6/10 The Suburban , Branford Ct.- Truly the Best of the Best!!
For many restauranteurs, the one-two punch of city officials and landlords- can be a tough one to survive. So often, misguided regulations and bureaucratic mistakes can result in making cities less vibrant and enjoyable -by putting up roadblocks to creative thinking. Such was the case with Roomba, many New Haveners' favorite spot for its fun and welcoming environment , unique outdoor areas, and innovative Latin influenced food, a pan-Latin menu still unequaled in New England.
Roomba and its sequel, Bespoke, unfortunately are no more. But miraculously, the team that created them has retained its energy and contagious enthusiasm and moved to the 'burbs to create, befittingly, The Suburban, in attractive Branford Center. It's a 15 minute drive from Chapel St., but the drive is a fresh breeze and parking is abundant.
Franco and Suzette Franco-Camacho's new place is located in a 19th c. house with a front yard filled with lush plants and charming village street lamps. The outside is cleverly brought inside by the large plant-filled front windows and the many tiny votive candles adorning tables and mirror -backed book shelves along the walls. It's a handsome banquette- lined room of cream and black. A long narrow high top communal table and chairs runs down the room's center as you approach the comfortable rear bar and its surrounding tall 2-tops, with a view into the open kitchen. Behind the bar room is a dark romantic banquette lined hideaway. Throughout the restaurant, tables are adequately spaced for privacy and the noise level allows for quiet conversation, though glee and laughter are quite common in the background.
At any given moment, a leisurely look around the room reveals an array of relaxed smiling faces. The reasons for this are many. From your first step into The Suburban, manager and co-owner, Suzette, will make you feel warmly welcomed. As new as they are to locating their restaurant and family in Branford (they opened in early June), the Franco-Camachos want to be THE neighborhood spot, an active and team-spirited member of the community. That friendly customer-oriented attitude is evident throughout the wait and bar staff, who are professional, efficient and food knowledgeable. After your first encounter with one of them, you may come to realize that there is an unusual vibe running through the staff. What is it? It is Pride. Many have worked previously with Franco and Suzette and they exude the enthusiasm and confidence of hard workers who know that what they serve is the best.
The menu , the first for this new spot, is a big one. It is divided into Snacks, Cheese and Charcuterie, Small Plates, Bigger Plates, Sides and Desserts. In the spirit of becoming the go-to place for locals, dressed up or down, the owners offer a very large variety. Regular menu items and daily specials make for a choice of 6-10 dishes in each category. The fact that a brand new kitchen can consistently pull off this ambitious variety- is a testament to the well oiled workings of some talented and happy chefs. And we all know that happy chefs tend to turn out happy diners.
From the arrival of table popovers and our first course, the persona of Franco's cooking was evident. Renee Zelwegger may have said to Tom Cruise's Jerry Maguire, "You had me at 'Hello' ", but for this reviewer, Franco had me at 'Salad.' No, these were not the same old same old, but combinations you are not likely to have ever seen before. In a rare tie between winners, we savored equally the Grilled asparagus with pancetta, a panko fried blue Araucana egg, and truffle vinaigrette, and the Haricots verts with beluga lentils, avocado, tomato and verjus. The dishes were artfully presented and abundant. The Small Plate winner was marinated and seared scallops on a bed of watercress and creamer potatoes with lemon confit and romesco sauce. With all the plates, visuals, textures, colors and flavors all joined to complement each other while retaining their individuality. Over two different evenings, the entrée hits came from the regular menu as well as the daily specials. Best of the four were the marinated rack of lamb with saffron couscous, eggplant confit and a demi of roasted candied garlic and mint., and the marinated double pork chop with chorizo corn bread pudding. Chef Franco likes big robust flavors and so, not surprisingly, his meats, poultry and seafood are usually marinated before being cooked, adding another subtle layer of flavor to their dish.
As much a sign of his iconoclastic nature as anything else, Franco also makes the restaurant's desserts and breads, and like the rest of the menu, these are not your same old same old. (Does this guy SLEEP? I mean, really!)The house bread is popovers! And the dessert menu has such innovations as Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse and Balsamic gelato (my fav.)
We would be thrilled to have this restaurant in Boston. As it is, The Suburban has quickly become our go-to place in Southern Ct., giving us great motivation to return soon and continue our exploration of this beautiful part of New England.
**Take note that Franco and Suzette have also bought a property across the street from The Suburban; their "authentic Mexican" place will open in a few months.