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Tuesday, November 19 Living

Jane Stern: Why CT diners are loyal to Jim Barbarie’s

I have a deep love for single-owner restaurants. In today’s crazy quilt of national food chains, franchises on every block, and sprawling fast-food empires, it would be easy to eat your whole life and never meet the man or woman who started the place.

Ronald McDonald, Colonel Saunders, Wendy and Papa Gino are now joined by real-life TV celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey or Mario Batali. They all vie for space in the high-stakes recognition name game. Do people really believe Michael Jordan or Wolfgang Puck is in the kitchen?

This is why I like to patronize both the original Jim Barbarie’s and Jim Barbarie’s Black Angus Grill. Unlike Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, the Barbarie family actually exists. Walk in the door and there they are.

I do not want to ignore the fact that a few months ago something awful happened at the Black Angus Grill. A patron got ill from something they ate and the health department shut the place down temporarily.

I was curious if this incident might have been the kiss of death for the restaurant, so I went in to see for myself. I went to the Black Angus Grill for a weekday lunch and was delighted to see that not only was it not a ghost town, but I could hardly find an empty table.

The truth is that the nasty germs that haunt restaurants are ubiquitous. They are alive and well on all cruise ships, salad bars, buffets and pretty much anywhere that people and food come in contact. They are called noroviruses and seemingly impervious to everything.

Last year I went on an eight-day ocean crossing on the super-luxe Queen Mary II. Standing beside the grand stairwell that led to the formal dining room was a tuxedoed crewman holding a big bottle of Purell. This is now a common sight on most ships.

Feeling pretty sure I would live to see another day if I ate at the reopened Black Angus Grill, I took a seat and was handed three different menus by the server. One menu had daily specials, another the whole array of everything available, and an abbreviated short menu of speedy lunch choices.

Who can decide when you are handed three menus? Certainly not I, and so I asked for a bit of this and a bit of that, hoping my waiter would not think I had gustatory ADHD.

Barbarie's Black Angus Grill

5 Eagle Road, Danbury

203-826-7406

I started with an expensive ($20.79) crab cake. For that price it better be immense and filled with fresh-picked crabmeat and not bread crumbs. It was wonderful, maybe not in the pantheon of the crab cakes found on the Maryland shore, but a sturdy pillow of fresh seafood that had not been drowned in Old Bay seasoning.

As a Black Angus is a steer and not a fish, it may seem odd that really good steak houses always have really good seafood. I zig zagged my way through all three menus. Oh, how I wanted the 45-ounce Tomahawk steak for two, a gargantuan ribeye that needs a platter not a plate. It was just too big and too expensive for me to get, but if I dined here again (with a hungry friend and a deep wallet) that would be my choice.

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I went the opposite direction and ordered the tiniest steak on the menu: an 8-ounce filet mignon wrapped in bacon. When the server asked how I liked it cooked I took a deep breath, and said “medium rare, but more rare then medium.” Usually my requests are ignored, but when I cut into the filet it was exactly as I hoped it would be. I have never eaten a meal at any of the two Barbarie restaurant where the servers are not on the ball. It is a pleasure to be heard.

I wanted a salad: a chopped salad, filled with of cucumbers, peppers, carrots and onions in a delicious gorgonzola dressing. I wanted Kentucky shrimp wrapped in bacon and slathered with a boozy bourbon sauce. I wanted the American lamb shank with cabernet sauce and fingerling potatoes. But here is what I really, really, really wanted but felt too silly to get: side dishes. Steak houses always have the best sides, and here I wanted all of them. I love creamed spinach, creamed corn, broccoli with garlic and oil, onion “strings” not rings, baked sweet potato, mac and cheese, and roast fingerling potatoes. I am not a vegetarian, but I could easily be converted to one here.

One other word to mention about the Black Angus Grill is their way with potatoes. I ordered the pork tenderloin in a mushroom brandy sauce and it was fine, actually better then fine, it was delicious, but the mashed potatoes that came with it were the star of the show. They were golden in color (Yukon Golds?) but they were perfectly whipped and presented in a neat mound so pretty that I found myself eating a bite of potato between a bite of everything else.

My only negative comment (and believe me it is very minor) is that it seems that half the dishes on the menu are wrapped with bacon. I love bacon, but the strong taste can be a distraction for many meats, seafoods and even vegetables. I asked for no bacon on my filet mignon and that is just the way it arrived: no problem at all. Just tell them the way you want it.

I am so glad the Black Angus Grill is back in business and wish them well. One day I will order a Tomahawk Steak along with every side dish on the menu. I will then daintily walk to my car and explode.

Jane Stern co-authored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series.

Jane Stern|Columnist

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