Loose Cannon

Loose Cannon

Along Chapel Street east of Dwight Street, the sidewalk repeatedly swells over the roots of the trees someone planted there. The pattern ends at Dwight, where the church of St. Paul, built in 1871, commands an appreciative pause. But that’s not my destination. I’m headed to the opposite corner, where The Cannon, a neighborhood pub, slender but stout, blazed in twilight blue, is just putting down roots of its own.

This pub is more peaceful than its name might suggest. The menu eschews violence by being vegan and vegetarian, and the overall intent is to create a neighborly refuge where people can relax and decompress. But things do turn explosive when Arsenal, a London-based soccer club not coincidentally symbolized by a cannon, is playing. That’s when the New Haven Gooners, a local tribe of raucous Arsenal fans, convene among the pub’s three TVs and commune over every dribble, pass and shot.

Yale University Art Gallery

Cannon co-founder Kevin MacKenzie is one of them. He’s been a Gooner for longer than he’s worked in bars, which is saying something. He and Tessa Davis, the other co-founder, have roughly 30 years of food service experience between them. Make it almost 50 with Chef Skyller Melton. Melton worked in kitchens in North Carolina before moving to New Haven, where he worked as a line cook at Heirloom before a stint as head chef at Ordinary. Davis, for her part, has worked at Barcade, The Beer Collective, East Rock Brewing Company, Three Sheets and others, while MacKenzie got his start at the Archie Moore’s in Milford and, two blocks from The Cannon, Rudy’s. I recognized him immediately from the latter, where, over several years, I came to regard him as one of the city’s most courteous and humane bartenders.

Both qualities have been loaded into The Cannon, which is now serving food but not alcohol while awaiting an imminent liquor license. “Our general mission was to create an environment that was going to be welcoming to all people,” Davis says, including by offering comforting food at an affordable price. Melton, whose current menu offerings top out at $9 (not including possible add-ons) despite impressive elements like house-made breads, summarizes the trio’s main goals as “good food, beautiful vibes, beautiful people, beautiful environment.”

As for the “good food” part, my dining experience suggests that’s an understatement. I started with the Caesar Salad ($5), whose baby kale, spinach and red leaf lettuce with tomato slices and just the right amount of red onion were wonderfully fresh. Those ingredients, all organic, were tossed along with crunchy croutons in a creamy dressing sharpened by a lemony twang.

Next came the Reuben sandwich ($9), which is a must-try. The shaved seitan—house-made like the very bread it was on, its caramelized edges peaking out—was, as they might say in Arsenal’s hometown, brilliant. The texture was chewy but not, like some seitans, gummy. Lightly pickled cabbage was crunchy and refreshing, tasting like cole slaw when mingled with the Russian dressing’s creamy tang. Bits of sautéed onion were sweetly soft and softly sweet. The sandwich was both a mix of lovely things and just one lovely thing, rounded off by a surprising butteriness plus a note of maple sugar.

I also ordered the Fries ($5), which came on the same plate as the sandwich. Skin-on and hand-cut, the fries still tasted a lot like potato, for me a great plus, under a blend of spices—salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and maybe some others—that was bold even at a restrained dosage. Each fry tasted a little different, depending on how much of which spices had gotten to it, and I liked that.

As I came to realize, the hand foods can be pretty messy to eat. As I also came to realize, within the easy culture of The Cannon, there’s no shame in having to wipe away a glob of dressing from your lips or hands, even if it is a shame to lose even a little bit of the meal to your napkin.

The Cannon
135 Dwight St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Sun 11am-9pm (for now)
(203) 800-2099
Website | Instagram

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

More Stories