The Cos Cobber ain’t what it used to be. Once the Landmark diner, it has been transformed by a building contractor who had a hankering to open a restaurant. Chris Frattaroli gutted the interior in early spring 2011, and like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Cos Cobber was born in late summer with a new façade and handsome interior. The diner is no more.
The food too is different -- and infinitely better. The cuisine is a hybrid of sorts, melded from menus familiar in family-friendly restaurants across the country, and it is certainly not diner food per se -- no stuffed grape leaves or feta salad ubiquitous in Greek diners -- although, for the diner purist, there are some smatterings that would speak to them like BLT, Tuna Melt, Chili, Sliders, Turkey Club and Buffalo Chicken Wings. But here’s the kicker: there’s a strong Italian ethos here in the food customarily found prevalent in neighborhood trattorias: chicken françese and chicken scarpariello (beware the cherry pepers), penne in vodka sauce and rigatoni with sausage and broccoli rabe, the repertoire of Italian mamas executed with their eyes shut. There’s American pub fare as well like steaks, chops, ever-popular sole and salmon, and chili and chowder.
After three dinners, one lunch and one breakfast, I would say the kitchen’s modus operandi is “Italian Pub.” That should cover all bases and it’s a very apt description. Portions are huge: rice floods into chicken and fries spill off the plates of burgers and fish ’n’ chips. One portion of crispy calamari easily served four of us! Youngsters can simply share one dish.
Ever since it opened, the Cos Cobber has been jammed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every noontime there are old cronies happy to have found a roost to trade reminisces and jokes over a plate of food -- linguine with clams or a roast beef wedge with provolone cheese. Young moms meeting for a quick catch-up between friends seem to prefer the salads (the Iceberg wedge and blue cheese combo is a strong holdover from days of yore). One night, empty nesters lingered over coffee and apple pie with ice cream, reluctant to leave the comfort of the banquette near the window. With a must-have children’s menu, the Cos Cobber is a family haunt. Another big lure of the Cos Cobber is that besides being an eatery, it’s a social venue where you’ll meet people you know every time.
At breakfast, there are eggs every which way, from sunny side up to a medley of omelets. Eggs Benedict comes with two perfectly poached eggs cushioned on English muffins and Canadian bacon. Hollandaise sauce is okay, a bit chalky and not up to Escoffier standards but pleasant nonetheless. The accompanying chunky fries could have been warmer. Pancakes are delicious -- a stack of two or three fluffy ones with scattered chocolate chips in the batter. With blueberries and chopped bananas added to the mixture, they are my definition of Sunday-morning perfect and will satiate hunger pangs if not until tomorrow, at least until early supper. As plates of thick-sliced French toast aromatic with cinnamon went whizzing by to nearby tables, I made a mental note to try them on a subsequent visit.
Lunch with a friend means salad for me and the Cos Cobber’s sesame seed encrusted tuna is very satisfying. Grilled medium-rare tuna sits atop a sea of greens nipped by chopped tomatoes and an oval of a sliced ripe avocado neatly balancing all that crunch. A word to the wise here: Order dressing on the side, since the cook sometimes has a heavy hand with the vinaigrette. Cod is, of course, the denizen of the deep choice for fish ’n’ chips and the kitchen sends it out moist under its heavy beer and flour cloak. I would have liked more beer flavor, but it’s perfectly fine as pub fare goes. Fish, chips, malt vinegar, a most holy trinity, and calories be dammed.
The most expensive item on the dinner menu is the strip steak at $25. Our choices one night, however, led us to a very satisfying egg-coated Chicken Françese in a white wine sauce and one night’s special of Eggplant Parmesan with a side of nicely sautéed spinach. Although I am not keen on breading the eggplant in this classic recipe since I prefer a leaner interpretation, the dish was flavorful and rewarding. Including a bottle of Pellegrino and a glass of Malbec Alamos, our bill was $53.71. Not bad, not bad at all. Another night’s special was a perfectly poached thick halibut skirted by a medley of braised vegetables (zucchini, yellow squash and carrots). It was deliciously sweet.
Early on, service was unbearably slow as the kitchen scrambled to meet the heavy demands. By now the coordination between wait staff and kitchen is considerably better. It’s a friendly staff and substitutions or mix and match requests are entertained with no problem. On an incredibly busy night, people waited on a line that snaked out the door. Frattaroli ordered complimentary wine for the foursome who had waited almost 20 minutes for a table. Smart man.
The Cos Cobber keeps its diner pedigree with an open kitchen and muted TVs over the bar and in the dining room proper but it plays to a clubby décor with lots of dark, polished wood, leatherette banquettes and center tables with wood-back chairs. Fans who still lament the passing of Tumbledown Dick’s will find solace aplenty here. Black and white framed photographs of the Cos Cob hamlet skirt the top of the white walls like a molding. Fresh flowers here and there, particularly in the entrance/mud room, are so welcoming. The bar tables are a tad too small for dinner fixings so the full-service mahogany bar is perhaps a better seating option.
Now that it’s got its footing (obviously, it has already become a neighborhood favorite), the Cos Cobber should spend some time refining its dishes. True, it’s all about comfort in food and ambience, but a little added nuance, a prettier plate presentation, or a burger with a surprise topping, will keep us coming back for more.
Parking is offered front and rear of the diner but be forewarned: You might have to wait for a space.
The Cos Cobber
31 E. Putnam Ave,
Cos Cob, CT 06807
Open 7 days a week: Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 8 a.m.–10 p.m.