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Wanda’s Sugar Shack
Milford, (203) 878-9967 (wandassugarshack.com)
This independently operated and sweetly sinful shop has been in business for decades, and is as unsinkable as the owner, Wanda Hornack, who opened on Harbor Walk, her fifth Milford location, in 2000. There’s a plethora of candies and chocolates everywhere you look, ranging from traditional fruit chews and gummies to Wanda’s chocolate hand-dipped cookies. Have a look around and fill up a basket to satisfy your sweet tooth.
DelPrete Italian Pastry
Bridgeport, (203) 333-6993
There are cannoli and then there are cannoli. DelPrete’s cannoli are the ones to beat. Owner Lou Mezzo and crew whip up their Italian pastry specialties fresh every day using the same recipe Lou’s father used more than 60 years ago. Stop by the tiny shop when the dolci are baking, and the aroma will pull you in. Each crisp cannoli shell is made by
hand, fried and then filled with the creamiest sweetened ricotta and garnished with chocolate chips. The miniature cannoli are equally good—you just have to eat more.
Jordan Caterers & Event Planners
Cheshire, (203) 272-8213, and Darien, (203) 655-8600 (jordancaterers.com)
If you’ve ever attended an event catered by Jordan—perhaps at the New Britain Museum of American Art, Guilford Yacht Club or an off-premise location—you know that they can be counted on to orchestrate the perfect party, wedding reception, business luncheon, etc. The presentation has panache, the service is professional and the food—from clam chowder shooters and butternut squash risotto cakes with apple compote to rack of lamb with Moroccan cous cous and Black Angus beef tenderloin with Cabernet sauce—is all delicious.
Fairfield Cheese Company
Fairfield, (203) 292-8194 (fairfieldcheese.com)
At this thriving two-year-old shop in Fairfield, they don’t “say cheese.” They say Brillat-Savarin, Morbier, Marcel Petit Comté, Neal’s Yard Cheddar and Parmiagiana Reggiano. Partners Chris Palumbo and Laura Downey carry 100 cheeses from around the world, with a special concentration on American artisan varieties with names like Wabash Cannonball (Indiana), Ascutney Mountain (Vermont), Barely Buzzed (Utah) and Hooligan by our own Cato Farms in Colchester. And they’ve got everything you need to go with them: paté and charcuterie, spreads and chutneys, breads by Isabelle et Vincent. All that’s missing is a bottle of wine, right? Not a problem—the award-winning Harry’s Wine & Liquor Market is right next door.
Manuel Romero, Ibiza
New Haven, (203) 865-1933 (ibizanewhaven.com)
It’s easy to imagine that Manuel Romero might spend every waking moment thinking up new ways to cook seafood. Having grown up on the rocky seacoast of Galicia, he knows seafood inside and out. But he doesn’t stop there. At Ibiza, where he is executive chef, every category—meat, vegetables, dessert, tapas, entrées, sides—is an ever-changing showcase of innovation. What chef Romero does not do is seek celebrity status. A true artist, he prefers to get better and better, delighting connoisseurs and newcomers alike.
Farm to Table
Still River Café
Eastford, (860) 974-9988 (stillrivercafe.com)
Kara Brooks cooks what she and her husband, Robert, grow a few steps from her kitchen. Many chefs do the same these days but few do it brilliantly. A former trial lawyer who cultivated her culinary talent at Stone Barns, Brooks cooks with intelligence, passion and panache. Often she prepares the same ingredient three ways, presenting all together in a symphony of flavor, texture and artistry. In a beautifully restored antique barn in Eastford, Still River Café is far from the madding crowd, but savvy gourmets happily make the trek to savor Brooks’ unique blend of farm-fresh goodness and urbane sophistication.
James Cosgriff, West Street Grill
Litchfield, (860) 567-3885
James Cosgriff, who likes to be called Jim, is head chef at a four-star Connecticut restaurant at 26 because he’s brilliant and because James O’Shea, who owns West Street Grill and is a superb chef in his own right, recognizes talent and generously rewards it. Born and raised in Wolcott, Cosgriff learned to cook from his Italian grandmother, took courses at the Connecticut Culinary Institute and at an early age came to West Street Grill, where he learned by doing under the tutelage of a string of chefs who were rising stars themselves and went on to do great things. A hands-on cook who likes to innovate, Cosgriff is curently in love with curing and smoking. His short ribs are fabulous and he has just perfected a hard-to-resist health bread.
Fran Marino, Grants
West Hartford, (860) 236-1930 (billygrant.com)
Billy Grant thinks so highly of pastry chef Fran Marino’s desserts that he ferries them to all three of his restaurants—Grants and Bricco’s in West Hartford and Bricco Trattoria in Glastonbury. Diners are equally enamored, ordering cakes and pies weeks ahead of time to take home for special occasions. Favorite Marino creations include chocolate Nutella pie, ricotta cheesecake with shortcake crust, and olive oil pound cake with mascarpone sorbet and fig and Armagnac sabayon.
Kent, (860) 927-3681, and New Canaan, (203) 801-0538 (belgiqueonline.com)
These authentic Belgian chocolate shops proffer exquisite artisan chocolates that are best of class, notably the Cleopatra (dark chocolate ganache and passion fruit crowned with a likeness of the Queen of the Nile), the Violette (dark chocolate ganache and violet essence brushed with gold) and the Fleur de Sel (milk chocolate ganache and sea salt). All are made with fine Callebaut chocolate by Pierre Gilissen, former chef at the British and Dutch embassies in Washington, D.C., where he cooked for Queen Elizabeth II et al.
Close Harbour Seafood
Southington, (860) 621-7334 (closeharbourseafood.com)
Of all the clam chowder variations (trust us, there are more than you think), Manhattan has historically been the underdog, reportedly getting its name from snobby, cream-based-chowder-eating New Englanders who believed that tomatoes had no place in their soup of choice, and that calling anyone or anything a “New Yorker” was an insult. (The style was actually originated by Portuguese immigrants in Rhode Island.) Thank goodness Close Harbour has come along to reveal how yummy Manhattan CC can be—when composed of silky, hearty tomato broth, lots of quahogs, spicy pancetta and red pepper. Simple, bold, satisfying and a great appetite-whetter for the rest of the menu. We especially like ours served with the cocktail of gigantic fresh shrimp.
S&P Oyster Co.
Mystic, (860) 536-2674 (sp-oyster.com)
Sampling the creamy New England clam chowders served by restaurants around the state always makes us feel a little like Goldilocks: This one’s too rich, this one’s too salty, this one has too many potatoes, this one doesn’t have enough clams, this one’s too weird. S&P’s chowder, we’re happy to say, always strikes us as “just right.” Served with oyster crackers and garnished with sliced scallions, its clam (big and many) to potato cube ratio (big and few) mixes well with the silky, refined simplicity of its stock. Also mixing well is the view from the windows and the outdoor patio—Mystic’s bustling downtown, complete with glistening river and historic bascule bridge.