Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chew On This Until August!

Relax! We did not get this sandwich in Waterbury. This beast is the Woody Allen Sandwich from Carnegie Deli in New York City. After a heated debate about whether to go with the Reuben or the giant stack of pastrami and corned beef you see to your left, we went with the stack. Scott couldn't resist.

All I'm saying is that together, were able to finish it. PLUS we had some fries and blueberry blintzes. Think you're up to the challenge?

I would also like to say that Waterbury Foodies, even though just launched, is taking a brief (2 month) sabbatical. I am away on business, by which I mean "getting to know" the people, language, and culture of Puerto Rico, by which I mean eating, laying on the beach, following some doctors, and more eating. Work will be done at some point, I swear. Scott has the monster task of finishing the stockpile of food in our pantry, as well as planning for his own visit to La Isla del Encanto.

So for now, thanks for visiting us, and let us know about any Waterbury food finds, we'll be sure to partake when we are back!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Town Plot IGA

Town Plot IGA
286 Fairfield Ave
Waterbury, CT 06708

I'd pretty much eat anything if it was wrapped in prosciutto. It's a good thing I live within walking distance of so many places that sell it!

IGA is the neighborhood grocery store of the Town Plot section of Connecticut. It is small and well stocked, specializing in (but not limited to) Italian foods. I've even seem some employees that speak Italian, and on some days you can find older Italian Americans conversing in front of the meat case (their meat, for the record, is molto bene, see below). This makes IGA one of the focal points for what I like to call the "Town Plot Italian American Movement," which is a seemingly desperate attempt by the people of Town Plot to maintain the area as "Italian" as humanly possible. Young people around here tattoo themselves with Italian flags and hang flags off their car, people bring up their "Italian-ness" in the first 10 minutes of conversation, and there are literally 4 Italian restaurants/delis within 1 square block of each other on Highland Ave, which are always swamped with people. Incidentally, this area is also the home of the infamous "Mt Carmel Feast/Italian festival," where people drive from all over the state for delicious fried dough and sausage. But I digress...

IGA is a small, clean, and recently renovated grocery store, and the place to go if you are looking for any sort of dried, cured, marinated, or other Italian ingredients. They've got it all. If you are looking to make any other sort of ethnic dish, save the possible (and gross) fake Mexican taco shell/ground beef/jarred salsa dinner that still gives me nightmares, then IGA probably will not have what you are looking for.

The produce section is somewhat small, but has things like Italian long hot peppers, broccoli rabe, tomatoes, basil, arugula, Cubanelle peppers (which my Italian Aunt insists are actually called "Italian peppers"), garlic, and other crucial Italian veggies. They quality of their produce is good, and often you can get a deal on produce that is just past ripe, which they will put on a cart towards the back of the section. Because this section is so small, it can often run out of things quickly. Sometimes I will go there specifically for fresh basil or avocado and there will be none left. Overall though, decent produce section.

There is a little "to go" section in the back of the produce section that has pre-made homemade dinners to heat up yourself. They often have eggplant or chicken parm, clams and linguini, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, etc. I've only had a few things, but they've all been tasty.

The meat section is fabulous. Although it isn't huge, it's impossibly fresh and good quality. In fact, if meat (especially sausage) is the focal point of my meal, I will probably pick it up from IGA. My mother says that she also "trusts" IGA's meats more than other store's meat, which I suppose is a creepy way of saying that the meat is consistently fresh. They often have specials on certain meats as well.

IGA's deli is very good for a small grocery store. It has to be, with places like Avventura's right around the corner (I'll blog on that place soon). They have a good selection of meats and cheeses, all fresh sliced to order, and a small but good selection of deli salads, marinated things, meatballs, etc. Their prosciutto is delicious, but a whopping $17.99 a pound! I wish either 1. it were less expensive or 2. I had an ounce of willpower over that delicious meat!

(Side story- This is how I knew Scott was the one for me: One day I said, "Screw toasters, on my wedding registry I am going to have things like '1 leg Prosciutto di Parma,' " to which Scott replied, "Oh, can we also add '1 large wheel Parmigiano Reggiano'?" True love. Fat, right?)

IGA also has a lot of baked goods, many from the Gina Marie bakery across the street. They have a small seafood department, with very fresh seafood, but limited selection. The grocery section is good, especially for Italian imports, many from the local Napoli import company. The health/beauty/medicine section is practically non-existent, but there is a Rite Aid across the street.

Overall, IGA is a wonderful neighborhood grocer that supports local businesses and adapts to the needs of its shoppers. If you are looking for a genuine Italian American shop with a real "hometown" feel, this is the place for you!

3 Things Renee loves about IGA
1. They tend to stock local everything, breads and baked goods from local bakeries, meats from a local sausage place, relish from local hot dog joints, etc. I try to buy local whenever I can, and IGA, with its sweet local hometown feel, really helps one support local businesses. :)
2. The hometown feel. I almost always run into people that I know
3. The quality of their meats and Italian imports is unparalleled.
4. (I never follow this 3 things rule) I also like how they put foods that are just slightly past ripe/fresh (baked goods, produce, meats, etc) on super special sale, which means it's a great place to run in and grab quick and cheap stuff for dinner that night.

1 Thing Scott loves about IGA
1. Scott only gets to love one thing because he almost never comes with me to IGA (probably because of their somewhat stinky hours). He picks IGA's meat, including regular, sausage, and cured as his favorite thing.

Things Renee dislikes:
Well, insulting IGA is sort of like insulting a family member, but...
I will say that, given the proximity to my house, I wish that they carried a few more items, as I couldn't make it my prime grocery store. Basically, if I am too lazy to go anywhere further, I say, "Scott, what Italian food would you like me to make for dinner tonight?" The other thing is that IGA is a lot more expensive that big chain stores. My mother was lured away by the "buy 1 get 2 free" appeal of the Naugatuck Big Y, and never looked back. I love the community feel and local selection offered, and if I had a few more dollars, I would definitely shop there more often. Also, IGA's hours are not the greatest, and often when I go, it's closed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Healthy Chinese Food in Waterbury?

Zheng Zheng Chinese Food
1457 Meriden Road
Wolcott, CT 06716
(okay so it's just over the Waterbury line)
(203) 879-0021

I've never had strong feelings about Americanized Chinese take-out, in fact, I generally try to avoid it at all costs. Every time I partake, I feel completely disgusting. Chinese take-out is, for the record, pretty disgusting, and if you don't believe me, take a look at that egg drop soup after it's sat in your fridge for a while and become nice and congealed. Mmmmm.....

But every once in a while, things (like final exams) happen, and you need to get take-out from somewhere. Chinese food was usually not my first choice, until now. Zheng Zheng Chinese take-out on Meriden Road has developed a new "Special Health and Diet Menu," which features steamed versions of a few take-out classics, like steamed Chicken, Shrimp, or Tofu with Broccoli, Buddhist Delight, and Long Life Vegetarian. The steamed Chicken and Broccoli is literally just that, pieces of broccoli and chicken steamed in just water. I imagine the other dishes are the same. It tastes pretty plain (but good, nice texture), but what do you expect? They will give you a side of brown or garlic sauce if you want, and at least having the sauce on the side lets you control how much fat you are eating. But without sauce, you could eat a whole container of steamed Chicken and Broccoli and feel awesome about yourself! Trust me, I'm 1/4 doctor. ;)

Even though Zheng Zheng is my favorite Chinese take-out place (Golden Palace wins for my favorite Chinese restaurant), I'm not going to review it here. I just wanted to give all you healthy eaters out there a heads up about a place to grab a quick and healthy bite that won't leave you feeling guilty or bloated.

Oh and one more thing, if you spend more than $20, Zheng Zheng will throw in some delicious fried shrimp, which may defeat the whole point of their "Special Health and Diet Menu," but we aren't really complaining.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Los Arcos Mexican Store (and Restaurant)

Los Arcos Mexican Store
Corner of Washington St. and South Main Street
Waterbury, CT 06706

Los Arcos is actually what inspired Scott and I to make a blog about Waterbury food finds. It was a typical Sunday, Scott and I were shoving tacos into our mouths to make room on the table for the menudo that was about to be served, and Scott said, "It is unbelievable that more people in Waterbury don't know about these tacos."

So here you are, Waterburians. We are telling you about these tacos.

Let me give you a bit of history. I had the good fortune to spend 9 months of my life in Oaxaca, Mexico, a place I consider to be the culinary heart of the country (and possibly the world, sorry my fellow Waterbury Italianos). Upon my return, I became ravenous for good tacos, and searched everywhere. Let me assure you, if you are looking for an authentic Mexican dish of any kind, Señor Panchos, Tequilas, Agave, or their equivalents, are NOT the places to go. Not to say they aren't fun places, certainly their margaritas pack a punch and nothing screams hilarity quite like Thursday night karaoke. But for good Mexican food, you've got to do a little dig a little deeper than inflatable corona bottles and $10 "combination plates."

Out of desperation, I started making my own Oaxacan/Mexican foods. One day I happened upon Los Arcos Mexican Store while on a quest for guajillo chiles. And, lucky me, not only did I find a decent supply of dried chiles and other imported goods, but also learned that the owner of Los Arcos was from Oaxaca, knew how to cook my beloved red mole, and sold to-go food, including tacos!

So here is the low down on Los Arcos. First of all, it looks like it is just a small grocery store. You have to ask Paula, my dear friend and the owner's wife, if they have food that day, which they almost always do. Tacos are a sure deal, they have those all the time, but you may be surprised by other menu items de jour (see below).

Second, it may be difficult for you to ask Paula about the food if your Spanish is a little rusty. One of the things I love the most about Los Arcos is that it reminds me of the little Mexican corner stores in Oaxaca, right down to the owner's children climbing on your lap while you eat. Which trust me, will happen. Part of that endearing authenticity is that everyone speaks Spanish. So if you are willing to challenge yourself a little, dust off your old high school Spanish book and head down to South Main Street for some real Mexican food.
*Update: While I was away, Scott ate at Los Arcos and said that Paula DOES speak English! You still may want to be familiar with the menu before you go, though, so read on!

Okay, so you probably want the actual review. I am including some helpful information for those of you eager foodies who are ready for the challenge but might have accidentally taken French in high school.

As previously mentioned, you may as well be walking into a corner grocer in Mexico. Likely Paula will be behind the corner, her children running around the store, maybe they will even talk to you. If her older children are there, you are in luck, because they speak English. Use them, they like helping! To your left you will see a tank (literally) of warm chicharrón, which I suppose everyone should try, but I don't care for. You might see the owner behind the wall, cooking, especially on the weekends, when they have a larger selection of food. There are customers rushing in and out of the door picking up odds and ends. If you are going to take your food home with you, ask for comida para llevar or food to-go. If you're up to it though, tell Paula that you're going to comer aqui (eat here) and have a seat at one of the tables. This is certainly not going to be a fancy dining experience, and you might have a 3 year old running around your table and trying to climb on you, but for those of us who have spent any time living in Mexico, it feels just right. :)
Oh, and I should add, if it's Sunday and you see a blond haired, blue eyed couple sitting at a table, chatting with Paula and the kids and eating what looks like a meal for 6, that's Renee and Scott. Come say hi to us!

Mmmmm I love Oaxacan food. I'm telling you, once you eat here, you will forget that Señor Panchos ever existed. Blanket statement: all of the food is delicious. I recommend everything. With the possible exception of the chicharrón and the menudo, not because it isn't well prepared, it's just that despite forcing myself to eat it so many times, fried pig skin and intestine soup still doesn't float my boat.

Our most common order at Los Arcos is tacos. I recommend 4 per person, which will definitely fill you up. Once Scott ate 6, and he had to lay on the couch for a few hours afterwards. There are quite a few different varieties to choose from. So far I have had:

Tacos Al Pastor
: Pork marinated in a sweet and spicy sauce and roasted

Tacos con carne enchilada: Beef that was coated in a chile rub before cooking (The favorite of both Renee and Scott)

Tacos con chorizo: Tacos with spicy Mexican sausage

Tacos con res de barbacoa: This is their barbecued meat, which is finely shredded, almost like pulled pork but more fine. This doesn't have a strong spice flavor, it tastes like pure beef.

Tacos con carnitas: The infamous Mexican pork dish, served taco style

And no, I don't think they have chicken. The tacos are served with chopped onion, cilantro, lime, salsa verde (green salsa) and red salsa. Yum!!

Other things that may be offered:
Barbacoa de res: Barbecued meat, which falls of the bone and is so flavorful. Scott asks for it every time.
Tamales: We've had the tamales de pollo (chicken) and de puerco (pork) and we liked the pork better, but both are excellent.
Menudo: Oh, you brave soul. The menudo is heavy on the tripe, low on the spice, so all of the delicious stomach-y flavors come through. You may want to ask for extra lime.
Mole: I won't get into a diatribe about mole in this post, since I could write all day. Suffice it to say that mole is phenomenal, and the owner's specialty, mole rojo, is one of my favorites. I just gave Paula a gift of a Oaxacan cookbook that featured all 7 "moles of Oaxaca," so Los Arcos may see some other flavors coming soon!
Arroz y frijoles: If you're in the mood for rice and beans.
Agua de jamaica: Sweetened water of the hibiscus flower. Note that it's pronounced "ha-my-ka"
Pollo asado: Delicious roasted chicken, but why would you?

I know we've had other things, but I just can't think of them right now. I'll probably add more photos of the food later in the summer.

Get over it, you aren't at a restaurant. Someone from the family will bring out your food, possibly one of the kids, but everyone is very attentive if you need anything at all!

Well, we ate there tonight. And we will probably eat there Sunday. And we eat there basically every week, so odds are, yes.

1. I love the whole family that owns the store!
2. The food is so authentic, and brings back memories of Oaxaca.
3. We can afford to eat good food all the time! Plus it feels like home!

1. Authentic flavors.
2. Attention to detail with garnishes, flavor on meat, etc.
3. Watching the local Mexican community look befuddled when they hear Renee speaking Spanish
4. Mexican Coca-cola tastes different and better. It is not a myth! (Okay, Scott gets 4 things. He also really likes taking his friends here, they are always very impressed)

You won't get more info from any website, and you theoretically could call, but they have to unplug their phone line every time they use the credit card machine, so your best bet is to just go there! Tell them Renee sent you. But if you have any questions at all, I can probably answer them for you, since I am there all the time.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lisboa Restaurant

Portuguese Cuisine
19 Layfayette Street
Waterbury, CT 06708
(203) 754-0789

So this Portuguese restaurant has been hidden off a little street near my house for years and I finally decided to try it out. Lisboa is not it in the best section of Waterbury, surrounded by old and often abandoned factory buildings, so many people have never heard of it. The decor of the restaurant is very informal, it appears that the bar area has been remodeled recently. The dining room was simple, white walls with a few random framed posters of Portugal. Scott and I aren't too concerned with the looks of a restaurant (actually, our favorite places are holes in the wall), but based on the amazing food of Lisboa, a few new coats of paint and a meeting with an interior designer would probably send this place over the top. On the other hand, it is clear that many of the guests are repeat customers, warmly greeting the waitresses with kisses and updates on their lives. So perhaps the feel of the dining area is perfectly suited to Lisboa's family of regulars, in which case, who are we to judge?

My favorite part! Okay the cool thing about Lisboa's food is that while it is amazingly impressive, it isn't stuffy or over the top. While not an expert in Portuguese cuisine, I get the impression that this is traditional peasant food of Portugal, featuring a menu of simple dishes of potatoes, seafood, Portuguese chouriço, and simply prepared meats.

We also loved how the food is presented. Many of the dishes are very interestingly served, leaving diners to ask "What was that dish you just brought to that table?" The chouriço appetizer is served in a little pig serving dish (sorry vegetarians), the shish-kabob comes hanging off this sweet contraption, and we got very excited when someone ordered Steak on a Rock, which unfortunately I cannot find on their online menu, that was served almost raw on a hot granite stone, leaving the diner to sear and cook the meat to his liking. All of the regular dishes have links to photos if you look at the pdf menu on Lisboa's website, but no pics of the specials. And Scott and I weren't savvy enough to bring a camera this time.

So when you first arrive, after ordering drinks (good wine list and full bar), you get a heaping plate of olives and a basket of warm and crusty Portuguese rolls, which is one of my favorite breads in the world. Scott and I actually ended up eating two baskets of bread, and for people who try to be somewhat carb-wary, this speaks volumes for Lisboa's rolls. Our salads came out next. Nothing fancy, I thought the blue cheese dressing was very good. Scott just had oil and vinegar because he felt bad about how much bread he had eaten. Then we had the Clams Spanish Style , which was probably a little big for two people. The sauce is divine, make sure you save your bread for it!

My entree was Shellfish Casserole, a combo of shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, and lobster, with the red sauce. I wish I had known that the red sauce in this entree was the same as the sauce from the Clams Spanish Style, because I felt like I was just eating the same thing with different seafood. The sauce was simple, thin and perfectly spiced, it tastes like a broth I made once with tomato sauce and clam juice, but I didn't ask the secret. And Lisboa, bless its heart, was not stingy on the seafood at all. Two halves of a small lobster (which was just a tiny bit overcooked), and enough shrimp, scallops, mussles, and clams (all perfectly cooked) to make a delicious leftover lunch the next day. Shellfish Casserole is one of the pricier things on the menu, but if you are a seafood lover, definitely worth it.

Scott had one of the specials, Roast Suckling Pig, which was slow roasted and melt-in-your mouth good. A word of caution, it is super-garlicky, which we love but know that some people hate. It was served simply with a dipping sauce and Lisboa's Portuguese fries, which are sort of a cross between French fries and potato chips. I didn't like them, but then again I don't particularly care for fries or chips. Scott ate a few, but I could tell they were not the most impressive part of his meal.

The service was good. While not overly-attentive, our water glasses never went empty. Although that could be because we were drinking wine and beer. Plus the food comes out slowly, but this is almost certainly a reflection of the slow-cooked style of the food, not of the waitstaff. Another thing we liked was how it seemed like the waitresses knew many of the repeat customers, and even knew what they would order. Scott and I were a little jealous that we weren't a part of the Lisboa family!

If we had an infinite budget, then we would go back today. Not to say that Lisboa is expensive, it just isn't $2 tacos, which is more our financial style these days. Our bill for a mini bottle of wine, 2 beers, a good appetizer, and 2 of the more pricey entrees was about $76 before tip. I would eat there every week if I could. We discussed the fact that we could go back and just split the Clams Spanish Style appetizer with plenty of bread and olives, and that would make a cheap and delicious supper.
So yes, we will go back, and hopefully soon.

1. I love hidden gems, and this restaurant perhaps defines one.
2. GREAT food at a good value, and they weren't stingy with the seafood.
3. They have $10 mini-bottles of wine, perfect for one person. And so cute.
4. At the end of the meal, instead of a crappy mint, they give you a mini chocolate cup filled Beirao liquor. I know this is more than 3 things, but CHOCOLATE CUP WITH LIQUOR?! How delicious is that?

1. The beer mug was thoroughly frosted.
2. The first thing they bring you is a huge dish of olives.
3. The Portuguese bread is crusty and absolute perfection.

There was really nothing we didn't like. The dining room area could probably use some renovations, it certainly doesn't match the high caliber of the food. But we hardly even noticed the decor, we were too busy stuffing our faces.

Visit their website, you can see links to pictures of menu items (Warning: the pics really don't do the food justice), and also see links to other articles by the New York Times and New Haven Register. Or just go, trust us, you won't be disappointed.

About Us

After discovering we would be living the Waterbury, CT area for the next 3 years, we decided to start exploring the food. Shoot us any recommendations!