Herd, Middletown's new steak and seafood restaurant, can trace its name's genesis more than 2,000 miles out West. David Shapiro, a surgeon and hobby photographer, was attending a photo workshop at a ranch in Kaycee, Wyo., when he was first inspired.
While riding on a feed truck, he looked back to see a group of cattle following the vehicle.
"It was like they were coming to their meal," he says. He photographed the scene, and the image now hangs at the entrance of the eatery in the city's Metro Square shopping center.
Shapiro, his brother Jonathan and two friends — Patrick Ganino and chef Daniel Sergi — are the four owners of Herd, which opened in late March in a space that previously housed Stella d'Oro II and Enzo's Restaurant & Lounge. David Shapiro loved the idea of a "herd" of people joining to eat, drink and spend time together, which helped the group form the restaurant's concept.
The four partners and Middletown natives, with vastly different professional backgrounds, bring unique perspectives to the 100-seat establishment. Jonathan Shapiro is an attorney "who loves great atmosphere and solid business sense," according to the restaurant's website. His brother, who specializes in traumatic critical care surgery at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, is described as a "true aficionado of all things culinary."
Ganino is an artist and designer whose work has graced the interior of dozens of restaurants. At Herd, his talent is on full display, with a canvas wall mural depicting the four owners, spouses and close friends. He also completed a painting derived from Shapiro's Wyoming photo, with the herd of cows walking down Middletown's Main Street as depicted in the 1800s.
And Sergi is the accomplished chef, bringing years of expertise with local and organic ingredients to Herd's kitchen. The Navy veteran worked his way through culinary school and later spent nine years at Basta Trattoria in New Haven, followed by a year at nearby Esca Restaurant & Wine Bar.
Herd became more of a reality after the partners went to dinner one night, "sat down and just started vibing and going over ideas," Ganino says.
"Dave's energy is always pretty insane, so it fueled the fire. It was from there that [we said], 'You know what, why are we not doing it?' At that point, we started getting more serious about it. It just flowed. We worked really well together."
Though Sergi says Italian cooking is his forte, the Herd team decided to steer away from that cuisine, as it's already so popular in the city. Middletown also has a lot of specialty food, says David Shapiro, but the partners felt the area needed a good steak and fish house, and decided to focus the menu on upscale meat and seafood entrees ($24 to $28).
Guests have gravitated to steak dishes like filet mignon with cabernet-horseradish emulsion and Irish champs potatoes; coffee-rubbed N.Y. strip steak with aji amarillo sauce; and a 14-ounce, market-priced rib-eye. Meals from the sea include sumac-crusted seared ahi tuna with balsamic-macerated strawberries and raspberries, with a side of charred green chickpeas; day boat scallops in a roasted organic grape tomato sauce; salmon with a mustard and caper sauce made with Black Hog beer; and wild Alaskan halibut with pan-roasted cremini mushrooms.
Main plates also include two chicken dishes — a free-range sauteed breast and a slow-roasted half Herd bird — and a vegetarian Aubergine On Stage: marinated grilled eggplant slices rolled around ricotta and roasted heirloom grape tomatoes, then placed on top of polenta.
Smaller plates ($9 to $14) reflect Asian influence, such as five-spice calamari with sesame seeds, cilantro and lime zest with three flavored aiolis; meatball lollipops with ginger, water chestnuts and a Valencia orange glaze; and marinated beef satay with tamarind aioli and green onion. The maple Sriracha-glazed pork Herd belly with carrot puree is a best-seller, as is crostini with charred Brussels sprouts, ricotta, toasted pine nuts and seasonal berries.
Desserts ($6 to $8) feature a s'mores brownie with bruleed marshmallow and chocolate liqueur, along with a rotating selection of infused ice creams in distinctive flavors like Sriracha, coconut chai tea and lemongrass sumac.
"I wanted to get as much high-quality meat, fish, produce [and ingredients] that we could, without pricing ourselves out of the demographic," Sergi says, adding that he plans to work with several local farms during the upcoming growing season.
The partners celebrated Herd's official grand opening on May 5, and say they're happy with the early feedback and response. And though three of them are juggling other full-time jobs, "someone is always here," says Jonathan Shapiro. "We're engaged owners, and we will always be engaged owners because we care."
Herd, 200 Main St., Middletown, is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. Closed Tuesday. 860-346-4373, herdonmain.com.