Tautog Tavern (Bridgeport) – A Burger with Potential

bl_3My continuous search for great hamburgers in CT brought me to Tautog Tavern in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. The non-descript exterior displays two large American flags and is American throughout the interior. Entering Tautog Tavern is a throwback to a speakeasy saloons of years past. The wood bar extends the entire length of the right wall with floor to ceiling liquor shelves behind the bar. Above the shelves is an antique harpoon.  All of these items were brought to Bridgeport from Hoboken, NJ and commemorating this exodus, the owners hung the obligatory photo of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin overlooking the front of the bar. Photos and maps depicting the rich heritage of Bridgeport adorn the left wall with booths stretching from front to back and a few high top tables in the center. The overall feel is very pubby and very dark.

bl_1Manning the kitchen are the Carter and Hunter King. You may remember these brothers from the King’s Kitchen at Southport beach where they created some incredibly flavorful lunch specials last year.

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But I was there for the burger…and I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with fries. When it arrived on a wood slab it was also accompanied by lettuce, tomato, micro-greens and a sampling of house made vegetables. The dish also included ketchup and bacon-jam.

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The burger was encased in a toasted Martin potato roll with Vermont white Cheddar cheese melted atop the patty. I was informed that the meat was from Pat LaFrieda of NYC, and my expectations were elevated. The meat was very flavorful, a good blend from LaFrieda. Unfortunately, the grind of the meat was much too fine, delivering a texture more akin to a meatloaf versus a hamburger. The melted cheese was very good, and added a nice creaminess. The house-made bacon jam was the star…it was delicious, a great addition to the burger. The bacon was missing. The French fries were frozen pre-packaged, very basic but they were very good, crispy on the exterior and moist inside.

Overall, the burger served at Tautog Tavern was good. I did not like the grind at all and wish the bacon was included,but for $10 it is a very good bar burger.

Tautog Tavern on Urbanspoon

Harlan Social (STM) – Delicious After Two Years

rsz_collageTwo years ago Harlan Social opened as a part of the Lockworks project in Stamford amidst questions on whether the area would support the restaurant or whether the restaurant investors and the developers were visionaries. Two years later Harlan Social’s success shines as a local hang-out, an after work meeting spot, and a destination restaurant.

Harlan Social was the brainchild of Owner & Executive Chef Steve Lewandowski, who was previously the Sous Chef at Manhattan’s Abby restaurant, Gotham Bar & Grill, and Fantino in the Ritz Carlton before joining Tribeca Grill and becoming its Executive Chef. Currently overseeing the kitchen is Executive Chef Michael Sobelman, whose resume includes Sardis and Tribeca Grill with Lewandowski. When Harlan Social opened Lewandowski immediately reached out to Sobelman to join him and oversee the kitchen.

Harlan Social recently introduced its new Fall menu and CTbites visited to sample some of the new additions. The interior of Harlan Social is divided into three areas, a bar area to the right, and a large dining area to the left separated two-thirds of the way to the rear with a floor to ceiling wine rack; ample to host private parties. Guests can choose between a table or a booth in either area. The open kitchen occupies the rear of the restaurant. The atmosphere is hip and vibrant, and offers one of the best after-work bar scenes in Stamford.

The menu is divided into several sections, from Small Plates to full Entrées, which allows each guest to enjoy an individualized experience, and flexibly designed for those looking for either a full course of appetizer, entrée and dessert or those sitting at the bar desiring 2-3 smaller plates.

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My favorite of the smaller options was the “Artichoke Muffaletta” a meatless interpretation of the New Orleans icon sandwich. It paired a glass jar filled with an artichoke / olive salad with a scoop of the wonderfully creamy Stracciatella di Burrata. The artichoke salad delivered bright and earthy flavors offset by the slight tartness of the Burrata, plus a little spiciness from red pepper flakes. There was great balance between the Burrata and the artichoke salad. Served with four slices of grilled bread this is a great start to the meal.

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Another delicious small plate was the “Local Burrata” served atop red wine caponata. The Burrata was a touch sweeter than the Stracciatella and was complemented by the brightness of the olives in the caponata, which also contained raisins for a little sweetness plus capers and red peppers. The raisin bread added additional sweetness to the dish.

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If you are looking for a milder first course the “Ahi Tuna Crudo” is a good option. It was served with slices of jicama, radish, and finished with greens and a Jalapeño yuzu vinaigrette. The soft, mild sashimi tuna was paired with the yuzu vinaigrette. The finely diced and fried garlic chips and red onion added a sudden shot of pungency. This presentation was a careful balance of soothing and mild flavors.
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The small plate that delivered the deepest flavors was the “Braised Lamb Flatbread.” This horizontal version of a traditional Greek gyro was served with pickled red onion, tomato, lettuce and tzatziki sauce. The grilled bread was sweet and a great canvas for the toppings. The braised lamb was delicious, fork-tender, and in combination with the sweetness from the tomatoes and the pungency from the onions created a delightfully rich dish.
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My least favorite of the smaller selections was the “Potato & Onion Pierogies,” served with beer braised cabbage and topped with grain mustard sour cream. The dough was a little thick and overwhelmed the potato and onion stuffing. The cabbage was also bitter and left an unpleasant aftertaste.
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The “Baby Kale & Blue Cheese Salad” was outstanding and included a mélange of textures from sliced apples to spiced pecans, and finished with cider vinaigrette. This hearty salad delivered great combinations of flavors from the nutty cheese to the earthy pecans to the sweet apples. The kale added a little pungency. The blue cheese was a mild variety and did not overwhelm any of the ingredients. This is an excellent choice for either a starter or as a main course.
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My favorite entree was the “Grilled Flat Iron Steak.” The perfectly prepared steak was served atop a medley of roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, cranberries, almonds, plus a side of pomme frites. The steak was cooked to medium-rare, sliced, and delivered a deep, rich beefiness. When the meat was paired with the season’s best vegetables, it created a fantastic combination. The addition of the cranberries added a little sweetness to the dish and the almonds a touch of earthy crunch.
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The “Seared Sea Scallops” were served over a spinach and pancetta risotto and finished with a truffle vinaigrette. The highlight was the risotto, which contained pancetta, tomatoes and spinach. The pancetta delivered a great smoky notes to the entire dish, and perfectly complemented the sweet tomatoes and the scallops. The scallops were topped with a few pieces of black truffle pieces that added an earthy note.
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The “Garganelli Pasta” was served with a short rib Bolognese sauce and a dollop of herbed Ricotta cheese. The pasta was cooked to al dente and the sauce (more a meat sauce than Bolognese) contained chunks of soft and flavorful short ribs and a smoky tomato base which were offset by the creamy herbed Ricotta. There was a great balance in the meat, tomatoes and ricotta.

Harlan Social is one of the best restaurants in Stamford, delivering great food in an environment to satisfy all ages, from the vibrant bar scene to the relaxing dining area. The carefully designed menu allow each guest to plan a meal with either a selection of small plates or a traditional appetizer and entrée.

121 Towne St, Stamford, CT 06902
(203) 883-8000
http://www.harlansocial.com

Really Liked
Artichoke Muffaletta $10
Local Burrata $12
Braised Lamb Flatbread $9
Baby Kale & Blue Cheese Salad $12
Seared Sea Scallops $32
Grilled Flat Iron Steak $21

Liked
Ahi Tuna Crudo $14
Garganelli Pasta $12/23

Did Not Like
Potato & Onion Pierogies $12

Reddi Rooster (STM) – Great “Rosie O” Sandwich

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Breakfast of Champions? The Rosie O at Reddi Rooster in Stamford may not qualify for this title or as a healthy start to the day, but when you want a diversion from the granola, the yogurt, the egg white omelet, the fresh fruit and throw calorie count to the wind, this sandwich is a great choice.

ctb_3Reddi Rooster is located on Route 1 on the east side of Stamford near the Darien border. It is best described as a fairly non-descript roadside luncheonette serving sandwiches, wraps, and a few hot dishes. The Rosie O has garnered some positive press as one of the best breakfast sandwiches in area so when I found myself in the area I decided to stop in and see for myself. It is available on a roll for $4.50 or as a wedge or a wrap for $7. I ordered the roll version and grabbed one of the seven stools. A steady stream of guests entered, ordered and waited, always a good sign…locals know.

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When my sandwich was ready I sat next to a few other guests eating various breakfast sandwiches, wraps and even fried chicken, very eclectic for 1030 in the morning. The sandwich includes an egg, bacon, cheese, Rosie’s chili, and potatoes, all encased in a poppy-seeded roll. After one bite I knew why others recommended this sandwich so highly…the first bite completely wakes up every taste bud. The chili has a great level of spiciness, not too hot…just enough. I was a little skeptical about the potatoes on the sandwich, but this was a great idea; they were soft and well-seasoned. The bacon added smokiness and saltiness and the egg and cheese held it all together. This was one great breakfast sandwich.

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If you are looking for a delicious breakfast sandwich, the Rosie O is a great choice. On my next visit I will probably choose the wedge, as long as calories are not a consideration, live large or go home.

Burger Bar & Bistro (SONO) – Train Goes off the Rails

DSC_0006Burger Bar & Bistro is located across the alley from the SONO theater multiplex on North Main Street. Parking is very convenient behind the theatre and BBB offers bar service, a dining room, plus outdoor seating. On one of the first colder days of the year I went for a burger, since others have told me they were excellent.

DSC_0001Each weekday from 11-4 BBB offers “$9 Lunchbox combos” each available in 10 minutes. Choices include a ¼-pound cheeseburger; a chili dog; a meatloaf sandwich; a tuna salad sandwich; a ¼-rack of ribs; a veggie wrap or 3 scrambled eggs, each served with fries and a choice of a soda or a PBR. Given my experience, this 10-minute guarantee is a must option.

DSC_0003I ordered my traditional bacon cheeseburger, medium-rare and a side of fries. I sat on one of the high top tables in the bar with my back to the window and I would recommend bringing a sweater or jacket as the windows are not the most efficient and it was quite cold.

DSC_0007After a 20-minute wait my burger finally arrived. In addition to the burger and fries the plate included a mound of chipotle chips and a pickle wedge. I cut the burger in half and understood why the wait was so long…it was cooked beyond well-done and must have been on the griddle for the entire 20 minutes. I called the hostess over, showed her the burger and told her I did not have another 20 minutes to wait. She said she would take care of it.

A few minutes later the server approached the table and told me that he thought I ordered it medium-well. I also told him I did not have 20 minutes to wait for another burger. Ten minutes passed…nothing. The bartender approached and told me “it is almost ready.” I told him that if was not at the table in 2 minutes I would have to leave. Five minutes later, I started to put on my coat and the hostess saw me and mouthed, “it is almost ready.” I could not wait any longer. As I was approaching the front door to exit the bartender raced out of the kitchen with a brown bag and handed me a bag that contained a Styrofoam clam-shell. His parting words after handing me the bag, “We are not charging you for this.” I reached into the bag and opened the Styrofoam container…it contained a cheeseburger, no bacon, no fries…no thanks.

Things happen and when they occur you try to correct them and be honest with the customer. By continually telling me it was almost done, it gave false expectations, and in the end, the bartender’s dismissive attitude was the last straw. Burger Bar and Bistro is now on my Do Not Return list…there are too many options in the area to return.

58 N Main St. Norwalk, CT 06854

Burger Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Return to JAX – Keeps Getting Better

Pulled Pork BLMy second visit to JAX started with more confusion. As much as I convinced myself at the end of my first visit that the next sandwich would be “The Che,” “The Chicken and Waffle” or “The Spread” when I stared at the chalkboard I wanted everything. I was finally pulled to the register by the “Smoked Pulled Pork” and ordered. The menu described this sandwich as 16hr pork, high brow slaw, house Q, topped with Alton Brown’s Koolickles (Dill pickles brined in Kool-Aid) on a Portuguese roll. As I waited, I ogled at OPF (that’s “Other People’s Food”) and saw a variety of sandwiches that I absolutely needed to try on subsequent visits. Each was large, well-constructed and looked absolutely delicious.

My Pulled Pork arrived and it was the same size as my Cuban from the first visit, and almost looked like its twin sibling. The slow-cooked pork…it was outstanding, overly tender; rich in flavor and could easily stand on its own as a platter. The other ingredients elevated the pork…the slaw delivered just a touch of background tartness, the sauce added and increased level of spiciness and then the Koolickles kicked in with an interesting grouping of sweet-sour. All of this deliciousness was encased in a wonderful roll. The combination delivered a perfect balance of smoky, sweet, spicy, sour, savory…absolutely wonderful.

To rewind to my first visit, I ordered the “Cubano,” with Black Forest ham, pulled pork, Swiss, house pickles and creamy house mustard, served on a pressed Cuban roll. It was previously a challenge finding a great Cubano in the area, and Jax’s rendition was delicious. My first bite was a mouth-watering explosion of flavors. A full description of this phenomenal combo can be found at:

http://www.ctbites.com/home/2014/10/19/jax-co-opens-in-sono-from-the-owners-of-mamas-boy-breakfast.html

I cannot wait to return to JAX. For the next few visits I will continue to work my way through 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

Jax & Co. on Urbanspoon

Lucky’s Classic Burger & Malt Shop (STM) _ Pretty Tasteless Burger

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Lucky’s Classic Burger & Malt Shop is a throwback to the days of Frankie and Annette, Lost in Space and Ed Sullivan. The interior offers ten large booths, four smaller booths, tables & chairs plus ten stools at the counter. The table tops are made of black Formica with mini rubber band design, each table has a juke box with nickel-tunes (selection range from Chubby Checker to Journey). Black and white photos from the 50’s and 60’s adorn the walls. The only thing missing are poodle skirts, leather jackets and slicked back hair. This restaurant is a time machine to simpler times when a burger and milkshake were the definition of a cool Friday night.

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I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with fries and when the server (that would be a car hop) asked me how I would like my burger prepared I was impressed and ordered it medium rare. As I waited for the burger the server arrived with a canister containing unwrapped blue straws. Well, times have changed and it is flu season, so I passed on the straw.

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The burger and fries arrived and it was a good sized burger and a large mound of fries. My bacon cheeseburger was also topped with lettuce and tomato. I cut the burger in half and it was actually cooked to medium rare. Nicely done. I then tasted one of the fries. They were basic frozen fries out of a plastic bag. They had a processed flavor to them, but were well salted. The first bite of the burger was disappointing. The meat was very ordinary, the patty was tightly compressed and not very tasty. The Cheddar cheese was well melted, somewhat tasteless as well and the bacon added the third leg to the flavorless stool. The tomato was even worse…it was less than supermarket quality and never should have left the kitchen.

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I understand that Lucky’s is a diner, but the price of the bacon cheeseburger and fries was over $13 with tax and tip. For that price I expect something better than a burger served at a Sunday fair.

Lucky's Classic Burger & Malt Shop on Urbanspoon

Chiu FAI Garden (Norwalk) – Alternative to a Sandwich?

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There are times when having another sandwich for lunch at the office is just not what you are in the mood for. Maybe look for some pizza, or hamburgers or a to-go platter…Chinese take-out is always an option. There are very few options in the area. I’ve constantly driven by the multi-colored sign for Chiu FAI Garden near Stew Leonards and I tucked it away for future reference. Today, I finally made the journey for one of its lunch specials. For ~$6 it is the same price as a sandwich and I was in the mood for something different.

Interior
The interior is standard NYC-style Chinese take-out. The rear of the building is the kitchen with several cooking stations, there is the obligatory picture menu (faded by the sun) above the ordering counter and there are tables and chairs for 16 people while either waiting or eating. I am not sure dining in is the best choice as the space is very sterile…this is definitely a grab and go. The menu is extensive, with Cantonese, Hunan and Szechuan choices. What caught my eye was the number of Lunch Special offerings…33 in all, ranging between $5-$6 and includes a choice of an entrée, rice and either a soup or an egg roll. I chose the General Tso’s Chicken, fried rice and an egg roll.

The egg roll was medium sized. It had a good, thick crust, crispy and the interior was all vegetables. It was a good basic lunch egg roll.

The General Tso combination platter was quite large for the price. It contained a good heaping of chicken, an equal amount of fried rice and two broccoli florets. The chicken was fried very well…the exterior was crispy and the chicken was cooked through without being over-cooked. Unfortunately the coating was very thick and you could barely taste the chicken, which was moist and tender. The pungent sauce delivered a lot of flavor, was sweet, maybe a touch too sweet, and was less than medium spiciness; do not be scared by the pepper icon on the menu. The fried rice contained a teeny smattering of roasted pork and onions, was very bland, but was good to coat the sauced chicken piece.

Overall it was a good $6 lunch. Is this a go-to Americanized Chinese take-out restaurant? I would not recommend for dinner at home but for a quick lunch that does not include a sandwich, Chiu FAI Garden is an OK option.

Chiu FAI Garden on Urbanspoon