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Bin 300 World Bistro, Wolcott,
(203) 879-5858 (bin300.com)
Bin 300 is one of central Connecticut’s true hidden gems. Located in what was once, long ago, an A&W Root Beer drive-in, Bin offers a menu of impeccably prepared local favorites (chicken marsala, eggplant parm) and all sorts of more adventuresome, chef-driven specials. By his own admission, however, chef Richard Morotto’s first love is risotto (he learned a lot about it while working in a restaurant in Parma, Italy), and there are always three on the menu: Parmesan and sweet butter, rock shrimp and sweet pea, and wild mushroom and prosciutto di Parma. Give them a try, please, but mum’s the word. We don’t want the place to get too crowded.
Whole Foods, Westport,
(203) 227-6858, and other locations (wholefoodsmarket.com)
Whole Foods easily won this category last year, and that was before the recent renovation, which doubled the salad bar space. There are now two giant salad bars with three types of greens (romaine, mesclun and arugula), all of the usual add-ons (peppers, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes and the like), plus Virginia ham, chicken and turkey, pasta and grain combos, fresh feta and mozzarella, and lots of other intriguing, healthful choices like lentil salad, sesame broccoli, pineapple quinoa, tomato-eggplant salad and endamame succotash. Imagine the possibilities!
Carbone’s, Hartford, (860) 296-9646 (carbonesct.com)
Carbone’s has been tossing its signature Caesar salad tableside for more than 50 years, and honestly, we’ve yet to find a better one. Consistently delicious, the salad has become a ceremonial staple for patrons who come here to celebrate special occasions, meet up with friends and enjoy romantic dinners. When the spotlight is on the salad making, servers use a bit of showmanship, especially when cracking the egg over the anchovies (oh, yes, Carbone’s still follows the original recipe). The suspense builds as the olive oil, garlic, vinegar and lemon are whisked into the dressing before it’s poured over crispy Romaine and topped with a grating of fine Parmesan and homemade croutons. Then comes the best part—the eating.
Dressing Room: A Homegrown Restaurant, Westport,
(203) 226-1114 (dressingroomhomegrown.com)
You gotta love a salad listed as “Newman Says ‘Use a Spoon’ Chopped Salad.” We do, especially because it’s a virtual chef’s field day, a display case of local produce “harvested at the time.” Thus it’s always changing, so we can’t tell you exactly what it will include when you visit Michel Nischan’s Dressing Room (Nischan‘s original partner was, of course, the late great, straight-talking Paul Newman). Our July salad offered celery, carrots, radishes, yellow wax beans, sea island peas, cherries, local goat cheese, garden herbs and sunflower seeds—nutritious and delicious (BTW, Sustainably Delicious is the title of Nischan’s latest cookbook). Served at both lunch and dinner, at lunchtime it can be beefed up, so to speak, by adding chicken.
West Street Grill, Litchfield,
(860) 567-3885 (weststreetgrill.net)
West Street Grill’s tomato salad is out of this world. Seriously, it is simply sublime. It all starts with the star—the tomato. Rich, ripe, fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes from Waldingfield Farm in Washington and Tara Farm in Watertown are sliced thick and accompanied only with fresh basil, balsamic reduction and fleur de sel. Sit out front overlooking the historic Litchfield Green and discover a whole new love for this summer staple.
Groton (860) 449-6868 (chestersbbq.com)
Owner and barbecue master Chester Dugas lives by the mantra “It’s not the sauce, it’s what the sauce goes on.” With that in mind, he devotes 15 hours to slow-cooking and smoking chicken, pork and, most importantly, beef, which is the key to his melt-in-your-mouth brisket that is piled high on white bread and served with homemade sauces. After one bite, you’ll understand why it’s one of the most popular items on the menu, and why people come from near and far to try it.
Cove Fish Market, Stonington,
(860) 536-0061 (covefishmarket.com)
Cove Fish Market is a bit off the beaten path (Old Stonington Road instead of Stonington Road), but well worth the effort to find it. The fried-fish sandwich here consists of fresh-caught flounder or cod, nicely breaded and served on a hot dog roll with homemade coleslaw and french fries. The outdoor picnic tables seem like a throwback to an earlier day, but there’s indoor seating, too, along with a fish market for take-home items.
Blue Lobster Seafood
Berlin, (860) 828-5833 (bluelobsterseafood.com)
Blue Lobster is so small that it can get lost among the larger restaurants on the Berlin Turnpike, but we guarantee you’re going to like what you find inside. The mouthwatering menuincludes clams, scallops, crab cakes and oysters, but for us, it’s all about the hot lobster rolls. They’re made just the way they should be: stuffed to the max with lump lobster meat and saturated in butter. Order yours with potato chips, clam chowder or lobster bisque on the side, or go for the twin rolls with fries—so good.
Da Pietro, Westport
(203) 454-1213 (dapietros.com)
Luscious portobello and shiitake mushrooms warmed in fine virgin olive oil and, at the last minute, showered with white truffle shavings.
Bar Bouchée, Madison
These pale gold, crispy french fries are so thin they’re almost transparent and so light they threaten to blow away in a high wind. No wind around? They disappear anyway. Talk about irresistible!
The Watch Factory
Cheshire, (203) 271-1717 (watchfactoryrestaurant.com)
Austrian-style red cabbage à la chef Markus Patsch is a revelation—ruby-red, with the texture of al dente pasta, made with apples and an intriguing hint of cloves or allspice.