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.

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

Liz Sue Bagels (STM) – About the Best in the Area

When we moved to CT in the 90’s one of my concerns was where would I find my fix of bagels, smoked fish, deli, hot dogs, all the great food of my days in NJ. Disappointment after disappointment greeted me in CT…until I visited Liz Sue Bagels in Stamford.

I was a bit of a bagel snob and limited my selection to plain, egg, sesame and poppy, maybe when I wanted to cross to the wild side I would order a cinnamon raisin or an everything bagel. Each of these options was very good at Liza Sue, I cannot call it a great bagel.Then one day I decided to order an oat bran. What I tasted was a delicious bagel, with a slightly different texture plus just a touch of sweetness. All of these flavors were elevated with a little toasting and I was soon a convert to expanding my bagel flavor choices.

The bagel landscape in Fairfield County is still meager, but at least there is one option in Stamford, Liza Sue. There are very few places that make good bagels in Fairfield County (you have extra fingers on one hand if you count them) and over the years Liz Sue has remained one of those few places.

Liz Sue Bagels on Urbanspoon

Table 104 (STM) – Not a Hit

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Table 104 recently opened on Long Ridge Rd just north of Saks on the way to the Merritt, the fourth re-incarnation of this space (Matteo’s, Fio’s, and Minetto’s to name a few) over the past several years. In addition to the restaurants available in the strip malls on High Ridge, Table 104 offers an option to downtown Stamford. Parking is available in an attached lot, with valet parking on the weekends. We recently visited and sampled several small plates, a two pizza combinations, a pasta and one of their larger plates.

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My favorite dish of the visit was the “Sicilian Arancini with the Bolognese Sauce.” The arancini were perfectly cooked to maintain its interior moistness; and the kitchen did an excellent job in frying each ball to create a crispy exterior. They sat atop a mound of Bolognese sauce, which was very good…this dish was the highlight of the visit. The other small plate, The “Meatballs, Pork-Chicken Beef, Grilled Crostino, Marinara, Shaved Grana.” was disappointing. The meatballs were severely undercooked, borderline raw, spicy and once we tasted the very rare interior we stopped eating them.

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The first pizza to arrive was the mushroom pizza. The mushrooms were pretty good and worked well with the cheese. The toppings on the other pizza were sausage, et. al. The sausage was also pretty good, unfortunately both suffered from a crust that was very bland.
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The pasta dish was capellini combined with shrimp, arugula and grape tomatoes. Other than a few slices of garlic, the dish was significantly under-seasoned, it was very bland. BL Steak
The “Grilled Hangar Steak, Smashed Fingerling, Roasted Peppers, Leeks, Mushroom Ragu,” ordered medium-rare, was served rare-raw. Other than a little vinegar flavor from the chimichurri, It was also under-seasoned. Unfortunately it was overwhelmed with oil from the chimichurri. The potatoes were well prepared but they too were without any seasoning.

Overall it was a very disappointing visit to Table 104. Other than the arancini, the other dishes were not memorable.

Table 104 Osteria-Bar on Urbanspoon

Capriccio Cafe (STM) – Eclectic Menu with Al Fresco Dining

The weather is turning and soon the evenings of sitting under the stars eating dinner will be both a memory and a yearning. Capriccio Café will move its menu indoors to serve traditional pizzas, pastas, and secondi selections.

The menu offers a variety of antipasti from a simple Grilled Vegetable Stack and Zucchini Chips to Eggplant Parmigiana or three varieties of calamari. Almost twenty different salads are also available…a traditional Caesar and Caprese to those that include smoked or seared salmon, tuna or crab cake. There are numerous sandwiches from a provolone and ham to those that combine ham, Swiss, avocado and tomato. To complement the Italian grilled cheese selections, Capricio offers cold and hot options. The Panini section is eclectic with a basic Mozzarella, plum tomato and basil, a Cubano with roasted pork, ham Swiss cheese and pickles, a Bistecca with steak, Provolone, onions, a Gamberi e Avocado mushrooms and a shrimp, avocado, bacon, and onion plus a Porchetta with roasted pork, caramelized onions and Provolone.

For a larger appetite choose one of over 20 pre-conceived combinations from Margherita, or add meatballs, cheery peppers, sausage, Portobello mushrooms, slices of chicken or grilled cutlets or slices of Sopressata. The toppings for the white pizza options include ricotta, speck, Prociutto, arugula, and spicy oil.

Numerous pasta choices are also available. The choices incorporate a simple Spaghetti Al Pomodoro with tomato sauce and basil, a Fettuccine with veal Bolnese, Spaghetti Frutti di Mare with shrimp, clams, and calamari in a light Marinara sauce and a Penne al Pesto. Finally, the Secondi options include a Chicken Scarpariello, Tilapia al Limone, Salmon with sautéed spinach, raisins and pine nuts, and a Skirt Steak Chimichurri.

Finish the meal with a selection of Gelatos from nearby Volta Gelateria. With an eclectic menu and outdoor seating, Capriccio Café offers a wide variety of cuisine for all.

Capriccio Cafe on Urbanspoon

That Awesome Deli Celebrates First Anniversary (STM) – GF in Belltown

That Awesome Deli & The Gluten Free Food Factory opened with very little fanfare a year ago and continues catering to the Belltown section of Stamford with breakfasts and lunches. With its entire menu available gluten-free, this unassuming side of the road storefront offers eggs, sandwiches and take-out options Mondays through Saturdays from 6AM to 4PM and remains open until 7PM on Thursdays.

The simple breakfast options include eggs (egg white available), bacon, sausage, cheese, and peppers on GF white bread or bagel. For those not looking for a GF sandwich, several bread, roll and wedge options are offered.

Lunches feature Boar’s Head meat and cheese products or choose from a variety on house-made salads including Albacore Tuna, Chicken Salad, Curried Chicken, Spicy Cajun Tuna, and Egg Salad. Top your selection with a choice of tomatoes, roasted red peppers, hot peppers, pickles, olives or pepperoncini peppers. When the weather turns, look to their seasonal soups including chicken noodle, tomato-basil or potato-bacon-cheddar, or a bowl of beef stew or chili. All of the desserts are made in-house. For parties, That Awesome Deli offers platters of Lasagna and other Italian specialties, Chicken (nine different varieties), steak teriyaki and beef or chicken enchiladas.

For those looking for GF options, you may want to check out That Awesome Deli.

The Gluten Free Food Factory on Urbanspoon

Barcelona (STM) – Great Food Under the Stars

What better way to spend a beautiful summer night than with family enjoying al fresco dining. Sitting on Summer Street in Stamford is not exactly La Rambla in Barcelona, but the food at Barcelona Wine Bar is a good substitute in this part of the world.

We ordered a variety of tapas over the course of the evening. My two favorites were the “Grilled Hanger Steak” ($9.50) and the “Crispy Calamari” ($10.50). The seven small slices of steak were served with a black truffle vinaigrette. Ordered medium rare the kitchen prepared it exactly as ordered. The meat was rich in flavor and the sauce added an earthy quality. The calamari was served with a smoked pepper aioli. Both heads and body pieces were included and unlike other restaurants that serve calamari as rings, Barcelona’s are prepared as larger curly-square segments. The kitchen then fried these pieces perfectly. Dipping each piece into the aioli created a wonderful combination of texture with just a little spiciness. A long-time favorite, the “Mushrooms and Herbed Goat Cheese” ($8.50) was also delicious. The mélange of wild mushrooms were served in a balsamic reduction with a dollop of the herbed goat cheese sitting atop. The deep flavors of the mushrooms were complemented with the balsamic reduction and then offset with the creaminess of the cheese. A complete disappointment was the “Gambas al Ajillo” (9.50). They were served nakedly in a dish with garlic, Guindilla pepper and Sherry. I can only assume that there were so many sold in the previous two weekend evenings that we received the last of the inventory. Six meagerly sized shrimp were included in the order and these were badly prepared. This dish was more in line with Red Lobster than Barcelona, one bite was enough.

We always leave room for dessert as the “Crepas Salguero” ($8) never disappoints. Two crepes are rolled around a sweet and delicious Dulce de Leche, then topped with chocolate sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The crepe is a great canvas for the three sweet additions. We normally share this dish.

The service on this night was downright annoying and intrusive, constantly interrupting the flow of conversation at the table. She was totally unaware that her interruption to ask us to order more tapas reminded everyone at the table of a hawker at the street fair. Management needs to explain the proper way to approach a table. I have seen this on several occasions at the Barcelona chain but this was probably the worst.

Overall it was a wonderful evening at Barcelona, in spite of the amateur service, and I look forward to many more evenings enjoying the great flavors emerging from the kitchen.

Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Coalhouse Pizza (STM) – Incredibly Disappointing

BL 1It has been a few years since I visited Coalhouse; It was during its opening weeks. I was impressed by the lightness and flavor of the dough (the original dough maker was from Red Hook in Brooklyn) the sauce and the delicious toppings.

I sat on a beautiful evening at a table outside watching the crazy drivers jockeying for a parking spot. It was early in the evening, there were very few other guests and I ordered a 12” pie with half sausage and pepper and the other half pepperoni and bacon.

When the pizza arrived the first thing I noticed was manner in which the pizza maker constructed the topping. There was a various clumps of cheese and a clumps of sausage, tons of teeny pieces of sausage, scattered diced red and green peppers and a smattering of bacon cubes. It appeared that the pizza maker was either in a rush or did not care about the final product

BL 2The crust was nicely charred. I lifted to look underneath, again nicely charred. Then I saw the first item of concern, holes in the dough, some of the dough forced back together after holes were made and then my biggest concern, the crust was soggy, charred and soggy, not a good combination.

I cut the first wedge and tried to slide onto the second plate (my first was dirty and was replaced). A good portion of the topping stayed on the tray.

BL 3I tasted the dough. This was a basic flour and water dough with little flavor. Gone was the soft, beautifully flavored crust from my initial visit; and it failed miserably in holding the toppings. I tasted the cheese; it was nicely melted but it was absolutely tasteless. Onto the sausage and it did not improve my impression, it had the texture of sand, and not flavorful. The next item was the red and green peppers. They were still basically raw, and there was no sweetness at all, bad grocery store peppers.  The pepperoni slices were dime sized and so thinly sliced they curled into little salty circles. The cubes of bacon were either pure fat or over-salted cubes. The sauce had a little kick to it and might have been the highlight of the pie, but the bar was not set too high. Overall I cannot say anything positive about this pie.

On a positive note, the server was very good. He replaced the dirty plate, asked if I wanted anything else and was incredibly pleasant during this escapade. As I sat there for close to 10 minutes after the pie was returned I assumed the manager would approach and ask what happened, but no one came by the table. That tells me that the pizza maker and the manager just do not care about the product or the guest. Others may like Coalhouse Pizza, but it will be hard for me to return.

Coalhouse Pizza on Urbanspoon

Olio (Springdale) – Still Fantastic One Year Later

I’ve been pretty lucky with two visits to Olio Restaurant in Stamford over the last few weeks; each delivered some outstanding cuisine. The first was a quick stop for a burger to complete my update of the best burgers in Fairfield County and the second was a dinner visit a week later.

Co-Owner Moira Hyland met our party of four at the door, showed us the table and was the perfect hostess throughout the evening. The server approached and asked for water, soda or wine and explained the specials for the evening. Two of them sounded delicious and I ordered both. The appetizer was a baby greens and beet salad and the entrée was a pork chop with pickled ramps and succotash. Others at the table ordered a variety of salads and they all chose the gnocchi with Bolognese for their entrées. We let Chef / co-owner Steve Costanzo work his magic in the kitchen.

The salads arrived and they were all very generous in size. My salad included an array of locally grown baby greens tossed with walnut pieces, roasted beets, all dressed with a honey thyme mustard vinaigrette. The salad was perfectly dressed and focused on the wonderful, natural flavors of the greens. The beets were sweet and the walnuts added both an earthiness and a textural contrast with its crunchiness. I highly recommend this salad and the others at the table were as enthusiastic about their choices.

The entrées arrived and mine was a large single 10-ounce French cut pork chop nestled in a house-made succotash of fresh peas, corn, zucchini, red peppers with roasted plum tomatoes a little white wine, chicken stock and butter. The chop was topped with pickled ramps (they were pickled earlier in the day). The chop was perfectly cooked, moist on the interior with a great spice-rub finish. The sweetness of the fresh vegetables were a great complement to the pork and then the ramps kicked in to deliver tremendous flavor to the overall composition of the dish.

The Ricotta Gnocchi with Bolognese was a very generous portion. The gnocchi were delicious, with great texture and the Bolognese was one of the best I have tasted since my Bolognese search last year. It delivered rich flavors, a great balance of sauce to meat and was a delightful complement to the mild gnocchi.

As dessert approached, I highly recommended the donuts to the table and we also ordered a molten chocolate cake. The donuts were as I remembered, absolutely delicious and the molten chocolate cake, served with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and few berries. This was also an excellent dessert, a chocolate-y delight.

Olio remains one of the best hidden gems, and I might need to remove “hidden” as every table was taken and everyone had a smile on their faces and a huge thank you to Moira as they left.

Olio Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Olio “House Burger” (STM) – Excellent in Springdale

CTB BurgerIn my constant search for great burgers in Fairfield County for http://www.ctbites.com I found myself heading to Stamford to sample the new lunch menu at Olio that includes the Olio House Burger. And I am glad I did. Olio recently began serving lunch and it is slowly turning into the go-to location for many locals. The lunch menu includes a soup a few salads, and several sandwiches from chicken salad to steak, plus a pasta and sautéed shrimp. But I was there for the burger.

The Olio House burger is a unique combination of flavors and ingredients. It starts with a thick all-beef patty topped with Tasso ham, melted Manchego cheese, caramelized Cipollini onions, with a schmear of roasted tomato aioli, all encased in a Brioche roll from Eli’s. It is served with thick steak fries and a side of ketchup.

The burger is excellent. The meat was lightly formed with the grind of the meat still present. Although it was cooked a little past my requested medium rare, it was still this side of medium, a nice pink interior. The substitution of the Tasso ham for a traditional smoked bacon added a significant level of pepperiness and the mild Manchego cheese added a nice creaminess. The star of this combination was the caramelized Cipollini onions, they were fantastic, creamy, sweet, just a great addition. The roll added a good buttery complement.

The steak fries were perfectly prepared and finished with pepper and truffle salt. They were crispy on the exterior and moist and soft on the interior. The truffle salt added an earthy complement to the flavor. I am a purist on fries and would have been equally satisfied with just salt and a little pepper.

Overall the Olio House Burger is definitely a go-to burger and is one of the best in Stamford. Chef/Owner Steve Costanzo and his business partner Moira Hyland do an outstanding job at dinner and I anticipate that once word travels that lunch is available, the lunch crowd will equal the packed dinner crowd.