Hen & Heifer (Guilford)

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Hen & Heifer is an excellent addition to the shoreline, particularly Guilford, with it’s delectable array of French pastries.  When I learned of their upcoming opening several months prior, I began stalking their opening and, finally, two Thursdays ago, they opened their doors for business.  I went today to find out what this place is about.

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I walked in a couple of hours before closing.  Immediately, I noticed the macarons, They had vanilla, raspberry, salted caramel, and milk chocolate.  They weren’t as puffy as I have seen at other places but they still looked very good.  Since it was just about the end of the day, they’d sold out of some things (like croissants – which they explained they make 4-5 dozen of every morning but they tend to sell out within a couple of hours).

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There were still plenty of treats left such as charming, good-sized, sugar cookies in the shape of chickens (they’d sold out of the cows earlier), a chocolate tart, lemon olive oil cakes, whole wheat carrot muffins, banana financiers, coffee cake, madeleines, and a yogurt jam granola parfait that looked that looked exquisite.  They make their own rhubarb jam and granola while the yogurt is made fresh at a farm nearby.

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Beverages available today included coffee from Ashlawn Farm in Lyme, CT, hot and iced (iced coffee brewed Japanese style, which is a hot brew placed immediately over ice), housemade lemonade infused with cardamom and black pepper, fresh squeeze orange juice, and bottled beverages: Fever Tree Ginger Ale, Saratoga natural spring water, and Coke/Diet Coke.

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I was curious about both the iced coffee and the lemonade so the owner and his employee, Brett, gave me a sample of each over ice.  While cold brew is my preference for iced coffee, theirs was quite good with some vanilla + caramel syrup mixed in, and a splash of milk.  The lemonade was sweet and tart, the black pepper and cardamon adding an extra element of interest to the strong lemon presence.

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After much deliberation, I finally, with the help of the owner, decided to try the cannele, which originates from the Bordeaux region of France.  He was absolutely on point with his recommendation.  This new-to-me (I’ve never seen it elsewhere and he noted that it’s even difficult to find in French bakeries in NYC) pastry was described by him as  custardy, like creme brulee, but also bread-like.  I took it outside to enjoy at one of the outdoor tables.  The outside seating area is small but wonderful, having an intimate feel similar to sitting on a friends deck or patio while soaking in the sun.

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The cannele was impressively delicious.  With each bite I was met with a firm, slightly crunchy exterior delicately scented with a touch of honey – the result of lining the uniquely shaped copper baking pan with a combination of butter and beeswax.  This contrasted beautifully against the soft and custardy interior that was speckled with vanilla bean.  It was amazing.  After finishing, I immediately went back in to get another for my boyfriend, because something this good needs to be shared!   In addition, I picked up a salted caramel macaron for myself, and it was fantastic as well.

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The inside space is quite small with minimal seating.  There is more seating outdoors.  The owner, trained at the French Culinary Institute, was a pleasure to talk with as was Brett.  I’m thrilled to have Hen & Heifer join the Guilford food scene.  I will be living here full-time by next month and I’ve a feeling I will be coming to Hen & Heifer quite regularly.

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6/2/13 Update:  Tried the almond croissant, chocolate croissant, and yogurt parfait today.  Heavenly.

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6/9/13 Update:  I can’t get enough of this place.  I brought back the beautiful glass container for the yogurt today and got a caramel for returning the jar.  I bought two more yogurts, two caramel mararons, one chocolate macaron, and a fresh squeezed orange juice.   All delicious.

23 Water St
Guilford, CT 06437
(203) 689-5651

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Blackie’s Hot Dog Stand (Cheshire)

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I was in Cheshire today for a meeting that ended right around noon.  Perfect time for me to hit up Blackie’s for a hot dog since I don’t find myself in Cheshire often and I’ve heard so much about this place.  As I drove there I was thinking, “I hope they take card, don’t have any cash on me, no ATM in sight.”
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I had a feeling it was a Cash Only operation, so I was thankful that a hot dog only cost $2.00 because I found enough change in my car to pay for lunch.  Since it was 75 degrees and sunny the whole place was opened up, allowing patrons full view of the open road and the cars whizzing by.  You really do feel like you have gone back in time here.  One of the employees mentioned that they’ve been open since 1928!
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Ordering was a breeze with the simple menu.  I knew what I wanted from the moment I arrived and as soon as the words, “hot dog” escaped my mouth I had a juicy one right in front of me.  I slathered on some of the famous relish, some mustard, and ketchup and enjoyed my tasty and inexpensive lunch.  I will be back, but next time I won’t wear a suit, especially in hot weather.
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2200 Waterbury Rd
Cheshire, CT 06410
(203) 699-1819

Sweet Maria’s (Waterbury)

IMG_1074If you’re in the Waterbury area and you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, look no further than Sweet Maria’s. This place has it all, from cupcakes to full sized cakes, to cookies…you will not be disappointed. I stopped by on Thursday to check them out with cupcakes on my mind.

From the modest looking exterior you would not expect to walk into a white, pink and black, very feminine-themed bake shoppe (think: boxes of truffles with gorgeous pink tulle ribbon + bows). The atmosphere is unapologetically girly, bright, and fun.

Left to right from at the entrance: a case of cakes and cupcakes, some K-cups for the Keurig machine (I wish they had espresso but oh well), the largest selection of fresh baked delicious looking cookies I have seen anywhere, and then the sunny eating room with a Keuring machine, tables and chairs to match the decor, and gorgeous cakes on display.

Directly behind the cookies cake is an open view into the kitchen providing the opportunity to see the bakers working. That was great! The chocolate kahlua walnut bread was available for sampling and it was so good I had multiple samples of it. The guy behind the counter also let me try any cookies I wanted. I opted for a coconut macaroon and ended up buying a mexican wedding cookie, a snicker doodle, and a apricot thumbprint. The cookies have been voted best cookies in Connecticut time and time again. I can see why. I inhaled all four of mine before I left the parking lot.

Cupcakes of the day were: red velvet cupcake topped with red sugar, red velvet cupcake topped with coconut flakes, chocolate mousse, strawberry mousse, Chubby Hubby (peanut butter filling, peanut butter frosting with a pretzel atop a chocolate cupcakes), s’mores, and key lime. I brought home a red velvet without coconut, chocolate mousse, strawberry mousse, and Chubby Hubby.

All the cupcakes were good though different than ones from other bakeries. Instead of being somewhat dense and crumbly like the ones from many gourmet cupcake shops around the state, the ones here are much lighter, fluffier, and sponge-cakey – almost like the texture of cakes made from box mix. But, flavors were better than box mix cupcakes. I loved the creamy frostings – especially the cream cheese frosting that had the perfect tartness to sweetness ratio.  I personally prefer the texture of the slighty denser and more crumbly cupcakes though.

I was a big fan of the prices too. At many places $10 will get you two to four cupcakes. Here, I got four cupcakes and four small cookies for less than that. A great value considering how much I enjoyed it all. Other fun things about Sweet Maria’s: they have a Cake of the Month club, host baking classes, and even have some of their recipes on the website. Check it out for all these things and more, and to view some photos of their beautiful creations!

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159 Manor Ave
Waterbury, CT 06705
(203) 755-3804

1249 Wine Bar (Waterbury)

I stopped by last week for a glass of wine and dinner after work since it’s very close to one of the offices where I work.  Since I was alone I sat at the bar.  A quick glance through the drinks list revealed many intriguing martinis, cocktails, beers and, of course, wine.  I knew right away what I wanted when I saw it:  a glass of Dr. Loosen riesling.

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Trying to decide on dinner wasn’t hard either.  Even though a red wine likely would have been more suitable to pair with it, or perhaps a beer, I got the 1249 Burger since that’s what my heart desired at the moment that I ordered.  I also liked that it came with a salad.  If it had come with fries I would have been tempted to keep the fries and not switch it out for a salad, but I appreciated this built-in healthier side.  I placed the order with Greg, the bartender, who also got me the glass of wine.

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While I waited for the burger and salad an orange creamsicle shooter and a  pickled beet and creme fraiche amuse bouche was brought out to me.  I enjoyed both and thought it was a nice touch.  Last time I was here we also had some great shooter and amuse bouches.  That is one of my favorite things about this place.

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When the burger came I was initially alarmed by the size of the bread that the meat was sandwiched between.  At first I thought it was too much bread, but after my first bite I realized that it was of the crunchy on the outside but fluffy on the inside variety, making it look bigger and more dense than it actually is.  Few things are worse than a burger with bread so big that it draws the attention away from the star of the show – the meat patty.  The burger was pretty good overall.  Far from being the most flavorful burger I’ve had but I found it to be satisfying.  The salad was dressed in garden variety balsamic dressing.

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One thing I like about this place is there is a wall with shelves of wine that divides the bar area from the dining room.  The slight separation (it’s not completely blocking off the dining room, but enough to distinguish the two areas) was done tastefully.  The bar area had filled up by the time I was midway through dinner and the scene was very lively but it never got too loud since there is only so much room.  There are no bar tables, only the seats available right at the bar which isn’t very big.

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A good time at the bar coupled with the excellent dinner I had in the main dining room a number of months ago will keep me coming back for more.

1249 W Main St
Waterbury, CT 06708
(203) 756-1249

The Spot – Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (New Haven)

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We had friends visiting from out of town this weekend and had planned to bring them to the original Frank Pepe next door but the line was really long even at 1:30pm so we headed here for lunch instead.  There was a line but it seemed be a lot shorter than at the other place.  We waited about 20-30 minutes.

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Inside was loud and  lively, every table was taken.  There was an interesting mix of patrons including college kids walking around with bottles of Coronas, people coming for some pizza after a run or a workout, and large families who appeared to be regulars.  After we were seated a waitress came right away and took our drink orders.  Since three out of four of us wanted Cokes she suggested we get a pitcher instead of individual glasses since it’d be cheaper.

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We ordered a large cheese pizza and a small white spinach, mushroom & gorgonzola pie.  I wanted the white clam pizza (had it before from the original location and loved it) but no one else in my group did.  The pizzas we got were quite good, especially the spinach, mushroom and gorgonzola.  I look forward to my next visit!

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163 Wooster St
New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 865-7602

Libby’s Italian Pastry Shoppe (New Haven)

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We stopped by here today after pizza, walked past the wrought iron gates, waited in a line about 8 people deep and tried to decide between gelato, cannoli, espresso, or all of the above.  When I got to the case that held all the desserts I noticed many flavors of cannolis including hazelnut, pistachio, peanut butter, coconut, and chocolate.  Also for sale were slices of carrot cake, red velvet cake, and an assortment of Italian pastries and cookies.  The guy in line ahead of us ordered a couple of espressos with lemon peel (sounds gross but he swore it is very good that way and it was how he had it in Europe).

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My friend and I decided to get gelato.  Flavors available today included vanilla, hazelnut, pine nut, cappuccino, and black raspberry.  I got half hazelnut and half cappuccino.  We both found the texture to be more like a soft ice cream (not soft serve ice cream, but soft hard ice cream, if that makes sense) then gelato.  It was not nearly as thick and creamy as we had expected it to be compared to gelato we’ve had elsewhere.  I was not crazy about the hazelnut as the flavor was very weak (the only real hazelnut flavor coming from the little bits of crushed hazelnut in the base), but the cappuccino was great.  I’d get it again.

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CASH ONLY

139 Wooster St
New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 772-0380

Meriano’s Bake Shoppe (Guilford)

Several months ago I had a freshly piped cannoli from Meriano’s Bake Shoppe at the opening day event for The Meat House in Branford.  I was so taken by this delectable Italian pastry that I took the mic from the DJ and announced to all the people at the party that this was the best cannoli I’d ever had.  This is a true story and not an exaggeration.

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My boyfriend surprised me with cannolis from Meriano’s Bake Shoppe on New Years Eve (what a guy) and they are still the best cannoli’s I have ever had!  The crust was airy, crunchy, and fresh.  The filling was creamy, the ideal sweetness, and had chocolate bits that added flavor and textural interest.  They were generously coated with confectioners sugar.  The pastry shell was still crunchy and delicious days later.

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He also brought home a slice of hazelnut chocolate mousse cake that was so good it was hard to stop eating after two bites.  A silky smooth hazelnut mousse center atop a moist yet crumbly chocolate crust contrasted nicely against the layer of chopped hazelnuts sprinkled on top.  It took ever fiber of my being to not finish the whole slice in one sitting in an attempt to exercise some restraint after eating a cannoli and a thousand Christmas cookies.

1200 Boston Post Rd
Guilford, CT 06437
(203) 453-2924

Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale (New Haven)

We had take-out from here tonight for dinner and it was just as good as the one in Madison (our usual spot).  My boyfriend’s parents decided to stop by on their drive home from out of state and noted that it was packed around 5:30 tonight.  We called in the order and they still had to wait a little while.

The fried scrod and french fries (fish & chips – yum!) were excellent and still hot and crispy after the car ride from New Haven to Guilford.  One of us got the boiled potatoes instead of fries  and there were only three small red potatoes, so I think they skimped a bit.

Overall, we were all very happy with our meals.  We’d come here again for sure, but the Madison location will always have our hearts.  The charm of the carousel and the delicious soft-serve ice cream available in the warmer months adds to the experience and cannot be beat.

501 Long Wharf Dr
New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 691-6619

Mr. J Asian Bistro (Guilford)

We never came here when it was Shangri-La but after reading about the reopening under new name and ownership in the Shoreline Times we gave this place a shot recently and loved it!

We were very pleased with everything we ordered when we got take out the weekend before last.  I had the Drunken Noodles, my boyfriend ordered House Fried Rice, and we shared an order of Vegetable Dumplings.  The Drunken noodles were the best I have had in a long time.  Heat level was quite low so ask them to kick it up a notch if you like it spicy, but it had a nice balance of sweet to salty, the noodles were the ideal firmness and did not fall apart as they do from other places.  Sauteed onions and peppers in the noodle dish was great, as were the chunks of fried tofu.  I stole a few bites of the boyfriend’s friend rice and that was also very good.

On Monday I was in town for lunch so I decided to get one of their lunch specials.  When I first looked at the menu I noticed a slew of attractive lunch special options so I made a note to try them once I got the chance.  There are options ranging from Japanese dishes like tempuras and teriyaki anything, to sushi,  bento boxes, etc., to Thai dishes like ginger duck and Panang Curry, to Chinese dishes like black bean sauce with any meat or sesame chicken.I ordered a teriyaki beef bento box.  For $10:  rice, teriyaki beef with vegetables, three pan fried pork and vegetable dumplings, four California rolls, miso soup, and a salad.  What a steal!  I have a big appetite and I couldn’t even finish everything in one sitting.  The presentation was beautiful, too.

Since it was bento style, the to-go container had separate compartments so sauces from one part of the meal didn’t run into another part.  The rice was cooked exquisitely well and was fragrant, indicative of high quality Jasmine white rice.  You may ask for brown rice instead if that’s your thing.  The perfect rice was topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.  The gyoza’s, or dumplings, were also fantastic, and served atop a sweet sauce.  Beef was just a tiny bit chewy, but flavored well and not overcooked by most people’s standard.  It was in a tasty teriyaki sauce and surrounded by thin sliced onions, carrots, and zucchini.  The California rolls were very nicely prepared also.  It made me excited to try some of their other rolls in the future.  In the middle of the large rectangular box was a small space for pickled ginger and wasabi while soy sauce was given in a separate container.

I am always wary of restaurants that specialize in more than one type of cuisine.  It’s like what they say about people who are multilingual – that they aren’t that great at any of the languages they speak.  So far I’ve tried Japanese and Thai and they’ve both impressed me, so I can only imagine the Chinese is very good here as well.  I have a feeling that the days where we have to drive all the way to Clinton for decent Chinese food are behind us.

So far this one looks like a keeper.

100 Village Walk
Guilford, CT 06437
(203) 453-3355

Ranchero’s Mexican Bistro (Guilford)

Boyfriend and I ordered takeout from here tonight and loved our meal.  Everything was so flavorful and tasted fresh.  Several hours later, I am still thinking about how good our dinner was.

We shared the Carne Molida – Nachos with ground beef and Mole Verde topped with Monterey Jack cheese.  The meat in this was incredibly tasty and there was plenty of it.  I couldn’t get enough.

I went with my go-to Enchiladas which I ordered with chicken.  Three corn tortillas that tasted very authentic and were the perfect size wrapped around grilled chicken and topped with Monterey Jack cheese.  The seasoned rice and pico de gallo were excellent.

As always, he got a Burrito de Tlaxcala with pork carnitas and he enjoyed it.

This place is a keeper and has made it’s way into our takeout rotation.

63 Whitfield St
Guilford, CT 06437
(203) 458-0009