The very fine Bream Cove Tavern surfaces in familiar NL landmark
It's a lovely, comfortable restaurant and bar space with a stone fireplace and waxed wooden floors and windows overlooking Bank Street. The exterior is distinctive white brick, and the corner location is angled just up from the historic Shaw-Perkins Mansion. It's not hard to see why a succession of establishments have taken occupancy therein.
Originally Ye Olde Tavern, the building has also hosted Dev's on Bank, the Seehund, PaStachio's, The Tavern and Hughie's — with varying degrees of success. Bream Cove Tavern is the latest tenant — and based on recent experiences, here's hoping it has a long run.
Not much has changed in terms of décor, and that's fine. Again, it's a welcoming and pleasing place to spend time having drinks and/or a meal. The Bream Covers also have a much-needed concept: a menu that actually offers a variation on the time-honored pizza/Italian/seafood staples that run amok around here.
The menu is focused on comfort food in an almost homey, Midwestern fashion. Yes, there are plenty of sandwiches, such as staples like the BLT or fried fish, but also poultry- or seafood salad and a roast turkey with cranberry sauce and stuffing. There are also fun varieties of "long burgers," so called because they come on grinder rolls. Lunch and dinner platters range from pot roast, smothered steak and three different schintzels to parms, bacon-wrapped meatloaf and burritos.
Of course, there's also an array of appetizers. We've tried the giant pretzel ($8), which indeed fills an entire dinner plate and comes with your choice of dips, including beef gravy and bacon horseradish. As traditionalists, we opted for beer cheese and were completely happy. The hot, doughy pretzel, with just the right amount of salt, was magical with the dollop of rich sauce.
Bruschetta ($9) was a delicious bargain. Several pieces of "yummy" grilled bread (my wife's adjective) were piled around an alchemist's mixture of tomato, onion, olives, olive oil, spices and — brilliant! — diced pine nuts. Distinctly Mediterranean, but with tart and crunchy components that spun the tomato and onion in new flavor directions.
We also enjoyed the pierogis ($9), simple, pillowy constructs with smooth potato filling and cheese sauce. We asked for the toppings — crisp bacon bits and chopped onion — to be served separately to fit with our respective and finicky preferences, and were cheerfully accommodated.
Sandwiches are giant — just so you know and can smile in advance — and are served with a choice of sides (we recommend "Kava fries," which are thick discs of skins-on potato chunks). Of the burgers, Phil's Chili Burger ($10) was a triumph, though a fork/knife approach is suggested. The hefty beef patty, elongated to fit the grinder roll, was juicy inside, with a lightly crisped exterior. A tide of melted cheddar oozed beyond the sandwich parameters, and a piquant, beefy chili provided texture and additional flavor acrobatics.
The Billy Bomb ($10) is indeed a taste explosion. The bottom half of the roll was oozing with gooey and rich noodles and cheese. The meat rested on top, with yet another story of crispy bacon planks to serve as an exclamation point. A fine thing.
There are two options for your pulled pork sandwich ($10). There's the "torn shreds" BBQ style or, as I decided, the traditional Cuban. In addition to lean pork and a slice of smoky ham, the Swiss cheese was accompanied by slaw and served on a roll rather than pressed Cuban bread. It was an interesting melange of flavor and texture, though I'd opt out of the slaw next time, as it was a bit dominating.
Beyond sandwiches, the lunch and dinner (larger portions, side and salad/soup) offerings were very good. Bacon-wrapped meatloaf ($10 lunch, $15 dinner) delighted my pal Pete. "On the few occasions I've tried to make bacon-wrapped anything, the result was either limp, undercooked bacon or a dried-out center," he opined. Not at Bream Cove; the chef nimbly tightroped between those extremes. As a lunch presentation, two thin but juicy slices were served open faced on toast and topped with brown gravy. Pete pointed out a subtle smokiness to the dish, and only wished for a bit more gravy.
My wife, Eileen, was very impressed by the eggplant schnitzel ($7 lunch, $12 dinner). Two cutlets were delicately battered and fried. The eggplant was tender and deelish, and the sauce was distinct and imaginative — maybe a Romani Zigeuner sauce with a light variation on marinara? There was also a sweet and clever hint of paprika to the dish as well. Boiled carrots and potatoes were cooked just right, and the simplicity was a welcome touch.
I tried the chicken schnitzel ($9 lunch, $14 dinner) and was staggered by the size of the noontime portion. The pounded breast was juicy and danced in exquisite counterpoint to the peppery batter. I'd do this again — the caveat being that you should be hungry — but I wasn't as happy with the bland potato salad and would stick with the Kave fries.
It's nice that this iconic location is once again occupied. My thoughts are that Bream Cove is positioned for a long and successful run as part of the New London dining landscape.
Bream Cove Tavern
Bream Cove Tavern
345 Bank St., New London
(860) 574-9235, breamcovetavern.com
Cuisine: comfort food with big portions on a creative menu
Atmosphere: attractive and pub-comfortable with fireplace and nicely appointed dining rooms
Service: very conscientious; by the second visit you're essentially family
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Prices: very reasonable with no dinner entrees from$12-$20 and lunch options $8-$13
Reservations: really large dining rooms so you're probably ok
Credit cards: all majors
Handicapped accessibility: Parking on Bank Street is limited but front door access is roomy; there's a parking lot behind the restaurant but stairs to rear entrance/exit. Walkway from rear parking to front.
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