A twist on a taco

A twist on a taco (Staff photo / May 8, 2012)

Tools Bar and Grill

136 Main St. New Britain, (860) 505-7226, toolsbarandgrill.com

See the Tools Bar and Grill Business Page on CT.com Places


New Britain has that hands-on manufacturing history and its own gritty charm. There appears to be a critical mass of goodness happening in downtown these days.

I say that in part because of a recent lunch at Tools Bar and Grill, which is next to Hole in the Wall Theater, the city's thriving and quirky community theater, and across the street from Trinity-On-Main, a warm performance space that has been hosting surprising concerts recently.

Tools is housed in a soulful space, with old stamped-tin ceilings, lots of little nooks, with unusual art, cool Tiffany-ish light fixtures and a cozy stage for live jazz and other performances. There was some sweet hard-bop playing on the stereo when I dropped in last week. One room has a creative hand-tool display to honor New Britain's "Hardware City" nickname.

Industrial production may be the theme at Tools, but there's nothing cookie-cutter or assembly-line-like about this place. You can get Zywiec on tap; so that establishes the bar's Polish street-cred right there. But the food goes in a slightly different direction. The menu offers a mix of Cajun and southern-tinged items, pub fare, American comfort food and workmanlike burgers.

Vegetarians will be happy to note that Tools has more than a couple of actual vegetable sides. There are brussel sprouts, braised collard greens, garlic green beans, cauliflower gratin, baked beans and potatoes fried, mashed, baked and made into salad. You could actually cobble together a respectable southern-style vegetable plate from all that.

Keeping with the below-the-Mason-Dixon-Line vibe, there's a whole section of items from the smoker — smoked turkey leg, chicken, beef brisket and ribs.

I had New Orleans on my mind, I guess, so I opted for the fried oyster po'boy. My po'boy might not have been as sloppy and loaded down as the kind you'll find in the French Quarter, but it was good. And the kitchen at Tools doesn't shy away from garlic — always a good sign — with it showing up prominently in the crisp green beans and also adding sweeter and deeper notes in the braised collards.

A special "taco" of blackened swordfish was more of a creative flourish on the taco. The blackened swordfish steak was nicely cooked — juicy, with a dry and slightly spicy exterior. It was served on a large, slightly grilled flat tortilla.

Sinching Tools into the mix makes New Britain that much more enticing. And I ask you this: how many places are there where you can get a Zywiec on tap and also catch live jazz and eat Cajun food?

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