainers, as well as pescetarians. A small sampling includes the charbroiled lamb chops (market price), grilled tuna over a romaine and citrus salad ($20), fiery falafel wrap with grilled tomatoes ($12 for lunch; $15 dinner), and the expertly prepared "Lala" chicken ($10 for half chicken; $20 for whole).

— Alex Nunes

 

The Maloof pita from Mezza (Alex Nunes/Special to The Day0
The Maloof pita from Mezza (Alex Nunes/Special to The Day0

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments