Best of Connecticut 2010: Food and Drink
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Chip’s Family Restaurant Orange, (203) 795-5065 (chipsrest.com).
They’ve been flipping some of “the lightest pancakes anywhere” for the past 44 years at Chip’s. You’ll be a fan after one bite of the buttermilk cakes, but with dozens of pancake creations on the menu, you’ll be hard-pressed to order just one kind. Be adventurous with chocolate chip, German apple, bacon, coconut crunch and one of our faves, White Chocolate Rendezvous and Fresh Strawberries—with white chocolate, macadamia nuts, fresh strawberries, powdered sugar and a topping of whipped cream. Flapjacks are served all day long.
Isabelle et Vincent Fairfield, (203) 292-8022 (isabelleetvincent.com)
Seventh-generation pastry chef Vincent Koenig and his wife, Isabelle, came to the U.S. just three years ago with their two children and a dream: to recreate their Strasbourg pâtisserie in America. Now, their very French pastry shop is our dream—a little piece of la belle France right in Fairfield. Handmade chocolates, delectable éclairs, napoléons and fruit tartlets, a slew of artisanal breads and beautiful gateaux like the Trois Chocolats mousse cake—they’re all there to enjoy in the cozy parlor with a café au lait or to take home and enjoy en famille.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana New Haven, (203) 865-5762, and other locations (pepespizzeria.com)
The story lately at Pepe’s, aside from the sublime pizza, is how it is expanding out and away from its New Haven mothership. There are now outposts in Manchester, Fairfield, Mohegan Sun and Yonkers, N.Y., with a recent announcement of a new pizzeria in Danbury. We’ve heard Stamford may be in the works, too. We don’t see how that can be seen as anything but good news, with many more places to order Pepe’s thin-crusted beauties, especially the nonpareil white clam pie. May they one day be in every town in Connecticut!
Bloodroot Bridgeport, (203) 576-9168 (bloodroot.com)
This feminist vegetarian (actually more vegan) restaurant, now in its 34th year, is off the beaten path (a “hidden gem”) but worth seeking out for its organic, ethnic, seasonal fare. And this season you can dine outdoors, looking across the water to Captain’s Cove. The house quiche, made with port wine and oyster mushrooms, is based on a Julia Child recipe (and who could go wrong with that?). Enjoy yours with a fresh garden salad (lots of the fixin’s are grown in the backyard garden) and homemade bread. Julia would approve.
Liv’s Oyster Bar Old Saybrook, (860) 395-5577 (livsoysterbar.com)
Oysters and littleneck clams on the half-shell, shrimp cocktail, the shellfish sampler (oysters, clams, shrimp and Jonah crab claws)—it’s all at the fantastic raw bar at Liv’s. The brainchild of French Culinary Institute-trained John Brescio and his wife Kristine, Liv’s stocks the bar with the freshest seafood from New England, Novia Scotia and beyond. Don’t miss $1 Oyster Night!
RESTAURANT/BAR BEER SELECTION
Eli Cannon’s Middletown, (860) 347-ELIS (elicannons.com)
If you really, really love beer, this is the place for you. Each day, they’ve got 33 real varieties on tap, rotated constantly and chosen from a master list of 170 types, including Shipyard Pumpkinhead, Hoegaarden Beligan White Ale and Woodchuck Hard Cider. All your favorite bottled brews, wines, malt beverages and liquors are also at the ready, and there’s plenty to look at, with interesting decorative touches all over the walls and ceiling and seating choices that include theater seats and barber chairs.
Sycamore Drive-in Bethel, (203) 748-2716 (sycamoredrivein.com)
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s the message at this 1950s-style Bethel landmark, renowned for its homemade root beer, and for keeping things pretty much the way they’ve always been at the Sycamore. For 40 years the folks here have been making root beer from the original secret family recipe that has been handed down, and followed to the letter. Delicious straight and even better in the Sycamore’s signature root-beer float. Enjoy yours inside amid the ‘50s decor, or blink your lights for car-hop service.
Miya’s Sushi New Haven, (203) 777-9760 (miyassushi.com)
Miya’s one-of-a-kind handmade sakes range from painfully euphoric—we’re thinking of the Chinese Firecracker sake, made with aged hot chili peppers, that’s perfect in a beer-based Sake Bomb or the award-winning cocktail Korean Hongkee Punchu—to the rare (requiring much foraging for wild dandelions) but perfect digestif Magic Garden. You can sample all seven in a sake flight, or experiment with your own special sushi-sake pairings: We have a special affection for the citrusy Emerald Witches’ Lips, made with wild green pinecones.
Whole Foods Market Multiple locations (wholefoodsmarket.com)
There are salad bars and then there are SALAD bars. The one at Whole Foods is hard to beat. For starters, there are three different mixes of undressed salad greens as well as a pre-prepared chicken Caesar salad. Then, there are no fewer than 39 add-ins—artichoke-tomato-olive medley, chicken thigh meat (so much tastier than white!), green lentils, roasted mushrooms, macaroni salad, hard-boiled eggs, corn, fava beans, olives and tuna salad, and on and on, in addition to three or four vegan dishes, such as lemon-roasted tempeh, “Ancient Grain” medley and Hunan dumplings.
Carbone’s Hartford, (860) 296-9646 (carbonesct.com)
Carbone’s has excelled at fine Italian fare for nearly 50 years, with a menu of traditional favorites like fettuccini carbonara, grilled pork prime rib and pan-seared sole, but no matter what you order, trust us: Do not skip the Carbone Caesar Salad. This signature dish is prepared in classic fashion—tableside for two, with fresh garlic, olive oil, anchovies, Tabasco, mustard, fresh lemon, Parmesan, romaine lettuce, croutons and a raw egg, and topped with grilled chicken or calamari. You’ll thank us later.
Carmen Anthony Steakhouse Waterbury, (203) 757-3040, and other locations (carmenanthony.com)
The Signature Chop Salad has been a top seller at Carmen Anthony restaurants for over 10 years now. It’s a tasty confetti of red pepper, cucumber, Kalamata olives, carrots, lettuce and red onion, with Gorgonzola cheese and a spark of hot cherry pepper, tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette and topped with a big luscious shrimp. “It’s been imitated in many, many Connecticut restaurants,” says owner Carmen Vacalebre, “but never duplicated.”
Tavern on Main Westport, (203) 221-7222 (tavernonmain.com)
This Westport fixture gets a lot of things right, not least of which is the tasty Connecticut Cobb Salad. The salad consists of ample amounts of roasted turkey breast, bacon, tomato, avocado, chopped egg and blue cheese over mesclun greens tossed with a sherry vinaigrette. When the weather is nice, grab a perch on the outdoor patio and watch the Westporters come and go down below on Main Street.
West Street Grill Litchfield, (860) 567-3885 (weststreetgrill.net)
West Street Grill’s tomato salad is, in a word, outstanding. Made with rich, perfectly ripe slices of heirloom tomatoes, grown at March Farm in Bethlehem, seasoned with fleur de sel, drizzled with virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze and topped with fresh basil leaves, it’s best enjoyed outside at one of the café-style tables overlooking the historic Litchfield Green.