Gates opened its doors thirty-five years ago and continues to offer an array of dishes that keep this “elder statesman” on New Canaan’s Restaurant Row bustling seven days a week. The entrance is guarded by ornate gates and once you enter you are immersed into a large, open dining area with walls adorned by murals by Janet Picard, paintings and large terra cotta planters. Wander to the left and you enter the bar with a long oak bar with 12 seats and several booths. Both areas are normally filled with locals partaking of a drink after work, families enjoying dinner and regulars having a good time with friends.
The menu includes many local favorites, but I normally focus on a the sandwiches (the Bellagio is my favorite) and the burgers. Choose from the Gates Burger with avocado, bacon and Jalapeño jack cheese, a Bacon Cheeseburger, or the recently added Gruyere Burger, which includes bacon, Gruyere cheese and onion rings. Fries are standard or substitute for onion rings or sweet potato fries for a nominal $1.50 (I always order the sweet potato fries).
I normally order a Bacon Cheeseburger with American cheese. The meat is delicious and the combination of Gate’s bacon, cheese and bun is almost a friendly reminder that a good bar is, well, a good bar burger. On my last visit I went a little off-script and chose the Gruyere Burger, medium-rare. When the burger arrived I was a little surprised. I thought the “onion rings” from the menu were a substitute for the fries, but these were “frizzled” onions sitting atop the patty. Sitting on the other half of the bun was a slice of tomato and lettuce. The regular fries completed the dish. After assembling the burger I cut in in half…it was perfectly cooked to medium rare. The beef was flavorful and the grind of the meat was still present. The melted Gruyere was good and the bacon was mild and crispy, both adding a bit of saltiness. The crispy onions were an unwelcome addition, they overpowered the other items. The grilled bun added a little sweetness. I removed the onions for the second half. The combination without the onions was much better…this was now a really good bar burger. The fries were good, if I knew they were included I would have substituted for the sweet potato fries, which are some of the best in the area.
On my next visit I will probably return to my normal Bacon-cheeseburger. In the end the only item I changed was the cheese, from American to Gruyere. As much as the Gruyere added a little nuttiness, my regular Bacon-cheeseburger with American cheese is still my favorite and maybe it will grab a slot on my next Best of Bar Burgers list.