The holiday season is something special at Cava. Every November, the Papahristou family transforms its Southington restaurant into a dazzling winter fantasy land, with grand, glittering seasonal displays of lights, garland, wreaths, tinsel and ornaments.
But manager Tony Papahristou, son of owners Stavros and Eleni, was looking toward the next season, wondering how he could bring that same sparkle and allure to Cava in the warmer months.
The restaurant space "is more geared toward winter, fall, spring, but summer was missing," he says. "So that's why we wanted to bring it in a big way."
In mid-May, Cava debuted a project three years in the making: an opulent rooftop patio atop its building, overlooking West Street with a view of Mount Southington. Climb the steps to the elevated deck and you're met by sleek white structures, black wrought-iron railings, a water/fire fountain, billowy sheer curtains, crystal chandeliers and wicker lounge furniture with decorative pillows. A circular quartz-topped bar in the center of the space offers seating for 20.
Papahristou said the patio's sophisticated open-air design was inspired by his travels to Italy, Greece, and France, as well as Miami and Las Vegas. "The whole time I was designing, I needed to make it feel like you're outside, it's summer, and you're on a vacation," he says. "[If] you step up here and you don't feel like you're on vacation, I did something wrong."
The rooftop was a "major investment," involving the removal and rebuilding of the restaurant's original roof to add extra support beams. With seating for 160, the space now more than doubles the restaurant's capacity, as the downstairs dining rooms accommodate 150.
Cava's Italian-influenced menu now features new dishes primed for sunny days and warm evenings. Plates meant for sharing include antipasti with black truffle burrata and thinly sliced prosciutto ($17); smoked salmon flatbread with goat cheese ($16); mussels with sweet corn, potato and white wine sauce ($14) and short rib arancini with truffle cream and roasted tomato sauce ($13.)
On the lunch menu, new salads and pasta dishes ($12 to $16) join the mix, along with handhelds ($15 and $16) like fish tacos with mango salsa and black beans; a buttermilk fried Buffalo chicken sandwich and Maytag blue cheese; a turkey burger with Vermont cheddar, avocado and bacon; a blackened grouper sandwich and seared NY strip panini.
New dinner entrees ($28 to $33) feature additional seafood options, like a market-price pan-seared Chilean sea bass, Cajun-seared ahi tuna with basil pesto orzo and pastas with sea scallops, lump crab meat and Maine lobster tail.
Rooftop cocktails ($12 to $14) evoke vacation getaways: organic red and white sangrias with peach, mango and mixed berry flavors; a martini with house-infused cucumber vodka and muddled watermelon and twists on a classic mojito and Moscow mule with blackberries and melon-flavored vodka. Batch cocktails on draft include a "luxury margarita" with Don Julio and raspberry liqueur and a tiki-inspired drink with Rum Haven coconut rum, sparkling coconut water, pineapple and cranberry juices.
Other drinks employ super-chilled dry ice for an attention-grabbing presentation, as the liquid bubbles and churns for several minutes. The lavender lemonade, with Belvedere vodka and lavender bitters, and a "wild strawberry tea" with Belvedere Wild Berry vodka, strawberry puree and green tea often turn heads as they're delivered to tables.
Papahristou said guests have been surprised by the magnitude of the project, and some have returned multiple times a week to take in the experience.
"I want them to come and be wowed — from the food, the drinks, the atmosphere," he said. "We want them to escape."
CAVA, 1615 West St., Southington, is open Sunday from noon to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. 860-628-2282, cavact.com.