I f you’ve already discovered New Haven’s The Cask Republic, chances are you’ve found a new favorite place. Opened last year, the handsome, clubby tavern, with lots of wood, low lighting and expansive booths, specializes, as the name implies, in beer. Indeed, The Cask Republic (formerly Lansdowne) has 53 beer taps — including special “warm lines” — on constant rotation, plus lagers, pilsners, bocks, ales, stouts, porters and more by the bottle, with 80-plus choices from 14 countries. It’s a beautifully-curated collection, always updated and listed on a paper menu alongside each beer’s alcohol content, which ranges madly from 3.8 for a Cisco Sankaty Light from Nantucket to 41 percent for BrewDog “Sink the Bismarck!” from Scotland.
But there is much more to The Cask than beer. Consider this: the restaurant’s owner is Christian Burns, a French Culinary Institute graduate who also owns the award-winning Ginger Man restaurants in Greenwich and South Norwalk. All three places are dedicated to exploring the relationship between beer and food, so it follows that The Cask would also have a beautifully-edited bill of fare. Although Christian describes it as “upscale pub food,” that doesn’t begin to describe a menu that includes such delights as PEI mussels with pesto and an Anjou pear and Boston lettuce salad. For those of us who like fancy chow, TCR has much to explore, including pan-seared Atlantic salmon with roasted fennel and leek fondue; for those who like to keep it simple, there are wings, burgers and fish and chips.
At a recent dinner there, I joined two beer-drinking friends and another oenophile (like myself) for an extravagant, multi-course menu tasting prepared by the talented Chef
The Cask Republic
179 Crown Street, New Haven (map)
Kitchen is open Sun-Thu 11:30a-10p; Fri-Sat until 11p. Bar is open Sun-Thu until 1a; Fri-Sat until 2a.
Carl Carrion. The chef is a graduate of the New York Restaurant School and spent the early years of his career cooking alongside such luminaries as Rocco DiSpirito; upon his move to Connecticut, he headed up kitchens for the Max Group and Barcelona in South Norwalk. At our Cask dinner he flexed his culinary muscles, preparing dish after marvelous dish, each matched with an appropriate beer.
We started light, with Bluepoint oysters in a sprightly mignonette, paired with a New England Ghandi-Bot that had a distinct citrusy taste. That amuse-bouche was followed by a delightful tuna tartare on cucumber slices, topped with artisanal potato chips, alongside a “very light, not at all crisp” — according to friend Dave — Cisco Bailey’s Blonde Ale. Our next course was something that none of us would have ordered on our own: a roasted garlic and potato soup. It arrived in a cup, topped with crispy little potato shards, alongside a fried oyster with an avocado topping — a deconstructed version of the Cask’s popular Oyster Sliders. It was a home run. “The only thing this dish is missing is a fireplace and a cold night,” mused Nancy.
Next up was a Seared Scallop dish with potato, applewood smoked bacon, wild mushrooms and a fennel soufflé — excellent, especially with Delirium Tremens Belgian Strong Pale Ale, which the boys were convinced was actually a cocktail. Then, Chef Carl came to our table and described the most complicated process
imaginable, with multiple steps and ingredients, including such unlikelies as star anise and red onions, so we’d know what went into our Duck Confit Salad. When we finally took bites, all four of us could taste every single flavor he’d described. “This is symphonic,” said I, with feeling. Then came another heavenly hit: Barbecue Braised Short Ribs with melted blue cheese, no knife needed. As for the Victory Storm King Russian Imperial Stout with which it was paired, Dave said it blurred the boundaries between liquid and solid.
The dessert course, as if we could eat another morsel, was beer ice cream. Honest. Made by The Big Dipper in Prospect, from a base of broad-shouldered stout. So rich! So delicious! So odd!
Charming owner Christian — who used to work with Bobby Flay — then led me on a tour of The Cask’s premises, including a 40-capacity private room, 150-seat dining room with antique photos of New Haven and Yale, and a long, gleaming wood bar, punctuated by a line of decorative beer tap handles. The most unusual section of the restaurant is in the way-back, where there is a glassed-walled cooler and the Vintage Room, where beers are aged. Because I’m not fluent in beerspeak, many of the procedures that Christian lovingly described were over my head, but he tells me that New Haven is home to a whole subculture of “big-time beer aficionados” who know their lambics from their duvels, and in fact The Cask Republic sells higher-end beers than The Ginger Man restaurants.
I do speak food, however, and I’m happy to say that when we returned to our roomy booth there was the best cheese and charcuterie board I’ve had in recent memory. The fantastic selection of nibbles such as Drunken Goat Cheese with Beer, Great Hill Blue and chorizo was accompanied by a flight of four beers for the boys, from light to heavy, in miniature tasting glasses.
If The Cask Republic was trying to impress us, they succeeded. I’ve already been back and brought many of my extended family members, and all ten of them — only one of whom drinks beer — are now converts, too.
Written by Todd Lyon. Photos courtesy of Maximum Exposure.