photo: fb @SPOyster Fresh Air and Great Food in Mystic Warmer weather in New England…
You’ve probably heard jokes about bland, overcooked English food. Are you hungry for some right now? Sorry, but there’s nothing like that at Friar Tuck’s Tavern. This funky restaurant turns out flavorful creative food from the basement of the Mystic Museum of Art (formerly The Emporium). A cartoon sign at 15 Water Street leads to a round-top basement door and better-than-pub dining. Three flat-screen TVs show silent soccer matches at all hours and 18 draft beers pair with delicious food. The rustic stone and wood interior plus team flags create a “man cave” vibe. Seats are comfortable and our waitress is both enthusiastic and attentive.
We appreciate her descriptions of traditional English menu items such as Tuck’s chips (hand-cut and seasoned fries) and bangers (pork sausage). A Sherwood Scallops appetizer arrives with three perfectly seared sea scallops stacked with cactus salsa, fried lotus root and Tuck’s spicy aioli sauce. Every bite showcases the freshness of the ingredients and we scrape up every morsel.
The Scotch Egg appetizer seems right at home in an English tavern. Its crispy breadcrumb crust wraps around a thin layer of pork sausage and a perfectly poached egg. Served warm and halved, the taste and texture are deeply-satisfying. The baby greens and bourbon gravy are less interesting. Though my English friend Carol expresses a mild disinterest in Scotch Eggs, I suggest she may never have had one that was properly prepared. Reluctantly, she agrees to a “little bite” but doesn’t return the rest of the egg half to me. Smiling, she agrees it is delicious and moist rather than the dry, cold picnic fare of her childhood. Score one for the new restaurant on the block; you have two new converts for these knockout appetizers.
Chicken bites are grilled to order then covered in mild yogurt curry sauce in the Tikka Masala. Served with wild rice and grilled naan bread, it is superior to mushy versions I’ve tasted elsewhere. The naan bread, baguettes, and brioche rolls used throughout the menu come from the fabulous SIFT bakery around the corner. No shortcuts here; each quality ingredient elevates even a working class dish like this one to “crave-worthy” status.
Beer-battered haddock comes in a wire basket lined with faux newsprint. Setting aside hefty Medieval-inspired flatware, I break off my first bite by hand. Moist, mild fish is in a thin crust so crispy that they probably hear my crunchy bite from across the room. The French fry “chips” are hand cut, skin-on, and flavorful. American ketchup, English malt vinegar, and homemade tartar sauce are included. Owner, Gary Hobert, grew up in a restaurant family and eats fish and chips wherever he travels. His version of this classic shoreline dish encompasses everything fried fish should be. Executive chefs, Dave & Chad, pay attention to every detail while producing all meals but especially Gary’s favorite meal. At $15 per plate, this substantial dish reflects Gary’s commitment to providing good value for residents and tourists alike.
Pepper-Crusted Pork Tenderloin is slightly-charred with a fork-tender moist interior. Every bite is bursting with flavor. The bourbon gravy and creamy mashed potatoes sharing the plate are worth every luscious calorie. The mashed potatoes are so good that I’m already planning to return on a chilly day for a bowl of this comfort food. Seasonal vegetables lighten and balance this rich plate. None of the ample portions are overcooked or bland. Is this really English food?
Oh, yeah, and we’re loving it. Ignore the funky décor: the focus is definitely on the food. I desperately want to tackle a sirloin burger with stout beer cheese on a buttery brioche bun but, alas, I can eat no more. King Richard’s mussels or bangers and mash (sausage & potatoes) will be here for another visit. Lancashire Hotspot (lamb stew), Shepherd’s Pie (with ground lamb) and French onion soup will be even more enjoyable in cool weather. On a lighter note, seasonally-flavored pesto is drizzled onto Caprese salad and the Cobb salad includes a divine Scotch egg. Caesar salad becomes a light entrée with added grilled chicken. A children’s menu and weekly specials are available.
Though my dining companion and I scored street parking, reserved tavern parking is right next to the building. Handicapped parking and a ramp welcome everyone but ask about validated parking if you end up in the pay lot around the corner. A brief walk on Water Street away from downtown leads to the public Groton Town dock providing up to four hours of free docking for smaller boats and dinghies. Well-maintained and North of Fort Rachel Marina, the water appeared to be 3-4 feet deep around low tide. Use the address of 37 Water Street to find the dock with your GPS.
Weekday Happy Hours from 3-6 p.m. include drink and food specials. In keeping with British tradition, Wednesday night features group trivia contests from 7-9 p.m. Crab and artichoke dip would be great to share. On Sundays, Game of Thrones fans are invited to join in watching the show while raising a pint. Wouldn’t the evening be even better eating Tuck Wings or King Richard’s Mussels? Creative cocktails and martinis round out the drink menu. A variety of local solo and duo live music acts play on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Sunday brunch is developing and desserts are available but we’re too stuffed to even taste one on this first visit.
Saturday mornings from 10-12 include a full English breakfast menu while live English football (soccer) plays on all three flat-screen TVs. Yes, the sound is ON and cheering is encouraged. Homesick Brits who work at Electric Boat and Pfizer already frequent this home-away-from
home and at least one regularly enjoys a pint with his Saturday eggs over easy, blood sausage, and fried tomatoes. Hey, noon in Connecticut is 6:00 p.m. in England and maybe his body is still on U.K. time. Not a fan of blood sausage? Try baked beans, bangers, or toast with your eggs. You’ll work up an appetite cheering for your team.
Catering for groups of up to 60 is available in the beautifully renovated Mystic Museum of Art directly above Friar Tuck’s. Easy buffet meals with assorted craft beers surrounded by fine art sounds like the beginning of a great event. Call Gary to plan your next event: 860-572-6069.
Satisfy your heartiest appetite on a budget at this hidden restaurant gem. A group of four adults can share an appetizer, order four separate entrees and each have a drink for under $100. What a great price point for locals and tourists alike.
FriarTucksTavern.com / Open Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 a.m., Friday & Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.