Craving Comfort

Fairfield, you’ve earned boasting rights to a vibrant dining scene. So where to go when you just need the comfort of real, soul-satisfying food? We answer your questions. Grab a napkin, because this is about to get deliciously messy.

Hot Stuff

I crave all types of Latin American and Southwestern fare, from tortillas, tamales, tacos and arepas to grilled meats, fresh sauces and condiments (guacamole, pico de gallo, mole, chimichurri). And, yes, tequila. I need a fix!”

Chef Michael Young’s Bodega Taco Bar blew into town in 2011, taking the local dining scene by storm. Finally, a cool venue dishing up Mexican street/beach food (tacos, tortas, platos, ceviche), along with the fresh margaritas and cocktails. The only problem was (and still is) that it’s so good here that it’s often hard to get a seat.

Latin food lovers, rejoice! There’s a new spate of Latin/Southwestern-inspired venues touching down in Fairfield this fall—so everyone can enjoy. One of the bright new spots on the downtown dining scene is Baró New World Cantina, a combination casual restaurant, modern cantina and party spot. On the heels of its award-winning flagship venue, Mezón, the new Baró is off to a rocking start, thanks to the attentions of brothers Juan and Richard Reyes, who, with their family, own three other restaurants in Danbury.

With an open kitchen centered around a charcoal grill, patrons will love sitting at the Ceviche and Anticucho Bar watching the chef work his magic on the Anticuchos (that’s skewers to you and me), like the fiery jerk chicken with pineapple salsa and Scotch Bonnet ketchup, or the tender New York strip with fingerling potato salad and sofrito butter. Whether it’s at the bar or a community table, the vibe here is high energy and the food and drink is ratcheted up a notch with serious flavors—it’s all about fresh-squeezed citrus, freshly ground corn tacos, fresh chiles…you get the picture.

Make a meal out of the skewers and snacks. Try the Chicharonnes (Dominican pork cracklings, pickled red onions, house made hot sauce
); the Cubanitos (roasted pork, ham, Swiss, pickle, mustard); Tamale Veracruz 
(stone-ground masa, shrimp, tomatoes, capers, Peruvian peppers) or the freshly ground corn tacos.

Looking for more? Try the Algo Mas section with these appetizing dishes: Gambas Ajillo (garlic prawns with smashed plantain mofongo, citrus mojo); Snapper (snapper, chorizo-cornbread, callaloo, parsley purée); or Pork Tenderloin (spiced pork tenderloin, hominy purée, charred corn, salsa roja). Locavores will appreciate that Chef Morgan Vondle sources from local growers, including Holbrook and Stone’s Throw farms in Bethel, The Hickories and Apple Ridge farms in Ridgefield, and Mountain Top Mushrooms in Waterbury.

Here, the bar scene is as good as the food. No sticky-sweet canned concoctions, but, rather, sophisticated cocktails made with fresh citrus, herbs, spices and other real ingredients, like the Flower of Nicaragua (Flor de Caña silver rum, lime, cane sugar, sage, yellow chartreuse, soda); Art Basel (Don Julio blanco tequila, Grand Marnier, grapefruit, lime, agave, basil);
 or the Smokey Daiquiri (Brugal añejo rum, mezcal, lime, demerara). In addition to the impressive cocktails, you’ll enjoy a selection of tequilas and well-chosen wines and sparklers from Chile, Spain and Argentina by the glass and bottle.

Down the road toward Southport is the new Geronimo, the second tequila bar and Southwest Grill created by the team that brought a buzzing Santa Fe–inspired favorite to New Haven in 2007. Recognizing a good site, owners Marc Knight, Rob Bolduc and Tim Scott were attracted to the Fairfield Geronimo’s location (2070 Post Road; formerly The Shack) near the train, I-95, shopping and Fairfield County action. Their renovations to the site, which is expected to open this winter, include building out the patio, improving banquet seating and placing the bar in the center of the restaurant—all the better to amp up the festive, good-times vibe.

In the kitchen, Geronimo incorporates authentic ingredients (it’s all about the chiles) and Native American cooking methods with contemporary flair. Tableside guacamole is a must (kick it up with extra jalapeños). Traditional Navajo frybread (like a pizza) and slow-braised bison chili share the stage with quesadillas, burritos, tacos and burgers. The menu also features Southwest salads, ceviche (in season), chile relleno, lobster enchiladas, slow-braised pork adovado and a classic chicken mole.

The concept hinges on authentic food and fun, so start out with a specialty cocktail or one of the 400 tequilas (the largest collection on the East Coast) at the Tequila Bar.

Across town, at 770 Commerce Drive, brothers Edgar and Hector Brambila are opening Rio Bravo, a restaurant celebrating Mexico, at the intersection of Kings Highway and Commerce Drive on the site of the former Fairfield Café.

From the hand-carved wood columns, hand-blown margarita glasses made in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, and hand-painted Mexican tiles, to all of the menu items, the brothers are intent on using authentic décor and ingredients to transport patrons. “It’s important to us that [patrons] have an authentic experience,” Edgar says. “Details count.”

Rio Bravo sets the stage with a bar area and salsa bar, featuring ten different salsas, from roasted corn and tomatillo to pico de gallo. Everything is made from scratch, and entrées will include Mexican specialties like grilled steak and chicken, prepared with different cremas and sauces to homemade ceviche (scallops, shrimp, halibut marinated in citrus juice, with olive oil and avocado) to tacos, such as the Marco Polo, a hand-stretched corn tortilla covered with melted cheese, caramelized onions, purple and green cabbage and bacon-wrapped shrimp drizzled with roasted poblano crema. The guacamole is prepared table side, and the margaritas is hand-shaken and made with authentic tequilas.

Slice of Life

I’m crazy for good pizza, but I get lazy and tend to stick with our neighborhood standby. How about a list of nearby pizza joints that make the grade—from a killer New York slice to an authentic Neapolitan pie.”

Locals were thrilled a few years back when The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana rolled into town. Pepe’s has been dishing up thin-crust Neapolitan “tomato pie” baked in super-hot bread ovens fired by coke (the byproduct of coal) for ninety years in the same New Haven spot. The Fairfield location (one of eight) cooks up a pretty mean thin-crust pie. Feeling adventurous? Go for the garlicky signature freshly shucked White Clam pie; an idea born from the fact that, back in the day, Pepe’s used to serve raw little neck clams on the half shell from Rhode Island. At Pepe’s, the go-to’s are pizza, salad and a beer. The team at Pepe’s has kept the formula simple since 1925. They’re doing it right.

When Pizzeria Molto opened its doors, a veritable riot ensued. Billed as a Pizzeria, Mozzarella and Wine Bar, its owners tapped into a concept that lit the downtown social scene on fire—wine, pizza and Italian tapas and a range of classic Italian dishes and salads, served in a sexy, urban energy to a see-and-be-seen crowd. Molto’s thin, brick-oven pizzas, made with fresh ingredients, like homemade Burrata or sausage, cherry pepper and potato, paired with good Italian wines, offers fans enough variety to keep the joint jumping ’round the clock, along with deafening decibel levels.

Since 1935, Colony Grill was a gritty, working class Stamford institution that, despite a sketchy location in an industrial area, remained on every serious foodie’s radar. Luckily for us, the owners decided to take their show on the road, opening the large, airy, red brick Fairfield spinoff in 2010. Where Stamford is dark and shopworn, Fairfield is open and boisterous, with a massive sports bar along one wall and wooden booths and high-top bar tables for loud groups (lots of kids in Little League uniforms). Talk about simplicity. Here, there is one item on the menu: the twelve-inch pie, $9—crispy, cheesy and well cooked. Keep in mind that the pizzas are thin and small, so if you’re hungry, be prepared to order more than one per person, as there are no salads or apps to round out the meal. Top it any you like it, chosing from a dozen ingredients for a $1.50 extra apiece. The Hot Oil pie is wicked good—just make sure to have a cold beer handy.

For more than twenty years, Scott Hartley and Greg Roberts at Nauti Dolphin Pizza (1 Carter Henry Drive, 203-256-1877) have been keeping it basic. “It’s easy. Just use the best ingredients,” Scott says. At lunchtime, the tiny train station outpost draws a counter crowd when regulars drop in to grab a crispy, thin crust, New York slice ($2) and salads loaded with fresh produce and a chance to shoot the bull. In addition to the neighborly atmosphere and bargain-priced gourmet slices (try the Hot n’ Spicy Sow, topped with sausage, fresh Romano cheese, hot cherry peppers, olive oil and spices), Nauti also offers a list of specialty pizzas (including gluten-free) and pastas to go, all prepared with quality ingredients.

A true family restaurant, Luigi’s, has been serving up old-school Italian fare to regulars since 1976. Owner/chef Giulio Cavalli understands that, when it comes to the classics, consistency is key. Most newbies happen upon Luigi’s when they are looking for a family friendly Italian that won’t break the bank. After their first visit, they are pleasantly surprised to learn how good Cavalli’s pies taste. And that’s when they put Luigi’s on speed dial for home delivery.

There are so many sophisticated offerings on the menu at 55 Degrees Wine Bar and Restaurant that you might skip right over the pizza. Don’t. Great as an appetizer or when you seek a lite bite with a glass of wine at the bar, try the Fresh Ricotta and Broccoli Rabe with Fontina, olive oil, toasted garlic, or the Prosciutto and Arugula with Fontina, Taleggio, olive oil, parmesan.

Sensing a void in the market for a casual, takeout/restaurant offering pizza, fresh salads and creativity, Glenn Grella, his wife, Mary, and brother, Dave, set out to bring something new to the Post Road pizza scene. In September they opened Pronto Chop Shop & Pizzeria, a place where you can design your own individual or family-size thin-crust pizza, baked in one of two brick ovens, as well as an array of make-your-own chopped salads and wraps. “Our concept is for people to express their inner chef,” says Glenn. “We encourage them to choose all their own toppings and get creative.”

With a reliance on fresh, local and organic produce, Pronto offers a colorful range of mixed lettuces (romaine, spinach, arugula and baby kale, and Pronto Celebrity Spring Mix) and mixers (everything from avocado, beets, cheeses, and hard-boiled eggs and fresh veggies to sunflower seeds and Craisins), which can be mixed into the salad or wrap of choice, then topped with any of twelve dressings made in-house daily (from White Balsamic Vinaigrette to Acai-Pomegranate Dijon Power to LoFat Balsamic Citrus).

You can also add a fresh grilled protein to any salad, wrap or pizza. “All of our chicken, steak, shrimp and tuna is grilled in-house three times a day,” notes Glenn, who says that his customers frequently comment on the freshness and quality of Pronto’s ingredients in everything from the toppings to the meats and cheeses.

“We’re seeing a cross-section of customers,” Glenn notes. “Our lunch crowd is pulling a lot of professionals from nearby offices, and throughout the day, we get everything from the younger generation from the high schools and colleges to lifelong locals.”

Top It Off

"I love a good burger. Can you give me a short list of some of your favorites close to home?”

When it comes to burgers, it’s all about personal preference, from the greasy, pub slider to the grass-fed, gourmet masterpiece. We appreciate burgers both high and low. For example, we love The Natural burger at Super Duper Weenie, a hand-shaped, locally butchered, certified Angus chuck and sirloin, six-ounce patty served on a fresh-baked potato roll. We’re equally enraptured by The Chelsea Burger, a juicy hand-made, seven-ounce patty made with a 75/25 blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib from local organic purveyor Saugatuck Craft Butchery. These burgers are literally dipped into a bath of melted cheddar, then topped with sweet-sour onions and chopped bacon and served on an onion brioche bun.

To try the newest kid on the burger block, keep your eyes peeled for the opening of the Plan B Burger Bar, in the old Post Office at 1262 Boston Post Road. This is an upscale burger bar created by a Hartford-based restaurant group with six (soon to be seven) locations throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts. This burger emporium features all-American craft beers and bourbon, and its burgers are made from beef that is ground and formed in-house daily, and free of antibiotics and hormones. Each Plan B location is unique. Décor and specials may change but each is working with local farms and forming relationships with purveyors of fresh ingredients. In Milford, for example, Plan B sources from Robert Treat Farm, Bishops Acres, Holcomb and Jones Farms.

Gourmet To Go

"Some nights, I want a great dinner at home, but I don’t feel like cooking, and I can’t stomach the thought of fast food. Any suggestions for appealing, out-of-the-box takeout?”

Cinch Gourmet Meal Market is all about making dinner easy and delicious. “The biggest difference between Cinch and a take-out establishment is that we make up to 100 choices daily,” says owner Shawn Russell. “Being prepared food, we are typically about 40 percent less expensive than a typical take-out style restaurant. Our items are, for the most part, baked, not fried, and we make our own veal stock and chicken stock, so our products are very low in sodium, and we use no preserving agents.”

When your nightly repertoire gets boring, Cinch comes to the rescue with variety, including Eggplant Parmigiana, Pulled Pork, Steak with Chimichurri, Panko-Crusted Cod Blackened Chicken, Apple Vinegar Chicken, Glazed Salmon, Sesame-Crusted Tuna, Rabbit Pot Pie. Add to this sampling a lineup of fresh salads and sides (Pear and Gorgonzola, Quinoa, Spinach with Pecans and Cranberries, Roaster Corn Salad, Orzo with Mixed Veggies) and freshly made soups. Don’t forget a loaf of bread, which is delivered fresh daily from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. For a special treat, check out the array of over-the-top desserts, from Red Velvet Cake to Mississippi Mud Pie. A typical meal for four, with a side salad, ranges between $20 and $30.

When Westport’s Garelick & Herbs announced it would be moving a half-mile up the road, the papers said, “Westport’s Loss is Fairfield’s Gain.” A short drive from the original, which has been serving the area for twenty years, the new venue will spruce up the blighted eyesore of a dilapidated nursery with a spanking new 5,000-square-foot gourmet food market, retail store and café.

Designed in modern barn motif, the décor will contain elements of wood, stone and metals set in neutral earth tones. “We have always wanted our stores to reflect our clients’ homes—cozy, elegant and filled with love,” says owner Paula Garelick, who says the team recently broke ground, and anticipates the new venue will be open in 2015.

Like the original, the glass cases will be stocked with a daily assortment of freshly prepared entrées, from grilled salmon and seared tuna to ginger flank steak, with a colorful mélange of veggie and grain sides. Stop in for the whole shebang—from soup or starters to dessert—or grill your own meat, poultry or fish at home and pick up a few complementary sides by the pint or quart for a low-stress gourmet meal.

“We have outgrown our space and were ready for something new,“ says Garelick, explaining the decision to move. “First, we are excited to relocate our bakery commissary to our new Southport location, which enables us to have our pastry chefs on-site, creating a larger variety of fresh, fun and creative baked goods.“

Other new additions include a sandwich station, an omelet bar that will convert to a fajita/crepe station at lunch, as well as a fresh juice bar offering protein-and vitamin-enriched beverages. Garelick is also planning to incorporate vegetables, fruits, organic meats and possibly Kosher products into this area. For a nice lunch or coffee with friends, the new café will be warmed and brightened by a solar bay window area that spills out into a lovely outdoor courtyard.

For years, Centro to Go at Centro Fairfield has been one of the best deals in town. Choose from a selection of homemade pastas and sauces: marinara, pesto, alfredo and milano (plum tomatoes, sweet fennel sausage, Chianti, garlic and basil). To round out the meal, Centro adds a Caesar salad, brick-oven Italian bread and marinated olives. It’s $15.95 for two and $26.95 for four. Pick it up hot, and dinner is served! If you’re not in the mood for pasta, order off the regular menu and take home your Centro favorite.

In the summer, Martel dreamed up a novel concept: Beach Blanket Delivery to the Fairfield beaches daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. With sand between their toes, patrons got a kick out feasting on oysters, shrimps and clams, as well as a range of sandwiches and salads. During the cooler months, the delivery concept is suspended, but Martel fans know that they can call in and order off the regular menu—Steak Frites to Trout Meuniere, and take their meal home to enjoy with a good bottle of Bordeaux.

Looking for a healthy, homemade meal that literally takes minutes to prepare? Nothing could be easier than boiling up a pot of water for a meal of freshly rolled pasta—capellini, linguine, tagliatelle or ravioli. Throughout the week, Andrew Tavolacci and the team at tutto pasta hand-make pasta and sauces in small batches so it is always fresh and preservative-free.

Try the Buongustaia, a savory meat-based red sauce that is simmered for hours to obtain a deep, rich flavor. Also, don’t forget the meatballs, which are cooked right in the sauce to impart flavor, and sold separately. For veggie lovers, the Verdura is a tomato-based sauce with caramelized onion and red bell pepper blended with vegetable stock. Many of Tavolacci’s regulars like it so much, they order it by the quart and eat it like soup. The ever-changing lineup of ravioli is a treat. In fall, look for the Harvest Ravioli, stuffed with fresh pumpkin, butternut squash and seasonal spices, served with a brown-butter-sage sauce. Another favorite: Tutto Ravioli, hand-made pasta stuffed with caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, Parmesan and ricotta. Make sure to grab a container of house-grated Parmigiano cheese and a loaf of Wave Hill Bread.

Other grab-and-go choices include lasagna by the hunk and a range of seasonal soups, such as Italian beef or white bean, ham and kale.

Tavern Talk

"I love dining at the restaurants in town, but this time of year, it’s fun to take a short drive to a place that makes me feel like I’ve gotten away from it all—some place cozy and rustic.”

Getting to the new Redding Roadhouse is a fun drive along winding country roads before arriving at the picturesque restaurant and charming tavern. This past year, seasoned hospitality professionals Ted Stonbely and Wirt and Karen Cook took over the 5,400-square-foot historic home. They kept the integrity and cozy draws (fireplaces, taproom, outdoor patios) of the space intact, while making minor upgrades. The true overhaul is apparent on the fresh, contemporary menu, which is designed to appeal to a broader audience. Having cooked at Daniel Boulud’s DB Modern and been on the operations side of the popular Cipriani group (Ted), and cooked with renowned chef Alex Guarnaschelli at The Darby and Butter (Wirt), and managed Josh Wesson’s mega wine and spirits store, Best Cellars (Karen), the NYC team combined their food and beverage prowess to create a restaurant uniquely their own. The menu relies heavily on vegetables, meats, seafood and cheeses from nearby Connecticut farmers and fishermen. It is at once casual and sophisticated, with burgers and wings and duck confit both vying for attention.

Start with an Arethusa Farms Cheese Board and move into the realm of sandwiches (house-made pastrami on rye; grilled cheese with aged Vermont cheddar, tomato jam, caramelized onion, or the Roadhouse Burger) or try some seriously delicious eats, including steamed mussels with red chile, roasted garlic and brown butter; meatloaf and mashed potatoes, braised short ribs (root veggie mash, roasted baby onions), spinach and bufala ricotta ravioli (black truffle, parmesan broth, brown butter), wild golden tilefish from Pt. Judith, RI (white beans, sautéed greens, smoked salsa). The Taproom boasts a full bar, artisan beers on tap, and a range of global wines.

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