Earlier this month, Think Tasty readers had the opportunity to choose the best restaurant in the Northeast region. With ten terrific restaurants on our list, picking the best was a difficult decision. Voting was constant, with readers adding their votes and leaving comments raving about their restaurants until the end. When voting was done, the restaurant that earned the most votes was Little Pub.
I spoke with the owner of Little Pub to learn a little more about this winning restaurant.
TT: I noted that Little Pub opened in 2009. In which month did you open your doors to the public?
LP: Little Pub opened in July of 2009.
TT: Was this your first restaurant venture?
LP: This is our first venture, but on the outset we partnered with experienced managers and restaurant designers to get the place up and running. We set out to create a true neighborhood pub, not just a restaurant or a bar, but a place where folks from all walks of life could gather and feel right at home. Really a place where “we” would feel comfortable and look forward to going to.
TT: Are you the chef in addition to being the owner? If not, are you involved in menu creation?
LP: Tim is our executive chef, and he creates and manages the overall menu offerings. It’s very much his show, but that said, it’s a very collaborative relationship and we sit down regularly to kick around ideas, talk about what’s working or what needs work, what’s seasonally available, etc. . . We involve the server staff in these discussions because they get most of the front line comments and are the best channel for customer feedback. And of course, the customers themselves are not shy about requesting old favorites back on the menu. At the end of the day, we all agree to the same core food philosophy of simple food prepared well with thought and passion. So while you won’t find coq au vin at Little Pub, you might find coca cola braised short ribs on occasion.
TT: How often is the menu updated?
LP: Some core offerings never change, for example fish and chips, the ahi tuna tacos, or our signature sandwiches, but 80% of the food menu and the beer and wine lists are updated four times a year with the offerings being seasonally adjusted for winter, spring, summer, fall. For example, we offer New England lobster roll in the summer and a hearty shepherds pie in the winter. In addition, we run at least 3 daily specials, so to a certain extent the menu changes every day.
TT: Do you have a favorite menu item?
LP: Our most popular items are bass ale battered fish and chips, ahi tuna tacos, or one of our 5 house burgers. Personally, when I’m working I’ll typically grab a cup of the chicken tortilla soup or seafood bisque because they’re both amazingly good, and I can serve myself, which is important because the guys on the line are so busy they need to focus on getting customers’ orders out. When I’m able to sit down in the front of the house with friends or family, I’ll get the Ahi tuna tacos or whatever special Tim has created. Daneen will get something vegetarian like the housemade beans and rice veggie burger, the chick peas and spinach au gratin, or the vegetable spring rolls with sweet chili dipping sauce.
TT: What are the advantages to owning a restaurant in Connecticut?
LP: What do the real estate agents always say? Location, location, location! We were blessed to be close to some really innovative vendors. We get our beef from a local butcher shop that has been run by the same family for over 90 years. They bring in this amazing grass fed Piedmont beef from Montana that we use for our burgers. There’s a gluten free bakery up the street, and we get gluten free rolls and desserts from them. We get our peanut butter pies from this awesome lady who runs the business out of her house. This is all within 3 minutes of the pub. On a wider scale, being in New England means there are lots of great regional food sources in close proximity. Fish comes in fresh every day, there are dozens of farmers markets, there are several great breweries within a 2 hour drive so we can get fresh local beer. We like to ski, so in the winter we pick up cob smoked bacon or local artisanal cheeses in Vermont. All that local sourcing from small vendors with top notch products is great for operating a restaurant and keeps it fresh both literally and figuratively.
In Connecticut, you also get a very diverse clientele so our ability to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable is of paramount importance. We’ll get the local mechanic sitting next to the guy whose BMW he services, so it’s pretty neat in that regard. We’re located in Branchville, which is basically a hamlet of Ridgefield, which itself is a small Connecticut town out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The benefit of this “smallness” is that you can really establish roots in a community, which is what we set out to do in the first place.
TT: You have a loyal group of patrons. What about your restaurant makes them so?
LP: We have comment cards, and we typically see comments like “Great food!” and that’s always nice to read, but you’d better read that if you’re running a restaurant. We probably get more positive comments on our staff than anything else and that is especially gratifying because our staff, both front of house and back of house, is amazing, and we are very proud of them. We understand how hard they work; we’re a small room. It’s busy, it’s crowded, and all that can be stressful at times, but the staff does a magnificent job keeping an even keel and presenting a consistent cheerful face to the customer. We understand that customers are coming in to have fun, and that encompasses the food and service level, but also includes the small things like flowers on the table, candles, fun music, and a friendly vibe, so we laugh, we joke, and we try to keep the atmosphere as light as possible. And that really comes from the heart because we’re really having a great time, and I think that positive energy trickles down to our staff and our customers. So our hope is that as long as we continue to focus on treating people, and by people that means both customers and staff, the way we’d like to be treated, we’ll continue to be rewarded with loyal patrons.