For the last 30 years, settling in at an Atticus Bookstore/Cafe table or at the counter with a great read, a script or a thesis has been de rigeur for any number of academic Elm City denizens, whether they’re the next big thing (like you) or the already arrived like August Wilson, Athol Fugard or Parker Posey.
In the old days when the Atticus manager had no food knowledge it would be easy to concentrate on the words in front of you and not notice the somewhat forgettable food. But today you’ll be hard put to get past the first paragraph before focusing far more attention on your plate.
General manager and chef Ben Gaffney has only been on the scene for the last two years and boy what a difference he has made, attested to by his Iron Chef Elm City 2012 win in April.
Gaffney got his start in Glastonbury in high school working for his dad, the chef at the Blacksmith Tavern. After attending UConn and the Culinary Institute of America, Gaffney headed south to New Orleans to be Emeril Lagasse’s pastry chef, eventually opening Lagasse’s Miami restaurant in 2003. Gaffney married a diplomat and with their two children traveled to the Phillipines, Southeast Asia and Africa. Returning to Connecticut for a family visit, Gaffney connected to the job at Atticus.
Under Gaffney’s skilled hand the menu has grown so much that people now come for the specials, although long-time favorites like roast chicken with crispy macaroni and cheese, and chicken pot pie are still hot items, even if the roasted salmon over quinoa tabouli has surpassed the pot pie in popularity. Although the food seems to be contemporary American flecked with a Creole bent, you can detect influences from Gaffney’s years abroad in an item like the tabouli, a recipe Gaffney learned while he was in Africa.
Those who still want to become the next big thing – or maybe already are – will find a home at Atticus unbothered. Everybody else is too busy paying attention to their plates to notice you.
Restaurant Website: http://atticusbookstorecafe.com//index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1
• The Detes: 1082 Chapel St. New Haven • 203-776-4040 • Open seven days, generally 7am to 9pm. Sunday brunch will launched in August.
• Price Range: Salads, Sandwiches, Entrees $9-12 • Breakfast $5-7 • Scones $2.75
• Style of Food: Contemporary American with international inputs
• Most Popular Dishes: Roast chicken with crisp macaroni and cheese, roasted salmon over quinoa tabouli
• Cafe food focus: Scones, yum! Oh right, and the muffins too, yum!
• Cool celebrity factor: Famous people eat here because they don’t get bothered
• What’s surprising about your restaurant? Chabaso bread was started to provide bread to the cafe. It is now the $36 million giant and the cafe is the little brother.