Chef-owner Colt Taylor said that more than 60 percent of diners at The Essex are from New York City.
“It’s a destination restaurant,” Taylor said. “It brings that edgy dining experience you find in New York City. You’re not going to know what the menu will be, but you know it’s going to be great.”
Last week, the tasting menu offered an expression of Connecticut in seven courses — starting with a dish of scallop, oyster, clam, native corn and local seaweed, followed by a venison tartare; rohan duck with persimmon and juniper; 9-year-old Holstein; a pawpaw custard.
The Essex opened two years ago after a complete makeover of their Centerbrook location, and in its current form on January 2 of this year — combining an ambitious experimental menu in one dining room, and a more populist menu of Mexican-inspired cooking in another.
“Two years ago, we opened The Essex, but essentially it was a data collection restaurant,” Taylor said. “We tried so many things, themed nights, different menus and after one full year I looked at all the data. Taco night brought in 3.8 times the revenue of anything else. The local market had chosen what they wanted. They wanted the casual restaurant and I ran with it.”
On October 3, 2018, Taylor opened Los Charros on the backside of the building using ingredients and inspiration from his uncle’s farm in Guadalajara.
“While so many people know northern Mexico, there is so much more to it. We wanted to bring a true representation of all the different flavor profiles of Mexico,” Taylor said. “We will not be another Tex-Mex restaurant.”
At Los Charros, the tortillas are made in-house with heirloom corn. The tacos range from ancient Mexican styles to modern-twists like Korean barbecue. Chicken is served with seven different moles and there isn’t just one salsa option, it comes in a flight.
“Los Charros is something I gave to the community around us. This is a super inexpensive, fun thing, we saw you liked it, so we want to give you the best version of what you’re looking for,” Taylor said.
The Essex, in a smaller intimate space provides the “heart and soul” of the building. It’s the reason, Taylor explained, his cooks will drive more than an hour to work.
“In The Essex teaching and creativity come first,” said Taylor, who spent 19 years learning and working in restaurants in New York.
“It’s a true modern American restaurant, an exploratory restaurant. Everything you experienced is house everything across the board,” Taylor said. “It’s always changing, and it’s supposed to. It’s like stepping in to the mind of a chef. For food people, this is the jam. It’s 32 seats, really comfortable chairs, you’re meant to stay.”