At Table: The Go-To Place

Max’s Tavern
The Basketball Hall of Fame
1000 West Columbus Blvd., Springfield
Open Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m.-9 p.m.
Entrées to $32.95

If it seems unusually pleasant to be dining al fresco on clams from Martha’s Vineyard in the shadow of Route 91 in downtown Springfield, it’s because you’re dining at one of seven branches of a small but powerful restaurant chain.  Max Restaurants, strategically located at various outposts in Connecticut, is also at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Positioned to attract a roaring crowd, Max’s has the kind of depth in the bench that comes from being part of a larger enterprise.  
Max’s is never slow. People are at the bar, sitting at the café or dining in a huge room with booths and round tables at all hours of the day, and if you suddenly have a big crew in need of food, this place can handle it. A great bet is to sit outside after work on Thursday or Friday. During a TGIF rush on a hot afternoon recently, a colleague and I went to people-watch and graze the appetizer menu. The people included tourists (a big group of female athletes ordering on separate checks) and later a steady stream of men in oxford shirts or men and women in strappy sandals with huge bags.
We tried the flatbread, delicious and thin with several kinds of cheese, sausage and wild mushrooms. And for the sake of due diligence, the onion rings had to be sampled as well as the garlic bread. Both dishes are so rich you have to chase them with something extremely cold. Of all the smaller dishes we tried, the best, next to the three kinds of raw oysters, was the crispy Rhode Island calamari, fished off of Port Judith. This is the best way to eat squid locally: it’s cooked not too much and not too little, the way it should be to prevent a rubbery texture.
A later visit for dinner with my mother resulted in an interesting interaction with the waitstaff. When told that “KJ” Chardonnay was not on the menu, my mother asked if there was anything as buttery as the KJ. The waiter said, “You mean that oaky, syrupy flavor that Kendall Jackson is so good at?” “Yes!” she cried. “We don’t have that,” he said, proceeding to foist off a glass of Italian Chard with a peppery aftertaste for $12.50 on her. “You will love this, no one doesn’t love it,” he said. She was sold and continues to speak of this wonderfully peppery white wine.
Dinner was very rich and very good. We shared the field green salad, which was fine, consisting of baby leaves of spinach, frisee, LoLa Rosa and grape tomatoes, and dressed with a sherry vinaigrette. Our main courses were the dry-rubbed, smoked baby back ribs and a pan-seared trout in a garlic cream sauce with toasted almonds.
“Can we do something besides fries with the ribs?” we asked. “Anything!” said our waiter. Give Max’s an A for Accommodating, even if the Brussels sprouts were overcooked. The sheer heft of the ribs threatened to tip the plate a la Fred Flintstone. Very easy to gnaw and somewhat dry, the ribs were not the kind you get driving to Florida, according to my guest, but just as good. The smoky taste won us both over.  My trout was crispy on the outside and fleshy and white on the inside. It came with roasted potatoes and some greens.
Go after work, go with a big party on a Sunday or go for a business lunch. There is a reason that this place is the go-to place for Springfield’s A-Team. The restaurant is on its game and the chefs shoot to score.•

Author: Mary Nelen

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