The Cook’s Nook in Norwalk couldn’t be more aptly named. Twisting through its adjoining rooms, filled to capacity, brings you from one alcove and surprising find to another. As you step into the door, you are faced with a navigation decision: the room straight ahead or to the right? It’s not the last time you’re made to choose, but take heart, there are no bad choices here. Like being lost in the streets of Paris, winding your way from one enchanting street to the next, your shopping experience is more adventure than errand.
The place is a riot of every imaginable kitchen tool and appliance. The shelves are thick with pots, pans, boards and bowls; the pegboards dripping with gadgets. Everything is neat and surprisingly orderly, but you won’t find labeled sections and you won’t find everything in a specific category in the same place. The colorful assortment of Staub Cocette pots that greeted me on the way in were not neighbors with their Le Creuset cousins. The extensive barware section included party-quality stemware, but the Riedel glasses were in another room. This arrangement of products turns out to be more eccentric than problematic, as the staff is present and helpful and can locate any item without hesitation.
Browsing at the Cook’s Nook is infinitely more interesting and definitely more fun than staring at a wall of OXO gadgets at the local superstore. If you need an oven thermometer, there are at least 10 to choose from. The various gadget displays include the usual and the not so usual items: cherry pitters, olive stoners, and even chestnutters - who knew?! Other pegboards held tools for coring, peeling and cutting every fruit and vegetable imaginable, including a radish rose cutter for those occasions that call for expressing your inner Martha.
Most of the store’s merchandise is functional in nature - if you’re looking for a coffee maker, toaster or juicer, just name a brand and you will find it on the shelves. But, tucked among the practical are a few cute items: bright white and canary yellow silicone egg poachers shaped like cracked eggs, cake pans shaped like various sports balls, dinosaur muffin pans, and cookie cutters shaped like lips, martini glasses, baseball bats and rattles - just to name a few. You can also round out your buffet service, from chafing dishes to caviar servers, outfit the grill-master of the house to the envy of your neighbors, or take home a mini raclette, flat bread or pizzelle maker if you’re looking for something more unique.
When asked how he selects his wares, the owner told me he pays attention to what customers need and sticks to the basics - I found this fascinating given the variety of merchandise, but less surprising considering his customers include not only home chefs, but restaurants, caterers, country clubs, and the Food Network. He explained, “I try not to follow trends because they go as quickly as they come, but if 10 customers come in looking for an item I don’t carry, then I might think about bringing it in.” The variety provides home cooks the option of purchasing restaurant quality tools that tend to be more durable and therefore last longer than mass-market items. As I was admiring the Emile Henry pottery he told me I could spend $49 on that beautiful cobalt blue, fluted-edge pie plate and it would last 25 years. “But if that’s not for you, I carry pie plates from China for $9.99 and you’ll get four good years out of that.”
Options at the Cook’s Nook are as plentiful as the merchandise, which would be overwhelming if it weren’t for the staff. Their ability to locate items is impressive, but more impressive is their customer service. As I was puzzling over pizza peels - those with full-sized bases had handles that were too long; those with short handles had bases that were too small. I felt like Goldilocks and asked for something in the middle: a peel with a large base and a short handle. Without batting an eye, a smiling employee asked if I would wait 5 minutes so he could cut the handle for me. I continued to shop and when I went to check out, the peel was on the counter with a short handle, shaped to a soft point and sanded, complete with a drilled hole for hanging!
The Cook’s Nook is a family owned and operated business that has been at the same location for 18 years. They’ve expanded the space as adjacent businesses moved out, further enhancing the shop’s namesake. If you have time to browse, you will be delighted; if you need to grab and go, just ask; you will be delighted.
The Cook’s Nook, 465 Connecticut Ave. (Rt.1) Norwalk 06854, 203-831-8777, www.mycooksnook.com