Monday, August 9, 2021

Eating BIG in New England (Pt. 1)

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Roadfood in Connecticut 

Now Eating: New England - Roadfood capital of the nation. For those are unfamiliar with the term Roadfood it comes from Jane & Michael Stern (former New England residents) who wrote the book on it back in 1977 (it's now a wesbite but it was sold to some corporate entity). That book can best be described as the original Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives as it mapped out spots throughout the nation that were worth pulling over for when out on the road. Particularly ones with a regional specialty of some sort. Long story short it morphed into a website that was one of the original food driven addresses on the web. It’s rise during the peak of the internet message board meant it was also a vibrant community that shared their food findings on travels through the country. One of the original internet resources of ‘where to eat’ if you will. It’s also one of the sites most responsible for my love of all things regional food and old school spots like those I'll post about here today. Connecticut has a ton of great Roadfood on a per capita basis and it was the home state of the Sterns before they moved to South Carolina. So Connecticut, along with the rest of New England, could be considered the catalyst of the Roadfood genre. Especially when it comes to burgers, pizza, and hot dogs. 


Blackie's Hot Dog Stand (Cheshire)

Connecticut is a great hot dog state. On a per capita basis it’s one of the best in the nation. There’s so many long time hot dog stands I wanted to check out but this was only a daytrip so I had to choose the places I most wanted to try. Blackie's Hot Dog Stand was long near the top of that list and it ended up being worth the wait. They use a custom blend natural casing wiener that needs nothing more than some spicy mustard plus the stands signature pepper relish which is a top secret recipe. It’s not spicy but it delivers some oomph and you can buy a jar to take home, which I definitely did. Since 1928.

Hot Dog with Blackie's Signature Relish 

Ted's Restaurant (Meridan) 

The Steamed Cheeseburger from Ted’s was one of the stops I was most looking forward to. Ted’s has been a spot long near the top on the list of burgers I wanted to try. This is likely going back to the first edition of “Hamburger America” written by George Motz. The steamed cheeseburger is unique to both Central Connecticut and also unique in it's preparation. Instead of being cooked on a grill or flattop it’s steamed in a stainless-steel cabinet containing trays that hold either a hamburger patty or a chunk of cheese. In the case of the beef patties they cook in their own juices (fat) which is dumped before the burger is removed. The melted cheese gets poured on top. Unfortunately there was no inside access on my visit so I didn’t get to see this unique cooking process in action. The end result is a burger that’s moist and juicy on the inside but the bun was cold which kind of killed the whole vibe. I’d def give it another try though as the beef and cheese were both awesome as is. Since 1959.

Steamed Cheeseburger from Ted's Restaurant 

Zuppardi's Apizza (West Haven) 

The decision of where to eat pizza while passing through Connecticut was a tough one. It’s probably the country’s best pizza state on a per capita basis. One way to make the decision slightly easier is to pick a place in New Haven. You’ll find all sorts of regional pizza here in the US but no style is more historic than the “Apizza” found in New Haven. Apizza is basically a distant relative of Neapolitan style pizza. It’s more charred and more crisp than the stuff from Naples. It came about due to New Havens popularity with Italian families that settled in the States. It’s cooked with coal which was cheap back when these pizzerias first started to open up in the 20’s and 30’s. This is what gives it that almost burnt looking crust. Frank Pepe’s is credited as the OG while Modern Apizza and Sally’s Apizza both opened in the following decades. That said I decided to try a lesser hyped spot from a national media perspective. I’d wanted to try Zuppardis Apizza ever since I saw OG Pizza Blogger Adam Kuban post about it last year during the pandemic. I knew it was my type of spot as soon as I saw his post. 

"The Special" at Zuppardi's 

I planned to go then and there when the chance presented itself and this was chance. Zuppardi’s started out as a bakery called Salerno’s in 1932. They made pizza which grew a loyal following over time. When the old man that founded the place got sick and his son took over the son realized it was their pizza that kept the business afloat so he decided to turn the bakery into a full fledged pizza parlor and changed the name to Zuppardi’s (his family’s last name). One of the big draws to Zuppardi’s is their housemade fennel laced sausage which is the pie of theirs that caught my eye. Usually sausage is an afterthought out east where they prefer pepperoni, maybe bc the sausage at most spots is trash. Not at Zuppardi’s though where they pair it with fresh mushrooms to make their signature pizza though over time their white pie with clams has also become popular. Verdict? The hype of New Haven pizza is real. Since this was my first Apizza in New Haven I have no others to compare it to but as far as good pizza goes this was it. I hope to go back and try a few more spots. 

Pizza at Zuppardi's Apizza

Danny's Drive-In (Stratford) 

I chose this one bc it was on the route I was taking to start heading back into Upstate NY which is where I took this daytrip from (report on NY to come this Fall). Danny's Drive-In is a classic Connecticut hot dog stand where locals enjoy lightly fried natural casing Hummel Bros franks topped with spicy mustard, relish, and sauerkraut - traditional east coast toppings. Since 1935.

Hot Dog with the Works at Danny's Drive-In

Rawley's Drive-In (Fairfield) 

Rawley's is a favorite of Roadfood, Martha Stewart and countless others as they’ve been in business since 1947. I thought the chili cheese dog from here was as good as anywhere. The toasted split top bun was the perfect holding tray for the plump natural casing Hummel Bros wieners that are fried before resting then crisped back up on a hot flattop. A slice of white American cheese (a New England thing) is layered on the bun before the hot dog and chili go on. Add onions. Simply outstanding.

Chili Cheese at Rawley's Drive-In

Colony Grill (Stamford)

Colony Grill is a pizza spot with multiple locations in-state as well as one in the DC area. I visited the original in Stamford. I'd always wanted to come here as they have some seriously good looking thin crust pizza that I’ve always wanted to try. I come from the “the thinner the better” camp when it comes to pizza so this one always stood out. I guess you’d call it a bar pie but it’s a bar pie all it’s own. It’s story starts in 1935 when some Irish immigrants opened a bar post-prohibition in a largely Irish part of town. Irish Pizza? Not quite. You see the owners of Colony Grill had employed some Italians as cooks at a previous spot during prohibition and they decided to let them serve up some pizza at Colony when it opened. It was a pizza recipe that was smaller than the traditional sizes at the time and also less of a mess which made for good bar food. As time went on locals fell for this thin crust one sized pizza that’s kind of a mix on a bar pie and the more traditional east coast style. Though it’s the hot oil that they pour on the pies upon request (it's slightly spicy and ordered “hot”) that makes the pizza here a style all it’s own. Below is the stinger + hot oil. The latter referring to the spicy peppers on top.

Pizza with Hot Oil and Stingers at Colony Grill 

Louis' Lunch (New Haven)

This next stop pretty much sat at the top of my burger bucketlist this last decade or so. However long it’s been since the legend that is George Motz wrote the book on burgers here in America. Louis’ Lunch claims to make the original and gives a date of 1895 as their birth year and they got the cooking equipment to prove it. 6 oz patties of beef are placed in a wire holder that goes inside a vertical oven that holds the patties in place between two heat sources. They come served on white toast and you have a choice of with cheese or without and or onion and tomato. No fries just potato salad (made on site) or chips. The hype was met with this one. Without a doubt one of the country’s best burger experiences right here. I loved everything about Louis’ Lunch from the old brick building it sits in to the burger itself. A must stop spot when in or anywhere near New Haven. Simply delicious. 

Cheeseburger at Louis' Lunch 

The Clam Castle (Madison)

Connecticut has some great seafood shacks along it's coastline, and thier own style of lobster roll to go with them. In Connecticut the meat on a lobster roll is served hot and buttered. I think I might prefer it to the version in Maine that’s more recognized nationally but I guess it depends on the weather. Then there’s fried clam bellies which you just don’t find outside of New England very often. These are quite possibly the best fried seafood specimens on earth. Easily the single item I was most excited for on this roadtrip. Those and clam chowder maybe (childhood favorite). Everything we ate was terrific. A lovely first stop on the New England seafood shack trail. Next stop Rhode Island!

Seafood Spread at The Clam Castle

See ya next time @chibbqking

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