Best of Connecticut 2009: Food & Drink

 

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CHEESE SELECTION

Whole Foods Market Multiple locations (wholefoodsmarket.com)
For depth (seven types of Havarti) as well as breadth (300 varieties from all over the world), Whole Foods wins this category hands down. The Web site's very helpful cheese selector provides useful info on pairings and nutrition, and none of the cheeses contain artificial flavors or colors or synthetic preservatives. Best of all, you can sample as many as you want, so you're guaranteed to go home with a cheese you love. Just say, "Cheese."

CHOCOLATES

Belgique Patisserie & Chocolatier Kent, (860) 927-3681
Here's a small addition for the "bucket list": Before you die, indulge in a fleur de sel chocolate caramel (hand "painted" on the outside) from Belgique. After that, we bet you'll have enough time left to move on to, say, the Cleopatra (a gold-speckled praline filled with dark chocolateand passionfruit) or any number of inventively shaped solid chocolates (from pianos and conch shells to Scotties). All are handmade from 100 percent butterfat Belgian Callebaut chocolate, considered the best in the world. Want to live large? Order your assortment in a chocolate chocolate box.

BREW PUB

Willimantic Brewing Co. Willimantic, (860) 423-6777 (willibrew.com).
If you truly enjoy quaffing all variety of beer and ale, it's hard to imagine a better place than the Willimantic Brewing Co. In addition to the dozen beers they handcraft each month in their seven-barrel brewery-located in a distinctive former post office building-they also offer 20 different microbrews from across the Northeast on tap as well as many bottled domestic and imported beers. So whether it's an AmBEERlicious American Ale, an India Pilsner or simply their Certified Gold, raise a mug to the best around!

CLAM CHOWDER

Tavern on Main Westport (203) 221-7222 (tavernonmain.com)
Tavern on Main's ambrosial clam chowder has been a hit since the day it opened in 1995. The delicious concoction is made with fresh-steamed clams and clam broth/juice, applewood-smoked bacon, cream, potatoes, parsley and a touch of butter, along with a couple of top-secret ingredients the restaurant won't divulge. And the accompanying crunchy oyster crackers, made by the pastry chef, are the sublime finishing touch. Enjoy a cup on the outdoor terrace and take in the (never dull) passing Main Street scene.

COFFEE BAR

Bean & Leaf New London, (860) 701-0000 (bean-leaf.com)
You're guaranteed to find the brew for you at Bean & Leaf. The coffee bar is fully stocked with coffees selected from a select group of farms around the world. You can let your taste buds do the traveling for you. If you like caramel and cocoa, try the Brazil blend. If fruity and bold is what you're looking for, we recommend the Sidamo blend. Whatever your preference, you're sure to enjoy it in comfortable surroundings.

COFFEE BAR

Jojos Coffee & Tea Hartford, (860) 524-1488, and New Haven, (203) 785-8888 (cafejojo.com)
Jojo's in Hartford is an established Pratt Street hub for javaphiles, but we particularly admire the gumption of the New Haven café-just over a year old-for setting up shop on the corner of Chapel and Park directly across from Dunkin' Donuts. (Thank goodness there's no such thing as "too many" coffee shops in that city.) All its coffee blends, hailing largely from Africa and South America, are roasted on-site. Dozens of tea selections are also available daily; not-to-be-missed delectables include the homemade scones, lemon tea biscuits and open-face cucumber sandwiches.

COFFEE BAR

Molten Java Coffee Roasters Bethel, (203) 739-0313 (myspace.com/moltenjava or moltenjavaevents.com)
There's an authentic coffeehouse vibe at this indie java joint where free-trade coffee is served and also sold in bulk. Beans are roasted on the premises one pound at a time to provide customers a really delicious fresh cup o' joe. Lattes, cappuccino, hot chocolate and more than 20 types of tea are also on the menu along with soups, wraps and fresh hot cookies. Wednesday Night Poetry has become a real draw here, with people traveling from all over the state to attend and perform. There's also live music Thursday through Saturday nights.  

CONNECTICUT BEER

Thomas Hooker Brewing Co. Bloomfield, (860) 242-3111 (hookerbeer.com)
"Shockingly refreshing" is how the Hooker Brewery describes its Watermelon Ale, a summer brew that is perfect for late afternoon cookouts and slow-pitch softball games. Equally refreshing, however, is the notion that a small brewery in Bloomfield could produce such big results, with award-winning brews that range from an Oktoberfest to year-round lagers and an IPA. For an up-close look at the brewing process and the freshest beer possible, check out Hooker's Friday-night open house and weekend tours and tastings. 

CONNECTICUT WINE

Chamard Vineyards Clinton, (860) 664-0299 (chamard.com)
Blessed with a location two miles from Long Island Sound and six miles from the mouth of the Connecticut River-fostering a microclimate with a long, warm growing season and mild winters-Clinton's Chamard, the cornerstone of our state's 19-vineyard Wine Trail, has been producing award-winning vintages (principally Chardonnay) for the last 20 years. It's a great place for tours, tastings and other special events, too: Sunday farmers' markets with regional vendors run through October; upcoming wine seminars include sessions "Celebrating Pinot Noir" and on choosing "Holiday Dinner Wines."

COOKIES

Sweet Maria's Waterbury, (203) 755-3804 (sweet-marias.com)
Maria Bruscino Sanchez wrote the book on cookies-literally. Actually, she's done two cookbooks on cookies, Sweet Maria's Italian Cookie Tray and Sweet Maria's Cookie Jar, as well as ones on cakes and Italian desserts. So she knows whereof she bakes! There is an amazing number to choose from-peanut butter, maple walnut, gingersnaps, fluffernutter bars, chocolate almond macaroons, pignoli nut cookies and, of course, good old chocolate-chip-so visit often or buy them online. Get an assortment and you can try them all.

Best of Connecticut 2009: Food & Drink

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