Eric D. Lehman is a contributor to Connecticut Food & Wine. He is the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Bridgeport, and is the author of many books about Connecticut, including A History of Connecticut Wine, the Insiders Guide to Connecticut, and the forthcoming History of Connecticut Food. He lives in Hamden with his wife, poet and author Amy Nawrocki, and their two cats.
Just off the verdant square of the Guilford Green, people gather on a fenced patio under green umbrellas, sipping wine and chatting of the good life. They nibble on spiced almonds and Turkish figs, waiting for their main course of cheddar merlot fondue or potato gnocchi. They are enjoying the beauties of a wine bar, one of the few in the state, and undoubtedly one of the best.
The owners, Steve Kaye and Debbie Ballou, met years ago at the International House of Pancakes, as a busboy and waitress. Now grandparents with twenty-five years in the restaurant business, they decided to follow their “true passion,” running a European-style wine bar right here in Connecticut. Steve laughs that since they called it “Ballou’s,” his wife’s maiden name, “now I’m Mr. Ballou.” They are serious about their wine, though, saying “when we first came up with this idea, we spent two years researching.”
Although the delicious and inventive food is a draw, and local musicians play on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, most people come here for the wine. The wine menu at first doesn’t look that impressive, compared to one of the lists at a fine restaurant in New Haven or Greenwich. But then, you realize that all of the wines are available by the glass. All this delicious wine is kept carefully at the proper temperatures, and rotated often. Each one is tried by Steve and Debbie to make sure it measures up to their standards of quality. Of course you can get flights of wine, the best way to find your own tastes and preferences.
Ballou’s features a number of tasty Connecticut wines. Steve says, “Deb and myself felt that local businesses should be supported. We incorporated the CT wines in with the others, and found they sell much better. People try them, and then they start to realize, wow.” They also use food and coffee made here in the state. Debbie herself also hand makes chocolate truffles and some diners stop in just for those sweet delights. And people come back again and again. “We’re constantly changing, bringing in new wines,” says Steve. This means that every visit to Ballou’s offers new opportunities to explore the wonderful world of the grape.
Featured Image Courtesy Ballou’s Wine Bar