House made sausage at Hub and Spoke

Crepe making at Cafe Dolce

It’s been a good year for my taste buds: delicious meals at restaurants both new and old; the rapidly expanding supply of craft beer, small batch distilling, and fine wine which has created an avalanche of new flavors; local farms bringing fresher and better produce to our markets and restaurants; while importers bring a steady stream of new flavors to our shores.

Reflecting on all the good tastes in 2018, I thought I’d recap some of the best, stomach rumbling as I went back through the year.  

There were memorable meals in local restaurants.  We took a tour of nearby diners, including both Norwalk’s Silver Star and Family Diner along with Orem’s in Wilton. They’re democratic gathering places where anyone can go for meatloaf and gravy, a club sandwich, or breakfast all day, plus a generous slice of pie.

Hub and Spoke in Black Rock is the place to go for house-made sausages –  kielbasa, Italian, andouille, bratwurst, and chorizo – all made right there and finished in their own smoker.

The stylish Dere Street restaurant in Newtown

A survey of fried seafood in Norwalk at Overton’s, Knot Norm’s, and SoNo Seaport showed that we’re in the same league as any coastal New England town for crave-worthy fried fish.

A hankering for crêpes took us to Cafe Dolce in Norwalk, Sucré Salé in Ridgefield, and Méli-Mélo in Greenwich for this very French comfort food.

Further afield there was plenty of restaurant creativity.  We had a memorable lunch at the Dere Street Restaurant and Bakery in Newtown where authentic English food shares the menu with delicious Italian dishes in a stylish setting.

At NoMad on 28th Street in NYC the roast chicken was the most extravagant I’ve ever encountered. Meticulously roasted, seasoned with foie gras, brioche, and truffles, and carved to order, the chicken is richly flavored and richly priced ($94 for two), but worth it for a once-in-a-while occasion.

After a peek behind the scenes at Harney and Sons Tea warehouse we had a lovely patio lunch at their restaurant and retail shop in Millerton, NY.  With well over 200 teas to choose from and an equally tempting menu, it’s a perfect day trip for tea lovers.

Foods, both old and new, were cause for some good eating. The year started off last winter with an exploration of hot chocolate with granddaughter Moira. She reminded me of the pleasures of this simple drink so often relegated to kids. It can be a powdered mix out of a packet or so much more. Dutch process chocolate with steamed espresso-style milk, thick rich ganache, or dark chocolate all bring it into the adult realm.  

Butters for tasting

The midterm elections set me on a quest for the old-time Hartford Election cake. A yeast-leavened cake baked from a recipe at met with the approval of the local candidates at the League of Women Voters forum.  

A group of friends gathered around our dining room table for some comparative tastings, starting with croissants from local bakers. The volunteer panel especially liked the examples from Wave Hill Bakery, SoNo Baking Company, and Cafe Dolce.

Another taste panel considered butter, both everyday brands and artisanal cultured examples. There was surprising variety in a commodity I often take for granted.  The Vermont Creamery unsalted tied with Vermont Creamery sea salt crystals as the favorites. Tried and true Land O’Lakes was the third most popular.

Rob Schulten at Asyum Distillery in Bridgeport

It’s hard to keep up in the booming world of craft beverages.  After a long hiatus, distilling has returned to Fairfield County at the Asylum Distillery in Bridgeport. Norwalk native Rob Schulten is cooking up Vodka, Gin, Corn Whisky, Aged Corn Whiskey, Maple Whisky, and Ginger Zap. The industrial distillery is open for tastings – call ahead to reserve.

We visited the father and son team of Rob and David Kaye at their Nod Hill Brewery in Ridgefield.  The beers were excellent and the atmosphere inviting.  There’s entertainment some nights and visiting food trucks for a nosh with your beer.

At Bar Sugo on Wall Street, bartender Seth Hiravy taught us and our fellow mixology students the ins and outs of making cocktails with flair and flavor. “Use fresh juices, top quality spirits, and measure the ingredients, just like you would a cooking recipe,” he explained.

In Twenty Wines Under $20 Eric Asimov wrote in the New York Times about interesting, high-value wines from smaller importers.  It set me on a quest to identify reliable importers including Skurnik, Rosenthal Wine Merchants, and Kermit Lynch among others that always provide value in lesser known wines. Look for those names on the back labels.

As temperatures dropped and Christmas neared, I went in search of restaurants with better than average collections of bourbon whiskey. Bourbon Raw in SoNo and Peaches Southern Pub on Wall Street both specialize in that American spirit and have excellent food.

These were some of the delicious highlights, but there were a lot more, and I have the snug belt to prove it. I’m confident 2019 will be just as good, if not better.  I’m raising my glass to another delicious Happy New Year!

Tea tasting at Harney and Sons restaurant in Millbrook, NY