Best of Connecticut 2009: Food & Drink
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Super Duper Weenie Fairfield, (203) 334-DOGS (superduper-weenie.com)
It's the toppings, stupid! Our winning wiener starts with a delicious Hummel Bros. dog that's split and grilled to a nice crunch on the outside. Then it's placed on a fresh bun and topped with a variety of killer condiments made by owner, and Culinary Institute of America grad, Gary Zemola. There are eight different dogs in all-our faves include the New Englander topped with a whole slice of crisp bacon, homemade kraut, sweet cucumber relish, spicy brown mustard and chopped onion, and the Dixie covered in meat chili and scratch-made coleslaw. Try 'em all for yourself.
Wentworth Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Hamden, (203) 281-7429, and Wallingford, (203) 265-2814
Take 16-percent-butterfat flavors like Coconut Mounds, Kahlua Heath, creamsicle and chocolate chocolate chip, add on the most decadent bittersweet hot fudge, peanut butter/caramel/marshmallow sauces and homemade whipped cream and top it all off with a cherry (or any other complement of your choice, from nuts to Gummi critters)-we call that sheer bliss that's worth the bypass surgery. There are plenty of choices for lighter diets, too, and even the family pooch can get in the act with K-9 Crunch (light vanilla with biscuit chunks).
Vecchitto's Italian Ice Middletown, (860) 346-7301, and Old Lyme, (860) 434-9231
Since 1930, people have waited in line on hot summer days for a paper cup of delicious homemade Italian ice from Joe "Slush" Vecchitto. Vecchitto has now passed on but his family continues to make the frozen treat daily at both shops, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Lemon, almond and watermelon are top sellers, but you can choose your favorite from 14 terrific flavors.
Mamoun's Falafel Restaurant New Haven, (203) 562-8444 (mamounsfalafel.com)
So, you're prowling the streets of the Elm City one night (or very early morning), with only $10 in your pocket and a maddening case of the munchies. No need to despair, or commit felony B&E at a fancy restaurant. Head for Mamoun's, open until 3 a.m. daily, where you can order an authentic Middle Eastern minifeast and still end up with a parking meter's worth of change: perhaps the falafel plate, plus a couple of stuffed grape leaves (melt-in-mouth when warm), a hummus sandwich and a small cup of tahini on the side. Grand total: $9.60. What's not to like? (We'll let you do your own math on the chicken kefta kebabs with ful mudammas.)
Kim's Light Bagels West Haven (kimslightbagels.com)
We were the first to tell you about these 110-calorie fresh (not frozen) high-fiber buns and now word about the delicious full-size bagels that won't blow your diet has spread to the rest of the bagel-loving world. After seeing the weight-loss guru on the national TV show "Better" and reading her story in her new book, Finally Thin! (Random House, 2008), people all over the country are clamoring for Kim's bagels. Select from six varieties-plain, wheat, blueberry, cinnamon, onion and everything-at grocery stores around Connecticut and New England, or order them online, where you can also see Kim.
Basta Trattoria New Haven, (203) 772-1715 (bastatrattoria.com)
"Anonna's Meatballs" are a blissful mouthful whether you order them as a piccoli piatta (small plate) or enjoy them as part of the indulgent Italian Sunday Dinner (alongside hot Italian sausage, eggplant rollatini and rigatoni). Two baseball-sized, handmade spheres of pan-roasted ground sirloin are seasoned with fresh garlic, herbs and "just a touch" of Pecorino Romano, then liberally dressed with San Marzano tomato sauce, sautÃ©ed organic bell peppers, caramelized onions and a dollop of locally produced ricotta cheese. Tender, fragrant, downright sensuous.
Shady Glen Dairy Stores Manchester, (860) 643-0511 and (860) 649-4245
For those who hold the milkshake high as a totem of our gustatory culture and who abhor the "milkshakes" plopped out at fast-food joints, may we suggest a trip to one of the Shady Glen stores in Manchester, where the old days never seemed so golden. As the servers zip by in their vintage ice-cream-parlor garb and other diners enjoy their classic cheeseburgers and fries, you can sit with your frosty chocolate (or any other flavor) shake, pouring it out gradually from its big silver shaker cup into your glass, wondering if this may indeed be the best you've ever had.
4 & Twenty Blackbirds Bakeshop Guilford, (203) 458-6900
Nothin' says lovin' like something in 4 & Twenty Blackbirds' ovens, particularly when it's a batch of made-from-scratch, based-on-a-home-recipe muffins: plum-sour cream, lemon poppy, oatmeal raisin, banana chocolate chip and our No. 1 pick, rhubarb walnut. There are 12 moist, delectable, satisfying flavors in all, served straight from the baking tins, including seasonal favorites like cranberry and pumpkin pecan.
Trader Joe's Westport, (203) 226-8966, and other locations (traderjoes.com)
By now it's clear that Trader Joe's pretty much owns this category. How so? Roasted garlic & three-cheese potato chips. Peanut butter-filled pretzels. Poppy-seed tortilla chips. Snap-Pea Crisps. Chocolate-covered cherries. Ice cream bonbons. Parsnip chips. Thai lime chili peanuts. Southern-style pecan cookies. And that's just for starters. Add your favorites here.