A sunny Sunday in Westville

I dare say it’s reprehensible that I let near three months pass by in New Haven without experiencing one of Westville’s famed bruncheries. So on a recent sunny Sunday, simmering in the last warm breaths of summer, I finally made the trip –  eating companions, air conditioning and all – past Whalley Avenue’s fast food restaurants and run down establishments to a bustling Lena’s Cafe and Confections. Luckily we had put our name on the list, because clearly half of New Haven had the same idea. But Lena’s clearly caters for their popularity – more than a handful of flavoured coffees are on offer to tide over the morning rumbles.

While they do offer lunch, brunch is the way to go here. Along with an extensive list of regulars like omelettes and eggs every which way, there’s always a list of specials boasting seasonal flavours, like the savoury acorn squash souffle with rosemary ham, gouda, and cranberry relish, or the decadent harvest waffle with apples, cranberries, oats and cinnamon mousse. Having heard rumours of the challah french toast souffle passed around like high school gossip, I decided to tackle the towering, eggy cube. It arrived a somewhat amorphous mass, paunchy and slightly tilted like a chubby buddha resting on its haunches, crowned with a single strawberry. I planned to devour it swiftly, but was deceived by it’s whispy name – the creme anglais-soaked brick feels just that in your stomach, delicious though it may be. A sample of the regular challah french toast revealed a far lighter texture – much more akin to your dime-a-dozen french toast but with an added chew and spunk from the challah. Both have earned their bragging rights, just make sure you order based on your taste.

Lena’s’ generous plates, with their orange-wheel garnishes, could be mistaken for standard, super-sized American breakfast fare, but their quirky flavours add a little flair and keep the tastebuds guessing. Despite the onslaught of Sunday morning brunchers, the waitstaff and kitchen keep the food and drinks coming, their chipper disposition never wearing thin. Glancing once more out the window at the climatic display outside, it’s only a shame that there is no patio to enjoy a bite al fresco.

Lena’s Cafe and Confections

873 Whalley Avenue
New Haven CT 06515

(203) 397 5885

Open from 8am Monday – Friday (closed Tuesdays) and from 8:30am on weekends

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Filed under American, Breakfast

Edible artistry

If, on tucking into one of Nancy Ackermann’s flamboyant creations, you feel that you are sampling a work of art, you wouldn’t be far off. Owner of 4 and Twenty Blackbirds Bake Shop which is now in its 18th year in Guilford, Nancy’s early professional life was spent patching together work as a furniture maker after studying woodworking at art school. Unable to afford the expensive machinery to practice her craft, she expressed her creative drive by baking desserts for a local eastern European restaurant while doing carpentry for another restaurant at which she bartended. With limitless energy (“forty hours has always seemed like not enough work,” she tells me), Nancy quickly moved on to a restaurant with a talented head chef whom she would look to for mentorship.

But within two months, the head baker had walked on her job, Nancy was given the role and her workload – to her pleasure – almost doubled. Now, eighteen years on, woodworking is not much more than a warm recollection, although she does tell me, “It came in handy with the shop…I built all the cabinets, laid all the tile.”

4 and Twenty Blackbirds itself is a bright and bustling establishment tucked into a neighbourhood plaza in Guilford. When I enter on a Friday, five young assistants are fluttering around the kitchen in matching tie-dye t-shirts. “It’s tie-dye day today,” Nancy tells me. “Friday’s tie-dye, Thursday’s purple.” What was first a fashion coincidence turned into a weekly tradition that certainly signals a sense of camaraderie the atmosphere behind the counter. The open kitchen allows customers to watch the magic happen and let’s Nancy chat to her regulars, although, “it can be a huge distraction at times, we would get a lot more work done with out it,” she says.

While some of her recipes have been passed down in her family, many can be attributed to her artistic ingenuity. In her early jobs, she would often arrive early to work to experiment and explore with her baking – stirring, whipping and kneading at the will of her imagination. While she keeps a number of standards on the menu each week – including a moist, three-layered carrot cake and a pair of chocolate cakes – she follows fruit through the seasons and uses only Bishop Orchard’s peaches and apples at their peak. I was lucky enough to take home a piece of her Austrian apple cake, which features in store during fall. Look out for the glistening crown of pastry nestled over layers of plump apple and thick custard.

Her cotton candy-like macaroons are subtle and delicate, her molasses cookies fudgy and decadent. Her lemon and pepper biscuits have travelled as far as Ireland to sate the cravings of her loyal customers. And her tie-dye cupcakes, well…inspiration from her t-shirts, perhaps? While she often whips up sweet bread puddings, for salty teeth this week there are savoury puds on the menu, along with foccacias that often feature herbs and vegetables fresh from Nancy’s garden.

Beyond the “aromatherapy” that baking provides, Nancy says it’s the creative element and the ability to connect with people fuels her in a way woodworking couldn’t. And, “If you make a minor mistake, it doesn’t haunt you for the rest of your life,” she says. You enjoy it, you eat it and then it’s gone!”

4 & Twenty Blackbirds Bake Shop

610 Village Walk
Guilford CT 06437

(203) 458 6900

Open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 7:30am

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A two-wheeled tour of New York

A quick report from New York City…I spent the weekend touring several of New York’s boroughs by bike, which I discovered to be far more scenic and sanitary (albeit are more exhausting) than the subway. Gastronomically speaking, New York’s best stories are often stumbled upon serendipitously, tucked away amidst its criss-cross labyrinth of streets where they await discovery by shrewd hunters. Others, however, occupy the city’s largest public spaces and require you to draw blood to your elbows trying to manoeuvre through the crowds.

Case in point: Union Square’s Greenmarket on a Saturday. Locals drag around shopping carts, stocking them that night’s dinner parties, parents swan their children around for ice cream and pie, tourists pose for photos in front of stacks of fresh produce. This super(sized) market has been in operation since the 1970s and amasses over 100 regional farmers and food producers. Beyond the usual (but equally enticing) fresh farm produce, you can get your hands on artisan sausages, iced herbals teas, fresh sprouts, kimchi, goats milk ice cream and wild mushrooms, amongst other delicacies.


Once you have battled the crowds, take a seat under the expansive canopies of Union Square Park and enjoy your newfound treasures. I took home a pert and moist ball of fresh cow’s milk mozzarella from Tonjes Family Dairy, syrupy, marble-like canadice grapes  from Buzzard Crest Vineyards, a handful of Eckerton Hill Farm sungold tomatoes and a crusty wholewheat baguette for a little French picnic.

Early on Sunday morning, cycling through Brooklyn’s sleepy streets, I rolled into Crown Heights, a Jewish corner of the borough. Having been missing Cheskie’s top-notch kosher treats since our departure from Montreal, the cravings for a quality heimishe bakery had been niggling at me. Sadly, there’s no patch for this addiction. After a quick chat with a local, I was pointed in the direction of Gombo’s Heimishe Bakery, which was surprisingly busy considering the hour. The store was almost without sound as drowsy-eyed customers filled coffee cups and helped themselves to the self-serve bakery ‘wall’. Rugelach, danishes, challah, oh my! Sadly, they don’t stock any poppyseed products, a personal favourite, so I settled with a perfectly moist and flavoursome cinnamon roll. You can grab all the usual kosher breads and cookies, all very reasonably priced.

After circumnavigating the expansive borough, I pedalled into Prospect Park, legs yearning for a break. Clearly peak hour on the park’s circuit, cyclists, joggers and horseback riders sped (or clopped) by me as a group of bodies moved perfectly in time together practising tai chi on the lakeshore. It’s certainly a picturesque and somewhat quieter alternative to Central Park on the weekend. Reaching the northernmost tip of the park at Grand Army Plaza, I suddenly found myself amongst masses of people lining up for a bakers dozen of food trucks.

The Prospect Park Food Truck Rally… it was just waiting for me to stumble upon it. Held on the third Sunday of each month, many of New York’s most popular food trucks congregate at the south end of Grand Army Plaza to offer up their goodies. Many people came down for the occasion, picnic rugs and all, others were finishing off their morning’s exercise and looking to sate their appetites. A brisk fall day meant the queues were pretty skinny at Kelvin’s Natural Slush and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, although their flavours have been the cause for much hype and acclaim. Hungry customers were lining up in hoards for Rickshaw Dumplings’ pork/chive and chicken/thai basil creations and Gorilla Cheese NYC’s elaborate grilled cheeses – try smoked gouda with BBQ pulled pork and onions or imported asiago with prosciutto di Parma and aioli.

While I was tempted by Red Hook Lobster Pound’s Maine- and Connecticut-style lobster rolls, and the sweet fragrance of Wafels and Dinges nearly hypnotised me (and clearly many others), I settled with a selection of asian-spiced tacos from Kimchi Taco. You can choose from sweet marinated Korean BBQ beef, pork tenderloin, pulled chicken or tofu edamame falafel which all come topped with their house-made kimchi made with pepper flakes from the chef’s grandmother’s farm in South Korea. The vegetarian in me doesn’t like to admit that the pork certainly boasted a richer flavour than the falafel. Spicy, juicy and filling, my body thanked me as a tucked into the feast. It’s a rare occasion that you get to take advantage of so many food trucks at the same time. The last rally is being held on 16 October before winter kicks in, but you can follow most trucks now on Twitter.

As usual, each trip to New York I uncover barely a handful of places and pass by countless more. Overwhelming choice or endless possibility – it just depends how you look at it. Choosing just one – well these days it’s as hard as choosing an ice cream sandwich…

Union Square Greenmarket

Union Square Park
East 14th St
New York NY

Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 8am – 6pm

Nearest subway station: Union Square

Gombo’s Heimishe Bakery

328 Kingston Ave
Brooklyn NY

(718) 771 7701

Nearest subway station: Kingston Ave

Prospect Park Food Truck Rally

Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn NY

Nearest subway station: Grand Army Plaza

Final date: 16 October 2011. Check website for participating trucks for their Twitter pages

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Filed under Baked goods, Kosher, Markets, Mobile Food

The local lobster shack

Feeding time at Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale mirrors a frenzied menagerie. Hoards of people mill at the counters, animatedly gesturing to the menu boards as they inch closer to be served. Over the din, a server squawks, “number 18, order’s ready!” Behind the counter, bits of fried batter, all shapes and sizes, are tossed acrobatically fry basket to plate by tens of speedy hands. Customers gripping trays laden with fresh fry bump and dodge through the crowds seeking out a free place to feast.

After an afternoon under the sun on Hammonasett Beach in the nearby state park, we thought Lenny and Joe’s would be a good place for some weekend fish fry. Evidently everyone in New Haven County thought so too. The drive-in has been a local institution since Lenny and Joe, New Haven brothers and political science graduates, decided to give the restaurant business a shot after a few early career busts. With a few of their own recipes under their belt, they opened up their drive-in on Route 1 in Madison in 1979. What was originally a seasonal, four-table shack is now a year-round operation with a 70-seat sister restaurant in Westbrook.

Inside the Madison drive-in, you’ll find a packed front counter area and the typical american family restaurant-style booth seating. My tip is to skip the indoor dining area and grab a shaded picnic table in the sprawling patio out back. Regulars are easily spotted by their BYO tablecloths and stocked coolers of cold ones. On a late summer’s afternoon, it’s a perfect intermingling of good food, atmosphere and a chilled beverage or two. The reprieve from the din indoors is broken only by the intermittent chime of the store’s carousel, which entertains restless youngsters. All the proceeds from the carousel are given entirely to local charities, and at the store entrance you can read a bounty of thank you letters from local charities that have benefited.

Now let’s talk food. Expect the standard, no-frills fry, where fries and ‘slaw accompany every dish and the ketchup is on tap. The difference lies is in the quality of the seafood. Jim Schreck (“like the movie” he tells me), a friendly young local who has taken over the business from the brothers, says all the produce is locally sourced. “Customers can taste the difference in the seafood,” he says. “And because of that, they keep coming back.” The lobster rolls are (while I have eaten bigger) decently sized and served Connecticut-style warm with butter. Because they come out with butter already laden, you want to eat pretty quickly to avoid a soaked bun. Depending on your budget and appetite, you can pick up a fresh scrod fish sandwich, a tasty bargain at $5, or a full lobster or Alaskan King Crab dinner (at market prices). Those with poor self control might be tempted by the ice cream stand for a little dessert, if you can fit it in.

Perfectly distanced from Hammonasett Beach, it’s a convenient spot grab a post-beach bite without the worry of sandy flip flops. And despite the crowds (and depending on what you order), a battalion of fryers in the kitchen will ensure your meal gets out quickly. New in town or a seasoned local, it’s the perfect introduction to New England lobster shacks.

Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale

1301 Boston Post Road
Madison CT 06443

(203) 245 7289

and

86 Boston Post Road
Westbrook CT 06498

(860) 669 0767

Both open year-round, times vary based on season

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That old chestnut

When I walk into Chestnut Fine Foods one weekday to ask if I can have a mosey around with my camera, co-owner Patty Walker suggests to me, “You must come inside the kitchen and see my mother, Eleanor. She 89 and still works 12 hours days twice a week.” Tucked at the back of the store kitchen, I meet a cheerful face methodically adding ingredients to a mixer. As I snap away she waves her hands in the air and laughs satirically, “Do I get a contract? Patty, she wants to give me a contract!”

Inside this humble kitchen – while Eleanor dances, Patty casually swans around throwing pork tenderloin into a pan and her husband Fred begins to mix together a batch of bread dough as if it’s second nature – you might be deceived that this is just a family having a little fun cooking together. But don’t be fooled by their relaxed air – this is a family of kitchen heavyweights. Patty and Fred have been running the business for 25 years since they both gave up their jobs to follow their passion for cooking and food.

Completely self-taught, they’ve relied on lots of trial and error and, “lots of tasting,” Patty tells me. “Lots and lots of tasting.” Whilst both are of Italian-American heritage, Patty and Fred try not to stick to one particular cuisine. In the retail portion of the store, you’ll always find a new array of prepared dishes available to eat in the quaint café, or to take home. On any day you might find stuffed Portobellos, sesame-crusted seared tuna toasts, chicken caprese, pearl couscous with grilled veggies, cannelloni, black bean chilli or eggplant parmigiana. “It changes depending on what produce is available and what is the freshest in the market,” Patty says. “If it doesn’t look good, I won’t buy it.” As much as possible, they use Connecticut grown produce and allow the menu to follow the season. Along with all their prepared foods, they offer Connecticut and imported cheeses as well as locally grown and bottled condiments and relishes. After cooking for 12 hours a day, I wonder what Patty eats when she returns home at night. “I love potato chips,” she laughs. “I could give you a list of all those too?”

Fred also bakes every morning to sate his loyal bread lovers, so I’m lucky to snag a loaf of his herb bread, a voluptuous and flavourful loaf flecked with caraway seeds. With a slather of Meadow Stone chèvre, a beautifully crafted local cheese that Patty suggests, and some of my homemade pesto, the fresh, moist bread is a perfect meal in itself. Chestnut also offers an irresistible selection of cakes, bars and cookies, including a no-flour chocolate mousse bar with chocolate ganache, Captain Morgan’s banana cream cake and – my choice – dense lemon bars. The richness of the curd and syrupy kick of the buttery crust made it the best lemon bar we’ve tried, period. Chestnut does cakes to order and will happily take requests for seasonal desserts – they’ve previously done English puddings, Hungarian breads and Italian holiday favourites.

While their shopfront is popular, catering makes up the larger part of their business. They’ve done weddings in Manhattan, on boats and in parks with no running water along with functions at Yale and in private residences. In fact, during October they are holding 30 farmer to chef dinners in 30 separate homes, creating dishes from produce provided by local farmers. They also help organize the Saturday State Street Farmers Market, where you can grab local Connecticut produce – and some of Chestnut’s baked goodies.

Despite their infatuation with food, Patty tells me it’s their connection with customers that matters most. She tells me of one customer that recently stopped in to the store. “She told me, ‘My dad’s going to be 100 soon – you remember when you did his 75th birthday!’ I know it sounds really corny, but we really do love them,” she says. “It doesn’t always have to be about the big fancy wedding, it’s just that you connect with somebody.”

Chestnut Fine Foods

1012 State Street
New Haven CT 06511

(203) 782 6767

Open seven days and available for catering

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Filed under Catering, Deli-style, Gourmet foods

The ‘real New England’

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, sun sinking low over the hazy sound, we let the warmth of the day slowly niggle at us until one of us declared, “let’s go jump in the water”. From New Haven, many people either tolerate the many quirky characters of West Haven beach or make the pilgrimage east to Hammonasett State Park or Rhode Island. But for a brief escape to idyllic New England, locals need not travel any further than sleepy Stony Creek.

Nestled amongst lush coastal forest, meandering marshland and expansive Connecticut estates, Stony Creek is a quaint coastal harbor and gateway to the Thimble Islands. The sinuous, labyrinth-like roads through the area are incredibly picturesque biking and cars often share the roads with eager cyclists winding down to the shore. Whilst the harbor is primarily used as a terminus and boat dock for affluent Branford and Thimble Island locals, on the adjacent grassy foreshore and small strip of beach you will often find barbequers, sun bathers and playful children enjoying the last moments of summer. On the water a tourist boat occasionally comes and goes to view the many luxurious properties dotted around the islands, but for the most part local paddle boarders, kayakers and powerboats dominate the water traffic.

After basking in the waning sun, and a quick dip in the water (the water is not as clear as other parts of the sound owing to it’s harbor location, but it’s certainly ‘swimmable’), we realized we were just in time to grab a bite at Stony Creek Market. For the unacquainted, Stony Creek Market is a local landmark. A fixture on the town’s waterfront for going on 30 years, it is part breakfast café/deli/pizza restaurant – part meeting place and local nucleus. As owner Greg Wilkins tells me when we sit down to chat, “million dollar deals have been put together on this deck.”

Greg and his wife, Valerie, have nurtured the market since they took up ownership 18 years ago and have made it the place that it is today. They’ve always been in the food business, having worked with one another at Branford’s La Cuisine and Guilford’s Friend’s In Company before taking on the market and it’s a job few people could complain about. “It’s pretty phenomenal,” he tells me. “I mean, look around you.” Perched directly across the road from the water, the market certainly sports million dollar views. “From the south heading north, this is the first taste of the real New England.” By 5:30pm, tables were already filling as local families and couples strolled in with their stocked coolers or bottles of wine and enjoyed a drink on the deck while they waited for their pizzas.

If you’re looking to escape the New Haven pizza bubble, this is the place. Greg tells me their crust is made with sweet potato and three types of flour and you can certainly taste the difference. It’s crust that holds its own, thin but not too crispy, with toppings covering the entire pizza to appease all those who ‘don’t like crust’ (crazy, they may be). Greg’s spin on the popular white clam pie – he adds spinach and bacon – is a stellar combination for the erstwhile vegetarian and if one of their pizzas doesn’t catch your eye, you can mix and match toppings to make your own.

They also source local ingredients from as close as round the corner – including the special of the day, the ‘Medlyn’, which was made with fresh veggies direct from Medlyn’s nearby farm. As I went to order, who was it beside me but James Medlyn himself, picking up his own pizza order. “Try a piece, I’ve got too much,” he offered as an old friend would. “I don’t use any pesticides on my vegetables.” You could taste the freshness of the tender eggplant and sweet corn, still piping hot from the oven. Sadly, the pizza season is nearly over – it runs from Memorial Day to Labor day each year – but breakfast and lunch will continue to operate. Breakfast-wise, the market’s ‘kitchen sink’ omelettes are most popular, but they also do the usual fare plus egg sandwiches, lox plates and local Willoughby’s coffee. Lunch is an extensive choice of sandwiches and salads where there is something for every taste.

But the market is as much about the food as it is about providing a place for locals and visitors to just…be. Since the hurricane hit and water inundated most of the local area (the water came up to an inch below the market deck, flatting the shoreline grasses and sunflowers), the establishment has been running on generator power and been “out of control busy” feeding and hosting locals who are still without power. One lady enjoying a Caesar salad at the table next to me had been there almost every day this week. Everyone on the deck greets one another on a first name basis, sharing in the common link of a special place – Stony Creek. As a visitor it’s certainly worth being part of it, even for one lazy Saturday afternoon.

Stony Creek Market

178 Thimble Islands Road
Branford CT 06405

(203) 488 0145

Open year round for breakfast and lunch until 3pm, open Labor Day – Memorial Day for pizza 5-9pm

Medlyn’s Farm Stand

710 Leetes Island Road
Branford CT 06405

(203) 488 3578

Open seasonally for farm fresh eggs and produce including tomatoes until ~5pm

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Filed under Deli-style, Food with a view, Italian

‘Throw it all in the pan’ yellow zucchini salad

After the ‘hurricane’ hit over the weekend and I endured a tortuous battle in the supermarket lines – elbowing past anxious faces with trolleys prepared for the apocalypse – I resolved to avoid anymore grocery shopping stress for a couple of days. The result of which was that, with little left in the fridge, I had to resort to another ‘throw it all in the pan’ creation. We’ve all done them – each time different, sometimes successful, most times at least edible. With a little creativity and open-mindedness, they often work out to be a new favourite. Verdict’s out on this one… let me know what you think!

I also couldn’t help but include these pictures of a dahlia I’ve had sitting on my dining table all week. It stole my heart at the Wooster Square Farmers Market last Saturday and I carried it gingerly home to admire. Each meal I stared at it with adoring eyes as day after day, it’s petals slowly browned and it’s beauty faded. Luckily there’s always next Saturday…

Hope you enjoy the recipe, back to more reviews soon!

‘Throw it all in the pan’ Yellow Zucchini Salad

Enough for two medium-hungry mouths

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
A good squeeze of lemon
2 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tsp dijon mustard
Pinch of salt
Black pepper to taste

Whisk ingredients together to make the dressing and set aside. (If you like, you can toast the mustard seeds in the pan quickly before adding to the dressing).

1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup green pepitas

Drizzle oil in a medium-hot pan and toast pepitas until golden brown and beginning to pop. Set aside.

1 medium (or 1/2 large) yellow zucchini

Slice zucchini into ribbons with a mandolin or wide-mouth peeler and toss into the pan just for a minute to soften up a little and sear. Set aside.

2 handfuls green beans, ends chopped and cut in halves
1 ear of sweet corn kernels
1/4 cup water

Add the green beans to the pan with the water. Cook for a minute then add the corn, allowing to cook just briefly but retain the sweet crunch.

Arugula for two (adjust portion size to your liking)
Goats cheese

Arrange the salad by laying down a bed of arugula with the zucchini slices, beans and corn on top. Sprinkle over the toasted pepitas and drizzle the dressing. Crumble a little goats cheese on top of the warm veggies to garnish. Enjoy!

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Lunch and a show

Dining at Israel Campos’ Mexican food cart outside Yale’s ‘Whale’ is as much about the food as the experience of watching Israel create your meal. As the queue lengthens outside ‘El Poblano’ at lunchtime on a Wednesday, Israel’s hands and arms only quicken as he throws ingredients into a tortilla. Queso, tomate, arroz, salsa: in they go in a whir of appendages. Sauce bottles are thrown into the air and caught without a glance – a dexterity that comes only with years of experience. He juggles three orders at a time and tells me, “After the second time someone comes, I already know what they want. I can tell them they want sour cream, they don’t want hot sauce.” As I stand and watch, he riles gasps from new customers as he flies around the cart.

Israel has been a local fixture on the New Haven food since he started working for the restaurant by the same name on Forbes Street in 1993. Since that time, he’s taken over the business and set up shop with the carts on the corner of Sachem and Prospect streets. And whilst many Yalies come and go, he has about 30 regulars that have been coming 3-4 days a week since he opened.


When I meet him, it’s a family affair with his wife and kids also at the cart while school is out. Despite his wife’s efficiency, when the customers coming storming in, Israel takes the reins and the show ensues. “I always want to do the cooking. I don’t want the customer to be unhappy,” he says. So what about cooking when you go home to Mexico, I ask. “No, I’ve got my mother there!”

The fare is the standard Cal-Mex but, loyal to his origins in Puebla City, Israel offers enchiladas with mole poblano, green tomatillo or regular tomato sauce. Grab all the plates – enchiladas, quesadillas or tacos – for $5 or a burrito for a measly $4. With rice and salad, the plates are enough to fill the average belly long into the afternoon. It’s hearty, cheap and impressively speedy. If you can’t make it out for lunch, you can always drop into the restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall style establishment with a larger menu that includes Spanish cuisine. But for a quick fuel up between classes, the cart is your bet.

El Poblano Burrito Express

Cnr Prospect & Sachem streets
New Haven CT 06511

Open lunchtime from 11am, Monday to Friday

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Adieu, Montreal!

Well, the sauce of life readers, it’s time for me to farewell the eccentric smorgasbord that is Montreal’s food culture. My culinary journeys in the city  have put a smile on my face, warmth in my belly and provided me a new perspective on the gift of food. I’m now off to spend some quality time getting to know what, beyond the dastardly dunkin’ donut, New England has to offer. Stay tuned for more tasty treats from Connecticut, New York and where ever my taste buds take me next. t

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Savour the Latin flavour

“What are you making there…pupusas?” I inquire in broken spanish to a motherly-faced latina, vigorously patting batter into shape with her hands. “Arepa. Son diferentes,” she quips cheerfully and continues patting and placing each round on the grill. Of course I should know not to presume – for each Latin American culture retains its own name and incarnation to dishes that to the lay gringo would be indistinguishable. But let’s straighten out any confusion now…

Pupusa – A Salvadorean dish of nixtamal patties stuffed with a filling – often beans, cheese or meat – which are grilled and usually topped with cabbage, hot sauce and plantains.

Arepa – A popular Colombian dish, similar in shape, which is made with cheese mixed into a cornmeal batter and offers a different, less elastic texture than a pupusa.

Empanada – Fried pockets of filling – meat, cheese, beans or vegetable that are made Colombian-style with cornmeal or Argentian-style with a wheat pastry.

Tamale – Popular throughout Latin America, they are also made with masa and stuffed with various fillings or sweetened with sugar as a breakfast dish and steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapping.

These are all available, in several varieties at Sabor Latino, a Latin American grocer-deli on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, which is the newer incarnation of the store by the same name on Belanger. Co-owner Maria Pabon, a sweet and humble Colombian-Quebecois, tells me with a rhythmic accent that the businesses have been in the family since her father first set up shop on Belanger in 1984. He had been first exposed to hospitality when he owned and ran his own restaurant in Colombia at the tender age of 16 so when the family made the move to Montreal, it wasn’t long before he decided to continue the passion by offering up home-town delicacies to fellow Latin American immigrants.

Fast forward 27 years and the majority of the store’s clientele is Quebecois… and while Maria considers herself a local as well, “I am still Colombian at heart,” she tells me. So much so she helps to organize Montreal’s Colombian Festival which was held last month in Parc Jean-Drapeau, one of the largest of its kind in the world. She explains that while the Colombian community is very tight knit, all Latin Americans support one another in the city and she in particular works hard to promote their vibrant culture. “We don’t try to impose our culture onto other, but it’s important to show that we can be equal in the community.”

The store certainly endeavours to offer the full bounty of Latin American cuisine. On top of a wide range of prepared snacks and pastries like pupusas and tamales, customers can also sample traditional dishes like Colombian-style cow tongue or the popular beef soup with vegetable. For those wanting to cook their own, Sabor Latino makes it’s own maseca (cornmeal) for tamales in-house along with harina pan (cornmeal for arepas). Sweet teeth will find varieties of dulce de leche from all ends of the continent and delicious alfajores: shortbread-like biscuits sandwiching dulce de leche and coconut flakes. There’s also all the major Mexican chilli peppers: jalapeño, poblano and serrano and an extensive selection of hot sauces, tortillas and other imported products.

Either grab a seat in the quaint diner or take your feast home and prepare yourself. Maria suggests grilling up your arepas as is done traditionally, with an egg and cheese fried on top. With neither in my fridge, I crisped up my arepa in the skillet with a fresh cherry tomato and onion salsa with what I had in the garden. Either way, you’ll love them. Hasta luego, mis amigos.

Sabor Latino

4387 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Montreal QC H2T 1R4

(514) 277 4130

Nearest metro station: Mont-Royal

or

436 Rue Bélanger
Montreal QC H2S 1G2

(514) 848 1078

Nearest metro station: Jean-Talon

Open seven days

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Filed under Latin American, Mexican