Published January 06. 2011 4:00AM Updated February 28. 2012 1:52PM
The original Me & Ma's was a tiny breakfast/lunch bistro on New London's Pequot Avenue, next door to Fred's Shanty and equally susceptible to the seasonal clientele mentality.
Having earned a solid fan base through super friendly service and absolutely fresh and wonderfully prepared soups and sandwiches, the Me & Ma's folks took a deep, speculative breath in this quicksand economy, put faith in their work, and moved their operation into a lovely, bigger, year-round, two-room spot on Bank Street that used to house the Java Lounge, Steak Out and Gianni's Italian Grill.
It's an attractive, comfortable place, and you'd feel equally at home in a suit or surfer shorts and a T-shirt. The main dining room features semi-private booths and tables; the pub has a large bar, two flat-screen televisions, and plenty of seating, including two window-front spots from which to observe the eclecticism of Bank Street foot traffic. The décor is all dark wood and mellow lighting.
Most important, Me & Ma's is open for dinner now with an expanded menu and fresh seafood specials, clever bar-snack options and a liquor license, as well as the same excellent salads/soups/grinders menu that formed the structure of the original.
Two things to memorize.
First, this is very much a family operation with core cooking and restaurant skills, and with other family business interests that include a commercial fishing boat. That means, second, that the nightly fish specials are something to trust and anticipate. Indeed, the printed menu includes very little seafood because Me & Ma's can't predict what will come fresh off the boat on any given day - and as such the chalkboard specials feature the latest catch.
Speaking of which, at the far end of the main dining room is a small seafood market where you can buy and take home fresh-caught wares from the family boat. Good to know.
We were mightily impressed on some recent visits as we two-stepped across the various menus.
Tomato, basil and mozzarella skewers ($8) comprised a generous and wonderful "Caprese on a stick," according to my wife. Chunks of chilled tomato and cheese impaled on flowers-bedecked spears, topped with ribbons of chiffonade basic and drizzled with a tangy balsamic reduction. Plenty for a party of four.
Grilled veggie sliders ($7) were three tiny sammies: stacks of zucchini and yellow squash - briskly seasoned and perfectly cooked with melted mozz on fresh rolls, and accompanied with lovely hand-carved steak fries.
From the "bar bites" segment, fried cheeseburger raviolis (six for $6) were great fun: a puree of, well, cheeseburgers, tamped into crisply fried ravioli shells and served with a designer version of the ketchup-mustard standard. I could eat a thousand of them.
Ma's signature sandwich options include two killer paninis, an Italian and a veggie. I wept consumed the former ($10), making hog-snort noises as I ate and it dwindled to nothingness. There were all the requisite meats in generous supply - genoa, capicola and pepperoni - with provolone and a sorcerer's formula of hot banana peppers and roasted red peppers. The focaccia bread was a lovely thing, and the entire construct was pressed to a precise temperature and texture.
But ... once more with the fresh fish thing. A few nights ago, I had an entrée special of grilled swordfish ($15.95) that was just amazing. An inch-thick, football-sized hunk of fish, delicately nuanced by lemon and butter and criss-crossed with grill marks, was expertly cooked and, clearly, had been swimming in the Atlantic about four hours previously.
A choice of potato and fresh grilled vegetables come with the fish, and a baked potato and the squash/pepper medley sang lovely background vocals to the star of the show.
Me & Ma's is an all-star addition to the New London restaurant scene.