CTbites Staff & Chef Picks for TOP EATS OF 2014

CTbites Team

In terms of eating, the CTbites team of writers, photographers, and chef friends have managed to sample and savor more than most. 2014 has been a stellar year for restaurant openings as Fairfield County and the surrounding areas continue to draw great culinary talent. Instead of coming up with a top ten list ourselves, we asked the CTbites extended family to share some of their most memorable meals and dining experiences this past year.

Here are our favorite meals and restaurants of 2014. 

Jeff Schlesinger, Editor at Large

Appetizer - Harlan Social’s Artichoke Muffaletta. It pairs a glass jar filled with an artichoke / olive salad (with tons of other ingredients) with a scoop of the wonderfully creamy Stracciatella di Burrata.

Appetizer – TheWhelk’s Green Goddess Deviled Eggs made me a believer that this dish can rise to spectacular levels. The fried oyster and pickeled onions separates this version from any other.

Burger - TheWalrus + Carpenter burger is a shoo-in to make my top burger list in a few months. A crisp char, flavorful grass-fed meat with Bourbon onions separated this rendition from the rest, an incredible burger.

Food Truck- Vanchetta’s Porchetta sandwich was outstanding. Great rotisserie pork with slaw, provolone, red onion marmalade…all hitting the palate simultaneously.

Meat Entrée – South End’s Pork Chop Scarpariello, a >1” chop with a few hot peppers, chunks of hot and sweet sausage, some incredibly flavorful potatoes and broccoli rabe and you have the perfect meat entrée.

Meatballs – How can you pass up the meatball sampler at Bar Sugo? Each is delicious by itself and together are fantastic.

Pizza –Locali’s “The American X-Butcher” grabs this spot. The dough was perfect with toppings that include DOP tomatoes, bacon, Vidalia onion, potato slices and topped with organic farm eggs. It was exceptional.

Sandwich –JAX & Co.’s Cubano. The combination anchored by incredible pulled pork was outstanding, and the spicy mustard really kicked up the heat.

Soup -Match’s pho ga was delicious. It was deep in flavor, the sriracha added a touch of spice and the hoisin the delightful umami. This was one great bowl of pho.

Taco – The pork taco at Rincon Taqueria is an easy winner. The shredded pork was one of the best braised pork dishes I have tasted and could easily be served as an entrée.  

Not in Fairfield County…a special call out is required for the Luigi Bianco pizza at Fortina in Armonk. Start with a perfect crust and add some burrata, robiolona, and parmesan cheeses and then take it to pizza stardom with the swaths of black truffle. Wow!!

Amy Kundrat, Executive Editor

La Zingara, Bethel: Duck Pappardelle:  Wide ribbon pasta tossed with tender braised duck, fresh tarragon,  grapes, and a hint of truffle. This is easily my favorite winter  restaurant dish that I've been eating for the last eight years  (seriously).

Stanziato's Pizza, Danbury: The Spesh:  Always order the spesh, er, special pie, then order (my favorite) the  soppressatta & chilies pie. Don't leave home without trying one of  their amazing brews on tap.

Community Table, Washington:  Their visionary meals now have the benefit of a full bar. Close your eyes and ask for whatever the chef desires off the menu. As for a cocktail recommendation? Blood & Sand. Every damn time.

Lou Gorfain, Writer

Best Bar Bite.  ORDINARY. (New Haven).  Sweat Creamy Beer Cheese ladeled over pretzel bread, accompanied by grainy mustard and counterpointed by cornichons.  Paired with my CTSip  of the year --  Tim Cabrol's remix of the American classic,  Sazerac. 

Best Breakfast Bite (tie) LAKESIDE CAFE (Stamford)  I always order a half stack of "Charlotte"  Pancakes  (extra thin, yet ethereal)  with real Maple Syrup (you need to specify).  And I grab a warm cinnamon donut for the ride home. ROSIE'S  (New Canaan)    Huevos Rancheros. A scrumptious work of art that beats any of the paintings on her walls.  

Best Bite of Pizza:  FORTINA (Armonk but coming to Stamford)  I Love Luigi.  A Bianco with burrata, parmesan, black truffle and robiolona,  a fresh goat cheese from Piemonte.  Fired in less than two minutes, then served atop an empty San Marzano can, this is more tasty and layered than New Haven or maybe even Naples. 

Best Bite of Fish.  F.I.S.H. Stamford.   Grilled Salmon over a bed of tomato and olives with a side of garlicky spinach.  Who would guess that a restaurant on Bedford would serve a dish so simple, fresh, and flavorful?   Also reasonably priced. (take note Rowayton)  I like to start with their seafood chowder.

Best Bite of Bovine. GABRIEL'S (Greenwich)  Tony's 28 oz. bone-in rib eye.  Prime, aged, buttery, sublime, this hunk of cow beats any steak in NY or Florence.   Yeah, its Greenwich, pricey, and too much see-and-be-seen, but for my money worth it.

Best CTLick.  ARETHUSA (Litchfield)  Rum Raisin ice cream. Wow, the rum soaked raisins leach alcohol into the ice cream, sweet, smooth, and lingering.  It's been 2 months, and I still swoon.   Worth the trip anytime of year, but especially the fall. 

Stephanie Webster, Editor

Walrus and Carpenter, Bridgeport: Fried Chicken, Burger, Poutine with Brisket

Kawa Ni, Westport: Spicy Miso Ramen

Fortina, Armonk (Stamford in 2015): Luigi Bianco Pizza

Bodega, Fairfield, Darien:  Everything

Match, Sono: Pho, Octopus Pizza

South End, New Canaan: Braised Lamb Shank 

Vespa, Westport: Gramigna Pasta Bolognese

Rincon Taqueria, Norwalk: Huevos Rancheros

JAX & Co., Sono:  Monster Sandwich

Embody, Westport: The "Almond Buzz" smoothie....it's really all you need.

Sarah Green, Writer

South End in New Canaan: My favorite place to eat this year! I dream about NONNA'S MEATBALLS and the PORK CHOP SCARPARIELLO (only pork chop ANYWHERE that's juicy and tender!) 

Walrus and Carpenter, Bridgeport:The Burger ...'nuff said

Bodega, Fairfield:Garlic infused chili-crab Guacamole - really? Really. The best.

The Spread, Sono: The Harissa Mussels and the Burrata Crostini.

Rainbow Thai, Westport: Has to make my list because of that DAMNED Green Curry sauce. We have even PURCHASED a tub of it from them to add to things we cook at home. It's that good. Unassuming, delicious every time, not fancy. Perfection.

James Gribbon, Beer Writer

Best Colombian: Mi Terruno, Stamford. Come for the bandeja paisa and lomo saltado, come back the next morning for coffee and pastries made on site. 

Best Spot For Raw Oysters and Saxaphones: BRYAC. This Black Rock hideout has a full kitchen, a small, reasonably priced raw bar, and enough funk to free your mind. Grab a platter on Wednesdays, and stay for the BRYAC Funk All Stars with members of Kung Fu, Deep Banana Blackout, and whoever else shows up.

Best Music Themed Special: Phish tacos at The Chelsea, and yes, of course they use mango.

Best NFL Special: Craft 260, Fairfield. Excellent apps for $5, $3 beers, $2 soft pretzels on Sundays, and $5 burgers and half priced beer on Monday nights.

Best Spot For Pizza And A Beer: Coalhouse Pizza, Stamford. 52 taps, $12 pitchers of Connecticut beer, and creative wood-fired pies like the Speak No Evil, with mozzarella, gorgonzola, prosciutto, Bing cherries, and clover honey.

Best Moroccan: The Fez, Stamford. When was the last time you had a toe-curling tangine? Hit this little spot for the iconic dish, plus flame grilled chicken lollipops, a solid wine list, and live jazz on the right night. 

Best Pho: Need a pho fix? Either get Matt Storch at Matchto make you a bowl, or eat for preposterously cheap at Q's Restaurant in Norwalk

Best Fried Chicken: Walrus+Carpenter. Spicy and perfect, every time I've had it.

Only Spot Serving Huitlacoche: Tequila Mockingbird, New Canaan. Earthy and sweet, corn smut is the second best kind. If you know another spot using it, let me know.  

Best Bloody Mary Bar: Valencia Luncheria, Norwalk. Arepas, omlettes, breakfast wraps, and multiple tomato and tomatillo based options to choose or mix will get your eyes open on a Sunday morning.

Best Spot For A Hot Dog And Milkshake: Danny Drive-In, Stratford. How does a tiny hamburger stand stay open for over 78 years?  Get a Bull Dog, with Kuhn's chili sauce and onions, notice the snap every time you take a bite, put out that fire with a Black&White shake, and now you know. Not your thing? Try the lobster roll.

Best Food Truck Grub (three way tie): Porchetta from Vanchetta, burritos from The Green Grunion, and tacos from El Charrito.

Emma Doody, Wine Correspondent

What's so special about a tuna sandwich?  EVERYTHING at Miso in New Haven! They're sushi twist on the classic has fresh tuna sandwiched between rice and soy nori.

Anyone who knows me knows

I love Brussels sprouts.  Bartaco, Barcelona, Bodega

, and dolce cubano serve up some of my favorites.  This year though, I enjoyed Craft 260's rendition of the small plate.  Their Beer Brussels are crispy perfection... And even come with smoked tomato and bourbon ketchup.

Artisan Restaurant in Southpor

t offers fantastic farm-to-table dishes.  This year, I especially enjoyed their tuna crudo appetizer and hangar steak entree finished with a delicious shallot sauce.

As a Stamford native, I confess that I don't know the Hamden and New Haven restaurant scene as well as I should.  A friend introduced me to


and I tried it for the first time a few weeks ago.  Their small plates are all must tries- particularly the deliver eggs with sea salt, white truffle oil, and green onion.



, particularly the a Stamford location, will always have a place in my culinary heart.  Their tapas with bold Spanish flavors are perfect for sharing.

Jessica Ryan, Writer

Best Brunch : Washington Prime, Sono - from raw bar, to omelet station to the French toast and hashbrowns - These guys have revolutionized brunch. This ain't your grandparents' brunch buffet.

Best Eggs Benedict: The Chelsea, Fairfield. Maybe it's the prosciutto. Maybe it's Matt's magic touch.

Best Bloody Mary: The Chelsea, Fairfield.All selections are incredible, I happen to adore the cucumber Bloody Mary- it's as refreshing as it is eye opening. I always ask for extra olives and a piece of crispy bacon.

Best Sangria: Brick + Wood, Fairfield. This street style Italian eatery in the Brick Walk uses their own recipe. It's a secret. But I will share that Limoncello is an ingredient. 

Best Creative Cocktails: Luxe Wine Bar, Westport

Best esoteric menu: Le Farm, Westport. I love the creative spins. 

Best Octopus Appetizer,: This is a toss-up between Le Farm and Harlan Social. Both are outstanding. 

Best Pizza. Brick + Wood, Fairfield. This is how it's really done in Italy. Order the Texas Heat.

Best BYO: Basso, Norwalk. This sleepy little gem serves up some fabulous food. Creative, unpretentious, a little bit Mediterranean and a little bit South American. 

Best Italian: Liana's Trattoria, Fairfield. Walking into Liana's is like walking into a small family run restaurant in Umbria or Tuscany. Another diamond in the rough. 

Ellen Bowen, Events Curator

The Spread, Sono: Love the Grilled Shrimp and Quinoa Cake Small Plate...and their ChowdaFest Winning shrimp bisque, braised Short Ribs, and corn bread with honey butter

Kawa Ni, Westport: Spicy Miso Ramen is something I crave at least once a week, also Duck Foie Gras Ramen

The Whelk, Westport: Oysters, oysters, oysters and more oysters, oh and deviled eggs with fried Oysters. 

Walrus+Carpenter, Bridgeport: BBQ brisket, cole slaw and cornbread...also fried chicken with honey Sriracha sauce

Saugatuck Craft Butchery, Westport: That brisket sandwich with spicy mayo is nuts

Anonymous CTbites Contributor 

Le Rouge-Westport...The saffron hot chocolate is sublime. ‘Tis comfort in a cup. Just add blanket and call it a day. 

Bedford Post Inn-Bedford, NY....Burgers are super-juicy and the chicken club with avocado, chicken, bacon and basil aioli was huge and delish. Their french fries are also completely worth the splurge. I keep waiting and hoping for Richard Gere to come and share a fry with me.

Pepe’s in New Haven-Yeah, yeah Pepe’s again. But their bacon pizza makes me think of crispy Brooklyn pizza the way only Brooklyn can do it (and apparently, Pepe’s). 

Anything at The Schoolhouse in Cannondale. No further explanation needed (worth noting also: try to attend one of the farm dinners at Millhouse Farm when The Schoolhouse is cooking. Talk about a perfect summer evening in Connecticut).

Bar Sugo-Usually meatballs do not impress me a whole lot, but their Ox Hollow Farm meatball with melted gouda, red onion jam and truffle oil was something special. See, I’m still remembering it.

April Guilbault, Writer

Sweet Sabrina’s Cake Shop-Norwalk. The jasmine macarons are surprising (didn’t think I’d like floral flavors...but then I did!), unique and delicious. It is a crazy-blue color but then again, macarons get nuts when it comes to hue.

The Spread-Norwalk. The crispy pork belly with pickled rhubard. Orgasm on a plate (can I say that?). The octopus appetizer with that chorizo was outstanding too and I’m not typically a tentacle kind of gal.

Arrosto-Port Chester, NY...The wild mushroom ravioli was swoon-worthy and the best I’ve ever had. Check before going, not sure if it is a permanent menu item.

And ok, it’s a total local wee place that has stood the test of time, but the best coconut donut is made at Coffee An’. We aren’t talking glamour or farm-to-table anything but for a great donut, head here. Just be early as they disappear quickly.

Bill Taibe, Chef @ Le Farm, The Whelk, Kawa Ni

Best sushi: -Ki asia in Danbury

Best Brunch -Mama’s boy.  Bloody Mary’s, Shrimp & grits and great music. My kids love it too.

Thing I crave most -The “chef” arepa at Valencia

I recommend a trip to Chester, CT -go eat at River Tavern.  Chef Matt Wick is killing it.

I really enjoyed a night of Fried chicken at Walrus & Carpenter they have a great beer list and Acoustic Cafe across the street. 

Nick Martschenko, Chef @ South End

Thank you both for wanted to include me.  Pretty cool!  Here are some of my favorite things that I put in my mouth in 2014!  Sorry they are not all new but definitely memorable to me.  

Locali, New Canaan...Anything Chef Mogan makes is delicious, especially there sides and sala

Mecha Noodle Bar, Fairfield..Chicken Ramen but you need to have it with the Chashu-Roasted Pork Belly

Gelatissimo, New Canaan....Pistachio Gelato

Acme, NYC....There Chicken and Egg dish is just ridiculous

No. 9 Great Jones, NYC

Brodo, NYC....Marco's Ribolitta soup and all of his bone healing Brodo's.  Only in NYC can something like this work. 

Matt Storch, Chef @ Match 

Liana's Chicken Livers, Gnocchi & Chocolate cake, Fairfield

Sushi and everything else from Shiki Hana, Fairfield

Dogs from Super Duper & Rutts Hut in Clifton

Paulie D's Burger St Marks square NYC made the way Jackson Hole used to make them

BaoHaus NYC

Wonton Garden NYC Chinatown

We have young boys so we didn't eat out much this year, Sakura, Pizza and tons of noodles from my mother in law!!!!