Tavern in the Square, which opened on May 31 at Corbin’s Corner in West Hartford, is bigger than it looks from the outside. Entering from the front, the restaurant goes deep, with a massive rectangular wraparound bar, an open kitchen, 300 seats and 23 TVs. A spacious side room can be turned into a covered, open-air patio by rolling up the windows.
The portions at Tavern in the Square are also bigger than expected. General Manager Nick Santamaria said “the prices are on the higher end, but you get what you pay for.”
The eatery is a mix of influences. Santamaria calls it “a blend of casual dining and comfort food,” with dishes including burgers, mac-n-cheese, nachos and steak tips.
It also attracts sports fans; all 23 TVs, 10 of which are at the bar, are tuned to ESPN, NESN and other sports channels. Five high-tops are attached to the bar, like boat slips jutting out of a marina, so people can talk easily with friends and have lots of room for food while still enjoying a bar vibe.
“Last night when the Celtics were playing, the bar was full of Celtics fans,” he said. “We don’t consider ourselves a sports bar, but people do come here to watch sports.”
The restaurant also prides itself on its attention to dietary limitations. No nuts are used in any dish. Many dishes are vegetarian, vegan and gluten free. Dishes that are not vegan or gluten free can be made so by a deletion or substitution of ingredients. In the kitchen — headed by chef Jose Rodriguez, formerly of Max Restaurant Group — vegan and vegetarian foods are not cooked in the same area as foods with meat.
“The owners wanted an upbeat, casual atmosphere, but also with a hyper-focus on the food,” Santamaria said. “They wanted to accommodate all people’s allergies or food preferences.”
All of the small bites, for $7.50 to $10, are gluten free, vegan/vegetarian, or both. So are all but two of the starters, which range from $13 to $16. The exceptions are the chicken quesadilla and the crab rangoon.
“If something isn’t vegan, all you have to do is remove the cheese,” Santamaria said. “Our cheeses can be substituted for plant-based cheese.”
Small bites include fried pickle chips, guacamole, house-made potato chips, truffle tots, Brussels sprouts, Buffalo cauliflower and “Bang Bang Broccoli,” tempura-fried with a chili sauce. Starters include Belgian pretzels, gluten-free smoked wings or tenders, nachos, tater tots and three kinds of pizza: classic, barbecue chicken and pumpkin-goat cheese.
All the salads are gluten free and all are vegan except the steak-avocado, at $19. Others are Caesar ($11) and kale-quinoa and chopped Greek ($14.50).
Sandwiches and burgers are $15.50 to $17, and for an extra $2, any of the meat patties can be substituted for a Beyond burger patty. Varieties are agave lime chicken, Mediterranean chicken, cornflake-fried chicken, chicken salad croissant, tavern burger, spicy burger, blackened bacon and blue cheese burger and a turkey burger.
The mains, from $16.50 to $26, are fish and chips, Gen. Tso’s chicken, sirloin tips, blackened fish tacos, mac and cheese, cider-glazed salmon and bayou chicken pasta.
Bowls, for $17.50 to $24, have quinoa, fried chicken, grilled chicken and salmon.
Keep up with news from the Connecticut food scene, delicious recipes, and restaurant and bar reviews
Santamaria said the restaurant’s signature dish is the quinoa bowl, at $17.50, which has cauliflower, squash, beets, broccoli, kale, avocado, goat cheese and carrots shaved wafer-thin and then flash-fried, to create a bright orange, curly topper on the bowl.
“A ton of people come into the restaurants after work and after the gym. They have the quinoa bowl, or the Bang Bang broccoli or buffalo cauliflower, or a salad. They don’t want to ruin everything they just did for their health,” said Santamaria.
Tavern in the Square got its start in 2004 in Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, owned by Stephen DeSousa, Joey Arcari and Renato Valentin. It expanded to seven more Massachusetts locations. Later it expanded into Rhode Island. West Hartford’s location is Connecticut’s first. Santamaria said its success will determine whether other locations open here.
Santamaria has worked at the restaurant group since 2014, starting as a server-bartender and most recently as general manager of the location in Boston’s North Station. A native of Old Saybrook, he relocated back to his home state to open the West Hartford store.
The bar has a variety of drafts, including local craft brews from Hanging Hills of Hartford, Two Roads of Stratford, Back East of Bloomfield, Broken Symmetry of Bethel, Counter Weight of Cheshire, New England of Woodbridge and Thimble Island of Branford.
Tavern in the Square, at 1393 New Britain Ave., is open Sunday to Wednesday from 11:30 am to 11 pm (kitchen closes at 10 pm) and Thursday to Saturday from 11:30 am to midnight (kitchen closes at 11 pm) . The covered patio is available as a function room. taverninthesquare.com.
Susan Dunne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.