I am a Hamden loyalist. I am a Sleeping Giant Junior High and Hamden High graduate as well as a current town resident. So when Mayor Scott Jackson and Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Dudchik requested my help in organizing a Hamden Restaurant Week, I gladly donated my time. Both individuals are warm, creative and professional—in short, a great pleasure to work with. Here you see the kickoff meeting, with Dudchik and me taking turns behind the camera.
And I’m very excited about the event we are putting together. There are actually two ways in which restaurants can participate. Restaurants can either offer a three-course (or more) prix-fixe lunch and/or dinner for $12 and $20 respectively, or they can offer two-for-one deals on select items. At $20 for a three-course meal, we matched the great value provided in the Taste of Hartford and Connecticut Restaurant Week. We didn’t want to exclude anyone who might be interested from participating, but we also didn’t want to create a mismatched free-for-all with minimal value as some have said Bridgeport did its first time around. Most participants decided on the more traditional prix-fixe option, but two elected the buy-one-get-one-of-equal-or-lesser-value-free.
All of the details you could possibly need about the event can be found at HamdenRestaurantWeek.com. But here is a list of the thirteen participating eateries:
Aunt Chilada’s (3931 Whitney Avenue, 203-230-4640)
Café Amici (1670 Whitney Avenue, 203-848-1682)
Di Matteo’s Pizza & Restaurant (2100 Dixwell Avenue, 203-288-6655)
Eli’s on Whitney (2392 Whitney Avenue, 203-287-1101)
Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar (1832 Dixwell Avenue, 203-909-6512)
Le Petit Gourmet (1231 Whitney Avenue, 203-230-3252)
Mickey’s Restaurant & Bar (2323 Whitney Avenue, 203-288-4700)
Park Central Tavern (1640 Whitney Avenue, 203-287-8887)
SBC Restaurant & Brewery (1950 Dixwell Avenue, 203-288-HOPS)
Sono Bana Japanese Restaurant (1206 Dixwell Avenue, 203-281-9922)
The Playwright Irish Pub (1232 Whitney Avenue, 203-287-2401)
The Soup Girl (Miller Library Parking Lot)
The Terrace Savory Thai Cuisine (1559 Dixwell Avenue, 203-230-2077)
The sheer diversity of the restaurants is tremendously appealing. Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar is a more casual spinoff of Ibiza Restaurant in New Haven. Mickey’s is a highly creative contemporary American restaurant with Mediterranean and even Middle Eastern leanings. Handsomely outfitted Park Central Tavern boasts the dynamic cooking of CIA-trained chef Robert Johnson, praised for years at Cibo in Branford and then Aqua in Clinton.
Thanks to SBC, Hamden is one of the few towns in Connecticut with a brewpub. Irish standout Playwright Pub is the only member of the restaurant group left in Connecticut, although two remain in Florida. Popular Eli’s on Whitney, which bills its food as casual American, is the original member of its group, and my favorite place to catch Michigan football games.
Atmospheric Café Amici in Spring Glen and Di Matteo’s in the Hamden Plaza (with food far exceeding expectations for its strip mall location) serve Italian cuisine. Popular Aunt Chilada’s guarantees that south-of-the-border food is represented as well.
Even Asian food is well-represented. Sono Bana, which used to be called Hama but still features the same ownership and menu, has long been one of my favorite Japanese restaurants and is tremendously popular with the Yale community. Highly praised by the New York Times, The Terrace is one of the better Thai restaurants in the New Haven area and its husband-and-wife owners are utterly charming. Le Petit Gourmet, which you see here contributing the next day to the Elm Shakespeare Company’s 2010 Gala held in Edgerton Park,
is a delightful food shop with a few tables located in the Whitneyville neighborhood across from the Playwright.
And last but definitely not least, there’s the Soup Girl! Pretty Jessica Hazan
and her shiny food truck (shown here at the Hamden Farmers’ Market)
offer a seemingly endless rotation of tempting homemade potages.
The Soup Girl will be parked at her Hamden Farmers’ Market location in the Miller Library parking lot at dinnertime throughout Hamden Restaurant Week. If you haven’t tried Jessica’s terrific soups at Hamden Farmers’ Market, at Science Park, or at any of the other locations she frequents, you don’t know what you’re missing.
On September 1st, Hamden Restaurant Week was revealed to the press at a Business After Hours meeting of the Hamden Chamber of Commerce held at Hindinger Farm on Dunbar Hill Road.
Ignacio Blanco of Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar and I were the first to arrive.
Blanco went inside and bought gorgeous Hindinger Farm tomatoes for his restaurant.
I wandered around taking photographs of this farm stand I have visited since the early 1970s,
while trying not to get underfoot or under tractor.
It was hellishly hot and humid, the usual crisp view to Long Island barely extending to the monument atop East Rock.
I found beautiful peaches growing in the trees behind the farm stand.
I found goats amusing themselves (and me) by climbing a ramp to an elevated platform.
I spied one of the Hindingers taking brightly colored, fresh cut sunflowers out to the tables,
which of course added a lovely visual.
Here are George and Denise Hindinger
as well as extended family.
Shortly after our arrival, Chamber of Commerce staff set up a table to welcome guests.
First, there was a trickle of people, and I wondered if the oppressive weather would suppress attendance. But before long the cars spilled out of the parking area and down the side of the road.
Guests were filling the tent,
and spilling beyond the shade
and into the picnic area.
Fortunately, the sun began to lose strength as the shadows lengthened.
Several of the businesses participating in Hamden Restaurant Week provided food and drink. Let me proceed clockwise through the exhibitors. First was the Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar station,
which was serving Spanish potato and onion omelet with aïoli,
and honeydew melon gazpacho.
Second was the Classic Wines/Northeast Wine Brokers station. For Hamden Restaurant Week, Tony Gagliardo and Carlos Rodriguez
are making some really nice, well-priced wines available to the participating restaurants so that they can pass on the savings.
Third was the Park Central Tavern station,
where Robert Johnson and staff member Quinn Deandrus (an old friend)
were putting out various treats,
including a lovely peach shortcake not pictured.
Fourth was the Eli’s on Whitney station tended by general manager Kevin Fitzsimmons.
Fifth was the Playwright Pub station,
with owner Eamon Ryan shown with Fitzsimmons.
Sixth was the Emerald Bakery station (not a Hamden Restaurant Week participant), which has two locations in town.
Seventh was SBC, whose brewmaster Mark DaSilva was dispensing pours of the Big Head Blonde ale (which might well explain why I missed a couple of shots that I should have gotten).
And the eighth and final contributor was the Soup Girl.
I was especially partial to the apricot red lentil soup, but I have enjoyed every one of her soups that I have tried.
I was wearing three hats at this event. I was there as a friend of Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar (helping with the setup), as an organizer of Hamden Restaurant Week, and obviously, as a member of the press. Other press people I spotted included old friend Kathleen Cei from the New Haven Advocate,
John Columbus representing the Chamber of Commerce,
(and his better half),
and Melanie Stengel from the New Haven Register.
There were town officials too, of course, like Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Julie Smith (left).
Mayor Jackson arrived and was greeted by Dudchik,
before schmoozing with guests for a while.
Toward the end of the event, Dudchik introduced Mayor Jackson,
who revealed his excitement about Hamden Restaurant Week.
Nancy then took the mic again
to thank certain individuals, including yours truly, deejay Vinny Valentino of Valentino Productions (who was much better focused on his work than I apparently was on mine),
and Silvia Berg of Silvia Graphics who has had a key role in the great look of all of the promotional materials for the event,
As the sun set on this kickoff of Hamden Restaurant Week,
I realized that September 20th is just around the corner. Out of loyalty to Hamden and excitement about the quality of the participants, I intend to visit and blog about most or all of the establishments. So make your reservations soon—and watch for our wall-to-wall coverage toward the end of September!