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Bagels: Ami’s Bagels & Deli
Waterbury, (203) 596-9020 (amisbagels.com)
We didn’t know it was possible for such an unassuming baked good to have a following, but once we tried Ami’s we understood why. Ami’s promises “love at first bite” on its homepage, and you’ll be inclined to agree. There are 15 bagel flavors in all—including white rye, French toast, blueberry and cranberry—and complementary handmade spreads, as well as deli necessities. Join the customers who visit from all over to pick up a dozen of these light, airy and crispy delights.
Bread: Wave Hill Breads
Norwalk, (203) 762-9595, (wavehillbreads.com)
This is simply the best bread around—pure, unadulterated, wholesome. You’ll find it in the bread basket at many fine Connecticut restaurants. With stiff, chewy crunch on the outside, airy, fresh-baked lightness on the inside, sparingly salted—this is bread that will enhance any meal. It’s available at Whole Foods, Stop & Shop and others, as well as at several farmers’ markets. In addition to batards, baguettes, ciabatta, boules and multi-grain, you can also find Wave Hill’s croutons and fun chips called Just Crust in supermarkets.
Cakes: Marjolaine Pastry Shop
New Haven, (203) 789-8589 (marjolainepastry.com)
According to the menu, one dessert is named after legendary tragic actress Sarah Bernhardt because it’s so good “it will move you to tears.” We don’t doubt it. Simply glancing over Marjolaine’s cake list—where descriptions like “rich, smooth,” “deep, dark,” “light” and “feathery” abound—will make your mouth water. Tasting a piece is a whole other story. Chocoholics, order the chocolate mousse cake or Velvet, a flourless chocolate cake. For a lighter dessert, there’s strawberry shortcake or lemon chiffon. And remember—bring tissues!
Candy: Litchfield Candy Co.
Litchfield, (860) 567-1500 (litchfield-candy.com)
Next to a photo of a wallful of candies, the Litchfield Candy Co. writes, “It’s amazing how many sweet childhood memories a simple basket can hold.” We agree. At this small and cozy shop filled with fudge, fancy truffles, gourmet chocolate and old-fashioned candies like Milk Duds, Pez, Baby Ruths—not to mention chocolate covered cherries and pretzels—you’ll have the opportunity to remember just how wonderful it all tastes. In the self-described “little red building full of surprises,” pick up a supply of sweets to enjoy yourself or give to others.
Cannoli: Del Prete Italian Pastry
Bridgeport, (203) 333-6993
We’ll never stop craving the cannoli from Lou Mezzo’s old-school Italian bakery. Made fresh each day, the hand-rolled, deliciously crispy shells stuffed with sweetened chocolate chip-laden sheep’s-milk ricotta are confectionary perfection. (Chocolate lovers, choose between the chocolate-dipped and chocolate-cream—or get both!) You can’t go wrong with a classic cannoli, but you may also want to try the cannoli cake: layer upon layer of soft cannoli shell and that heavenly ricotta filling, covered in just-sweet-enough frosting.
Cheese: Darien Cheese & Fine Foods
Darien, (203) 655-4344 (dariencheese.com)
Expert handling and sourcing of cheese is a complex matter, one that Ken Skovron with his wife, Tori, have perfected over 40 years. Theirs is a shop that carries over 200 cheeses from around the world—1,000 pounds of the stuff, its aging safeguarded by constant cold temperatures. Old World, traditionally crafted handmade cheeses are favorites, with emphasis on raw-milk varieties known for their flavor and health benefits. Skovron appreciates the unique qualities of each cheese—derived, he says, from its own particular “terroir.” To guarantee satisfaction, he has his customers taste every cheese they buy before taking it home.
Cheesecake: Stockbridge’s Gourmet Cheesecakes & Café
Shelton, (203) 924-7853 (sbcheesecakes.com)
After more than 10 years of naming them “best,” we’re still devoted fans of Stockbridge’s cheesecakes—maybe that’s because owners Brian and Lisa always concoct new ideas that keep us coming back. This year, it’s the afternoon high teas from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, a most civilized way to partner just a soupçon of the café’s 45 sinfully rich yet not-too-sweet flavors with your choice of an extensive menu of loose-leaf and whole-leaf pouch teas. (We think a slice of citrus or lavender-honey cheesecake goes well with a cup of Orange Dulce any time of day.) The café also offers breakfast, lunch and dinner menus with weekly specials, as well as a host of other homemade desserts.
Chocolate: Bridgewater Chocolate
Brookfield, (203) 775-2286 (bridgewaterchocolate.com)
Bridgewater Chocolate’s törtéls (aka turtles) are so deliciously seductive the scent alone will make you swoon. These confections are made from roasted almonds and pecans enveloped in caramel then dipped in creamy milk or dark chocolate. And there’s more. Swedish chocolatier Erik Landegren and Andrew Blauner turn out a variety of sinfully good handmade chocolates at their Brookfield factory—truffles, buttery toffee, chocolate bark and chocolate bars, caramels, chocolate-covered graham crackers and chocolate-glazed ginger, apricot and orange peel—all beautifully presented in hinged boxes you’ll want to keep forever.
Connecticut Beer: Gandhi-Bot Double IPA, New England Brewing Co.
Woodbridge, (203) 387-2222 (newenglandbrewing.com)
Considered a world-class brew by beeradvocate.com and beer enthusiasts alike, the Gandhi-Bot Double India Pale Ale is a masterful blend of three varieties of American hops that is 8.8 percent alcohol by volume to boot. New England Brewing Co.’s passion for flavor and quality has led them to create a prime example of what a DIPA should be, as well as an “ideal aid for self-purification and the seeking of truth and love.” Gandhi-Bot and the company’s other award-winning craft beers are available at over 300 bars, restaurants and distributors around the state.
Connecticut Wine: Cayuga white, Sunset Meadow Vineyards
Goshen, (860) 201-4654 (sunsetmeadowvineyards.com)
A visit to Sunset’s fields of bountiful grapevines will leave many an oenophile wishing they could bottle the experience and take it home. You can’t do that, but you can take home the delicious fruit of the vine as a souvenir. Start with the multi award-winning Cayuga White, a fruity blend with notes of melon, grapefruit and peach, perfect with appetizers, seafood and poultry. If you can’t make it to the vineyard to buy a bottle—or several—treat yourself to a case from Sunset’s online shop.
Cookies: Harborview Market
Bridgeport, (203) 367-7336 (harborviewmarket.com)
They aren’t fancy, but Harborview’s homemade cookies—chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin—served warm straight off the baking sheet and nearly as big as a dessert plate, are the ones your mom wishes she could bake. We’d like to say that they’re the perfect followup to the rest of Harborview’s menu, for instance the healthy spinach salad or spicy Cajun grilled chicken wrap. Actually, they’re an even better argument for dessert as dinner, or cookies as their own nutritional food group (peanut butter is protein, after all).
Creative Cakes: A Little Imagination Cakes
Middletown, (860) 365-9544 (imaginethatcake.com)
The name says it all—the custom cakes from this bakery are bursting with imagination. Owner and cake artist extraordinaire Hope Wright takes her clients’ ideas and turns them into full-fledged works of (delicious) art. With exceptional attention to detail and an unrivaled mastery of fondant, she sculpts her confections into elaborate, whimsical creations that are sure to wow your guests. And, with a mouthwatering selection of flavors to choose from, they’ll satisfy their sweet tooth as well. That is, if you can bring yourself to cut a slice.
Cupcakes: NoRa Cupcake Co.
Middletown, (860) 788-3150 (noracupcake.com)
Cupcakes are everywhere these days, so finding ones that stand out from the crowd is a difficult task. Enter self-proclaimed “anti-bakery” NoRa Cupcake Co., whose gourmet delights are anything but ordinary. Bored by plain chocolate? Try the “Goddess”—chocolate cake with fresh raspberries, white chocolate mousse and black raspberry buttercream. Fancy some fruit? The “Luau,” with pineapple mango cake and banana whipped cream, is an excellent choice. Something more adult, perhaps? How about the lime zest rum cake “Mojito?” NoRa’s bakes at least eight different flavors every day, so check the daily menu to see what creative concoctions are available.
Doughnuts: Dottie’s Diner
Woodbury, (203) 263-2516 (dottiesdiner.com)
People have been known to travel many miles to satisfy a craving for Dottie’s doughnuts—Roadfood’s Michael Stern, for one. His favorites: the crusty cinnamon standby and a gorgeous mouthful enrobed in dense, dark chocolate. Dorothy Sperry produces up to 500 each day (weekends, it’s more like a thousand) in just a few choice varieties: plain, powdered-sugar, cinnamon, jelly and chocolate-dipped. But, trust us, these are extraordinary doughnuts, their warm taste and crunch memorable. If there are any left at end of day, tomorrow they’ll be donut bread pudding! (Gotta go back.)
Gelato: Gelato Giuliana
New Haven, (203) 772-0607 (gelatogiuliana.com)
They say that once you’ve had gelato from Italy, you crave it forever. Lucky for us, there’s Gelato Giuliana, an artisanal gelato that transports you there with the first dreamy taste. Giuliana Maravelle began making her own gelato in 2004 to serve at her first café in New Haven because she couldn’t find any as good as what she grew up eating in Italy, where the gelato came in a dozen flavors and the same customers would come in every day for it. Today, her gelato is available in more than 50 flavors and is sold in five states.
Gluten-Free Sweets (bakery): Swoon
Ridgefield, (203) 438-4326 (swoonglutenfree.com)
Here’s a way to go gluten-free and like it: Visit Swoon and sample their creations. This shop makes cookies, cupcakes, mini cakes and a large variety of special celebration cakes in flavors like chocolate with espresso frosting and vanilla filled with house-made lemon curd. In addition to being gluten-free, many of these treats are vegan, and there are dairy-free options, too. The dedicated bakeshop is nut-free as well, so no allergic guest will have to forego dessert here. And they’ve recently added GF pizza dough—great for so many recipes with a bread base.
Gluten-Free Sweets (chocolates): Divine Treasures
Manchester, (860) 643-2552 (dtchocolates.com)
It’s what’s NOT in the chocolates at Divine Treasures that makes them spectacular: no refined sugars, no corn syrup, no trans fats and no cholesterol. What’s left is just the finest organic European chocolate with select ingredients (also organic) from local vendors. Vegan, gluten- and dairy-free, these lovely morsels—animal figurines, barks, caramels, truffles and layered treats—are as tasty as their conventional counterparts. The shop’s treasures come in assortments of 8, 12 or 24, and several variations at holidays. The store also produces a gluten-free ice cream called Soft Serve, that comes in sugar-free versions, too.
Healthy Foods: New Morning Market
Woodbury, (203) 263-4868 (newmorn.com)
Calling this place a market doesn’t quite do it justice. Yes, it offers a wide range of natural foods and homeopathic items, but it also sponsors classes and wellness events. Stop in for groceries and stay for smoothies, a snack or a whole meal. Events at the store include yoga, lectures, family classes, coaching groups. Most are free; you just have to register in advance.
Pie: American Pie Co.
Sherman, (860) 350-0662 (americanpiecompany.com)
Two businesses in one (restaurant and bakery), American Pie got its original inspiration, in part, from co-owner Audrey Day’s pie recipes—some learned from her grandmother, others from a German baker hired when she and her partner, Bill Hunniford, opened the place 20 years ago. Everything’s made from scratch and baked daily, from the fruit pies (mostly seasonal) to classics like chocolate cream, coconut custard and pecan—20 flavors in all. Apple crumb is the favorite of locals and the New York visitors who double Sherman’s population during the summer months (thanks to the town’s proximity to Lake Candlewood), but sweets aren’t the only thing American Pie Co.’s got in its favor: The restaurant's chicken potpies are carried at Stew Leonard’s.
[Editor's Note: In the print version of this story, we neglected to mention that Bill Hunniford has been the co-owner of American Pie Co.—and Audrey Day’s business partner—for the full 20 years of the restaurant’s existence. We regret the omission.]
Soda: Foxon Park
East Haven, (203) 467-7874 (foxonpark.com)
For over 90 years Foxon Park Beverages has been family-owned and –operated, providing soda lovers the highest quality soft drinks available. Foxon’s 17 flavors cover both classics like Kola and Cream, and signature blends such as Gassosa and Iron Brew. They can be found in restaurants as far away as Florida and California. Fans can enjoy a Foxon soda anytime—on the website you can have them delivered to your front door. Everyone knows everything tastes better out of a long-neck glass bottle.
Truffles: Carol Monnerat Artisan Truffles
Branford, (203) 444-5253 (carolmonnerat.com)
Handcrafted of pure Belgian chocolate in small batches, and available in flavors like bourbon-pecan (dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in cocoa powder), Espresso Jolt (said “jolt” comes from dark rum) and maple-walnut (the maple syrup is surprisingly heady, too), Monnerat’s truffles make ideal wedding and party favors, as well as a superior indulgence any old day. You can find them at the Coventry Farmers’ Market and The Cooking Co. in Killingworth and Haddam, among other locations, or order them from the website.
Wine Shop: Mt. Carmel Wine & Spirits Co.
Hamden, (203) 281-0800 (mtcarmelwine.com)
Mt. Carmel Wine & Spirits Co. (serving Connecticut since the repeal of Prohibition!) has gained a reputation for sourcing rare and specialty wines. Ben and Bob Fein are experts at finding great regional wines at superior value. Many are imported directly from France, and savings can exceed 30 percent when compared to similar-quality bottles sold elsewhere. Rare finds include Bordeaux, red and white Burgundy, Rhone and Port, all chosen by tasting in-house or at the vineyard source. The inventory also includes hard-to-locate older vintages.