Saltwater Grill: A Seafood Lover’s Delight

Saltwater Grill: A Seafood Lover's Delight

Us in front of the 25,000-gallon aquarium at Saltwater Grill

Fact: I love vacations. I especially love beach vacations. And, one of the things I like best about going on a beach vacation is the food. Just thinking about all of that yummy, deliciously delectable seafood is making my mouth water! From Mahi to grouper, prawns to oysters, I’ll take it all…and I’ll take it now! As you can probably gather, I’ve eaten a LOT of seafood – particularly on the Gulf Coast. During my travels, I’ve found that few places do seafood better than Saltwater Grill in Panama City Beach, FL.

The restaurant

My family and I have spent quite a bit of time in Panama City Beach. Each time we go, we make sure to hit Saltwater Grill at least once. Owned by the same group that operates Firefly, these folks really know how to run a quality restaurant. The atmosphere is upscale casual, perfect for a romantic date night or for families of all ages looking for some great food. Attire is casual as well. Although you will see some people in slacks and evening wear, most men will feel comfortable arriving in shorts and a button-up shirt while women are usually spotted in shorts or a sundress.

Upon entering the restaurant, you are greeted by the magnificent 25,000-gallon saltwater aquarium. Complete with a giant reef, the tank is filled with several different species of tropical fish and is truly a favorite of children and adults alike. The friendly host staff is happy to accommodate your seating needs, and the professional and prompt wait staff will knowledgeably guide you through the menu and specials of the evening.

The Saltwater Grill menu

Saltwater Grill: A Seafood Lover's Delight

Lobster spring rolls at Saltwater Grill

While the aquarium and the staff are top-notch in their own right, the true star of Saltwater Grill is the food. Start your meal with some tasty “Firecracker Shrimp,” tossed in a creamy spicy sauce and served over Asian slaw. You may also wish to try the mushroom caps, which are stuffed with blue crab meat and topped with Béarnaise sauce. However, my personal favorite is the lobster spring rolls. These golden fried spring rolls are stuffed with Asian vegetables, Maine lobster (which arrives twice a week), and served with a delightful Thai chili sauce. This dish can be quite filling, which makes it the perfect appetizer to either share or eat alone as a main course.

Saltwater Grill: A Seafood Lover's Delight

House salad at Saltwater Grill

Enjoy a delicious soup and salad course by trying the rich and creamy lobster bisque. The tomato base and generous chunks of lobster are sure to please your palette. When it comes to salads, few places do them better than Saltwater Grill. The crisp, tasty vegetables are taken freshly from the garden. Holly’s favorite is the center cut iceberg salad, served with onions, tomatoes, wonderful Bleu cheese crumbles, and a tasty Bleu cheese dressing. I usually opt to enjoy the house salad with some freshly baked bread. Topped with a nice peppercorn ranch or creamy thousand island dressing, the freshness of this house salad makes for a truly surprising delight.

Saltwater Grill: A Seafood Lover's Delight

Lobster bisque at Saltwater Grill

The main course offerings are a seafood lover’s dream. Choose from sesame seared ahi tuna, red snapper, or seared sea scallops. Pick your own Maine lobster from the live tank, or try the crab cake stack, served with crispy fried eggplant and smoked tomato fondue. The mahi-mahi topped with pineapple salsa is also a treat not to be missed. Of course, this wouldn’t be the Gulf Coast without shrimp and grouper options. Try your shrimp lightly fried with a choice of potato and the vegetable of the day. Don’t miss the “Grouper Imperial,” a mouth-watering grouper filet sautéed in sherry butter and topped off with fresh lump crab meat. Seriously, peeps: Yummers!

Saltwater Grill: A Seafood Lover's Delight

Mahi-mahi at Saltwater Grill

For those who prefer land fare, Saltwater Grill offers some heavenly options of its own. The 14 oz. ribeye is sure to satiate any hungry man’s appetite, while the chicken marsala will satisfy those with a craving for white meat. However, if you are going to skip the seafood, I’d recommend trying “Saltwater Grill’s Famous Slow Roasted Prime Rib.” While the standard cut is probably enough for most, the SWG cut is truly a generous helping for the hungriest in the group. Of course, you are going to want to dip this delectable dish into their delicious horseradish au jus. You’ll love it!

Saltwater Grill: A Seafood Lover's Delight

Crab cakes at Saltwater Grill

No meal is complete at Saltwater Grill without sampling some of their desserts! Having tried all of these tasty treats, the key lime pie is certainly a favorite. Their creme brulee, bread pudding, and cheesecake options are also nice toppers to a delicious evening. For chocolate lovers (and for my kids), the chocolate lava cake can’t be beaten. Served warm and with vanilla ice cream, the chocolate simply oozes out of the cake’s center with each bite. In a word, it is simply AMAZE!


Considering the quality of the food and the dining experience, Saltwater Grill is reasonably priced. With starters ranging from $8-13 and main courses running an average of approximately $22, we usually consider the evening a special night for the family. For those families with young children, or for diners who are looking to get great food at a superb price, Saltwater Grill offers an early dining menu from 4-5:30 P.M. daily. Priced at $14.99 at the time of publication, the early dining menu offers many of the fabulous dishes found on the main menu. Early birds can choose from 6 different main courses, with a house salad included.

If you are going to Panama City Beach, Florida, this is a can’t miss dining experience! Delicious seafood, reasonable prices, and an inviting atmosphere make Saltwater Grill one of the best restaurants on the northern Gulf Coast.


What Is Family-Style Dining?

This video was created in collaboration with Vox Creative.

Jamie Malone is chef and owner at the Grand Cafe in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2017, her restaurant was called “the most exciting dining experience of the year.” And in 2018, it was named one of the best in the country.

One secret to Malone’s success? Serving family-style meals. “Our goal at the restaurant is to cook delicious food, but it’s really to create an environment where people can come and truly let the rest of the world disappear and connect with each other,” she explains. “You set it down in the middle of the table, and instantly, you can see everyone’s body language, just zooming in over the food…you’ve just instantly created this connection between all of those people.”

Intrigued? Here’s why (and how) to seek out family-style dining for your next meal out.

What is Family-Style Dining?

Family-style dining—sometimes referred to as “large-format dining”—is when food is served on large platters meant for sharing, rather than as individual plates. Diners serve themselves from the food platters, just like you might at home in your dining room.

What are the Advantages of Family-Style Dining?

Diners and chefs alike enjoy the unique, intimate experience created by family-style dining. The act of ordering as a group—discussing likes and preferences, debating menu choices—can create a more communal experience. When the meal is brought out, your friends or family can experience the meal together.

Another advantage of family-style dining is that you’ll be able to try a wider variety of dishes and choose items you wouldn’t otherwise order.

While a whole roast duck isn’t something that you’d typically order for yourself, it’s an ideal choice to share with a group. Plus, you don’t have to worry about missing out or making the “wrong” menu choice.

What If I Have Kids at the Table?

Worried your kids will be overwhelmed by a family-style dining option? Family-style meals can be an opportunity for children to practice valuable life lessons like sharing, mealtime manners and healthy food choices. Family-style dining can also help your kids gain independence and self-confidence. It’s a fun way to help children learn to eat better—and to learn dining etiquette, too.

What’s the Etiquette Around Family-Style Dining?

There are a few variables unique to family-style dining. Common questions include: How should you split the bill? What if some people eat more than others? Who gets to take home leftovers?

As with any shared experience, communication is key. Discuss plans for paying ahead of time with your friends. If you’re planning to split the bill, confirm that the restaurant can handle separate checks, or use a payment-sharing app. Generally, splitting the bill evenly is easiest for a restaurant, but it may feel unfair to those who ate less than others. No matter how you handle the bill, make sure that everyone is comfortable—and that picky eaters can opt out of shared dishes if they prefer.

Not Just for Restaurants: Family-Style Wedding Meals

According to Kate Lerman, owner of Chicago Vintage Weddings, the family-style dining trend has been increasingly popular as a catering choice for weddings.

“Many of my couples choose to serve family-style meals because of the warmth and communal feel of this format. It’s a way for them to feel that they are bringing their guests together as a community to celebrate their special day,” she says. “It’s also convenient because couples don’t need to track each individual guest’s meal choice! Additionally, this is a great icebreaker for guests who are sitting at the same table who might not know each other.”

How to Find Family-Style Dining

Often, family-style dining is connected to eating traditions around the world. In Spain, tapas are small plates of food that are meant to be shared—and in some places, they’re complimentary with drink orders. Dim sum is a traditional Chinese meal that’s similar to family-style meals: Dumplings are chosen from carts, and diners share food and tea in a communal experience.

Local family-style spots may vary based on where you live. For example, in Richmond, Virginia, some of the best family-style dining spots are Italian restaurants. They offer big, shareable servings of pasta and seafood.

Look for menus that list small plates or shared plates, or search for a “family-style restaurant” near your city to find reviews that mention family-style options. 

Litchfield County: Happening in the Hills

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Litchfield Saltwater Grille

With Andy Stowers and Brook Noel at the helm and executive Chef Robert Peotter in the kitchen, this seafood restaurant has become a local favorite, with one of the best bar scenes in the area. 

Sometime last month I went to see a friend’s band play at Litchfield Saltwater Grille and expected an evening of great music and potentially lackluster food. To my surprise, the restaurant turned out to be a quality experience from the ambiance, service and cuisine.

The band was playing on the patio and unfortunately it was the first evening when temperatures dipped into the fifties. I was not prepared. One of the staff, whom I later learned is the owner, made a considerable effort to situate a table for me near the solitary heat lamp. Even so, I elected to sit inside—and happy I was—as Andy Stowers and I struck up a conversation about him and his wife Brook Noel’s decision to purchase the establishment in December of 2013. I thought this was a rather bold move given the fact that neither of them are restaurateurs and moved here from Wisconsin without any other infra­structure to greet them. Andy was a software executive and Brook is a published self-help author. Their safety net was bringing executive chef, Robert Peotter, with them in order to oversee the restaurant’s menu planning and management. Robert has over 25 years of restaurant experience from seafood to steakhouse concepts.


We started with a generous and perfectly executed cocktail while warming our now frigid bones with their  delicious Connecticut clam chowder (a near cousin to New England). It was chock full of fresh clams, fresh herbs that included thyme and dill, with a creamy milky base that wasn’t too thick and also delivered a fiery kick. In a word, excellent. We sampled some crab cakes which I must confess needed more crab and a lighter touch. Fish and chips were next and the plate was generously heaped with lightly battered cod deep fried to a crispy golden finish. Fries were piping hot and also just the right texture. The tartar sauce was also a cut above and included fresh herbs and lots of chunky relish. We ordered the SWG Signature Salad and it was, as promised, loaded with cubes of smoky bacon, blue cheese, craisins and slivered almonds.


The restaurant space is vast and in addition to the bar and main dining rooms, it features a raw bar and space for private gatherings. I asked Andy what he hoped would be a take away for his clientele he said something to the effect that they weren’t looking to create elevated cuisine but to provide quality food in a warm environment with gracious service so customers left satisfied, happy and ready to return on their next night out. It’s an honest approach to restaurateuring that if maintained consistently could be the key to their success.


Litchfield Saltwater Grille is open seven days a week, 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., except on Mondays, when it opens at 4 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. On Sundays, dinner is served all day. The Lounge is open late on Fridays and Saturdays. There are 5 separate dining/lounge areas plus an outdoor patio that can seat 40. Happy hour deals are from 4-6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Their calendar of events includes happy hour, tarot card readings, wine pairing dinners and, of course, live music.


Saltwater Grill Serves Seafood by the Water

Way up a wide, sea-blue staircase, diners at the Saltwater Grill get something extra with their shrimp pasta, fire-grilled rib-eye steaks, and crab-encrusted grouper. On the balcony, they take in broad views of the White Oak River and the Intracoastal Waterway, both of which cradle the village of Swansboro on the eastern edge of Onslow County.

Sandbars and islets dot the water, and shrimp boats rest in their moorings on the far side of the river. The Atlantic Ocean is only five minutes away by boat, and Hammocks Beach State Park stretches just across Hawkins Bay. At one end of the restaurant, dinner is served with a view of the sun setting over the water: The seascape turns a fiery orange, and shadows stretch long across Swansboro’s quaint downtown.

In warm weather, boaters can navigate into the public slips at the base of the restaurant and take a table right on the dock. Wearing swimsuits, shades, and sunscreen, they lunch on shrimp burgers, lobster cake sandwiches, bacon-wrapped scallops, and mahi-mahi tacos.

The water is as central to the restaurant’s origins as it is to its views. One warm afternoon in 2011, Kim Pierce and Mike Egan hopped on Jet Skis in Jacksonville and zigged down the New River, then zagged up the Intracoastal Waterway to Swansboro, where they stopped for lunch at a steak-and-seafood restaurant overlooking the waterfront historic district.

Though Pierce and Egan were only in their early 30s at the time, they already had years of experience in the mining industry — they’d hustled in food-service jobs as students at East Carolina University, and one or the other had tended bar, coordinated special events, or run the business side of restaurants ever since. The couple eventually moved to Charlotte, where Pierce worked as the catering director at a country club, and Egan managed accounts for a software company that worked with restaurants.


During their dockside lunch, they gazed up at the restaurant and out over the vast, quiet water. Both felt the allure of the same dream. “I wish we could own a restaurant like this,” Pierce said.

“If I were going to take a risk, a leap, I’d rather do it now,” Egan replied.

And that was the end of it — until a few months later when their friend Tim Anderson approached them. “It’s not on the market,” he told them, “but if it were, would you be interested?”

Indeed they were, and in April 2012, they partnered with Anderson and took over as owners of that very restaurant, which they renamed the Saltwater Grill. Together, they’ve established a casual restaurant built around friendship, familiarity, and the fraternal feel of a tight-knit community.

And water. Lots of saltwater.


• • •

In fact, when the weather cooperates, Chef Martin Berndt has been known to skipper his boat to work — a seven-minute trip by skiff that beats the 20-minute commute by car. He admits that returning home in the dark after a long shift in the kitchen can get tricky on the waterway, but he’s found that learning the feel of the tides is just a part of life in Swansboro.

“Coming here was the sun, the moon, the stars — a very acceptable, welcoming challenge,” says Berndt, who grew up in Germany as the son of a three-star Marine general and studied culinary arts in France. He cooked in restaurants, country clubs, and hotels in Germany, Pennsylvania, and Greenville before joining the Saltwater Grill — lured, in part, because his wife is Pierce’s best friend.

His menu draws upon the area’s abundant seafood. Flounder, shrimp, oysters, yellowfin tuna, and grouper all occupy regular spots, while conch and squid show up from time to time. Berndt confers regularly with local seafood brokers, who call with reports of the latest catch. He also offers some surprises, including Asian-inspired shrimp stir-fry linguini, Creole-marinated alligator-and-jalapeño bites, and, in honor of his European childhood, Bavarian soft pretzels.

Yellowfin tuna with wasabi butter.PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES HARRIS

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for me,” Berndt says. “From the people to the climate, everything suits me. I’ve basically been around the world, and this is the [place] I’d pick.”


• • •

The Saltwater Grill has deep roots in North Carolina. Pierce was born and raised in Wilson, while Egan, like Berndt, came from a Marine family and spent much of his youth in nearby Jacksonville.

Their restaurant draws on the everybody-knows-everybody air of small-town Swansboro, even though many of their customers are out-of-towners.

“We meet some very, very, very interesting people,” Egan says. “We live where everybody else vacations. When those people come in the door, we want them to feel welcome.”

Mallory Parker, who has tended bar and served tables at the restaurant since it opened, drives the 35 minutes daily from Jacksonville to Swansboro. “That was one of the wonderful things — how beautiful it is and how happy people were to be here,” she says. “Everybody knows everybody, and I know them, too.”

She felt a quick, lasting connection when she met Pierce and Egan. “I realized these people were special,” she continues. “They’ve been at the bottom, and they’ve worked their way up. They know what it’s like to be in our shoes, so they treat us with understanding.”

Pierce and Egan, who live with their dogs in a loft above the restaurant, have become part of Swansboro’s civic structure. They work with other restaurant owners in the historic district. If one of the businesses runs low on ice or sugar, they share. Egan joined the Rotary Club; Pierce serves on the board of the Swansboro Area Development Foundation.

“The older we get, the more appreciation we have for what a wonderful community this is,” Egan says. “It’s awesome when your friends want to come and hang out where you work.”

Plus, when things don’t flow smoothly, all that water provides ready respite. “If you have a stressful day,” Pierce says, “you just hop in your boat and go far enough away that you can see if the restaurant is on fire, and then you come back. A little salt water cures everybody.”

Market Place Kitchen & Bar

Market Place Kitchen & Bar

A new restaurant opens up in Woodbury and brings a great vibe to the area. With a bustling bar scene and an impressive array of dishes on its menu, be prepared to wait for a table.

Driving on Route 6 by the intersection of Route 64, we have all noticed the beautiful barn-like structure that has been vacant for some time, but now we have a reason to turn into the parking lot. Touted as a “modern American restaurant”, Market Place Kitchen & Bar is just that. Specializing in American farm-to-table cuisine, they regularly update their food and drink menus to reflect what is currently fresh from their farmers. Executive Chef Steve Scarzella uses local and organic ingredients, and restauranteurs Eli Hawi, Ayman Hawi, and Marc Anderson pride themselves on following a progressive approach towards healthy and sustainable foods.


The interior of the space is made of sustainable and local materials, utilizing beautiful 300-year-old barn wood. The large dining area is open to the kitchen and has a friendly, casual feel.


Your meal begins with a delicious and warm crusty bread served with artichoke and roasted garlic butter. The plentiful menu offers up everything from sushi rolls to duck confit, from oysters to shrimp and grits, and that’s just the appetizers. “Market Place Boards” include a charcuterie board and a cheeseboard. For starters, they have delicious salads and soups and don’t forget to try their flatbreads. For main dishes, choose from house-made pasta to Chicken Marsala, a Fish Fry, and burgers and sandwiches, including a Braised Short Rib Grilled Cheese to die for. Truffle Fries with Aged Parmesan, Fine Herbs, and Truffle Aioli and Chickpea “Fries” with Sriracha Aioli are just two sumptuous offerings on their creative sides menu.



For dessert, try the flourless chocolate cake served with salted caramel gelato and a cranberry compote. So good! The cozy bar area at the front is large, yet fills up rather quickly. Their Cosmopolitans were fresh and tasty. All in all, Market Place is a welcome addition to the neighborhood and is a great place to meet up with friends.

A Seafood Spot Is Reopened, but Not Remade

 A Seafood Spot Is Reopened, but Not Remade


The Litchfield Saltwater Grille has three dining areas.

Credit…Wendy Carlson for The New York Times


When a popular restaurant is sold, it is natural to wonder what changes, if any, to expect. Will the new owners close the place indefinitely for extensive remodeling? How much of the previous menu will be retained? What kind of turnover will there be in the staff?

Fortunately, in the case of the Litchfield Saltwater Grille, which closed for all of two days when it changed hands last December, those types of questions seem to have been answered satisfactorily enough. There is still a raw bar, with ocean-fresh oysters and clams served on the half shell; steamed lobsters continue to be a mainstay; and the interior, with oak wainscoting offset by pastel walls, looks much as it always has. And that’s just the way the new owners, Andy Stowers and his wife, Brook Noel, want it.


Credit…Wendy Carlson for The New York Times


“We have to be careful because Litchfield is a fairly conservative market,” Mr. Stowers said when I talked with him by phone after my visits. He said the restaurant was well run before he and Ms. Noel arrived, and they have kept much of the staff. The most notable exception to that is the current chef, Robert Peotter, whom the owners brought from their home state of Wisconsin.

Mr. Peotter’s skill is evident in both simple and more complex dishes. An appetizer of fried calamari hit just the right balance of crunchy-chewiness, the squid’s rings and legs delicately coated in a gossamer layer of batter, with just enough morsels provided to stoke, not a stunt, the appetite. Oysters Alaska reflected a more ambitious assemblage of ingredients — dill, flying-fish roe, smoked salmon, and horseradish cream sauce, all layered over oysters on the half shell (from beds off Mystic) — that hit the palate with an explosion of harmonious flavors.

Oysters Saltafeller, an updating of the Rockefeller classic, was just as intoxicating. Six agreeably plump oysters, coated in a creamy blend of spinach, artichoke, and Parmesan and dotted with bits of bacon, were baked just past raw so that their inherent brininess melted into, and beautifully complemented, the cheesy, smoky nature of their sauce. And on rare sliced tuna, seared on the edges but sushi-red within, the blend of spices crusting the outside — salt, pepper, cumin — delivered an intriguing, endearing savoriness to what elsewhere has often been bland.

Litchfield Saltwater Grille hosting local food and brew night March 6

Litchfield Saltwater Grille hosting local food and brew night March 6


The Litchfield Saltwater Grille is hosting an evening of local food and local brews Wednesday, March 6, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Teaming up with Stamford’s Half Full Brewery, Saltwater Grille will host the Half-Full Beer Social, featuring a three-course meal, a raw bar, and beer tasting. There will be plenty of food, organizers say, to make sure that those in attendance won’t leave half-full.

Half Full founder and owner Conor Horrigan, a Litchfield native, will be on hand to present and talk about the four Half-Full beers that will be available for tasting.

Horrigan and Saltwater Grille owner Brett Clugston came up with the idea for the social.

Clugston said that it is basically a beer dinner but with more of an emphasis on walking around and mingling in a very open environment.

Clugston said that she hopes to get 40 or so people to make reservations for the social, which will take place at the dining area in the bar.

Given how hectic Saltwater is on weekends, especially Saturdays when they have live music, Clugston said that it made more sense to have the social on a weeknight.

“We turn away people on Saturday nights, we don’t usually have room,” she said. “So this is just something to make a night that’s usually a quieter night busier.”

The entrée consists of a choice between IPA battered fish and chips or braised beef and exotic mushrooms. Both will be served with Half Full IPA. The chocolate bread pudding will be served for dessert and four appetizers will be available, including bratwurst in puffed pastry and smoked mozzarella.

Throughout the night, patrons will have access to a raw bar that Clugston said will be displayed on ice. The raw bar, consisting of all fresh seafood, will include blue point oysters on the half shell, Rhode Island littleneck clams, peel and eat shrimp, and seafood salsa with white tortilla chips.

“You just walk up and you take it as a buffet,” Clugston said.

The four Half Full beers available are the Half Full Bright Ale, which Saltwater Grille always has on tap, the Half Full IPA, the Half Full Chocolate Brown Ale, and a Limited Small Batch Specialty Beer. The cost for everything is $50 per person.

According to Clugston, Saltwater Grille tries to have about five or six of these kinds of special events every year. Last year Saltwater Grille had a seafood jazz festival in July, a Saint Patrick’s Day Beer Tasting last March, and also holds an annual holiday toy drive.

For Clugston, the restaurant business is in her blood. Her parents have owned restaurants in Greenwich, Westport, and Bethel. She grew up working in restaurants, so it was only natural that she take on a place of her own, she said.

Her husband Albert, who started off as a sushi chef in Arizona, is the chef at Saltwater and wrote the menu for the Hall Full Social.

Clugston, originally from Newtown, has owned the Saltwater Grille in Litchfield for going on six years. She and her husband turned what was once Chuck’s steakhouse into the wine and seafood restaurant that it is today.

“We found this place and it was gorgeous,” Clugston said. “We changed it all up and (gave) it more of a wine country feel.”

This included turning the large salad bar into a raw bar and bringing in a list of about 450 wines, American and international. Clugston is also a sommelier. She felt that a fish house like Saltwater Grille was something that could fit in well in Litchfield since the town didn’t have one at the time.

The Litchfield Saltwater Grille is located at 26 Commons Drive, Route 202 in Litchfield. Visit or call 860-567-4900.

Reach Ryan Flynn at 860-489-3121 extension 345.

Litchfield Saltwater Grille expanding to Torrington’s Main Street, with broad takeout menu

Litchfield Saltwater Grille expanding to Torrington’s Main Street, with broad takeout men




A popular seafood restaurant in Litchfield is expanding its offerings to an empty restaurant space on Main Street.

Litchfield Saltwater Grille, located on Village Green Drive, is owned by Brook Noel and Andy Stowers, who moved to Connecticut from Wisconsin in 2012 and purchased the restaurant from the previous owners in 2013. Brett Clugston and her husband Albert had opened the restaurant in 2007.

Sliders, which opened in 2019 at 84 Main St., was preceded by Backstage restaurant, which closed in 2018 after seven years.

The new owners plan to offer their Salt 2.0, a takeout menu they created to provide meals during the pandemic featuring grain and salad bowls, sandwich wraps, burritos, tacos, nachos, and quesadillas, with gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options.

Having a successful restaurant next door to the Warner Theatre is important for the downtown’s success, officials have said, as the city continues to seek ways to draw more pedestrian traffic to places such as Franklin Plaza and other areas on and off Main Street.

The city’s Economic Development Department, led by Rishta Malanca, is working with Blue Haus Group on ways to use vacant spaces and popup events to attract people. The department also is seeking to make East Main Street corridor improvements for pedestrian and driver safety on the commercial roadway that is adjacent to many residential neighborhoods.

City Planner Martin Connor, who has enjoyed the restaurant’s food as a take-home meal option during the pandemic, said the owners had a “smart” plan for Torrington.

“The Salt 2.0 plan is pretty popular,” he said.



The Mertz building is owned by the Warner Theatre. Executive Director Rufus de Rham said he was happy to know the restaurant space is reopening.

“The way they’re doing it is smart, with having grab-and-go food for now, and then offer sit-down service as things open up,” de Rham said. “I’m excited to see what happens.”

Losing Sliders was a big concern for the theater. “The departure of Sliders was very sudden, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It caught us by surprise,” he said.

“We were worried; it’s difficult for us to fill this space,” de Rham said. “Then, out of the blue, here’s the Litchfield Saltwater Grille with this plan. We wanted to work with them. A lot of their ideas were very smart. I was also looking forward to a place to get burritos.”

After meeting with the owners several times, “we knew this was a partnership we wanted to happen,” de Rham said. “And fortunately for downtown Torrington, it did. So we’re very happy.”

Noel said the 2.0 restaurant option was born out of the pandemic, but it’s continuing in Litchfield, and she’s sure it will be popular in Torrington.

“Sit down and dine-in eating has taken a really big hit, and we needed to pivot our business somehow to compensate for that,” she said. “In Litchfield, there was a need for good, quality food that’s less expensive and fast, so people could be in and out in 10 minutes.

“So we took a dining room in the grille that had just three tables, and we turned it into a second kitchen,” she said. “From day one, it was incredibly successful. As we watched it grow, we knew we needed to keep it going.”

The 2.0 takeout meals were also a way to keep their employees working, she said.

“We would have had to lay people off, and we didn’t want to do that,” Noel said. “It’s allowed us to remain all our staff, and make it through the pandemic. We love it. We love the customers, and we have a ton of fun. So we thought, let’s do another one in Torrington.”

The couple chose Torrington, Noel said, because they already had a following there.

“That was the genesis of it because a lot of people are familiar with us already. With the space available at the Warner, it seemed like a great fit for us,” she said.

This week, Noel and Stoler were working in the Mertz building restaurant space. “I was up there painting yesterday,” she said. “We’re hoping to be open by the end of March or early April. I was there when it was Backstage, and as soon as I saw the space, I fell in love with it.”

New furniture and decor are also coming into the Mertz restaurant space. “There are all new colors and we’re getting all new furniture,” Noel said. “Most of what was it is gone now.”

The restaurant is large, and Stoler and Noel plan to divide it in half. “For the takeout business, customers will walk in on the bar side and order, and there’s seating there,” Noel said. “On the other side, it’ll have a different feeling, more like a venue restaurant, for private events for the theater, private parties, graduations, things like that.”

She also stressed that the Litchfield Saltwater Grille is not moving or closing. “We’re growing, not moving,” she said.