New American

New American

Simple, classic American food is how chef Emily Mingrone describes the menu at Tavern on State, a new eatery on—you guessed it—State Street. But none of those adjectives could have prepared me for the delicious surprises that awaited.

For example, while roasted turnips are a traditional staple this time of year, Mingrone bathes them in a bacon dashi and tops them with turnip green kimchi ($13). The discs of turnip in the dish I sampled were slightly firm without being crunchy, and they’d soaked up the spicy dashi. Tiny slivers of fried shallot and the turnip stems provided a crunchy counterpart.

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Pairing native turnips with Japanese- and Korean-inspired components raises the question of what counts as American fare. “It’s easy to say ‘classic American,’ but I do pull a lot of global influence because, especially Asian culture, I think they have a lot more vibrant flavor profiles,” Mingrone says. Meanwhile, Americans themselves are as varied as world cuisine. “We’re still in a process of evolution as far as cuisine goes, so … I think it’s sort of our mission as chefs here to define American cuisine,” she says.

To be sure, the menu offers up some local American favorites like roasted oysters ($16) and steamed mussels ($14), but both are served with ingenuity. The oysters come with tatsoi, miso crema and toasted breadcrumbs, the mussels with ’nduja, fennel and grilled sourdough. There’s the obligatory burger and fries ($16), too, with a “nice, fat eight-ounce patty” with “ooey, gooey and delicious” homemade cheddar cheese sauce, as Mingrone describes it, served on a sesame seed brioche bun imported from New York City.

Mingrone describes classic French cooking, once a fine dining staple, as “kind of outdated now,” though she does rely on core French tenets like making her own stocks in-house. And she knows how to do the French thing. Tavern on State’s duck leg confit with roasted sweet potato, garlic honey and pickled turnips ($19) melted in my mouth. The skin had a delicate, crispy, sweet citrus glaze, and the dark meat was tender and moist.

The next dish offered a visual surprise. The grilled octopus ($18) came with two big, meaty arms, braised first to soften them, then char-grilled, dressed with thin slices of bright red pickled peppers and bathed in a pool of chili butter. Perhaps taking its cue from a shoreline classic like crab legs doused in butter, the octopus had an exciting salt-and-char flavor all its own, with the butter playing a subtle second to the chili. A few fingerling potatoes filled out the dish.

The real splurge on the fall menu is dry-aged strip steak over a puree of sweet potato and foie gras with roasted hon shimeji mushrooms ($39), a massive portion big enough to share. The steak was a juicy medium rare topped with three meaty mushrooms and served with a reduced veal stock sauce. But the happy surprise in this dish was the smooth, rich, earthy puree with just a touch of sweetness. It especially complemented the mushrooms, creating a fabulous, unique flavor combination.

Tavern on State’s menu offers appetizers ranging from simple duck cracklins ($5) to fancier anchovy toast with roasted garlic and pickled shallots ($12) and straciatella on toast with persimmon, harissa honey, walnuts and tarragon ($12). A small dessert menu runs the gamut in terms of flavors and styles but keeps the pricing consistent at $12. A robust drinks menu includes wine by the glass and the bottle; beer on draft and in craft bottles and cans; and cocktails both shaken and stirred. Featured fall cocktails include Uncommon Cargo, an old-fashioned made with aged rum, bourbon, a nitro stout cordial and aromatic bitters ($14) and Where There’s Smoke, a take on a manhattan made with rye infused with smoked black tea and a house-made vermouth ($14).

Open since June, Tavern on State quickly earned a nomination from the Connecticut Restaurant Association for Restaurant Newcomer of the Year, an impressive opening accolade for Mingrone and business partner Shane McGowan, whose specialty is cocktails and drinks. The two met in Westport while working at the restaurant Jesup Hall.

Mingrone grew up in the restaurant business and tried to do her own thing in the corporate world, but she always had a food job on the side, and eventually, she says, she gave in. She trained at Lincoln Culinary Institute in Shelton and sought out skilled chefs to train under, cooking at New Haven’s Zinc as well as several Fairfield County venues. The career change turned out to be auspicious. “It’s chaotic every day, but the peace that it brings me deeply is priceless,” Mingrone says.

Tavern on State has a homey feel, with weathered wood, white brick and black leather benches. Customers can choose from shared high-top tables or more intimate seating along the walls, with room for about 35 total. Antique glass bottles lend old-fashioned swatches of color. “When it’s seven o’clock and the lights are low and everybody’s talking, it’s like the vibe in here is so amazing,” Mingrone says. “We’re not fancy,” she adds, “but we’re also not casual. We’re kind of just what we are.”

Tavern on State
969 State St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Sat 4pm-close (kitchen closes 10:30pm)
(475) 202-6883
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Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 features Shane McGowan and Emily Mingrone.

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