Published May 10. 2012 4:00AM
CENTRAL QUESTION: Our region is very lacking in spots to get authentic versions of certain types of cuisine - Cajun, barbecue and Tex-Mex, to name a few. On the other hand, there are probably 100 "local bars" that serve pub food, and most folks who frequent such places are probably loyal to their own neighborhood spot. As such, is it worth it to venture to Groton to try Christopher's Cafe?
WHAT'S IT LIKE? Not only is Christopher's familiar in a local context, but this could be any of a million taverns in the U.S. It's a long, narrow place with the bar parallel to the front of the café. To the left is an open dining area that doubles as a live music/billiard room in the evenings. Décor is largely comprised of beer and liquor neon or posters, advertisements for various Happy Hour specials, and sports memorabilia. There are several flat screens over the bar for maximum games-peering.
ARE THE CHRISTOPHER'S FOLKS NICE? On three different stops, we saw a core group of the same regulars gathered at the same spot at the bar. That said, the bartenders and waitresses treated us with a sort of casual intimacy that made us feel welcome each time. Our glasses were frequently refilled, there were solicitious inquiries about how we liked the food, and any lags in attention were attributed to folksy camaraderie and interchanges with customers - as opposed to apathy.
THE FARE: Pretty standard pub fare - wings to nachos, wraps to cheesesteaks to burgers, steaks and salads - but very tasty and lovingly prepared.
Soup is house-made daily, and a Greek lemon chicken version, with a citrus kiss, hunks of breast meat and a dollop of melted cheese, was very good.
A half-pound Gorgonzola Swiss Burger ($9.50) was competitive with any burger in the region. The softball-ian patty oozed juice and flavor, crumbled Gorgonzola danced arm-in-arm with a quilt of Swiss, two crisp bacon planks provided a smoky crunch, and buttered and lightly toasted Ciabatta bread was a terrific support system.
On Cinco de Mayo, specials included crispy tacos made with the house chili ($6.75). A serving of three arrived topped with shredded cheddar, lettuce and tomato, and the chili was a tartly flavored ground beef recipe that included a nice, creeping spice factor. Was that a hint of actual tomatilla in there? Hmm. Accompanying rice and beans were lime-infused with hints of onion and cilantro. Nice.
My vegetable-enthusiast wife tried a Gorgonzola wrap ($7.50). It came with lots of crisp, chopped romaine, diced tomatoes, a nice sprinkling of the distinctive cheese throughout and finely diced crunchy red peppers (not the big, cold slabs that are usually thrown on a sandwich as a second thought). It was nicely dressed - with a tangy vinaigrette that didn't overwhelm - and the leftovers weren't soggy the next day. A small point: the promised candied walnuts were MIA, but it wasn't a dealbreaker.
IN CONCLUSION: If you're on Poquonnock Road in Groton for any reason, and the idea of a pint and some tasty sustenance sounds intriguing, try Christopher's.