What's an American gastropub? A place that serves bacon jam.
Ecco, a glass box on top of La Zingara, the well-respected Italian restaurant in Bethel, has the same excellent cooking as its big sister downstairs, but up on the roof, the chefs get creative with simple ingredients and small plates.
Take the bacon jam ($12). (No, give it to me!) Two toasted baguette slices are spread with the "jam" — minced bacon, brown sugar, onions, and a little coffee. A sunny-side-up, local hen's egg was on top of the jam, and when we cut into it, the yolk ran orange-yellow. Curly micro-greens referenced frisée. (But, hey, Ecco, update your menu, it promises a duck egg.)
Ecco is casual, with tile floors, worn wood tables, metal chairs. The bar seats nine. This is a place for sun lovers, and on a summer afternoon, even with the orange sails overhead, it can get hot. At night, with the glass roof retracted and a string of lightbulbs overhead, you can gaze up at the sky.
Our youthful waiter was well-informed about the menu, and he also shook up our cocktails. Grapefruit soda was a tall, refreshing blend of Hendricks gin, fresh grapefruit juice, thyme syrup and lime. Super Summer Switchell is a vodka-amped version of the old-fashioned ginger and apple cider vinegar drink that restored farm workers. It delivered a bracing dose of ginger and ginger liqueur (Ecco spares the apple cider vinegar). Ecco has a selection of craft beers too.
Quinoa salad ($8) was a standout. The chefs at Ecco know how to make grains good. The delicate brown grains had absorbed the vinaigrette, and the salad was punctuated by dabs of pungent, salty feta cheese, just enough to add richness, without overwhelming. Sweet, silky roasted peppers crowned the salad. This was one of the tastiest healthful dishes I've eaten.
Super-tender octopus was roasted in the wood-fired oven after being boiled with a cork, a traditional tenderizing method. The tentacle was served with chopped green olives and baby arugula drizzled with pungent olive oil.
The wood-burning oven fires up pizzas, too – golden-brown crusts with good chewy texture and a crisp bottom. The pizza of the day was topped with sliced homemade meatballs, pools of mozzarella, shavings of Parmesan and julienned strips of fresh basil. Damn good.
For dessert, budino is served in a chilled highball glass filled with rich, chocolate-truffle-like pudding, topped with a cloud of whipped cream, golden drops of olive oil and glistening pink Himalayan sea salt. Our only regret was we'd eaten so much we couldn't finish it, and this chilled dessert doesn't travel well. So we'll travel back.
Ecco, 8 PT Barnum Square, Bethel, is open for lunch, Monday, Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m., and Sunday 4 to 9 p.m. Information: www.eccorooftop.com and 203-744-7500.Copyright © 2015, CT Now