The Chelsea (Fairfield) – Burger From Paradise


20121124-231200 Chelsea Chelsea Burger PlateWhen I heard that Matt Storch, the chef/owner of Match in South Norwalk, was opening a more casual sister restaurant in Fairfield called The Chelsea, I was excited. I’ve enjoyed many meals at Match, and the combination of The Chelsea’s more casual atmosphere and menu plus Storch’s talents should be a winner.

The Chelsea has seating for 80, whether you want to grab a drink in their English-style pub area featuring a long wooden bar with about a dozen seats, or sit at a table in their airy and inviting atrium. Their menu includes a wide variety of gourmet bar-food options plus eclectic and fusion dishes, all under $25. It offers two burgers: the Salt and Pepper Burger ($12.95), a plain and simple char-grilled patty on a seeded brioche bun, and the Chelsea Burger ($13.95) featuring a “cheddar dip,” sweet-sour onions, and chopped bacon on an onion brioche bun from Good Bread Bakery in Port Chester.

The hamburgers at The Chelsea are definite A-Listers. I ordered each medium-rare and the kitchen complied with perfectly grilled patties. The burgers came pre-cut—not as ordered, but as done to all of their burgers. When I asked about the pre-cut process, I was told, “We like the customer to see the meat and the juice.” Separating the halves revealed a promising pink interior plus a coarse, tender grind.

20121124-231200 Chelsea S&P BurgerThe meat is a 75/25 blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib from local organic purveyor Saugatuck Craft Butchery that is dry-aged for two weeks. The seven-ounce burgers are ground with an extra-coarse die and hand-pattied each morning and again before dinner. The gas-fired grill imparts a crispy char on the exterior, while the coarse, loosely packed interior stays juicy.

20121124-231200 Chelsea S&P Burger OpenSince there aren’t any toppings on the Salt and Pepper Burger, it’s all about the flavor of the beef. And aside from being neither salty nor peppery, it succeeds with pronounced smokiness from the grill and a deep, rich, beefy flavor. The burger is served on a toasted seeded brioche bun that makes the meat-to-bun ratio a little heavier on the bun side, but the flavors of the meat balance well with the buttery brioche bun.

20121124-231200 Chelsea Chelsea Burger OpenThe Chelsea Burger elevates the basic burger with the addition of numerous toppings—cheddar dip, sweet-sour onions and chopped bacon—and a switch to an onion brioche bun. I was concerned that the flavors would fight each other, but they work in perfect unison. The cheddar isn’t just a few melted slices but a complete cheese-wrap due to the finished patty getting dipped into a bacon-cheese Béchamel sauce before being placed on the bun. The crumbled bacon lends salty-smokiness and crunch while the onions add the desired onion flavor improved with a kick of sweet and sour, plus a soft texture that complements the crunchy bacon bits and the patty’s char. Everything balances perfectly with the bun’s soft texture and buttery flavor. This is one of the most flavorful combinations of meat, toppings, and bun in the area.

The accompanying fries were very good—crispy on the outside, moist and soft on the inside, and well salted. They come sprinkled with Parmesan cheese for more saltiness and parsley that added more color than flavor. I enjoyed the fries more with the Salt and Pepper Burger than the Chelsea Burger—maybe the additional flavors presented in the latter were a little too powerful for the fries.

For a delicious basic burger the Salt and Pepper Burger is a great option, but to truly appreciate The Chelsea’s burgers, go for the Chelsea Burger.

The Chelsea – 12 Unquowa Place – Fairfield –  (203) 254-8200

This review was originally published on A Hamburger Today on January 10, 2013 at http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2013/01/the-chelsea-burger-review-fairfield-ct.html?ref=pop_a_hamburger_today

The Chelsea on Urbanspoon

The Spotted Horse (Westport): Delicious Burgers

Let’s gut a 200+ year old building, decorate the interior with reclaimed woods and discarded farm items, build a U-shaped bar and serve organic tavern cuisine, nestle it amongst high-end retail shops in downtown Westport, CT and name it The Spotted Horse Tavern. Sound like a plan? Sure why not? Enter seasoned Fairfield County restaurateurs Kevin McHugh, Pete Menonna, Tommy Febbraio, and George E. O’Connell. They purchased and updated an early-1800s building to give a farm country atmosphere thanks to the wide rough-cut planks on the floors and walls made of reclaimed barn siding—one adorned with a large double gate that McHugh found during his travels. Overlooking the dining area are large photographs of the restaurant’s namesake spotted horses. On any night the bar area’s five tables and 15 stools bustle with 30-somethings, while the dining area’s 50 seats host a full demographic mix.

The menu offers a wide variety of organic choices from sandwiches and salads to roasted meats and poultry. For burgers they offer the basic Grass Fed Angus Burger, an eight-ounce patty with lettuce and tomato ($11.95), plus the Black Truffle Burger ($13.95), which includes caramelized onions, black truffle butter, a sunny-side up egg, Bel Paese cheese, lettuce, and tomato. You can add toppings for $1 each. I added bacon and American cheese to my Grass Fed Angus Burger.
The Spotted Horse purchases its meat from Saugatuck Craft Butchery, a local butcher known for its high quality organic beef. The half-pound, 19 percent fat patties are composed of coarse ground short rib, chuck, and sirloin. They’re seasoned with a touch of salt and pepper and are hand-pattied immediately before being grilled on the indoor gas-fired grill.

The highlight of the burgers is the incredible meat; it’s one of the most flavorful patties I’ve ever tasted; deep and rich. The well charred patties are slightly crisp on the outside, while the interior offers a slightly hand-pressed texture. When cut in half the meat releases just a bit of juice, which the bun easily absorbs. This may be my new standard for the taste of a good burger patty.
The Spotted Horse’s bacon is excellent; several rashers of thick and crispy hickory-smoked bacon add a good amount of smoky-saltiness to the Grass Fed Angus Burger. (Make sure that it actually arrives with the hamburger, as I was zero for two in my visits. In each case the server ran to the kitchen and brought the bacon on a small plate, leaving me to build-my-own bacon burger when I’d rather receive it already built.) The substantial amount of American cheese (also missing on one occasion) is melted and creamy, although it adds nothing to the overall flavor.

The sunny-side up egg on the Black Truffle Burger is great. The firmness of the fried egg white contrasts well against the meat and the oozing yolk adds an incredible lusciousness. The small amount of Bel Paese cheese is, like the American cheese, well melted and creamy but is just too mild. The “caramelized onions”—as described on the menu—aren’t luscious, soft, and sweet, but are, to my disappointment, crunchy and overly pungent. They’re better described as grilled. Likewise the black truffle butter doesn’t enhance the overall flavor.

The burgers are encased in brioche buns from Billy’s Bakery in Fairfield. The buttery, sweet buns contrast well against the beef’s rich flavor, but again, consistency is an issue. The bun on my bacon cheeseburger was thick and round while the bun on my Black Truffle Burger was crushed, almost as if a plate was placed on top. Likewise, on some occasions it arrived toasted (my preference and the preference of the owners), while on another it arrived untoasted. I’m told that the kitchen is working on consistency in all of these areas.

The accompanying skin-on shoestring fries were perfectly fried to a crispy exterior and a soft and moist interior. They were delivered salted and piping hot with a little cruet of ketchup.

Consistency aside, The Spotted Horse serves a richly flavored hamburger with some great toppings in a relaxed, yet vibrant atmosphere. If you order the appropriate toppings, and check carefully that your hamburger arrives as ordered, this is a great destination for the hamburger lover.

This review was originally published on A Hamburger Today on November 9, 2012 at http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2012/11/the-spotted-horse-tavern-burger-review-westport-ct.html?ref=pop_a_hamburger_today

The Spotted Horse Tavern on Urbanspoon

Cherry Street East v2.0 (New Canaan) – Great Burger at Local Watering Hole

On a fateful day in April 2006, Cherry Street East, known affectionately by locals and regulars as CSE, suffered the ultimate catastrophe: It was engulfed in flames and two hours later it was a total loss. Many loyal patrons stared at the ashes of their local pub, their beloved hangout, and the place that served their favorite hamburgers since 1977.

But Cherry Street East was more than just a pub; it was part of the fiber of New Canaan, and fear struck the community. Would CSE become just a distant memory? The owners, John and Mary Bergin formed an alliance with many customers and residents, and together they reconstructed an exact replica and re-opened in 2008.

The first floor is dominated by an L-shaped bar with nine stools and three TVs behind the bar broadcasting numerous sport events, plus CNN or MSNBC. The always-occupied bar serves six beers on tap—Bass, Bud Light, Guinness, Sierra Pale Ale, Smithwick’s Ale, and Stella—with additional choices available in bottles. Surrounding the bar are eight two-person tables plus eight booths to serve an additional 50 customers; if that’s not enough, there’s another dining room on the second floor. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed, engaging, and friendly. The staff has been there for years and treats everyone like they’re a member of the family.

With the structure now rebuilt to its former glory, the big question was, would the legendary burgers return? After several years of enjoying their burgers, my answer is an overwhelming “YES!”

Their eight-ounce burgers are made of hand-pattied 80/20 certified Angus chuck ground daily on the premises. Each of the more than 1,000 weekly burgers is carefully cooked to order on an indoor gas grill. I always order my burgers medium rare and in each instance my burger was received as ordered, plus the server followed up to check if it was cooked properly.

The coarse ground patties have a firm but tender texture and deep beefy flavor. They’re seasoned with a slight amount of salt and pepper and obtain just a touch of smokiness from the grill. The patty was juicy, but not to the point of soaking the bun.

CSE offers 14 predetermined combinations—I recommended the “Vermonster” ($10.50) topped with cheddar and bacon on an English muffin—but the customer can customize their own combination. A bacon cheeseburger ($10.50) at CSE includes two slices of creamy, melted American cheese (Swiss, cheddar, Jack and smoked mozzarella are other options) and three strips of mildly salty bacon, complemented by half-sour pickle chips. By default it’s all encased in a soft Kaiser roll, which tastes better if you ask for it to be grilled. For a more flavorful choice, substitute the roll with an English muffin, whose flavor and texture better complements the beef. I found the roll a little too bland to hold up to the richness of the meat, and I appreciate the crunchiness that the toasted English muffin adds to the burger.

Other toppings include tomato, lettuce, grilled peppers or onions, mushrooms, chili, guacamole, jalapeño peppers, and salsa. Mix and match to your heart’s content, or if you can’t decide, go with one of the pre-constructed burger options. If you prefer an alternative to the beef, CSE also offers a turkey and a vegetarian patty, although not having tried them, I can’t vouch for either.

And let’s not forget the burgers’ remarkable co-star: the housemade, hand-cut onion rings, well worth the $2 surcharge. The thickly sliced onion rings feature a crisp breading and onions that are moist and not too sweet. They would taste even better if they were salted immediately after they were removed from the oil, but customers can salt the rings at the table. CSE also serves russet and sweet potato fries; I prefer the sweet potato over the mild russets.

Cherry Street East is a burger destination and after one bite you understand why; the meat has a full, rich flavor, and reminiscent of all the burgers you love when you grill at home. If you are in the mood for a great hand formed burger with a side of delicious housemade onion rings or some fries, then Cherry Street East will satisfy those cravings.

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This was posted on seriouseats.com today as my first contribution to A Hamburger Today:

http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2012/09/cherry-street-east-cse-burger-review-new-canaan-ct.html?ref=title

Cherry Street East on Urbanspoon