It’s Called, Simply, RED HOUSE
by RONA MANN
“There’s a red house over yonder, that’s where my baby stays…” …Jimi Hendrix
When you see those lyrics, can’t you just hear Jimi Hendrix in your head?
Well, this is a story about Jimi and John and Johnny and the Dead and the Stones and the Allman Brothers and pig wings and mean beans and chicken fajita salad and two guys who’ve known each other forever and the women they love who love them and the great friends they have… and always, always, it’s a story about the music. In short, this is about a marriage. A wonderful, eclectic marriage that has withstood the test of time. It’s a marriage that works because they work hard at it. It’s called, simply, Red House.
It all started 38 years ago in kindergarten in Middletown, Connecticut when little Marc DeTour and little Rob Fralick became friends. Back then they may have pricked their fingers and rubbed their blood together in a childish sign of friendship. Now they happily spar with each other, complement each other, and mix their personalities, styles, and expertise together in friendship to create a winning enterprise. It’s called, simply, Red House.
A few years beyond kindergarten, Rob and Marc both found themselves at American University in Washington,D.C., Rob earning a degree in history, Marc finding bartending and the restaurant business more interesting than the classroom. Soon Rob eventually fell into the same business, calling himself an “accidental restaurateur.”
Life forces that often shape our destiny without our say had a mighty hand in things. While at American University Rob met Abby, and they became friends. When Marc came to the university, Rob introduced his friend, Abby to Marc, and they later married. If this weren’t enough of coincidence or karma or whatever you’d like to label it, Marc wound up introducing Rob to his friend named Ginny, who later became Rob’s wife!
“Not only are they our life partners,” Rob said, “but we couldn’t do Red House without them. They are an integral part of this business in every way. Abby often runs the front of the house, while Ginny, who has an extraordinary talent for art and design, has completely orchestrated the interior of the restaurant. It is her vision that adorns the walls, making Red House that different kind of place.”
But Red House is more than ambiance. It is a marriage not just of the partners and their wives, but of the team they have put together, very carefully and purposefully. This is not your typical restaurant with a swinging door of employees. “Our chef started working with me in other restaurants when he was 14, and he’s still with me,” reports Rob. “When we started, I wanted my lawyer to represent us. Marc wanted his accountant. We agreed, and they’re both still with us. So is our waitstaff. They are fiercely proud of the brand we have worked so hard to create, and the customers appreciate their passion and their honesty.”
So, what exactly is Red House? While many restaurants are quick to label their food, Rob and Marc are slow to answer, but agree on “Fusion Comfort Food.” And what’s that, exactly? “I’d say it’s classic comfort food, but with a twist,” Marc said. “We took everything we personally liked and put it together,” added Rob.
A look at the menu affirms their vision and definition. The Starters begin with House Chili topped with cheddar cheese and scallions, always a popular favorite. Moving through crowd pleasers like nachos, sweet potato fries, and wings, the “comfort-with-a-twist” concept bursts forth with quesadillas, not just stuffed with the perfunctory beef or chicken, but showcased here with choices of pulled pork or beef brisket, a favorite of Rob’s. “I am a huge fan of barbecue,” he begins, “but I have a problem when other restaurants say they have true Texas or Kansas City barbecue. This is Connecticut, not Texas or Kansas City, so we do barbecue, but it’s influenced by those places…not intended to copy them.” And then there are Red House’s famous pig wings…mini pork shanks tossed in an Asian sweet chili sauce… and a southern favorite, fried pickles and okra with buttermilk ranch.
Marc is a salad man, and the menu showcases a respectable selection of greens; but here too, there is that twist. Garden salads may be dressed not only with grilled chicken or fire-roasted shrimp, but with beef brisket…not your average bowl of greens! Red House’s Wedge has the obligatory bacon and bleu cheese, but surprises the palate with the addition of pickled red onions.
Sandwiches run the gamut from the classic burger, to Dr. Pepper basted beef brisket, to pulled duck breast with sesame ginger sauce wrapped in a flour tortilla. For those with a heartier appetite, Red House does not disappoint with barbecue dinners, grilled fish tacos, “the best flat iron steak you can get for less than $20.,” and the ever-popular comfort food, mac and cheese…ah, but the boys of Red House are not content to leave it alone. They’ve added jalapeno bacon and a corn bread topping. And always, there are the daily, but never predictable, specials, from appetizer to dessert.
“Fusion” means more than just food to Marc and Rob. “For all of us, it’s working together in harmony,” says Marc. “Having food choices that our customers respond to, having prices that are affordable, while still putting out the highest quality product for the money.” It’s having a bar that’s both friendly and price conscious. And having entertainment that spans a wide demographic. If you think Red House is only about food, you are dead wrong! “I need music like I need water and oxygen,” Rob states matter-of-factly. “So there is always music at Red House. We have live bands on the weekends playing mostly classic rock and blues, but the rest of the time we have our own music here, both in the bar and the dining room.”
“There’s never a cover for our bands,” Marc adds, “and they are a huge draw.”
So is the decor! There is no way to describe Red House, but to see it for yourself. The walls are festooned with old 45rpm and 78rpm records, affording a nod to the baby boomers and older demographic and providing a real attraction to the younger crowd. Images of Hendrix, Lennon, Cash, and others are throughout…as one customer complimented, It’s our very own Hard Rock!”
The van parked out back is…what else?…a VW bus, complete with surfboard on the roof and the Red House logo wrapped around the chassis. “I like to make things with one more step that makes it different,” Marc says proudly.
He has…and in spades. So has Rob. This very successful marriage has brought together the men, the wives, their friends, their colleagues, the music lovers; and most importantly, the customers. But it’s not finished yet. Together they are all forging something new, different, exciting, and ever-evolving in the restaurant business. It’s a work in progress.
“It’s still developing,” says Rob, looking around. “We don’t want to replicate anything. We don’t want a chain of places. We simply want to make this place the very best it can be.”
It’s called, simply, Red House.
Red House is over yonder at 158 Main Street, right in the heart of Deep River. It’s easy to find, impossible to forget!