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New Energy in New Hartford


The Connecticut economy has languished for years and the 2008 economic collapse furthered the state’s crisis. But one western Connecticut community has seen a resurgence in its business and residential sectors. New Hartford has seen a steady increase in home sales with real estate prices reaching pre-recession values. And there has been steady growth in commercial construction and business start-ups in recent years. Even when a storefront becomes empty, it is quickly assumed by a new business.

A case in point is the new restaurant, Bridge Street Libations and Temptations—BLT— which recently replaced Chatterley’s restaurant. For decades, a go-to destination in the center of New Hartford, Chatterley’s overblown, flowery décor bespoke 1980s-style comfort and camaraderie, but, like all good things, it ended when owner Paul Samele decided in September 2017 to close the popular eatery.

Residents were buoyed by the realization that the new restaurant stood in the wings, to be operated by a family with deep roots in the town. James Casey and his father, Patrick, immediately took over the location and prophesied that they would be open by Christmas, a dream that was delayed until this spring, when their dream was finally realized.

The long delay in opening Bridge Street Libations and Temptations (BLT) occurred because, like most old buildings, the site at 2 Bridge Street needed more renovations than originally thought. Everywhere the new entrepreneurs looked, something needed to be changed. But customer reviews reveal that the wait was well worthwhile.

“Stopped here for lunch today, exulted Corrie Chambrello on Facebook. “Delicious food. Great atmosphere. Great service.”

Matt Cormier agreed on the same site. “Wasn’t going to order food,” he wrote. “Decided to try the Brussels sprouts and fried oysters! Holy cow. Amazing. Then the chef brought us a sampling of coconut curry gazpacho and house-made popovers. I can’t say enough about the warm welcome and quality food and drinks.”

Such reviews reflect exactly what chef James Casey hoped to achieve. Casey, who says he gets bored easily, changes his menu every week, keeping only the most popular entrees, such as the Brussel sprouts, of which he sold more than 200 orders in just the first few days after opening.

“Everything here is not really familiar, it’s cool,” he said, adding that the bar also offers different beers and brands of spirits. “There’s no Captain Morgan in our bar but rather a delicious Spanish rum,” he said. “I want to get people outside their comfort zone.”

Casey is among a coterie of young business people moving into New Hartford who hope to bring synergy to their enterprises. From the beginning, Casey has stocked the popular brews being crafted just a few miles down Route 44 at Brewery Legitimus. “Chris (Sayer, owner of Brewery Legitimus) was very helpful,” said Casey. “We have been collaborating. New Hartford is a great town if we can get people to stop and look around.”

Casey comes up with plenty of options for omnivores, but he is also aware of the growing coterie of people who do not eat meat. “There is always at least one vegetable appetizer and entrée each week,” he reported, “and, when possible, I make it vegan.” Vegetarian diners need not resign themselves to the ubiquitous pasta primavera that is the fallback of most restaurants. Here the dishes are as imaginative as the chef.

He said he sits down weekly to come up with new dishes, usually based on what is seasonally available. “I guess I would call our cuisine cultural contemporary,” he said. “We make it up as we go along.”

Last week’s menu, for instance, included such items as a watermelon gazpacho soup, buttermilk-friend chicken on Belgian waffles, and a bay scallop ceviche with tomatoes, Barden Farm corn and toasted bread. Entrees that week included a soft-shelled crab club sandwich with roasted pork belly, oven-dried tomatoes, basil lime aioli and Texas toast; baked mac & cheese with smoked portobello mushroom, cauliflower cheese sauce, collard greens and orecchiette; and a Korean barbecue braised short rib with coconut rice, pickled carrot and roasted bok choy.

Casey and his family and friends did virtually all the work needed to sweep away the old and bring in a fresh millennial feel to the premises. “A lot of people pitched in to help,” he said. “Every nail in the walls we put in ourselves.”

The result is “rustic” in his words, but does not exude the rustic vibes of Early American decor. Instead, the dining room has a sleek, modern feel, and the stainless bar a contemporarily chic aura. During warm months visitors can also enjoy the zephyrs while dining al fresco on the patio.

BLT is open Sunday and Monday, 11:30AM - 9PM; Thursday, 11:30AM-9PM, Friday and Saturday, 11:30AM-10PM. It can be reached at 860-238-7444 or visit the link below.