Published January 09. 2012 2:35PM Updated January 10. 2012 4:38PM
Recent frequent visits to Yale-New Haven Hospital have left me newly bummed to no longer reside in the Elm City.
I lived downtown for a few years with my husband, and we were happy (except on Saturday nights, when Wild Kingdom Night was in full effect; the mating call of 20- to 24-year-olds is loud; almost as loud as the remix to Bananarama's "Venus" when it's turned up to levels beyond human comprehension.)
Part of my love for the Elm City is its walkability and its dizzying array of options within a short distance. I used to be able to walk to Blockbuster and return DVDs. On the way, I'd be able to buy good cheese at the Marketa; pick up an order of falafel at Sahara; and see who was rolling up to the Omni Hotel.
Beyond all the great cultural outlets in town (free art galleries, Yale, Yale, Yale, and more) one of New Haven's greatest assets is its plethora of places to eat. Stand-ups, sit-downs, beer halls, and wine bars abound. We've got three Thai places within steps of each other; great Turkish fare (with a belly dancer on Fridays!); pizza, pizza, pizza; a superb Italian joint that offers wild boar entrees; Indian; diners; Barcelona!
So, at a time when comfort food is particularly comforting (see also: frequent visits to Yale-New Haven Hospital) and because New Haven accomodates that so well, here's my recommendations for must-eats if you find yourself in town.
Black Bean soup at Atticus: The black bean soup is probably the Atticus café's most popular menu item, but it isn't fair to pick favorites here. Fully stocked daily in Chabaso breads, this café within a bookstore offers great sandwiches (try the fresh mozz on a baguette), savory soups, and a dizzying dessert selection (ginger scones: do it; or the mixed berry bread pudding). Black bean soup can be served with onions, sour cream, both, or neither. Specify when ordering. Atticus also makes what is arguably the best cappuccino in town.
Frites at Rudy's: It's late; you're nearly out of money; and you really need one more beer. It's OK; we've all been there. Go to Rudy's and order any of a myriad of beers on tap, for cheap, and a beer glass filled with Belgian frites. Try 'em naked first, then move on to the dozen or so available dipping sauces. Transcend the legion hipsters who migrate here and focus on the frites.
Note: If you haven't been to town in awhile, Rudy's has moved to Chapel St.
Mashed potato pizza at BAR (Crown St., between College and High): Across from Louis Lunch—one of many establishments that claims to be the birthplace of the hamburger—is BAR. It's a bar (duh), brewery, and pizza joint. That's it, and that's just fine (there's a salad on the menu too. THAT's it.) The mashed potato pie must be eaten to be understood. Don't be a pizza snob—go to Pepe's to do that, where you will be correct in deeming it the best pizza in the known universe—just try it and wash it down with the house-brewed Toasted Blonde ale.
Regarding Louis Lunch, it's a good burger and it's fun to go experience the teeny little establishment — when it's open. But if you prefer not to get yelled at for requesting ketchup, skip it. Good burgers abound these days.
Claire's Corner Copia (Chapel St.): This is a place where it's really all good. Claire's eats are made with organic everything and local produce wherever possible.
The vegetarian menu is stunningly diverse (Don't do milk? Have soy cheese with that bean burrito!), but the best place to feel the Claire-love is to have one of the dozen or so desserts of the day. There's cake, cookies, muffins, trifle, and seasonal surprises. The standout though is the frosting; get anything iced and you will be hooked. When you're ready for a meal, try the pasta fagioli, the mac and cheese, or the soy chicken pizza.
Fattoush salad at Sahara: This huge and zesty salad is so very great: it's (according to its menu) a Mediterranean blend of roasted pita bread, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, onion and cucumber, seasoned with fine herbs, lemon and olive oil.
Falafel, kebabs, and shawarma dishes are very much worth a try. Happy bonus: Sahara offers decent pizza by the slice that is the perfect finale to night out on the town.
Cannolis at Libby's: Venture out to Wooster Square and take your pick of Italian eateries, from pizza joints to sit-downs, all crammed on Wooster St. (site of a thriving farmers market, too). Come dessert time (or, if you're really getting hungry while waiting in line for seats at Pepe's or Sally's), saunter down to Libby's Italian Pastry shop. Dozens of desserts and cookies await the sweet-toothed, many of which are cannoli in a fabulous array of flavors. If you're stuck for a place to start, I suggest the cappuccino cannoli. My husband is a big fan of the pignoli cannoli, and he doesn't tend to succumb to sweets.
And while I haven't sampled it, I'm told Libby's gelato is fantastic, too. Then grab a bag of anginetti, which are delightful too.
A few more if time permits: The Sultan's Delight at Istanbul Cafe is not just a clever name. Feast on your choice of lamb, chicken or vegetables with "creamy smoked eggplant with this most classic Ottoman dish" and you will feel royal, indeed.
Also, anything at Zinc on Chapel St. will likely become the best meal of your life. The bar at night is a great date destination. Order some profiteroles and a cheese plate and let the romance begin.
Date destination #2: Skappo Italian wine bar. Enjoy small plates of very authentic Italian food in a family-owned cozy space on lower Crown St. Torta di Cannellini con Salsa di Peperoni Rossi anyone? The super knowledgable staff will recommend the perfect wine for any dish, including desserts. Check out the menu and try not to drool on your keyboard.
Bonus round: Criterion Cinemas (Temple St.): Want to watch a movie and have a beer but don't want to stay home again? Go see an arthouse movie at Criterion Cinemas (parking will be validated if you park in the Temple Street garage) and order a beer before showtime. The theater has a tavern license: you order the beer at the beer counter; they bring it to a specific area of the lobby; you bring it into the theater. Drink and repeat as desired. The popcorn is good too.
What about you? What are your culinary destinations in New Haven?
Follow me on Twitter: @TheMDesk.