On a recent rainy afternoon in downtown Hartford, the lunch crowd was out in full force at Arch Street Tavern, a familiar classic bar and restaurant sitting next to the newly developing Front Street. Men and women in suits warmed up with creamy soups, hearty sandwiches and comfort-food dishes at the cozy, no-frills rustic restaurant with brick walls and vintage signs hanging from exposed rafters.
We started with two unsweetened teas and a club soda and took a minute to browse the menu and specials. Arch Street offers changing daily specials with a soup and quiche of the day, hearty dishes like country fried chicken or burgers and a dessert. We all ordered off the standard menu, a buffalo chicken salad, the mac and cheese and the corned beef sandwich, listed as "best in hartford" on the menu.
The buffalo chicken salad was generous: filled with crispy lettuce, carrots and cucumbers, and three large buffalo tenders on top covered in shredded cheese that was slightly melted onto the tenders. The sauce wasn't overly spicy, and the tenders has just the right amount of crisp. The small side of ranch dressing seemed to be disproportionate to the large salad, and ranch lovers may need to ask for a second.
The Reuben is served with handcut, tender cubed corned beef and swiss on rye; nothing fancy, but it was tasty. The sandwiches come with chips, but can be upgraded to crispy, diner-style fries.
The mac and cheese was the showstopper, leaving those who didn't order it envious. It was served heaping in a large bowl with three cheeses, capatavi pasta and applewood smoked bacon. The cheese was smooth and creamy, and the bacon didn't overpower the dish, serving as an accent.
The buffalo chicken salad and mac and cheese were $10.95, the corned beef $9.95. A French fry upgrade costs $1.75. As for the beverages, each iced tea and the club soda were $2.25. A full meal with fountain beverages for three people came to $43.
The packed restaurant seemed to have cleared out by 1 p.m., the suit crowd heading back the office full from a hearty lunch at a not-so-hearty cost.
Arch Street Tavern, 85 Arch St., Hartford. The kitchen serves from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Information: 860-246-7610 and http://www.archstreettavern.com.