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.

 

Hapa Burger – Food Truck Killin’ It

16_ctb_hapa_burger

Almost a year ago I visited Hapa Food truck and ordered three tacos. Little did I know that the smiling face of owner Chris Gonzales, who prepared those delicious tacos was hiding an incredible talent of delivering bold, balanced and creative cuisine. After I finished the tacos he told me I needed to try the burger. I was too full at the time and told him I would come back. Shame on me for waiting a year. Since that time Hapa has developed quite a following and Chris recently opened Miro in Fairfield, and a colleague who visited Miro told me it was fantastic,

Well…fast forward and I recently returned to Hapa for the burger. The smiling face of Chris was replaced by an equally smiling and friendly face of his wife. I ordered the HAPA burger with fries and she asked if I liked Brussels sprouts, of course I do.

The HAPA burger consists of grass-fed beef topped with pork belly, Vermont cheddar, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, house aioli, encased in HAPA’s signature ube bun.

Let’s start with the bun. Ube is a purple yam. The HAPA bun was a sweet potato bun (made with pureed ube) which gave it the distinctive purple-blue hue and a high level of sweetness, a brioche on steroids. Inside the bun was a large beef patty, which was prepared exactly to medium rare. The meat was delicious, with a loose, medium grind and slightly seared. A delightful and creamy melted slice of Cheddar cheese was melted on the patty., and then the culinary boldness appeared with the accompanying ingredients. There was a slice of pork belly atop the burger that contributed a wonderful layer of smokiness and juiciness from the fat. Now the HAPA burger offered another level of flavor…the caramelized onions. These were cooked low and slow to create a soft and delicate texture, with the inherent sweetness elevated with the addition of brown sugar. The aioli intensified an already bold combination with another level of sweet and spicy, with a touch of wasabi to kick up the heat. A thick slice of tomato and lettuce rounded out the outrageous combination.

The fries were equally creative and delicious. Topped with a cheese sauce and sweet and spicy seasonings, they were the perfect accompaniment to the burger. There was tremendous flavor in both.

Let’s not forget the Brussels sprout. They were equally outstanding. Deep fried and then finished with pico de gallo, papaya seed dressing they are some of the best sprouts I have eaten.

Overall the HAPA burger can challenge any from restaurants in the area and is a contender for best burger in Fairfield County…it is that good.

 

 

 

The Trident (Sausalito)

rsz_1dsc_1474

After a wonderful trip to Muir Woods and a hair-raising drive up/down a windy road we decided to have lunch in a relaxing environment of Sausalito and chose The Trident. It offers both inside seating plus tables on a large deck with a million-dollar panoramic view of San Francisco. It was a no-brainer grabbing a table outside.

The menu offers salads, sandwiches, burgers and plated food. One of the items, the “Golden Gate Double Crab” sandwich caught my eye. It was described as Dungeness Crab Meat, Soft Shell Crab, Arugula, Pepperoncini, House Aioli, French Roll. This had the makings of a great sandwich. I ordered it plus a side of fries. With a hefty $28 price tag, it was a major splurge.

The sandwich did not skimp on the ingredients. The roll was first slathered with a little aioli, topped with arugula and roasted pepperoncini. A large mound of Dungeness crab was next added, which was topped with a whole fried soft shell crab. The highlight of the sandwich was the sweet Dungeness, which was delicious the crispy soft shell added a great textural contrast and the arugula added the needed peppery notes. If I had one nit to the combination it was the pepperoncini, it was just a touch too spicy and detracted from the other wonderful sweet nd bright flavors.

 

The fries were pretty basic, perfectly prepared with a crispy exterior and moist interior. Service was very laid back. They prepared my wife’s salad incorrectly which was removed for a re-do and the server was told, she was “Oh OK,” with not an apology, just a little SF’ish for us east coasters. Salad #2 was delicious.

 

Overall, I would very much recommend The Trident for its view, the food and a very laid back atmosphere.

Old Greenwich Social Club

ctb_ogsc_burger

Old Greenwich Social Club opened last November, replacing an area icon, Mackenzie’s Bar and Grill, on Sound Beach Avenue overlooking the Old Greenwich train station. The location is convenient for a drink with colleagues at the end of the commute, a relaxing meal with the family, dinner with friends or just relaxing at the bar.

ctb_ogsc_entrance

The brainchild of local Jed Simon, this newly reopened watering hole presents an atmosphere reminiscent of “Cheers.” The wooden double-door entrance leads directly into the large bar area dominated by a U-Shaped bar. On one side, numerous taps offer a wide selection of beers including Bronx “Uptown Rye,” Jack’s Abby Express, Alagash “White,” Thirsty Dog, Omnipollo “Shilkmake” and Two Roads “Session IPA.” To the right of the bar is the main dining area with booths, a long wood-topped table plus others covered with retro-vinyl. Adorning the walls are photos from years past and sports memorabilia. During the summer months, guests can enjoy their meals on the patio to the left of the bar. This is definitely a local-oriented restaurant. On the afternoon I visited, Simon was hosting a happy hour for local teachers who missed St. Patrick’s Day and hired a trio to perform.

ctb_ogsc_interior

In January Chopped champion and celebrity Chef Alex Garcia joined OGSC. Chef Garcia was born in Cuba and has been at the forefront of the popularization of Cuban food with his association with numerous New York restaurants including Patria, Erizo Latino, Calle Ocho, the Copacabana Supper Club, Babalu Restaurant and Lounge, and A.G. Kitchens. Chef Garcia is slowly adding his nuances to a predominantly classic American-based menu, with a smattering of international dishes. In designing the menu, Simon was sensitive in maintaining several of the favorites from Mackenzie’s.

I was invited to sample several dishes as well as Chef Garcia’s additions.

ctb_ogsc_smoked_trout

From the “For The Table” section the chef prepared the “Smoked Trout Dip” and the “Bacon Wrapped Dates.” The trout was an individual glass jar was filled with the fish paté, served with large, thin slices of watermelon radish, flatbread crackers, fried tortillas, with three gherkins protruded from the top of the jar. The dip was creamy, with a mild smokiness, and when combined with the gherkin or the radish atop one of the crackers, created a delicious balance. This is more a single serving than a table share.

ctb_ogcs_dates_2

The dates included six almond stuffed dates were wrapped in bacon and served with a swath of Blue cheese sauce. The combination of the ingredients was delightful with a wonderful sweetness from the dates and the creamy cheese sauce. The thick slices of bacon were less salty than expected and the almond offered good textural contrast. While some of the wrapped dates were well prepared, the bacon on others was burnt.

The next dish was a sampler of three separate offerings from the “Small Plates” and “Between Bread” sections.

ctb_ogsc_tacos

My favorite of the three was the “Lobster and Crab Roll (right).” The filling was excellent. It delivered bright, crisp flavors, emphasizing the sweet lobster and crab meats with just a hint of pungency from the onion. The filling was held together with the slightest amount of Old Bay infused mayonnaise, nestled in a leaf of lettuce, all in a soft, buttery bun. The “Fish Taco” (center) was served on a single tortilla, topped with cabbage slaw and finished with a layer of Cascabel salsa. The lightly coated fish was perfectly fried. It would have benefitted from a touch of seasoning; it was a little bland. The slaw was delicious with the addition of julienned mango, which added a delightful sweetness. The “Korean Style Braised Short Rib” (left) included slowly braised short rib, that was shredded, slathered in an Asian BBQ sauce and finished with cucumber slaw. The meat was one of the best I have tasted, rich in flavor and incredibly tender, and the vegetables added a good level of spiciness. Unfortunately, the BBQ sauce overwhelmed the other ingredients.

The “Pat La Freida Burger” (at the top of the article) was served with a scant amount of melted cheese, a thin slice of raw onion, lettuce, and tomato on a soft potato bun. Accompanying the burger were seasoned fries, pickle slices and OG Sauce, and branded into the top of the bun were the OG initials. Prior to cooking the patty was seasoned with a variety of spices including salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder and then splashed with Worcestershire sauce. It was grilled to medium-well (that is overcooked for me), the grind of the meat was highly compressed (I prefer a loose grind) and the seasoning overwhelmed the meat. The OG sauce was a good addition to balance the bold seasonings and created a better combination. The seasoned fries were well prepared, although added even more bold flavors.

ctb_ogsc_salmon

The other entree was the “Glazed Salmon,” served over braised leeks and lobster mashed potatoes and presented within a vertical shredded potato ring. The salmon was finished with a glaze of Whisky-maple sauce and black pepper. The kitchen prepared the salmon to medium-well, was a little dry and benefitted from the sweet contrast of the maple-honey glaze. The leeks were delicious and worked well with the salmon but the lobster mashed potatoes were a bit bland.

ctb_ogsc_brulee

Save room for dessert, especially the Caramel Crème Brulée. The OGSC version was excellent, with an extremely luscious Crème topped with a perfectly melted sugar topping. This was one of the best crème brulées I have eaten in quite some time.

Overall, I really liked the menu that the Old Greenwich Social Club has created. It offers a diverse selection for moms, dads, kids and adults in an environment for locals to bring family, friends and colleagues for a relaxed time. There were several misses by the kitchen on my visit with seasoning and temperatures, but the bones are in place for Old Greenwich residents to enjoy a good time in a familiar watering hole with drinks and food.

Really Liked

  • Smoked Trout Dip ($11)
  • Lobster and Crab Roll ($18)
  • Crème Brulée

Liked

  • Bacon Wrapped Dates ($7)
  • Fish Taco ($13)

Needs Improvement

  • Korean Style Braised Short Rib ($14)
  • Pat La Freida Burger ($13; cheese or bacon add $2)
  • Glazed Salmon ($24)

148 Sound Beach Ave, Old Greenwich, CT 06870

(203) 990-3033

 

 

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

Barrel House in Stamford: Pizza, Beer and Burgers

What is the result of combining an incredible selection of local beers, a wide choice of meats and vegetables to join delicious Mozzarella and red sauce atop a great pizza crust, with an atmosphere that is simultaneously relaxed and exciting? Barrel House in Stamford.

Barrel House opened last December in the space that formerly housed Market and Patrizia’s restaurants with a focus on pizza, burgers and and a vast array of local small brewed beers. The second restaurant by the owners of Cotto Wine Bar down the street, Claudio and Silvy Ridolfi, designed a very different atmosphere and menu. Silvy told CTbites, “We wanted people to come to Barrel House and enjoy pizza and burgers with friends.” From the moment you walk through the door, you know this will be a lively and fun-filled experience.

The restaurant seats over 100 guests in a combination of banquettes, high-top communal tables, and regular tables, all surrounded by rough hewn reclaimed wood walls and illuminated by retro-bulbs hanging indiscriminately from the ceiling. The entire left side of the dining room is occupied by the bar, with three TVs and a twenty-dispenser beer tap offering an array of local limited edition brews. Silvy mentioned, “Some of our beers are only available at Barrel House for a limited time. We work with many local breweries to offer our guests some very special beers.” The twenty-beer aluminum tap dispenser is like none I have seen, and many of the names were new to me including Triple Karmeliet, Left Hand Stout Nitro, Evil Twin Biscotti Break, Beer’d Whisker Witt and Troegs Scratch Series Choc Stout. In addition, Barrel House offers several wines by the glass, cocktails, and a few specialty cocktails.

The menu is divided into several sections, including Appetizers, Soups & Salads, Entrée, and Pizza…CTbites was invited to sample some of the appetizers, a few pizzas and one of the burgers.

The first appetizer was the Limoncello Wings, which can be ordered in a group of 6- or 12-wings. They were served with a side of chunky Gorgonzola cheese plus carrots and celery. The wings arrived, split at the joint, and lathered in a sauce that mixed Claudio’s Limoncello recipe with a spicy red sauce. The wings were slightly crisped on the exterior and moist on the interior. The resultant Limoncello sauce was more Buffalo-style, not too spicy. Dipping a winglet in the blue cheese created the traditional Buffalo-Gorgonzola cheese combination, and a great start to share with a few beers.

The other appetizer I enjoyed was the Eggplant Croquettes. Three golf-ball sized orbs were sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and served alongside a small dish of Marinara sauce. The croquettes were crispy on the exterior with the filling comprised of eggplant, smoked Provolone cheese, and Mozzarella cheese wonderfully gooey. These mini-eggplant parmesan balls were even better when dipped into the Marinara sauce.

Since a majority of the menu is focused on pizza, it was time to move to the main event. Barrel House offers two sizes, the regular, which is ample for two (or one with a very large appetite) and the “Pala.” The server mentioned it would serve 3-4, but it can easily be shared by 5 or 6. When it arrived I was overwhelmed by its size, and pleasantly surprised that the kitchen decided to create three separate pies on one large crust. The toppings were (a) a traditional pepperoni with Mozzarella and red sauce, (b) a “Broccoli” with rabe, sausage, red peppers and Mozzarella, and (c) a Diavola” with hot soppressata, Mozzarella, cherry peppers and black olives. When I asked the server about the three sections she stated that you can order the Pala with one, two or three separate combinations.

The first test of any pie is the crust, it sets the stage for the quality of the rest of the pie. Barrel House’s crust is outstanding, light and airy, like biting into a cloud, with just a hint of salt and a little chewiness. It is definitely one of the best in the area. The Pala was pre-cut into twelve pieces, each quite large, and the crust was ultra-thin throughout, and it was a bit difficult maneuvering the slices onto the plate Once there, each of the three sectors presented very distinct, and incredibly flavorful, combination.

The boldest was the “Diavola.” The diced cherry peppers were spicy, but not incendiary and the saltiness of the olives created a great salty-spicy balance, which were complemented by the soppressata and a wonderful red sauce. The pepperoni was my next stop and many judge a great pie by the pepperoni and Barrel House’s was as good as any. The pepperoni slices were razor thin, crispy, and delivered great flavor. A simple pepperoni pizza would be a great choice. The white broccoli rabe and sausage was a mild alternative to its two spicy neighbors. The sweet sausage ovals were a great accompaniment to the broccoli rabe and the Mozzarella cheese.

I also enjoyed a regular-sized “Veggie” that can be ordered either as a “white” or “red” pie. Mine was made without the red sauce and included eggplant, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and zucchini atop melted Mozzarella cheese. Each slice was dedicated to one of the toppings and they were delightful, mild, and earthy. The red sauce would be an excellent addition and I would order it “red” on the next visit.

I also sampled one of Barrel House’s Bacon Cheese Burgers, which is an 8-ounce patty served with melted Cheddar cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, on a brioche. The meat, bacon, cheese and bun were delicious, but the onions were much too sweet, distracting from the rest of the burger. I will call this burger a work-in-progress and I would order next time without the onions.

Overall, the downtown Stamford culinary scene has a new, and great place for pizza, burgers and beer. With a hip vibe, a great selection of beers and loads of toppings to make a fantastic pie, walk in, sit down and enjoy the atmosphere and the food with friends.

249 Main Street – Stamford, CT – 06901

203-890-9922

Really Liked

  • Eggplant Croquettes
  • Diavola pie
  • Pepperoni pie
  • Sausage and broccoli rabe pie

Liked

  • Limoncello wings
  • Veggie pie
  • Burger (without onions)

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