JAX – Mama’s Boy’s Other Child Opens in SONO

CTB CubanoWhenever the owner of a restaurant that serves great food announces a second location, I am excited to see where this second venture will lead.  After hearing that Greer Fredericks, the co-owner of Mama’s Boy in SONO, was opening JAX around the corner on North Main, I couldn’t wait for my first visit. JAX opened a few weeks ago and currently serves a wide range of breakfast options, plus a tremendous selection of creative sandwiches at lunch. It is also placing the final touches to its soon to be released take-away dinners, and awaiting the delivery of its ice cream machine.

©jeff “jfood” schlesingerLocated just south of the SONO theatre, the interior is completely redesigned, accented with a red painted art nouveau ceiling and lots of wood throughout…it is definitely the sister restaurant to Mama’s Boy. There is a long communal wooden table from front to back, seats along the window, a large display case, a separate open refrigerator with a great selection of beverages and blackboards on two walls announcing the menu.

CTB BreakfastWhen I walked into JAX, Greer was behind the counter, handling orders, making suggestions and bringing her southern charm to Norwalk. The menu is colorfully painted on the enormous multi-colored blackboard spanning the entire left wall. On my first visit I ordered the “Cubano,” described as Black Forest ham, pulled pork, Swiss, house pickles and creamy house mustard, served on a pressed Cuban roll. It has been a challenge over the years finding a great Cubano in the area.

CTB MenuJax’s rendition was delicious…my first bite was an explosion of flavors.  The sandwich started with a pile of pulled pork, which was tender, juicy and full of smokiness. The Swiss cheese offered a touch of nuttiness, the pickles added both crunch and a little tang, the mild black forest ham contributed more smokiness and then JAX swathed the roll with a spicy house-made mustard. The combination was outstanding, and the spicy mustard really kicked up the heat. Next time I will make sure it is grilled.

I cannot wait to return to JAX when it is in full swing. For now I will just have to work my way through a few more sandwiches…is “The Che,” “The Chicken and Waffle” or “The Spread” up next? It’s a tough decision.

46 North Main Street – South Norwalk, CT – 06854

203. 857.1414

http://www.jaxandcoct.com/

info@jaxandcoct.com

Tierra (Westport) – Big Bold Burger

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When someone says, “you gotta try this burger,” I place on the list and visit as many as possible. Last week a buddy told me that I needed to visit Tierra and try their burger, and on a beautiful afternoon I journeyed to Westport, grabbed a table outside and ordered the “Tierra Burger, Topped with Home-made Chorizo, Chihuahua Cheese, Pequillo Pepper Aioli.”

The burger was served open faced, accompanied by a mound of blue Terra chips. On one side was a generous patty topped with a thick layer of melted cheese…and I could see sautéed peppers and onions (not described on the menu) peeking from under the cheese. The other half was covered with a liberal swath of the aioli. I cut the burger in half and it was perfectly prepared to medium-rare, the darkish red of the interior glistening with juice. The kitchen also took great care in keeping the medium grind intact, avoiding the tendency to compress the patty.

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I always taste a little of each of the ingredients. The beef was mild and not overly seasoned, while the crumbled chorizo, as well as the slivered sautéed Jalapeño peppers and onions were spicy and delicious. I wondered how it would all work in unison. The first bite was an explosion of flavors. The most notable was the chorizo, Jalapeño pepper and onion combination. Together these three items were fantastic. The Chihuahua cheese (similar to a mild cheddar) calmed the spiciness of these other toppings. The aioli also contributed a cooling aspect to the composition. The bun was one of the most buttery brioche I have tasted in my burger quest, but was out of balance with the other ingredients, almost fighting with them versus complementing.

Overall, the Tierra Burger is one of the most flavorful burgers in Fairfield County. The chorizo and Jalapeno peppers were the centerpieces of the combination. The beef patty was more a complement to these ingredients, versus vice versa. The Chihuahua cheese and aioli were great additions to soften the spiciness of the chorizo and peppers. If you are looking for a bold, Latin-inspired burger, Tierra is a great choice. For me, the combination of ingredients was more aligned to a fantastic taco than a burger.

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Proprietors Bar & Table (Nantucket) – Absolutely Outstanding

Proprietor’s is located on India Street in downtown Nantucket and the chef is creating some of the best dishes I have ever enjoyed. From the first bite of the bread to the last bite of the Moroccan Donuts, Proprietor’s is a restaurant that everyone who enjoys creative and delicious food must place on their list while in Nantucket.

The meal started with what I thought was going to be a simple slice of bread, but this was no ordinary bread. It was filled with a small amount of meat, and the texture of the bread was like none I have ever tasted. My instincts immediately kicked in…this might be one of those hidden gem restaurants that soon become a difficult reservation to obtain.

Our first course was the “Tuna Sunomono.” Several slices of tuna were topped with Peruvian Soy, Red Chile Sauce, Crispy Yucca, Yuzu, and Sesame. The fish was fresh, mild in flavor and the toppings added a touch of heat and just a smidgen of saltiness. It was a great beginning to tease the palate. The “Tater Cubes” were like none you have ever tasted, they were outstanding. Crispy Shredded Potatoes were perfectly fried and topped with Joppiesaus, Farm House Gouda, and served alongside a Beet Pickled Egg. The combination of the fried potatoes and the melting cheese delivered textural differences and great flavors.

This was followed by the “Cuchifritos,” the dish that most in our group thought was the best of the evening. A plate of Pork Riblets were topped with Sweet Chili Mojo, and served with Cheesy Masa Fries, and Annatto. The riblets were crisped on the exterior before the sauce was applied. The riblets remained crispy under the outrageously delicious sauce. My issue with the dish was the fries, they were grainy and a little off-putting.

Next to arrive was my favorite dish of the evening, the “Shaved ‘Pork-Umms‘,”comprised of Berkshire Pork, Scallion, Sesame BBQ sauce encased in a house-made Kimchee Biscuit. The meat was perfectly prepared, soft and moist with great flavor, and the Kimchee Biscuit made this dish spectacular, it was divine and created a combination that ranks as one of my favorites of all time. Following the pork was the Apalachicola Shrimp, which included 6 large shrimp, topped with Garlicky Green Sauce, Chili Threads, Corn Nuts. The biggest issue was that it followed the pork dish and the bar was very high at this point in the evening.

Last to arrive was the “Grass Fed Bavette Steak,” which was also delicious. It was served with a Potato Purée, Aigre Doux, and a Marrow Baste. The beef delivered a deep, rich flavor that worked really well with potato purée and the combination of the sweet and sour components of the aigre doux and additional richness of the marrow delivered a great flavor combination. I really liked this dish but the meat was a little tough.

Overall the meal was outstanding at Proprietor’s, from the bread through the desserts, it is a must go to restaurant on Nantucket.

Proprietors on Urbanspoon

Libertine (MSP) – Great Potential

photo 1 (1)Libertine is the newest addition to the MSP landscape by master Chef Tim McKee. In his latest contribution in Uptown, Chef McKee created a restaurant serving an inventive and diverse menu. Begin your evening from a selection of appetizers ranging from Tuna Poke Tacos to Crispy Pig’s Ear followed by various cuts of beef, lamb, chicken, pork or fish accompanied by creative side dishes. Add to the delicious cuisine a hip and eclectic atmosphere and you have another go-to restaurant.

The front room includes an enormous rectangular bar with close to 25 seats on each side. Surrounding the bar are numerous community tables, each offering seating for up to six guests, plus booths along the quiet, inside wall. In the back room are smaller 4-tops hugging the windows plus booths, each capable of handling 4 diners. A few round tables separate the two rooms. Overall the setting is relaxed and a wonderful setting to dine in.

The server was forthcoming with her favorites and I chose the “Crispy Pig’s Ears” for my appetizer, plus the “Bacon Chop” and a side of “Kale” for my entrée.

The pig’s ear was served with a fried egg, ancho pepper slices, accompanied with a dipping sauce. The menu states lime is included but there was none on my plate nor did I discern any citrusy back notes in the dish. The pig’s ear was sliced into bite sized pieces, breaded and deep fried. I was concerned that the small segments would be tough, but the kitchen cooked them perfectly, soft, tender and when dipped in the spicy-sweet sauce was delicious. When combined with a slice of the spicy ancho pepper and complemented with the creaminess of the oozing egg, this was an incredibly memorable dish.

BL ChopThe bacon chop was a Fred Flintstone sized pork chop served with a single onion ring. The server stated that this would be the best pork chop I would ever taste and on certain bites she was absolutely correct. Most of the chop was outstanding. It was moist, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. A few bites were not in the same league, the kitchen lost its focus with the final salting, way too much and it caused my head to snap back with the saltiness. The menu also states “lightly smoked” but manage your expectations…it is more a brined and grilled preparation.

The Kale was served with a Manchego cream and garlic. I would best describe this as Kale Mac & Cheese without the Mac. The kale was engulfed in the creamy cheese sauce and was delicious as the bitterness of the kale was balanced by the creaminess of the melted cheese. This was a rich dish that needs to be shared.

The server was excellent but the kitchen failed miserably on timing. The server told me that the meal arrives as prepared. The pig’s ear arrived first. After two bites the kale was brought by the runner and two minutes later he was holding my bacon chop. So there I sat with 90% of my appetizer uneaten, and my entrée occupying the remainder of the table. I asked the server to return the entrée and side to the kitchen and let me enjoy the food versus throwing everything simultaneously into the table. She was quick to comply and the manager wandered over to apologize. They turned a negative into a positive so kudos to both of them.

Overall I loved the space and the appetizer. The entrée could have been fantastic had the kitchen seasoned the chop properly and it failed miserably on the timing of the food leaving the kitchen. Libertine has tremendous potential and needs a little time to iron out the kinks, deliver the items as described on the menu and serve the food in a manner that allows the guests to enjoy the culinary creations.

Libertine on Urbanspoon

CHIPS (Fairfield) – Best Pancakes in CT

For years I have heard about the pancakes at Chips in Fairfield. Year after year I see them rated as the best pancakes in CT. Time after time I have tried to eat there only to be met by 1+ hour waits. But today, it happened…we drove to Fairfield and there was no line. We were immediately seated, given the four page menu and waited for the pancakes.

While my wife and daughter looked at the egg options, I immediately decided on the chocolate chip pancakes with bananas. I enjoyed a couple of cups of coffee while we waited and then the plate arrived.

The stack of 5 large pancakes were filled with both chips and bananas plus more of each on top. Butter accompanied the pancakes. Most people place the syrup atop the pancakes, but I place on the plate and then dip each forkful. Dipping the pancakes versus topping with the syrup keeps the puffiness intact in each pancake, a definite game-changer. The first bite was fantastic, the pancakes delivered an airy texture and the flavor was outstanding. There was a certain nuttiness to the batter and the sweet chocolate chips were the perfect complement. Perfect texture and flavor.

After my first pancake breakfast at CHIPS I fully agree that the pancakes are the best I have eaten in CT.

Chip's Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Matt’s Bar (MSP) – Best Jucy Lucy in MSP

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Whenever I want to introduce a colleague to one of the quintessential culinary icons in the Twin Cities, I bring them to Matt’s to savor, what I believe is the best version of the Jucy Lucy. After work, we ventured up 77, grabbed a spot on the street, entered Matt’s and waited for our table. On a Thursday night it was not a long wait, maybe 20 minutes and while we waited we watched as burger after burger was placed on the small flat-top and grilled to perfection.

Once seated, Matt’s is a pretty easy place to order. The only question is how many burgers, with or without onions, and how large an order of fries. We both ordered two JL’s and a half order of fries.

The wait for the burgers was longer than the table and once delivered, individually wrapped in paper, the server recited the ritual of being careful about exploding cheese. I advised waiting for a few more minutes, enjoy a few fries and a few more sips of soda. When the time was upon us, I slowly raised the JL to my lips and slow, very slowly bit into the cheese-lava filled burger.

Not too sure if it was too soon, I held my breath as the cheese oozed out and came in contact with the inside of my mouth and my lips. I timed it perfectly, not too hot for scalding but still hot enough to appreciate the madness of the construction. I exhaled and enjoyed the meat, the less than scalding American cheese, the fried onions, pickle and bun. Nothing on this burger was gourmet, nothing qualified as farm to table, but this was a down and dirty inverted cheeseburger with great flavors, great textures, and a heritage that pre-dates this burger lover.

As I finished #1 and moved to #2, I asked my colleague what he thought. He smiled, continued eating…eventually finishing both burgers, the entire order of fries and two diet cokes. Yet another colleague was officially indoctrinated into the Jucy Lucy Club.

Matt's Bar on Urbanspoon

Wire Mill BBQ (Georgetown) – It Ain’t Texas

DSC_4601Wire Mill BBQ is located just north of Wilton’s Cannondale and south of Redding is the small area known as Georgetown. This cute section of town has several restaurants and bars, and it is Wire Mill that is filling the air with the wonderful aroma of its two meat smoker. For those with the window closed, Wire Mill BBQ is located on Route 57 at the Interception of Old Mill Road and Main Street.

DSC_4598There are eight table outside on the terrace and you continue inhaling the smoke. So enticing that when I ordered the Three Sliders (one each of the pulled pork, brisket and pulled chicken), I also ordered a ¼ slab of baby back ribs.

DSC_4596The three sliders arrived, and the first item I noticed was the amount of meat on each bun. It was a meager portion, maybe one-ounce of meat. The bun was nicely grilled.

The pulled pork was my favorite. It was somewhat moist, with a hint of smoke, but otherwise flavorless. It needed one of the sauces. The brisket was probably 1 slice, cut into sections and placed on the bun. There was a little smokiness that stayed on the palate but also lacked any flavor and sauce was needed. My first bite of the chicken was favorable, it was the moistest of the three meats, but that was limited to the original piece. The other pieces were dry and again, the only flavor was smoke. The other issue with all of the sandwiches was the amount of bread compared to meat. Take together it was a mouthful of bread with a little meat. I finally removed the top bun and ate each open-faced. The sliders were served with a small cup of horseradish sauce, which was full of flavor, but I have no idea why it was included.

DSC_4597The baby back ribs looked delicious, but looks can be deceiving. They were incredibly moist, but again lack any flavor, barely able to taste any of the rub. Even the end piece of the slab, which was covered in rub, was almost flavorless.

Overall, as much as this is a cute place with great service and two smokers out back, it is not a destination place for BBQ.

Wire Mill BBQ on Urbanspoon