A local taste of land and sea

Like a trip through a farmers market, Greenwich’s Mill Street Bar & Table offers a diverse sampling of what Connecticut has to offer.

Executive chef and managing partner Geoff Lazlo uses Stella Mar oysters from Greenwich Harbor and produce from nearby purveyors and the Back 40 Farm, an 85-acre Washington, Conn., organic farm owned by Bill and Lesley King, partners in the restaurant. With local harvests and a seasoned staff, the restaurant has a menu that is abundant in creativity and satisfying dishes.

It includes shared snacks, garden dishes, flatbreads, homemade pasta, seafood and wood roasted-meats that have a touch of international influence.

The American farm-to-table restaurant is a homecoming for Lazlo, who grew up in Greenwich farming in his backyard — and sometimes eating at the restaurant that formerly occupied the Mill. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, he went on to work at Pocantico Hills’ Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Westport’s Le Farm and The Whelk and Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern.

The buzz of Lazlo’s restaurant, which opened in September, brought in a lively crowd on a Friday night in early October, with nearly all reserved tables and the walk-in spots taken.

I started in the bar, a cozy nook that leads to an almost-hidden V.I.P. lounge. I tried the Grilled Margarita, which had a smoky flavor from the grilled limes. Other cocktail names and ingredients were also original, including the Hanky Panky, a drink with Ford’s gin, Fernet Branca and vermouth, and Byram River Daisy, a rum and lime cocktail whose name pays homage to the restaurant’s riparian neighborhood.

Drink in hand, I walked through the dining room of wooden tables, exposed brick and delicate chandeliers. A wooden banister with orange- and white-painted pumpkins leads a few steps up to the focal point of the restaurant — a glimmering, crescent oyster bar. Toward the kitchen is the garden room, which has a communal table and seating for couples. Outside is a patio that seats about 20.

Sitting on a backless chair facing a mural of abstract waves in the garden room, I had to give the menu several reads. Was I craving land or sea? I gave both a shot.

First, I had the grilled oysters served on a bed of chunky sea salt paired with a full white wine recommended by the sommelier, Michael Gallucio, who hails from The Inn at Pound Ridge. The oysters dispel any myths that Greenwich shellfish are inferior. With a lemon wine sauce, they not only went down easily but were enjoyable, too.

We quickly finished a plate of Mediterranean spiced carrot fries with a buttermilk dressing. Rather than thick-cut, sweet carrots, the carrots were thin, savory chips.

Another surprising vegetable dish was the roasted cauliflower. Don’t expect a dish of small florets. This was a hearty head of cauliflower smothered with velvety pine nut butter, capers and lemon, suitably served with a steak knife.

We moved from the farm to Italy with a gnocchi dish, which also had a surprising but welcome flair. Infused with sage pesto, the gnocchi was a light green. The atypical dish threw me off at first, but after a few bites, I was all-in. Tip: Keep the soft, homemade bread given at the beginning of the meal on the table to dip in any extra sauce.

From the wood-roasted meats section, we ordered pork meatballs served over a polenta mash with sweet and sour onions. The polenta muted the flavor of the comfort food. When eating only the meatballs, I got their full, flavorful effect and eventually ignored the polenta.

Although full, we had to try one of Mill Street’s specialties, the pasture-raised chicken served with spaetzle (small egg noodles that tasted like mild corn) and carrots. This was tender and delicious and yielded some tasty leftovers.

The dessert menu also had a lovely selection of farm-inspired options, like blueberry shortcake with corn ice cream and a dulce de leche sundae with goat cheese ice cream.

The mini ice cream sandwich sampler called to me that night. These were not your average ice cream truck desserts. The sampler had a trio of sandwiches made with soft and dense cookies ranging from decadently rich to spicy and sweet.

Whether you come to Mill Street on a date or with kids, expect good food and friendly service, but don’t expect the same dishes every time. With paper menus and a reliance on seasonal foods, it seems Lazlo is game to experiment in the comfort of his new hometown haunt.

Mill St. Bar & Table is at 230 Mill Street in Greenwich. For more, see millstreetct.com.

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