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.

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Spiga – Old World Meets New Italian in New Canaan

Spiga Wine Bar opened quietly in New Canaan a few weeks ago, offering a menu that combines old world Italian red sauce cuisine with modern interpretations of classic dishes. As reported in the CTbites Sneak Peek, the new owners redesigned the interior to offer a family focus for early guests followed by a hip environment as the evening progresses. During its opening weekend, my wife and I visited after a movie and then again with friends for a late lunch. On both occasions we were all impressed with the cuisine, but were a little taken aback by the noise. CTbites was subsequently invited by the owners to visit one afternoon to sample additional items, discuss the changes envisioned to the menu and how the owners are addressing the desire of guests to enjoy conversation with friends and family.

Every visit to Spiga should start with a selection of their Italian meats and cheeses. Ours included Prosciutto di Parma, Soppressata and Porchetta, Mozzarella cheese and olives. Each of the meats offered a different level of spiciness, from the mild Prosciutto to the spicy Soppressata, and all of them were delicious. They can be ordered individually or as a group of one to four meats with Mozzarella.

The menu includes numerous combinations of pizzas, from a simple Margherita to an elaborate “New England” with lobster. The crust of the rectangular shaped personal 12” pizza is crispy from edge to center, with only the slight bend in a slice when lifted. Some may choose to use a knife and fork; this might be a requirement for several of the “salad” topped pies.

I sampled three different combinations. My favorite was the “Calabrese,” which combined a layer of melted Mozzarella cheese and San Marzano tomato sauce, topped with the spicy Sopressata Calabrese and finished with drizzles of hot oil and honey. This sweet-spicy combination offered great heat from the sopressata and the hot oil, offset by a drizzle of the sweet honey. The cheese mellowed the heat and the sauce added even more sweetness.

The “Di Parma” started with melted fresh mozzarella plus chunks of fresh tomatoes and topped with a large mound of lightly dressed arugula and a generous portion of San Danielle prosciutto. The prosciutto was outstanding, with a delightfully soft texture and the cheese and sauce were delicious. I was not as big a fan of the dressed arugula as others, preferring an undressed version.

I was a little apprehensive when the “Roasted Beet” pizza was delivered. It included San Marzano tomato sauce, arugula, cubes of local roasted beets, goat cheese and drizzled with Balsamic reduction. This melding of a salad and pizza was very tasty. The cubes of beets worked well with both the mozzarella and the creamy goat cheese, adding a sweet earthiness to the dish, balanced by the peppery (and in this case undressed) arugula.

I sampled three of the small plates during my visits. My favorite was the “Fried Meatballs” topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, basil and Ricotta cheese. The meatballs were excellent, soft on the interior, surrounded by a crispy exterior and delivered great flavor with just a hint of garlic. The sweet San Marzano sauce was fantastic and the dollops of Ricotta added great creaminess to the dish.

I also enjoyed the “Roasted Brussels Sprouts,” and included a large serving of fried sprouts, paired with crispy pancetta pieces and finished with a honey truffle oil. The sprouts were perfectly fried, crispy on the edges and still firm throughout. The fried pancetta added wonderful salty-smoky flavor and with the cheese added just enough salt to perk the palate.

The last small plate was the “Portuguese Grilled Octopus” that was served with crispy Coppa, baby potatoes, and micro greens. The octopus was very tender, but the texture was off-putting and spongy, and it would have benefitted from a charring on the exterior and the soft textures continued with the potatoes. The crispy Coppa added a slight crunch to the dish, but the current version was not to my liking.

There are numerous salads, with my favorite the “Farro and Quinoa Salad,” served with avocado, cucumbers, scallions, heirloom cherry tomatoes, grilled fennel and finished with lemon-EVOO. The quinoa was a great earthy canvas for the other ingredients. The sweet cucumbers and tomatoes were balanced by the fennel and scallions, and brightened by the lemon dressing.

Another large salad was the “Campagna Salad,” with spinach, golden apples, fresh pears, roasted walnuts, cranberries, Gorgonzola cheese, and Balsamic vinaigrette. A large mound of spinach was surrounded by the sweet thinly sliced fruits, crunchy nuts and pungent cheese. Each forkful brought a different combination of flavors.

With pastas ranging from a home-style spaghetti and meatballs to lobster fettuccine, I decided to try a rich pasta and a light pasta. The “Short Rib Ravioli” was made in-house with a rich, meaty short rib filling encased in a thin pasta sheet and served with a wild mushroom marsala sauce. The deep flavor of the meat was complemented by the earthiness of the wild mushroom and the Marsala sauce. As the cool weather arrives, this will be an excellent comfort option.

On the lighter side, the “Linguini Vongole” was very good. A medium portion of house-made linguini was served in a simple clam broth, with an abundance of cockles, baby clams, roasted garlic, and seasoned with parsley and red chili peppers. The broth was flavorful with a hint of garlic. The pasta was just a touch on the thick side, and the pasta and shellfish were slightly overcooked.

The “Market Cioppino” was excellent. A bowl of lobster, shrimp, calamari, swordfish (this changes daily) and clams, swimming in a seafood tomato broth was served with grilled crostini. Each was perfectly cooked and maintained a soft texture. The broth was delicious. A little red pepper flakes on the table for those, like me, who prefer a little more heat would have made this a perfect rendition.

Overall, Spiga is delivering wonderful pizzas, small plates, salads and main course. I asked the owner about the noise and he told me that they purchased sound dampening material that is being installed throughout the dining area. Likewise, Spiga’s opening menu was very large (this is the owners’ first venture into New Canaan) and they wanted to understand the likes and dislikes versus their other restaurants. Over the next few weeks, the menu will more align with the tastes of the New Canaan guests.

Many thanks to Janes Beiles of Jane Beiles Photography for these wonderful photos.

136 Main St – New Canaan, CT 06840

(203) 920-1351

Really Liked

  • Meat Platter – Prosciutto di Parma, Soppressata and Porchetta with Mozzarella ($25.50)
  • Calabrese Pizza ($16)
  • Fried Meatballs ($9)
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($9)
  • Short Rib Ravioli (Lunch $17; Dinner $20)
  • Market Cioppino (Lunch $23; Dinner $26)

Liked

  • Di Parma Pizza($16)
  • Roasted Beet Pizza ($17)
  • Farro and Quinoa Salad (Lunch $12; Dinner $15)
  • Campagna Salad (Lunch $10; Dinner $13)
  • Linguini Vongole (Lunch $18; Dinner $20)

Needs Improvement

  • Portuguese Grilled Octopus ($15)

The author was compensated for this review; the meal on the last visit was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Nosh Hound Food Truck Rolls into Stamford: Global Cuisine with Deliciously, Bold Combinations

Nosh Hound Eatery is the newest entry to the Stamford Food Truck scene.When I saw the post by my buddy over at Hey Stamford, I was curious. When I read his praise and a menu that really intrigued me, it had potential, and I decided to drive to Stamford and give it a shot.

Nosh Hound is the brainchild of owners Sam Ralbovsky and Maycie Maringer.  After graduating from the Culinary program at Johnson & Wales University and a three-month cross country food inspired road trip, they returned to Sam’s hometown of Stamford, CT. The two young cooks became enamored by the diverse cooking styles they encuntered on their cross country adventure and wanted to show their passion with a menu of “global cuisine experienced through the medium of sandwiches, snacks, and small bites.”

The menu is full of incredibly creative combinations. I smiled when I saw the heading “The Usuals,” which laid out combinations from Hamburguesa Americana (chorizo spiced beef, onions, Jalapeños, white American cheese and a chipotle “secret sauce”) to a VLT (smoked wild mushrooms, fried green tomatoes, arugula, sun-dried tomato aioli on rye toast). Nothing was “usual” about the menu. They start with foods that we all grew up with and then transform them with addition flavors and textures, inspired by various regions of the world, a Philly Cheesesteak with a Korean twist, a hot dog inspired by eastern Europe or a chicken sandwich with Latin flair.

The truck is new to the streets of Stamford, a mere three weeks, and they are still getting a feel for locations. The Facebook page states that they are parked on Summer Street across from the Ridgeway Shopping Mall on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but as I waited for my food I was told you might also find them parked in front of Dairy Queen and over at Landmark Square, or late at night in SoNo in the circle in front of Harlan Publick.

On my first visit I ordered two sandwiches, the Southern Sammy and the Korean Cheesesteak.

My clear favorite of the two was the Southern Sammy. It was outstanding. It included several pieces of buttermilk fried chicken, topped with slaw, house sweet pickles, Cajun aioli, and served on a brioche bun. With a few of the chicken pieces jutting from the bun I first tasted the fried chicken. It was perfectly fried, but I yearned for a little more seasoning on the coating. That desire for more seasoning was more than satisfied as I worked my way through the combination. The slaw was delicious, adding more crunch to the sandwich and the Cajun aioli was nicely spiced. The sweet pickles were sweet-spicy and the Brioche was a great complement to the ingredients. The sandwich was a great balance of spicy, sweet, crunchy, creamy and buttery. I highly recommend the Southern Sammy.

The Korean Cheesesteak was served on a traditional long roll and included Bulgogi, caramelized onions, melted white American cheese and Sriracha mayo. It was served open-faced and my initial thought was that if the taste was as bold as the visual appeal, it would be a great sandwich. Care needs to be taken to slowly close the roll prior to the first bite. It also offered an enormous boldness of flavors. Unfortunately, the beef marinade was a little overwhelming, much too much sauce, and then the spiciness of the Sriracha mayo kicked in. As much as the melted American cheese tried to balance the spicy-teriyaki, it could not. Likewise, the slivers of scallion that topped the sandwich added more pungency. I kept looking for the caramelized onions for some sweetness, but they were not present in my sandwich, a little growing pains mis-cue during assembly. Adjustment to the marinade could drastically improve this sandwich’s balance.

After my visit I reached out to Sam and Maycie and they were excited about the chicken and disappointed in the cheesesteak and asked me to return. There was great flavor coming out of that truck and on my second visit I enjoyed two new items from the menu plus a cheesesteak 2.0.

The Bangkok Fish Tacos included beer battered Mahi Mahi, coconut, peanut slaw, pickled Thai chile, and a red curry aioli. The thick pieces of fish were lightly coated to give just a hint of crunch while maintaining a juicy and soft interior. The flavors were enhanced by the red curry aioli, which added a little heat and the coconut and peanut slaw added some texture. The pickled Thai chilies added even more complementing flavors and left a nice amount of heat behind with each bite. It was a fabulous taco in both flavor and balance.

I was curious how they would blend a vegetarian option onto the menu with their bold creativity and the VLT quickly answered my question. Served on toasted rye bread, the VLT combined a lightly coated and fried green tomato, with smoked and fried wild mushrooms, arugula and a schmear of sun dried tomato aioli. The lightly coated tomato slice was a great canvas for the other ingredients. The mushrooms offered tremendous flavor, but were just a touch burnt on the edges, and the arugula and sun dried tomato aioli were perfect to brighten the dish and add some spicy notes from the peppery arugula. This is a vegetarian option that even a carnivore like me would order again.

They insisted I try their revised Korean Cheesesteak and I am glad I did. The marinade was complementing the beef, which was now the centerpiece of the sandwich and the inclusion of the two-hour caramelized onions added a wonderful sweetness. In addition, the melted American cheese and the Sriracha aioli were lessened and were in the background to add the Korean spiciness and umami to the sandwich. All of these changes created a superb cheesesteak.

Overall, Stamford has a new, and delicious, option with Nosh Hound. I really liked the fried chicken, it was delicious, the tacos were outstanding, a killer vegetarian sandwich and the revised cheesesteak that combines flavors from around the world. After two visits, Sam and Maycie can definitely combine bold flavors into delicious sandwiches. As they balance the meat and the sauce ratio, this will easily become one of the best trucks in the area and a must go-to. Check their facebook, twitter and website for their locations.

The author was compensated for this review; the meal on the second visit 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.

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.