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Experienced Restaurateur Assembling New Dishes, Atmosphere At Foundry Kitchen And Tavern

Photo: John Voket

Chris Bruno stands in the newly renovated tavern room at his Foundry Kitchen and Tavern located in the former Stone River Grille in Sandy Hook Center. The experienced chef, restaurateur, and consultant has been cooking since age 16, and has completely remade the landmark eatery with new interior designs, menu, and plans for a charcuterie on the second floor opening in August.

It’s one thing for a restaurant operator to assemble an array of mouth-watering entrees, soups, salads, appetizers, and desserts, but Foundry Kitchen and Tavern owner Christopher Bruno has taken his tasks far beyond the former Stone River Grille’s kitchen walls. He has been involved in every facet of the restaurant’s physical redesign as well.

From the deconstruction process that has left the interior sparse and rustic, but at the same time welcoming, to a number of tables and serving surfaces that he and staff members have built or reclaimed, Mr Bruno’s experienced touch can be seen at every turn. He also replaced the drafty bay windows with replica Anderson custom windows reminiscent of those in the original, historic building at 1 Glen Road in Sandy Hook — although the current windows are removable to create an open air feel in the tavern area during warmer weather.

“We’re reusing and recycling a lot of materials, including all the original 1857 general store countertops, furniture mostly acquired at antique stores throughout the region, and most of the tables, which were built from scratch out of old wooden wine cases by my manager Courtney O’Donnell, Matt Ortiz, and Miguel Tacuri,” Mr Bruno said while taking a brief break as he prepared for the Foundry’s soft opening May 1.

Despite the creature comforts, ultimately he knows the Foundry will succeed on the strengths of its concise but diverse menu, wine and beverage offerings, and the top-flight quality and commitment of his staff, some who have been with him for more than a decade.

 

Starting Young

At age 15, Mr Bruno went to work as a dishwasher at Chuck’s Steakhouse in Danbury, but it wasn’t long before he became the restaurant’s youngest line cook at age 16. From there he was off to the Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts for his formal training.

Upon graduation he honed his cooking and restaurant management skills at L’Europe in Vista, N.Y., Scrimshaw’s in Ridgefield, before spending 20 years running his own show at Fiddler’s and Chris’ American Restaurant in Brookfield.

“All I ever really wanted to do was cook,” he said.

While he was engaged in his own eatery, and after selling the business in 2010, Mr Bruno consulted with or helped open another 15 restaurants throughout the Northeast and Canada. But one day when he was driving through Sandy Hook, he saw the site of what would become his latest endeavor and “fell in love with it.”

Late last year, when he heard the property was available, he began working with Newtown resident and Pyramid Restaurant Group principal Steve Matsis to acquire and improve the former Stone River Grille for his next project. The partnership and potential was immediately embraced by Mr Matsis.

“Chris is going to be a real treat for the community,” the restaurant broker said. “What he’s done with the place, and the menu he’s created will be like nothing Newtown has seen. And maybe unlike some of the previous tenants, he is well-funded so guests will experience consistency no matter what time of year they visit.”

Mr Bruno is also handling the opening of Foundry Kitchen and Tavern differently, in that he is initially only opening the restaurant and tavern’s first floor, while he and building owner Michael Porco complete a permanent roof over most of the rear exterior deck overlooking the Pootatuck River. Plans to open the patio area will be firmed up by early summer, he said.

“We’ll concentrate on the patio during prime season,” he said.

The new restaurant owner is also going to wait until at least August to open the completely renovated upstairs Charcuterie, which will offer artisan cheeses, Italian meats, chocolates and other desserts, which will have little or no dependence on the first floor kitchen.

Previous patrons will also notice the biggest difference immediately because Mr Bruno has flipped the ground floor interior, turning the former bar into a small dining room with about two dozen seats, and converting the former dining area into the tavern room with seating for about 40.

He plans to continue making areas of the Foundry available for private parties, but doesn’t anticipate handling much, if any, private catering until the fall or early winter.

 

Delectable, Affordable Cuisine

Refocusing on the cuisine, Mr Bruno said, “As a chef, it’s always about the food.” His progressive American menu will focus on beef, seafood, and other tavern specialties. His meats will include only the highest quality certified Angus beef and pork; all pasta will be handcrafted in-house daily, and he is already building relationships with local farms to offer fresh and local veggies, fruits, and other ingredients wherever possible.

As a result, his menu will change with the seasons.

“I like to cook really fresh and clean, with minimal ingredients that really let the best flavors come through,” he said.

The grand opening and spring menu co-designed by Executive Chef Corey Seigel includes appetizers like a crawfish cake with apple fennel, pickled Fresno peppers and a chulula honey remoulade; duck paté; pretzel crusted tuna; and octopus in a white bean salad dusted with prosciutto. Apps range from $8 to $14.

Salads, available for $5 to $12, include the Foundry Wedge with bacon and bleu cheese; a Middle Eastern salad with feta, gaeta olives, hummus, tabouli, and a lemon mint vinaigrette; and a watermelon and feta salad with arugula, sunflower seeds, shaved fennel, and a ximenez vinegar dressing. Add chicken, salmon, shrimp, or steak to any salad as an extra, if desired.

Daily specials will complement the main menu, which features vegetarian chili with tequila, beans, onions, carrots, chipotle, cumin, and cilantro. Or try the grass-fed organic New York strip with horseradish mashed potatoes.

Among other main menu offerings are fish tacos with smoked jalapeno salsa and yucca fries, as well as a seared branzino with fennel, pomegranate seeds, wheat berries, eggplant, and tahini honey. Entrees run from $13 for the chili, to $28 for the New York strip. Lunch specials, burgers, and sandwiches will be available for midday dining, and a tavern menu including wigs and hummus will be available until closing.

A selection of wines from Stonecap, Round Hill, Earth Organic, Sanford and Kendall Jackson and many more are being served, along with more than a dozen bottled beers and eight on draft. Mr Bruno is also planning to offer eventual piano and light live music as entertainment.

Go to foundrykitchenandtavern.com to learn more, or call 203-491-2030 for reservations and daily specials.

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