Haywire Burger Bar (Westbrook)

ImageHalf the week I am a resident of the shoreline, and the other half of the week, I live in the burger capital of Connecticut:  West Hartford.  Prior to Haywire’s arrival my boyfriend and I would talk about how the shoreline desperately needed a burger joint.  Finally, Haywire opened.  For some reason, it took us a while to get here even though we both love burgers.  After an unsuccessful attempt to dine here a month ago, leaving because the wait was too long, we finally returned on Friday.  Glad we did.

ImageWe sat at the outdoor patio area.  The menu contained many enticing options – it was hard to choose, but I finally decided on the Brie Burger which has brie cheese, apricot preserves, and bacon.  The boyfriend ordered the Frico which comes with crispy provolone, pickles, onion and spicy ketchup. The crispy provolone cheese was quite a sight!  There was so much of it, it reached out way beyond the sides of the burgers.  I was lucky enough to have one of the big slabs of crispy cheese and it was delicious.  We were both very pleased with our burgers.  The fries were average, but satisfying enough as they came out hot, crispy, and salty.  They were listed as shoestring fries yet came out thicker than I imagined.  Not a complaint at all, the thicker the better (for the most part).

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My boyfriend thought this was as good as Plan B in West Hartford, but I respectfully disagree.  Plan B has always reigned supreme in the Connecticut burger scene, in my opinion, and continues to.   A few gripes:  out of soap and toilet paper in womens restroom (hostess was kind enough to let me use her hand sanitizer) and the parking lot is far too small.  The restaurant was not at full capacity and many people, us included, had to park at nearby establishments and walk.

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730 Boston Post Rd
Westbrook, CT 06498
(860) 391-8479

 

NoRA Cupcake Company (Middletown)

I had my first NoRA Cupcake cupcakes at last summers Yelp Elite event at Eli Cannons.  I shared the Irish Carbomb and  Chocolate Chip Cheesecake with the Yelp Hartford community manager, Emily.  They were amazing.  So flavorful, moist, and tasty. I was impressed.
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I stopped in the store a few days ago, for the first time ever, and instantly loved it.  Even before I walked in the cheery pink and black signage in front of the store lifted my spirits.  When I stopped through the door I was met with a burst of fun, funky, whimsical decor that I just adored.  The high ceilings and spaciousness are other elements that contribute to the overall feel of the place.

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After adjusting to the sensory overload of colors, objects, delightful smells of bakery, my eyes fixed on the cupcake case.  Lavender Earl Grey cupcakes caught my attention first, a flavor I’d never seen anywhere else.  I had to have it.

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I also had to have the Jamaican Moon which sounded unique and interesting.  I asked what was in it, she told me twice, and the only thing I retained from the list of ingredients was Onyx Moonshine, rum, and chocolate.  That was all I needed to know.  Both of these cupcakes were terrific as well.

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When this place initially got a lot of buzz, I thought I would never be a customer because $4 is a lot to pay for a cupcake.  I still think it’s a lot but it’s worth the splurge for flavors you won’t find anywhere else (I’m dying to try some of the savory flavors), a space that cannot be beat (I’d love to meet up with friends here), and great customer service.

Cannot wait to come back.

700 Main St
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 788-3150

Taino Smokehouse (Middletown)

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I drive by this place every single weekend and I’ve been intrigued.  Then I read some reviews and I knew I had to try it.  I placed a dinner takeout order around noon today.

I got here a little before 6:30 to pick up my order and the place was busy but shortly after I arrived it was SLAMMED.  I’ve worked in restaurants before and I knew exactly what it must have been like for them – I wanted to jump in and help!  The place is very small to begin with, basically an attachment space to Ace Hardware next door.  Actually, the first time I stopped by (last week) they were closed but my initial reaction was, “That’s it?” referring to the size of the restaurant.

Many of the tables were full and there was a line of people waiting for pick-up orders and also waiting for a table.  Some put their names down and decided to come back in twenty minutes or so.  They seemed to have a hard time cranking out all the orders for takeout and for the dine-in service.  Also, staff members were fulfilling multiple roles and working very hard.

When I got there I still waited 5-10 minutes for my order to be finished even though I had called ahead of time.  That gave me a chance to talk to other people waiting for their orders.  The guy ahead of me said that he’d been there a bunch of times and everything is great.  I couldn’t wait to see for myself.

I left the restaurant with BBQ wings, a pulled pork dinner, a brisket dinner, sides of collard greens, garlic mashed potatoes, and honey butter cornbread.  I know I say this a lot but holy smokes.  No really, holy smokes.  Everything was terrific!  My favorite were the BBQ wings.  They were coated in a dry rub, not fried, and smoked, then slathered with a fantastic BBQ sauce.  The meat on the wings were plump, juicy, and cooked perfectly.  Delicious.  I also loved the garlic mashed potatoes.

There are so many more menu items to try, I am sure I will be back.  Ribs are next on the list.  I’m already looking forward to eating leftovers tomorrow.

Their soft opening period started a short while ago and their grand opening is not until March 24th, 2013.  Until then the menu could change frequently.  It already has from the time I looked them up this morning to just now.

482 S Main St
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 358-9828

Fromage Fine Foods & Coffees (Old Saybrook)

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Another little gem on the shoreline!  Holy cow (and goat)!  This place is remarkable.  I had no idea that they sold more than cheeses until we stopped by for the first time a couple of weeks ago.  My jaw dropped in awe over all the products they sold in addition to their variety of a hundred different cheeses, some local, some from nationally known creameries, and some international.  Browsing through the store I was overwhelmed by all the products.  Truly a gourmand’s dream.

I walked around taking it all in:  the section of pastas and sauces, the cured meats, foie gras, truffle butters, pates, the rows of mustards, oils, vinegars, salts, peppers, teas, cookies, too many things to name.  The coolest salt and pepper holders caught my eye and struck my fancy.  Neat looking bags, from lunch bags to grocery totes, were also hung around the store ready for a buyer.  A set of espresso cups would have gone well with the new espresso machine I just got for Christmas.  In the front of the store were lots of gift baskets, all marked down in price now that the holidays have drawn to a close.  Prices didn’t seem to be too bad.  As an example, the truffle butter here is a dollar more than other places I have seen it, while the same box of Maldon sea salt flakes I just bought at Sur La Table (Canton) costs a dollar less here.  As the name of the store implies, they do sell coffee here too, at the back of the store, and some baked treats.

On to the cheeses.  There was such a huge variety it was hard to choose.  They are all laid out in the middle of the store in rounds, wedges, blocks, and each cheese was labeled.  The display as a whole is a cheese lovers paradise.  I asked for a recommendation for a harder cheese for us to try since my guy isn’t fond of soft cheeses and the person who helped me gave an excellent recommendation of the Midnight Moon (a firm goat’s milk cheese aged at least for one year that had a lovely nutty and buttery flavor and a beautiful smooth and slightly grainy texture that aged cheeses tend to have).  She graciously and skillfully cut me a few slivers to sample before I purchased and I was sold!  If I had more time I would have sampled and bought a few more cheeses.  All of them looked great.  I cannot wait to come back!

Check out their cheese checklist!

873 Boston Post Rd
Old Saybrook, CT 06475
(860) 388-5750

Fusion Bakery & Patisserie (Middletown)

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With the start of the new year and the possibility of a beach getaway in the not-so-distant future, I started my healthy eating diet today.  That all came to a screeching halt when I decided, on a whim, to stop in at Fusion for some cupcakes.  It was (pretty much) on my way home from my boyfriend’s house and I had wanted to try it for a while.  Today seemed to be as good a day as any other especially since it is my one week anniversary since turning 30, but really, who needs an excuse to eat cake?

I popped in an hour before closing time and it appeared many of the items were sold out.  That didn’t turn out to be an issue at all as I found plenty of things that I wanted.  Per usual, I ordered a red velvet cupcake in addition to a small cherry cheesecake, a Guinness cupcake, and a gluten-free chocolate cupcake.  I ate the first two items in the store and took the other two home for later.

I was the only patron in the bakery at the time so I sat at one of the many tables and savored each bite of the cherry cheesecake and the red velvet cake.  Both were very good. A few words about the red velvet cupcake:  it’s made with only a small amount of red food coloring and gets most of its color from beet juice, a natural coloring agent.  I’d read about this before but had never used it in my own baking of red velvet cupcakes even though I have been  planning to since my last batch.  Now I’m even more inspired.  The reason they don’t use beet juice exclusively is that “some of it can evaporate and leave the middle of the cupcake a grey-ish color”.

The other two cupcakes were also quite enjoyable.  The Guinness was nice and moist and there was only a trace of the Guinness flavor but it was very good.  The frosting complimented it well.  The gluten-free chocolate was great flavor-wise but was a bit dry.  Not something I wouldn’t get again, though.

In addition to the cupcakes, cakes, cookies, breads, brownies, creme brulee, truffle tarts, lemon tarts, macarons,  etc., Fusion also carries a large assortment of Lake Champlain chocolates.  There’s also a beverage case that sells Avery’s sodas as well as other drinks.  If you’re craving something sweet, Fusion is your kind of place.

100 Riverview Center
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 344-9024

Paperback Cafe (Old Saybrook)

Today was our first time at Paperback Cafe.  We almost went for lunch a while back, over the summer, after attempting to go to Liv’s for lunch and finding that it was a dinner only establishment – but we were there too late and Paperback was about to close.  I am so glad we ended up back here today.

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We came for lunch a little after 1pm and the little restaurant was packed!  Every table was full so we had to wait, but only for a few minutes.  Afraid my hungry boyfriend might want to go somewhere else instead, I quickly said, “it must be busy for a reason.  Let’s just wait a few minutes.”  Right away I noticed a comfortable, cozy atmosphere, almost kind of like you’re eating in your own dining room at home.  I appreciated the books and pictures lining the built-in bookshelves and the large map of the Long Island Sound on a large wall.  While we were waiting I admired other peoples plates and noticed that the salads looked big, fresh, and delicious.  Everyone seemed to be enjoying their food – a good sign!

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Shortly after we arrived we were seated.  When I opened the menu my jaw dropped.  An entire page of Paleo menu items?!?  Holy smokes, I had never seen that before anywhere!!!  If you follow my reviews, I obviously do not adhere to a full-on Paleo diet, but I have been trying to incorporate more of it into my life mostly with my own cooking (there’s a whole backstory to this but I will spare you).  As it turns out, the owner of the place is a Crossfitter (I’ve been obsessed with doing Crossfit for about a year now and the Paleo diet and Crossfit go hand in hand).  There are both breakfast and lunch dishes that are Paleo and many, if not all of them, looked great.
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The rest of the menu was tempting too.  I ordered the Four Play Salad, because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a little Four Play?  Seriously, though, I was attracted to the variety as it came with their signature chicken salad that had cranberries, apple and walnuts, tuna salad, egg salad, and seafood salad, all on top of the house salad.  This was enormous.  The chicken salad and seafood salad were terrific, while the egg and the tuna salads were good, but all of it got a little heavy in my stomach from all the mayonnaise.  My boyfriend ordered the sausage and vegetables stir-fry off the Paleo menu and he liked it but the portion was on the smaller side.  It was about a third the size of my salad, no joke, so he inhaled his dish then helped me with my big salad.

If you’re into sweets they’ve got those here too!  Right when you walk into the place you are faced with the sweets case that today had pumpkin pie, lemon meringue pie, a chocolate cake and cheesecake creation, brownies, several types of cookies and seven layer bars (these looked amazing!).  I could not help but notice the Paleo Banana Zucchini Raisin bread and had to buy one when we were leaving.  The owner had made it himself.  At $8 for a small loaf, it’s definitely pricey but worth it.  So Incredibly moist and flavorful, I might go as far as to say that it is better than any banana bread I’ve ever had.

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I cannot wait to come back here to try many more things off the their menu.  Hopefully next time I come the Paleo banana bread will be available again.  This place is awesome!

210 Main St
Old Saybrook, CT 06475
(860) 388-9718

Cafe Routier Bistro & Lounge (Westbrook)

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We’d heard great things about Cafe Routier and finally gave it a try last night for dinner.  Instead of eating in the dining room we opted for a table by the bar for a more casual dining experience and for an opportunity to order off the tapas/small plates menu in addition to the regular menu.

The bar area was dimly lit and had an intimate feel.  We arrived at 6:30 and got a table right away, the one by the entryway into the main dining room.  As it was Saturday, the place was pretty full to begin with but got much busier after we arrived.  We placed our orders for Roasted Blue Point Oysters with Bacon Leek Butter and Lemon-Thyme Salt off the regular menu, and got two things off the tapas/small plates menu:  the Kobe Slider Trio and the Bulgogi.

The waiter asked if we wanted bread while we waited and I am glad we did because the bread tasted freshly baked and was warm like it had just came out of the oven.  It was served with a high quality fruity olive oil.  Our oysters arrived shortly after and they were wonderful.  I tend to be a raw oyster purist so, truth be told, I was a little concerned that I might be disappointed, but I was not at all.  The essence of the oyster was not lost at all, and if anything, the cooking method and combination of ingredients enhanced it.

Then came the Kobe Slider Trio.  On the menu the words Bacon and Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onions and Jack Cheese, and Foie Gras Mousse caught my eye.  It was this dish that helped me decide whether to have dinner at Cafe Routier or another upscale Shoreline restaurant.  When the sliders arrived the first was topped with blue cheese and bacon, the second caramelized onions, and the third foie gras mousse.  All were excellent.  I asked for medium doneness and the meat on all three of the sliders were perfectly bright pink in the center with juice oozing into the bread with each bite.  Phenomenal.  I loved the variety of flavors.

My boyfriend enjoyed his Bulgogi.  I thought it was strange that they’d have this Korean dish here, but they really did it well.  It was presented elegantly in a medium-sized white bowl chock full of Korean BBQ beef and stir-fried vegetables mixed into noodles. I had a bite, and it was so good, I had to have another.

For dessert we shared the New Orleans Bread Pudding with a Bourbon Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream.  This was a generous serving of buttery and custardy bread pudding swimming in a delicious sweet bourbon sauce that complemented it nicely.  A handful of candied pecans surrounded the bread pudding and bourbon sauce love, and on top of all this, a big scoop of very good vanilla ice cream.  All the ingredients came together beautifully in this dessert, the candied pecans really bringing it all together.  Superb.  We were very happy with our first time at Cafe Routier and look forward to a return visit.

1353 Boston Post Rd
Westbrook, CT 06498
(860) 399-8700