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New Milford, (860) 355-4111 (thecookhouse.com)
The Cookhouse’s iconic “spiritual leader” Fat Tommy may not have ever said, “If you ‘slo-smoke’ it, they will come,” but judging by the line out the door on any given Saturday night, maybe he should have! For 13 straight years, The Cookhouse has been voted the best barbecue in the state, and after a recent visit where we sampled everything from the baby back ribs to the pulled pork to the beef brisket, it well earns a 14th nod. Try the Tombo-Combo, which features ribs, chicken, pulled pork and sausage—enough to satisfy any lover of real barbecue.
New Haven, (203) 562-9007 (chabaso.com)
It was love at first bite when we tried our first piece of Chabaso bread, and it’s only grown stronger. The New Haven-based company makes all manner of bread, from ciabattas, rolls and sticks to baguettes, boules and loaves, all with the best natural ingredients, including the finest flours with no preservatives and little or no fat (trans fat is never used). We’re partial to the roasted garlic ciabatta, but that’s just us. Sample the two-dozen varieties and find your own fave.
New Haven, (203) 773-9870, and other locations (archiemoores.com)
Let’s do the math, shall we? Archie Moore’s sells more than 20 tons of its award-winning wings each month—if you figure about a dozen tasty wings (each slathered with Archie’s finger-licking hot sauce) per pound, multiplied by 40,000 pounds and then by 12 months, that comes to 5,760,000 pieces of chicken a year eagerly consumed by Archie Moore’s patrons. Five million chicken wings can’t be wrong—get a dozen or so of your own and discover what keeps so many people coming back for more.
Lake Zoar Drive-In
Monroe, (203) 268-8137 (lakezoardrivein.com)
Just the name sounds impressive: The Zoar Burger. When you hear the history of how Michael Basso, the owner of this lakeside drive-in, has striven for 18 years to make it something truly special, with a quarter-pound of fresh ground beef, grilled to perfection and topped with bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and pickles, all on a fresh-baked bun, it sounds even better. But take a big juicy bite—that’s when you know it’s the best.
Shady Glen, Manchester, (860) 649-4245
Who knew adding three extra slices of cheese to a burger could generate such bliss? That abundance of cheese is melted perfectly on the grill at this 1950s style diner, then folded up around the burger, forming a golden, crispy crown. It’s a simple dish, served with fries, coleslaw and pickle, yet it tastes so good you might feel guilty after eating it. But not while.
Louis’ Lunch, New Haven, (203) 562-5507 (louislunch.com)
Others may claim to be the first, but who are we to doubt that New Haven’s own Louis’ Lunch, est. 1895, is anything less than the true home, indeed the birthplace, of the hamburger? None of us were around back then, but no matter—Louis’ Lunch has been serving delicious, perfectly cooked, juicy-as-all-get-out burgers in their unadorned natural state (on Pepperidge Farm toast, with cheese, tomato or onion if you like, but no ketchup or mustard—don’t even think of asking for them) as far back as any of us, or any of our parents, can remember. The place is small as a shoebox and, like its famed burgers, no-frills—but that’s the charm.
Zeeburger, Woodbury, (203) 405-6011 (zeeburger.com)
Renowned chef Carole Peck does it again with her newest restaurant Zeeburger, offering a spin on the classic burger joint with a menu highlighted by fresh, local, organic ingredients. While the grass-fed farm beef burgers are delicious, we love the selection of burger alternatives, which includes our favorite, the Zee Slammin’ Salmon Burger. It’s served with lettuce, mayo and an Asian pickle on a “Zee” roll, and you can also add toppings such as cranberry carrot ginger relish and smoked bacon. Yum!
Bar Bouchée, Madison, (203) 318-8004
Burgers are still ascendant, and these days seemingly anything goes—gourmet toppings (caramelized onions, aioli, avocado et al.), pretzel rolls, outlandish combinations (mozzarella and cherry preserve, anyone?). So how’s a hunk of ground beef supposed to stand out in the crowd? At Madison’s petite French bistro they’ve found the answer: Take eight ounces of juicy natural beef on a house-baked brioche bun, add layers of tomato confit and sautéed mushrooms, then—the pièce de résistance—top with “a voluptuous portion of heaven, lightly seared and still warm from the pan” (in the words of our restaurant reviewer, Elise Maclay). At once indecently delicious and hautely original, this burger gets our vote hands down.
Ted’s Restaurant, Meriden, (203) 237-6660 (tedsrestaurant.com)
Since 1959 Ted’s Restaurant has been serving some of the best steamed cheeseburgers around. The basic burger is cooked on a tray in a stainless steel cabinet, then scooped onto a bun and covered with melted cheese steamed the same way. The burger is so tender, it melts in your mouth. Toppings include lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and mushrooms. A Connecticut classic.
Chef’s Table, Fairfield, (203) 255-1779 (chefstable.com)
Ground turkey, bread crumbs, egg, garlic, onion and a secret ingredient have been magically combined to earn this homemade, healthy alternative to traditional hamburgers the “Best of Connecticut” title. After it’s charcoal-grilled and oven-baked, the burger is nestled in a Portuguese roll with lettuce and tomato, topped with a zesty sauce and served with curly fries. It’s worth a trip to “the Table” for this savory dish.
Plan B Burger Bar & Tavern
West Hartford, (860) 231-1199, and other locations (planbburger.com)
Fresh, pure, never frozen and cooked perfectly is the way to go when you’re in the mood for a burger, and at Plan B this is always the guarantee. What makes these burgers truly mouthwatering is the beef—100 percent natural, Certified Humane and ground in-house daily. Whether piled high with cheese, bacon and caramelized onions or au naturel, the meat is always the star.
Stockbridge’s Cheesecakes and Delectables
Shelton, (203) 924-7853, and Stockbridge’s Cheesecakes, New England Bistro and Bakery, Woodbridge,
(203) 298-9036 (sbcheesecakes.com)
Lucky for us that CIA grad Brian Stockbridge turned his talents to cheesecake. He and wife Lisa have grown their small cheesecake bakery into an inviting bakery-and-café in Shelton where you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner (the latter on weekends), and new bakery/bistro in Woodbridge where you can have breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks (cheesecake martini, anyone?). At either, choose from a dozen or more variations on the theme on any one day, from the classic New York to Reese’s (mixed with mini peanut-butter cups, topped with chocolate ganache) to fall delights like apple pie, sweet potato and pumpkin cheesecakes. We guarantee there’ll be “love-filled deliciousness in every bite.”
West Hartford, (860) 236-1930 (billygrant.com)
Transport yourself to chocolate heaven with Grants’ delicious and near-legendary warm chocolate soufflé cake, accompanied by pistachio crème anglaise and pistachio ice cream. This rich, dense chocolate masterpiece, created by pastry chef Fran Marino, has a hidden surprise inside—a warm chocolate sauce that oozes from the center, taking chocolate cake to a whole new level.
Good News Cafe
Woodbury, (203) 266-4663 (good-news-cafe.com)
We know it’s a cliché to call something “a meal in itself.” But a slice of Carole Peck’s Mile High Coconut Cake really is rich enough to be its own food group. What we love about this dessert is the way the really sweet part—the super coconutty cake itself and gobs of cloudlike egg-white frosting—contrasts with the pool of tart, flavorful mango/raspberry purée surrounding it. We only wish that that fruit factor made the cake as healthy as it is decadent.
Southbury, (203) 264-1606
The Bakery is a wonderful little bake shop that since 1989 has been sitting in the shadow of a Dunkin’ Donuts on a busy corner in Southbury. About 10 years ago, the sister of owner A.J. Hiller conducted a taste-off of three carrot cake recipes she had collected. Everyone who tried them chose the same one as best—and now it really is the “Best.” Moist, not too sweet and full of wonderful things, including walnuts and lots of freshly ground carrots (pineapple, chocolate chips, raisins, etc., can be added on request), this is a cake for the ages—or at least for a day or two, till it’s been reduced to just a few tasty crumbs.
Westport, 203/226-2647 (bluelemonrestaurant.com)
Chef Bryan Malcarney definitely has a way with things from the briny deep. Perhaps it was the years he spent in the Caribbean, as chef at the wonderful Straw Hat in Anguilla, a restaurant actually on stilts in the water, with amazing many-colored fish cruising around in the crystalline water below. At Blue Lemon, he makes pan-seared skate, Hawaiian spearfish and killer crabcakes. The Grilled Baby Squid with Ginger & Lime Vinaigrette is a revelation, the sweetest, tenderest flesh imaginable, perfumed with the faint suggestion of char. We hope it’s on the menu for a long, long time.
New Haven, (203) 776-5306 (modernapizza.com)
Plenty of Modern Apizza’s millions of pilgrims, who’ve been worshipping here since 1934, order exactly the same thing every time they visit, and usually it’s pizza. Nothing wrong with that, except that they’re all missing out on the calzones, the unsung heroes of Modern’s menu. Golden-hot and filled with three fragrant cheeses, served with marinara on the side, the calzones can also be personalized with fillings such as crabmeat, sausage and mushrooms. Warning for first-timers: Even the small is large.