February 2015

Connecticut has the right ingredients for gatherings

by Jeff Heilman

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    Fascia’s Chocolates, Waterbury

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    The Fig Cooking School, Hamden

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    The Golden Lamb Buttery, Brooklyn

Among Connecticut’s historical distinctions is the first known cookbook written by an American for Americans. Published in Hartford in 1796, American Cookery was the culinary declaration of independence from the dominance of British cookbooks.

Still in print, this treasured volume was named one of the 88 “Books That Shaped America,” by the Library of Congress. Covering recipes from fish and meat to puddings and preserves, author Amelia Simmons specifies indigenous ingredients such as corn and squash—and the pairing of cranberry sauce with turkey.

Described as “an American orphan,” Simmons emphasizes using only the freshest ingredients, writing “they must be good, or the cook will be disappointed.” Over two centuries later, Connecticut’s menu has veered little from these founding concepts.

“Connecticut’s culinary scene is as unique as our state’s rich history and scenic beauty,” says H. Scott Phelps, interim president of the Connecticut Convention and Sports Bureau. “From classic New England lobster bakes on the water and continental cuisine in elegant restaurants to ethnic eateries and some of our nation’s best pizza spots, planners have numerous options for enhancing the attendee experience.”

From iconic grocer Stew Leonard’s, a pioneer of the farm-to-table concept long before its current vogue (see “Zoom In” Q&A; in the Connecticut section of MeetingsFocus.com this month) to regional culinary draws, F&B; trails and more, it’s an all-American feast for groups in this richly appetizing state.

Greater Hartford

With its own slice of culinary history—the “Hartford Election Cake,” dating to 1771 and included in American Cookery—the state capital’s diverse dining choices include ON20, a fine-dining perch on the 20th floor of the One State Street tower. Executive Chef and Hartford native Jeffery Lizotte’s “innovative and progressive” dishes, such as his signature crab en croute, are complemented by sweeping city and Connecticut River views, making this a standout choice for private business and social events.

Set in a Romanesque-style building from 1877 that housed Connecticut’s largest department store, the multilevel City Steam Brewery Cafe & Restaurant pairs comedy performances and beer with tours and function space, including the 160-seat Richardson Room.

Family-run since the early 1900s, Bavarian-style East Side Restaurant (www.eastsiderestaurant.com) in New Britain is an inviting choice for German food, beer and culture.

Greater New Haven

Birthplace of the Culinary Institute of America, founded here in 1946 as the New Haven Restaurant Institute, and the “hamburger sandwich,” created in 1895 at still-running Louis’ Lunch, New Haven has evolved as a major culinary destination over recent years.

Offering the gamut of global cuisines, New Haven is also the nation’s top-ranked pizza city alongside New York.

“There are only three pizza places on the planet: Sally’s, [Frank] Pepe and Modern, all in New Haven,” says Gorman Bechard, director of the forthcoming documentary Pizza, A Love Story.

Eclectic choices include guided walking and bicycle foodie explorations with Taste of New Haven Food & Drink Tours; visits to the PEZ Factory & Visitors Center; and waterfront dining at Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tail.

In Hamden, The Fig Cooking School offers hands-on classes, private parties and teambuilding events for groups of eight or more. Plus, founder Heide Lang is available for speaking engagements, cooking demonstrations and menu consultations.

Hosted by Barberry Hill Farm in Madison and White Gate Farm in East Lyme over 10 evenings in July and August, Dinners at the Farm is a farm benefit series founded in 2007 featuring communal, multicourse feasts for 150 guests under open-air tents. Planners can book space at the public events or arrange private functions apart from the regular schedule.

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