Best of Connecticut 2009: Food & Drink
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Mt. Carmel Wine & Spirits Co. Hamden, (203) 281-0800 (mtcarmelwine.com).
If there is a "Best of" category where professional expertise is most appreciated, it might just be this one. Featuring rare and specialty wines, Mt. Carmel goes out of its way (like all the way to Europe) to discover quality vintages, and offers hundreds of different labels. In addition to consistently recommending top-notch wines, they also are happy to share their knowledge through their Web site, at any of their numerous wine-tasting events or simply in person.
Lyman Orchards Middlefield, (860) 349-1793 (lymanorchards.com)
If apple pie is the iconic American dessert, then Lyman's is the iconic apple pie. Bursting with sweet fruity flavor (from the Lyman family's own orchards) and enveloped in perfectly flaky, golden-brown crust, this apple pie will seduce you. Served at room temperature or gently warmed, plain or under a dollop of vanilla ice cream, Lyman's Hi-Top pie is a consistent Best of Connecticut award-winner. And remember, if you can't get to Lyman's 1,100-acre farm (complete with restaurant and golf course), these delicious pies are also sold at Big Y markets across the state.
Ami's Hot Bagels Waterbury, (203) 596-9020
There is much to be said for the simple approach-make bagels, and nothing but bagels, in 14 varieties, and sell them from a little hole-in-the-wall establishment in a Waterbury strip mall. It's a formula that continues to work wonderfully well for Ami's, especially when the bagels in question are such big, crusty, chewy gems. Recommended strategy: Get to Ami's early in the morning and stand by patiently until Jimmy emerges from the kitchen with the latest hot batch balanced on a broad baker's peel. Grab one and eat it right on the spot. Welcome to foodie heaven.
Billy's Bakery Fairfield, (203) 337-5349 (billysbakery.com)
First we heard about Billy's heavenly brioche bread-tried it, loved it. Next we discovered his chocolate mousse cake, two layers of chocolate cake filled with European-style chocolate mousse and glazed with four kinds of chocolate-true chocolate Nirvana, worth every penny (it's $35 for an 8-inch cake) and every calorie (you can diet tomorrow). Our latest love is the white cake filled and topped with fresh strawberries and real whipped cream-strawberry shortcake gone uptown-yum!
Burger Bar & Bistro South Norwalk, (203) 853-2037 (burgerbarsono.com)
Burger aficionados quickly discover this funky, family-friendly spot across from the multiplex. While the menu offers a Kobe burger ($17), the standard (7-ounce, $7.50) burger, made from organic beef that's ground in-house, topped with lettuce, tomato and onions and served in an oversize bun, is our ticket to burger heaven. More adventurous? Ten cheeses and a dozen other toppings are available as add-ons. Want the ultimate? Try the Ultimate, with smothered onions, Gorgonzola, pancetta and balsamic vinegar. Here you can choose your own road to burger bliss.
MACARONI AND CHEESE
85 Main Putnam, (860) 928-1660 (85main.com)
Ye olde mac-and-cheese is back in favor, and traditionalists can rejoice. Top destination for mac-and-cheese lovers looking for something special is Putnam, where James Martin, chef-owner of popular 85 Main, offers creative variations on the theme, among them one with heirloom tomatoes, artichokes and native peppers, one with lobster, roasted corn, caramelized leeks, baby spinach and Fontina cheese, one with prosciutto, roasted red peppers, shiitake mushrooms and Fontina cheese-you get the idea. Note: The mac-and-cheese is not on the regular menu, but is offered as a special, especially in the winter (high season for comfort food).
BREAKFAST: COFFEE CAKE
Claire's Corner Copia New Haven, (203) 562-3888 (claires-cornercopia.com)
Claire's has been winning kudos for its rich, dense Lithuanian coffee cake, aka Sally Tessler's mother's coffee cake, for more than 30 years now. As for the recipe, though sworn to secrecy we can report it is made with real coffee, is streusel-filled and topped with chef-owner Claire Criscuolo's famously rich buttercream frosting. How popular is it? When a fire broke out a few years ago at Claire's, anxious Yalies chanted, "Don't let the buttercream burn-save the Lithuanian coffee cake!"
BREAKFAST: EGG DISH
Kitchen Little Mystic, (860) 536-2122 (visitconnecticut.com/kitchenlittle/)
They rightfully call it "A.M. Eggstasy" at this wee funky Mystic River-side shack. Start with anything named Benedict (the eggs will be poached to perfection and the hollandaise homemade), particularly the California Benedict with fresh asparagus and crabmeat. Favorite scrambles among the regulars: the spicy Portuguese Fisherman, with peppers, onions and jalapeÃ±o cheese, and the Mystic Melt, featuring cream cheese and crab. The Heart Healthy omelet (one yolk and three whites) is a vegetarian dream, chockablock with fresh spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, onions and carrots.
BREAKFAST: FRENCH TOAST
Patty's Restaurant Litchfield, (860) 567-3335
Patty's is one of those delightful places where everything on the menu looks good, especially if you arrive there in the morning with a big appetite for breakfast. We can recommend without hesitation the egg dishes (the apple, cheddar and sausage omelet is a standout) and the pancakes, but this time we'd like to talk about the French toast. The choices, all good, include cinnamon-raisin, apple-cinnamon, Texas-style, and stuffed with cream cheese and ricotta, then topped with fresh fruit. Add some real maple syrup and you are in for a serious sit-down.
Chip's Family Restaurant Orange, (203) 795-5065 (chipsrest.com).
It says "The Best Pancakes Around" right on the front of the restaurant, so who are we to argue? For the past 43 years, Chip's has been serving up some of the lightest, fluffiest pancakes in dozens of different varieties, including coconut crunch, German apple, piÃ±a colada, cinnamon raisin and, our favorite, the decadent Choc-a-holic: buttermilk pancakes stuffed with white and milk chocolate chips, drizzled with chocolate sauce, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with whipped cream. If that doesn't get your morning off to a sweet start, then nothing will!