LITCHFIELD — Marketplace restaurant, the anchor for the “New Old Jail” complex on the Litchfield green, upped the ante on its soft opening with a large diverse crowd on a Sunday afternoon. Although the day was rainy, outdoor bistro seating was placed on the two-story walkway as a reminder of sunnier lunches and dinners that were just on the horizon of April warmth.

Waitress Kristen Willenbrock cheerfully answered questions about menu options, including Cajun shrimp and grits with a lobster reduction as an appetizer and cleverly named Warden’s Stuffed Meatloaf, and Free Bird chicken nachos.

Owner Eli Hawli was on hand, busily welcoming diners. He said the restaurant is making craft cocktails using offerings from the Litchfield Distillery and utilizing locally sourced meat, fish and vegetables for the menu choices, with breads supplied by the Bakehouse on the ground floor of the building.

General Manager Greg Garofelo pointed out the existing window bars throughout, attesting to the historic background of the building, a former jail dating back to 1812. He explained that a curiously wired appendage resembling a bombe birdcage overlooking a dining room table was previously used by prison guards to keep watch on the cells.

Russell Barton, who purchased and redeveloped the former jailhouse at 7 North Street, indicated he has more big plans for the town of Litchfield, saying, “A cultural arts center would cover it all. I would love to put a summer stock theater, live entertainment, art exhibits, etc. to give people something more than the ordinary — to make Litchfield the destination hub of the wheel and pull from the great surrounding communities within the county and beyond.”

Connecticut Media Group