Best of Connecticut 2010: Food and Drink

 

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MILKSHAKE

Joey Garlic’s Farmington, (860) 678-7231, and Newington, (860) 372-4620 (joeygarlics.com)

Pomegranate? Creamsicle? Mango? Passion fruit? Yes, we too were skeptical when we first encountered some of the more unusual choices on Joey Garlic’s milkshake menu. Then our server told us that the blueberry amaretto was truly TDF, and was she ever on target. Topped with a pretty poof of fresh whipped cream, this hand-dipped honey mixes vanilla Häagen-Dazs, premium Monin flavoring syrups and whole milk into a concoction that’s neither blue, cloyingly sweet nor overrich, yet ample for two sweet tooths. One down, 24 flavors to go.

MUFFINS

4 & Twenty Blackbirds Bakeshop Guilford, (203) 458-6900 (420blackbirdsbakeshop.com)

Enjoying a muffin from 4 & Twenty is a lot like sitting in your mom’s kitchen and letting her indulge you silly—even if you happen to be scarfing it down in your car on the way to work. Delectable made-from-scratch, based-on-a-home-recipe flavors include cinnamon butter, sour-cream pecan, oatmeal raisin and banana-chocolate chip. This season, check out the cranberry-walnut, but keep in mind that there’s also a bran-walnut muffin that’s white-flour- and white-sugar-free.

MUNCHIES

Trader Joe’s Multiple locations (traderjoes.com)

Though we dimly recall life in Connecticut BTJ (Before Trader Joe’s), who wants to? Life without roasted garlic and three-cheese potato chips? No Peanut Butter-Filled Pretzels? Things must have been dull indeed without Snap-Pea Crisps, flax-seed tortilla chips, ice cream bonbons, parsnip chips, Thai Lime Chili Peanuts and all the rest. And living without those Southern-style pecan cookies? Perish the thought!

NACHOS

Coyote Blue Middletown, (860) 345-2403 (coyoteblue.com)

Just when you think nachos are beyond cliché, you come across Coyote Blue’s take on them. The folks at this inviting Southwestern café have redefined nachos as “Nachos Maximo,” an appetizer that tops hand-cut and fried tortilla chips with Monterey Jack, cheddar cheese, chicken, shredded beef, jalapeños, olives, tomatoes, scallions and sour cream—yum!

NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT:

First & Last Tavern Hartford, (860) 956-6000, and other locations (firstandlasttavern.com)

For color and character, not to mention superior thin-crust brick-oven pizzas, you can’t beat First & Last, with its warm, friendly feel and vintage photos. We came in as first-timers and were immediately welcomed as family. We can still taste our sweet-pea pizza (peas, tomato sauce, ricotta, mozzarella), but plan to try the bacon-and-onion, recommended for “the last meal” if you’re ever in that situation. There are three branches, but Hartford’s First & Last is the original, and the only one with its own bakery across the street supplying fresh bread and desserts.

Ash Creek Saloon Bridgeport, (203) 333-2733, and Norwalk, (203) 847-7500 (ashcreeksaloon.com)

In 1993, when owners Michael Friedman and Dan Katz bought what was once known as the Riverside Café in Black Rock, to say it was in need of major renovations is an understatement. But after a lot of hard work, they turned it into an authentic-looking 19th-century saloon and renamed it Ash Creek—the original name of the place in the ‘20s and ‘30s—and gained quite a following, which continues to this day. Although it’s since moved from the original building, it still serves up great comfort food for the whole gang.

The Woodland Lakeville, (860) 435-0578

This cozy local gathering place (it seats 80) has all the right ingredients: warm, friendly atmosphere (“service with a smile”), varied menu (from pistachio nut-crusted salmon with lemon beurre blanc to chicken enchiladas to grilled steak with crispy red onion rings), extensive wine list and great drinks served at a fun 14-seat bar—and did we mention the generous portions and reasonable prices? All explain why The Woodland, in the same family for 25 years (the owner is the chef), is a local favorite and a place where out-of-towners quickly feel at home.

Noah’s Stonington, (860) 535-3925 (noahsfinefood.com)

Known for “slow scratch” cooking, where all dishes are made right on the premises using basic, fresh and local ingredients, Noah’s is located in the heart of historic Stonington Borough. With a tin ceiling, paddle fans, cherry booths and ever-changing art decorating the walls, this “just-around-the-corner” chef-owned and -operated restaurant has been adored by locals for over 30 years.

Oliver’s Restaurant & Tavern Essex, (860) 767-2633 (oliverstavern.com)

This neighborhood staple is named after The Oliver Cromwell, the first ship to be built (here in Essex) for the Continental Navy in 1775. Having the family restaurant downstairs and the sports bar (with 15 HD TVs and a 10-foot HD projection screen) upstairs seems to makes everyone happy at Oliver’s, a great place to watch the game, play pool or dance the night away to music by live bands. Burgers, salads and dinner entrées are all on the menu, with a weekly lobster special that always draws a crowd.

The Village Litchfield, (860) 567-8307 (village-litchfield.com)

Sometimes it’s the feel as much as the meal, and that’s certainly the case at The Village, where the food is good and the atmosphere feels like the beating heart of this venerable hill town. Whether you’re on the bar side or in a booth on the dining room side, you’re likely to find yourself right in the middle of the local conversation, usually convivial, while benefiting from fast, friendly, professional service. The food ranges from burgers to grilled rack of lamb, with a host of weekly specials. The drink list includes good wines by the glass and interesting regional beers. They help the conversation flow.

Best of Connecticut 2010: Food and Drink

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