Christopher Martins

A Rock in East Rock

The early Sunday morning of June 3rd wasn’t the customary closing for Christopher Martins Restaurant and Pub. Or any restaurant for that matter. At 1:45am, an irate young man—having commandeered a brand-new Volvo across town, and with police in pursuit—attempted a turn from State onto Clark, veered wide and plowed into the pub’s brick facade. Timing can be everything, and due to the late hour, no one was seriously injured.

As you might expect with an experienced duo like co-owners Brian Virtue and Chris Vigilante, the place didn’t miss a minute of business. “We had the crash site surrounded and shored up by noon the next day,” says Brian. So when you visit this summer, expect to see an exterior of plywood sheets painted green, with signs announcing that the place is open for business as usual while renovations are underway.

Good thing too: a rugby team, homeless folks at Thanksgiving, kind-hearted runners in December, poor kids at Christmas and even the St. Patrick’s Day Parade have come to count on Christopher Martins’ generosity. Not surprising then that the charitable giving and support of local programs by CM has become legendary in the East Rock neighborhood.

A different sort of goodness emanates from the kitchen. For starters, the pub has what many insist is the best burger in town. Known as “The Brick,” it’s a manly masterpiece of beef, sautéed onions, mushrooms, peppers, bacon and cheese—a weighty, oozy dream that’s just as yummy with nothing but the fatty patty and a bun

Christopher Martins
860 State Street, New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 11:30am-1am, Fri-Sat 11:30am-2am

(which is how Boyfriend likes it). It is rivaled in decadent deliciousness only by CM’s onion rings. These are razor-thin “Os” served in a crispy tumbleweed snarl; the portion seems huge until you taste one, and realize there could never, ever be enough. Brian tells me that the chicken nachos are also a major seller, as is the fried calamari and a roster of super-fresh salads.

There are plenty more dishes to choose from—soups, sandwiches, unexpected pleasures like sirloin-wrapped asparagus—all served in a cheerful neighborhood saloon/sports bar atmosphere. There are a couple of vegetarian appetizers and entrees to choose from and CM aims to please in this regard: special orders happily accommodated. Eleven beers are on tap here, routinely updated and always featuring at least two offerings from New England Brewery. “They’re constantly inventing new beers,” says Brian of the Woodbridge-based ale-makers. This summer’s most popular cocktails, often sipped on the patio alongside wonderful flowers and greenery grown by Brian are Planter’s Punch and a spiked Arnold Palmer the bartenders have dubbed “The John Daley.”

When chatting with Brian about his landmark establishment, he often refers to the enjoyment he gets from CM’s crowd. “We’ve got the most eclectic clientele going,” he says. “We’ve got lawyers and

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union workers and artists, of all backgrounds and ages. And in the dining room, we’ve got Yale professors and suburbanites, visitors from Madison and a sprinkling of grad students from around the corner.”

Ah, yes, the dining room. Known at CM as “the door on the right,” it is almost completely isolated from the bar area, and has a tone all its own. Hushed and orderly, with white tablecloths and painted walls, it’s long been a showplace for local artists’ work. CM is known for graciously hosting art opening parties here at no charge to the artists —and would never think of taking commissions. At present, there is a colorful, intriguing show by lensman Mike Ross, who is well known as a wedding photographer but here spreads his wings, with dramatic results.

Brian Virtue—do-gooder, manager, gardener, fix-it guy—is also the man behind the dining room’s menu. A C.I.A. graduate, he’s a dedicated farm-to-table chef who works closely with the State Street Farmer’s Market and with Farmer Joe’s, Cato Corner Farm, Buck’s Ice Cream, Schultz Farm and many more Connecticut food providers. The dinner menu is a lovely showplace for locally sourced ingredients, often appearing in supporting roles for dishes like seared sea scallops with chive seafood cream sauce and wild mushrooms; chicken and cheese tortellini tossed in basil pesto; and Brandt beef filet mignon with garlic mashed potatoes and haricots verte. The menu isn’t restricted to local sources, however: two of CM’s most popular entrees are a macadamia nut crusted swordfish and a chipotle barbecue short rib.

CM is flexible, too. If you’re feeling casual but would prefer fancy food, it’s perfectly ok to order from the dining room menu and eat in the pub while watching the game. Conversely, if you’d like a quiet night of conversation but are in the mood for a great burger and rings, you can tuck yourself in a corner of the dining room and order from the pub menu.

Written by Todd Lyon and photographed by Hayward Gatling.

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