Secrets Bistro & Bar in Hartford is a Made-for-Instagram Jamaican Wine Lounge and Restaurant – Hartford Courant

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While creating Secrets Bistro & Bar, set to open Sunday at 250 Main St. in Hartford, Michelle Smith captured two different vibes.

The tasteful wine and beer bar, comfy cushioned seating, outdoor patio, playfully decorated alcoves, large flower-bedecked porch swing, and downtown location would suggest an after-work lounge for friends to hang out in. relax with a bottle of red and take selfies for Instagram.

But behind the alluring decor hides a kitchen that prepares Caribbean meals just like at home. Smith is from Clarendon, Jamaica and graduated in 1995 from Weaver High. She is known in the local culinary community as the former owner of Michelle’s Kitchen in East Hartford. She is also a beauty entrepreneur, who created a line of skincare products called Secret Shades.

Secrets Bistro & Bar is a step up from Michelle’s Kitchen. “I always wanted a restaurant with a terrace and a bar,” she said. “I wanted something elegant, with tinted windows so as not to see outside. I want people to know they are in Hartford but not feel like they are in Hartford like they are on vacation.

Secrets will open Sunday from 1-4 p.m. with a “Secret Sunday Brunch” for $40 per person and a “Jerk Chicken Festival” from 4-6 p.m. for $10.

“I will keep the last Sunday of every month as my secret Sunday brunch day,” she said. “Wear your Sunday outfit.”

A selection of Jamaican dishes is offered at Secrets Bistro Bar.  Reggae bowl, Jerk Chicken, Festivals and for dessert - Rum and Raisin banana split.  Michelle Smith is opening Secrets Bistro Bar on October 2, 2022. (Douglas Hook/Hartford Courant)

Smith is supported in the kitchen by her husband, Montego Bay native Kasim Smith. The restaurant is a family affair. Smith is helped at the restaurant by her four children – Chavar Delaire, Justice Taylor, Zhania Brissett and Bella’star Brissett – as well as her son’s father, William Delaire. She was helped with the financing by her aunt, Valerie Brown.

“I want to leave this place as a legacy for my children,” Smith said.

When she was a child, aged 5, Smith was taught to cook by her aunt Mrs. Joe. “I had to milk the goats to make porridge. I had to draw water from the well. We had no electricity. The light came from a kerosene lamp,” she said. “Then I would go to bed. Six children, all siblings and cousins, slept in the same bed.

She moved to Hartford a few years later. “I was already a cooking pro,” she said.

The fun atmosphere of Secrets – pink neon lights, glittering signs, chandeliers – exudes the exact opposite of Smith’s tough upbringing. “Each section is configured differently. I want to fill it with pretty girls taking pictures of themselves,” she said.

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The 3,950-square-foot restaurant, in the vacancy vacated years ago by Max Bibo’s, was made possible by a $150,000 matching grant from HartLift, the city’s program to revitalize empty spaces in the downtown.

Michelle Smith is opening Secrets Bistro Bar on October 2, 2022. (Douglas Hook/Hartford Courant)

In the kitchen, Smith and Smith immerse themselves in Jamaican cuisine. She serves the classics – jerk chicken, chicken stew, fried chicken, pork stew, oxtail, goat curry, escovitch fish, whiting, pepper steak – in take-out portions only for $12 to $20, with daily rotating menu offerings.

The menu goes high end from there. On the extensive dinner menu, entrees range from $15 to $40. The offerings include many of those same recipes in more upscale preparations as well as lamb chops ($30); a “reggae bowl” with ackee, saltfish, pumpkin, pineapple, peppers and plantains ($30), jerk barbecue ribs ($26); macaroni and cheese with jerk chicken ($27); and “jerkak hen” for $25. Like takeout, the menu changes daily.

A selection of Jamaican dishes is offered at Secrets Bistro Bar.  Reggae bowl, Jerk Chicken, Festivals and for dessert - Rum and Raisin banana split.  Michelle Smith is opening Secrets Bistro Bar on October 2, 2022. (Douglas Hook/Hartford Courant)

The seafood offerings are extravagant, starting at $12 for pepper prawns and up to $25 for stew and escovitch fish, $35 for snapper or salmon, $40 for curry conch, $45 for the lobster tail, $50 for the octopus and $75 for a seafood bowl. in garlic butter, with shrimp, scallops, mussels, lobster and crab legs.

Smith also serves pasta ($12-$16), salads ($12), wings ($8-$13), house juices ($10) and desserts including chocolate cake and banana split ($8 to $12).

The Secrets Bistro & Bar is open Tuesday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and closed on Sundays except for the Secret Sunday Brunch from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the last Sunday of each month. facebook.com/profile.php?id=100047581759856.

Susan Dunne can be contacted at [email protected].

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