Cask Republic in Stamford opens to big crowds and high expectations—and it delivers
Baked soft pretzel with whole grain mustard and Amish cheddar ale sauce
Photographs: Gus Cantavero
Cask Republic casts a warm and inviting glow, a comfortable, sturdy Arts & Crafts clubbiness that makes you feel like you fit in from the start. Our only question is where to sit. At the long, copper-backed bar? The high-top wood communal tables? In the to-be-seen-from-the-street chairs by the window? Or in those cozy chairs gathered around the fireplaces? We chose the raised, high-backed booths, upholstered in a subtle gray check. They give a good view of the handsome, earth-toned room, where iron chandeliers and Edison bulbs hang from the coffered ceiling.
No matter where you sit, there are two snacks you’ve got to order right away: Bacon Popcorn, a perfect blend of crunchy and smoky, and for contrast, the pretzel, warm, soft, glistening and served with a thick sauce of aged Cheddar, ale and mustard. With these we were tasting the promise of this instantly popular American tavern serving elevated small plates and bar food.
The starting place at Cask is drinks. The beer menu, an ample listing with more than fifty-one draughts as well as bottles from Europe and the U.S., can overwhelm but the servers are ready to guide. Cask Republic, which opened in late December, is clearly serious about beer but if you want to keep it simple, try the featured draught or the cask-conditioned ale, which is fermented for a second time, helping it develop a deeper flavor with a mild, natural carbonation.
I ordered a bottle of hard cider from Normandy for four of us to taste. Produced by Etienne Dupont, unfiltered and unpasteurized, it was golden and hazy and had a funky flavor. I can’t say that my friends enjoyed the fermented flavors of grass and apple, but they appreciated the experience of tasting it. That’s a big part of what Cask is about: tasting what you’ve never tried before. Still, it caters to the connoisseur. Cask has a collection of rare and special bottles, and kegs on display in a glass-windowed, refrigerated room that helps set the mood.
New restaurants take time to settle into new kitchens, to work out the kinks of the wood-burning oven and the smoker. But a restaurant that in its opening weeks can make cauliflower taste as good as Cask Republic’s Cauliflower Gratinado is onto good things. It’s a small plate of just-tender florets tossed in Manchego sauce, studded with diced bacon that’s been smoked twice. A fine coating of toasted breadcrumbs mixed with herbs topped the gratin. It was our favorite dish and that’s saying a lot when we’re talking about cauliflower. We also shared meatballs made from smoked short ribs. They rested in spicy-sweet barbecue sauce flavored with India Pale Ale and Maytag cheese. The wings were big, super-plump and juicy, glazed in soy and served with a side of jalapeño ginger-lime sauce.
Our order included the Cask Burger, ground in-house and served on a big, toasted English muffin. The cheddar had melted invitingly down the burger’s sides. Tomato jam and grilled red onions added sweet notes to its char and soft pink meat. The fries were golden, crunchy and plentiful. We cleaned up the plate.
The dry-aged New York strip was cooked as ordered, medium rare. It was well seasoned and tender, satisfying the primal urge for red meat. But the presentation was a tad awkward. The steak rested on a pile of fries, which shared the narrow rectangular plate with kale salad. To cut the steak, we moved it to another plate. The kale salad was chock-full of dried cranberries and walnuts, scattered with lentils and tossed in a ginger vinaigrette; it could be served as a separate small plate.
Cask also serves pizza. We tried it twice. The first time, the duck confit, caramelized onions, walnut pesto and goat cheese stood up to the blistered crust. On another visit, so did the pancetta, cherry peppers and spinach toppings. All indications point to Cask’s future contribution to the healthy debate already raging about Stamford’s pizza culture.
We were sated by meal’s end—though we will be back for more. We had watched a group of young friends gather and order beers, oysters on the half-shell, and boiled shrimp. We watched a middle-age couple sink into the comfy chairs and order single malt Scotches. The common denominator was a sense of relaxation. This tavern makes people comfortable, and it shows.
191 Summer Street, Stamford; 203-348-2275
Hours: Sun.–Thu., 11:45 a.m.–1 a.m.; Fri.–Sat.,11:45 a.m.–2 a.m.