Food and Drink
Stonington, (860) 857-1014, beerdbrewing.com
Beer lovers will want to do themselves a favor and seek out this Connecticut brewery tucked into a former velvet mill in Stonington. It’s so small it’s not even considered a microbrewery—instead it’s a nanobrewery—but the proudly bearded brewer Aaren Simoncini’s carbonated creations have been making big waves in the burgeoning Connecticut craft beer industry. In fact, local bars and restaurants are so eager to carry Beer’d they’ve begun offering to pick up their own kegs. One taste of the Whisker’d Wit will tell you what all the fuss is about—this refreshing witbier is a tasty work of liquid art.
Why it’s the best: Beer'd embodies what the microbrewery movement is all about: finely crafted beer made in small batches by a brewing genius.
Wave Hill Breads
Norwalk, (203) 762-9595, wavehillbreads.com
Wheat, spelt, rye, sea salt, yeast, water. This is the full list ingredients used for French Country bread from this artisan microbakery, whose handcrafted loaves are so blessed with pure essential flavors you wonder how (and why) bread ever went down the mass-market “made-from-yoga-mats” route. No matter. You can visit the bakery or find Wave Hill’s breads at many Connecticut farmers markets, in enlightened food markets, in some of the state’s finest restaurants and, yes, even in Stop & Shop.
Why it’s the best: Michael Stern of Roadfood.com says it best: “If you are a lover of country bread with soul … a just-cut Wave Hill loaf is a large slice of heaven.”
West Hartford and other locations, (860) 231-1199, planbburger.com
As you’ve probably guessed, the ‘B’ in their name stands for burger. With five locations across the state, this burger, beer and bourbon bar is truly a Connecticut institution and one taste will tell you why. All the burgers are made with beef that is 100 percent verified humane with no antibiotics, no fillers, no added colors and no chemicals. The result is a juicy burger of epic proportions.
Why it’s the best: With multiple locations spread across Connecticut, the burger perfection at Plan B can be easily enjoyed by all Nutmeggers regardless of where they live.
Waterbury, (203) 755-3804, sweet-marias.com
It’s no secret that we love Maria Bruscino Sanchez, who for a quarter of a century has owned the landmark Sweet Maria’s in Waterbury, famous for its sweet treats that include cookies, cupcakes and biscotti. What do people drive from all over Connecticut for? The handmade-with-love cakes—for weddings, birthdays, holidays and lots of other special occasions. And Bruscino Sanchez loves cakes so much she does a special cake of the month menu. For September it’s Apple Crisp: Golden yellow cake filled with baked spiced apples, house-made streusel and frosted with cream cheese frosting.
Why it’s the best: Because Bruscino Sanchez knows how to make cake (in lots of variations). Translation: Using the best ingredients and her talents as a chef, she’s a fundamentalist who only accepts one version of the truth, that what's on the plate has to look beautiful, pass the test for authenticity and taste great.
New Preston, (860) 868-3388
A trip to this rural candy shop is billed as similar to visiting “Willy Wonka’s tiny country cottage” and the reality of the location more than lives up to that bold advertising. There are chocolates and candies from all over the world that seem to come in every shape and size and are available in a rainbow’s worth of colors for your eating pleasure. Owned by former fashion model and journalist Dana Schulman, this candy shop combines nostalgia and innovation in a winning way.
Why it’s the best: It’s a candy wonderland—perfect for kids and the kid in all of us.
New Haven, (203) 772-0380, libbyscookies.com
You’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic Italian bakery than Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop on Wooster Street in the heart of New Haven’s Little Italy. They’ve been doing classic Italian pastries, cookies, gelato and more since 1922. Libby’s could place in any sweet treat category, but the cannoli reigns supreme because it’s a classic. There’s the original cannoli Siciliani—filled with ricotta and chocolate chips—but also many other varieties to try including chocolate, espresso, peanut butter and pistachio.
Why it’s the best: Libby's has been doing it the same way for more than 90 years.
Brookfield, (203) 775-2286, bridgewaterchocolate.com
No need to book a plane ticket to Sweden for truly rich and creamy European chocolates—just take a quick trip to Bridgewater Chocolate for one of their famous salty and sweet törtéls, or “turtles.” Founder and Swedish native Erik Landegren took his love for chocolates and began creating handmade American-style chocolates using tried-and-true European recipes. With the wide selection of truffles, bars, toffees and marzipan, you can create an assortment that will satisfy any sweet tooth. Or you can order the perfect tier of chocolates for anyone on your gift list—including yourself.
Why it’s the best: These handmade gourmet chocolates are irresistible—just ask Steven Spielberg, Gwyneth Paltrow or Al Gore—a few of the company’s most prominent customers.
S&P Oyster Company
Mystic, (860) 536-2674, sp-oyster.com
As Connecticut is a vital part of New England, heralding any clam chowder from here as the best is not a task to be taken lightly—nor is it an easy decision, with so many fine variations from which to choose. S&P’s chowder is sublime—plenty of tender clam and tasty potato chunks, served with oyster crackers and garnished with sliced scallions. And if you like it with a little extra something, you can add “a skosh” of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry or Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Bourbon. Now that’s chowdah!
Why it’s the best: Authentic New England clam chowder served in one of the shoreline’s most scenic spots—how do you top that?
|Photo by Nathan Hahn|
New Haven (three locations), (203) 787-9929, bluestatecoffee.com
Hip, sleek and modern without being pretentious or turning into an SNL hipster parody, this local chain of coffee shops is a favorite of coffee connoisseurs. At its three New Haven locations (plus two others in Boston and Providence), Blue State serves a variety of hot and cold coffee creations from cappuccinos and espressos to cold-brew iced coffee (which has a rich velvet taste). All coffee is fair trade, organic and shade grown, and Blue State has been involved with its growing process from seed to cup.
Why it’s the best: With great coffee, a wonderful space and long hours, it’s everything a coffee shop can and should be.
East Haven, (203) 469-0815, thesugarbakery.com
Run by the mother/daughter team of Carol Vollono and Brenda DePonte, Sugar Bakery was dreamed up in 2004, and it has been fulfilling the dreams of Connecticut cupcake lovers ever since by allowing patrons to bite into Italian cupcake paradise. The daily selection includes 36 kinds, with its 24 best-selling varieties available and the remaining 12 rotating. Highlights include the Peanut Butter Sundae, Chocolate Covered Cherry and summer seasonal favorites such as Peach Cobbler, Orange Creamsicle and Watermelon.
Why it’s the best: The diversity of flavors and sugary goodness of these cupcakes make our mouths water just writing this.
Vernon, (860) 875-1344, reinsdeli.com
This New York-style deli has been serving flavorful food since the early 1970s. The sandwiches use Hebrew National corned beef and pastrami while the house-made salads are made with Hellman’s mayonnaise. Rein’s uses only genuine Switzerland Swiss cheese and white albacore tuna—no skimping where it counts, and that’s why this deli’s slogan rings true: “The Taste of Quality is Long Remembered.”
Why it’s the best: Rein’s is an old-school deli that will bring you back to the great tastes of your childhood.
|Photo by Willy B Productions|
Woodbury, (203) 263-2516, Waterbury, (475) 235-2482, dottiesdiner.com
Got doughnuts? Dottie’s Diner sure does—but you’ll only find classics like plain, powdered and jelly-filled. But in this case, quality beats quantity. Each doughnut is made from a traditional recipe that’s been around forever and is proven delicious. The old-fashioned doughnuts fit right at home in this retro 50s-inspired diner located in Woodbury and in its second location in Waterbury. Diner owner Dorothy Sperry says the cinnamon sugar doughnut is by far the best seller, perhaps because its crunchy, sweet outside and soft, cake center reminds people of a simpler time—before cupcakes and crounuts.
Why it’s the best: Locals already know Dottie’s has the best doughnuts, but in July 2014, Sperry’s creations beat out the competition on an episode of "Donut Showdown" on the Cooking Channel.
Fish & Chips
Uberti’s Fish Market
Stratford, (203) 377-1429
How many times have you gone to a seafood place for fish and chips only to get a few fried minnows and potato scraps that are passed off as a “gourmet” dish? When you order fish and chips, you want FISH and CHIPS—and Uberti’s delivers! You get a slab of cod, coated with a tasty batter and fried to crispy perfection, plus a substantial serving of thick shoestring fries. Since Uberti’s is a fish market, the fish used is always fresh-caught—never frozen or processed—which is what every seafood-lover desires.
Why it’s the best: Uberti’s goes big, so you go home feeling like you’ve conquered Moby Dick.
Bridgeport, (203) 374-6151, drumstikbbq.com
In the half century since it was founded, Drumstik Bar-B-Q has inspired a loyal following of fans who have flocked from all across the Park City to feast upon fried chicken. What draws them in is the breading—made from a closely guarded family recipe—which fries up crispy and seals in the chicken’s juiciness. And while you’re enjoying the chicken, try one of Drumstik’s excellent sides—we recommend the “famous” green coleslaw, a zesty and cool complement to the sizzling hot fried chicken.
Why it’s the best: Drumstik has been frying chicken for 50 years—they’ve gotten it more than right by now.
New Haven, (203) 624-3373, caseusnewhaven.com
This local fromagerie is an expert on all things cheese (there’s a selection of over 100 unique artisan cheeses in-house), so it makes sense the grilled cheese would be a cut above. Whether you order one in the bistro or from the traveling food truck, you’re guaranteed to get a buttery, crusty sandwich filled with a creamy blend of six different varieties of cheese. Off the truck, those sandwiches can be topped with everything from tomato to guacamole—or be bold and try the grilled cheese of the day.
Why it’s the best: Cheese is taken seriously here, and six different varieties are blended for each sandwich.
|Photo by Harold Deschenes III|
Newington, (860) 666-3647, doogieshotdogs.com
There’s no fuss with Doogie’s hot dog. Each grilled dog is two feet long and can be slathered with toppings from caramelized onions to sauerkraut and cheese to chili. The Boston Dog is topped with baked beans and bacon, the College Dog comes with French fries on top and the Coney Dog comes classic with mustard and onion. Rachael Ray's magazine Every Day has said Doogie’s has “the No. 1 grilled hot dog in the country,” and it’s been featured on Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food.”
Why it’s the best: There are two feet of delicious Americana in every dog.
Arethusa Farm Dairy
Litchfield, (860) 361-6600, arethusafarm.com
The ice cream served at Arethusa Farm’s creamery, located in an historic former firehouse in the Bantam section of Litchfield, is made on-site with “milk like it used to taste” from the most pampered cows in the world, living not too far away at the dairy farm itself. The chocolate ice cream, for example, is “just Arethusa Farm milk and cream, eggs, sugar and cocoa.” When you walk into the bright, welcoming creamery your senses delight in the sweet aroma of freshly made waffle cones. You can also buy Arethusa’s milk, half-and-half, yogurts and handmade cheeses at the creamery—and then go next door to the Arethusa al tavolo wine bar for lunch or dinner.
Why it’s the best: Arethusa’s owners, George Malkemus and Tony Yurgaitis, are the executives who own Manolo Blahnik USA. Like the designer shoes, the ice cream is pure, sleek, delicious couture worthy of the runway.
Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock
New London, (860) 439-1741, captscotts.com
Since Harry Perry “invented” the lobster roll in Milford during the 1920s, the debate has raged as to which is better—serving it hot (with drawn butter) or cold (with mayo). Captain Scott’s offers it both ways, and by the crowds that gather every summer at this classic lobster shack overlooking Shaw’s Harbor in New London (as well as the dozens of rave reviews online), it’s clear that they’ve mastered both versions, each of which features chunks of fresh lobster meat served on soft split buns.
Why it’s the best: We wouldn’t wait in the long lines that can form on weekends if it wasn’t worth it.
Multiple locations, (203) 799-9663, woodntap.com
Warning: Although Wood-n-Tap’s monster nachos are technically on the appetizer menu, a single serving is waaay more than enough to feed one person. Actually, the half order is usually more than two people can finish in a single sitting! A mound of tortilla chips is smothered with melted cheese, diced tomatoes, jalapenos, black beans, shredded lettuce, sour cream and your choice of chicken or beef. And unlike the nachos that other places serve, there’s no skimping on anything—plenty of cheese, chips and great taste!
Why it’s the best: Great nachos at a great price ($12.59 full order; $9.29 half order) make for a great value.
Sixpence Pie Company
Southington and New Haven, (860) 681-6118, sixpencepiecompany.com
When you say “pie,” many people think of dessert. However, when you say “Sixpence pie,” we think of delicious, savory mealtime creations that are handcrafted with fresh fruits and veggies as well as humanely raised meats and poultry, the majority of which is sourced from local Connecticut farms and farmers’ markets. (Although Sixpence does sweet pies, too!) Think Old World standards infused with new sensibilities—The Butcher (beef Bourguignon), Little Piggy (cider-braised pulled pork with caramelized onion), Little Boy Blue with Chicken (chicken, spinach and artichoke with bleu cheese béchamel). An ideal meal to go!
Why it’s the best: Handmade treats, locally sourced and baked to savory perfection.
New Haven, (203) 776-5306, modernapizza.com
New Haven has long given New York City a run for its money in the battle of pizza supremacy and this legendary pizza joint that opened in 1934 is one of the reasons why. Along with Sally’s Apizza and Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana, Modern forms the unofficial trinity of New Haven pizza-making holy sites. Toppings include classics like pepperoni, peppers, mushrooms and onion, as well as Modern specialties such as clams, clams casino (clams plus bacon and peppers) and the Italian Bomb (a monster of a pie topped with bacon, sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, pepper and garlic). No matter what topping you choose, the result is a slice of brick-oven fired thin-crust pizza perfection.
Why it’s the best: The competition is fierce in this category and we’ve honored other establishments in the past—it’s high time Modern gets its due.
Mystic, (860) 415-9266, oysterclubct.com
Let’s be honest—who can truly love a raw bar that’s nowhere near the water? At the Oyster Club, water is in their culinary veins. The menu, updated daily, “showcases food that travels the shortest distance from ‘farm and sea to table,’ with seasonality and location determining the day’s delicacies.” The raw bar itself features Ninigret Nectar, Watch Hill and East Beach Blonde oysters, Noank oysters and littleneck and cherrystone clams. From there you can move on to dinner and maybe something like pan-roasted striped bass with sweet corn polenta, wood fire-grilled cabbage and house-cured chive flower caper cream, or seared yellowfin tuna with a miso.
Why it’s the best: You can enjoy “ice cold oysters, harvested from local waters and shucked specifically for you” in the Treehouse, an outdoor bar and deck tucked away in the trees with a view of the Mystic River.
Shelton and Milford, (203) 924-0200, liquidlunchrestaurant.com
What’s better than a cup of hot chicken noodle soup to warm you up when leaves start falling and snow coats the ground? Nothing, except maybe having it delivered to your home. But wait, Liquid Lunch does that too. With vegetarian and gluten-free daily specials like spicy black bean, cold strawberry and Mediterranean gazpacho, you are sure to find a new, and healthy, favorite. For soup aficionados, options include roasted artichoke chicken gorgonzola, whereas sandwich lovers can get a taste of the Santa Cruz: turkey, lettuce, bacon, avocado and ranch dressing.
Why it’s the best: The family-owned Liquid Lunch exceeds all expectations with its hot soups and hearty sandwiches that can satisfy anyone’s appetite.
West Hartford and multiple locations, (860) 586-TACO, bartaco.com
If you’re on a mission to have a “pura vida,” or “pure life,” full of tacos, small plates, desserts, beers and vino, bartaco is the place for you. At only $2.50 each, baja fish, pork belly or falafel tacos will delight your taste buds. Add an extra dollar to fall in love with their fried oyster and sesame rib-eye tacos. And for a delicious get-together with friends or family, bartaco offers party packs full of guacamole and chips, cheese quesadillas and pork and chicken tamales.
Why it’s the best: With a specialty in tacos, an ambiance fit for the beach and drinks to quench any thirst, there's no better than bartaco.
The Green Teahouse
West Hartford and New Haven, (860) 232-6666, thegreenteahouse.com
Established in 1999, The Green Teahouse has a simple goal: “To share our rich heritage of luxury loose-leaf tea, its amazing health benefits, and the surprising flavor [and flair] it lends to Asian cuisine.” The range and richness the shops offer is not easy to quantify—all types and varieties of loose tea, from white, green and black to fruit and herbal, lunch fare and desserts, smoothies and even full Chinese tea ceremonies by appointment. “Experience old-world culture in a charming new way,” The Green Teahouse says. Do that, and do it right, and it’s sure to expand your horizons, maybe even change your life.
Why it’s the best: They put authenticity and sheer passion behind a beverage that deserves a bigger embrace from coffee-addicted Americans.
Chester, (860) 322-4212, sixmain.com
Why order a veggie burger in a standard-menu restaurant that sees the world through the culinary lens of meat and potatoes? At Six Main, chef Rachel Carr, previously executive chef at the internationally known (raw vegan) Cru Restaurant in Los Angeles, choreographs vegan, vegetarian and raw farm-to-table menus with items so delicious they may convert burger bullies. Carr says so in a recipe intro: “There is something so satisfying about biting into a great burger with all the toppings, the flavor of the grill, the heartiness of the patty . . . . This vegan beet burger will satisfy that craving!” Or try the Six Main patty melt: beet, chickpea and lentil patty, challah bread, brie and organic cheddar, oven fries, mustard aioli, caramelized onion and spinach.
Why it’s the best: Pretty historic town, yes, and location in historic former bank, yes. The clincher—Six Main’s principal, Bill de Jonge, also owns Upper Pond Farm in Old Lyme, which provides fresh produce daily.
Mt. Carmel Wine & Spirits Co.
Hamden, (203) 281-0800, mtcarmelwine.com
In the many decades Mt. Carmel has been a fixture in Connecticut, good boutique shops have become increasingly rare; specialty grocery chains got in the game and stores once considered big are now dwarfed by mega-retailers. Did Mt. Carmel sweat? Never. When you offer a lifestyle essential at the highest level, evolution comes from within, not by watching others. As the website says, “Since the repeal of prohibition, Mt. Carmel Wine & Spirits Co. has been a source for rare wines, as well as specialty wines where worth exceeds price.” Mt. Carmel focuses on rare and mature wines, and on finds sourced directly from Europe, which are often 30 percent less than other wines of similar quality. If Mt. Carmel were a wine, it would score 100 points.
Why it’s the best: You can drop in for a 2001 Château Haut-Brion (94-95 rating) for $490, an always great Guigal Côtes du Rhône (Kermit Lynch’s “house wine”) for $13.99, or the direct-import 2010 Domaine Litaud St. Veran white Burgundy for $14.99 in a sale.
Plainville, (860) 747-6813, jtimothys.com
In 2013, J. Timothy’s wings were named second best in the country by The Daily Meal, and we’re not surprised. The “dirt style” wings, which are sauced before and after being fried, are irresistible—there’s just the right amount of crunch and sticky sweetness to lick off your fingers with each one. J. Timothy’s has its own original Buffalo flavor for the traditionalists, but don’t be afraid to try the other three flavors: Honey Gold BBQ, Teriyaki or Sweet Red Chili. Each is worth a taste.
Why it’s the best: They’re the originator of the “dirt wing,” sauced not once but twice.
Food and Drink