At Cure, where there's smoke, there's bacon. And brisket. And even drinks. Smoke laces everything from apple pie to cocktail glasses at the 3-month-old restaurant and bar that made its debut in Unionville in August.
The bacon — house-cured, smoked and presented with six different flavors, from bourbon brown sugar to Asian to Frank's Red Hot — is executive chef/owner Greg Marcuson's pride and joy. Guests are having fun with bacon and beer flights, pairing the meats with three generous pours of draft beer.
"We're in America," Marcuson says with a laugh.
Cure takes the place of the former Matthew's Restaurant, which closed in March after the unexpected death of owner Matthew Popkin in February. Having served as executive chef at Cure's predecessor for several years, Marcuson is familiar with the space and relished the opportunity to remake it into his own image when the building became available.
From its beginning stages, Marcuson and his team intended for the new concept to be a contemporary yet comfortable restaurant and watering hole, with a seasonally driven menu designed around the availability of produce from local farms. The interior has been transformed into a rustic-chic space finished in locally sourced pine and cherry woods, with an attractive bar in Matthew's former main dining room and a chalkboard lining a back wall. Black-and-white photos of Unionville line the walls, paying homage to the neighborhood's history.
Cure's latest menu rendition features the flavors of fall, incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and other specialty products from nearly a dozen Connecticut farms and small businesses. Such autumn-themed dishes as kale and pumpkin salad with espelette mustard vinaigrette, warm spaghetti squash with chevre and Kalamata olives, pumpkin ricotta gnocchi and slow-braised beef short rib are "flying out the door," Marcuson says, along with a gingerbread cookie sandwich with salted bourbon caramel and candied bacon, and Bushy Hill Orchard doughnuts with apple pie-flavored ice cream and cranberry sauce.
Other dishes from Cure's opening menu have become more permanent fixtures on the menu, like smoked prime brisket and BBQ pulled pork sliders, a duck pastrami sandwich and a lobster Gruyere grilled cheese — which nearly came off the list at summer's end, Marcuson says, but he thought better of it when he realized how popular it had become. Appetizers ($7 to $24) range from chicken wings in four different sauces, dry-rubbed BBQ shrimp and poutine with pork or vegetable gravy to striped marlin pastrami and a game charcuterie and cheese platter for two. A raw bar features a daily selection of oysters, clams, shrimp cocktail and Pacific sweet red crab.
Although the majority of the entrees ($18 to $26) are meat or seafood-focused — Faroe Island salmon, bone-in pork chop, duck leg stew and grilled swordfish are other top sellers — Marcuson says there's been enough of a demand for vegan options that he's added a dish of seared tofu "scallops" to the main options. Extra-firm tofu, cut into scallop shapes with a ring mold, is seasoned and hard-seared and served with roasted root vegetables, parsnip puree and cranberry sauce. Although "obviously our focus is bacon," Marcuson says, the vegan dish is popular enough that even non-vegetarians order it.
The bar program, with innovative drinks also following seasonal themes, is handled adeptly by manager Nikki Simches and head mixologist Matt Landry. Several cocktails pick up a slight infusion from the bar's "smoke box," which traps emissions from a wood-burning smoke gun. The vapors adhere to cocktail glasses, which "changes the nose and the back palate," Marcuson says, especially with whiskey or bourbon-based drinks. "When you bring the glass up, the nose has changed, the smoke really helps to soften the whiskey. It's subtle, it's unique."
When Cure opened in August, Marcuson said at the time that he'd wanted the restaurant to become a go-to hangout for Unionville and Farmington locals, in addition to becoming a destination for visitors from beyond. The restaurant has attracted that expected loyal crowd of neighborhood regulars, with many more guests from surrounding towns like Burlington, Avon, Simsbury and West Hartford. Ultimately, the restaurant has been "very, very busy, a lot busier than we expected, which is a good thing," Marcuson says. "We had a goal, and we blew right past that goal and we're steadily climbing; we're not slowing down, which is great."
Cure, 55 Mill St., Unionville, is open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. 860-321-7821, curerestaurantct.com.