Best of Connecticut 2010: Food and Drink
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Foxon Park East Haven, (203) 467-7874 (foxonpark.com)
With 17 unique flavors, including Iron Brew, White Birch Beer, Gassosa and Cherry, this family-owned and -operated company has been turning out great-tasting natural soda for nearly 90 years, using only natural ingredients and 100-percent real cane sugar. You can find it at the East Haven headquarters and at your favorite local pizza joint, and you can even purchase it online by the casel.
Liquid Lunch Shelton, (203) 926-6038, and other locations (liquidlunchrestaurant.com)
Tired of the same ol’ burgers and fries for lunch? Grab your spoon and hoof it over to Liquid Lunch, where every day, owner and Culinary Institute of America grad Fred Bialek and his crew prepare 10 different soups, six of which are always on the menu: chicken noodle, beef barley, vegetarian lentil, tomato basil, French onion and split pea with ham. The other choices change daily—you might find anything from curried-shrimp-and-coconut to chicken-bacon-corn chowder. One thing you know for sure, whatever’s in your bowl will be great.
Gaetano’s Stratford, (203) 377-8860, and Monroe, (203) 268-6982 (gaetanosdeli.com)
Guy, Milanno and Pete make you feel like family when you step into this Arthur Avenue-style deli, no matter how long the line is (and sometimes it’s out the door). People come from all over for the storemade pane imbottiti (stuffed breads), which are several cuts above the rest, brimming with Italian-style meats, cheeses and vegetables. Choose from pepperoni-and-cheese, eggplant parmigiana, sausage-peppers-and-cheese, meatball parmigiana, broccoli rabe, sausage-and-cheese, vegetable-and-cheese, eggplant rollatini, ham-salami-and-cheese and chicken parmigiana, in half or whole loaves.
Miya’s Sushi New Haven, (203) 777-9760 (miyassushi.com)
Somebody needs to write a book about New Haven’s home of sustainable sushi (and its legendary architect Bun Lai), built with ingredients you’ve never seen in sushi before or since: spicy catfish, fried chicken, goat cheese, cranberries, pistachios, papaya, peanut butter, Oreo cookies . . . you get the idea. Our favorite creations are the three “babas”: kani- (jumbo soft-shelled crab with toasted Havarti and lemon dill sauce, wrapped in seasoned potato skin and garnished with teeny Asian crabs), ebi- (which substitutes tempura shrimp for the crab) and rabbi- (with tempura Arctic char). Newbies are advised to start with one of Lai’s multicourse meals for a tour of his genius: particularly the “Wednesday Night Especial,” featuring 10 courses for $35.75 per person.
Ibiza Tapas Hamden, (203) 909-6512 (ibizatapaswinebar.com)
Building on the success of Pika Tapas in New Haven, chef Ignacio Blanco opened Ibiza Tapas in Hamden, bringing what we love—his creativity and style—to this hip, yet more casual spot. The menu offers traditional and modern tapas, and each of the “little plates” is perfect for sharing: You can try everything from Albondigas de la Abuela (Spanish veal-and-pork meatballs with potatoes, peppers, white wine and saffron broth) to Xanfaina Catalana (roasted eggplant, bell peppers, tomato and onion served over toast drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt). Buen provecho!
Savvy Tea Gourmet Madison, (203) 318-8666 (savvyteagourmet.com)
Tea lovers flock to this modern tea salon not only to sample the Iron Buddha, Fairies’ Tears or other of the 250 loose-leaf teas on offer but also for the delicious soups and sandwiches, cheeses, baked goods and gelato—and especially to learn more about living the “tea lifestyle” from owners and Chinese-tea enthusiasts Phil Parda and Judith Guard. Make a reservation for one of the elegant high teas or further your tea education at one of the special tea tastings.
H. Mangels Confectioner Milford, (203) 783-9770 (hmangels.com).
H. Mangels has been making truffles the same way for three generations—by hand with the finest chocolate, butter, heavy cream and liqueurs. These melt-in-your-mouth creations of dark, milk and white chocolate come in a variety of flavors, including caramel delight Dooley’s Toffee, Raspberry Chambord, Grand Marnier and some special creations offered seasonally. Give someone you care about the gift of the “Truffle of the Month”—after they receive peppermint truffles in December and champagne truffles for New Year’s, you’ll be their sweetheart forever.
It’s Only Natural Middletown, (860) 346-9210 (ionrestaurant.com)
It’s Only Natural has proven that vegan food doesn’t have to be boring. This all-vegetarian restaurant serves a smorgasbord of creative vegan fare that even omnivores will enjoy. Favorites include sweet-potato fries, tempeh “crab” cakes and potato-spinach pierogis with apple butter and caramelized onions, and fresh baked organic whole-wheat gluten-free bread served with carrot miso spread. Delicious desserts include velvet cake with “creamtease” frosting, chocolate hazelnut cake and “teasecake,” ION’s wheat-free, nut-free cheesecake. Fresh juices, smoothies and wine and Prosecco are also served.
Dressing Room Westport, (203) 226-1114 (dressingroomhomegrown.com)
The roasted vegetable sandwich isn’t just our favorite vegetarian sandwich, it’s one of our favorite sandwiches of any kind, period. Consisting of succulent roasted portobello mushroom, grilled zucchini, the restaurant’s own house-made mozzarella, pickled onions and herb mayo, piled high on the most divine grilled country bread, it comes with a generous helping of baby greens in the restaurant’s signature mustard vinaigrette. New chef Jon Vaast has us in the palm of his hand.
Ana Parzych Custom Cakes Cheshire, (203) 439-7979 (anaparzych.com)
There are many cake bakers, but very few cake artists. Ana Parzych is in the rarefied latter category, designing truly exquisite cakes that might be adorned with hand-sculpted sugar roses or other blossoms that look freshly plucked from the garden, or sugar facsimiles of the laces, bows and pearls of the bride’s gown. Brushed embroidery is another signature detail. Born in Peru to Japanese parents, she’s been baking since she was 8 and attended art school in Peru. Lucky for us she decided to combine her two interests and settle here.
WINE BY THE GLASS
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar West Hartford, (860) 676-9463 (flemingssteakhouse.com)
Nothing enhances a meal like a glass of wine, and at Fleming’s, your choices are seemingly endless. The restaurant offers an impressive 100 wines by the glass, with chardonnays, pinot noirs, zinfandels, merlots, syrahs and much more making up the list. Can’t pick just one? Order a wine flight, two-ounce servings of your choice of three wines presented on their distinctive “Wine Vine” holder.
Ristorante Luce Hamden, (203) 407-8000 (ristoranteluce.net)
Saying Ristorante Luce has an “extensive wine list” is an understatement. The recipient of the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence year after year, they offer more than 1,000 selections spanning five decades from Italy, California, France, Germany, South Africa, Chile and Australia. You name it, they’ve probably got it.
Mt. Carmel Wine & Spirits Hamden, (203) 281-0800 (mtcarmelwine.com)
Mt. Carmel simply can’t be beat when it comes to their selection of hundreds of rare and specialty wines. They’ve been known to travel to Europe to hand-pick quality vintages, and turn around and offer them at very reasonable prices. More than a liquor store, they also hold wine dinners and tastings hosted by co-owner Bob Feinn.