Restaurants sometimes become attached, even pigeonholed, with certain dishes. Maybe the lobster roll made them famous or their chicken wings were voted best in the galaxy. This is not going to happen with Jim Casey’s new endeavor in New Hartford — Bridgestreet Libations & Temptations (BLT). Casey changes the menu every week.
He’s not trying to prove a point or show off his Johnson & Wales pedigree. His reason is a simple one. He gets bored. Casey hopes his aversion to repetition is shared by his customers. “For the people that dine here, it’s almost the same thing. It’s not a monotonous dining experience,” Casey says. “You’re not going there every time to get the clam pasta or the chicken parm. You’re going there because you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
If the 33-year-old Enfield native executes every menu as flawlessly as he did on the night I made the trek up to the Northwest Corner, boredom will not be an issue. Bridgestreet Libations & Temptations is going to be packed. Instead of sliced bread and cold butter, the meal began with warm popovers, made by the in-house pastry chef, served with a creamy honey sea salt butter. I’m reminded of what every sports analyst says on every pregame show: “They need to get off to a fast start.” For my money, the same can be said for restaurants, and Bridgestreet Libations & Temptations is out to an early lead.
Casey keeps his foot on the gas, sending out a pair of small plates that absolutely hit the spot. The buffalo cauliflower was surprising, as many restaurants use smaller pieces with excessive breading and hot sauce providing the bulk of the flavor. Bridgestreet Libations & Temptations’ version is made up of big, meaty florets, lightly breaded and kissed with the right amount of heat, plated with a blue cheese fondue. The other small plate we ordered was beef stew. This unique creation saw the components of beef stew — braised short rib, brûlée carrot, roasted shallot, potato puff — plated with a beef-stock reduction. Terrific concept and Casey nailed it.
“It’s fun,” Casey says. “It’s high-end-style food, or high-end-quality food, but it’s very comfortable and still approachable even if you don’t know what it is.”
Partially satiated and eager for our main courses, we were instead brought two more small plates by Casey, who said the shrimp and grits and oyster po’ boy were two of his favorites. The shrimp dish was fairly straightforward and very good, but Casey’s creativity was on full display with the oysters. Fried and combined with cornbread custard, andouille mignonette and pickled tomatillo salsa, these po’ boys are served on the half-shell and not between a baguette. “I want guests to be excitedly uncomfortable when they come in,” Casey says. “Like it’s your birthday or Christmas Day, and you’ve got this really cool box and it’s all wrapped up and you don’t know what’s inside but you know it’s awesome. That’s what I want.”
The main courses passed a truly indicative test — when you’re full, bordering on uncomfortable, but you keep going. The chicken was quintessential comfort food, a French-boned breast with spinach and goat cheese stuffing and blistered tomatoes. The duck was pan roasted with creamsicle potato (a take on mashed sweet potatoes), pumpkin seed butter and parsnip chips. Both dishes were prepared perfectly and presented beautifully, in portions generous enough that indulging in four small plates beforehand is definitely not necessary.
Casey also lends proper attention to the cocktail program and changes that menu as well, in addition to boasting a strong beer list — bottles, cans and draft — highlighted by Brewery Legitimus, which is located right down the street.
Like many chefs, Casey’s early culinary career provided him with experiences that manifested into knowledge for his first solo venture. The Hazard Grille in Enfield was his boot camp, Max’s in Avon impressed upon him the importance of the business side, and The Mill at 2T in Simsbury is where he learned to explore and harness his creativity. He says BLT has been years in the making, and his father is one of the people who helped make it happen. Casey and his dad took the boot-camp approach with the space, breaking it down then building it up.
“We took everything down to basically bare bones and just kind of built it back up the way that we wanted it, and kind of made it up as we went along,” Casey says. “It doesn’t look anything like what my first vision of the place looked like, but I’m pretty happy with how it came out.” The building has been a hotel or restaurant for over 100 years, according to Casey, who plans to keep that streak going. “We [renovated] it with the plan of being there for about 30 years. So we did everything pretty much over the top. … We did everything way above code, way more than we needed to. We built it to last.”
The architectural highlight is the chandelier in the dining room — light bulbs within whisks hanging with spoons and ladles from a dish rack. “The chandelier in the dining room I’m wicked proud of,” Casey says. “It was a pot-and-pan rack that was hanging over the dishwasher when we bought the place.” Creative, sure, but the impetus was cutting costs. When searching for light fixtures, he finally found something he liked and discovered it was $3,000. His personal war on the overpriced light fixture industry continues in the back pub area where No. 10 tomato cans serve as wall sconces. The light glows beautifully from the cut-out tops and bottoms of the cans.
As for the acronymic name of the establishment, Casey describes a four-month process of loving then hating names. He also was only allowed so many square feet of signage out front, but he needed the letters to be large enough to be seen from the road. Four letters or less, he decided. “My favorite sandwich in the world next to the Big Mac is a BLT. It’s America’s sandwich.”
He wanted BLT in the name, but it needed to stand for something so people wouldn’t think it was just a sandwich shop. He combined Bridge Street into one word, added in some cool cocktails (libations) and unique food offerings (temptations), and Bridgestreet Libations & Temptations or BLT was born. And it was built to last.