Best of Connecticut 2010: Food and Drink

 

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HOT DOG

Super Duper Weenie Fairfield, (203) 334-DOGS (superduperweenie.com)

Has serious face time on “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” created a coasting mentality at this Connecticut gem? No way. The hot dogs are as good as ever, the fries are sublime, the steak sandwich supreme and the Boylan beverages boffo. But let’s get back to the dogs. To name just a few, there’s the New Englander (sauerkraut, bacon, mustard, sweet relish and raw onion); the New Yorker (sauerkraut, onion sauce, mustard and hot relish); the Chicagoan (lettuce, tomato, mustard, celery salt, hot relish and pickle); and the Californian (homemade meat chili, freshly chopped onion, American cheese and hot relish). You just can’t get this anywhere else.

HOT FOOD BAR

Stew Leonard’s Norwalk, (203) 847-7214, and other locations (stewleonards.com)

Stew’s pretty much owns this category. After all, the eye-popping hot bar here incudes crowd-pleasing dishes like BBQ chicken, meatballs, spare ribs (regular or Chinese), fried shrimp, penne pasta pomodoro, and wings, lots of wings—take your pick: Italian-style, teriyaki, buffalo, honey-BBQ and crispy. There are also very good soups and more unusual items, like Cajun haddock and roasted beef with coffee-cocoa tapenade. Best of all, it’s Thanksgiving at Stew’s—with turkey and all the fixin’s—every day.

ICE CREAM

Rich Farm Oxford, (203) 881-1040 (richfarmicecream.com)   

If your surname is “Rich” and you use it in your family’s ice cream business, your product better be rich—and creamy and delicious. For 16 years, the Rich family has lived up to its name, making fresh ice cream every day in 30 flavors—from Almond Joy to Razzmanian Devil to York Peppermint Pattie—in addition to yogurt and soft-serve, sweet concoctions that have drawn ice-cream devotees to their 100-acre hillside dairy farm from across the state. Rich Farm recently added an enclosed room so now you can enjoy the best year-round.

ITALIAN ICE

Vecchitto’s Italian Ice Middletown, (860) 346-7301, and Old Lyme, (860) 434-9231

For 80 summers, the Vecchitto family has been putting a chill in mouths and a smile on lips of Italian-ice fans from across Connecticut. On many a hot night, families will make the pilgrimage to either Middletown or Old Lyme to enjoy the frozen treat, made fresh daily and available in 14 great flavors. Watermelon? Lemon? Chocolate? Almond? Does it matter? A trip to Vecchitto’s is a tradition that allows you to try something deliciously different every time.

ITALIAN SAUSAGE

La Molisana Italian Sausage Waterbury, (203) 574-1272

Named for the Molise region of Italy, this small shop in the Town Plot neighborhood of Waterbury is like a trip to Italia itself. Run for over a decade by the Lupo family, it has shelves and cases stocked with all sorts of tasty Italian treats, including cheeses, pastas, meatballs and, most importantly, homemade sausage. The Lupos offer a flavorful array, from hot and sweet pork sausage to coppa (pork loin), soprasetta (a dry-cured salami) and a seasoned dry sausage. Like Nonna says, Abbondanza!

JERK CHICKEN

Tropical Breeze Jamaican Restaurant West Haven, (203) 931-7115 (tropicalbreezejamaicankitchen.com)

Used to be you had to travel to Jamaica to get jerk chicken, but not anymore. Jean Ross’ Tropical Breeze Jamaican Kitchen in West Haven makes authentic jerk chicken that’s as good as it gets. First they marinate the chicken with a rub of Scotch bonnet peppers, scallions, garlic, thyme, ginger, coriander and allspice. Then the chicken pieces are grilled slowly, producing sumptuous fall-off-the-bone barbecue with a spicy, flavorful crust. It’s served with Jamaican-style rice and peas and steamed cabbage. To get the complete island experience, chase your meal with a can of Grace coconut water.

LATE-NIGHT BITE

Mamoun’s Falafel Restaurant New Haven, (203) 562-8444 (mamouns.com)

The hour’s late but your stomach isn’t quite ready to call it a night yet—what to do? Mamoun’s is more than ready to oblige, with a menu featuring a variety of Middle-Eastern specialties, including baba ghanouj, hummus, tabouleh plates and sandwiches, as well as shawarma and kebobs galore. And of course, there’s always the falafel: chick peas, onion, parsley, garlic and other spices deep fried to perfection and served in a pita with tomatoes and lettuce. That should fix any late-night craving!

LIGHT BAGEL

Kim’s Light Bagels West Haven (kimslightbagels.com)

According to weight-loss guru Kim Bensen,”You can have your bagel and eat it, too.” We agree. These 110-calorie fresh (not frozen) full-size bagels really are delicious and won’t blow your diet. Kim’s been in demand since word of her bagels spread—now dieters all over the country log on to kimbensen.com every Thursday night at 8 to attend the live online weight-loss meetings she conducts right from her Connecticut home. Select from six varieties—plain, wheat, blueberry, cinnamon, onion and “everything”—at grocery stores around Connecticut and New England, or order them online.

MACARONI AND CHEESE

85 Main Putnam, (860) 928-1660 (85main.com)

You won’t find mac-­and-cheese on the regular menu, but it’s always listed as a special. Year-round, you can expect delicious variations on the theme—like “pesto shrimp mac & cheese” (fresh herb and garlic shrimp with baby spinach, peas, vine-ripe tomato, cob-smoked bacon and Cabot cheddar Mornay-tossed penne) and “mac & cheese with herb-roasted chicken” (with chicken, trumpet and chanterelle mushrooms, sherry, organic arugula, dried cherries, fresh herbs and Cabot cheddar Mornay- tossed penne). The possibilities seem infinite in the hands of talented chef-owner James Martin.

MEATBALLS

Basta Trattoria New Haven, (203) 772-1715 (bastatrattoria.com)

If you thought all meatballs were created equal, then Anonna’s Meatballs, available as a small plate or as part of the Italian Sunday Dinner at Basta, will have you thinking again. Big yet tender, they’re made with ground Black Angus sirloin and Pecorino Romano cheese, but the secret ingredient may be the San Marzano tomatoes in the sauce . . . or the caramelized onions . . . or the sautéed organic bell peppers . . . or that touch of white wine. Whatever it is, the taste is sublime—and another reason to visit this homey trattoria next to Claire’s.

Best of Connecticut 2010: Food and Drink

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