2015 saw an explosion of restaurant openings throughout CT, and team CTbites kept up a strenuous eating regiment to keep up with our talented local chefs. CT continues to draw great culinary talent, but the lists represent the best of the best. We asked the CTbites staff and extended family to share some of their most memorable meals and dining experiences this past year.
Here are our favorite meals and restaurants of 2015.
Kawa Ni, Westport: I crave almost everything on this Izakaya inspired menu, but the Spicy Miso Ramen,Shaved Broccoli & Miso Goma w/ Benton's Ham and Smoked Bone Marrrow are the things dreams are made of.
Pho Hong Thom, Bridgeport: This tiny mom and pop shop is the real deal serving authentic aromatic Pho and a Bahn Mi with sliced pork and pickled vegetables that is just the bomb. It's not fancy, but it's darn good.
The Cottage, Westport: Brian Lewis' newcomer has received rave reviews of late. While I greatly enjoyed the entire menu, the Wagyu Brisket Steam Buns w/ napa kimchi & duck fat potato tempura as well as the Italian Chestnut Soup spiked w/cognac were two of the most delicious things I've eaten this year.
Fleisher's Craft Kitchen, Westport:For brunch, you must order the Pulled Pork Hash and dinner,don't miss the Shepherd's Pie made with Lamb.
La Esquina, Stamford: This Latin newcomer serves a traditional Guatemalan dish from the owner's childhood that made the list. Contemplate if you will...sweet mashed plantains filled with black beans, baked till golden brown and dusted with cinnamon. Amen.
Mecha, Fairfield & South Norwalk: Hot Oil Dumplings & Bubble Tea spiked with tequila and Mezcal...what else do you need?
Walrus + Carpenter: I hate to keep harping on this burger but the WC Burger w/ smoked mayo, bacon, bourbon onions & cheddar is just off the charts.
Fortina (Armonk, Stamford, Rye Brook): Honestly, who thought Brussel Sprouts could taste this good? Everything from the "Cheeseburger" pizza with special sauce to the Wood Oven Grilled Octopus to the infamous Luigi Bianco...all worth the trip. Bonus: It's one of the most fun dining venues in CT.
Match, South Norwalk: The Burger, Storch's Pho (when you're lucky enough to catch it on the menu) and those Carpet Baggers...I never tire of eating these Match classics.
The Spread, South Norwalk: Cool, hip, great vibe and incredible food from Carlos Baez. And let's not forget the killer cocktails prepared the staff. The Veal & Ricotta Meatballs and the Roasted Shrimp with the Quinoa Cake are must-haves.
Vespa: And for dessert, don't miss the stellar creations of Pastry Chef Susanne Berne including a divine Peanut Butter Crunch Cake, Pistachio Opera Cake and really anything on this menu.
The Green Grunion, Danbury, CT: Owner Paul Mannion makes the meanest San Diego style burrito outside of Southern California. The Cali Burrito is a heady combination of marinated steak, hand cut french fries, pico de gallo, guacamole, crema, and your choice of house made salsas. The last time I enjoyed one of these bad boys, the stranger next to me eating one uttered to one in particular, "I never want this burrito to end."
Mecha Noodle Bar, Norwalk and Fairfield, CT: Hot oil dumplings. You'll want to finish a plate of these yourself.
Hen & Heifer, Guilford, CT: A cup of Mariage Freres tea paired with _______ . Seriously, anything Whang Suh creates inside this jewel box of a shop is pastry nirvana, and redolent of a perfect Paris morning.
Mill Street Bar & Table, Greenwich, CT: The whole or half pasture-raised chicken and a lengthy brine lead to this deliciously moist dish paired with spaetzle and corn.
Fortina, Stamford, CT: It's always a party at Fortina. And when you actually do bring a party, you may find yourself enjoying the "Polenta Table," an off-the-menu creation where Chef Christian Petroni will "prepare" this dish by layering (throwing?) polenta, bone marrow, gremolata, and braciole on one large table for you and your very lucky guests.
Jeff "Jfood" Schlesinger
2015 was a great year to try new dishes and looking back these were my favorite dishes of the year.
Mura Pop-Up – This Pop-Up from the owner of Locali, Mogan Anthony, served a delicious Chicken Bun and Pork Ramen. Although technically served out of Village Social in Mt. Kisco, the Pop-Upis one not to be missed. Unbelievable deep flavors from a broth that simmered for days.
Fortina – Not only 2015 but one of the best pies of all time was the Luigi Bianco. Perfect crust, balance of cheeses and then the pureed truffles. Worth a trip to any of their locations.
Uncorked – The newest addition to my must have burger list is Uncorked. Two twin patties with slowly cooked onions, on the toasted sesame seed bun with thinly slice zucchini pickles, melted American cheese and SE (South End) burger sauce. We will see how it ranks in the spring with the other SW CT burgers.
Bar Sugo – The soft ricotta gnocchi with chunks of lobster, morel mushrooms, a black truffle butter sauce and finished with a smattering of black truffle pieces was decadent bliss. This was a brilliant execution in every aspects.
Hoodoo Brown BBQ – The best BBQ I have tasted in CT since moving here almost 20 years ago. Choosing my favorite menu item was tough (I tried every one available one evening) but it was the Beef Rib and Pit Beans…an outrageous combo.
The Cottage – The other pasta that requires a call-out is the Spaghetti Lobster with sea urchin and Calabrian chilies. The spicy subtleness of the dish and the perfectly prepared pasta created an incredible dish.
Harlan Publick – The 6-hour braised “Short Rib Stew,” was fantastic, served with diced yucca, pumpkin and pigeon peas and presented in an individual caldron. Falloff the bone meat and delightful vegetables with Caribbean nuances.
Amore – One of the four pizza places in the area that I highly recommend. The Forentini, topped with spicy salami, green olives, tomato, Mozzarella and San Marzano purée. It was the Winner Best Traditional at the Las Vegas Pizza Expo, and deserves this award.
Elm – The creativity and end result of the Smoked Shortrib requires this inclusion. Brined, smoked and seared created an unbelievable texture and flavor with its plate partner, pureed carrots, enhanced with Sriracha.
Baldanza – The “Risotto ala Pescatora” was a great balance of seafood and rice. Perfectly balanced with a touch of sweetness and al dente risotto.
Bailey's Backyard - The Sugar Hill Berkshire pork loin was my favorite dish at BB. The presentation centered on a thick slice of a beautifully tender, medium-rare loin topped with a port and Muscat grape vierge. The combination was outstanding.
Magee’s Curbside – Empanadas for breakfast? Go here for its Bacon, Egg and Cheese Empanadas. In addition to the two large empanadas, the side potatoes are also in the must-have list.
Columbus Park Trattoria
in Stamford, I like to start with their vitello tonnato-- thin slices of veal topped with tuna mayo and capers, followed by an entry of Ossobuco, braised for hours in wine. I save warm, oozy marrow for the finale -- the Ultimate Miami.
. No one can
Matt Storch's presentation of ST. When he introduced it over a decade ago, that dish alone may have ignited the Food Renaissance not only in Sono -- but FFC. Perfect plating of sushi quality tuna, resting on coconut rice flan, a dot of shiracca, a pool of maple and soy syrup, and a dollop of avocado cream.
in Greenwich the 28 ounce bone-in rib eye is grilled to perfection. Bold char, juicy interior, jumping with flavor. Dare you to devour this in one sitting. Spoiler: not heart healthy. It may be see and be seen, buyt
-- Bianca Luigi at
, Armonk, Rye Brook, and now Stamford. Masterful balance of ingredients and crust. Made everyone's list last year, too. Eat your clams out, Frank.
Stamford, Steve Lewandowski's construction of beef, toppings, and bun make this burger the perfect way to kick off the New Year's Bowl games. Just checked, they're open.
Sandwich not a Hamburger
Meat and Company
, New Haven. Any of their takes on bread and protein push the envelope on America's lunch favorite, but my first choice is "God Forbid," a sinful mashup of roast beef, liverwurst, balsamic red onion jam, cheddar, sesame and coriander.
-- Luke Venner's warm lobster roll at
in New Canaan -- five ounces of buttery crustacean, accompanied by a bacon strip and arugula, nestled in a toasted brioche bun. All that's missing is a picnic table and gulls wheeling in the summer wind.
-- we had our squabbles, but no one does noodles better than the controversial Joe Bruno at his new
in Norwalk. Some people adore him, others don't, but one bite of his pappardelle made each day with farm fresh eggs, then served with a rustic duck ragu, forgives almost everything.
-- At the new
in Byram, pastry chef Caryn Stabinski's Blueberry Shortcake mixes contrasting textures, flavors, and temperatures to recreate the American classic in a new, New England guise. Alas, we will have to wait until berry season for the most memorable dessert I had last year.
wins again. An artfully curated drink menu is as inventive as any of the creations from the HS's equally sensational kitchen. I loved the Lumberjack,a mix of rum and a clear apple cider syrup.....
... so with a drink in hand, let me propose a toast to the amazing food story we are enjoying ... and reporting... in CTBites Land..
Addicted:Fortina's Luigi Bianco Pizza- that truffle pesto is enough to send me to food rehab. Is there such a thing as food rehab?
Splurge Worthy:Da Pietro's fettuccini with shaved white truffles is worth the extra charge to experience the decadent delicacy found only from October to mid-December.
Best Lunch: Every week, I made a mad dash to WFM and waited online to grab a lunch of Boxcar Cantina tamales. All three were delicious; pork, beef and bean.Topped with extra salsa and chipotle crema.
Best Brunch: Best Sunday brunch at South End included huevos rancheros, a soft tortilla topped with eggs, salsa, guac and beans. A Bloody Mary on the side completes
Best New Spot:Mecha Noodle Barin South Norwalk, open less than 2 weeks and already tough to get in. Ramen, PHO, Bao and amazing hot oil dumplings swimming in a spicy, scallion, garlicky sauce that on it's own is worthy of saving and adding into any other dish you order.
Best Place to Eat with your Hands:Teff Ethiopianin Stamford offers Ethiopian/Eritrean food right off Tresser Blvd next to a car wash. The spongey injera bread is used instead of utensils to scoop up the flavorful and marinated beef, lamb, chicken and veggie dishes. A must if you have never tried this unique cuisine. BYOB too!
Best Cocktail: This was the year I formally embraced the cocktail movement. Some notables included Pomegranate Margarita at Artisan, Lychee Martini at Raffles in Singapore, the French 75 at Walrus and Carpenterand Killer Bee at Oishi Thai Miami.
Dreaming of Summer: Even with 70 degree temps for Christmas, can't help but remember the Summer of 2015 lobster rolls. Knapp's Landingin Stratford had the best warm, buttery lobster roll, followed closely by Seacrest Beach Resort in Falmouth, MA.
And Oysters:Norm Bloom & Company hosted a benefit for Earthplace with more oysters in one place than I have ever seen. Freshly shucked right off the boat, the Copps Island oysters were served with lemon, cocktail and mignonette sauce.
And Miami, of course: Being editor for MIAbites.com has me eating some great dishes in Miami and Miami Beach, but by far the BEST in Miami ( and Miami Herald, Miami New Times, Zagat and other bloggers agree ) is the "Soft Egg" from Wynwood newcomer, Alter. Listed on the menu as soft egg, sea scallop espuma, chive, truffle pearls,and gruyere, the dish is topped off with a bruleed crust and a dollop of black caviar. Amazing.
Chef Bill Taibe, Kawa Ni & The Whelk
I loved the Bratwurst at Rothbard- one of my favorite dishes this year.
I loved everything at Firebox in Hartford especially “fried parmesan rinds” -Ed Jones is doing great things for a great cause.
I loved the Bourbon at Krust in Middletown.
I still love the Pho at Pho Saigon in Bridgeport. You can try and tell me there are better places in the area, I still don’t believe you.
I had the pleasure to work with Tyler Anderson from Millwrights in Simsbury on 2 separate occasions this past year- both times the food was inspired & delicious as expected, and the drinks never stopped coming. I’m extremely thankful that the Simsbury Inn was close by.
Outside of CT:
Attaboy for drinks in NYC
Hard Eight BBQ in Coppell Texas for the best BBQ I know.
Green Goddess Deviled Eggs at The Whelk, Westport. 'Twas the first deviled egg I've ever had (yup, believe it) and thankfully, I started with The Best.
Truffle Pizza at Fortina, (Stamford, Armonk, Rye Brook).
Lavender London Fog Latte at Tusk and Cup, Ridgefield.
Bailey's Backyard, Ridgefield. Exceptional from beginning to end.
Mecha, South Norwalk- I have always enjoyed visit to Mecha's Fairfield location, so I was very excited to try their newest location in Norwalk. I particularly enjoyed the "Vietnamese Crepe," a new offering for the second restaurant. With ham, shrimp, rice flour, and aromatics like turmeric, each bite was unique and delicious.
Blind Rhino, South Norwalk- This sports bar meets restaurant opened in October and quickly won me over. The laid back atmosphere is incredibly welcoming, while dishes like their sweet potato hummus and cider braised pork belly sliders were some of the best things I ate this year.
Fortina, Stamford- I'd heard that Fortina's Armonk location was legendary. Still, I was awed when the chef created a table-sized polenta complete with bone marrow, meatballs, and truffle oil right in front of me... all while rocking out to "Macho Macho Man." The meal certainly topped my list of 2015's culinary experiences... and proved a highlight of my whole year as well!
CT Brewery Of The Year, 2015
: Kent Falls Brewing Co. The Litchfield County brewer was immediately notable for their mission of
when they opened this spring, grabbed my attention when I
, and amuses even when I'm not, with beer names Awkward Hug, Some Vague Reassurances Everything's Going To Be Alright, and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
The beer and whiskey bar at Coalhouse Pizza
: the uptown Stamford pizzeria expanded from 35 to 85 taps and added a full bar (including over 100 whiskies) this year, with a well-curated selection, growler sales, and $14 64oz. pitchers of Connecticut beers.
Cocktails At Kawa Ni and Elm City Social
: Craig Ventrice's revamped menu inspired several return trips to
in Westport this year, and Jeff Marron's inventions at
made the bar an instant go-to when I'm bouncing around between 116 Crown and Ordinary in New Haven. I can't wait to see what becomes of the old Anchor Bar in 2016 when it reopens under mixologist Dimitrios Zahariadis.
Chef Nick Martschenko, South End & Uncorked
Most exciting new restaurant opening for me in 2015 is by my friend Geoff Lazlo: Mill Street in Greenwich
The food I crave most is either the: Pho, Ramen or the Red Oil Dumplings from Mecha in Fairfield and now Norwalk (thank God they are closer to me now)
Any of the Fortinas by Christian Petroni are great and not only some of the best Pizza around but his food reminds me of my childhood Sunday dinners.
Place I most want to visit is one of Chef Mogan Anthony's pop up spots: Mura Ramen & Gastropub.
Chef Matt Storch, Match & The Chelsea
Fleishers Craft Kitchen, Westport: Brisket Sandwich
Driftwood in Southport: Bacon Egg Sandwich
Dreams of Fortina: Garlic Bread
Wonton Garden: Wonton Soup
Ippudo, NYC: Ramen
Fuku, NYC: Fried Chicken Sandwich
Fay Da Bakery on Mott Street, NYC: Egg Custard Bao
Super Duper Weenie, CT: Gary Z's Natural Burger at