Best of Connecticut 2009: Food & Drink

 

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BARBECUE

The Cookhouse New Milford, (860) 355-4111 (thecookhouse.com)
"Slo-smoked" barbecue is the name of the game at The Cookhouse, a spot for those with a taste for good ol' country comfort food. Owner Rob Ryder has filled the menu with authentic Southern cuisine, including baby-back ribs, pulled pork and burnt ends. Bring the whole family and split the Family Feast, served family-style with three meat platters of your choice (brisket, ribs, chicken, pulled pork, andouille sausage or burnt ends) and tasty sides. Pair it with a large bread basket filled with buttermilk biscuits and corn muffins and you're good to go.

BREAD

Chabaso New Haven, (203) 562-9007 (chabaso.com)
Bread is the staff of life, they say, and with no preservatives and little or no fat, Chabaso breads are sure to make that life a healthy one. We discovered "New England's favorite artisan bakery" via their golden ciabatta rolls, then graduated to their olive oil ciabatta and cranberry-pecan multigrain. You'll find them at Atticus in New Haven, and at Stop & Shop, Shaw's and Big Y.

CHEESECAKE

Stockbridge's Gourmet Cheesecakes and Delectables Shelton, (203) 924-7853 (stockbridgescheesecakes.com)
Culinary Institute of America grad Brian Stockbridge and his wife Lisa have grown their hole-in-the-wall cheesecake-making operation into a stylish bakery and cafe;, with their cakes now available at Stew Leonard's in Danbury as well. Their winning recipe: 45 varieties of cheesecakes, from the simple but elegant New York-style to variations like maple walnut, lemon-raspberry and Oreo. Note to the indecisive: Try a minibite platter. Note to brides: Wedding cheesecakes and cheesecake bars are a specialty.

CUPCAKE

Sugarbelle Glastonbury, (860) 652-9600 (sugarbellecakes.com)
Can a cupcake be considered a work of art? At Sugarbelle, a confection boutique also offering cakes, cookies and petits fours, absolutely. Not only are their cupcakes out-of-this-world delicious, but their pretty, intricate designs will amaze you. Choose from a variety of cake flavors and frostings, like red velvet, cider spice and hazelnut, and frostings ranging from maple to lemon to mint. But leave room for their hottest seller: the signature Swiss Meringue Buttercream Dahlia. Mmmm.

FRIED CALAMARI

Toro Newtown, (203) 364-0099 (toronewtown.com)
There's some kickin' calamari around these parts, but none is quite as delicate and flavorful as the Asian-style dish at Toro in Newtown. The restaurant, which features Chinese and Japanese cuisine (including some of the best sushi around), serves this tantalizingly crispy dish in style, piled high in the center of a broad-rimmed plate and drizzled with a homemade mayo and pureed pepper infusion that complements the tender fish perfectly (no chewy rubberlike rings here!). Just remember to order the "Asian-style" variety for gently seasoned melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

GELATO

Gelato Giuliana Wallingford, (203) 269-2200 (gelatogiuliana.com)
Never having heard anyone say they didn't care for gelato, that heavenly frozen confection from Italy, we think it's safe to say that nobody doesn't love Gelato Giuliana. The original recipe was developed by Italian entrepreneur Giuliana Maravalle at Caffe Bottega in New Haven; her company has since added a wide array of flavors, from classic cappuccino, nocciola and pistachio to the more unconventional apple cobbler, cherry cheesecake and 'smores. Check out the Web site for a list of purveyors.

GRINDER

Nardelli's Grinder Shoppe Naugatuck, (203) 729-9470, and Waterbury, (203) 754-5600 (nardellis.com).
On a recent visit, a friend pointed to the long glass counter at Nardelli's and said, "That food looks so amazing, it doesn't even seem real." Not only is it real, it's really good! From cold grinders like the Italian (pruzitini, capicola, salami and provolone) to hot ones like the mozzarella-and-tomato-chicken or the classic Nardelli's-style steak, all it takes is one delicious bite to realize why Nardelli's has been named the best for 10 years in a row.

PASTA SAUCE

Bobo's Pasta Sauce New Haven, (203) 387-2626 (bobospastasauce.com)
Having honed his skills at the popular Dayton Street Apizza in New Haven and First Street Apizza in Seymour (one of his pies graced the cover of Connecticut Magazine in March 2006), owner Chris Guerra has now-at his customers' request-moved into the sauce business. Made in small batches with ripe, high-quality tomatoes and all-natural ingredients, Bobo's marinara, vodka and puttanesca varieties more than passed muster in our editors' kitchens and are becoming Connecticut favorites as quickly as the jars can find shelf space in grocery stores around the state.

PATISSERIE

Isabelle et Vincent Fairfield, (203) 292-8022 (isabelleetvincent.com)
Lucky for us that Isabelle and Vincent Koenig decided to pursue their sweet version of the American dream in Connecticut. Their shop recalls a pâtisserie in Alsace-mais oui, as Vincent spent 22 years working in his family's place in Strasbourg. Their cakes-e.g., the chess cake (a vanilla and chocolate mousse cake topped with white and dark chocolate chess pieces)-are divine, their pastries sublime. Best of show: the minimacaroons, truffles made with Valrhona chocolate, and mille-feuilles, aka napoleons-customers line up for them on weekends.

PIZZA

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana New Haven, (203) 865-5762, and other locations (pepespizzeria.com).
For decades, Pepe's pizza has been thought by many to be the very best in a state blessed with a bounty of incredible pie-makers, so it's no surprise that Pepe's has been expanding its influence, recently opening a pizzeria at Mohegan Sun. Fortunately, none of this has diminished the original thin-crust pies that everyone has come to love, piping hot fresh from coal-fired brick ovens.

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Best of Connecticut 2009: Food & Drink

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