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Brothers Reopen Prospect Café With A New Look, Eclectic Menu

Iconic Prospect Café in West Hartford reopens with an eclectic menu

Before its closing in 2013, West Hartford's Prospect Café had been a fixture in the town for decades, owned by Angelo Faenza, and then his cousin Nick, for 48 years. The restaurant became a popular destination for local politicians and welcomed several generations of families celebrating special occasions.

Two years later, the eatery on the border of the capital city has reopened, thanks to another family: brothers Paul and Jeff Emery. The Windsor natives, who have lived in West Hartford for 10 years, had a shared dream to open a restaurant. When the building became available, they pursued it, signing the lease in January 2015 and introducing Prospect Café's new iteration to diners in late September.

"It was just a great opportunity; we wanted to make the most of it," says Paul. Over several months, they transformed the space, creating distinct dining room and bar areas with exposed brick, glossy new floors, French doors and dark booths with patterned upholstery.

Paul's background is in advertising and design, and Jeff has professional culinary experience. The brothers combined their skills and expertise to relaunch the restaurant, but decided it was important to retain the spirit of the landmark where so many locals have fond memories.

"We didn't initially set out to keep the name, but the more we learned about the history and its prominence in town, we just felt it was important," Paul says. "We really appreciated that. We're proud to be bringing it back to life."

The brothers describe the restaurant as warm, comfortable and inviting, "a come-as-you-are environment" in both the dining room and the bar area. The flow of the space, though, with two distinct rooms, has been a bit of a challenge for the menu design, they say. Dining room guests like multiple courses and entrée plates, and bar guests typically enjoy smaller plates with beers and cocktails.

"The transitions we've been making with the menus have been to appeal to both audiences so that anybody can come here and have a great experience," Paul says.

Early food options featured salads, sandwiches and dishes made with locally sourced produce, breads and pastas, with a variety of sharing plates like deviled eggs, short rib poutine and fried calamari.

But 2016 has brought a change: new executive chef Sean Farrell, who started shortly after the new year, has been tasked with overhauling the menu. Farrell brings a wealth of experience to the kitchen — most recently, he was the executive chef at Firebox, executing the Hartford restaurant's renowned farm-to-table mission for seven years.

For the new offerings, Farrell envisions a collection of about 20 items, including smaller bar plates (Marcona almonds, pickled vegetables, salads, wings); raw oysters and fish in crudo or tartare presentations; and bigger main courses: fettuccine, Southern fried chicken, fresh Arctic char, a grilled skirt steak with salsa verde and roasted bone marrow. Bar bites and appetizers will range from $5 to $12, and entrees will be $15 to $25.

"It's definitely going to evolve," Farrell says. "Good, simple, clean techniques and good ingredients are the keys, I think. It'll be a menu that's going to pair well with the beer and cocktails, in a less formal setting."

At Prospect, Farrell reunites with two other former Firebox colleagues: his sous chef Josh Diaz, and bar manager Ally Elias, whose cocktail lineup features five classics (creative takes on a Manhattan, Jungle Bird, Last Word and a Moscow mule with grapefruit and rosemary) and five seasonals, like a winter caipirinha enhanced with pomegranate, cardamom and clove, and a smoky blood orange margarita with mezcal and chipotle. Twenty-four draft lines, with a diverse selection of craft options, have also driven beer lovers to the restaurant.

Happy hour, on weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m., is popular, with assorted food and drink specials. Diners enjoy live music on weekends, and the brothers also plan to add a Sunday brunch in the coming months, in response to guest demand.

The Emerys say they're proud to have restored the iconic location.

"People who had a lot of family gatherings here are happy it's back," Jeff says. "We've heard a lot of great stories of people's personal experiences here."

Prospect Café, 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford, is open Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Monday through Friday from 4 to 10 p.m. for dinner; and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The bar is open from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday; and 11:30 a.m. to midnight Sunday. 860-519-1048, prospectcafewh.com.

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