J. Alexander’s (Boca) – Sleek Spot with Challenging Food

16-burgerFrom the outside, this restaurant looks like an upscale Florida version of a NJ diner. Once inside, the enormous four-sided bar separates two dining areas with more a pubby feeling than NJ red p-leather booths. The menu ranges from a few unappealing appetizers, many salads and sandwiches, plus entrees. All of the food is prepared in the large, open-viewed kitchen in the rear.

On the first visit I ordered a bacon-cheese burger medium-rare with tomato and pickles plus fries. The menu stressed hand formed chuck daily so I was expecting a very juicy burger. It arrived already cut in half to show it was prepared properly. The first item I noticed was the size of the bun; it was incredibly tall and overshadowed the exposed patty, tomato, pickle, and the single slice of melted cheese; the bacon was hidden under the bun. The second item was the lack of juice extruding from the burger, even though it was chuck and cut immediately after leaving the griddle.

A quick taste of the meat. It was OK but had a bitter aftertaste. It was medium in grind with decent richness. The folded and hidden slice of bacon was also pretty good; the bun was OK but much too large. The two slices of tomatoes were excellent. Overall it was an OK burger but should have been juicier if it was chuck. The fries were horrible. The shoestring variety were cooked a little too long and then the kitchen doused them with salt, head snapping back amounts.

16-tacosOn the second visit I ordered the steak tacos. A swath of sour cream sauce was first shmeared onto three large soft tortillas and topped with a slice of steak, shredded lettuce and Monterey Jack cheese and finished with a little pico de Gallo salsa. The steak was prepared to medium rare. After one bite, I knew this was not for me. The steak was covered with a seasoning package that was both overwhelmingly salty and incredibly spicy. The salsa was also spicy. My wife offered half of her burger and when I tasted it, it was not even as good as the OK burger from the first visit, with a spongier consistency than my first visit. The server and manager asked if I would like something else, and they did a good job, but I chose to call it a night.

Overall Alexander’s exterior of a NJ diner rang truer with the food than the decor. An OK burger, very over-seasoned tacos, but fries that would never be served in NJ.

Johnny Utah’s in South Norwalk – A Fun Time with a Side of Food

Fairfield County has some great bars with good old fashioned bar food…wings, burgers, fries, onion rings, cheesesteaks, with a wide variety of beers. Recently, many have expanded the menu to include tacos, chili, ribs, chicken and other down and dirty delicacies. When I received an invitation to join a media event at Johnny Utah’s in SoNo I was curious, since this bar also features a mechanical bull (spoiler…not happenin’).

The décor is college rathskeller meets Texas longhorn; long, wooden bars extending from front to back on both side walls, numerous high-top tables, tons of bar seating and “The Bull.” There are plaques of beers throughout, nine TVs on the walls airing sports, a large American flag comprised of beer cans, and on any given night the bar may sponsor a bull riding contest, line dancing or specials on some of the food. While we were eating, there were several groups that were having a blast. I felt transported back to my college days.

Johnny’s menu is pretty straight-forward, bar food that goes with beer. This was not haute-cuisine, farm to table, plates of well-constructed and balanced flavors and textures. This was down and dirty bar food. This was fried. This was sweet. This was sour. This was spicy. This was wings with a choice of more than a dozen sauces. This was a burger served between two grilled cheese sandwiches. This was 32-ounce, multi-person smokin’ rainbow colored drinks. This was foot high milkshakes covered in Reese’s bits or Oreo cookies, and for an additional $5…add a shot of booze. This was college bar food ready to down with pitchers of beer. And there is plenty of the latter, with a long line of taps on both bars, from Bud Lite to Fat Tire. I asked the bartender which was the best seller and she told me, “the late night crowd buys the Bud Lite and the Mermaid Pilsner.”

The menu includes fried appetizers, sliders, chili, four different salads, burgers, pulled pork and chicken sandwiches, ribs, fried chicken, fish and chips, and steak. Prices range from $6-11 for the apps, $9-$13 for the salads, teens for the sandwiches and entrees. I also asked the bartender which item sells the most and she said, “we sell a lot of burgers.”

We started with a few pick-up, lick your fingers appetizers; first the Philly Egg Rolls. The fried wonton wrappers were stuffed with shaved Philly steak, onions, and cheese, and served with Johnny’s BBQ sauce. Memories of burnt tongues forced me to wait until the incendiary melted cheese cooled. There was more fried wonton than filling, which lacked any discernable flavor. They were served with a BBQ sauce, not sure my friends from Philly would approve.

This was followed by a plate of Pickle Chips with chipotle mayo. The slices of sour dills were coated and fried. This was a whole lot of sour, and for a little heat dip them in the accompanying chipotle mayo. Again, they may be an interesting mate to a cold beer but not to my liking.

A trio of wings arrived next and the chef sent the Guinness, the PB&J and the sriracha. I was happy to see both the drummette and the wingette parts of the wing. The wings were meaty, a good first sign, lightly coated and still moist inside. I decided to work my way up the spiciness ladder. First the PB&J. It may take a little getting used to but these were not bad. A bite of sweet and the nutty butter. Onto the Guinness. These were sorta non-descript. Wings should have character, these were neither sweet, nor spicy, nor tangy, not a big fan of this rendition. Then the Sriracha. They were the traditional Buffalo wings’ iridescent red. And the spiciness was there, good kick and with a little dip into the blue cheese sauce, I would order these again. One out of three ain’t bad.

A small bowl of chili arrived next. This contained both beef and beans, but was more liquid than meat and beans. It was first cloyingly sweet and then the spiciness kicked in. I was not a fan and would probably pass on this.

Johnny Utah’s touts itself as a rib and burger joint and the ribs arrived next. The chef immediately told the table they did not have a smoker. They start with full slabs of ribs, dry-coat and slow roast for a few hours, then finish in a covered roaster with sauce in the oven. The meat was fall off the bone tender, but the texture was almost spongy and there was little smoke and less BBQ flavor, it was more steamed meat than what I was hoping would be a down home slab of full-flavored pork. Another pass, but was served with some delicious cole slaw, which I really liked.

The special 10-ounce grass fed burger is served on a brioche bun for $5 and with numerous toppings, each guest can design their perfect combination. Since we could each order our own combination for the burger course, I asked for my normal bacon-cheeseburger medium-rare and added the sautéed onions. This combination, with fries, would raise the price to $12, still a very reasonable price. The first burger that arrived was missing the bacon, the server did a quick round-trip to the kitchen. When I cut it in half it was more well-done than my requested medium-rare so they offered to re-fire. The second burger was raw in the center. Not a good thing from a place that sells tons of burgers. I did taste around the edges and the meat was OK, medium flavor, with a good level of juiciness. The brioche bun was great, from neighboring Winfield Street deli, but the bacon was non-descript. These two main events were disappointing. On the positive side the fries were good and the thinly sliced onion rings were outstanding.

No trip to Johnny Utah’s is complete without an enormous milkshake. Ours was the Oreo. A foot-tall marshmallow dipped glass arrived filled with a vanilla milk shake and topped with whipped cream and more Oreos. It was a fun way to end the meal.

Overall, Johnny Utah’s is a fun place serving bar food. All of the dishes are designed to accompany numerous beers, laughter, a few unintended falls off the bucking bull and watching sports on TV. Go for the food? Not really. It is what it is…go for a fun time.

Really Liked

  • Sriracha Wings (6 for $7.95 12 for $13.95 24 for $26.95
  • Onion Rings
  • Cole Slaw
  • Oreo Milk Shake ($10)

Liked

  • PB&J Wings

Needs Improvement

  • Philly Egg Rolls ($10.95)
  • Pickle Chips ($5.95)
  • Guinness Wings
  • Homemade Beef Chili ($5.95)
  • BBQ Ribs (1/4 Rack $11.50 1/2 Rack $17.50 3/4 Rack $23.50 Full Rack $27.50)
  • Burger ($12)

80 Washington St. Norwalk, CT

203-299-0711

This was a media event. The author was not compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Stick with the Burgers @Bareburger

The second Connecticut location for Bareburger, in Harbor Point, opened six months ago, its second Fairfield County location (the first opened in downtown Ridgefield in 2013) as the micro-chain-gone-global expands its Connecticut offerings. For an overview of Bareburger and an exclusive interview with its founder, Euripides Pelekanos, click here.

Several months ago CTbites was invited to a media event at Bareburger in Stamford. Downpours and personnel issues left a less than favorable impression of the cuisine. After a three-month hiatus CTbites was invited back and treated to several appetizers, a few burgers and a dessert. Visit number two left a better impression; Bareburger serves very good burgers, with bold flavors and combinations; unfortunately, the appetizers are still a challenge.

The second visit started with three of the smaller selections. The first was the “Macho Fries,” which were ordered with both regular and sweet potato fries. The fries were topped with guacamole, pepper jack cheese, spicy pico de gallo, pickled Jalapeño peppers, and buttermilk ranch dressing, almost a Mexican poutine. The guacamole was very watery and more oniony than I prefer, the pico de gallo delivered even more onions, the Jalapeños and dressing added some kick and creaminess, respectively, but the pepper jack cheese was barely present, and the onions overwhelmed everything. The sweet potato fries were perfectly cooked, but the regular fries were limp.

The “Crispy Brussels Sprouts” were served with Manchego cheese and lemon. Unlike the first visit, the Brussels were well prepared with nice crispy edges and the Manchego was a good complement. I kept looking for the acidity of the lemon to brighten the dish, expecting the next bite to contain this ingredient, but the lemon was MIA, and it was needed to balance and brighten an, otherwise, uninspired dish.

The “Guapo Chop” salad was served with little gems romaine lettuce, topped with scoops of Queso Fresco cheese, guacamole, pickled Jalapeño peppers, pickled red onions, spicy pico de gallo, tortilla chips, and avocado basil dressing. There was a significant miscue on the first attempt and required a replacement. I really enjoyed the pickled onions and Jalapeño peppers but the thin guacamole and pico de gallo were again present and, not surprisingly, the onions overwhelmed the lettuce, which should have been the main focus of the dish. I thought the buttermilk dressing would balance the dish, but there was none present and I was a little reluctant to ask for a third attempt.

The evening took a significantly positive turn when burgers were ordered and delivered. Bareburger offers fourteen pre-determined combinations, plus the option to build your own, and my host was persistent that I sample a diverse array of meats since the menu contains beef, bison, wild boar, duck, elk, turkey, as well as vegetarian options.

The first was the “SoCal,” (seen above) which included a turkey patty, aged Cheddar cheese, pickled red onions, alfalfa sprouts, guacamole, on a griddled sprout bun. I was pleasantly surprised with the flavor and moistness of the turkey patty as well as how the various toppings complemented each other. The guacamole made its third appearance of the evening and this time it was a welcome addition. Since it is more a spread than a true guacamole it worked well to bring a creamy pungency and its heavy onion accents, and the pickled onions added crunch and sour notes. The bun was a good choice and the SoCal was my favorite burger of the evening.

The “Blue Elk” was the polar opposite side of the flavor spectrum, and if you are looking for bold flavors, this is a great choice. The elk was less gamey than I assumed, more a clean, rich flavor similar to a grass-fed beef patty, with a richness you would expect. The key to this combination was the inclusion of two strong, sweet components, the stout onions and the tomato fig jam, each was a fantastic complement to the elk. The country bacon added just a touch of saltiness, and the Amish Blue cheese kicked in a completely different profile, some would love the addition, while others would feel it fought with the other ingredients.

Since Bareburger does not offer a bacon-cheeseburger as one of its pre-determined combinations, I decided to “Be My Burger.” I started with an 8-ounce beef patty, and added country bacon, Colby cheese and Stout Onions. The meat presented a medium richness, and the sweet onions added a wonderful complex profile from the stout. I was not as fond of my cheese choice, the scant amount of crumbled Colby did not work well in the balance of flavors, and the Colby would have benefitted from a better melt. Likewise, the onions were diced and I would have preferred that they were served in larger pieces. The country bacon was soggy and offered little to the dish, I wish strip bacon was an option.

To accompany the burgers, I ordered a side of “Fries and Rings.” The fries were excellent, perfectly prepared with moist interiors surrounded by a thin crisp crust. The rings were coated in a very think, wheat flour based coating. The amount of coating and the boldness of the wheat overwhelmed the moist onions, like biting into fried wheat bread. Stick with the fries.

For dessert I ordered the “Flourless Chocolate Cake.” It was a cross between a chocolate lava cake and pudding. It was accompanied by a few marinated cherries. It was a very sweet way to end the meal.

Bareburger’s business model is to offer organic, healthier products, with unique and creative combinations. This is a not an inexpensive burger joint, more in line with restaurant prices than Shake Shack and Five Guys. A bacon-cheeseburger, fries and a soda will total more than $20 before tax and tip, probably $100 for a family of four. Look carefully at the pre-determined options as each could save $2-3 compared to a build your own. Overall, the burgers were very good, but numerous miscues on both visits need to be addressed, especially with these prices.

Really Liked

  • SoCal ($10.85)
  • Blue Elk ($12.95)
  • French Fries (3.50)

Liked

  • Bacon Cheeseburger ($12.95)
  • Flourless Chocolate Cake ($7.50)

Needs Improvement

  • Macho Fries ($11.95)
  • Guapo Chop ($10.95 / $16.95)
  • Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($6.85)
  • Onion Rings ($4.50)

21 Harbor Point Road – Stamford, CT 06902

203-890-9686

This was a private event. The author were compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Tavern 489 (Stamford) Serving Some Solid Dishes

ctb_489_octopusThe newest addition to the Springdale-Glenbrook neighborhood is Tavern 489, located at 489 Glenbrook Avenue. A stone’s throw from the Glenbrook train stop, the restaurant sits in the space that originally housed the Moosehead Bar decades ago (thank you “Hey Stamford”) and shares the building with the newly relocated and reopened Tawa (reviewed here). The restaurant is the brainchild of owners Eric Monte and Partner/ Executive Chef Regis Saget. Stamford residents also know Monte as the the owner of The Fez downtown, which brought Moroccan cuisine to center stage.

Chef Regis is no stranger to various international cuisines and the Fairfield County culinary world. He spent his childhood in southwest France before receiving joint degrees from culinary school in Morlaas, France as a chef and pastry chef. Before settling in Greenwich in 2000 he worked in various regions including Spain, England, Andorra, Switzerland, South Africa and the East. He settled in Fairfield Count and worked at La Colline Verte and St. Tropez in Fairfield and opened Savvy Restaurant in New Canaan, which earned the highest “Excellent” rating from the New York Times in July 2006.

The fully redesigned interior of Tavern 489  is reminiscent of an Adirondack mountain lodge complete with exposed M-Trusses, a canoe dangling from the ceiling, a full front-to-back 18-seat wooden bar along the right wall, additional wooden high-top tables and chairs plus a large wooden “picnic” table for larger groups, all drawing focus to the imposing floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace in the rear. The walls are adorned with photos of Ernest Hemingway. When I asked Monte about these photos, he told me that Hemingway, in addition to being a great writer, was the ultimate outdoorsman, a true man’s man, and his photos fit the rustic, outdoorsy feel he was striving to achieve. In addition to the rustic décor, Tavern 489 offers live music six days a week.

The current menu is very eclectic, reflecting the various regions from Chef Regis’s background. CTbites was recently invited to a dinner at Tavern 489 where Chef Regis prepared items that both appear on the current menu as well as several specials that oftentimes appear on the menu. They each showed a focus on bold flavors that emphasized the inherent flavor of each ingredient, while balancing and complementing the combinations. (Since this was a sponsored event the photos may not reflect the regular portion size.)

We enjoyed three appetizers.

ctb_489_tomato_soupThe first was a Cold Tomato soup. The chunky texture was “gazpacho style” and accentuated the sweetness of tomatoes, offset with just a touch of pungency from some onions and a touch of vinegar. This rendition was delightfully refreshing.

ctb_489_venison_meatballsI also enjoyed the Venison Meatballs. They were served in a “bone-canoe” and were firm in texture while maintaining a moist interior. The venison absorbed a good amount of smokiness and were complemented by a thin glaze of a red wine green peppercorn sauce. The meatballs were served with simple fingerling potatoes that complemented the venison with a little earthiness.

ctb_489_fried_oysters_singleThe third appetizer was the Taunton bay fried oysters. They were coated in a thick seasoned corn meal and deep fried to a golden brown. They were paired with a lemon tamarind tomato curry sauce to bring a little sweetness to the dish. The crust was a little tick, detracting a bit from the sweet oysters.

ctb_489_bison_burgerThe next course was a trio of hamburgers, two beef and the third was bison. The bison was served with lettuce, tomato, shallots, melted Burrata. The bison was rich and expertly prepared to medium-rare. The shallots were a good addition but I was not as fond of the inclusion of the Burrata.

The seasoned hunter angus beef burger was served with lettuce, tomato, and a truffle pesto The medium-rare patty was medium in flavor and I really liked how the earthiness of the truffle pesto complemented the meat.

ctb_489_blackened_angus_burgerThe last burger was the Blackened angus burger, served with lettuce, tomato, and topped with melted Bleu cheese. Similar to the pesto, the Bleu cheese elevated the mildness of the meat.  All of the burgers were served with home-made fries that were very good.

ctb_489_octopusThe burgers were followed by my favorite dish of the evening, the Charred octopus, served in a mélange of kidney beans, tomatoes, shallots, garlic, parsley and pomegranate chimichurri dressing. The slow cooked octopus sections were soft and moist, some of the most tender octopus I have ever eaten. It was combined with the other ingredients to create a vibrant array of bold flavors. The roasted tomatoes exploded with sweetness and the al dente prepared kidney beans offered a wonderful textural contrast. The entire profile was elevated by the pomegranate chimichurri sauce. This was my favorite dish of the evening.

ctb_489_tomohawk_steakThe table next shared the Tomahawk Steak, which the menu describes as 36 ounces. The wood platter was covered with the pre-sliced steak was accompanied with bowls of red potatoes, mixed greens, and broccoli rabe, a few grilled shallots, prosciutto wrapped asparagus and three sauces, a porcini, a green pepper and a poutine. The meat was served rare and was simply and properly seasoned. It was very tender and slightly juicy, but did have a fair amount of fat. The sauces were excellent and increased the profile of the steak. My favorite of the sauces was the poutine which added a wonderful level of earthiness to the steak.  The potatoes and broccoli rabe were simply prepared and delicious, but the asparagus were a little salty from the prosciutto.

ctb_489_chocolate_mousse

To finish the meal, we enjoyed a platter of chocolate mousse. This was ultra-creamy, light in texture and delivered a medium level of chocolate goodness.

Overall, Tavern 489 is a solid neighborhood spot that is also a good choice as a go-to restaurant for people looking for a menu with eclectic choice that deliver bold flavors in a relaxed environment. With a varied selection of beer and wines, there are also numerous beverage options to satisfy everyone.

Really Liked

  • Charred Octopus $14
  • Hunter Angus Burger $13
  • Blackened Angus Burger $12
  • Chocolate Mousse

Liked

  • Venison Balls
  • Cold Tomato Soup
  • Taunton Fried Oysters $12
  • Bison Burger $13
  • Dirty Tomahawk Steak $MP

 

 

The Cottage (Westport) Burger – Top-Tiered

16_cottage_burger_marrowChef Brian Lewis’ return to the Fairfield County restaurant scene has created quite a buzz over the last few months with his opening of The Cottage, plus an “Excellent” from the NY Times. With the summer months approaching it was time to see if Chef Lewis’ burger is deserving of that same distinction.

Simply named “Burger & Fries,” it includes Gruyere cheese, bacon-onion jam, fries, plus an option for a side of bone marrow (a recent addition). I ordered it medium-rare, included the bone marrow and was asked if I would also like some charred ramps on the burger since they were in season, yes to all.

It was served on a large wooden cutting board, the tall burger sitting aside the bone with a fork protruding from the top to scoop out the garlic topped marrow. The thick patty was seared to a crusty exterior while maintaining a perfect medium-rare on the interior. After one bite of the meat I knew this was a special burger, it was incredibly deep in flavor, probably the richest of any I have tasted and, as it cooled, the flavor intensified. The melted Gruyere was full of nutty goodness. Then the bacon-onion jam hit the palate…this was the best topping of any burger I tasted this year. It delivered an incredible amount of smoky and sweet, and included large chunks of bacon to textural offset the soft and luscious onions. The fun part, the bone marrow, was a treat that I very much enjoyed. Placing a dab on the burger added a level of decadence. If offered the ramps I would definitely choose to include them, they contributed a wonderful earthiness and the grilled sesame seed bun held all of the ingredients together with no issue. The fries were perfectly crisped on the exterior and soft on the interior, and lightly salted.

The Burger & Fries at The Cottage was outstanding. It is one of, if not the best burger in the area and it is absolutely worthy of an “Excellent” distinction.

256 Post Rd E, Westport, CT 06880

Elm’s (New Canaan) Outstanding Animal Style Burger

16 elm burger

The burger served at Elm Restaurant in New Canaan has been a perennial inclusion in my favorite burgers since it opened. Last year Chef Luke Venner assumed the hem as Executive Chef and he recently introduced the “Dry Aged Burger, double-double, animal style.” I was curious to this major change from the previous thick single-patty to the twin-patty thin style. After my visit I asked Chef Venner about the change and he told me that the new addition was the result of him introducing this version at a recent pop-up and receiving so many requests to place it on the menu.

I sat the bar, ordered the burger medium-rare and enjoyed watching old movies projecting onto the rear wall. When the burger arrived the first item I noticed was its height, rising at least five inches above the plate. A metal tin filled with French fries accompanied the burger.

“Animal Style” refers to the quintessential west coast burger chain IN-N-OUT Burger. This designation was traditionally found only on the “secret” menu (that everyone knew about) and referred to a layer of mustard slathered on the patty prior to grilling. At Elm, Chef Venner uses this term to describe his interpretation as “fully dressed” with a twist to the grilled mustard.

Elm’s burger includes two thin patties of dry aged beef blend from Pat LaFrieda topped with slices of American cheese, pickled kohlrabi, shredded lettuce, tomato, and a house-made sauce that includes ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, burnt onions, shiro dashi and other secret spices. All of these items were encased in a sesame seed Brioche bun.

The meat was wonderful, deep and rich and were dense, highly compressed, and still maintained a high level of juiciness. The cheese was incredibly creamy and perfectly melted. Then the sauce and kohlrabi kicked in and it was outstanding. The “Animal Style” effect was achieved by grilling the onions directly in the sauce, which intensified the flavors. The paper thin kohlrabi delivered a delightful sweet-sour combination which was balanced with the sweet tomato. The sauce was one of the best additions in the area, the shiro dashi brought an incredibly depth of flavor to the mayo-ketchup-mustard playfulness. The brioche‘s sweetness was the perfect choice for the other ingredients. The combination was incredibly delicious. The fries can be a challenge, they were fantastic on one visit and were not as great on another.

Overall this is one of the best burgers in the area. I am glad that the people who tasted it at the pop-up demanded Chef Venner place it on the menu so others can enjoy this fantastic rendition.

 

The National (Greenwich) “Ugly Burger” is a Beautiful Thing

rsz_160310_ctb_burger_3There is a new King of the Hill of hamburgers in Greenwich.

Since celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian opened The National several months ago at the lower end of Greenwich Avenue, I have received numerous emails telling me about its burger. On a sunny day I ventured to Greenwich, grabbed a table and ordered “THE NATIONAL UGLY BURGER” which includes Cabot Cheddar cheese, crispy Shallots, Ntl Sauce, and served with malt vinegar chips. I ordered it medium-rare.

The burger arrived and it was served on a wooden cutting board, with a pickle speared through the top of the bun. The melted cheese was oozing around the edges, dripping towards the serving board. The sautéed shallots were peeking from under the cheese, partnered with the edges of a single lettuce leaf. If the taste was as good as the presentation, this would be a great burger. The burger was accompanied by the chips that were vertically arranged in a separate metal vase.

After removing the pickle, I cut the burger in half and the interior was cooked exactly to medium rare. The patty was medium in size, possibly 5-ounces, with a nice crust and the interior presented a very loose grind. A quick taste of the meat…a medium level of richness, with at least two cuts. (A call to the restaurant after my visit confirmed the meat was brisket and chuck from Creek Stone Farm in Arkansas City, Kansas and ground in-house.) The cheese was thick, and expertly melted atop the patty with the sautéed shallots between the two. Not mentioned on the menu was a sauce that was shmeared on the Challah roll (from Royal Bakers in Danbury).

The first bite of the Ugly Burger was far from ugly…it was fantastic. The ingredients were perfectly balanced. The meat delivered a medium level of richness, was juicy and incredibly smoky. The melted Cheddar cheese was creamy and very nutty. The two unique and delicious ingredients were the sautéed shallots that were very sweet and the sauce, with a tomato-tanginess…they were excellent additions. And the smokiness that the wood-burning grill infused into the meat was more than outstanding. The challah bun was a great choice, not only with its taste but it did not disintegrate during the meal.

The burger was served with malt vinegar chips. Unfortunately, these were very disappointing. They were overcooked, nearing burnt, and over-salted. I only wish they would change the menu to include fries instead of the chips. With a $19 price tag for the Ugly Burger, guests deserve a better accompaniment.

Overall the National Ugly Burger was outstanding. It presented incredible flavors, perfectly prepared and delivered wonderful balance.

376 Greenwich Ave – Greenwich, CT 06830

(203) 861-6851

Parker Mansion (Westport) – Burger Review

ctb_parker_16_burgerParker Mansion opened recently in the Saugatuck section of Westport and I received several emails telling me I needed to visit and try their burger. With the weather more aligned with a good burger versus a hot bowl of soup I decided to see if the buzz was justified.

Located amongst Fleischer’s, Kawa Ni, Rainbow Thai, Rizzuto’s, and The Whelk, Parker Mansion is the latest opening in the burgeoning Saugatuck restaurant scene. The free-standing building has a few parking spots in the rear (careful in the rain as it is unpaved) and the entrance is along the right side of the building. When you enter, the bar is located to the left and if you continue down the hallway there are stairs leading to the second floor dining room. The bar has eight stools with three TVs broadcasting CNN, ESPN and MSNBC. In the middle of the room is a high-top table for six, plus additional seating for fourteen at traditional tables. The upstairs dining room seats approximately 30 guests, with a balcony overlooking the Saugatuck River. The atmosphere is open with clean lines to the décor. I chose a table in the bar area and was promptly greeted by the server, who was excellent throughout my visit.

The lunch menu offers Entrée Salads, Daily Features (entrées), and Burgers & Sandwiches.

I ordered “The Parker…chuck, short rib, porterhouse blend, cheddar, the works” and asked it prepared medium rare. The server asked if I would like fries, onion rings or sweet potato fries and I chose the fries. I inquired about “the works” and the server told me it included lettuce, tomato, frizzled onions, pickle slices, and special sauce.

When the burger arrived the first item I noticed was the size, Parker Mansion gives its guests a nice-sized burger, the patty probably weighs 6-8-ounces. The frizzled onions sat under the patty, the single slice of cheddar was melted on top and was further topped with the shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato and pickles. These ingredients were all encased in a griddled Kaiser roll. It was priced at $11, including fries, which is a very good deal.

ctb_parker_cut_burger
I cut the burger in half and it was prepared just a tinge beyond my requested medium-rare. I tasted the meat and it was fantastic, some of the best meat I have eaten, this could be a major burger find. The meat was a small grind and was delicately handled for a loose texture…kudos to the meat and the preparation. There was just a touch of sear on the exterior of the patty, more would have been preferred.

Now for the test. I bit…the taste was the great meat plus the intense tang from the pickle. The rest of the ingredients were lost. How could this be? It looked so good. I decided to taste each ingredient individually. The cheddar was very bland, not a rich cheddar, the tomato slice was also less than flavorful (it was still mid-February), the lettuce was, well, shredded lettuce and the bun did not add anything. Several bites and each was the same burger-pickle combo. Such potential from the meat, lost. I tried a few of the shoestring fries. They were good and were cooked and seasoned well.

Overall, I was incredibly excited when I saw the plate and tasted the patty, the meat was fantastic. I thought this was going to contend for a top spot. Unfortunately, the other ingredients were not in the same league, and did not add to the overall combination. I hope Parker Mansion changes the accompaniments. With the quality of the meat, Parker Mansion has the potential to create one of the best burgers in the area.

541 Riverside Ave., Westport, CT 06880

203.557.9325

Gates (New Canaan) Reopens

ctb_gates_16_bar_fotorWhen is Gates opening? How many of us have been asked, and have asked others, that question?

Good news…the anticipated re-opening is almost here and CTbites was invited by the new owners to sample several of the items that will be featured on the opening menu.

Gates, an institution that opened in 1979 as the first restaurant on Forest Street, was sold last year, and many residents compared the closing to the loss of an old friend.

Residents who have enjoyed a burger and beer at the bar or a family dinner in the dining room should feel a sense of excitement when the doors re-open very shortly. Those who have longed for that burger and beer at the bar or a family dinner in the dining room will again enjoy their meals at Gates – and yes, the name will remain ‘Gates.’ Diners will also find comfort in the direction that the new owners are taking to maintain the modernized nostalgia of this New Canaan institution.

They told CTbites, with children in the New Canaan school system, they wanted to create an inviting atmosphere where families can go for a great meal, and adults can enjoy a burger and beer in the bar. “Gates has been here for 35 years and we want it to be here for another 35 years.”

Gates is part of a larger, historical New Canaan institution that dates back over 125 years. Before looking at the new Gates, let’s rewind the calendar to 1882, when Henry B. Rodgers purchased, demolished and built the current structure using 650,000 bricks that were transported to Stamford by boat and on to New Canaan. Formerly a shoe factory, Rogers converted the space to manufacture clothing for the newest rage of that era, bicycling. Over the years it housed a shoe company, a linen shop, a drug store and a beauty shop. The first New Canaan gas lamp was situated in front of the Main Street entrance and Rogers was one of the first four residents in town who owned a telephone. The building has been embedded in the history of town and will be for years to come.

The interior of Gates has undergone a complete renovation under the guidance of Company K, a New Canaan based interior design firm. It now showcases the previously hidden brick walls and wooden beams. The new layout presents an open kitchen with “kitchen-bar seating”, and wood-topped tables under a newly coffered ceiling gently illuminated by retro lighting. The original iron gates that previously adorned the hostess area have been reconditioned and are floating between the bar and the dining area.

The centerpiece of the new bar area is an amazingly striking, refinished crafted metal bar fabricated by local artisan, Chris Curnan. Wood and metal booths offer an urban vibe for those looking for a more casual dining experience. The beverage menu highlights a wide selection of beer, ranging from local CT breweries to international favorites. The glass-front refrigerator behind the bar sports additional large and small label selections. Live music will be an occasional addition when dinner service begins to wind down on Saturday nights.

ctb_gates_16_chicken_2_fotorThe culinary concept for the new Gates is American comfort that, “will bring passion, heart and soul to the food.” It will feature a wood burning oven for a selection of artisanal flatbreads, plus a wood burning rotisserie to slow cook a variety of meats and poultry, each prepared to “melt in your mouth.” While these items act as the centerpiece for many of the entrées, they will also serve as the foundation in all of the sandwiches on the lunch menu. The opening menu will include a burger and hand-cut fries, Rotisserie Chicken, and assorted fresh fish and steaks. Several of these items were served during the pre-opening tasting and were delicious, an excellent indication of things to come.

The new Gates will be a destination for adults and families seeking a delicious meal, sports enthusiasts seeking a beer and burger in the bar, beer lovers thirsting for a wide selection of international and local brews, and couples looking to end an evening with a little live music and a nightcap.

Stay tuned as CTbites continues to provide additional details on the re-opening of Gates.

10 Forest St, New Canaan, CT 06840

1020 Post (Darien) – Pretty Ordinary Burger

ctb_1020_burger_1Almost every time the subject of where to eat in Darien arises, the name Ten Twenty Post is mentioned. Some have also recommended the burger and the last time I ate their House Burger was two years ago…it was time to give it a re-try. When I arrived around noon the twelve tables on the rear terrace were beginning to fill and without a cloud in the sky, all of the umbrellas were open and people were either looking for full sun or hiding in the shade.

The server informed me that the “House Burger on Soft Roll” was served with Gruyere cheese (the current website states Jarlsberg cheese), lettuce, tomato and onion, with a side of French fries. I asked if they could hold the lettuce, tomato and onion and add a couple of strips of bacon. I also asked that it be prepared medium-rare. As I sipped my water I found I was in a very small minority, almost everyone was drinking beer or wine. It was a festive mid-week lunch for many.

The burger arrived. The exterior of the patty had a good sear, the cheese was nicely melted but the two strips of bacon were just thrown on top as one…both on one side of the patty, not a lot of care in its placement. The bun, which was a basic, soft bakery bun, was nicely grilled. There was a good sized mound of fries and several slices of B&B pickles.

ctb_1020_burger_2I cut the burger in half. My guess would place the weight in the 5 oz. range, and the size was more on the thin versus thick side. It was prepared a little beyond medium, much more than my requested medium rare. The grind was very compressed, and there was very little juice escaping. I first tasted the meat, it had a good level of beefiness, very good flavor. A taste of the bacon and Gruyere cheese gave me a different impression, both were on the bland side, and the bun was also not very flavorful. A bite of the combination gave a beefy flavor with the other ingredients adding little to the dish. There was just a hint of juiciness in my first taste but it became drier with each succeeding bite. By the time I started the second half, the burger was very dry. The fries were nicely cooked and seasoned and the B&B pickle slices were excellent. The cost of the burger was $17, which was high for its quality.

Overall it was a flavorful patty that was overcooked, causing it to dry out, with bland toppings. I previously rated the burger a “6” on my 1-10 scale, but given the blandness of all of the items (with the exception of the meat) I now rate the House Burger at Ten Twenty a “5”.