4/5 stars, $13 cocktails, $8-12 plates.
Anchor Spa quietly reopened over the summer as a beautifully-renovated space, now owned and operated by Yalie and New York-based restaurateur Karl Franz Williams ’97. While the bar’s “tipples and libations” are still being experimented with, you’ll certainly be treated to some creative offerings that haven’t yet been added to the menu yet.
On Wednesday, Nov. 16th, my friend and I were seated behind the beautiful marble window bar perfect for people-watching along College Street. On the same block as the Owl Shop and Elm City Social, Anchor Spa offers an immediate reprieve from the chaos spilling out onto the street. There were flickering candles on every table, casting a warm glow on the intimate leather booths and the slow jazz exuding from the shadows. It felt like stumbling upon the private library of a well-travelled captain, with shelves of aged books, maps and antiques covering the back wall.
With great foresight, we started with the Yale Beets Harvard — a ruby-red cocktail with brown buttered rum, beets and orange juice poured over one solid cube of ice. The first sip is savory sweet, with the roasted beets providing a warm, earthy depth of flavor with a hint of smoke. The orange juice, brightened with citric acid, sings through after a few moments, and finally, the last notes are mellowed out with a touch of molasses.
Most cocktails that feature elderflower syrup cater to the fruity margarita and mimosa drinkers. But to our pleasant surprise, our second cocktail of gin, elderflower and grapefruit cordial wasn’t cloyingly sweet or overpoweringly perfumed. It was a recently tinkered with recipe that hadn’t been added to the menu yet. I would highly recommend asking the friendly bartender, Todd, if he would oblige to recreate it for you.
Once settled in with our drinks, our server recommended the trio of sliders that was also not yet on the menu, which was perhaps for the best. The sliders bore a rather surprising resemblance to White Castle burgers, with cold, untoasted buns and tepid slices of American-esque yellow cheese. The patties were well-seasoned, but unfortunately the flavor was mostly masked by the clump of gummy, overcarmelized onions pooling over the sides. We heeded our server’s advice to also order a side of parmesan truffle fries, but we found ourselves desperately searching through a mountain of unmelted parmesan cheese flakes. Not a hint of truffle was to be found.
It felt as if Anchor had tried too hard to pander to a bar food classic and fell short compared to the other excellent choices on their menu.
Still hungry, we turned our attention to the small plates offered on the menu, which drew a divide between dishes from the Western and Eastern hemispheres. We found much better fortune with the seafood tacos, with lightly fried white fish nestled in a delightfully savory, arepa-like shell of semolina and cornmeal made in-house. It was a refreshing change from the typical happy hour Baja fish tacos deep fried with an inch of batter and wrapped in a flimsy flour tortilla blanket. Anchor tops its tacos with a sweet and tangy tomato mango salsa, flecked with occasional heat from the diced jalapeños. The bright acidity from the tropical fruit easily accented the freshness of the fish and left us craving more, until we were distracted by the dessert.
After our glasses were whisked away, the beignets arrived as the crowning glory. A wonderful whiff of powdered sugar floated up as the plate of golden brown pillows was set down before us. They were accompanied by a generous side of dark navy jam bubbling with plump blueberries. We abandoned our manners and our forks as we eagerly tore into the pastries with our hands, breaking the craggy crust to reveal a soft and gooey interior. Dragging those warm doughy fritters through the sticky jam allowed us to indulge in playing with our food and licking our fingers afterwards, ending our night on a sweet and satisfying note.
If you’re looking to avoid the loud and long lines at Elm City Social or Ordinary, duck into Anchor Spa for great plates and sublime cocktails.