The Spotted Horse Tavern in Westport is elevated comfort food

You want to go out to dinner. Maybe you’re tired of eating at home; maybe the larder is empty; maybe it’s your turn to provide and there’s no time. You want something that’s not a big-deal meal but not fast-casual either; it’s got to be a place with a full bar, lots of choices on the menu and, if you’re lucky, cloth napkins.

There are restaurants like this in every town — sometimes just one or two, sometimes too many to count. The menu always includes burgers, salads and sandwiches. Prices are reasonable. Often there are tacos and pizza, although these aren’t real taquerias and pizza restaurants. With the cloth napkins come a selection of entrees: steak, chicken, salmon and a fancy pasta.

The wines might be ordinary or carefully chosen. There’s always beer, and sometimes they have local brews on tap. The ambiance is usually wood-paneled dark. A long-serving staff is a sign of a busy, well-run establishment – ​​a good place to work and earn a living. Customers are greeting each other, and the servers or the manager also suggest continuity and community.

I’ll be you’re thinking of several places like this that you enjoy and have been to recently.

The Spotted Horse Tavern in Westport is a good example. Lately, we’ve been for both a quiet weekday dinner and a busy Sunday brunch. The historic building is paneled with barn siding hung with oversize portraits of horses. A fireplace cheers the dining room. A busy horseshoe shaped bar is a draw for regulars. The extensive menu touches all the bases with style and flair. Even the standards are executed with care: well-prepared and appealingly presented.

The juicy burger ($15.95), for instance, features house-made pickles and their own Russian dressing. A pizzetta ($13.95) is topped with pistachios, montrachet cheese, mushrooms, red onion and truffle-infused honey, an appealing mix of salty and sweet on a foundation of fungi. Street-corn blackened chicken tacos ($14.95) were a hit at dinner, rich with guacamole and chipotle mayo rounded out with corn salsa – a little messy as a taco should be. The chicken in the tasty KFC sandwich ($14.95) was sealed in a Korean-style crunchy batter and dressed with cucumber, papaya-mango slaw and kim-chi aioli. Thimble Islands American Ale was perfect to wash it down.

Late on a Monday night, just before the kitchen closed, the restaurant was dark and quiet. On Sunday for a bunch, on the other hand, sun streamed in through the many windows. Every table was occupied with a mix of families, couples and friends gathering. The energy was good as the more-than-ample nicely-uniformed staff bustled about.

“The Remedy,” for brunch at the Spotted Horse is corned beef hash, poached eggs, cheddar biscuits all under a ladle of hollandaise.

Frank Whitman / For Connecticut Media Group

Brunch is not an opportunity to eat light, so I gave up, even before scanning the menu. There’s a lot of carryover from the regular menu, but my eye was drawn to the Spotted Brunch Plates. Benedicts, omelets and French toast shared space with chicken and waffles and steak and eggs. When I told Marsha I was ordering “The Remedy” ($13.95) – corned beef hash, poached eggs, cheddar biscuits, all under a ladle of hollandaise – she replied, “Of course you are.” It was a satisfying remedy for my brunch cravings. Her delicious frittata ($13.95) with tomato, asparagus, mushrooms, and arugula had the veneer of eating right, but with gouda and pesto hollandaise, that was an illusion. The coffee, a key part of brunch, was aromatic and full-flavored, brewed to order I suspect.

The Dry Dock Bar and Grill in Norwalk has a forty-year track record of serving a neighborhood crowd.
The Dry Dock Bar and Grill in Norwalk has a forty-year track record of serving a neighborhood crowd.

Frank Whitman / For Connecticut Media Group

Every town has its own casual restaurants, each with their own style. In Norwalk, for example, The Dry Dock Bar and Grill has a forty-year track record of serving a neighborhood crowd, BJ Ryans in town is known for great burgers, and the Sedona Taphouse features local beers on tap. Each is unique but fits under the umbrella of the comfortable, casual restaurants that we all love and depend on.

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