2017...Ah, what a year. As we welcome 2018, full of promise, and hopefully, less national drama, it is important to celebrate the restaurants, chefs, dishes, and dining experiences that helped us get through 2017. 2017 heralded some great openings from both chefs we know and love, as well as some newcomers. Here's our list of Top Eats for 2017 from the CTbites staff. Every team member and contributor has chosen their own unique way to throw down their favorites. Enjoy, and start making your reservations for 2018.
The Cottage, Westport: Wagyu Brisket Steam Buns with Napa Kimchi & Duck Fat Potato Tempura
Ginkgo, Fairfield: Deep Fried Whole Sea Bass with Peas, Carrots & Pine Nuts in a Sweet & Sour Sauce
EGGZ Food Truck, Bethel: "Crack Is Wack" breakfast sandwich with Soft Scrambled Eggz, Goat Cheese, Bacon, Fig Spread, Arugula, on a Toasted Brioche
Tavern at Graybarns, Norwalk: The epic sourdough bread from artisan baker Rob VanKeuren of Flour Water Salt as well as the Beef Short rib flavored with red wine, onion and horseradish.
Harlan Haus, Bridgeport: Ok...ok...I know the rest of you haven't had the chance to sample this menu as it officially opens in January, but this standout item from our tasting has me dreaming of this sandwich at night. Go eat the Park City Pit Sandwich with Sliced Beef, Aged Cheddar, Horseradish Sauce, on a Pretzel Roll. Oh sweet baby.
MECHA Noodle Bar, Norwalk, New Haven, Fairfield: Coconut red curry snapper with sticky rice
The Spread, Norwalk: The Burger..Kobe Beef...red onion jam...aged gouda...enough said.
Antojos Colombian Restaurant, Norwalk: Papas Rellenas, a seasoned, deep fried potato ball, with a center that’s packed with tender, shredded beef. This is the ultimate comfort food.
Kawa Ni, Westport: Miso Eggplant with Gruyere, Banana Peppers and Eel Sauce
Match Burger Lobster, Westport: The Match Burger...because every burger should be bathed in butter
Porterhouse steak at Washington Prime: Yeah, it’s expensive. $98 expensive. But it feeds two people and there may be no better seared, juicy, rich flavored cut anywhere else in Fairfield County. This 40 oz beast comes from Midwest corn-fed cattle and is dry-aged for 28 days. Their custom 900+ degree broiler with heat directing fans and a cast iron slab makes for a perfect sear and ideal crust on the outside. Treat yourself sometime.
Hot dog with the works at Cricket Car Hop: A Stratford legend returns with their true foot long, deep fried snappy casing dogs served on a buttered-and-griddled bun with ketchup, mustard, sauerkraut, and their homemade spicy red relish. Get two, and add a thick milkshake.
Grilled Portuguese octopus at The Spread: I like octopus generally, but I LOVE Chef Carlos Baez’s version. It’s slightly charred from the grill but remains tender, and the combo of spicy chorizo and crispy fingerling potatoes make this a very comforting dish in any season.
Fish tacos at Nosh Hound: I’ve eaten my weight in local tacos this year but the ones that stick out the most are from a food truck. A substantial piece of battered Mahi-mahi, fried golden brown, with lettuce and radish slices for texture, and a smoky/spicy aioli make for a hell of a Cali-style taco.
Dry aged burger at Elm: I had never been to Elm previously but one day after a serious gym session I decided to stop in for an early dinner. I was starving and in a burger mood and had always heard about their mock version of an In & Out burger. It doesn’t disappoint! The beef juices and homemade burger sauce might drip down your chin and into your lap if you’re not careful. You’ll make a mess on your plate too, but swirl that burger around—and the fresh cut fries— and scoop up the residuals.
Bucatini with jalapeño and almond pesto at Amis Trattoria: Amis’ Brad Spence created an exceptional pasta dish that’s just different; spicy, nutty, cheesy. It came about because of his affinity for Asian noodles, mixed with his passion for Italian cooking. I’m glad he thought it up.
Every roll at Knot Norm’s: Jay LeBlanc is doing something special at the newly opened Knot Norm’s in East Norwalk. At first glance you’ll be like, “They’re just sandwiches on buttery, grilled, New England hot dog rolls.” Then you’ll try it and wonder what kind of magic tricks he’s doing with the meat and seafood. While he may not give away any detailed secrets, he’s marinating, slow-cooking, and putting extra care into every protein he stuffs into a roll. By the way, Knot Norm’s is in the discussion for one of CT’s best lobster rolls.
Bread and pastries by Rob Van Keuren: This was one of my favorite stories to write in 2017 and one of the tastiest. “The Bread Guy” now bakes out of Graybarn on the Silvermine River in Norwalk (formerly Lombardi’s in Georgetown), but his following seems to get stronger despite the move. His sourdough loaves and cinnamon swirl brioche sell out on Fridays and Saturday mornings from 10-11, so get in line early! Aside from that, Rob is making some of the best croissants around, and the almost candied salted caramel kouign-amann are a guilty pleasure for breakfast or dessert.
“Plain” pizza at Modern Apizza: I wrote a New Haven pizza article for another publication and scarfed down a lot of slices. This was the best of the bunch. Modern’s plain consists of light mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, chunky red sauce, olive oil, and oregano on their charred, crunchy crust. It’s a pizza I could never get tired of eating.
Peanut butter cup cookie at The Drunk Alpaca: Known for baking with CT beer, this Shelton bake shop (also frequently found in local breweries) makes a Reese’s Cup embedded cookie that peanut butter freaks would swoon over. This soft-but-chewy, chocolatey, peanut buttery, salty and sweet cookie hits all the right notes. Skip the milk, enjoy it with a fine stout!
Favorite New Restaurant: Taproot, Bethel
Favorite Bakery: Hen & Heifer, Guilford
Best Lunch/Takeout Spot: Nom Eez, Bridgeport
Most Anticipated Opening: Swyft, Kent
Favorite Brunch: Bella's Cafe, New Haven
Reopened & Better Than Ever: Zoi's on Orange, New Haven
My choices for top new openings in 2017...
GrayBarns ... Norwalk Marsha and Andy Glazer’s sweeping reconstruction of the legendary Silvermine Tavern and Inn offer the perfect stage for Ben Freemole's magical menu and an evening of extraordinary dining. The star of the show is Rotisserie Chicken -- plump, juicy with crispy, golden-brown skin. I can't wait for summer and al fresco dining on the plaza overlooking the bucolic setting below. One of the most extraordinary openings in years.
Jesup Hall. Bill Taibe's new entry into Westport's white hot restaurant scene has changed course since its opening in March. No longer offering a set tavern menu, JH is much closer to the cooking Taibe did at his late LeFarm, inventive and ever changing. Yep, the menu also includes his signature foie gras and chicken liver entrees. but we loved the Diva Burger, dipped in bone marrow jus. Outstanding.
Kala -- North Haven. Chef Manuel Romero, who made his name at Olea in downtown New Haven, has opened a suburban iteration that is more relaxed, lower keyed, and much lower priced than its sibling, but even more global. The apps are fantastic, especially the Bao Pork Belly.
Present Company -- Simsbury. Jeffrey Lizotte, the acclaimed former chef at Hartford’s On20, has returned to his hometown to create inventive spins on casual comfort food. Loved his braised leg of lamb, paired with eggplant risotto and a tomato "fondue". Worth the drive, especially through rustic farm and riverlands north of Hartford.
Match Burger Lobster -- Saugatuck. In contrast to the full service Match in SoNo, Matt Storch now offers versions of his butter dipped Match Burger every night of the week (rather than one night in SoNo.). Even better are his warm, buttery lobster rolls (though he also offers the New England version, served cold in a mayo sauce). Nothing fancy here ... just lip smacking American fast casual dining that isn't too hard on the wallet. Family friendly with no Shake Shack lines.
Jeff "Jfood" Schlesinger
With a tear in my eye I submit my swan-song list of favorites for 2017. Now that I am a full-time resident of Atlanta, the great food I enjoyed over so many years in CT is a memory. My time was limited in CT this year (weekends only until the final move in September) but there were several dishes that deserve a special call out:
Elm (New Canaan) – Chef Luke created one of the best dishes with his Octopus Taco. Why not elevate the most basic of food with a sublime change, perfectly prepared octopus? Not only was the texture outrageous, but the flavor combinations, perfect.
Harlan Publick (Norwalk) – Been there 15 times, ordered the Gulf Shrimp Tempura 15 times. It is my go-to dish. Chef Kamal presents a large bowl of shrimp, each perfectly coated and fried, covered with a shallot soy vinaigrette and served with a spicy mayo. The interior was luscious and every morsel quickly disappeared every time.
Locali – What can I say but I will miss the pizza that I have devoured since Chef Mogan appeared in New Canaan. Each time I visit I look for something new on the menu to join the pizza and every time I am blown away by another creation. Could really use some good pizza down here in Atlanta.
South End – Chef Nick turned me onto the most incredible meatballs and then he dazzled me with the Pork Scapariello, the perfect matching of spicy and sweet overlaid on a perfectly seared pork chop.
Match – The burger that changed burgers. The Match burger just keep chugging along in my memory and across my palate. Large, juicy, delicious, complemented by those onions and cheese béchamel sauce. Then encase in the brioche and kill the diet with some of the best French Fries around.
Thanks to all the great chefs, the wonderful friends I made and to the readers for giving me a chance to share some great food in CT.
Takumi Sushi, Ramen & Lounge, Branford: I love absolutely everything here, from their inventive weekly specials, to spicy miso kurobuta (Berkshire pork) ramen, to cubic sushi: yellowtail, avocado and seaweed powder wrapped with nori rice paper, topped with salmon, ikura and shiso leaves. Save room for matcha pudding with cherries. My car practically drives itself here weekly.
Reverie Kitchen, Branford: I’m so stuck on this brother and sister team’s delicious weekend breakfasts, I really must move on to lunch and dinner—but oh, that hollandaise! Try the eggs Florentine. Or pop in for a key lime tart and a cappuccino. Anything they bake or make is magical.
Grano Arso, Chester: Chef Joel Gargano’s signature spelt spaghetti with Stonington red shrimp and broccolini pesto made a shrimp lover out of me. Carrot crostini on crusty bread with creamy whipped ricotta and the sweetness of roasted carrots and cippolini hit all the right notes. I dream of the Lani martini, a fragrant vanilla and lemongrass vodka-spiked concoction with tarragon, Yellow Chartreuse and a candied lemon wheel. Butterscotch budino with amaro-soaked cherries and chocolate crumbs brings the meal to a sweet ending. Cent’ann’!
Cavey’s, Manchester: Aged prosciutto di Parma wrapped around black mission figs stuffed with St. Agur blue cheese served with grilled radicchio and pistachios melted this Italian girl’s heart on Thanksgiving.
The Essex, Centerbrook: Chef Colt Taylor’s rendition of beef tartare—torn beef and mint with flavors of pho, served with squid ink bread—was simply exquisite, as was the foie gras terrine with lychee and pineapple. And the butter-basted pears tossed with crispy mustard greens a “trail mix” of pignoli, Marcona almonds, pepitas, candied hazelnuts and Bayley Hazen blue—what a knockout combination of tastes and textures! Want to travel the globe from the comfort of your table? This is the place.
Riley’s Hot Dog & Burger Gourmet, New Britain: Deb and Rick put Hard Hittin’ on the map with crazy-good burger and dog creations, excellent fries and salty balls. Don’t miss the outrageous Nacho Poppa Dog with Fritos and all the nacho fixins! It’s always a toss-up for me between that and their delightfully cheesy jalapeno popper burger.
Blackbird Tavern, Middlefield: My friendly, local home away from home serves killer corn chowder with red, white and blue tortilla chips. And one of my best burgers of the year, the Tex-Mess, loaded with jalapeños, avocado, cheddar and bacon swapped in instead of chili, was off the charts with flavor. Bring a friend to share—it’s HUGE!
The Eatery, Wallingford: I wish it could be Thanksgiving all year long after trying a Mayflower: chunks of house-roasted turkey, apple cornbread stuffing, pear cranberry sauce and maple roasted sweet potatoes, all folded into a wrap and grilled on a panini press … are you kidding me? God, I love you guys! Gobble-gobble!
The Whelk, Westport: Union Jack oysters with gin, crème fraiche and caviar. Need I even say more?
Fujiya Ramen, Middletown: Tan-Tan ramen with seasoned ground pork, sesame sauce, scallions and spinach completely hits the spot. And the thin, transparent and generously stuffed yaki-gyoza are equally noteworthy.
Favorite French: Le Penguin and Rive Bistro (their tuna tartare is unrivaled!)
Favorite American: Match Norwalk - (Wasabi Tuna, Octopus Frites) Southend, New Canaan and Terrain, Westport
Favorite Indian: Coromandel (Darien location)
Favorite Greek: Pontos Taverna (Norwalk)
Favorite Sushi: Yamafuji (Westport)
Favorite Lunch: Prix Fixe Lunch Menu at Artisan
Favorite Outdoor Bar: Artisan/Delamar Southport
Favorite Casual Outdoor Summer Bar: Sunset Grill (Norwalk)
Favorite Healthy/Vegetarian/Grab and Go, On the Run: Organika and B.GOOD (Fairfield)
Favorite Bar/Pub Food: Craft 14 Kitchen + Bar (Wilton)
Favorite Mac and Cheese: Tavern on Main
Favorite Breakfast: Granola Bar - Breakfast Burrito (Westport), The Driftwood (Fairfield)
Favorite Brunch: Chelsea - The Chelsea Benedict, Pearl at Longshore, Crab or Lobster Benedict
Favorite Seafood: The Whelk
Favorite "Special Occasion" Restaurant: The Schoolhouse at Cannondale, The Roger Sherman Inn
Favorite Deli: Greenfield Hill Market
Favorite Pizza: Match - Potato Bacon Egg, Pearl at Longshore - Bianca Deluxe (Mozzarella, Parm, Ricotta, Fontina, White Truffle Oil), Brick + Wood - Prosciutto and Arugula, Sweet and Spicy (jalapeno, chicken prosciutto sausage topped w homemade sweet and spicy honey)
Favorite appetizers/ petite bites - Pearl, Bar Lupa (new), both Westport, Barcelona, Fairfield
Favorite Margarita: Bartaco
Favorite Bloody Mary: The Chelsea, Pearl at Longshore
Favorite Bakery (Breads): Billy's (Fairfield), Isabelle et Vincente (Fairfield)
Favorite Dessert: Brick + Wood, Carla's Bread Pudding. OMG!! (Fairfield)
Favorite Bar to grab a drink with friends: Paci (newly redesigned - gorgeous and spacious), Pearl and Artisan
Bailey’s Backyard (Ridgefield) This one is easy. Everything here. All the time. Every season. I’ve never been disappointed by a single dish or cocktail here.
Rothbard & Ale (Westport) Raclette (alpine cheese melted over potatoes and pickles) and Patty Melt (burger with caramelized onions, bacon, swiss cheese on rye bread with pomme frites). Totally swoon-worthy. Seriously. Their cocktails are also excellent.
Pink Sumo (Westport) Summer Shrimp Roll (manor, avocado, mixed greens, wrapped in rice paper). One of my go-to appetizers, I love ‘em. These were particularly delightful.
Cafe Dolce (Norwalk) Almond Croissants-these fellas know how to make a perfect croissant.
Sedona Taphouse (Norwalk)-PEI Mussels (tomatoes, red onions, garlic, lemon basil sauce, served with big wedge of crispy bread). Called a “starter” but it’s so huge, just get it as an entree and dunk your way to bliss.
Tavern on Main (Westport)- Quinoa Salad. It’s big, vibrant and fits the bill for a great lunch salad. Their Molten Lava Cake is not really the traditional lava cake, but when I was completely in a I-need-chocolate zone the other night, this one did it for me in every way it could…gooey, super-chocolatey and big enough that you can share and still feel like you were eating more than you should.
Brewport (Bridgeport) Any of their pizzas (beware of size, very generous!). Woodfired, thin-crusted and tasty tasty.
Mecha Noodle Bar (Norwalk) Hot Oil Dumplings and the traditional Pho. No bowl comforts more. Just be forewarned, wear a dark shirt. You’ll walk away with serious slurp stains. Oh yeah, and their bubble tea-spiked or unspiked-is perfectly delicious. Those bubbles are addictive. Shloop!
Bartaco (Westport) Cauliflower taco with Romesco sauce (contains nuts-take note) and falafel taco. These tacos have become the reason I go there.
Valencia (Norwalk) Their Nutella-cream cheese empanada is still one of my fave desserts in the area.
Ferris Acres Creamery (Newtown) Absolutely, completely the best ice cream anywhere. Take your pick, but I love the Coconut Chocolate Chunk. The Ferris folks also know how to skillfully move long lines so that people don’t get cranky. Even better!
Harvest Wine Bar (Greenwich)-Shaved Brussels Sprout salad (parmesan risotto cake, truffle vinaigrette, with a haystack of sprouts). Piled high and just the right touch of truffle.
Kure Spa (Norwalk)-Superfood Smoothies such as their Green Ginger Mint (almond milk, pear, spinach, ginger, fresh mint, maple syrup) and Blueberry Cinnamon Spice (almond milk, blueberry, banana, peaches, gluten-free rolled oats, cinnamon, maple syrup, cashew butter, peanut butter, pinch of Himalayan salt). These folks know their juice bar drinks.
Coromandel (Darien)-Lasuni Gobi-mini cauliflower tossed with tomato, garlic and cilantro. Great flavors!
Barcelona Norwalk: Their new location in Waypointe is not only gorgeous with multiple dining areas and a huge bar, but the food is delicious. We usually stick to tapas like bouquerones, albondigas, octopus and hangar steak, but hard to resist is the spicy but shareable Chicken Pimentos.
"The Storch Who Stole Christmas"- Chef Matt Storch seems to have cornered my taste buds with namesake restaurant, Match in SoNo, Vietnamese/Asian Nom-eez in BlackRock, and newly opened Match Burger Lobster next to Fleishers Craft Butchery. Each spot has its own personality and menu specials. The Match burger is not to be missed as one of the best burgers in the state, and you can pair with the lobster roll at Burger Lobster, the Pho and Bahn Mi at Nom-eez and check for Match daily specials like Tomahawk steak or lobsters in addition to an extensive menu of good things.
The Spread- Still a favorite after all these years. Chef Carlos always offers plenty of creative dishes and I look forward to checking out Spread 2.0 in Greenwich.
Norwalk Pizza - I am constantly in search of basic NYC style pizza. Thin bubbly crust (but not too thin), flavorful red sauce, and lots of cheese ( but not too much ). Easy? Not so much in CT. Norwalk Pizza, near the East Norwalk train station, is a basic "pizza place", mostly for take out and delivery. Their basic pizza is really good, with many toppings available, and we like their eggplant parm entree and salads to go.
Chango Rosa Taco - I'm not sure whether it was foodie alchemy, Santería ritual, or just a night of hard drinking which lead to the creation of this Latin street food/BBQ mashup's residency in Hartford's Union Station, but good job either way. Bear's Smokehouse provides the meats which fill pupusas, Cubanos, tacos, empanadas... the list goes on. Tables, patio, or energetic bar - take your pick, but check it out.
Barracuda - On any given night, this small space on the corner of Chapel and Park in New Haven is as densely packed with patrons as it is with flavor. An unusual, inventive cocktail is a great starter, along with avocado sushi drizzled in sweet chili tamarind sauce, or Colombian empanadas (in white cornmeal rather than flaky dough). Must try: white bean and pork belly plate, Peruvian chicken, or Puerto Rican style pork chops.
Thigh High Chicken - Ansonia's answer to to the chicken sandwich may cause amnesia of all other options. As the name suggests, all their sandwiches are made with more intensely savory thigh meat, and the original is served fried on a bun with garlic mayo and excellent house pickles. The Buffalo - with blue cheese, celery remoulade, and pickled carrot - is worth the drive, and if you don't pair anything you order with the red cabbage slaw, I will be personally disappointed.
Emma Doody Stetson
BEST BAR FOOD
Some nights call for bar food, and a recent trip to The Lazy Dog Tavern did not disappoint. We all ordered some permutation of their burger, which wound up being juicy, melt-in-your-mouth patties of Angus beef. I ordered mine "in the grass," atop a generously sized salad, and added guacamole on top. Their tasty burgers were a welcome surprise and one of the best things I ate all year.
BEST ADVENTUROUS DINING
For my birthday, my husband took me to Miya's Sushi in New Haven so we could finally try their invasive species menu. Everything was unique and delicious, but I especially loved the Catfish Blues Roll. Not your average sushi roll, it is filled with blue catfish, okra, apricots, and black-eyed peas. The peas imparted a beautiful texture that contrasted nicely with the rest of the roll while the apricots added a hint of sweetness. I was also a huge fan of their "Water of Life" sake cocktail, which was crisp and fresh thanks to the additions of ginseng, turmeric, tangerine peel, and honey.
BEST SINGLE BITE
This year I had the chance to eat oysters fresh out of the ocean while on the Coops Island Oyster tour. So flavorful!
My most memorable meal of 2017 was at the newly expanded Bleu Squid in Mystic (http://www.dessertsmysticct.com/). Their mac and cheese is topped with the perfect amount of crumbles, their melt-in-your-mouth "The Spinach" grilled cheese is something you want to eat again and again, and their chocolate coconut cupcakes literally take the cake. Go hungry!
The Cook & The Bear, West Hartford: Smoked salmon deviled eggs; prime beef brisket
Market Place Kitchen and Bar, Avon: Crispy Brussels sprouts; house whipped ricotta
Abigail's Grille and Wine Bar, Simsbury: Blackened Redfish Nouvelle
Zinc, New Haven: Salmon BLT
Max's Oyster Bar, West Hartford Center: Grilled Baby Rock Octopus