So I took a trip up to Connecticut with my girlfriend this month. Not only did I get to introduce her to my family but I also was afforded the chance to introduce her to some of the rather impressive food and beer that the state I grew up in currently has to offer.
The first morning after we arrived, my parents took a special trip to Gaetano’s Deli and brought back some stuffed breads. Here we have both their pepperoni and their eggplant. Biting into these is like a warm hug from an Italian grandmother.
Dinner that night with my family was at Ralph-n-Rich’s and I couldn’t resist getting the Zuppa di Pesce; it’s a rarity in Tampa, so if I see it on a menu I will almost always order it. I finished the entire plate.
Day two was one I’d been looking forward to for quite a while. Until I was three years old we grew up five minutes away from Zuppardi’s Apizza and eating their pies for the first time was a seminal experience. I wanted my girlfriend to be able to experience that for herself. And she did.
We started with the Plain Cheese…
Then moved onto the “Special” – Meatball and Onion…
And then a White Tomato…
And finally we finished it all off with my absolute favorite, the White Clam. Sweet fancy Moses, do I miss Zuppardi’s…
Day three was something special. We’ve had a long standing debate on what constitutes a “real” Lobster Roll. I maintained that if it’s hot lobster on a roll with just butter, it’s a Lobster Roll. If it’s cold with mayonnaise and lots of crunchy vegetables, that’s a Lobster Salad Sandwich. As my girlfriend had never experienced the former, we headed to Lenny & Joe’s so she could try one.
Hot lobster, on a roll, with just butter. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with a “real” Lobster Roll.
And of course, I couldn’t have stopped at Lenny & Joe’s without also getting an order of another New England seafood staple, the Fried Clam Strips.
That evening we met some very old friends for a few drinks and a couple of apps at the Hub and Spoke. First up was the Burrata, which, interestingly enough, I had never tried before.
Second was the Bang-Bang Shrimp. This is not like the stuff you can get at a Bonefish Grill. This was pure fire. In a good way.
On our final day of the trip, my family headed to La Zingara in Bethel, which I maintain is one of the best Italian restaurants in the entire state of Connecticut. Their Lobster Risotto has to be the best version of Risotto I’ve ever tasted.
And of course Connecticut produces some dynamite craft beer. After years of never being up there during the fall, I was ecstatic that I had the opportunity to finally try Two Roads’ fall offerings. I really enjoyed their Ok2berfest Marzen and even though it was a little hoppier than I was expecting, I still found it topping my all-time lists.
My girlfriend opted for the Hanging Hills Brewing Company Dechtoberfest Lager which she really enjoyed.
Washed down that pizza at Zuppardi’s with a Festbier from Counterweight Brewing. This went really well with the pies, especially the White Clam.
While we were at Lenny & Joe’s we ordered the Thimble Island American Ale. This traditional Amber Ale was so off-the-charts amazing that we endevoured to do two things:
First, we made a point of finding Thimble Island’s Brewery which was only a short drive away from the restaurant so we could go in and try a flight. Every beer on the palate was incredible.
Second, we made a point of coming home with at least a sixer of the American Ale so we could enjoy it during the rest of our trip. The sweetness and the malt are just so perfectly balanced, I’m not joking when I say it’s one of the best beers I’ve ever had.
A quick lunch at Southport Brewing Company (which interestingly enough doesn’t brew its own beer) afforded me the change to try to Back East Brewery’s Octoberfest. This was a solid Marzen, and I dug the sweeter notes.
Next on our list was Tribus Beer Company. The offerings from this newer brewery were still summerish in nature but my girlfriend still enjoyed the smoked porter while I was impressed with the cherry sour.
For my final brew, I circled back to Two Roads with their Roadsmary’s Baby Pumpkin Ale. This one also tops my list of as one of the better pumpkin ales I’ve tried. Two Roads is the real deal.
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Ultimately it was a great trip and all the food and beer offerings made a simple trip to see my family really feel like a vacation. My girlfriend is already looking forward to the next trip and consequently I’ve started planning some more Connecticut food and beer-ventures in my head.
Been to any of the restaurants or tried any of the beers listed above? Leave a message in the comments section!
And remember… beer is freedom… and the food abides…
I’ve tried to make Risotto before and each time I failed miserably. It always wound up coming out either a soupy mess, or a gummy pile of overly-sticky rice that lumped up on a fork. Risotto is tricky, probably because it’s so precise. It’s almost like baking (which I’ve already admitted I’m not good at either) and because I’m more of an experimental “eyeball and wing it” type of cook, it’s no wonder I was never able to hone in on the “Goldilocks” zone in which the Risotto came out just right.
However I recently stumbled across a great article on my Zite feed from Epicurious called The Only Risotto Recipe You’ll Ever Need. This article seems to distill it down to a simple base and lets you go from there. So I decided to give it another shot.
As the linked recipe says, I started with 2 1/2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth and 4 cups of water brought to a boil and then lowered to a simmer. Then in a large pot I sautéed a 1/2 cup of finely chopped shallots in 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-high until they were soft. Added the Arborio rice and stirred for one minute. Added 3/4 of Chardonnay and stirred for another 2 minutes.
Now I think this is the part I kept screwing up in the past and I have to wonder if it’s the same mistake a lot of folks make when they attempt this dish. Instead of adding the water/broth mixture all at once, which I had done in the past, I added it in three smaller batches of 2 cups at a time. I waited until the Arborio had absorbed all the liquid before adding the next 2 cups, stirring often and then repeated a third time. Cooked for 20 minutes until the rice was soft and added 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 3 or 4 healthy grinds of black pepper. There’s a little bit of reserve liquid leftover in case it’s still a little dry, but I found out I didn’t need to utilize it.
Now the fun part. The article gave some suggestions, but I went my own way here. Folded in a whole filet of smoked salmon, some sautéed asparagus tips and a 1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
As someone who’s wrecked a Risotto on more than one occasion I was pleasantly surprised by how well this came out. Even before folding in the extras, it was a creamy, well-balanced dish. Flavors melded beautifully and the texture was absolutely perfect.
This was a seriously great recipe and I’m thankful to the folks at Epicurious for posting because it really helped me get over the Risotto hump. The fact that the base is all you really need and there are endless combinations at that point means I plan on experimenting with some different flavors quite a bit in the future.
Tried to make your own Risotto? Have a favorite Risotto recipe? Leave a message in the comments section!
And remember… the food abides…