Crabs and ribs—unite!
That’s the call of Buckley Ryan and B.J. Lawless, the successful business partners behind the popular four-year-old restaurant and watering hole, B.J. Ryan’s at 57 Main Street, whose name is an amalgam of their two names.
On June 27, Ryan and Lawless are opening a new "partnership"—that of classic barbecue ribs and crabs.
The new establishment, at 16 River St., is called B.J. Ryan’s B*AN*C House (pronounced "bank house"), an acronym that stands for barbecue and crab. Its owners have high ambitions for it.
“We’re just trying to open the ultimate restaurant,” said Ryan during an interview as the kitchen staff was being assembled and renovations completed for the final inspection.
The menu is a siren call for crab and barbecue lovers.
Crab entrees range from B*AN*C Crab Cake (Maryland lump crab cake served with cheddar scallion waffle and green bean casserole—$25.95) to the piece de resistance, Steamed Alaskan King Crab (“the most coveted crab in the world, simply steamed and served with drawn butter and our own seafood sauce”—$38.95).
In between are Smashing Garlic Crabs (West Coast Dungeness clusters tossed in roasted garlic sauce - $35.95), Ginger Caramel Snow Crab Claws (Alaskan snow crabs in a ginger glaze with cilantro and crushed peanuts—$34.95) and Inner Harbor Spiced Blue Crabs (steamed blue crabs, when available, with a special house spice blend—$3.95).
But if you’re seriously into finger-lickin’ ribs, this menu was made in heaven just for you.
You don’t have to order the "B*AN*C BBQ Feast" (choice of baby back or St. Louis ribs with half sticky barbecue chicken, sliced brisket and pulled pork and three sides prepared for two “adventurous eaters” at $99 – “Finish it alone and it’s FREE”) to be sated.
Try" The Monster" (half a chicken, half St. Louis ribs with pulled pork - $26.95) or the Rib Combo (Denver/St. Louis/Baby Backs - $24.95). Or the B*AN*C Basic: St. Louis Ribs with ¼ chicken ($22.95).
All meats served at B*AN*C House are smoked in the kitchen’s wood smoker “for hours and hours.”
“This is OUR interpretation of regional bbq,” the menu explains.
Other entrees include Pan-Roasted Lobster ($27.95), Bone In Filet Mignon ($28.95), Shrimp and Grits ($18.95) and Crispy Southern Fried Chicken ($16.95).
Appetizers are on the robust side, such as deviled eggs with crab nuggets ($6.95), "Crispy BBQ Spring Roll" ($7.95) and "Meatloaf Muffins" ($8.95). Chilled crab salad ($12.95), fried green tomatoes ($6.95) and spinach salad ($10.95) provide lighter fare.
Or go with the "Garbage Salad" (“everything but the kitchen sink chopped and tossed with baby greens and balsamic vinaigrette - $10.95). Raw bar and fresh fish selections will change daily.
To develop B*AN*C House, the Ryan-Lawless business partnership expanded to a threesome that includes executive chef Leland Avellino, who hails from Damon’s Tavern in Hartford and V’s and Viva Zapata in Westport.
The three share a passion for barbecue ribs and fresh crab dishes, and they’ve done their homework.
Since January the threesome has gone on pilgrimages seeking out the top venues in the country for ribs and crabs.
“Barbecue has become an art form,” Ryan notes. “People seek it out. They’ll travel to get the good stuff.”
New Orleans, the eastern Carolinas, San Antonio, Texas, the Pacific Northwest, San Francisco and Boston have been stops on their tour, as well as a Brooklyn eatery—Fette Sau in Williamsburg—that Ryan calls “the best barbecue in Brooklyn.”
They’ve also dined frequently on the Baltimore waterfront and been tutored in the art of cracking open steamed crustacea by seasoned Maryland locals.
The menu reflects all the regional influences they experienced.
“Everything is from scratch,” said Ryan, whose black-and-white photographs line the walls of the 160-seat restaurant, creating a visual line paralleling the arresting tomato-colored banquettes. Each photograph depicts one of the dozens of restaurants, dives and joints they visited on their tours, and each one has a story.
Often the traveling trio was given kitchen tours and chefs shared their recipes.
Ryan, from Westport, and Lawless, a Norwalk native, are both former bartenders—Ryan at Viva Zapata’s and at Cogburn in Norwalk—and they know how to please their customers.
They’re also known for a unique brand of generosity. Their B.J. Ryan Foundation is a fundraising arm for local charities. The Norwalk Children’s Foundation was a recent beneficiary.
But B*AN*C will be a different experience from B.J. Ryan’s and Cogburn, the restaurant Ryan ran at the same location for 10 years beginning in 1989. It will cater to downtown Norwalk businesspeople and professionals.
Spiffing up the premises has been a major undertaking. A huge custom white-oak bar with matching white oak tables command attention in the 40-seat lounge. Fifteen flat-screen TVs are mounted throughout the establishment. Outdoor seating extends onto the sidewalk at River Street in a large white enclosure. An uncovered patio will accommodate still more diners.
B.J. Ryan’s B*AN*C House will be open for lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., seven days a week. The telephone number is 203-853-RYAN (-7926). Hats and T-shirts will be for sale as well as house barbecue sauces and rubs.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 12:32 p.m. The pronunciation of the restaurant name was added.