Best of Connecticut 2009: Food & Drink
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Ash Creek Saloon Bridgeport, (203) 333-2733 (ashcreeksaloon.com)
Since opening in 1993, Ash Creek Saloon has appealed to a variety of folk, whether it's to sample the award-winning ribs and barbecue or to enjoy the casual, Western-inspired decor and friendly atmosphere. Entrees such as Southern-fried chicken and Texas rib eye anchor the menu, while the new location in the Black Rock section of town now offers a popular outdoor patio. And really, aren't food and ambience the two main reasons you go to any restaurant on a regular basis?
GW Tavern Washington Depot, (860) 868-6633 (gwtavern.com)
It is very pleasant to think of the GW Tavern as the weather cools and the idea of a cozy, convivial wayside watering hole becomes more and more appealing. Here, visitors will find a converted pre-Civil War house hard by the Shepaug River, with wood paneling and beams, high-backed booths, and murals and Colonial-era portraiture on the walls. At the bar, there's a couch by the big fireplace and live music on most weekend nights. The menu abounds in comfort food and well-prepared American fare, the sort of thing GW himself might have expected had he dismounted here on a wintry night.
Noah's Stonington, (860) 535-3925 (noahsfinefood.com)
For the past 30 years, this fine dining restaurant has been devoted to "slow scratch" cooking using the freshest local ingredients. You're guaranteed an intimate dining experience, as the restaurant seats 75 guests in two rooms. Noah's has proven simplicity is best, with a straight-ahead menu that highlights fresh seafood and lots of specials. The perfect place to enjoy home cooking for breakfast, lunch or dinner-even if mom didn't make it!
The Village Litchfield, (860) 567-8307 (village-litchfield.com)
There's no place like home-or The Village. This restaurant located on the south side of the Litchfield green offers friendly and snappy customer service. With the menu ranging from the classic Village Burger to grilled rack of lamb, you're sure to find whatever you crave. Don't be surprised to find local events and fundraisers being held in the bar as you dine.
River Tavern Chester, (860) 526-9417 (rivertavernchester.net)
In its relatively short eight years of life, this storefront restaurant, brainchild of chef-owner Jonathan Rapp (also behind the popular summertime Dinners at the Farm), has won the hearts and minds of area foodies. While the more formal back of the restaurant is perfect for special occasions, locals gravitate to the casual "tavern" area in front (try for table 1, tucked near the bar), order artichoke dip with homemade pita chips and hummus with warm pita bread, and schmooze with their neighbors over a Dark & Stormy or pink Vodka. On the walls: works by the late Sol LeWitt, a longtime Chester resident.
Wood 'N' Tap Hartford, (860) 232-8277, and other locations (woodntap.com)
The welcoming, neighborhood feel of Wood 'N' Tap is clearly contagious, because the orginal in Hartford has now been joined by others in Farmington, Southington, Rocky Hill and Vernon. The Hartford location draws a young crowd with an easygoing vibe, a menu that centers on burgers, pizza, sandwiches and salads, and a decent assortment of beers. Other pleasures include an affordable Sunday brunch and outdoor dining. And if you don't have one near you, be patient-the franchise is just starting to build.
The Cookhouse New Milford, (860) 355-4111 (thecookhouse.com)
Would you ever turn down something called Super Nachos? We didn't think so. The Cookhouse's fantastic nachos certainly live up to their name, consisting of a heaping plate of taco chips smothered in chili, pepper jack cheese, jalapeÃ±o peppers, fresh tomato salsa and lime sour cream. True heaven on a plate.
Claire's Corner Copia New Haven, (203) 562-3888 (clairescornercopia.com)
Long before healthful eating was in, Claire Criscuolo was showing women (and real men, and kids) how to eat smart with good-for-you, flavor- and texture-perfect quiche-made with organic eggs and veggies and transfat-free shortening for a flaky yet tender crust. Try the organic baby spinach with cheddar, the organic tomato with fresh basil and ricotta, the roasted veggie, the mushroom with Swiss, the spinach-caramelized onions-goat cheese-and instantly feel healthier. Bonus: Quiche is now served with a minisalad of organic greens and homemade country-white-and-wheat bread.
Liv's Oyster Bar Old Saybrook, (860) 395-5577 (livsoysterbar.com)
We highly recommend the bar at Liv's-the oyster bar, that is. The raw bar offers selections of oysters and littleneck clams on the half-shell, Gulf white shrimp cocktail and a shellfish sampler consisting of oysters, shrimp, clams and crab claws. Liv's takes pride in making sure the bar is stocked with the freshest seafood from New England, Nova Scotia and beyond.