About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hot-Doggin' It in Connecticut

Today I am winging off the to the other side of the country to begin a short east coast tour of artisan cheese dairies to do extensive local cheese tastings, and meet and discuss farmstead cheese making with other like-minded dairy professionals.  

IRS representatives , please stop reading here.

Between these 100% business-related dairy stops, [ahem, cough] this trip, more commonly (and perhaps more accurately) referred to as "The Great 2011 CT Hot Dog Tour"  by my sister, will be a food-centric journey across the state aimed at visiting as many of the highly regarded wiener joints of CT as possible  with an additional healthy (??) smattering  of clam shacks, ice cream parlors and diners thrown in for "balance".

It all started when I sent my sister Cynthia and Jim the DVD "A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour"
They liked the video so much that they bought and sent ME a copy to watch.  C and I grew up in CT but never really knew what a mecca it was for weiner afficianados.  Anyway, what started out as a "We should really get together sometime and see how many of these places we can hit in a weekend" quip evolved into a pipe dream, then into an authentic idea and eventually, into a plan.  We were really going to do this someday... and today is the day!

My day started at 4:30am with hitching a ride with a friend to our regional airport for a puddle-jummper flight down to Phoenix, connecting (after eating part of a really bad Einstein bagel at one of the terminals) to a SW Air flight to Hartford CT via Baltimore.

The honey peanuts and the (new to me and very strange) "Golden Oreo" cookies on the first leg of the flight were not quite enough to keep me going but fortunately I had about an hour between flights so could grab a bite at Baltimore-Washington International.

Not expecting anything better than a bad sandwich I was stunned upon seeing a sign at BWI that they were home to Obrycki's, one of the Frommer's-rated 10 best airport restaurants in the country!  Not only that, but it was located just 2 gates down from the one where I had arrived, and from which I would subsequently depart. The stars were aligned!

 Obrycki's not only had regional Maryland specialties on their menu but also a couple of house beers on tap.  Just what the doctor ordered.

I ordered their "famous since 1944" crab cakes and an Obrycki pale ale. The service was efficient, almost brisk  (as is to be expected and appreciated in an airport setting) and pleasant.
The crab cake was one of the best I've had.  Chock-full of lump crab, no fillers or fake stuff.  It was barely held together by a light binder, lightly breaded and pan-fried.  I suspect that they must make these up a few ahead of time, before needed, as mine was out so fast and was not quite as hot or crisp as I might would expect for hot-off-the pan, but it was still very excellent.  It was served with a nicely fiesty cocktail sauce having just the right zip of horseradish and lemon juice and accompanied by some pretty decent french fries and coleslaw. The beer was also very good.

Rating: 9 out of 10.  I wish the crab cake had been just-made, it would have been perfect.  I understand and appreciate the thinking behind not doing it, but I gotta dock the point anyway.

The next leg of the flight took just 50 minutes in the air (with more peanuts, thank-you-very-much!), and landed at Hartford's Bradley International at just about 6pm local time.  C&J's train from Philly had been delayed but they showed up about 30 minutes after I did and we met up easily and as planned.

Our timing was perfect, wallking out the arrivals door just in time to see the big yellow Hertz car rental shuttle van pulling up.  In seconds we were on our way to the rental center.  Unfortunately that's where our luck ran out.  Short-staffed, inefficient and often down-right rude, the car rental process was interminable (despite Jim having pre-booked the car well in advance).  It took us longer to rent the car than my whole flight from Baltimore to Hartford took. We eventually got through, got the car (Toyota Rav4) and were off on our adventure.

First stop? Dinner at a diner.  We chose the Olympia diner in Newington.  A classic O'Mahoney diner resplendent with plenty of roomy booths, lots of neon and polished stainless steel, table-top juke boxes and other deco touches.

The menu was extensive and eclectic.  Breakfast "served all day", a seafood section, an Italian section, a Greek section, lots of sandwiches including a whole column of "grinders" (CT's version of the sub/hoagie/hero etc), a list of "from the grill", and many diner staples like Liver and Onions, Meatloaf, breaded pork chops etc.

C ordered a tuna melt, fries and a vanilla shake.  Jim had 2 eggs scrambled, sausage, homefries and toast, I had a Genoa Salami Grinder and a side of onion rings.

The food was, almost without exception, very good - with a few stand-outs.  To the plus side,Cynthia pronounced the Vanilla Milkshake as "exceptional" and we all thought that the breakfast sausage that Jim got was some of the best we'd ever had.  On the downside, the battered onion rings, while obviously freshly hand made in the kitchen, were quite hard as opposed to being crisp, as expected.

The waitress told us that they made all their own desserts on-site so how could I refuse?  "Hot Apple Pie, a la mode with vanilla ice cream, please.  And could I have another side of those delicious sausage??"  Not as strange a combination as it might seem at first (doesn't everybody like the pairing of pork and apples?), but unfortunately the pie was just another Mrs Smith's (or comparable) frozen pie that had been baked in the back.  Somebody really needs to tell the wait staff (everywhere, not just here at the Olympia)  that that honestly doesn't count as "made on-premise".  The ice cream was nothing special but, again, the sausages were perfect.

The service was friendly and quite perky, if a bit sloppy (finished  plates remained stacked on the table for far too long, a couple of items ordered were out of sinc with the rest of the meal etc), and the place, on-whole, was brightly lit, well-kept, and fairly clean  (the floor was a bit sticky).  Minor peeve: the table-top jukebox gleefully sucked $1 of our money and played our 7 songs but at such a low volume that we had to strain to tell if it was even working.  I understand them being set as not to disturb other diners but, even in the nearly empty room in which we ate, it was way too low.  I can't imagine hearing it at all with a few more tables filled, let alone during a rush.

Overall rating: 7.5 out of 10.  A few dazzling bright spots amid general mediocrity, but we could have done much, much worse for our first outing.

Pretty much knackered from a long and eventful day for all, we headed to our motel (Red Carpet Inn, Cheshire CT) and crashed for the night after leaving a 7am wake-up calls.  Big day with much to do tomorrow!

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