With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Hartford Food Guy Reviews: The Russell

The HFG has been pretty inactive lately because of Mrs. HFG's surgery (she is recovering quite nicely) but the other night she felt up to taking a walk over to The Russell for dinner. Located at the corner of Pratt and Trumbull in what was once Zu-Zu's coffee bar (which became Xando's then Cosi's or the other way around) The Russell is operated by my neighbor and friend Hugh Russell (if you know Hugh, you know he is charming, on-point, and always impeccably dressed).

Hugh is from Jamacia and The Russsell's cuisine does reflect somewhat his Carrebian heritage, with offerings like jerk or curried chicken sandwiches, wraps, and flatbreads, but the cuisine is actually very eclectic. I've been there for lunch quite a few times, but I was excited to try the dinner menu.

Mrs. HFG and I decided to start with a couple of appetizers, so we ordered the coconut shrimp ($8), which came with an orange marmalade dip, and the yucca fries ($5) which came with a sweet onion aoili dip. They were both excellant.

Yuca is type of perennial shrub or tree native to hot and dry climates. It has a rather mild taste and as fries they are somewhat lighter than french fries. Our order was lightly fried and the dip was fantastic, adding a nice amount of punch.The cocconut shrimp were marvolous. The portion was generous and the shrimp were large and tasty. The light cocconut batter contrasted well with the flavor and texture of the shrimp and the oranage marmalade dip added a welcome sweetness.

For dinner I had the curry chicken wrap ($10) which came with spinach, onion, mango and red slaw. It was very good, with a nice combination of flavors and textures, but I wish the curry had had a bit more punch to it. Mrs. HFG agreed.

My wife had the jerk snapper filet ($18), which came with rice, peas, fried plantains, red and yellow peppers, carrots and okra. It was absolutely outstanding. The flavor of the fish came through and was complimented, but not overwhelemd, by the jerk seasoning. It was one of the best non-waterfront fish dishes I've had in many, many, many years.

On the whole, it was an outstanding meal at a very reasonable price.It's sad to say, but I know some people shy away from The Russell because there is a perception that it is a "black" place, because Hugh is from Jamacia, the place attracts a large number of African-American, West Indian, and Jamacian patrons, and because it is somewhat known for it's nighttime dance crowd (Mrs. HFG says it rocks). That said, I have never felt less than 100% welcome and well-treated whenever by staff and patrons when I have been there and it is no more a "black" restaurant than Max Downtown is a "white" restaurant. But, if people are going to be timid or just closed-minded there is nothing you can do, except enjoy the food, the ambiance, and the company they are missing out on.

The bottom line is that The Russell is a great little place (litterally) and you should check it out, whether you are white, black, purple, or green.

Here's a link to The Russell's website - http://therussellct.com/


  1. When it says "proper dress required" on the door how proper are they talking? That's what has kept me from trying this place is I can't tell how fancy it is and all I own is jeans and t shirts.

  2. I believe it says what they expect but I remember that no designer sneakers is one thing. It's really geared more toward dance time anyway. If you walked in at lunch, I am pretty sure they'd serve you.

  3. Remember Hoteps? It was where Mayor Mike's currently resides. I really loved that place.

  4. I think Mayor Mikes just went out of business so currently no one resides there

  5. Well, it's pretty clear from reading this that HFG is a *white* Hartford food guy:

    "I know some people shy away from The Russell because there is a perception that it is a "black" place"


    "...because Hugh is from Jamacia, the place attracts a large number of African-American, West Indian, and Jamacian patrons"


    Maybe the place attracts a large number of African-American. West Indian and "Jamacian" patrons because these are the folks who know good food. Every think of that, HFG????

    HFG, you try and be so "liberal" and "open minded" but you can't help being patronizing and condescending. Just stick to writing about the damned food.

    - A West Indian

  6. Ever hear of a spell checker?


  7. I think many people shy away from The Russell, because unless you're a personal friend of the owner, the customer service is pretty subpar. The food is good, no doubt, but there're other places nearby that're comparable in terms of good cuisine and ambiance, if not better AND the customer service is on point. I also agree that HFG's theory regarding folks possibly shying away from going to The Russell on account of it being a "Black Place" is rather patronizing. Dress code isn't that strict, by the way.

  8. Just came across this article and agree with HFG on the "black" thing. I've been a brooklynite and harlemnite and know that there is black and then there is black/black when it comes to gentrification limits, so kudos to HFG for telling the truth! - from a Black guy -

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