In the rustic shoreline village of Branford just down the road from the Long Island Sound, BALLOU’S RESTAURANT & WINE BAR opened May ’12. Set inside a tan colonial edifice with white trim, white columns and roomy front deck, this homey establishment is owned by married couple, Steve Kaye and Debbie Ballou, whose humble beginnings include being a busboy and waitress at IHOP. Across the street from boutique-styled Indian Neck Liquor Store, Ballou’s Branford location competes favorably with their initial award-winning Guilford establishment.

Upon entering, the cozy two-room brown-walled space features a 10-seat bar (with 16 tap handles and small TV), 15-table dining room, pristine walnut furnishings and several wine racks. Though specializing in desserts, coffee, cheeses, fondues, panninis and flatbread pizza, its assorted comfort foods go well with the fine hand-picked wine selection that serve as Ballou’s calling card.

Nevertheless, seasoned beer geeks will find ‘beer guy’ Jeremy Antunes’ craft draft offerings extremely appealing as well.

Visited January ’14 just hours after a heavy blizzard, Antunes tends bar and chats up a storm this snowy afternoon while introducing two new brews. The first, Thimble Island India Pale Ale, crafted a few streets away from this humble pub, brought lively stone-fruited spicing to sharp grapefruit-peeled orange rind bittering and finished with a juniper-hopped wood parch.

Another local offering from southbound Stratford, Two Roads Route Of All Evil Black Ale allowed wood-smoked chocolate seeding and charcoal-burnt hop bittering to anchor plastique apple-skinned grapefruit-mango-papaya tropicalia. (Full reviews in Beer Index)

Happily, the food was just as worthy as the beer and wine choices. Creamy lobster bisque, chipotle chicken pannini and Turkish goat-cheesed flatbread pizza (with dried fig, prosciutto and field greens) were wholly enjoyed.

Anyone with champagne taste on a beer budget or large expense account will appreciate Ballou’s spirited menu and close attention to detail.

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