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Mansion Clam House
Westport, (203) 557-4811 (mansionclamhouse.com)
Mansion Clam House, a landmark in Westport for 60 years, was the go-to place for local seafood lovers until it closed in 2006. There were stormy seas in between, but current chef-owner Rigo Lino got things back on an even keel. And if his fish-and-chips are any indication, it’s smooth sailing according to our own food expert, Elise Maclay. “Hail Britannia, look to your laurels when it comes to the fish-and-chips,” she says. “The Mansion’s center-cut cod dipped in Ernie’s Original Recipe beer batter, served with soft-center six-inch skinny-strip fries, will blow you out of the water.”
The Cupcake Truck
New Haven, (203) 675-3965 (followthatcupcake.com)
The Cupcake Truck offers rich and decadent treats for just $2 each. Flavors include Lemon Meringue, Red Velvet Jones, Salted Caramel and Ultimate Vanilla. Frostings include chocolate, peanut, vanilla buttercream, caramel and cream cheese. And let’s not forget the toppings: toasted nuts, coconut flakes, sprinkles and Oreo bits, to name a few. It’s hard to pass up such a delicious and convenient treat—just visit fooddriven.blogspot.com to learn its location any weekday in downtown New Haven.
Stamford, (203) 940-0922 (elcharrito.info)
Parked alongside Richmond Hill Avenue near the Jackie Robinson Park of Fame, the El Charrito truck sends out a lively and welcoming vibe. Customers can walk up to the mobile food counter and order from a menu of several different Mexican dishes. One of the most popular, huaraches, are sandal-shaped wads of cornmeal dough filled with black beans and lettuce, and your choice of salsa, meat and cheese. Featured on The Learning Channel, this big yellow truck is sure to satisfy.
Big Green Truck
New Haven, (203) 752-9547 (biggreentruckpizza.com)
While the Big Green Truck’s home base is New Haven, owner Doug Coffin is happy to cater your event wherever you are and serve delicious, thin-crust pies from his restored 1940s International Harvester trucks, each equipped with an Italian wood-burning oven. Traditional toppings are offered, as well as adventurous choices including BBQ chicken, clams casino and mashed potatoes. Catch the truck Wednesdays through October at Robert Treat Farm in Milford.
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 four 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.
Bridgeport, (203) 333-4596
The Iacovetti Family at Valley Farm has been serving up its famous dogs, burgers, grinders and pizza at the same small stand for 60 years. But don’t assume the fries that accompany most orders here are the underdog. The cooked-to-order (we take ‘em well-done) deep-fried crinkle-cut Idahos are heavenly. The cook’s watchful eye doesn’t stray from the Fryolator until the potatoes reach the perfect golden hue and have just the right crunch. “Salt and ketchup on the fries?” he asks, before handing over these sizzling-hot beauties. Is there any other way? We dare you not to dive in before biting into that burger or dog.
Bristol, (860) 583-3191
Hidden-gem alert! Tucked away down a quiet Bristol side street, Greer’s is for the most part a caterer, but the fried chicken is always available for takeout and it’s crispy, juicy and delicious—a real local favorite. There’s no indoor sit-down dining here, but on a nice day visitors may be able to find space at a couple of picnic tables out front. And to fill out your meal, the companion macaroni and potato salads are very tasty, too.
New Haven, (203) 772-0607 (gelatogiuliana.com)
Sail to Italy in an instant with this silky frozen treat. The artisan gelato, inspired by Giuliana Maravalle’s Italian heritage, offers a delicious alternative to high-butterfat American-style ice cream. Using milk instead of cream and adding less air, Maravalle creates a dense, smooth texture with more flavor and less fat. Go traditional with flavors like chocolate, coconut and pistachio, or try the Lagiuliana (espresso-mascarpone-chocolate swirl) and straciatella (Italian crème with chocolate). Gelato Giuliana is available all across Connecticut and the East Coast (check their website for a list of purveyors).
Caseus Fromagerie Bistro, New Haven,
(203) 624-3373 (caseusnewhaven.com)
The ultimate grilled-cheese sandwich starts with thick-cut wheat or rye bread slathered with Provolone, Comté, Swiss, Grûyère, Gouda and Cheddar (and usually something extra from the fromagerie, so no two sandwiches are the same). It’s cooked on the stove open-faced, then put in the oven until all the cheese melts, finished off on the stove until the bread is buttery, brown and crisp. Served with cornichons and whole-grain mustard, it pairs nicely with the soup du jour (perhaps tomato-red pepper) or pommes frites. It’s huge—”rarely does anyone finish one”—but what a great leftover!
Stratford, (203) 377-8860, and Monroe, (203) 268-6982 (gaetanosdeli.com)
Hot is a relative term. At Gaetano’s, all the grinders offered are a hot commodity because they’re all so good. In fact, customers wait in a line that trails out the door at this authentic Italian deli to order some of the finest grinders this side of heaven. Try the homemade meatball, sausage-and-pepper, eggplant (oh, the eggplant) or the exquisite chicken parmigiana. Just one bite of the tender breaded and golden-fried cutlets covered in sauce like Nonna makes, with slices of fresh mozzarella (made here daily) melted on a crusty Arthur Avenue grinder roll, has been known to bring on waves of ecstasy. Grinders are large enough to share, but you probably won’t want to.
Cavallo’s Italian Deli
Waterbury, (203) 753-8425 (cavallos1.com)
There are still a few places in Connecticut that take the bread seriously when they are putting together a grinder, and Cavallo’s, which has been around for more than 40 years and is as down-to-earth and authentic as it gets, is one of them. The friendly folks behind the counter here offer four bread options for their delicious big sandwiches: hard roll, Portuguese roll, a softish “French” grinder roll and, our favorite by far, a half-loaf of crusty, heavenly Milite’s Italian bread, made locally and much loved. The cold grinder options are many, with an emphasis on Italian meats, and the tangy sauce is not to be missed.
(860) 233-2500 (besitomex.com)
Guacamole en Molcajete (a traditional Mexican lava stone bowl used for grinding and mixing), made tableside, is one of Besito’s signature treats. Order it mild, medium or caliente and watch as your server develops the ideal mix of fresh, ripe Hass avocados with chopped cilantro, jalapeño chilies, onions and tomatoes (seed-free) and a sprinkle of salt—but no lime (that’s not authentic). Served with a basket of housemade (but not greasy or oversalty) tortilla chips, it’s plenty for two, but if you’re anything like us, you’ll be disinclined to share.