Low Country Cuisine on High Ridge Road

High Ridge Road in Stamford is home to quite a few good restaurants. Locals know that, but out-of-towners sometimes need a nudge in the right direction, away from the city’s downtown area. One restaurant that should be on your radar is Judy’s Bar + Kitchen.

Judy’s is owned by Chef Judith Roll, who also owns the popular Tabouli Grill just a stone’s throw away. While the Mediterranean cuisine of Tabouli is all about grilled meats and fish, veggies, and whole grains, Judy’s is its stark contrast. That’s not a bad thing however.

The focus at Judy’s is American comfort food, so think along the lines of house-smoked barbecue, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and Southern extra-sweet desserts. The restaurant’s style of food goes hand-in-hand with its overall vibe. From the bar to the dining room there’s a good buzz in the air. It’s casual, inviting, and family friendly. And if you meet Roll, it all makes sense. She’s one of those people you could just meet and feel like you’ve known her for years, and, of course, she wants to feed you.

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But first… drinks! If you’re at Judy’s for brunch, and you’re a Bloody Mary fan, go for it. They’re not for me, but those I dined with praised the taste of the homemade mix. I’m more of a dark liquor guy, so I was partial to the Bourbon Peach Pie (Bulleit Bourbon, peach, peach bitters, dark maple syrup). You can taste the punch of the bourbon but it’s a sneaky, sweet drink that tastes like a fresh-baked pie. If you’re into smoky cocktails try She Only Smokes When She Drinks, comprised of Kraken Rum, dark maple syrup, lime, and house-made liquid smoke.

Pair your first round of drinks with some apps. The chicken fried chicken livers won’t be for everyone but the crispy coating and the sweet and spicy onion jam (that Roll should sell by the jar) help counteract what otherwise could be a deep liver taste. I really liked what was a different prep on edamame, tossed and coated with chili flakes, garlic, and lime, resulting in a highly addictive snack.

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You’ll obviously need something bigger, and a sandwich would be a pro move. Roll’s signature sandwich is the crispy chicken with Sriracha mayo, lettuce, and pickles on a cheddar bacon waffle. It seems like a gimmick, but it’s damn good, and they seem to sell a lot of them. The chicken breast is crispy and juicy, the mayo plays like upgraded Big Mac sauce, you get some tang from the pickles, and the savory waffle is lighter than expected. I can see why it won Best Sandwich at last year’s Greenwich Wine + Food Festival. A sandwich not to be overlooked is the breakfast Cubano with house-smoked pulled pork, mustard, ham, and Gruyère. Mostly traditional, right? Sort of. There are additions of jalapeños instead of pickles, and because it’s for brunch, fluffy scrambled eggs too. You need this pressed sandwich.

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If you’d prefer an entrée over a sandwich, the normally played-out shrimp and grits get a revival at Judy’s with plenty of juicy shrimp, and chunks of andouille sausage, peppers, and mushrooms are mixed into creamy Anson Mills grits. If you opt for smoked meats, the ribs were my favorite of the barbecue platter, and had a smoke ring that permeated the slight crunch of the dry rub. The sauces are homemade if you go the route of dousing your meat. The fried chicken here is another focal point with its thicker coating than most places, and the herbs and spices in it really pop. Although crunchy on the outside, it’s juicy and glistening on the inside. For something lighter and sweeter, there’s a waffle offered with pecans, powdered sugar, and sweet plantains, served with a small tin of bourbon maple syrup.

Speaking of sweet, stay for homemade desserts like ice cream cake, Tollhouse Cookie pie, warm apple skillet cake, or the gooey brownie sundae. To keep it true Southern, order the Nilla Wafer banana cream pudding; it could be the areas best.

I’ll admit to being skeptical of Judy’s before I went, because it’s tough to drown out mixed chatter. I liked it, and if you like Southern food that nourishes your soul, you’ll dig it too. There’s a good chance you’ll have to take your belt down a notch before you get in your car, and there’s the food coma afterwards, but that’s part of the experience.

Judy’s Bar + Kitchen
927 High Ridge Rd, Stamford
203.890.9996; judysbarandkitchen.com

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