A Tavern With Un-Tavern-Like Fare

The Village Tavern has all the quintessential characteristics of its name: a classic white colonial façade, dark wood furnishings, and a warm ambience with old-world touches. The food, however, is not your regular tavern fare. “It’s American cuisine by an Italian chef,” says Chef Germano Minin.

Chef Minin, who came to Ridgefield by way of Palmanova, Italy, has a rich culinary career and was the 2014 winner on the Food Network series Chopped. He moved to Connecticut from Santa Monica to open The Village Tavern along with two partners, Joe Chelednik and Bruno DiFabio. Now, Chef Minin presents an American tavern menu that shows some love towards his Italian heritage.

But first, the cocktails! The Village Tavern’s cocktail menu offers three categories to choose from – American Prohibition, Turn of the Century, and Modern Day. Take the Bee’s Knees for example, a Prohibition-era cocktail made of Bar Hill gin, local honey syrup, and lemon. I opted to go a little more modern and try the Beautiful Fool, a mix of Hendrick’s, St. Germain, grapefruit, lime, and chamomile syrup. It was a well-executed balancing act — the lime and grapefruit was softened by the chamomile, leaving me with just the right amount of pucker. There’s also a bespoke option on the menu where the bartenders will graciously craft you a singular cocktail of your own with nothing but a little guidance and faith.

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Dinner began with two standout appetizers. First, the king Napoleon – wonton crisps layered with king crab meat and herbed cheese sitting atop a silky beurre blanc sauce. Then, the duck turnover, which was essentially an empanada stuffed with confit duck, roasted poblano pepper, caramelized shallots, served alongside a cilantro pesto.

The second course is when things got a little lighter. There were two salads, one of which was comprised of nothing but shaved ribbons of cucumber, carrot, fennel, and radish tossed in a parsnip lemon vinaigrette. The colorful ribbons intertwined so beautifully, I almost felt guilty eating it. Almost. Then, the waiter graciously placed a second plate in front of me; on it, just an inverted silver tin. After a light tap of his index finger, the waiter lifted the tin and out came a cylindrical mix of bib and iceberg lettuce, avocado, bacon, blue cheese, and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), all of which were evenly coated in a savory herb dressing. I thought this “In the Tin” salad would be my favorite dish of the evening.

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Then I tried the gnocchi.

All the pastas are handcrafted in-house. That’ll explain why the potato gnocchi melted in my mouth before my teeth ever got the chance to make contact. I overheard the gnocchi likened to “pillows” more than once during the course of the evening. They were made all the more better by being dressed in a traditional Friulian busera – think scampi sauce with tomatoes – and topped with a fresh Maine lobster tail.

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The main courses were the V.T. burger made with house-ground beef, aged cheddar, and served in an almost deconstructed fashion, with condiments and toppings served on the side. Then, there was the root beer lamb, a stewed lamb shank served over a bed of mashed potatoes drenched in the juices from the shank. Both dishes were impressive but there’s something to be said for how moist the lamb was. As soon as my fork pierced the lamb, it pulled off the bone and with only a couple of chews, was gone.

Desserts included a crème brûlée, which was presented differently than I’d ever seen. Instead of a ramekin, a scoop of the rich custard was served atop of hill of strawberries and blueberries. “It’s an upside down crème brûlée,” explained Chef Minin. The custard was rich and sweet but I’ll have to admit that I missed the crackly sugar topping of the classic version. There were also profiteroles, filled with a light whipped cream and drizzled with caramel; they paired well with the cappuccino I had before calling it a night.

Taverns are, by definition, just regular, unadorned neighborhood bars. Historically, there were no craft cocktails or award-winning chefs behind the menu. The charm of the tavern, however, was in their welcoming feel. The Village Tavern has managed to elevate the experience of its namesake by offering upscale dining and craft cocktails in a place that’s equally as welcoming as a pre-Prohibition tavern.

The Village Tavern
378 Main St, Ridgefield
203.403.3400; vtridgefield.com

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