Bittersweet Farm Serves Standout Food in a Cozy Setting
By Jerry Boggs
I’m a big fan of comfort food. But , who isn’t?
It’s often the food of our youth. I guess the comfort comes in remembering the days before we knew about cholesterol and high blood pressure. That’s because comfort foods are pretty much synonymous with unhealthy. It seems they’re typically fried, doused in cheese or butter (or both if you’re lucky) and mouth-wateringly rich.
Recently, I’ve discovered a new comfort category — comfort restaurants.
I’m not necessarily talking about spots that serve comfort food; it’s more the feeling you get inside the place. I mean warm, friendly, cozy, atmosphere-filled eateries that make you want to linger over your dessert or order a round of after-dinner drinks.
I readily acknowledge my bias when I say I believe Southern restaurants have the upper hand on comfort foods. I’ll give you chowder all day, but comfort food in my mind is fried chicken, mashed potatoes and warm biscuits or cornbread.
However, I think New England has set the bar when to comes to comfort restaurants.
I think it’s the history of the places. So many eateries are located in old buildings that have the familiar, warm feel of a favorite flannel shirt.
I loved the Taproom at the Stonehouse Inn in Little Compton, Rhode Island, because it had that feel, and I loved walking into the tavern at Bittersweet Farm in Westport for the same reason.
It was not a chilly night when Barbara and I pulled into the parking lot, but the downstairs Fireside Tavern dining room still oozed coziness.
And it was cozy despite carpet covering the flood — something that kinda grosses me out. (Do you know how much stuff has been spilled in there? I know it’s been cleaned, but… ew.)
We landed a table near the large fireplace, which dominates one side of the room. The old brickwork and iron fireplace crane brought a nice feeling of history to the gas fire pleasantly flickering away.
A table topper alerted us to a couple of winter Wednesday specials, including $4 Buzzards Bay beers and $1 Westport oysters.
I’ve had oysters from all around Rhode Island, but rarely Westport oysters, so we ordered a half-dozen and I ordered a seasonal Shipyard Chocolate Milk Stout.
We dug a little deeper in the menu, and and cold weather outside all-but forced me to warm up with a cup of New England clam chowder ($6).
The oysters came quickly and were wonderfully briny and nicely meaty.
The chowder was creamy and loaded with clams and potatoes, but there was a sweetness to it that I found somewhat off-putting. Barbara enjoyed the chowder.
The stout was delicious, creamy and flavorful with the lactose sugars providing the sweet, smooth body milk stouts are known for.
The menu featured wonderful looking “Farm Favorites” including new England style fish and chips ($17), shepherd’s pie ($13) and a farmhouse meatloaf ($15).
There were also a half-dozen sandwiches and burgers, and a handful of salads which could serve as an appetizer or an entree with the addition of grilled chicken, grilled salmon or marinated beef tips.
There were a handful of seafood and chicken entree options as well, including a “Big Easy” salmon, pan seared over rice pilaf and grilled asparagus tips with a brown sugar bourbon glaze ($24) and baked stuffed jumbo shrimp, served with cranberry-maple chutney and garlic smashed potatoes ($26).
Without a single twinge of guilt, I moved straight on the “Beef & Hearty Fare” section, which included bacon-wrapped filet ($32) and braised pork shank ($25).
Labeled the house specialty, the Bittersweet beef tournedos were my choice — pan roasted beef tenderloin medallions over risotto cakes, topped with roasted asparagus and fresh lobster with a citrus hollandaise sauce ($35).
Barbara, meanwhile, picked the seafood imperial, which includes scallops, Gulf shrimp, and lobster sauteed in a scampi sauce and tossed with fresh julienned vegetables and pasta.
As we waited for the entrees, I checked out the photos on the walls, some of which are historic while other show some of the many weddings hosted on the property.
I had a friend share a funny story about having dinner in the downstairs tavern when a wedding party in the dining room upstairs began dancing on the wooden floors. Suffice to say, it made dinner conversation quite difficult.
When our entrees arrived, my mouth was watering at the lovely presentation of the beef tenderloin, with two healthy chunks of beef flanking a large risotto cake topped with a half-dozen asparagus spears. The whole thing, including several large chunks of lobster meat had a thin drizzle of hollandaise.
The food tasted as good as it looked.
Both pieces of tenderloin were cooked just as I had ordered, and nearly fork tender. Both had a wonderful salty crust on the outside and were seasoned perfectly.
The risotto cake was sticky and savory and I particularly liked the browned crust on the bottom. The asparagus was fresh and tasty.
And then were was the lobster. I’m not a lobster super-fan. I don’t seek out the best lobster rolls and have never had a lobster mac and cheese.
But this lobster was wonderful. It was expertly cooked, tender and sweet and sublime, especially with the hollandaise sauce.
I ate every bite. Of everything.
Barbara’s seafood imperial was similarly impressive with each piece of the seafood puzzle cooked perfectly. She said the scallops were among the best she’s had; the shrimp were briny and fresh and the lobster buttery tender.
The only issue lay in the seasoning, as we both agreed the dish needed a healthy dose of salt to bring all the flavors to the forefront. The lack of seasoning may have also pushed down the garlicky sharpness of the scampi sauce, which was nice, but somewhat muted.
Though we were both stuffed, our dinner was a bit of a celebration for us and we were having such a nice night, we checked out the desserts.
Jessica, our wonderful server, vouched for the brownie deluxe sundae ($5),warm apple crisp ($5) and house specialty Bittersweet Kiss ($8) a warm brownie tart with chocolate ganache over a raspberry coulis and white chocolate sauce, all topped with vanilla bean ice cream.
But we were most drawn to the bread pudding ($5) a sweet bread baked in a vanilla custard and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
It was warm and sweet and tasty and the caramel drizzle added change to the vanilla-on-vanilla pairing. I did wish it had a little more complex flavor, but it was a nice finish to an outstanding meal.
Our bill came to a substantial $103, but I must say it was one of the better meals I’ve had in the past year. We left Jessica a well-deserved 20 percent tip and headed out into the Westport night feeling quite comforted by the whole experience.