Review: A New Nest For Mockingbird In Bantam, CT
By Jacque Lynn Schiller
The wait has been long. For those of you, like me, who entertained friends and clients over an icy martini at the bar or savored the crunchy kale salad near its blazing fireplace, the loss of restaurant Mockingbird Kitchen at historic Tollgate Hill Inn was soothed only by assurances that Chef Samantha Tilley would soon bring her bold cuisine to Bantam. Many months in the making, that promise has been fulfilled in a larger space and more elaborate menu – but don’t fret, many favorites still make an appearance.
While the contemporary interior is quite a departure from its original home in the Captain William Bull Tavern, the Mockingbird Kitchen and Bar suffers not for the change. Yes, the gambrel-roofed colonial house was a stunning setting, but that location has its drawbacks, namely being so far set off the road with little room to expand. Get past the past. The new spot boasts ample seating, plentiful windows, a gorgeous wood bar and that ever-appreciated instant ambience-maker, a fireplace.
Owner/Chef Tilley’s “locally sourced, globally flavored” cuisine, however, remains the real draw. Pairing far-flung influences with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, her dishes are consistently creative yet approachable. Miso glazed salmon and a tofu curry spiked with lemongrass honors treasured travels while a rich confit de poulet or bright beet salad highlights the bounty found in our part of New England. This pleasure in highlighting a variety of food cultures with a touch of homegrown pride carries through to the desserts and brunch menus. I’ve happily devoured a chocolate bread pudding and dug into my dinner companion’s carrot cake served with ginger ice cream. Brunch is no less decadent, with a beautifully presented, fluffy French toast with berries or spicy huevos rancheros on offer.
Sugar-dusted biscuits, gratis at brunch; beet and citrus salad with micro greens and capers; huevos rancheros.
If you’re looking for fare on the lighter side, Asian dumplings might fit the bill or if it’s an “R” month, perhaps a plate of oysters. Actually, the bivalves are perfectly good in the winter months as well, the cold waters of the East Coast ensuring a briny liquor.
Speaking of the more spirited variety, the handsome bar has an imaginative list of cocktails and several craft beers on draft. Chef Tilley has been known to pickle ramps in the spring, making for a knockout Karlssons Gold martini — another treat to look forward to as the seasons change and the menu evolves.
The friendly service has already hit its stride and Chef Tilley continues to be inspired by the mockingbird, who “masters a wide variety of bird songs,” making eclectic dishes woven with tradition, sing. Despite some major surface changes, some things stay the same. We can all be thankful for that.
Mockingbird Kitchen and Bar
810 Bantam Road, Bantam, CT
Closed Monday & Tuesday