Best Restaurant Burgers in Southwest CT – #9 Oak + Almond (Norwalk)

A new restaurant, a new chef, a new menu, a great burger. Chef Jeff Taibe enters the food scene of Fairfield County with a bang. The interior of the redesigned interior is gorgeous, and the open kitchen allows the guests to watch all of the preparation. But as the name suggests, the centerpiece of the restaurant is the large wood-burning oven. Why almond? Chef Taibe told me that the almond is added when the oven needs a blast of extra heat. And the burger, full of bold flavors.

bl2 Oak + AlmondChef Jeff Taibe’s new menu includes the Grass Fed Burger, a large patty using 80-20 of Pat Lafrieda blend meat. The patty was charred and perfectly prepared and mild in flavor and was complemented by the accompanying bold ingredients. The burger was topped with some of the best bacon slices I tasted in my tour, delicious sweet-sour cippolini onions, melted Gorgonzola cheese and aioli and then served on a Wave Hill Brioche. The toppings were deep in flavor to complement the mild meat. The fries were fantastic, fried and salted and finished with sprigs of fresh rosemary.

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Best Restaurant Burgers in Southwest CT – #8 Napa (Stamford)

Carrying on in the tradition of previous chefs, Bill Taibe and Arik Bensimon, current Chef Adam Truelove still produces one of the best burgers in southwest Connecticut. After only a few weeks at the helm of this renowned kitchen I decided to try the burger that has been one of my favorites for years. As a game changing burger over the years, the Napa Burger is the only entrant on the list that uses 100% American Wagyu beef, was the first to include the onion jam, and then topped with Gruyere, which has become this burger’s trademark.

bl2 NapaExecutive Chef Adam Truelove continues producing the Napa Wagyu Burger which has appeared on this list since its inception. The large, marbled meat was perfectly prepared and then topped with an onion jam, aged Gouda cheese, and pepper mayo, all encased in a brioche roll. The meat was rich and juicy and the onion jam was fantastic. The aged Gouda cheese was perfectly melted and brought a deep nutty flavor to the burger. The fries that accompanied the burger were delicious.

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Best Restaurant Burgers in Southwest CT – #7 LeFarm (Westport)

The burger at Le Farm in Westport makes my 2013 Best Restaurant Burgers list twice, once under Chef Geoff Lazlo and again under its newest chef, Arik Bensimon. Both of these great chefs carry on the traditions of Owner Bill Taibe. Le Farm is small in scale but large in stature and the Le Farm “Beef Burger” has graced its menu since inception.

bl2 Le FarmThe “Beef Burger” with B&B pickles, mayonnaise, Cheddar cheese and bacon on a brioche delivered incredible flavors. This hamburger was sampled while Chef Geoff Lazlo and again when Chef Arik Bensimon were in the kitchen. The meat was charred on the exterior and the interior texture was soft. The interior was perfectly prepared to medium rare and was moist and juicy. The house-made pickles added a sweet element and the cheese and mayo were delightful and creamy complements; the bacon was a little bold for the other flavors. All of these delicious ingredients were encased in a brioche bun, a favorite of mine.

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Best Restaurant Burgers in Southwest CT – #6 Nola Oyster Bar (SONO)

Each year a burger created by Dan Kardos has appeared on my list of favorites and the 2013 Best Restaurant Burgers includes another fantastic burger; now prepared at NOLA Wine Bar in SONO. The menu includes numerous fish creations ranging from Shrimp & Grits to Lobster & Waffles, and one of the stand-out items is this fantastic burger. bl2 nolaChef Dan Kardos continued his tradition of great hamburgers in his newest kitchen. Kardos used Saugatuck Craft Butchery dry aged blend of short rib, chuck and brisket that was grilled to a perfect char. He topped this patty with melted Beemster cheese, mushrooms, bacon, and frizzled onions and black pepper mayo. The flavor of the meat was outstanding and the toppings were delicious. The cheese was flavorful and complemented the richness in the meat. The bacon was thick and perfectly cooked but was just a little salty. The burger was served with curly fries that were fun and fantastic.

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Jump (Toronto) – Great Space; Food Needs a Little TLC

miso glazed black codI understand Jump recently re-opened and the redecorated space is gorgeous. Upon entering the restaurant you approach the Hostess station and are standing aside a floor-to-ceiling whisky-bottled adorned wall. To the right is a bar area with tables and beyond the station is the dining area. The main area is airy and the tables are separated for private conversation, whether at one of the rectangular tables or at one of the banquettes. I found the noise level moderate with 35% occupancy, but could still hear my colleagues.

The staff was very friendly and efficient but I would warn people that they really upsell the in-house water which is $2.50 per person. It was well worth the price for me, but just be aware that it is not free. The corkage is also $25 per bottle on a BYOB, again just a head’s up. Not being a native I am not sure if this is customary in Toronto.

I ordered a half order of “Truffle Ricotta Gnocchi” with Northern Woods wild mushrooms and porcini cream to start and the “Miso-Glazed Black Cod” with stir-fried mustard greens, jasmine and black rice for my entrée.

gnocchiThe Gnocchi included four 1-inch long cylinder shaped gnocchi, topped with an assortment of mushroom sections (from Northern Wood) in a porcini cream sauce. The gnocchi were fair at best, very dense, with very little flavor and there was little, if any, seasoning. The mushrooms were more pedestrian than wild, unless you define quartered cremini, which comprised most of them, as wild. But the sauce was delightful, a deep rich earthy sauce. At first glance I was disappointed in the size but after I finished I was glad I did not waste the calories. Unless they change the recipe for the gnocchi I would go for a different appetizer.

The miso glazed Black cod with mustard greens was a picture perfect presentation, but the flavors were all over the spectrum, from non-existent to spicy. The fish was perfectly cooked and was moist as expected in a fatty cut of fish. The miso glaze was very uneven with certain bites delicious and others with no flavor. The mustard greens were nicely prepared but did not have that slightly bitter-y quality I was looking for. Both of these components sat atop a rice pilaf, which was about as flavorless as possible. It was akin to basic boiled rice. These were all nestled in a red sauce that had a good kick. Overall I did not like this dish and would recommend going in a different direction…it has potential but needs a little TLC from the kitchen.

Overall I was pleased with the environment but disappointed in the food. It has a lot of potential with the design of the menu but execution needs to catch up.

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Top-10 Restaurant Burgers in SW Connecticut – #5 Harlan Social Burger

One of the great aspects of gentrification is the restaurants that come with. Harlan Social was one of the first restaurants to open in the area formerly dedicated to industry, sharing a vision and a parking lot with Fairway Markets. Executive Chef/ Owner Steven Lewandowski is creating incredible flavor combinations. With every ingredient of every dish thoroughly thought through the Harlan Burger delivers an array of flavors found in none other that I tried. And then the Portuguese Muffin adds a sweet component.

BL2 Harlan SocialThe “Harlan Burger” included a special blend of short rib, chuck and brisket from Pat Lafrieda and then Executive Chef / Owner Steve Lewandowski elevated the flavors with his unique toppings. He first basted the burger with his house-made “Japanese Worcestershire Sauce” and then added his “Cheddar Ale Sauce,” comprised of four varieties of cheese, mushroom stock and cream ale. He topped these items with a Bacon Onion Jam. The sweet, sour, salty, umami elements were all present. Then Chef Lewandowski encased the burger in a Portuguese Muffin from Boston, which added a delicious sweet accent.

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Best Restaurant Burgers in SW Connecticut – #4 elm Restaurant (New Canaan)

Before Chef Brian Lewis opened elm restaurant I was forewarned that his hamburger was extraordinary. And yes it is. When the restaurant first opened the burger was still in the distance, but once the Sunday Brunch offerings were in place, this burger made a huge mark on my palate. It is an exceptional pairing of flavors and textures and is a further indication of the genius that Chef Lewis brings to the kitchen.

bl2 elmThe “elmburger” is another winning dish created by Chef Brian Lewis. The burger started with an incredibly flavorful meat topped with soft and sweet caramelized onions and a layer of melted Gruyere cheese. The caramelized onions were the best that I sampled on my travels and the Gruyere added a slight nuttiness to the dish. (The cheese changes often). Unlike any other burger in the area, the elmburger sits atop a swath of Sriracha aioli that added just a touch of heat (the only burger tasted that included a spicy component) to take the flavors to another level. The bun was toasted and a delicious addition to the meal. The burger was served with thick cut fries.

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