An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Aug 29, 2013
02:42 PM
The Connecticut Table

A New Farm-to-Table Café for All, Kitchen at Hartford Public Library

A New Farm-to-Table Café for All, Kitchen at Hartford Public Library

Lindsay Vigue Photography (www.lindsayviguephotography.zenfolio.com)

Cupcakes on display at Kitchen at Hartford Public Library.

There’s an intriguing new plot line at the Hartford Public Library, where the latest protagonist among the stacks (or at least adjacent to them) is a farm-to-table café called Kitchen at Hartford Public Library, located in the soaring glass-walled atrium along Main Street.

While it’s a stunning new resource for library patrons—one that embodies how completely Connecticut has returned to a local foods ethos—the café also has a street-side public entrance, making it a daytime discovery for folks who might be connecting with the nearby Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art or other capital city historic and cultural amenities.

Open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, serving breakfast, lunch and pastries made from locally grown and sourced ingredients, Kitchen debuted Wednesday with a media event that featured Gov. Dannel Malloy, state Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Hartford Public Library CEO Matt Poland and the star of the presentation, Cary Wheaton, the executive director of Billings Forge Community Works.

The presence of these “supporting characters” wasn’t occasioned simply by the gourmet fare, but because Kitchen is much more than a café. As a partnership between the library and Billings Forge—a driving force for community participation and empowerment—Kitchen is also a jobs training and placement program dressed in the cloak of a fine dining enterprise. (One of those who spoke Wednesday, offering gratitude, was previous job trainee and current Kitchen employee Shavonne Dawson.)

But the theme here is food—see our related bigger-picture story on Kitchen and the library—and when it comes to dining, Hartford, already blessed with a broad range of great options, suddenly has a polished new café on the 500 block of Main Street.

Here, over morning musings, you can nibble on a homemade cinnamon walnut scone ($3.25) alongside a cup of Omar’s coffee, Harney & Sons tea or an espresso-infused latte or cappuccino—or have a “famous” sticky bun ($3.25), a muffin ($2) or a bacon, egg and cheddar sandwich on a cheddar scallion biscuit ($4).

 For lunch, there’s a handful of salads, the most intriguing of which are Le Blue (farm greens, blue cheese, walnuts, pickled shallots, smoked bacon and buttermilk Ranch dressing) and El Greco (local greens, spiced chickpeas, herbed feta, green olives, grape tomatoes, cucumbers and lemon oregano vinaigrette). Both are $8.50.

A homemade soup of the day is $4, and an individual quiche or frittata—bacon and cheese, say, or spinach, tomato and cheese—is $5.

The sandwich menu includes the Pilgrim (turkey with apple mayo and cheddar, on a ciabatta roll; $8.50) and the Tuscan (white bean hummus, roasted tomatoes and spinach on a caramelized onion focaccia bread; $7.50). A “carving board” option ($8.50) lets guests design their own sandwiches by choosing a meat, cheese, toppings and bread.

 

On the side, there’s fruit salad, seasonal grain salads and seasonal vegetable salads, which are likely to change daily and priced at $4 for eight ounces and $7.50 for 16 ounces.

Anyone not in the mood for a hot beverage can choose from among Hosmer Mountain sodas, lavender lemonade, infused iced teas and bottled water and juices.

As if all of that weren’t exciting enough, the arrival of Kitchen will prove to be a dining and entertaining boon for a library already known for its high level of community engagement. Kitchen will serve as the library’s exclusive caterer, in part thanks to the existence of a “Top Chef” worthy teaching and demonstration kitchen on an upper floor.

As such, Kitchen will offer full-service catering for corporations, nonprofits and event planners, the library said, and in addition to that, café and library customers will have the opportunity to take cooking classes. (Liquor licenses are even in the picture to make the library a unique venue for catered events to rival those of any country club.)

Beyond that, the advent of Kitchen will allow the library’s major annual fundraiser, called One Big Summer Night, to return home the next time it rolls around, next June 12, after it has been held for the last four or five years off-site. Details are still being worked out for the next event, but Kitchen will definitely play a role.

For now, as a way of rediscovering Hartford and seeing how it’s taking “one opportunity at a time to make our city a much greater place,” in the words of Mayor Segarra, put Kitchen on the itinerary. You won’t be disappointed—especially if you’re the type of literary-minded person who will take an Omar’s coffee and a cinnamon scone as license for a Joycean reverie about what might have resulted if one of Hartford’s most famous literary lights, poet Wallace Stevens, composed verses not while walking to his job at an insurance company but during a caffeinated interlude at Kitchen.

Kitchen at Hartford Public Library is located at 500 Main St. and can be reached at 860-724-2168. The library’s website is http://www.hplct.org.

In terms of all of those other great dining options in Hartford, one place to start is our brand new Best of Connecticut 2013 section, which, among other winners, singles out Firebox for its farm-to-table cuisine, Trumbull Kitchen for its gluten-free menu, Jojo’s Coffee Roasting Co., Jeffrey Lizotte of ON20 as best new chef, Tisane as best tearoom, First & Last Tavern, and Dish Bar & Grill for—yes—its dog-friendly dining environment. See Best of Connecticut for more on those and other Hartford dining hotspots—and stay tuned to our website to get in on the voting for our next Readers’ Choice, Best Restaurants 2014.

 

A New Farm-to-Table Café for All, Kitchen at Hartford Public Library

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