In 1759 James Flint did what few people in the Western world could — speak and write in Chinese. As a merchant and diplomat for the British East India Company, this rarefied skill made Flint an obvious choice to initiate trade negotiations with the Qing Dynasty in an attempt to unlock their ports to the British. For the next 100 years the British and Chinese would have violent relations regarding trade, but the first official act of bloodshed might have been the decapitation of the man believed to teach Flint Chinese.
Flint would be jailed for three years by the Qing, yet long after his release it was forbidden for the Chinese to teach the British their 6,000 year old language. As superior technology crushed Qing resistance, the British procured a foothold in the south of China centered around the city of Canton or modern day Guangzhou. With both political and social constraints constricting the use of English — the Chinese viewed the English and their language as barbarous — Chinese Pidgin Language or China Coast Pidgin (CPE) developed. In short, CPE — Cantonese with common English words and phrases mixed in — became the lingua franca of merchants and trade on the South China coast for the latter half of the 18th century and the entirety of the 19th century. One of the words born from this clash of culture — chow-chow or food.
The Chinese are renowned for their eclectic food tradition and while Chow Food & Beverage Co. are firm producers of New American Fare, their restaurant is formidable not just because of the quality of comfort food they produce, but because of the array of options they provide. A long barnyard red two story building houses Chow and while the restaurant is just two minutes off of I-95, located close to the Clinton outlets, the eatery’s decor screams quaint countryside dining. Large wooden beams jut out of the front space forming a cool outdoor patio, with the rustic motif continuing inside. More natural wood lines the bar, the tables themselves, and the lower half of the back wall. It’s a clean look that creates a welcoming atmosphere. Though there are four four-top tables and about six two-top tables to sit at — space which fills up quickly on the weekend — the sylvan charm of the expansive bar is supreme and the place you need to secure.
I love the food at Chow, but it’s the curated beer menu and fine cocktail list that make the place tick. The restaurant is incredibly versatile in that it can be a perfect venue for a Thursday night happy hour, a Tuesday night dinner, or a Saturday night date — it really does work for every type of occasion. Chow isn’t a beer bar per se — but their attention to craft beer is tremendous. A flat screen TV showcases the eight or so brews they have on tap, with a list that focuses on local, independent Connecticut beer. Relic, Counterweight, Beer’d, Hanging Hills, Stubborn Beauty, and Back East are among the CT breweries represented at Chow and they get some pretty rare stuff too. I’m not saying it’s a 1787 Château Margaux, but Back East’s Ice Cream Man is on deck to be served at Chow and this is no easy brew to procure. Your significant other would be decidedly unimpressed with your stumble as you return home, but it’d be worth it to indulge in the beer Chow has to offer.
Thus far the review has been described through fanatical beer lens, but most people identify Chow as a go-to spot for wonderful barbecue and pizza. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, seeing a place that specializes in barbecue AND pizza is a death cross event. Even writing about a restaurant that houses these two cuisines together makes me feel like I’m from fucking Nebraska. Yet somehow, someway, Chow is the exception to the rule as they crush both genres — a hint at their excellent culinary skill. And this expertise is shown through their appetizer menu, which is varied and delicious. Egg rolls with braised short ribs and gruyere, pulled pork tacos with cheddar, mango salsa, and raspberry honey BBQ, and “bruschetta” made with deep fried polenta, pesto, and mozzarella are glimpses into the creativity their kitchen produces. For me it’s their Buffalo Wings — dry rubbed, smoked, and fried — that are superb. It’s arguably the least colorful app on the menu, but executed to perfection. The Burnt-End Croute too, served in a baked puff pastry with a gruyere-bechamel sauce is absurd. I switch-up my orders constantly at Chow due to their awesome variety, but this starter is a constant.
From a barbecue standpoint there are really two entrées to check out if you are heading to Chow for their slow smoked meat. The Trinity is probably the baseline dish to order if you want to see what Chow barbecue is all about. The trifecta of pork, brisket, and chicken provides that classic open fire taste, without compromising any of the juicy composition that great smoked meat exhibits. Their ribs are fantastic too and showcases their outstanding house barbecue sauces. The raspberry honey is tasty, but the pineapple chipotle is special. Get your wings or ribs lathered up in that sauce and all will be right in the world.
While Chow’s barbecue is central to their origin story — they started off as a small BBQ stand in Clinton — it’s their pizza that makes them special. The Clinton eatery is unrivaled on the Shoreline for their imaginative pies. By my count they have a whooping 28 options on the menu and some are, well, a bit wild. They have barbecue derivatives like their Red Delicious — smoked pulled pork / red onion / smoked gouda / cinnamon apples / pineapple chipotle BBQ sauce or their Risk it for the Brisket — mozzarella / smoked cheddar / smoked brisket / cherry peppers / pineapple chipotle BBQ sauce / scallions, yet it’s their WTF that turns heads. Mozzarella / cheddar / mac & cheese / bacon / pulled pork / pineapple chipotle BBQ sauce form this red pie and it’s about as decadent as it sounds. My two personal favorites are the Matthew Peary — gorgonzola / mozzarella / pancetta / fresh pears / honey drizzle. The sharp and salty gorgonzola pair perfectly with the sweet honey and pear, and if you get it right out of the oven, it’s a masterpiece. The other pie to check out has to be their Figgy Stardust — house made fig spread / house smoked gouda / caramelized shallots / prosciutto / gorgonzola. The pie is heaping with prosciutto and the mellow gouda plays well with the salt of the gorgonzola, as the ample fig spread tie the flavors together. Both pies are top-notch.
Chow is the most versatile restaurant on the Connecticut Shoreline. The wide-ranging menu really has something for everyone and the quality of their food is deliciously consistent. Like the clash of culture that birthed it’s name, the restaurant fuses cuisines together for a dining experience that is extensive and unique, yet always desirable.
CATEGORY: FOOD & PIZZA
Strengths: Creativity / BBQ / Variety of Pizza Options / Beer Selection / Rustic Charm
Weaknesses: Their space is beautiful, but not huge. The restaurant can breed waits.
Tips: If you are a local, go for their happy hour specials and quick bite. If you are not from the Shoreline, Chow is a *great* dining option if you shopping at the Clinton outlets.
FEAST: Matthew Peary Pizza & the Burnt End Croute
FROTH: Connecticut Craft Beer, the options are bountiful.
FEAST: 8.5/10 – FROTH: 9/10 – PIZZA: 8/10