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.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Dog Days of Connecticut - Hot-Doggin' it, day 2 (part 5)

July 29 2011, Day two of  "The Great 2011 CT Hot Dog Tour"  continued... (back to part 4)
Louis Lunch
It's about 4PM and, ready for a change of pace, we're at Louis Lunch in New Haven.

Housed in an historic and, quite honestly, one of the cutest little buildings you can imagine, Louis serves burgers and only burgers. As a matter of fact, they bill themselves as "The Birthplace of the Hamburger Sandwich".  Established in 1895, the story goes that in 1900 the proprietor Louis Lassen, whipped one up out of steak trimmings for a customer on the run and history was made.  Today the shop is run by Louis's great grand son Jeff Lassen and Jeff has kept the menu simple.
The menu offers: Burgers or cheese burgers with or without onions and tomatoes.  Period.  (And don't even think of asking for ketchup or mustard).
OK, they do also offer potato salad and little bags of chips as sides and coffee or pie for dessert.
In addition to their great location, adorable building, irresistible story and their rich history, their unique method of cooking the hamburgers is another of their draws.  The burgers are arranged on squeeze racks and cooked vertically in special antique gas cookers.
Oh.  And the burgers aren't served on buns, but between two slices of white bread (NO you can not have whole wheat!), run through a conveyor toaster.
Well,for having arrived far off any peak meal period, the place was still jumping.  We were fortunate to find three stools at the counter where we could observe the ordering/cooking process.  "Ritual" might be a better word.
Our orders were taken by the counter man who takes payment and sets up the paper plates necessary . Amid much banter and back-talk he relays the order to the burger man who works the burger cookers, and assembles the sandwiches. The burgers are portioned ahead into large balls and stacked in a pan.  The burger man flattens the balls, fixes them to the racks, and cooks them to order, so you can expect it to take a little while to fill an order (burgers are always cooked medium rare unless you tell them you want it cooked more in which case it takes a little longer). He also slices the tomatoes and onions to order for each sandwich and puts it all together on the toast that the two of them have somehow managed to keep flowing out of the conveyor.
Once assembled the sandwiches are popped onto the waiting paper plates with a paper napkin tossed on top and presented to the customer.
I got a burger with "the works"...
...and accompanied it with another New England favorite, birch beer (a carbonated soft drink made from the bark of the black birch tree, and tastes a bit like root beer).  This one was made by Foxon Park  just down the road in East Haven CT.  Foxon Park distinguishes itself by using only sugar in making its beverages instead of the more commonly found high fructose corn syrup.
So.  How was the burger? I was in the minority of the three of us when I later described it as "just OK".  Once the weekend was over and we did a review, Jim went as far as to rate it as the best food product of the whole trip.  I didn't get that at all.
 I found the meat to be nicely cooked and juicy but under-seasoned (if seasoned at all).  The white bread toast was less than forgettable, I thought it detracted from the whole, and the house policy of not providing/allowing condiments an unnecessary conceit.
I know that the "My way or the Highway", "no substitutions", "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude has become more prevalent in recent years among chefs and at many top-end restaurants, and while I don't think anybody really believed that the "The customer is always right", the opposite attitude that "we know better than you" bothers me.  It more often than not comes across as "We don't really care what you want and don't need your business that badly".  Jeez guys, it's just a hamburger, hows about a little ketchup?
On the up side of things, the ambiance of the  place was off the charts. I felt like a regular customer settling into my favorite seat, surrounded by friends. The atmosphere was cozy, warm and inviting with the business's storied history practically oozing out of the walls.  The lightening fast, back-and-worth patter of the countermen, with their distinctive CT/New England accents was the perfect sound track for the meal.
My rating: 8 out of 10.  Everybody should make the pilgrimage to Louis at least once.  If you like it, great! Go back often.  If not... well, they really don't need your business anyway!
5 PM.  Heading back toward our motel we go via Hamden so we can stop in at Wentworth's  for some Homemade Ice Cream

Wentworth's ice cream parlor is located in beautifully cared for classical-styled  New England clapboard house right on the main road.
They offered dozens of flavors with a bevy of young women flying around scooping and saucing and whip-creaming and putting cherries on top.  Everyone was friendly and efficient.
I ordered a small dish of Butter Pecan and C got Butter Brickle (pieces of crushed butterscotch candy in buttercream ice cream).
Oh my, this was some heavenly ice cream! By far the best I'd had in a long time.  Unfortunately we were both a bit too full from all the day's activities to finish our dishes.  The good news?  Our motel rooms included small refrigerator/freezers!  To Go Please!
My rating: 9 out of 10.  The only negative thing I can think of is that the over-all cleanliness wasn't that great.  Granted, it was the end of a hot summer's day and they had, no doubt, been busy from the time they opened, but...(can't give it a 10).  Never the less, I would not hesitate to go back in a second, should the opportunity present itself.  As a matter of fact, I regret that we did not have the chance to go back again on this trip.
The Hot Dog Case
Almost back to the motel, we popped into a grocery store, just down the street for a few beers for tonight and beverages for tomorrow.
Back at the beginning of the entries for this trip I made a reference to CT as being a "hot dog mecca".  I thought it was just that there were a lot of good and well-known hot dog joints and restaurants in the state but apparently the wiener vein runs much deeper than that. Take a look at this large, free-standing refrigerator case we came across (conveniently at the end of the beer aisle) completely filled with hot dogs!...

This is not a huge grocery store but there must be thousands of hot dogs here and certainly dozens of makers, styles and varieties. We're definitely in the right place.  'Nuff said.
Planning Department
I would hate to have you think that we just happened to stumble across all of these diverse and interesting places just by luck.  The truth is that we (mostly Cynthia) have been planning this trip for weeks.  By the time we had all gathered here, she had prepared a detailed itinerary including maps, coordinates, reference pages marked in various travel and foodie books and guides.  Hours were spent doing online research.  Cynthia even managed to personally contact a well-respected CT food blogger to get her most recent and updated advice for our travels across the state.
But plans change and evolve.  We found out today from Mark at Cato Dairy that there was a sheep dairy in the area that we should really try to go see.  We'd also already hit a couple of the places on tomorrow's schedule so we took a little time this evening to re-plan the best route for tomorrow.

Where would we be without in-room WiFi and lap-top computers?!

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