Polynesian ‘beach deck’ launching in South Norwalk
As the proprietors of Cantiki Taco Deck mulled their new concept in advance of opening in South Norwalk, they decided lunch dishes would be served in lidded containers, allowing diners to grab their food on the fly if any work interceded in their lunch break.
For his part, operations manager Tom Ammerman is confident they’ll be back before long — perhaps even later that day to unwind “on the deck” in his words, in a venue designed to mirror a beach-side tiki lounge.
Cantiki Taco Deck scheduled its opening for Thursday in advance of an Oct. 10 grand opening at 80 Washington St. in South Norwalk, with Mayor Harry Rilling among next week’s guests.
Cantiki takes over the former Johnny Utah’s SoNo restaurant, which was raided last winter on suspicion of serving alcohol to college students below the legal drinking age. In place of Johnny Utah’s mechanical bull-riding ring, picnic tables have been positioned under thatched umbrellas, with other beach-life memorabilia like surfboards festooning the walls and a happy hour lounge positioned at the windows fronting Washington Street.
“We wanted something fun catering to adults who wanted to go out and enjoy themselves without doing the club scene,” Ammerman said. “We want to direct their attention to the food and the quality of the cocktails, and create a party environment without creating a nightclub. ... It’s going to be a lively place where the focus is going to be on the people you are with — not on a DJ.”
Both Cantiki and the newly opened Bourbon Raw Kentucky Kitchen & Raw Bar next door are run by Ammerman and Todd Kosakowski, who has been involved in a number of restaurants in the region including the Black Bear Saloon at 80 Washington St. prior to Johnny Utah’s arrival; The Sign of the Whale in Stamford; and Wahlburgers, which opened a Trumbull restaurant earlier this year.
Ammerman hopes the Cantiki concept can be expanded to other locales, with the Bourbon Raw brand having been exported to Connecticut from a flagship restaurant in Louisville, Ky. Bourbon Raw features rotating menus with main dishes ranging between $19 and $35 — this week’s includes shrimp and grits, pan-roasted pork chops and lobster risotto — along with some 150 bourbon labels and nearly 20 beers on tap.
“The building’s great — the Black Bear was very successful here for a long time, and Shenanigans before that,” Ammerman said. “Tying in the history and the culture of bourbon, and what Kentucky is to bourbon, with the history and culture of our shellfish here in Norwalk with a raw bar — bourbon and raw oysters really do go together; there’s a ... connection between the two and it gives us a chance to highlight that.”
Under head chef Walter Luis Estrada, Cantiki will serve up an affordable menu influenced by both Polynesian and Latin cuisines, to include tacos with spicy shrimp, chicken, pulled pork and tuna; rice bowls and poke made from raw seafood; and varied finger foods that can be sampled as appetizers or combined in a $38 platter serving four.
Ammerman said patrons will be able to grab a quick lunch in 20 minutes, with a “beach brunch” to be featured on Sundays.
Both venues can be reserved, for birthdays, corporate events or bachelorette parties to name a few. The Cantiki space can accommodate as many as 200 people, with information online at www.cantikisono.com or by calling 203-939-1569.
“I have inquiries — there are so many businesses around here and they love to ‘stay local,’” said Samantha Gordon, head of sales and special events for Cantiki. “We wanted to bring ... a relaxed feel, I think that’s what this neighborhood is missing.”
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman