Johnny Utah’s in South Norwalk – A Fun Time with a Side of Food

Fairfield County has some great bars with good old fashioned bar food…wings, burgers, fries, onion rings, cheesesteaks, with a wide variety of beers. Recently, many have expanded the menu to include tacos, chili, ribs, chicken and other down and dirty delicacies. When I received an invitation to join a media event at Johnny Utah’s in SoNo I was curious, since this bar also features a mechanical bull (spoiler…not happenin’).

The décor is college rathskeller meets Texas longhorn; long, wooden bars extending from front to back on both side walls, numerous high-top tables, tons of bar seating and “The Bull.” There are plaques of beers throughout, nine TVs on the walls airing sports, a large American flag comprised of beer cans, and on any given night the bar may sponsor a bull riding contest, line dancing or specials on some of the food. While we were eating, there were several groups that were having a blast. I felt transported back to my college days.

Johnny’s menu is pretty straight-forward, bar food that goes with beer. This was not haute-cuisine, farm to table, plates of well-constructed and balanced flavors and textures. This was down and dirty bar food. This was fried. This was sweet. This was sour. This was spicy. This was wings with a choice of more than a dozen sauces. This was a burger served between two grilled cheese sandwiches. This was 32-ounce, multi-person smokin’ rainbow colored drinks. This was foot high milkshakes covered in Reese’s bits or Oreo cookies, and for an additional $5…add a shot of booze. This was college bar food ready to down with pitchers of beer. And there is plenty of the latter, with a long line of taps on both bars, from Bud Lite to Fat Tire. I asked the bartender which was the best seller and she told me, “the late night crowd buys the Bud Lite and the Mermaid Pilsner.”

The menu includes fried appetizers, sliders, chili, four different salads, burgers, pulled pork and chicken sandwiches, ribs, fried chicken, fish and chips, and steak. Prices range from $6-11 for the apps, $9-$13 for the salads, teens for the sandwiches and entrees. I also asked the bartender which item sells the most and she said, “we sell a lot of burgers.”

We started with a few pick-up, lick your fingers appetizers; first the Philly Egg Rolls. The fried wonton wrappers were stuffed with shaved Philly steak, onions, and cheese, and served with Johnny’s BBQ sauce. Memories of burnt tongues forced me to wait until the incendiary melted cheese cooled. There was more fried wonton than filling, which lacked any discernable flavor. They were served with a BBQ sauce, not sure my friends from Philly would approve.

This was followed by a plate of Pickle Chips with chipotle mayo. The slices of sour dills were coated and fried. This was a whole lot of sour, and for a little heat dip them in the accompanying chipotle mayo. Again, they may be an interesting mate to a cold beer but not to my liking.

A trio of wings arrived next and the chef sent the Guinness, the PB&J and the sriracha. I was happy to see both the drummette and the wingette parts of the wing. The wings were meaty, a good first sign, lightly coated and still moist inside. I decided to work my way up the spiciness ladder. First the PB&J. It may take a little getting used to but these were not bad. A bite of sweet and the nutty butter. Onto the Guinness. These were sorta non-descript. Wings should have character, these were neither sweet, nor spicy, nor tangy, not a big fan of this rendition. Then the Sriracha. They were the traditional Buffalo wings’ iridescent red. And the spiciness was there, good kick and with a little dip into the blue cheese sauce, I would order these again. One out of three ain’t bad.

A small bowl of chili arrived next. This contained both beef and beans, but was more liquid than meat and beans. It was first cloyingly sweet and then the spiciness kicked in. I was not a fan and would probably pass on this.

Johnny Utah’s touts itself as a rib and burger joint and the ribs arrived next. The chef immediately told the table they did not have a smoker. They start with full slabs of ribs, dry-coat and slow roast for a few hours, then finish in a covered roaster with sauce in the oven. The meat was fall off the bone tender, but the texture was almost spongy and there was little smoke and less BBQ flavor, it was more steamed meat than what I was hoping would be a down home slab of full-flavored pork. Another pass, but was served with some delicious cole slaw, which I really liked.

The special 10-ounce grass fed burger is served on a brioche bun for $5 and with numerous toppings, each guest can design their perfect combination. Since we could each order our own combination for the burger course, I asked for my normal bacon-cheeseburger medium-rare and added the sautéed onions. This combination, with fries, would raise the price to $12, still a very reasonable price. The first burger that arrived was missing the bacon, the server did a quick round-trip to the kitchen. When I cut it in half it was more well-done than my requested medium-rare so they offered to re-fire. The second burger was raw in the center. Not a good thing from a place that sells tons of burgers. I did taste around the edges and the meat was OK, medium flavor, with a good level of juiciness. The brioche bun was great, from neighboring Winfield Street deli, but the bacon was non-descript. These two main events were disappointing. On the positive side the fries were good and the thinly sliced onion rings were outstanding.

No trip to Johnny Utah’s is complete without an enormous milkshake. Ours was the Oreo. A foot-tall marshmallow dipped glass arrived filled with a vanilla milk shake and topped with whipped cream and more Oreos. It was a fun way to end the meal.

Overall, Johnny Utah’s is a fun place serving bar food. All of the dishes are designed to accompany numerous beers, laughter, a few unintended falls off the bucking bull and watching sports on TV. Go for the food? Not really. It is what it is…go for a fun time.

Really Liked

  • Sriracha Wings (6 for $7.95 12 for $13.95 24 for $26.95
  • Onion Rings
  • Cole Slaw
  • Oreo Milk Shake ($10)

Liked

  • PB&J Wings

Needs Improvement

  • Philly Egg Rolls ($10.95)
  • Pickle Chips ($5.95)
  • Guinness Wings
  • Homemade Beef Chili ($5.95)
  • BBQ Ribs (1/4 Rack $11.50 1/2 Rack $17.50 3/4 Rack $23.50 Full Rack $27.50)
  • Burger ($12)

80 Washington St. Norwalk, CT

203-299-0711

This was a media event. The author was not compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Advertisements

Harlan Publick in South Norwalk: Innovative Cuisine with a Tropical Twist

Harlan Publick opened last year in the SoNo Ironworks and immediately became a destination for great food, a vast line-up of beers and an outdoor terrace like none other in Fairfield County. The relaxed interior features a large bar, a dining area with both dining tables and high tops and a room for a private event that features several personalized beer taps, and represents the second for Managing Partner Steve Lewandowski, who is also the Managing Partner at Stamford’s Harlan Social, which has won accolades as one of the best restaurants in CT.

Executive Chef Kamal Rose recently joined Harlan Publick, and his road to this position was less than traditional. Raised on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, he developed his passion for cooking from his grandmother. He moved to New York at the age of 15 and subsequently received an internship at TriBeca Grill. In 2009 he won a $20,000 scholarship in a national cooking competition and earned his diploma from the Institute of Culinary Education. He returned to TriBeca Grill under the tutelage of Drew Nieporent and Steve Lewandowski and last year, Lewandowski asked Rose to join him at Harlan Publick where his newly introduced cuisine exemplifies his Caribbean roots tempered by classical training. 

CTbites recently visited Harlan Publick to sample Chef Kamal’s newly introduced cuisine that deftly balances tropical flavors with a touch of heat. The menu allows guests to pre-order a Roast Porchetta for four, share several smaller dishes amongst friends, or order a traditional appetizer and entrée (these words are not on the menu). From Candied Peanuts to a Tomahawk Steak, the selections are wide and varied.

The “Braised Octopus Carpaccio” (pictured above) was like none I have ever eaten.  Traditionally, this preparation includes “cooking” diced fish in a citrusy marinade and served with various accompaniments…Chef Kamal created a carpaccio terrine. He fanned several thin slices on the plate and finished with starfruit escabeche and drizzles of mango Jalapeño vin. The octopus was tender and delicious and the addition of the sweet mango and spiciness from the escabeche were delightful.

The “Black Bean Hummus” is an excellent starter to share at the table. It was topped with a dollop of Pico de Gallo and served with Plantain chips. Chef Kamal’s rendition broke from tradition by using black beans, which added a deeper earthiness to the dip. The sweetness of the plantains were a wonderful offset to the richness of the black beans and a touch of heat from the chilies.

The “Mussels” were served in a broth comprised of lemongrass, ginger, garlic, coconut milk and Thai chilies. The soft and sweet bivalves were perfectly enhanced by the tropical flavors, accented by a mild kick of spice from the Thai chilies. The dish was further complemented by a few slices of Roti, a flatbread that added crunch and an incredible sweetness from its raw brown sugar.

The most creative dish that Chef Kamal prepared was the “Crabcake ‘Scotch Egg’” served atop a swath of Scotch bonnet aioli. The traditional recipe includes a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, coated with bread crumbs and date to the 18th century when farmers brought them to the fields for lunch. Chef Kamal first created his interpretation on “Beat Bobby Flay” where he encased a soft boiled egg in crab meat and bread crumbs, and deep-fried. When cut in half, the yolk exuded its creaminess to offset the incredible crunchy exterior.  The crab meat was sweet and the Scotch bonnet aioli (I was nervous about Scotch bonnets) added a little, but not too much, spiciness. The small parsley salad was the prefect means to cleanse the palate. This was a fun, creative and outstanding dish.

The “Rum Glazed St. Louis Cut Ribs” were another example of Chef Kamal’s talent of infusing just a touch of heat into his cuisine. The thick ribs were first marinated in jerk seasoning and topped with brown sugar and rum before crisping the exterior on the grill. Once the crust was achieved they were steamed and coated with a sweet glaze immediately before arriving at the table. The result was a moist and tender rib with almost a spongy texture. The tower of plump ribs were presented in a cast iron skillet and were very good but I prefer my ribs a little denser with a firmer texture.

The “Curry Goat Roti” is a traditional dish in the Caribbean. The goat was prepared with potatoes, channa (chickpeas), allspice and ginger, and encased in Roti bread and griddled to create additional crispness to the exterior. It can best be described as a Caribbean pot pie. It was served with a tamarind chutney. As much as I liked the Roti bread and the braised goat, the dish was just not to my liking.

Short ribs are on every menu this fall and Harlan Publick’s rendition, “Short Rib Stew,” was fantastic. The 6-hour braised ribs were served with diced yucca, pumpkin and pigeon peas and presented in an individual caldron. The meat was perfectly prepared to a fall off the bone tenderness while maintaining a touch of resistance. It was moist and rich in flavor, while the pumpkin added a delightful sweetness to the dish. The sauce was one of the silkiest preparations I have eaten in quite some time.

The “Grilled Tomahawk Steak” was a sight to behold and a delicious piece of beef. This 38-ounce monster completely covered a two foot cedar plank. After presenting the whole steak to the guest it is returned to the kitchen for slicing. It was served with a side of jerk fingerling potatoes and a scallion butter. The steak was outstanding and when paired with a small amount of the scallion butter elevated its decadence. The jerk fingerling potatoes were creamy on the interior and ultra-crispy on the interior. It is usually shared by two people but understand that many singles have successfully devoured this extravaganza.

After the meal, a new, special drink was brought to the table. The “Old Pirate’s Portion” was served in a martini glass and included spiced rum, sweet potato purée, maple syrup, egg whites, and topped with a thin layer of whipped cream and a couple of sweet potato chips. The combination was fantastic with the sweet potato purée and maple syrup creating a sweetness balanced by the spiciness of the rum. The egg whites added a luscious quality to this drink.

Overall I was incredibly impressed with the Chef Kamal’s new cuisine at Harlan Publick. It breaks from the new American tradition that is rampant in Fairfield County and proves that savory and sweet are perfect complements while chilies can add a little spiciness to accentuate the food.

127 Washington St. – Norwalk, CT – 06854

(203) 831-0727

Really Liked

  • Braised Octopus Carpaccio
  • PEI Mussels 13
  • Black Bean Hummus 9
  • Crabcake “Scotch Egg”
  • Short Rib Stew
  • Grilled Tomahawk Steak 91

Liked

  • Rum Glazed St. Louis Cut Ribs 16
  •  “Old Pirate’s Potion”

Did Not Like

  • Curry Goat Roti

 

Match (SoNo) – #3 on 2015 Best Burger List

Match BurgerOnce again Chef Matt Storch’s “Match Burger” takes one of the top spots in my annual review. Anyone on Chef Matt’s FB page sees his weekly Thursday posting announcing the Thursday Night Special Burger night with a photo of perfectly prepared burgers. The Match Burger delivers an incredible array of flavors and starts with a rich, grass fed short rib, chuck and brisket combination. After grilling the patty to create a crisp char and smokiness, the burger is dipped in a Bacon-Cheese Béchamel and then bacon bits are placed atop the cheese-dipped burger to add saltiness. The burger is finished wit a heaping of sweet & sour onions and encased in a sweet onion brioche, which added just a little more sweetness to the combination. The fries at Match were outstanding (maybe the best in the area), crunchy on the exterior, soft and moist on the interior and were the perfect complement to the burger.

Click to add a blog post for Match on Zomato

2015 Burger Favorites – #10 (tie) Mama’s Boy (South Norwalk)

15 Mamas Boy Burger 1For my 2015 Best Burgers in southwest CT, it was difficult to fill the last spot. There were two excellent burgers, each delivering a different flavor combinations. So I used poetic license and called it a tie.

15 Mamas Boy Burger 2The “Mama’s Boy Burger,” combined local grass fed beef with house-smoked bacon, Pimiento cheese, fried Vidalia onions and pickles on a brioche bun. The patty was juicy and perfectly seasoned, the bacon strips added a significant amount of smokiness and a touch of saltiness and sweet the pickle slices added sour and spicy notes. The fried Vadalia onion rings were delicious.

This mile-high presentation is held together by a steak knife, or the server would need exceptional balance or the fried onion rings would fall. I highly recommend that the guest add the pickles to the ingredients and enjoy with the patty. The sour and spiciness of the pickle really caps off an already great burger.

Click to add a blog post for Mama's Boy Southern Table & Refuge on Zomato

The Spread (SONO) Burger – Great Spicy Rendition

rsz_carlos_burger_15
In the midst of a 10-course dinner with friends at Spread I ordered the “Cheeseburger.” I’ve enjoyed Executive Chef Carlos Baez’s version in the past and wanted to see if there was any update to his interpretation to one of my favorite dishes.

Chef Carlos starts his rendition with an 8-ounce patty of grass fed Kobe beef. He tops the patty with pickles, melted Cheddar cheese with the option of bacon or Jalapeño peppers, with a swath of spicy mayo encased in a sesame seed bun. Since spicy mayo was already included I asked for the bacon but not the peppers.

The meat was outstanding. It was cooked perfectly to my requested medium-rare, and the kitchen was delicate when they formed the patty, it maintained a wonderful loose grind. The flavor was deep and rich from the grass feeding and was juicy, but not overwhelming. The bread and butter pickles added a great sour component and the bacon was perfectly cooked and a smoky-salty balance. The spicy mayo was a little too spicy for me, detracting from the other great flavors, but that is a personal preference. The bun added a nice buttery complement. The fries were excellent, fresh, hand cut with just a touch of salt.

Chef Carlos is hitting it out of the park with his cuisine and the burger was just one great example.

The Spread on Urbanspoon

Burger Bar & Bistro (SONO) – Train Goes off the Rails

DSC_0006Burger Bar & Bistro is located across the alley from the SONO theater multiplex on North Main Street. Parking is very convenient behind the theatre and BBB offers bar service, a dining room, plus outdoor seating. On one of the first colder days of the year I went for a burger, since others have told me they were excellent.

DSC_0001Each weekday from 11-4 BBB offers “$9 Lunchbox combos” each available in 10 minutes. Choices include a ¼-pound cheeseburger; a chili dog; a meatloaf sandwich; a tuna salad sandwich; a ¼-rack of ribs; a veggie wrap or 3 scrambled eggs, each served with fries and a choice of a soda or a PBR. Given my experience, this 10-minute guarantee is a must option.

DSC_0003I ordered my traditional bacon cheeseburger, medium-rare and a side of fries. I sat on one of the high top tables in the bar with my back to the window and I would recommend bringing a sweater or jacket as the windows are not the most efficient and it was quite cold.

DSC_0007After a 20-minute wait my burger finally arrived. In addition to the burger and fries the plate included a mound of chipotle chips and a pickle wedge. I cut the burger in half and understood why the wait was so long…it was cooked beyond well-done and must have been on the griddle for the entire 20 minutes. I called the hostess over, showed her the burger and told her I did not have another 20 minutes to wait. She said she would take care of it.

A few minutes later the server approached the table and told me that he thought I ordered it medium-well. I also told him I did not have 20 minutes to wait for another burger. Ten minutes passed…nothing. The bartender approached and told me “it is almost ready.” I told him that if was not at the table in 2 minutes I would have to leave. Five minutes later, I started to put on my coat and the hostess saw me and mouthed, “it is almost ready.” I could not wait any longer. As I was approaching the front door to exit the bartender raced out of the kitchen with a brown bag and handed me a bag that contained a Styrofoam clam-shell. His parting words after handing me the bag, “We are not charging you for this.” I reached into the bag and opened the Styrofoam container…it contained a cheeseburger, no bacon, no fries…no thanks.

Things happen and when they occur you try to correct them and be honest with the customer. By continually telling me it was almost done, it gave false expectations, and in the end, the bartender’s dismissive attitude was the last straw. Burger Bar and Bistro is now on my Do Not Return list…there are too many options in the area to return.

58 N Main St. Norwalk, CT 06854

Burger Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Washington Prime (SONO) – Serving Creative Cuisine

DSC_4516Washington Prime recently opened at the entrance to the SONO “Ironworks” on the corner of Washington and North Water Streets and is already garnering positive feedback and enormous crowds each night. CTbites offered a sneak peek a couple of weeks ago and recently re-visited this high energy and bustling establishment on two separate occasions to sample the food.

Self-described as an Eating + Drinking Well, Washington Prime reflects the collective vision of locals and co-owners Rob Moss and Marco Siguenza. Moss, a native of New Canaan, is no stranger to opening high energy restaurants in Fairfield County, overseeing many over the last ten years. Siguenza is the epitome of the American dream, starting as a busboy at Match Restaurant and now 16 years later one of the owners of Washington Prime, a neighboring restaurant. The kitchen is overseen by Executive Chef Jared Falco, classically trained at the French Culinary Institute. Before moving to Fairfield County, Chef Falco honed his culinary skills at Daniel and WD-50 in NYC. The trio are now working closely to present a vibrant bar scene with incredibly delicious interpretations of tradition cuisine.

The menu is divided into several sections. From “Soups / Salads” we sampled the “BEETS,” the “GRILLED CAESAR,” the “N.E. CHOWDER” and the “PRIME WEDGE.”

The N.E. CLAM CHOWDER was my favorite. The creamy base was smoky and filled with Little Neck Clams. Included in the presentation were sweet corn and small diced potatoes. The rich bisque was fully focused on melding the brininess of the clams with the smokiness of the soup. This was a great combination.

CTB WedgeThe PRIME WEDGE included gem lettuce, which was fresh, clean, and the canvas for the remaining ingredients. The mild Hudson Valley blue cheese was creamy and the house-made bacon bits added saltiness and crispiness. Complementing these items were the tomatoes, which contributed both sweet and sour notes, and the chili flakes that delivered a surprise, sometimes too much kick to several bites

CTB CaesarThe GRILLED CAESAR was layered with charred Romaine, topped with shaved Landaff cheese, a poached egg, finished with black garlic Caesar dressing and a sprinkling of celery powder. Slicing the poached eggs released all of its creaminess, and created a great balance with the charred lettuce. The cheese was delicious, but it completely overwhelmed the other components.

The BEETS were marinated and pickled, and mixed into arugula, chicken fried goat cheese, and topped with a blood orange vinaigrette. The beets were very tart and when combined with the blood orange vinaigrette increased this sour component, which overpowered the other ingredients.

We ordered a sampling of choices from the “SMALL PLATES” section including the “DEVILED EGGS,” the “OCTOPUS” and the “POUTINE.”

CTB OctopusThe OCTOPUS was my favorite of the Small Plates. It slowly braised for several hours and then grilled. Joining the octopus meat were duck fat roasted potatoes, sliced pickled onions, and halved cherry peppers. The octopus was incredibly tender. Chef Falco elevated the spiciness of the dish with the inclusion of a pepper emulsion and the seasoned potatoes, which were soft and enjoyable. The onions added a touch of acidity, and guests have the option of increasing the spice level with the cherry peppers.

CTB PoutineThe POUTINE was served in an elongated bowl, beginning with crispy French fries, topped with the oxtail ragu, and finished with scallions and foie gras powder. The ragu was delicious, slowly braised and delivered a medium depth of flavor. The fries were crispy on the exterior and soft on the inside, and balanced the texture of the braised oxtail. The foie gras powder elevated the depth of flavor for the ragu, creating a wonderful combination. The scallions added a little more crunch and just a touch of pungency to this dish.

CTB EggsThe DEVILED EGGS started with slowly poached eggs, which were halved and filled with the yolks combined with Sambal, garlic, chili flakes and speck. Nestled atop the yolk was a mini-meatball, then topped with a smattering of sliced pickled onions and foie gras powder. The texture of the egg white was soft and the slightly spiced yolk mixture was very good. The foie gras powder brought an earthy quality, and the bacon bits and the chili flakes contributed the saltiness and spiciness.

We also sampled three of the “LARGE PLATES” including the “18 OZ RIBEYE” the “LOCAL BASS” and the “PRIME BURGER.”

CTB SteakThe 18 OZ RIBEYE was incredible. A Prime 18-ounce portion of Ribeye was simply seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked under a 900-degree broiler. The result was a perfectly seared, crusted exterior, while the interior was brought to the requested medium-rare. The first bite was mouthwatering in both flavor and texture. The steak was full of deep, rich, beefiness, it was melt in your mouth tender and delivered juiciness that made me smile with each bite. A wonderful buttery texture accompanied each tasty morsel.

CTB BurgerThe PRIME BURGER started with a 3-cut blend ground beef from Saugatuck Craft Butchery, combined with a little dry-aged porterhouse. Chef Falco topped the patty with melted two-year old Vermont Cheddar cheese, a slice of mildly pickled Lucky Real Tomatoes, and shredded smoked lettuce. The burger sits atop an Umami Bomb sauce and encased in a Wave Hill brioche bun; served with a large helping of French fries. The addition of the aged porterhouse to the blend created a slightly deeper flavor. The smoked lettuce was an interesting twist, beautifully complementing the smokiness of the meat, and the cheese added a little creaminess. The Umami Bomb Sauce (a mixture of soy, fish sauce and mushroom stems) was a new element and introduced earthy notes to this burger. It was fantastic and a competitor for CTbites’ “Best of…” list.

CTB BassFor a milder option, the LOCAL BASS was a pleasant combination of mild Mediterranean flavors. A large filet was served alongside a salad comprised of pear, celery, tomatoes and cucumbers. A swath of Tzatziki sauce finished the presentation. The filet was cooked superbly with the crispy skin offsetting the firm, yet succulent interior. I would have preferred a little more salt on the skin. The diced fruit and vegetable salad delivered a bright and light complement; the richness of the Tzatziki offered both a creaminess, plus the dill was a wonderful supplement to the overall experience

Service could stand a little improvement. Our server was a little aggressive on upselling, somewhat inattentive and could use a deeper knowledge of the menu.

Overall, Washington Prime is an excellent addition to the culinary landscape in SONO.

This review was posted on:

http://www.ctbites.com/home/2014/8/17/washington-prime-opens-in-sono-bustling-bar-creative-food.html

Really Liked

  • N.E. Clam Chowder ($9)
  • Octopus ($13)
  • Poutine ($12)
  • 18-Oz. Ribeye ($46)
  • Burger ($16)

Liked

  • Prime Wedge ($12)
  • Deviled Eggs ($11)
  • Local Bass ($25)

Did Not Like

  • Grilled Caesar ($12)
  • Beets ($13)