Grass & Bone, Mystic

Housed in an ex-doughnut shop in downtown Mystic, Grass & Bone is heaven for people who like their food really fast and really, really fine. The single room boasts oversized windows, midnight blue walls traced with a gold filigree of wheat, and the menu on an immense whiteboard. Dining here is the essence of casual. You order at the counter, then retreat to butcher-block tables to wait.

While you do, you might find your eye wandering to a glassed-in meat hanger, where sirloins and pork shoulders have been dry-aging for six months and up, and sport blooms of mold. Don’t worry. Extreme-aged meats aren’t for everyone, and the meat you’ll be served here is aged a mere three weeks.

Grass & Bone serves as a butcher shop both for walk-in customers and for Engine Room and Oyster Club, the other two Mystic restaurants whose principal owner is Dan Meiser.

“This is our working butchery,” Meiser says. “The food we serve here is really just the sauce.”

Well, what a sauce it is! The format may be casual, but this is food as delicious as you’ll get anywhere in Connecticut. The value astonishes. How about a carnitas taco, the meat put on a smoking-hot plancha to give it a slight crispy crust, then dressed with salsa verde, pickled onions, and cilantro, for $2? And to go with it, a 40-ounce pitcher of Negro Modelo... for $8?

I could have eaten five of those tacos, had my pitcher of beer, and left happy. But the menu offers too much else that’s tempting. A thick hunk of rotisserie prime rib in a horseradish-inflected reduction, with butter-soaked mashed potatoes. House-made spaghetti and meatballs, the best I’d had in a very long time.

Everything is conspicuously fresh, and the preparations simple, like a brilliant green side of kale, sautéed with oil and garlic. The ingredients stand forth. When Team Meiser does farm to table, they don’t just talk the talk. Half the produce used in their restaurants comes from Stone Acres, their 63-acre farm in Stonington. The menu teems with local products. Beer from Fox Farm Brewery in Salem. Beef from North Stonington’s Beriah Lewis Farm. Pasture-raised pork from Wild Harmony, just over in Rhode Island. Cornbread out of cornmeal from the Davis Family Farm in Pawcatuck. Cheese from Mystic Cheese Co.

Both lunch and dinner menus feature sandwiches offering an intensity of taste that leaves you shaking your head. We loved a grilled wrap containing sliced rotisserie chicken mingled with golden raisins, red onions, celery and strongly aromatic curry, bedded with greens from the farm. A Philly-style hoagie offered shaved strip steak with caramelized onions and a Swiss cheese sauce, all suffused with a roasted garlic aioli.

A Reuben consisted of housemade pastrami brined and smoked, then heaped with sauerkraut (also homemade), on thick-cut rye bread. That bread is made with hand-milled Connecticut grains by Farm to Hearth Bakery in Haddam, and the kitchen griddles it in a mixture of butter and beef fat, making for a dripping and indecently good mess of a sandwich.

Although Grass & Bone is a butcher shop, the vegetarian will be mollified by such offerings as a sesame-roasted oyster mushroom and kimchi sandwich, or an ear of corn, blackened on the grill and served with tomatillo sauce, sour cream and translucently thin-sliced watermelon (“It’s corn porn!” our vegetarian friend said in delight).

Meanwhile, on the meat side, the hits just keep rolling. A thick, perfectly marbled ribeye steak. Beef tongue tacos. Chicken served with potatoes drenched in a rosemary-blue-cheese butter. And here comes dessert — a bone-marrow pot de crème, made with smoked chocolate. Holy cow, Batman!

Grass & Bone is flexibly priced; you can spend $13 on a sandwich or $30 on a steak. Whatever you spend, it will be worth it. The contrast — the mismatch, really — between the restaurant’s casual format and opulent food is almost bizarre. It’s like turning on your AM radio in the car and expecting a pop tune, only to have Wagner come booming out, in full quadrophonic magnificence.

You have to think that half the people who walk in have no idea what’s about to hit them. As for regular customers, they must have trouble staying away. Food this good shouldn’t be this fast, or this affordable. Right?

24 E. Main St., Mystic ■ 860 245 4814 ■

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