Hoof's is already a popular restaurant — for good reason
So how exactly does a restaurant that bills itself as serving authentic Italian cuisine get the name Hoof’s?
After a couple of visits there, we were curious about that and asked one of the co-owners, who explained it was a nickname for his father, who has big feet and sometimes used to skip school to go to the track.
The new eatery, which opened in downtown Pawcatuck at the end of September, is run by brothers Nick and Brian Ferraro of Westerly, with help from their family, including their mother and father.
Hoof’s (some signage reads Hoofs) is off to a good start. On weekend nights, the place is always packed and is already a favorite of many locals who gather in the dining room or bar.
The menu is a two-sided sheet of paper, but the gentleman who seated us on our most recent visit explained they are having real menus made, the paper is temporary, and he advised us to make sure to look on both sides.
We started with two appetizers to share — the Eggplant Rollatini ($12) and Two Meatballs ($8). The eggplant dish was exceptional — thinly sliced and perfectly cooked eggplant stuffed with fresh ricotta and mozzarella cheese and drenched with pomodoro sauce. We planned to share, and we did, but honestly, we each could have eaten the whole thing ourselves.
The meatballs were good, too, tasty with Italian seasonings and just the right consistency, firm but not dense. They were served in a bed of red sauce and our waitress, Taylor C. (she mentioned the “C” because she said there are two Taylors working there), generously grated Parmesan over the meatballs.
There are salads on the menu at Hoof’s — Caesar ($11) and another made with arugula, pears, fennel, goat cheese ($12) — but if you enjoy garlic, take the free side salad that comes with entrees. It’s simply chopped iceberg lettuce smothered in the old 95 House dressing.
For those who don’t know, New London’s long-shuttered 95 House restaurant was beloved, and its salad dressing — a creamy garlic — was legendary. I asked a couple employees if I was right and this was 95 House dressing, and they explained it was a house-made creamy garlic. But on the way out, I stopped one of the young owners to ask about the dressing, and he said yes, it was the 95 House recipe that someone passed on to them, but he had no inkling at all of what the 95 House was.
For entrees, over our several visits to Hoof’s, we’ve tried a little of everything, from the Chicken Limon ($21), the Veal Parmigiana ($24), and Pork Chop Calabrese ($24), to the Grilled Ribeye ($30), as well as a couple of specials.
The chicken and veal parmesan are clearly favorites, based on an informal survey of what’s coming out of the kitchen. The portions are sizeable, and you’ll see a lot of customers taking leftovers home. We liked the preparation of both the chicken and the veal, but were unenthusiastic about the pasta served with the dishes. It was overcooked both times we tried it.
The Chicken Limon was flavorful, and we opted for extra vegetables rather than the pasta and were offered a choice of asparagus or spinach, or some of each. It’s nice to find a place that doesn’t skimp on vegetables, especially when a diner forgoes the starch.
My friend who ordered the pork chop was a little disappointed, commenting that it was very thin and dry. Another time, he ordered the Cowboy Steak special, which was pricey ($38) but was cooked rare, just as he ordered it, and was a very generous serving of meat. The rib eye is good-sized, too, not too thick but covering most of the dinner plate.
We’ve also ordered appetizer-sized Calamari ($12) that comes with peppers and a side of marinara, and it was good but would be better if the peppers were fried with the calamari.
There’s an open kitchen at Hoof’s, and diners look straight into the workplace where four, sometimes five cooks and chefs are preparing food. Initially, they didn’t use the wood-fired, brick oven in the kitchen, a leftover from a former pizzeria that occupied the space, but on our recent visits, we watched as chefs put sauté pans on the bricks, and our waitress commented that people were noticing the enhanced flavor from that kind of cooking since Hoof’s fired up the oven.
Many longtime locals know the restaurant’s location as the site of the former Shea’s Office Products store that closed a long time ago and, since then, a pizza place and a bistro. But finally, the property at 59 West Broad St. seems to have hit its stride. The young Ferraro brothers are gracious hosts who greet every customer, or have their father, or an employee named Lou, do the same if they are busy elsewhere.
They have a lot of staff, and everyone, including the owners, pitch in to deliver food, bus tables, and check on customers. The mother of the two owners tends bar on the weekends.
On our most recent visit, our waitress enthusiastically endorsed the desserts, which she told us are all made on the premises, with the exception of the hand-crafted hard ice cream, which comes from Tony D’s Craft Creamery in Niantic.
There’s been a lot of buzz about the association between Hoof’s and Tony D’s, and according to newspaper stories, both brothers worked at the New London restaurant (not the creamery in Niantic) and asked for help for their menu from owner Tony D’Angelo.
But Hoof’s is truly its own place, with its own menu and unique personality. One of the owners told us they know the space is loud and they are working to mitigate the problem by adding sound insulation. And they are working on their menu. But they’ve already got the most important ingredients: good food, a committed workforce, and a loyal following.
59 West Broad St., Pawcatuck
Find them on the Web: At hoofsct.com or on Instagram or Facebook at Hoof’s Restaurant.
Atmosphere: The place is not too big or too small, but it is seemingly always busy and can be quite loud. There’s an open view of the kitchen, including a look at the wood-fired brick oven where some of the cooking is done. The bar is colorful and a popular place for drinkers and diners.
Alcohol: Full-service bar.
Hours: Closed Mondays and open 4 to 9 p.m. every other day except Saturday, when it's open until 10 p.m.
Service: Very good, with an attentive waitstaff and greeters at the door.
Prices: Entrees range from $20 to about $30, with some specials as high a $38.
Credit cards: Yes, they take them.
Handicapped accessibility: Yes, there are no stairs.
What else: This place is new and very busy. They do take reservations for larger parties on the weekends and recommend that drop-ins come before 6 p.m. or after 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. There’s an open kitchen, and it’s clear they use lots of garlic, so you may leave smelling like an Italian grandmother’s kitchen.