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 V.22 No.34 | August 22 - 28, 2013 

Restaurant Review

Artful Dishes

The smart design of Hartford Square

Deviled eggs
Deviled eggs

Sarah Hartford, a former art director and graphic designer, brings an artful sensibility of color, sheen and clean lines to the design of her new restaurant, Hartford Square, and to the food itself. The chromatic scheme of Hartford Square—newsprint black and white with gleaming stainless steel punctuation—creates a crisp, spare atmosphere where the simple, vivid food really shines and takes shape. It’s a wonderful place to go get your shit together, read their free copy of The New York Times or stare soothingly at stacks of white enamel dinnerware, clear vases of fresh flowers and the pleated steel wall of the open kitchen.

There is much to love about this farm-to-table restaurant, despite its glitches (keep reading). Hartford Square embraces its slogan “Variety is the spice of life,” by switching up the menu every week. (Check their website for current and upcoming offerings.)

With meat sourced from Kyzer Farms, goat cheese from Old Windmill Dairy, breads from Bosque Baking Co., coffee from local roaster Michael Thomas Coffee and locally gleaned produce (from Agri-Cultura, Moore Family Farms and Chispas Farms to name a few), you can bank on high quality, distinct ingredients.

The kitchen is small and open, allowing patrons to watch Hartford and her crew preparing various dishes—the cold ones, a panoply of salads for the deli case always on display, or the warm ones for your dinner. Many of the dishes showcase fresh foods in full bloom, clean and simple. The cold cucumber soup with mint, for instance, has nailed cucumberishness—rainy, cool, refreshing, accented with an inflection of spice on the finish. The cold tomato soup, shimmering in olive oil, retains all of the velvety ripeness of the sweetest, meatiest heirloom tomato. Nothing is lost in conversion.

Hartford also excels at pastries and baked goods—her summer squash goat cheese and gruyére tart melts in creamy, flaky white-flag surrender on the tongue. Her cinnamon streusel pecan coffee cake is dense, wet and understatedly sweet with a caramelized crust; her double chocolate cherry cookies are dangerous to your campaign against tooth decay.

She keeps the dinner menu lean, offering one or two hot dishes: paella one week, slow-roasted Canadian salmon and ratatouille pot pie another, along with four or five salad options, a couple of sexy-beast appetizers (saffron caper deviled eggs, breaded stuffed squash blossoms) and whatever is still on hand from lunch and breakfast. (Uh huh, we snagged ourselves some almond scones for our after-dinner dessert)

With meat sourced from Kyzer Farms, goat cheese from Old Windmill Dairy, breads from Bosque Baking Co., coffee from local roaster Michael Thomas Coffee and locally gleaned produce (from Agri-Cultura, Moore Family Farms and Chispas Farms to name a few), you can bank on high quality, distinct ingredients.

My friend and I, both a little loopy for deep skillet dishes, ordered the ratatouille pot pie, a heap of Italian sausage, roasted eggplant, bell peppers and squash topped with a wedge of cornmeal biscuit. The coarse, crackly grind of the cornmeal gave the dish a rustic French-camping-trip quality that is hard to come by in most restaurants.

You could hypothetically take din din to the forests of France: Hartford Square is fashioning itself as a take-out anchor in the EDo neighborhood. They offer to-go combo options cheaper than a la carte. (A cup of tomato soup and half of chicken salad with herb waffle is $9 versus $13 a la carte.) If you can’t pack a homemade, fresh-from-the-garden lunch, this is probably the next best thing.

That said, as much as I love Hartford Square, it's not without flaws. The beans in the white bean salad with pine nuts were cooked al dente, something I found pleasurable and toothsome, but my friend did not. The baked eggs with cherry tomatoes, dislodged from a lovely scallop mold, were creamy soft in the center but tough and dry at the edge.

The breakfast menu is problematic because everything comes a la carte. If you want to fill your plate, you either need to order their one “Hearty-Breakfast-to-Go” option or fork out dinner prices for breakfast. I'm a staunch defender of the sanctity of breakfast as the affordable meal. Let breakfast not be gentrified, I say.

I ordered the ham and green chile bread pudding, Kyzer Farms sausage and tomato watermelon salad (a dinner offering, but the only fruit dish available at breakfast) for a total of $13.

I was disappointed in the tomato watermelon salad, obviously held over from the previous day. The mint was soggy, the fruits and veggies in decline; the whole salad in a slump.

One of the advantages of their deli case setup, where all items are on parade, is the ability to check out every dish yourself and pass if it's looking blowzy. But really, I hope with some polishing of Hartford Square’s game plan, this ceases to be an issue.

So while there is room for improvement at Hartford Square, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a special place, both clean and warm, where dishes come and go in a blaze of flavor, under Hartford’s practiced eye.

View in Alibi Chowtown Chowtown

Hartford Square

300 Broadway NE

Hours: Monday-Friday 6:30am to 6:30pm
Saturday 8am to 3pm (but closed in August!)
Sunday 9am to 2pm
Vibe: Clean and classic
Price range: $6 to $14
Extras: New York Times crossword puzzle if you can get to it first
Vegetarian options: Yes, vegetables are revered here

The Alibi recommends: Whatever looks good to your own two eyes; it’s all on display


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