East End Eats: Lip-Smacking Pub Grub

Justin Hoke, the new chef at Spring Close restaurant
Justin Hoke, the new chef at Spring Close restaurant, served two of his specialties, New York strip steak au poivre and grilled octopus, on a recent night. Morgan McGivern photos

    If you enjoy good pub grub in a friendly setting, you will like Spring Close restaurant. The portions are big, the pours even bigger.
    The location, once upon a time, was Spring Close House, a rather grand establishment for fine dining in the days of yore. It is a sprawling building with a large and lovely lawn in back. The building’s interior has undergone many transformations, some not so good and still visible. Or as one guest discreetly put it, “the ambience suffers from what came before.” The sleek and mirrored whiteness of the Laundry restaurant’s brief tenure in this spot is thankfully gone. It never suited the bones of the pretty old building. The folks at Spring Close have warmed up the walls with a deep royal blue around the long bar, a sage green leading to the dining room, and an intriguing burnt umber on the dining room walls.
    Upon arrival we decided to have a drink at the bar. This was very fortunate, because otherwise we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to try a slice of truly delicious pizza fresh out of the wood-burning oven. Simple, thin, and crisp with a dark, charred, and smoky-tasting crust, some excellent tomato sauce, and just enough mozzarella, this pizza alone is worth a trip to Spring Close.
    Once we were seated at our table, some piping hot popovers appeared. They were delicious, crisp and buttery on the outside, moist and eggy within. The butter pats wrapped in foil served alongside were almost an insult to these innovative starters.
    We began our meal with the beet and goat cheese salad and wild mushrooms with escargots. When some friends joined us later, we had a chance to try the BBQ crispy pork belly and duck leg confit. The beet and goat cheese salad was excellent, full of big slices of golden and ruby beets, nicely dressed in a very vinegary dressing, a good amount to accent the sweetness of the beets and creaminess of the goat cheese. The wild mushrooms with escargots were also very good. It was an almost soupy or stew-like concoction full of garlic butter and parsley, served with two long slices of baguette that had been grilled in the wood-burning oven. The crispy pork belly was excellent, and quite a massive piece of piggy for an appetizer portion. Let’s admit it, pork belly is a huge food fad right now, but it’s basically just a huge hunk of fat with a little bit of meat, or “streaky lean” as we call it down south.
    For entrees we tried the seared duck breast, the braised short rib pappardelle, chicken pot pie, and a side order of sautéed spinach. The seared duck breast was ordered medium rare but definitely came out on the rare side. Other than that, it was quite good. The best part was the duck leg confit kimchee served with it. Kimchee is a spicy Korean pickled cabbage dish that is fiery hot and full of garlic. The combination of rich, shredded duck leg meat and the tangy slaw was perfect with the duck breast. There was also some butternut squash jam served alongside but it was a bit too sweet for me.
    The braised short rib pappardelle was enjoyed by the guest who ordered it, but I found it very bland. It tasted like stew meat that had been cooked with very little seasoning. The chicken pot pie, however, was another winner. A big square of crisped puff pastry sat atop an excellent filling of all white meat chicken, potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions. The sauce was full of chickeny flavor. The sautéed spinach was also good, made with fresh baby spinach leaves, barely wilted, and studded with a few slivers of sautéed garlic cloves.
    The service was friendly and knowledgeable. Our waitress was nice and had the answers to all of our questions about the menu. We were particularly amused by the busboy. Although the restaurant offers lovely white linen napkins, for some reason he deposited a couple of paper napkins on our table. As two second glasses of wine were delivered, he helpfully offered to pour our dregs into our fresh glasses. Whah?! Uh, okay. He was so jolly and enjoyed being of service, we couldn’t begrudge him for these restaurant no-nos.
    Business on the night of our visit was fairly slow. There was one happy party of eight, and one or two other tables of guests. The size of the room emphasized this emptiness, which in turn caused our attention to be drawn to the decor. In the center of the room there sat some variegated ivy plants, bongos, a pickle crock, a jug, a weird mermaid, and a spindly giraffe sculpture. And some beige mums. Hanging from the ceiling was a wind chime here, a mobile there, and another mobile that looked like a creepy circus. Rather bizarre.
    The prices at Spring Close are moderate. Appetizers and salads are $9 to $15, entrees are $13 to $30. The pub menu offerings are $7 to $20, and pizzas are $11 to $17.
    For dessert we tried the apple bread pudding and creme brulée. Both were very good and we learned that there is a pastry chef on the premises and that Spring Close makes its own ice creams. The bread pudding was dense and full of apple flavor. The caramel sauce and homemade vanilla ice cream were very good. The creme brulée was as it should be, cool, rich, and creamy inside with a crackly sugar crust on top.
    While some of the more expensive menu items we tried failed to impress us, some of the more basic offerings were exceptionally good. The delicious chicken pot pie was a mere $16, the simple and divine pizza only $11. The bar is cozy at Spring Close and you can get a decent glass of wine for $8. This is a friendly restaurant that offers good value and has some delicious items coming out of its wood-burning oven.