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    Thursday, March 30, 2023

    Review: High praise for High Hopes in Westerly

    Cocktails at the bar at High Hope Tavern (Ann Baldelli)
    Chicken Caesar salad (Ann Baldelli)
    Fried smelts (Ann Baldelli)
    The Tavern Burger at High Hope Tavern (Ann Baldelli)

    Open since last October, High Hope Tavern in downtown Westerly is the brainchild of Endless Hospitality Group, which is known for its stable of trendy bars and restaurants in New York City.

    When we asked, we were told one of the owners spends his summers in the Westerly area and thought it would be a good location for an out-of-New-York-City experience for the hospitality partners, who, during COVID, were looking for new opportunities.

    However they ended up in Westerly, it’s a good thing. We have visited High Hope several times and give it high praise. Staff has told us there are plans to expand, but for now, there’s a divider with a big bar on one side and a dining area on the other.

    We have eaten at the bar and at the tables and prefer the bar because it’s great fun to watch the bartenders at work. The house cocktails are delicious, and some are almost too pretty to consume. All those liquors and ingredients, like whiskey and chipotle and mezcal and pineapple and gin and cucumber, measured and poured, stirred and shaken, into all variety of glasses, some whose rims are rolled in salt or sugar and topped with exotic and pretty things.

    The food is also very good. High on our High Hope must-have list are the Fried Smelts, $12, that come with a pickled pepper ranch dressing for dipping. Don’t turn up your nose. These little fish are delicious. They are served piping hot and are flavorful, with a mild fish taste, moist inside and crunchy on the exterior. You will like them.

    Also getting rave reviews from my crew is the Caesar Salad, $16. For $6 more, you can add chicken, or for $5, anchovies. This is a five-star salad. I have eaten a lot of Caesar salads in my lifetime, and this one may be the best. The romaine leaves arrived tender and crisp, heaped high, and perfectly tossed with a garlicky good traditional Caesar dressing. The greens were doused with shaved parmigiano, and sliced on top was a juicy and warm boneless chicken thigh. It was so good it made eating salad feel like a splurge.

    We have also enjoyed the Beer Battered Fish Sandwich, $22, which was served with French fries, slaw and tartar sauce. The bartender told us it was good, but warned it was messy. He was right, but this sandwich was worth every sloppy bite.

    The fish -- cod or haddock, we suspect -- was not overly breaded and was fried to a light golden brown. It was settled on some yummy slaw and served on a soft sesame seed bun. Our only complaint: Perhaps if the bun was a sturdier variety, the sandwich would have been easier to handle. But heck, we mopped up every bit with a fork and sent the plate back empty.

    The French fries are advertised as “thrice cooked,” and they have been stellar every time we’ve had them. They are large cut and perfectly deep fried and salted. On other visits, we have ordered the Tavern Burger, $28, that comes with the fries. That’s a lot for a hamburger and fries, but we have always left satisfied. The waitstaff has told us that all the ingredients are sourced from local farms and fishermen and that the goal is to provide upscale food rooted in New England traditions.

    Among the other offerings (the menu is limited) is a Fried Clam Roll, $14, Steak Tartare, $16, Mushroom Risotto, $25, and a Ribeye for Two, $68, and several other items. They also have local oysters, $3 each or $30 for a dozen, and shrimp cocktail, $16.

    High Hope is located right on the main drag of downtown Westerly close to the big Classic Revival-style post office building with the eight Vermont marble fluted Doric columns. It’s directly across the street from the furniture store.

    Westerly, like Mystic, is becoming a destination for terrific restaurants with all kinds of options for cuisines, price points, décor, and cocktails. High Hope is a great addition to the growing list.

    My one suggestion for the managers would be to get their story straight on that nautical art behind the bar. I’ve asked about it several times and always get a different story – it was bought at a restaurant warehouse and there’s a twin to it; it came out of a place in New York City; it was found in the basement of the building where High Hope is now located.

    No one has been able to tell me, and I have heard several others ask at the bar, who the artist is. Maybe a short blurb on the menu would end the mystery. Regardless, it’s all smooth sailing at High Hope.

    High Hope Tavern

    18 High St., Westerly

    (401) 388-8450


    Atmosphere: The back window overlooks the Pawcatuck River, and there are tables for dining, but the bar is the centerpiece here, and it is anchored by a massive framed painting of a clipper ship sailing in choppy seas towards a rocky outcropping. The painting runs almost the entire length of the bar, and it sets the mood for the place, which is dimly lit with good music always playing.

    Alcohol: Excellent craft cocktails and everything else that you might want to imbibe on. Just watching the bartenders mix, shake and stir is great entertainment.

    Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday and Wednesday, 4 to 1 a.m. Thursday to Saturday, and 3 p.m. to midnight Sundays

    Service: Always very good, with extra points for the bartenders who routinely go above and beyond.

    Prices: A little bit steep

    Credit cards: Yes

    Handicapped accessible: Yes

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