Best of Connecticut 2010: Food and Drink
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Del Prete Italian Pastry Bridgeport, (203) 333-6993
Great cannoli are hard to come by, which makes Del Prete the easy winner two years in a row. Owner Lou Mezzo and crew bake up their Italian pastry specialties every day at the same shop where his father started more than 60 years ago. On holidays, a crowd gathers in the small bakery and waits for the fresh sfogliatelle, cassatta, cookies and the sweetest of the dolci—the cannoli! Each crisp shell is made by hand, fried and then filled with the creamiest sweetened ricotta and garnished with chocolate chips. Cannoli this good go down so easy.
Jordan Caterers Design and Event Planners Cheshire, (203) 272-8213, and Darien, (203) 655-8600 (jordancaterers.com)
If you’ve ever attended a Jordan event—at the New Britain Museum of American Art, Whinstone Tavern, Guilford Yacht Club, Lyman Homestead, Artspace in New Haven or New Haven Country Club—you know why so many turn to Jordan for the perfect party. Presentation is creative, service professional and the food—from Kobe beef sliders, Peking duck crêpes and lobster miniclubs to sautéed barramujndi with salmon caviar beurre blanc and Moroccan-spiced lamb with smoked eggplant purée—all delicious.
Whole Foods Market Multiple locations (wholefoodsmarket.com)
For depth (seven types of Havarti) as well as breadth (300 varieties from all over the world), Whole Foods wins this category hands down. The website’s helpful cheese selector provides useful info on pairings and nutrition, and none of the cheeses contain artificial flavors or colors or synthetic preservatives. Best of all, you can sample as many as you want, so you’re guaranteed to go home with a cheese you love.
Stockbridge’s Gourmet Cheesecakes and Delectables Shelton, (203) 924-7853 (stockbridgescheesecakes.com)
Who knew the cheesecake was so versatile? CIA grad Brian Stockbridge and his wife, Lisa, did. They’ve grown their small cheesecake bakery into an inviting bakery/café offering 45 cheesecake variations, from the classic New York to Reese’s (New York cheesecake with mini Reese’s inside, covered in chocolate ganache and more mini Reese’s) to fall delights Apple Pie and Pecan Pie cheesecakes. Can’t make it to Shelton? Not a problem—their cheesecakes are sold at Stew Leonard’s in Danbury and they’ll soon be opening a second location of their own in Woodbridge.
Belgique Pâtisserie & Chocolatier Kent, (860) 927-3681
If you love chocolate—and who doesn’t?—Belgique should top your list. Each of the chocolates made here is a delectable work of art, from the Cleopatra (filled with dark chocolate ganache and passion fruit and topped with a detailed image of Cleopatra) to the Violette (filled with dark chocolate and violet essence and brushed with gold specks) to the Fleur de Sel (filled with milk chocolate ganache and sea salt—an inspired combination). All are made from Belgian Callebaut chocolate, the world’s finest. Is Kent too far? Take heart, as Belgique opens a second shop in New Canaan this month.
Close Harbour Seafood Plantsville, (860) 621-7334 (closeharbourseafood.com)
Bet you never thought you’d find a harbor like this in the Hartford area. Three classic chowders grace the menu: New England (with a delicate, silky-sweet cream base), Manhattan (in a spicy red tomato broth) and Rhode Island (a briny concoction inspired by owner Bill Close’s childhood spent clamming on the beach in East Haven). Enjoy them on-site with a superb all-claw-meat, hot buttered lobster roll or an entrée of pancetta-crusted Atlantic cod. Or take a pint home from the market—and don’t forget the fresher-than-10-minutes-from-now hand-shelled shrimp and homemade seafood salad.
Bean & Leaf New London, (860) 701-0000 (bean-leaf.com)
Sure, you can go to Bean & Leaf because you love fresh-roasted artisanal coffees from around the world, fine teas or a light bite (sandwich, salad or tasty baked good). Or you can go to do the “right thing,” as all of the coffees and the majority of the teas are organic, and fair trade, environmentally friendly products and coffee beans are even composted. Or, like us, you can go because all of those things plus a great ambience and quality service makes it the best.
Jojos Coffee & Tea Hartford, (860) 524-1488, and New Haven, (203) 785-8888 (cafejojo.com)
Jojo’s boasts that its coffee beans—culled from all over the world, and roasted on-site—are “so fresh we have to slap them.” Hmm . . . maybe so—but what we love is the lighter, fuller taste of their blends (rather than an emphasis on the oh-so-trendy, and often muddy, dark roasts) and the absence of wacky flavors (Chai Mint Mudslide, anyone?) Their pure java tastes great in a mochaccino or café au lait with a sandwich, scone, cookie or other delectable. Tea lovers will be just as happy—there’s a full range of greens, whites, blacks and Oolongs on hand.
This authentic coffeehouse roasts high-quality fair-trade Arabica beans in one-pound micro batches on the premises, resulting in a deliciously rich brew. Relax at small tables surrounded by art and all sorts of kitschy tchotchkes (many for sale). Wi-fi and board games are available for your entertainment. Lattes, espresso, cappuccino, hot chocolate and more than 20 types of tea are also on the menu, along with soups, wraps, burritos and warm cookies; coffee beans may also be purchased online. Live music is featured Thursday (open mic) through Saturday nights.
Claire’s Corner Copia New Haven, (203) 562-3888 (clairescornercopia.com)
Truth to tell, Claire’s Lithuanian coffee cake was really Sally Tessler’s mother’s coffee cake, but Sally shared the recipe with chef-owner Claire Criscuolo and the rest is history. Without divulging that recipe, we can tell you that like other coffee cakes, this one is streusel-filled, but unlike others, it is made with real coffee and topped with rich buttercream frosting. Bottom line: No card-carrying foodie should leave New Haven without a taste of this justly famous breakfast treat.