Max’s Oyster Bar’s Phenomenal Crab Melt Sandwich

While visiting a college friend in Connecticut, I had the chance to eat lunch there. Now, I have dined in Connecticut before, and I have eaten well! But that was during the summer. Not a whole lot of places to eat outside with a lobster roll in hand when it’s sub 30 F, you know?
That is why we chose to dine at Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford.

The interior is upscale but not intimidating – the sort of place you would expect to find well clad suburban moms and young business executives doing a quick lunch.

Baked Oysters with Caramelized Onions, Brioche, Tasso Ham, and Gruyere Cheese

These are oysters Rockefeller for people who think they don’t like oysters. Lightly grilled, which brought out the smoky flavors that complimented the peppery tasso ham. The Gruyere was applied with a heavy hand, its nutty richness soaking up the fresh, salty juices of the oysters. Soft, thick breadcrumbs completed the  dish. This was a hell of a starter. It was rich, but not at all heavy. The oysters worked so well because they weren’t overtly oceanic – just a bright, briny note in the background. Usually I like the oysters to take center stage, but here they sang clearly in the chorus.

Clam Chowder

Traditional in the best sense of the word. Great New England clam chowder needs no improvements, no accompaniments to jazz it up or reinvent it. It needs a buttery base, a creamy mouthfeel, tender potatoes, pleasantly chewy clams, and smoky bacon. Don’t give me any red bell peppers or mango coulis. Gimme a soup so think you could stand a spoon up in it, and that’s my man. This soup wasn’t QUITE thick enough, but the clean clam flavor and perfect seasoning won me over. This is highly recommended.

San Francisco Style Crab Melt with Blue Crab, Dill Aioli, Jack Cheese, and Sourdough Bread
If this sandwich doesn’t scream “hedonism,” then I don’t know what does. Sweet, juicy crab blended with creamy mayonnaise and fresh dill. It was blanketed in a melty, tangy layer of jack cheese that stretched when I pulled the toasty, buttery halves of the sandwich apart. The crab was warmed through just slightly, so it retained the mild taste of cold crab but absorbed some of the bread’s butter and became aromatic and sweet. Though I don’t tend to love crab and cheese, this achieved the impossible – it highlighted the flavor of the crab and the texture of the cheese so each complimented the other without any competition.

Max Oyster Bar is a great place to grab a Connecticut lunch, and by that I mean fresh, seafood oriented, and reasonably priced. By NYC standards, it was practically cheap. The service was great, the portions were huge, and they really have a way with fish and cheese. This restaurant single handedly convinced me that Connecticut isn’t just a summer destination.

Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough

Birthdays mean different things to different people. 
They can mean reflection over the year past. 
A time for gifts and celebration over what to come. 
Or if you are me…

Huge plates of freshly killed crustaceans. 
I jest…but not really…
For my birthday, we schlepped to Noank, CT. 
Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough is the best lobster roll in America. 
I mean it.

Why else would all these people be in line?

It isn’t for the casual, bare bones dining room.

It might be for the incredibly serene atmospehere. 
What am I saying…who the hell cares about what it looks like?

Cause the real pull is this. 
The lobster. Caught fresh that morning, or sooner. Filled with creamy, rich tomalley, soft bricks of roe that crush with a burst of brine in between your teeth, and…

Rich, tender, meaty but also fresh tasting. So buttery they don’t even need butter.
Of course…a little butter never actually hurt anyone.

Or you can get the lobster roll. 
A quarter pound of lobster meat, served cold mixed with mayo or hot with just melted butter.
The melted butter version is the best.

The way that the butter pools on the soft, sesame seeded bun. The way that the steam invades your mouth, filling it with the clean, breezy scent of the ocean. 
The velvety mouthfeel of hot lobster. 
It is a subtle dish focused on just one flavor.

If you want more variety, try the excellent oysters. Different eeach day, there are often ones from Abbott’s own bed. Small, creamy and mild, they are perfect with a touch of the very horseradish-y cocktail sauce.

Or help yourself to crabcakes – no fillers here. More like solidified crab dip than crab bound with bread, these are creamy, soft and gently crispy on the outside. 
No fries here. Just a mild, sweet, mayonnaise-y slaw and some salty, oily housemade potato chips. 
By the way…when talking about potato chips, salty and oily are positive adjectives. 
And, really, all I have are positive adjectives for Abbott’s. So cheap for what you get: Beautiful scenery, relaxed atmosphere, FANTASTIC food.
Can’t wait till it’s my birthday again.
Abbott's Lobster In The Rough on Urbanspoon

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, Mohegan Sun

It was my birthday August 1.
Happy birthday to me!
To celebrate, we went on an eating trip. 

The day started with a bagel with cream cheese, lox and onion.
And ended here.
At Frank Pepe’s in the Mohegan Sun Casino.
Now, I have been to the original Frank Pepe’s, but we were hungry after a few hours of gambling in the casino and didn’t want to schlep to New Haven for a clam pie.
*Note – this is not a comparison between pies. This is a review of a stand alone pizza* 
So we went into this outpost, located right off the casino floor.

Casual, with kitschy touches and the same green booths as at the original.

A huge brick pizza oven.

And a menu with pies.
The only thing it didn’t have was the long line.
Happy birthday to me!

You can get a pepperoni and sausage pizza here. Or one with peppers and onions. 
But why would you? 
You want the clam pie. 
And not the white one that is on the menu…ask for it with red sauce. They will do it. 
And when it arrives…inhale.

The scent coming up from the pizza will be garlicky, sweet, salty and fresh.
Also…the pizza will be insanely hot. 
You will burn your mouth. 
It’s worth it, I swear.

The crust is thin, lightly charred and slightly floppy in the center, like all Neapolitan pizza crusts are. It finises off with a sturdy end crust, pleasantly charred and in spots, but not tasting bitter or rancid. 
Then there are the toppings.

Huge, fresh clams. You can tell they are fresh at first sight because of the irregular sizes of the chopped clams. Large and small, thick and thin, they are scattered over the crust, melding with the sweet, fresh taste of the tomato sauce and the red pepper flakes you will definitely want to apply. The calms are reminiscent of the sea – salty, fresh, deep tasting. They meld with the heartiness of the flour to create the perfect relationship between topping and crust. And the sauce is the secret agent here. More of a tomato sauce and less of a marinara sauce, it is so purely tomatoes -bright, sweet and filled with that tangy fresh tomatoey taste. Woody oregano brings out the earthiness of the sauce. The pie comes with fresh garlic, but I prefer it without. I like the clams to come through without the sharp bite of garlic.

Clearly, I like a lot of modifications. 
Luckily, the folks at Frank Pepe’s are happy to comply.
Happy birthday to me!

Summer Shack Attack!

On our way home from seeing our cousins, we stopped at a casino…doesn’t every family?  Oh wait…they don’t?  Well, let me tell ya something-we don’t smoke, don’t steal, and don’t drink(much!), but as we put it…the family that gambles together stays together!  There is somehting about the sound of bells and whistles going off all around a casino that gets my heart racing and my blood pumping.  The minute I walk onto the floor and inhale the scent of cigarette smoke mingled with desperation and hope…I feel at home.  I can spend HOURS at a penny machine or a $2 blackjack table.  Of course I love to win, but even when I lose…I just love the thought that MAYBE i will win.  It’s the possiblity in the air.  That’s what I love about gambling.  My name is Sarah and I am a gamble-aholic
…oh, wait…wrong blog…
Anyway…so after a couple of hours of this:
It was time for some of this:
Jasper White’s Summer Shack, convieniently located in the Mohegan Sun Casino Resort (even saying casino…makes me kinda…hot and bothered…) is an offshoot of the well known chef’s popular seafood shack in Cambridge, MA.  It is just what it says it is-a seafood shack-albeit a huge, nicely laid out one-that serves the freshest fish in all sorts of preparations.

The restaurant is large and informal with a huge open air kitchen.

Tanks full of feisty live lobsters,  just waiting to be steamed and dunked in butter!

The daily specials listed on the menu-look how many different preparations of lobster were available!
We started out with the classic New England Clam Chowder.  Perfect.  Thick, creamy, filled with silky potatoes and sweet, briney clams.  Topped with just a smattering of parsley…this is what you think of when you think of clam chowder.  

Chock full of wonderful clams with just a hint of smokiness from the undertones of bacon.  I thought it was perhaps a bit bland-I prefer a more “seafood-y” chowder-but it was a very good bowl of chowder.  My sister just loved it.

clams on the half shell.  Now THESE were some clams!!!!  Topped with slightly sweet, slightly nasal passage clearing cocktail sauce, they invaded my mouth with the fresh salinity that only shellfish brings.  Tender in texture, cold in temperature, and simply…refreshing…..  These clams are the standard to which all others should be held.  I ate 3 and could have eaten 12 more.

If only I was fast enough.
 You didn’t think we weren’t going to get fried clams, did you?  Fools.
These were simply great.  Is it actually impossible to get a BADLY FRIED clam in the state of CT?  I’m starting to think that is the case…these were crispy outside, positively creamy within, salty, meaty, and fresh with a squirt of lemon.  They really didn’t need any of the excellent tartar sauce on the side.  They just needed my mouth.  Please get these if you come here.  You will become a seafood LOVER.
My sister got the Mussels Arribiata.  WHOA-these were the BEST MUSSELS I have had in a while.  SO GOOD!!!  Each mussel was soft, creamy, without a trace of minerality or grit, just a sweet, oceany taste.  And the sauce…oh the SAUCE…garlicky, oniony, tomatoey heaven that was so spicy my sister’s nose was running.  That’s how we like it.  These were FAB!!!
I chose the Portugese Haddock with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and olives.  Guess what?  I love haddock!  Ok, I know I love comments from the peanut gallery, please!  But really…what a fab rish!!  Firm and flakey, but not as firm as cod, haddock has a mild, non fishy taste that takes well to a preparation such as this.  The salty olives, acidic  tomatoes, sweet onions, and hearty peppers all blended to create a piquant, umami rich sauce that complimented and added to the fish’s delicate flavor.  With perfectly steamed jasmine rice, this dish was a total winner.
Marmie got a lobster.  It was sweet and buttery.  So is she.
What a delicious meal!!  The prices were definitely a bit steep, but hey…you are in a casino…you either have money to blow or are so far in the hole, you might as well just charge one final “hurrah” to your already defunct card anyway!  The seafood could not have been any fresher if I had caught it myself, and was prepared in simply delicious ways.  I will be coming back here for sure…oh yeah, and I will be eating at the restaurant too 😉  Gamblers anon.  Totally.
Jasper Whites Summer Shack Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Donut Delights

Road trips are not all about fried shellfish, no they are not.  You need to balance that out with a healthy dose of fried DOUGH.  I really didn’t have any ideas on how to fulfill this part of the trip, so my sister took a stab in the dark and picked out this little shop:
This is what Fritos and Foie Gras faces look like when approaching dessert:

When we walked in, the comforting and alluring scents of sugar, maple, and butter enveloped us and acted as instant anti-depressants.  If they bottled the scent of donut shops, I SWEAR I would wear it as perfume!
  We  were greeted with rack upon rack of freshly fried donuts-do you see those little icicles dripping off the racks.  Um, they are ICING-CLES.  They are literally DRAPING their donuts in frosting here…how many ways can I say “yes, please?”.
Yeast donuts, cake donuts, old fashioned, fritters, cakes, and pastries of all sort lay warm from the oven just begging to be eaten.  Well, who were we to deny such sweet little desserts?  If they were to be eaten, it was we who would do the eating!  I’m selfless, I know.

As my sister put it “If it’s been around this long, it probably doesn’t suck”.  We are a rather eloquent family like that.

The apple fritter, freshly filled with apple filling.  It had the girth of a hubcap and the taste…

of NIRVANA! Tender, freshly fried dough filled with cinnamon and sugar coated apples and a sticky sweet glaze that was freshly applied.  The apple filling was tender and had that perfect sweet spicy ratio that apple pie filling has.  This was not like other apple fritters-it was different and it was superior.

We also tried an old fashioned.  Whereas the apple fritter was a light yeast donut, this was a cake donut-denser, heavier, richer.

and awesome.  It was more buttery than anything else, with just enough sweetness to remind you that this was a dessert and should NOT be consumed for breakfast every day (though every now and then, it makes a dandy way to start the day).  The inside was dense and thickly crumbed, and moist, while the outside was fried to a crusty golden brown simply drenched in sugary white icing that clung to the lips.  This was a donut to remember.

And my sister and dad tried the coffee cake.

From the look of joy on my dad’s face…the coffee cake was also a success.
What a hidden gem!  Not on any foodie website that I frequent, Beach Donuts is a delicious and special shop near Westport, Ct.  It is well priced, delicious, and a total gem.  And if you go…bring me back an apple fritter, would ya?

A Tale of the Trip…

Thanksgiving is over…our roast pork and kimchi is all eaten and packed away in the fridge (oh yeah you are getting a heck of a Momofuku cookbook post about Thanksgiving…we are rebels like that)…and people who are unafraid of getting trampled to death are waiting in line at 2 am to get deals on electronics and cologne.  Sounds like a perfect time for another Fritos and Foie Gras roadtrip!  On my family’s way up to Boston to see cousins, I laid down the groundwork for lunch:
1)Must not be a chain (although 3 locations were allowed-mini chains can be regional)
2)MUST have whole bellied fried clams
3) Must bring up memories of summers on the cape, riding on my father’s sloop wearing Ralph Lauren sweaters, and clambakes with Mimsy and Bill Jr. at the country club…okay, those aren’t really MY memories, but the restaurant should make me feel like I grew up in New England ok?!  Yeah I want the food to give me false memories…I am slightly demanding.
The place that seemed to fit the criteria was Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale, in Westport, CT.
When we got there at 11:30, there were already a few tables filled, and by the time we left an hour later the place was PACKED!  Best to get here on the early side!

The place was a large, super casual affair, with paper placemats, ketchup readily available, and pictures of Bill  Clinton and other heads of state chowing down on their seafood.  Well if it’s good enough for Bill…

We started with the clam chowder.  Now, this was not New England clam chowder-there was no cream, no bacon, no thick, rich feel.  It was more akin to Rhode Island clam chowder.  A cloudy, semi transparent broth redolent of salt and sea with no other flavors to mar it. Huge pieces of sweet and briny clams.  Tender chunks of Idaho potatoes added heft and just a bit of heartiness to the otherwise light and seafood focused dish.  This was clam soup for the soul.  I could eat about 7 bowls of this and not feel weighed down or tired of it.  It was just so totally…of the sea.  My sister was not a fan, but I am telling you…if you like clams, this soup is for you.

My mom and I ordered the scrod.  No, scrod is not the name for dried bird poop on your car, though that is what it sounds like.  It is actually baby cod!  Now, I know that people don’t like the idea of eating animals.  But I like veal, I love suckling pig, and hey…did you ever eat an egg?  Ok, I’m getting down off my soapbox and re-focusing on the scrod.  It was thin, flaky, and tasted SO mild and sweet!  It was much more like sole than regular cod, and was perfection with just a squeeze of lemon.  I didn’t even use any of the (truly excellent) tartar sauce.  I saved that for…

THE WHOLE BELLY FRIED CLAMS!!!!  Have you ever had fried clams?  Well, whole bellied fried clams are to regular fried clams as Disney World is to your childhood backyard-that is, bigger, sweeter, and BETTER. Anyone squeamish about trying seafood should start out with whole bellied fried clams.  When prepared well, they are not at all fishy, tough, or intimidating.  And these were among the best I have ever eaten.  You just dip them in the accompanying creamy, relish flecked tartar sauce and pop them in your mouth!  Crispy, greaseless batter crunches beneath your teeth and gives way to a soft pillow of sweet and salty brine.  And that is it.  It is the pure essence of clams with nothing else.  I can NOT recommend these bites of heaven enough.  Get these…or I will shun you. 

We also got cherry neck clams on the half shell.  Unfortunately, these were the one item I did not like.  Though I look forward to the cold and savory rush that raw shellfish delivers, these tasted bitter, over mineral-y, and just generally…off.  Though the cocktail sauce was full of horseradish and delicious, I just was not into these.

My father, the human garbage disposal, had no such issues.
Raw clams aside, Lenny and Joes was a fantastic lunch spot.  It was casual, extremely well priced, and had the most delicious fried clams I have had in quite awhile.  There was something for everyone, and it is one of only two locations-BOTH in CT.  I am a clam lover, and now, I am a Lenny and Joe’s lover!  
Lenny & Joe's Fish Tale on Urbanspoon