State Plates: Connecticut/Yankee Pride

from Saveur Magazine, May 2009

THINK CONNECTICUT is one big suburb? Think again: its diverse immigrant communities, fertile farms, and vibrant university towns full of forward-thinking chefs add up to as rich a culinary landscape as that of many states three times its size.

Connecticut’s bounty is deliciously apparent on the menus of its most innovative restaurants. At the Dressing Room at the Westport Country Playhouse, the chef Michel Nischan offers classic dishes crafted with local ingredients. Our favorite: the chicken pot pie with jerusalem artichoke sauce.

LIFE AQUATIC

Whether hooked in the state’s rivers or coastal bays, Connecticut’s fish and shellfish draw crowds. Native delicacies include quahogs, the hardshell clams that star in New England clam chowder; plump bluepoint oysters; and bluefish from the Long Island Sound. In spring, Connecticut River vally residents welcome the season with shad bakes, at which the spawning fish is deboned, spread on oak planks, and roasted with salt pork over an open fire.

pepesAPIZZA!

New Haven’s Wooster Square has been synonymous with pizza (or as locals say, “appiza,” pronounced ah-BEETS) since 1925, when an Italian immigrant, named Frank Pepe opened a pizzeria that turned out thin-crust pies topped with just tomato sauce, oregano, and anchovies, perfectly charred in a coal-fired oven. In time, Pepe’s pies (shown above) became the gold standard in Connecticut (and, depending on whom you ask, the world); today, the signature version is topped with clams and chunks of garlic.

GREEN PASTURES

Connecticut has been a hub of dairy production since the 18th century, when its lush pastures supported cows that supplied milk and cheese to New York City and Boston. In the 20th century, many of the state’s family-run farms opened “dairy bars” serving homemade ice cream and diner fare; some, like the Prospect Dairy Bar, in Prospect, continue to draw loyal customers today. Between 1940 and 2009, the number of dairies in Connecticut dropped from 6,200 to 149; now many farmers are turning to a new product to keep their industry alive: farmstead cheese. Cato Corner Farm in Colchester and Beaver Brook Farm in Lyme are among the state’s best cheese makers.

5 STATE SANDWICHES

1. A Connecticut-style hot lobster roll (shown right) is sublimely simple: lobster meat, lots of butter, and a split-top hot dog bun. Try the one served at Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale in Westbrook.

2. The steamed cheeseburger has a cult following in central Connecticut. Ted’s Restaurant, in Meriden, prepares its burger in a custom-designed steaming cabinet and serves it bubbling over with cheddar.

3. Connecticut may have more hot dog stands per capita than any state in the union; Rawley’s, in Fairfield, is beloved for its deep-fried hot dogs wrapped in bacon.

4. The Marcus Dairy Bar, in Danbury, serves the perfect old-school open-face turkey sandwich: thick slices of roasted meat and gravy on white bread with a generous helping of cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes.

5.  For 87 years, the Nardelli family of Waterbury has stacked salami, cappicola ham, and provolone on fresh rolls with a homemade pickle, pepper and onion marinade that has made the Italian grinders at its store famous.

Ben Conniff

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