Big crowds lead the way to Little Pub in Old Saybrook

Since its opening a few months ago, there has been a steady stream of traffic pulling into and out of the parking lot of Little Pub in Old Saybrook. Indeed, our first research trip was kiboshed by a 45-minute wait for dinner. As we schlepped back to our parking space — in a parking area far, far away and likely created to accommodate the pub’s popularity — we made a mental note to hit either the early bird special time slot or opt for lunch next time.

We have since done both, and I would recommend either if you’re particularly hungry, because the pub remains a hot spot at dinnertime, and lunch was a nice, mellow affair with no crowds.

What is striking about Little Pub — other than its can’t-miss-it-yet-somehow-charming Tudor-inspired space — is its eclectic menu. I went in expecting shepherd’s pies, fish and chips, scotch eggs, and other belly-filling Brit-pub dishes. While you will find some of those things on the menu, a variety of basics like burgers and wraps paired with clever examples of fusion offer a little something for most tastes.

There are some menu items that fall somewhere in between those metrics, such as the delicious Crispy Eggplant Frites appetizer ($10). Two of us ate every last frite in a generous serving that was paired with fra diavolo sauce and what we suspected was an aioli dipper. We loved the bright, mildly spicy and super flavorful fra diavolo sauce so much we pretty much ignored its companion sauce. Plus, the frites stood alone sans sauce very well thanks to excellent handling in the fryer: soft, eggplant goodness is coated in a truly crisp batter and dusted with parmesan cheese.

I took a turn for the fusion fare when I spotted Moo Shu Pork Tacos ($12) on the Little Pub Favorites section of the menu. You’ll get three very full soft-shell tacos stuffed with shredded pork that’s been tossed in orange-ginger barbecue sauce, plus green onion-Thai peanut slaw and a wasabi aioli drizzle. I like wasabi in small doses and hoped for the best when I ordered the tacos. My hopes were not dashed by what turned out to be a well balanced, creamy topping that served to amplify the citrus in the tender pork and tie the whole dish together.

I made it through two tacos before wisdom advised a break, so I donated the third to my companion, who wisely choose the Little Pub Salad ($11) for her lunch. This salad is a great choice from a list of several, and that includes the Hamburger Chopped Salad ($15) that pairs ground beef and fries with veggies you’d encounter on classic burger sandwiches. As for the eponymous salad, it’s a very satisfying and tasty mix of well-thought-out ingredients, including a ball of panko-crusted goat cheese, mesclun greens, walnuts, mandarin orange, dried cranberries, apples, and garlic croutons — all of which goes very well with the salad’s accompanying raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

We ended up over the culinary board once again during our dinner mission to Little Pub, beginning with our starters of Chicken Tortilla Soup ($6) and the fabulously named 3 a.m. at the Diner Fries ($9). If, indeed, you’ve hit a diner at 3 a.m., you’ll know that fries topped with cheese, bacon and gravy are a night-owl staple. Little Pub offers an excellent example of why that combination is so satisfying despite its nutritional deficiencies, thanks in part to what we suspect was real, house-made chicken gravy (complete with carrots and other tidbits you might find in gravy), which deepened the flavor profile. You might think fries would drown under a hearty dash of cheese and gravy, but Little Pub’s fries retained (most of) their integrity and served as a tasty vehicle for the salty medley upon them.

The fries nearly upstaged the tortilla soup, but it was too good to award it second fiddle. It’s a thicker, more stew-like preparation at Little Pub, but the tomatillo/ancho chili base make for a bright and flavorful dish. Plus: It’s topped with melted cheddar jack and fresh tortilla strips. Sold.

Our main courses carried on our exercise in variety, with the mister ordering the Midtown Falafel ($11), which intrigued us both, and me going more basic with the Pulled Pork Sandwich ($12). Some might be surprised to learn that the Midtown Falafel emerged our favorite dish of the night. Consider its menu description: “Homemade falafel, field greens, chimichurri, tomato, cucumbers, crumbled feta, and harissa-tahini sauce in a warm folded flatbread.”

What’s not to love? They had me at “chimichurri.” And “feta.”

Still, I’ve tasted falafel ruined by over-frying or too much bitter seasoning, and Little Pub’s suffers from no such mistreatment. It was smooth and flavorful and just slightly crisp, and paired beautifully with the grilled, tasty flatbread, which did a great job of keeping all those veggies and feta (a more mellow variety) all together. It is a refreshing, tangy and savory mixture of textures, and we heartily recommend it.

The falafel-salad mix turned out to be a great palate cleanser after initial tastings of my pulled pork sandwich. While all of the ingredients were well prepped, they were overtaken by far too much barbecue sauce to really, fully appreciate them. I can report tender pork and a beautiful, sturdy bun, and I had visual confirmation of a creamy coleslaw on the sandwich, but the house-made, tangy BBQ sauce was all I could taste. Thank goodness for the slaw, which broke up the sauce bomb with a little texture; ditto on the expertly rendered sweet potato fries on the side. (They were still good the next day right out of the fridge.)

If too much of a good thing emerges the biggest issue with the fare at Little Pub, I think it’s a safe bet that return visits will yield even more hits and favorites. Considering the smart menu curation and creative pairings coming out of the kitchen, Old Saybrook’s Little Pub will likely continue to be a big deal.

Little Pub

1231 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook 

(860) 339-5591

www.littlepub.com/oldsaybrook

Cuisine: Pub grub, some traditional, some with a kick. Lots of unexpected and well executed fusion.

Service: On two visits, we had two very different experiences. During lunch, we waited long spells for drinks, water, and the check. Nice server, though. When we went out for dinner on a busy Saturday, our server was a total pro and very personable.

Hours: The kitchen is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Sunday and from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The bar is open until 1 a.m. every night.

Atmosphere: Spacious dining and bar areas in a Tudor-esque setting. Think fireplaces, wooden furniture, and high sweeping ceilings. Also: What must be one of the world’s smallest bathroom stalls in the ladies room.

Prices: On the pricier end for the fare but not outrageous. Among the most expensive items are the ahi tuna nachos at $16 and the fish and chips at $17. Most burgers are $12; apps start at $9.

Credit cards: Accepted

Reservations: Not available

Handicapped access: No stairs to enter, with a spacious entryway and interior.

 

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