Food Worth Arguing About Last Updated: September 2016
By Will Siss
When it comes to food, everyone’s an expert. Connecticut eaters in search of what’s “best” have expert picks to sift through, but for every “top restaurant,” there are those that would be overlooked if not for the comments sections of sites like Yelp, Reddit, Twitter and Facebook. Here’s a mix of restaurants that consistently land on the “best of” lists, and the fan favorites that send devotees praising online before licking their fingers clean.
In Connecticut there is The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven and then there’s everyone else, or at least it would appear. Its gently charred and herb-dusted, thin-crust pies with toppings from clam to salami have a place in the hearts of generations of loyalists, and accolades from Food & Wine, Thrillist and “Best Pizza in America” from the New York Post. However, residents refuse to cherish only one state joint for the country’s most popular food.
Peering deeper into the comments sections brings out a flurry of recommendations, but there is a pattern. Connecticut pizza lovers desire their crusts crisp from a brick oven, their cheese non-dominant, and their vegetable toppings fresh. Blossoming from the same Neapolitan roots as Pepe is Pizzeria Marzano in Torrington. This location boasts a giant wood-fire oven that produces some of the most vibrant pizza in the state. Made with Caputo flour, the pies are works of art that highlight the toppings, particularly San Marzano tomatoes and artichokes. The small space creates a family-style intimacy you cannot always get from restaurants with long lines out the door.
Bone to Pick
Chicken wings run the gamut from quick-fix protein crunchfest to gourmet fingerfood. Critics consistently lather praise upon J. Timothy’s Taverne in Plainville. This sprawling restaurant—with a craft beer-centric bar—is nationally recognized as the state’s go-to spot for wings, and it serves literally tons of them every week. Why? The appeal is as much in the technique as it is the ingredients, in particular the method of creating its “dirt” wings, which means they’ve been fried and sauced twice. The result is a juicy wing in a crispy shell with two waves of flavor. Food Network voted them a “Top 5” bar food and Buzzfeed went so far as to say that they’re one of “22 Wings You Have to Try Before You Die.”
From a much smaller location come wings with more variety than you’ll get anywhere else. With more than 40 varieties of wings, fans flock to and crow about Dew Drop Inn in Derby. Hot Garlic Butter, JD Horseradish, Maple Butter Bacon, Blueberry Pomegranate, Strawberry Habanero and a variety of “dessert wings”—including a Nutella wing—await the adventurous. First-time visitors and food bloggers alike hail the Peanut Butter and Jelly wing for its goo-to-crisp ratio. Each wing seems to have been tested so that there’s just the right amount of marinade, heat, and topping.
Sharp Knives and Words
There are few restaurants more important to research than the steakhouse. With steaks costing upward of $50, it’s an investment. Among the state’s most revered steakhouses—the New York Times is a fan—is Blackstones in Norwalk. This upscale restaurant, with deep red walls and antique decor, has an old-school vibe that encourages the diner to sit up straight and keep their elbows off the table. The porterhouse is extraordinary, and lives up to the review hype. Served medium rare (a chef suggestion that shouldn’t be ignored), the generous cut boasts a landscape of savory nuttiness and a healthy amount of char.
The Gray Lady might not have paid it a visit, but reviews of Ted’s Montana Grill in downtown Hartford glow. “Soooo good,” “great service,” and “I had the PERFECT meal” are among positive pats on the back. The bison steak is a five-star bite. One Delmonico bone-in comes rubbed with espresso, which offers a delicious contrast of savory, lean meat and drying bitterness. Partnered with salt-and-pepper onion rings the size of a boxer’s fist, the meal satisfies from the start.
Choc it Up
With its sensual appeal and emotional impact, chocolate is one of our most personal food vices. When faced with the “best” chocolate in the state, Nutmeggers take this with a grain of salt and a pinch of hazelnut. That said, the awards do pile up, especially for Truffle Shots in Essex, which specializes in an array of ganaches in shot glasses that bring decadence to a new level. At the World Finals of the 2015 International Chocolate Awards, Truffle Shots brought home two silvers and a bronze—they’d already swept the Americas and Asia-Pacific semifinals.
There’s also Munson’s Chocolates with its original store and factory located in Bolton and locations throughout the state. With its storied family history, Munson’s makes for a must-stop on the state’s Chocolate Trail. Bridgewater Chocolates in Brookfield perfectly caps off any well-planned date night. Another gem that commenters tend to recommend with fervor is Fascia’s Chocolates in Waterbury, with its factory open for tours that let visitors make their own chocolate bars. Visit the retail shop to dip into a half-pound box of pecan turtle and a variety of melt-aways that puts you pretty close to heaven. Will Siss is an alco-journalist who has been writing about beer for more than 10 years for the Waterbury Republican-American. The author of Connecticut Beer: A History of Nutmeg State Brewing was happy to have a chance to write about solid food for a change.