Fairfield County has some great bars with good old fashioned bar food…wings, burgers, fries, onion rings, cheesesteaks, with a wide variety of beers. Recently, many have expanded the menu to include tacos, chili, ribs, chicken and other down and dirty delicacies. When I received an invitation to join a media event at Johnny Utah’s in SoNo I was curious, since this bar also features a mechanical bull (spoiler…not happenin’).
Entries in Delicious Dives (54)
On the corner Main and Commerce in Portland is a cozy place that’s the “Cheers” of breakfast, Sarah's On Main—“where everybody knows your name and you’re always glad you came.” If you’re from either side of the river, don’t be surprised if you bump into old friends—or make new ones. I do both each time I go. Whether you find a spot at the counter or grab a table, there’s fresh and local deliciousness with a spin of creativity, courtesy of Sarah Weeden.
What began as a quest for waffles grew into a steady habit of breakfast—and occasional lunch—at my newest home away from home.
Day one, I realized I’d stumbled into a little gem when I tried the BLT Bennie. Served on toasted brioche, it’s sheer perfection of a Benedict, drizzled with Hollandaise. The hash of the day was summer squash and zucchini, which I requested instead of home fries. Thumbs up all the way around.
Dive Bars aren’t necessarily dives.
Take Casey’s Tavern in Stamford. Secluded on a dead end side street just off downtown, its windows are veiled, its entrance shadowy. What’s behind the curtains?
Well, step inside and be amazed. The crowd is convivial, the decor beguiling, and the joint jumping. A song blasts on the juke, but it’s buried under the laughter and yak. Behind a highly polished hardwood bar, mirrors and bottles glisten. Out the back door, a sun-splashed patio beckons. And on each table – there’s an extensive menu to ponder.
So is Casey’s a dive?
“No, no,” Seamus Costigan tells us. ”We don’t attract trouble.” He should know. Costigan is not only the guy behind the stick, but the affable owner of this Irish pub. It is said once Seamus meets you, he never forgets your name or your drink.
These days the term “Dive Bar” doesn’t imply bikers, broken bottles and bloody bathrooms. Rather, a true Dive serves as a neighborhood gathering place, where regulars can dive in*, grab a quick (or long) one at an affordable price, shoot pool or darts, argue sports and politics, or just b,s. about life and love. No one comes in to be lonely … or leaves broke.
When you belly up to the bar, there’s no need to order. The ‘keep is already pouring.
Seamus nods and grins. “I guess we’re a dive bar, then. I know exactly what time my regulars come in, their drink, and what they eat.”
In a modern Dive, the food is as much a draw as the liquor and the laughter. So forget about microwaved burgers and dogs, stale chips, or soggy Slices. The new breed Dive caters to customers who aren’t just thirsty, but hungry for a tasty meal without breaking the bank.
Gourmet dining? At times. Complexity, not really. But solid eats, definitely. In fact, some dishes are farm fresh and healthy.
Herewith, we curate the best eats we found at some selected SW Connecticut Dives …
Maybe it's just the freshness of a mind before it reaches pickled adulthood, but childhood memories seem more permanent. I can't remember breakfast on most days, but I recall hopping on bikes with a few friends, ditching our mother-mandated helmets, and riding down to Vic's Variety on Paradise Green in Stratford to buy Crybabies and play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on a stand up, four player arcade game.
Nintendo and Sega Genesis had killed video game arcades as dead as iTunes killed record stores until four guys in Williamsburg thought "What if we bring them back, but with beer?" That was 2004, and in the ensuing years the Barcade franchise has spread around New York, to New Jersey, Philly, and now, New Haven. It was once again time to get my Hadouken! on.
Travel time driving to Barcade is variable, in my case 3 hours in traffic. But by the time I arrived I was seriously ready to blow something up. Centipede, Galaga, Punch Out, four player X-Men and Ninja Turtles, Ms. Pac Man... take your pick, they're all still 25-cents to play.
HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY AND HAMBURGER MONTH
The thermometer reads 90-degrees, the trees are in full bloom, the birds are chirping and the air is filled with the fragrant aroma of backyard grilling. It must be time for my Annual CTbites’ Southwest Connecticut Burger Review, now celebrating its 5th anniversary.
This year I again took a slightly different approach. Over the years I have rated, and continually update, every burger I eat in CT on a scale from 1-10. To achieve the highest score, the bun-to-bun experience needs to be flawless; meat, cheese, toppings, sauce, and bun, all must work in absolute unison. There are currently thirteen incredible burgers that received a perfect “10.” From two east coast interpretations of the west coast double-double, to a food truck creation served on an Ube bun to several with bacon-onion jam, all of these burgers were spectacular. The 2016 list includes six new burgers while four from last year's list did not make the cut. The final rankings from the the Winner to number thirteen take into account not only the burgers but also the fries or chips.
Here is the CTbites' list of the Best “10” Burgers in Southwest Connecticut.
You know that little place, right around the corner? The one that serves just that dish you were craving? The one that serves food you just know comes from a parent or grandparent’s tried-and-true recipe? You know the place, your go-to joint, always reliable, where you don’t have to dress up and you don’t have to spend a fortune? Well, “La Esquina,” literally, “the corner,” is just THAT place, serving up authentic South American yummies with home-style flare and flavors that impress.
La Esquina Latin Grill, right on “the corner” at 50 Hamilton Avenue in Stamford, is a labor of love for the young and extremely talented co-owner and head chef, Robert Monegro. Chef Robert grew up in Stamford with his Guatemalan mother and Dominican father, both chefs. He decided that after learning all he could by growing up in the kitchen of his parents’ restaurant, Flamboyant in Stamford, he would put his own mark on the culinary map of Fairfield County. And he is doing just that.
Welcome to the end of July, summer’s center point. The perfect time for our annual quest to find the best of Connecticut's official pleasure of summer: warm, buttery lobster rolls.
At the suggestion of readers, chefs, CTBites staff and a food critic or two, we've added an array of food trucks, pounds, shacks, and even a high end restaurant to our previous portfolio (see 2014 edition here).
So take a ride up the balmy Connecticut coastline. We start in the southwest and head northeast, as CTBites forages the best warm lobster rolls in America.
Here’s a little secret...SHHHH!!! We got a tip from those in the know - and by that I mean some of Fairfield County’s finest chefs - that the place “around town” for truly authentic Vietnamese Pho is PHO HONG THOM on Wood Ave in Bridgeport. Naturally, we FORCED ourselves to give it a try. Tiny, unpretentious, even down-right plain, patrons come here for the food, not the decor. But they come. Empty when we arrived at 11:30 but jam packed by noon, PHO HONG THOM draws ‘em in and keeps ‘em coming back for more. Here’s why:
PHO HONG THOM gets its name from Hong and Thom Nguyen, owners of this family-run establishment in the heart of Bridgeport. Originally from a tiny village near Hanoi, the Nguyen family are “all in” with sons and a daughter helping out whenever possible. This is family cooking at its best and you get a hint of that as a mosaic of flavors greet your nose upon arrival. Broth is at the heart of this menu - and I’ll tell you what Pho..
I get this tip that the new place to go for the best casual breakfast and lunch food in Stamford is a small spot at 72 Magee Ave., in the “no-man’s zone” south of I-95 and the Metro-North tracks. On the way to Greenwich one morning I decide to investigate Magee's Curbside.
Here’s the bottom line in an anecdote:
After I show up and rattle the staff by asking them to make a few dishes I can sample and photograph—and ask if the owners are around—I’m sitting at a table talking to co-owners Danny DeGruttola (owner of The Brickhouse Bar & Grill on Bedford Street) and Evan Philippopoulos. A woman comes in and declares that she’s back after Magee’s delighted her with the best turkey burger she’s ever had. (The house-recipe burger was a recent special.)
No, the woman wasn’t a ringer; no one knew I was coming and the owners of the small, bright and cheerful place weren’t even supposed to be there—the food just is that terrific.
Breakfast of Champions? The "Rosie O" at Reddi Rooster in Stamford may not qualify for this title or as a healthy start to the day, but when you want a diversion from the granola, the yogurt, the egg white omelet, the fresh fruit and throw calorie count to the wind, this sandwich is a great choice.
Reddi Rooster is located on Route 1 on the east side of Stamford near the Darien border. It is a fairly non-descript roadside luncheonette serving sandwiches, wraps, and a few hot dishes. The Rosie O has garnered some positive press as one of the best breakfast sandwiches in area so when I found myself in the area I decided to stop in and see for myself. It is available on a roll for $4.50 or as a wedge or a wrap for $7. I ordered the roll version and grabbed one of the seven stools. A steady stream of guests entered, ordered and waited, always a good sign…locals know.