One of my concerns about moving from NYC was leaving behind my favorite food shops and restaurants, the regular haunts I had adored and frequented over the years. I thought it impossible to find suitable replacements in the suburbs. When I stumbled upon Chef Jamie Cooper and the beautiful food he was serving at Abbondanza by day, and Bonda by night, I realized I was wrong!
This little gem in Westport just off of Exit 17 of I95 has become my NYC replacement eatery and thus my salvation. The name of this lunch/take-out restaurant, Abbondanza (“abundance” in Italian), perfectly reflects what you find when you walk inside. “The guys” behind the counter (Sammy, Roberto and Miguel) know all their repeat customers, many by name, and are very knowledgeable about both the daily specials and the regular menu. They are happy to discuss the ingredients of each dish, and will help you make your selection from their eclectic and creative gourmet take-out fare.
Small and casual, the restaurant does not seat a huge crowd. The sleek modest, almost European interior is welcoming and unassuming, and holds about 10 tables as well as a long counter. Across from the Saugatuck train station, Abbondanza definitely has a loyal following. Regulars pop in to carry out lunch, sit at a table or bring home a satisfying gourmet dinner. For those of us who commute via train it's tempting to stop cooking altogether and dine daily c/o Abbondanza take out. Really..it's that good.
The menu consists of specialties of the day as well as the “Abbondanza classics.” Jamie manages to produce beautiful seasonal specials at reasonable prices, and it is always a welcome surprise to see what artful creation will come out of the kitchen. In terms of the "classics", a favorite of many of the regulars is the Eggplant Salad. It is grilled with Balsamic vinegar, basil, onion and garlic, although the defining flavor is the wonderful Balsamic. The Italian Tuna with White Beans is delicious and creamy (achieved amazingly without mayonnaise). A special salad that I am selfishly hoping becomes an Abbondanza classic is the Garbanzo Antipasto Salad made with salami, provolone, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, olives and of course chick peas. It is lightly dressed letting the fresh hearty ingredients speak for themselves.
I enjoy both the comfort of the familiar dishes and being surprised by some new combinations. Some days I crave the Turkey and Coleslaw Sandwich, and other days I am surprised with Jamie's “treasures” in a Portuguese roll. The Cubano de Abbondaza is a fabulous mixture of parmacotto ham, roasted pork loin with sliced pickles, melted swiss cheese and an amazing Cuban dipping sauce. The Veggie Delight Sandwich, is indeed delightful, made with fresh mozzarella, tomato, roasted red peppers, grilled artichoke hearts and extra virgin olive oil, on grilled Terranova bread. All of the sandwiches can be grilled to perfection.
On a recent visit, I brought my four children along for a tasting. Roberto engaged my kids in a discussion about Halloween, we met Chef Jamie’s baby son, and after sampling several dishes we decided on the Pasta alla Puttanesca, Chicken Laksa, Israeli Cous Cous and Tortellini. Sammy had suggested the Pasta alla Puttanesca and while he warned that it was a bit spicy my kids all loved its subtle heat. I was pleased to see that everyone tried and enjoyed the Chicken Laksa, a Thai red coconut curry dish with grilled chicken and green beans. The cous cous which included green beans, roasted butternut squash and feta is one of my personal favorites. It is light and wholesome, with wonderful texture and flavor. My kids thought the tortellini with artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes was “amazing” and I agreed. Plus, it was a healthy complete meal in that it contained all the “right” colors. The Tamales with Spicy Cheese were also authentic and delicioso.
Not only are Chef Jamie’s meals delicious but they are also beautifully prepared. While I did not get to try the pork tenderloin stuffed with spinach and prosciutto over broccoli rabe and mango salsa, it looked like a work of art. Next time...
On any given day you may experience cuisine from Mexico, India, Europe, China or South America. One would think it would be difficult to master the range of ingredients, spices and flavors in these regional dishes, but Jamie's food is always exceptional, even by my admittedly NYC standards.
My only problem with Abbondanza is my inability to decide between the many great sounding soup offerings. I generally make my decision after a couple of samples, and I am always satisfied. On one rainy day, my friend and I were pleased with the nicely flavored butternut squash soup and reminded us of the comforts of a Thanksgiving meal. Another time, we enjoyed the onion soup, which had a perfect blend of onions, rich broth, and Gruyère cheese topped with the classic slice of baguette.
When Roberto served us the cappuccinos in gorgeous orange cups, we were impressed with presentation and the flavor. I never seem to have time for dessert but they look fabulous.
When I visit Abbondanza, I know what to expect, and I know that the food will always be wonderful. While the menu choices change daily, I am never surprised by the quality and freshness of the food, or the friendly service.
Lunch, including a salad, soup, bread and a drink will range from $9 to $12. On Friday and Saturday nights, Abbondaza becomes Bonda, a full service restaurant, and a remarkable dining experience. More on that later.
The fact that Abbondaza offers a catering menu for Thanksgiving is making me question whether I am going to cook or not. They offer Eberly Farms Organic, Naturally fed free range turkeys.
At Abbondaza, you feel a sense of satisfaction stemming from its delicious and fresh food and genial staff. This ex-Manhattanite feels abundantly pleased with this familiar, yet globally influenced, ever-changing gourmet shop.
Abbondanza 30 Charles Street, Westport CT and the phone is 203.454 .0840