The Russell brings Jamaican flavors to the West Hartford Center – We-Ha
The Russell opened on January 27, 2022, bringing an authentic Caribbean experience to the West Hartford Center.
By Ronni Newton
Just across South Main Street from West Hartford City Hall, it’s possible to leave the New England winter behind and find a vibe that immediately transports you to the Caribbean.
In addition to seeking sunshine and turquoise waters, people go to Jamaica for food, said Hugh Russell, who officially opened The Russell, the third restaurant bearing his name, at 39 South Main St. in West Hartford on 27 January 2022.
“All the other cuisines are here,” Russell said of West Hartford. “That flavor was missing.”
West Hartford is well known as a vibrant dining destination, Russell said. It’s walkable, appeals to families, and there are options for shopping as well as restaurants. People are ready to try something new, and they’re happy to add Jamaican to the mix.
The Russell’s atmosphere is warm and relaxed, with seating for 60 people. A new bay window floods the space with natural light, and the industrial look of the dining room that previously housed Harry’s Pizzeria has been transformed with natural wood, and several colorful murals painted by Russell’s friend, the artist E. Mohamid, a Jamaican native who lives in Hartford.
The bar has been extended almost the full length of the dining area, and while reggae music plays in the background, there are also several big-screen TVs tuned in to sporting events. A small stage will provide space for live music, which will be presented from this weekend.
Even if a restaurant isn’t particularly familiar with Jamaican cuisine, many people have been to a Caribbean island and will find something that will transport them to a tropical paradise, Russell said.
The lunch and dinner menu features many Jamaican specialties including ackee and saltfish. “We eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner – all day long,” Russell said of the item, which is considered “Jamaica’s national dish.”
Russell recommends trying traditional Jamaican dishes like goat curry, oxtail and jerk chicken. Other popular dishes, which are a fusion of Jamaican cuisine and other cuisines, are wild mushroom ravioli and penne pasta served with crumbled bacon, both with Cajun cream sauce.
Jerk chicken is a classic Jamaican dish, and The Russell also offers it on a flatbread pizza with roasted peppers, caramelized onions and shredded mozzarella and cheddar, with Scotch Bonnet aioli. Scotch bonnet is a popular Jamaican spice, but for those who don’t want the heat, there’s pepper steak, patties and fried chicken.
The West Hartford location offers more vegetarian and vegan options than those found at Hartford locations, including chickpeas in coconut curry, brown stew soon, and a veggie jerk burger.
The moderately priced menu also includes a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts. Happy hour is 4-6pm, Monday-Saturday.
Sunday brunch features Jamaican dishes, including a porridge of the day, as well as “foreign” dishes like omelettes, challah french toast, chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits.
“There are really good options. I’m really happy with the menu,” Russell said. “We wanted to create something for everyone, kids too.”
There’s a full bar, with an extensive selection of tropical rum-based cocktails, wine by the bottle or glass, bottled Red Stripe beer, and a selection of draft beers.
Russell, originally from Jamaica, moved to Florida with his family in 1987 and moved to Connecticut in 1989. He spent 14 years working in the restaurant inside the Wadsworth Atheneum, initially as a host. It was there that he developed his love for the hospitality industry and his appreciation of diverse cultures, and learned that people are not only willing but also enthusiastic about trying different cuisines.
He opened his first restaurant, The Russell, on Pratt Street in Hartford in 2005, and moved to 187 Allyn St. in 2020. In 2021, he opened a take-out location at 881 New Britain Ave. in Hartford, also called The Russell. The West Hartford Restaurant is its third location.
“My experience was really front of house, but now I know the food, the flavors,” he said. The indoor experience also gave him a background in the business side of the industry. It has hired Jamaican chefs and currently splits the staff between the three restaurants.
Although everything is homemade, many foods marinate overnight and are slow-cooked rather than made-to-order at the last minute, allowing chefs to float from place to place. Having the same chefs will also ensure that authentic flavors are consistent across all three restaurants.
Russell, who lives in Hartford’s West End, said he’s known Billy Grant for more than 25 years and has been eating at Bricco since it opened. He is a long-time supporter of many other restaurants in West Hartford and looks forward to being a part of the city’s vibrant food scene.
The Russell is open Monday to Saturday for lunch at 11:30 p.m., with dinner being served weekdays from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The kitchen is open until 23:00 on weekends and the bar is open later. Sunday brunch starts at noon. For more information, visit the website, or follow Facebook or Instagram (@therussellct).
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