Sure, I might live minutes away, but there’s something about Bristol that always feels like a day trip or vacation. There’s the historic architecture and shops along Hope Street, but veer off the red-white-and-blue-lined 114 onto State and nothing beats the view of a road meeting the water. It’s along this path where you’ll find Statesman, sandwiched between other businesses, but once at the door, this place exudes its own flavor. You could easily be in Boston or Salem – after all, the establishment pays homage to the American taverns of the Revolutionary War that dot towns and cities throughout the East Coast.
With lanterns and a traditional wooden carved tavern sign posted in the doorway, Statesman nails the theme of classic New England. The exterior is brick painted a dark midnight blue with beige window panes, but a bold orange entrance signals this isn’t your great-great-grandparents’ watering hole. The interior is comfortably understated. Mid-tones, appropriately dim lighting, and subtle nods to roots in a seafaring community, all create an atmosphere of inviting elegant dining. Wide open views of the harbor offer stunning vistas of sprawling sunsets over sails, but despite the carefully considered ambience, Statesman is clearly here to impress with its food. Owner and chef Chris Kleyla has accomplished something deceptively difficult with his tavern’s food and decor: an efficient combo of sophisticated and comfortable, to delicious result.
After wrestling to suggest only a few options, our waitress was firm in her recommendation. “Get the fried chicken sandwich.” Judging by their “Best BBQ in Town” notice, it’s apparent that Kleyla specializes in foods with a Southern influence, and the fried chicken and pimento cheese sandwich ($15) is a star item. Pimento cheese is sharp cheddar cheese, with aioli, scallions, and roasted red peppers, spread on the fried chicken for serious diversification with the briny pickles and cabbage slaw. Superb as an entree, the sandwich had a flavorful, rich, crunchy fry to it and was served with golden thick-cut french fries.
The Brussels sprout appetizer ($12) was excellent, standing out from the sprout crowd with a refreshing alternative focus on pickle mustard seed and mint. The crispy tempura cod sandwich ($15) was top-notch with buttery, meaty, and supremely elevated fried fish. We also were there to experience Statesman’s once-a-week taco night. Held each Thursday, they serve up chile braised chicken, pork shoulder, and roasted vegetable tacos ($2.50). Light starters are also provided that fit surprisingly well with the Southern and New England influences that also populate the main menu.
Even that tavern staple, New England clam chowder, has been given a fresh twist with the addition of a grilled baguette. Next time you’re seeking a getaway that’s not far away, head to Statesman.
31 State Street, Bristol • 401-396-5115