My Top Five+ Fairfield County CT Dishes from 2013

2013 was an amazing year for food lovers in Fairfield County…several great restaurants opened, several chefs moved and are now creating incredible meals in new locations, several more restaurants announced their openings and I cannot wait.

During the year I enjoyed hundreds of courses in Connecticut and on my travels. With all of those flavors and textures, it was an incredibly difficult task in choosing my five favorite Fairfield County dishes for 2013. In fact, I did not since I couldn’t whittle the last one from this list, so it is six, plus three special categories.

Here are my favorite dishes from 2013:

  • elm – The “Tagliatelli Neri” is over the top umami heaven. The dish begins with hand-made cuttlefish ink pasta topped with Peekeytoe crab, sea urchin, sea urchin butter, Calabrian chili, garlic bread crumbs and brightened with Meyer lemon juice and oil. The flavors dance on the palate and textures from the silky pasta to the crunchy garlic bread crumbs, are like none I experienced anywhere else.
  • Match – “Pho” is an incredible Vietnamese soup that Fairfield County needs to embrace. The broth is made from oxtails, ginger, onion, cinnamon, and star anise. When served, thinly sliced rib eye is added and cooked and then finished with cilantro, noodles and Sriracha. This dish is absolutely magical in its complexity of flavors and textures.
  • South End – “Nonna’s Meatballs” are comprised of pork and veal (that’s right, no beef) that are lightly mixed with tons of sheep’s milk ricotta and Parmesan cheese, then lightly fried and cooked in a crushed tomato sauce. The soft and tender texture of South End’s meatballs separates them from all of the others…they are fantastic.
  • Nola –The “Poached Lobster & Cornbread Waffle” is one of my favorite combinations in the area with butter-poached lobster, Queso Fresco cheese, topped with a brown sauce served with sweet, crispy waffles. The outstanding flavors are complemented by the best brown sauce north of Mr. B’s Bistro in the French Quarter.
  • Mama’s Boy – The “Shrimp and Grits” just keep getting better. Perfectly prepared U15 white shrimp, red peppers, scallions, and Tasso sit atop Tennessee sourced grits and finished with a simple garlic butter, white wine, and cream sauce. The grits are my favorite and when paired with the shrimp create an outstanding dish.
  • Bar Sugo – The “Spaghetti Neri” includes squid ink pasta, smoked tomato sauce, shrimp, bread crumbs and Bottarga. The pasta and shrimp are complemented by the smokiness and spiciness of the tomato sauce, but the entire presentation is elevated by the Bottarga, which adds a delightful brininess to the dish.

Top Hamburger – The Whelk – Over 70 hamburgers comprised my 2013 Hamburger search and The Whelk’s hamburger was my favorite. Full of rich flavor, encased in a great bun and topped with some great cheese, onions and house made pickles.

Top Bolognese – Cava Wine Bar – My colleague at CTBites, Lou Gorfain, and I scoured lower Fairfield County for our Bolognese round-up and my personal favorite was Cava’s Gnocchi with Bolognese. What set this apart from the others was the soft, ricotta gnocchi that were pillows of deliciousness.

Top Pizza – Locali – This newcomer uses age-old pizza-making techniques, San Marzano DOP tomatoes and house made mozzarella. The flavors, texture and the perfect amount of char from the wood burning oven produce some of the best Neapolitan pizza this side of the Campo dei Fiori.

The Chelsea (Fairfield) – Burger From Paradise


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chelsea on Urbanspoon