Blue Hound: Southern Coastal Cuisine

Matt and Tracy Carroll called the Chapel Hill, N.C., area home for about 20 years, but a few years ago, they found themselves discussing a return to Connecticut.

The Farmington natives, who moved to North Carolina after college, ran a successful 100-seat restaurant called Tupelo's in Hillsborough. The menu was a combination of New Orleans' creole cooking and Southern cuisine, a style that began when Matt apprenticed with a New Orleans chef and evolved during stints in other kitchens and as the executive chef in his own restaurant.

After 10 years of owning Tupelo's, Carroll felt that the restaurant "had run its course" and the couple decided to head home. As much as he enjoyed feeling a part of Hillsborough's small historic community, "I missed the diversity of the landscape, the ocean and being able to fish," he says of Connecticut. "There is something special about this area that we always missed."

Today the couple owns a building in Ivoryton that is both their business and their home. In November, the Carrolls opened the Blue Hound Cookery, named for their beloved 110-pound bloodhound named Farley.

The renovated restaurant occupies the space formerly known as Aggie's, which served breakfast and lunch. The mustard, bright red and navy beadboard walls are the backdrop for framed mirrors, prints, paintings and photographs of Farley and the Carrolls' other dog, Georgia, a bloodhound and Labrador mix. The restaurant seats about 50 customers – 40 in the dining room and 10 in the bar, which is still outfitted with Aggie's twirling diner stools. It's BYOB right now, but Carroll expects to receive a liquor license within a month or so.

As executive chef, Carroll develops the menu and recipes with input from his team: chef Chris Kosky, sous chef Nick Sotiridy and day cook Evan Barrett. The reasonably priced menu reflects Carroll's years in North Carolina. He describes the food as "Southern coastal cuisine" with New Orleans accents and Carroll's own modern touches. "I didn't want to necessarily confine us to New Orleans cuisine. It's coastal with a bit of crazy."

"I try to use fairly familiar ingredients," says Carroll who buys meat from a local butcher, fresh fish and seafood from shoreline sources and desserts from Dagmar's Desserts in Old Saybrook. "My food isn't laced with spices. I try to make it approachable for the everyday diner."

Carroll plans to change the menu twice a year. He is at work now on a new menu "to lighten up the flavors for summer." Among his ideas for spring and summer are Savannah Salmon, a grilled fillet served over fried green tomatoes with corn pimiento cream, and a 10-ounce pork chop with dark coffee barbecue sauce and Hoppin' John.

Certain entrees on the current menu will carry over to the new roster of dishes. Among those signature items are Jambalaya; buttermilk fried chicken with pancetta and white cheddar cream sauce; fried green tomatoes with cucumber mint salad and buttermilk ranch dressing; and blackened Catfish Louisianne with gulf shrimps, mushrooms and lemon butter sauce. Entrees are $13.99 to $21.99.

Starters include salads, soups and appetizers and range in price from $2.50 for a cup of black bean soup to $9.99 for Creole Beef Carpaccio. Carroll offers two kinds of Caesar salad – a traditional mix and a grilled version with smoky romaine leaves. "I didn't know how it would go over, but people love it," he says.

The menu usually includes daily specials. Carroll also is looking forward to the growing season and the start of the Ivoryton Farmers' Market. He plans to create a farmers' market menu based on what the farmers are selling.

>>The Blue Hound Cookery, 107 Main St. in Ivoryton, is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m.; and Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m. Information: 860-767-0260 and www.bluehoundcookery.com.