Trigo Wood Fired Pizza opened in Willimantic earlier this year, but its inspiration and name have roots more than 3,000 miles west of the eastern Connecticut community.
Owner Patrick Griffin and his brother, Phil, both went to colleges in Santa Barbara, and discovered a love for cooking and entertaining while living in the sunny central California coast city — in a residence on Trigo Road. After returning home to Connecticut, they continued an appreciation for food and local produce: Phil opened Apis Verdi Farm in Lebanon, and Patrick worked in local restaurants, with an eye on opening his own someday.
The brothers' interests officially merged in January, with the introduction of Trigo, named for their Santa Barbara experience, to Willimantic's Main Street. Patrick Griffin and his wife, Garnet McLaughlin, opened the restaurant they call a "harvest to hearth" pizzeria, with red and white pies, small plates and salads featuring local ingredients from Apis Verdi and other nearby farms and dairies.
As "fate would have it," the owners shared on the restaurant's Facebook page, "Trigo is actually Spanish for 'wheat.'"
Trigo started out as a mobile wood-fired pizza company, and Griffin chose to focus on catering during the worst of the pandemic, both to hone skills and build the brand, he said.
"Once the majority of the pandemic had subsided, we were able to turn back to the real estate side of things, and find a location here on Main Street," he said.
Pizza is the star of Trigo's menu, featuring 14-inch pies made from dough that gets a three-day rise period. "It's a little time-intensive, in terms of labor, but we really have been getting great feedback on the crust and the final product," Griffin said.
Red pies include a classic margherita, cheese with scamorza and grana padano, and pepperoni with scallion, oregano and Urfa chili, along with a meatball pie and a meat-topped variety with sweet sausage, pepperoni and bacon. Of the white varieties, Griffin said a mushroom pie with scamorza, honey, caramelized onion and bacon is a top seller, and others will rotate with seasonal ingredients, like a recent corn, bacon and clam pizza.
Trigo's signature lemon pizza, with smoked scamorza, Urfa chili and chili honey is McLaughlin's brainchild, Griffin said, starting out as a favorite on the trailer and becoming a fixture on the restaurant menu. "We didn't expect it would be a year-round one, but there's a pretty big following at this point," he said.
Trigo's wood-fired oven, which cooks the pies at about 750 degrees, is the only means of hot cooking in the restaurant, he noted — there are no grills, fryers or stovetops, so all hot items are finished in the hearth.
With the full-service restaurant, Trigo augments its pizza menu with snacks, starters and salads, in addition to a full bar with beer, wine and a mix of classic and unique cocktails. Griffin brought in head chef Kacee Potter O'Brien to lead the team on the rotating small plates options, with recent offerings like beef and pork meatballs and herb hummus with housemade harissa, bread and local crudité. Past plates have featured pastas like duck egg carbonara, fluke crudo and sauteed Stonington calamari.
"We also do sort of rotating specials on the weekends, depending on what's in season and obviously connected to my brother's farm right now," Griffin said. "We were sourcing in the winter from suppliers, and at this point in the season, essentially all the produce that we purchase and use in the restaurant comes from his farm."
The current menu features Apis Verdi's summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers and pickled shishito peppers in a panzanella salad. The squash and zucchini are also highlighted on a seasonal white pizza with scamorza cheese, garlic scape, chili crumb and preserved lemon.
At the bar, McLaughlin credits manager Leigh Wilde, "a really incredible mixologist," with Trigo's cocktail program. The menu features "elevated classics" with takes on a Paloma with cardamom, a cucumber basil martini, a caipirinha and a "dirrty" martini with olive-oil washed vodka. "House favorites" include the Jam Jar with bourbon, strawberry jam and lemon and the Thistle and Smoke, with mezcal, cynar, lemon, agave, orange bitters and aquafaba.
"We had some things that we really wanted, like a good margarita, an emphasis on fresh juices, things like that," she said. "But Leigh has a great handle on the bar and mixology, and she's always coming up with something new."
During a "Slices & Vices" weekday happy hour, available at the bar Tuesday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m., Trigo offers jumbo pizza slices along with beer, wine and cocktails specials.
"We want to do good food, unpretentiously," McLaughlin said. "We want to source food from our neighbors here in the Quiet Corner and keep the food within this community. We're trying to make sure there's something on the menu for everybody."
"Our goal was to do good, fresh food, and keeping it simple with the smaller menu, making sure everything is as fresh it could be," Griffin said. "It felt like that was going to be something that this area would appreciate, and turns out that we've gotten a great response so far. We're happy where we're at, and we're going to keep working at it."
More for you
Trigo Wood Fired Pizza is at 744 Main St. in Willimantic. It's open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m. (860) 786-7164, trigokitchen.com.
EDITORS' NOTE: Patrick Griffin and Phil Griffin are not related to the author of this article.