Trying Taíno Smokehouse


To kick off season 3 of CT Snapshot, we decided to review Taíno Smokehouse in Middletown. While several smokehouses exist in Connecticut,  Taíno Smokehouse stood out to us because of the history behind its name. According to the description on the restaurant’s website, barbecue originated with indigenous peoples of the Caribbean such as the Taíno. Today, barbecue is very much part of American culture, but many Americans don’t know where the cooking method started. By simply visiting the restaurant’s website, we knew that the owners want to remind people of barbecue’s Taíno roots and serve delicious cuisine to customers from all over. We couldn’t wait to check the place out and chow down.

Taino Smokehouse

Grade: B+

Location: 482 South Main Street, Middletown, CT

Website Facebook Menu

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Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 8.29.16 AM Atmosphere: 9/10-When you enter Taíno Smokehouse, you’ll likely notice the design of a Taíno chief on the floor.  The design reminds people of the restaurant’s logo and barbecue’s Taíno origins. Even if customers did not know about the history behind the restaurant’s name, the design and logo create a sense of wonder and intrigue. Likewise, the logo, name and design differentiate Taíno Smokehouse from other barbecue restaurants in the state. With a few more Taíno-related decorations, the restaurant could really stand out.

Service: 10/10-Taíno Smokehouse is not spacious, but seating indoors and outside fills quickly. The waiters, waitresses, cashiers and cooks can handle the demands of their customers. They also treat customers with a friendly attitude and constantly check up on them. These qualities speak volumes about Taíno Smokehouse in terms of their care for quality, customer service. We also didn’t have too long for a check.

10509667_10152570622752953_7128906865193257006_nPrice/Selection 8/10-Taíno Smokehouse offers a wide selection for their menu in terms of their appetizers, wings/chicken pops/shrimp, BBQ sandwiches and BBQ dinners. We expected a bigger portion size for the amount we paid for our dinners, but we found the portion size for our appetizers to be more than suitable.

Taste: 8/10-We had mixed feelings on the taste of our entrees. Make no mistake; we enjoyed our entrees, but some proved more savory than others. We found the BBQ pulled pork dinner to be fantastic along with the sweet potato fries. The BBQ chicken dinner proved satisfying as well, but not quite on the same level. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our entrees and left zero scraps behind.

In a nutshell: 35/40-In a nutshell, we enjoyed the history, service and entrees of Taíno smokehouse and encourage our readers to visit. We plan to stop by Taíno Smokehouse in the future, but we must venture on to other restaurants in the state before doing so.

Taino Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

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The Authentic Abyssinian (Ethiopian Cuisine in Hartford)


After another long winter-spring break, we’re back! While the break lasted a little too long, it allowed us to visit a few places that we plan to write about in the near future and research new places to visit.  Hartford’s Abyssinian Ethiopian Restaurant intrigued us because it exists as one of the few known African restaurants in Connecticut.  When only a few restaurants of a certain cuisine exist in Connecticut, they tend to be expensive.  This rule generally applies to French restaurants and Russian restaurants in the state.   We saw the $12 for $24 deal on Groupon and hoped Abyssinian would prove to be the exception. Here’s how our night panned out.

Abyssinian Ethiopian Restaurant

Grade: B+

Location:  535 Farmington Ave, Hartford, CT

Website  Menu  Groupon

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ethiopian3Atmosphere: 8.5/10-When we walked into Abyssinian, we were drawn to the African paintings on the wall, the miniature statues that were placed above the cashier’s counter and the music that played in the background. These three factors intrigued us. These factors let us know that the owner(s) wanted to distinguish this restaurant as uniquely Ethiopian.  We also noticed the dim lighting in the restaurant and unlit candles that sat atop our tables. If the staff altered the lighting or lit the candles on the tables, they would be more likely to attract customers from the outside.

Service: 9/10-We found the staff to be pleasant and quick-handed. We received our meals in a timely fashion. We wondered how the staff would fare on a busy night because we were only one of few groups of people in the restaurant that night. If Abyssinian finds that they are understaffed on those nights, the management should consider hiring more employees to help, especially when the Groupon deal results in an increase of customers.

Price/Selection: 8.5/10-The prices are reasonable and affordable. Appetizers range from $6.95 to $7.95. Entrees range from $11.95 to $16.95.  You won’t make a dent in your wallet here and with the Groupon deal, you can get much more for your money! Abyssinian also offers a diverse selection of Ethiopian cuisine with plenty to choose from.

ethiopian2Composition/Taste: 9.5/10-If you have never tried Ethiopian cuisine, we strongly recommend you do so. Ethiopian cuisine typically consists of a variety of vegetables and spicy meats that are served atop injera, a sourdough flatbread that is so large you might mistake it for a napkin! Ethiopians eat this cuisine with their right hands. They use pieces of the injera to pick up the various meats and vegetables. Don’t make the mistake we did. We used our spoon to pick up the ingredients. When the ingredients entered our mouths, we found ourselves immensely enjoying the flavors that touched our taste buds, especially the flavors absorbed by the injera.  We recommend you try any of the chicken, lamb, beef, seafood, vegetarian or rice dishes to taste what we’re talking about.

In a nutshell: 35.5/40-Abyssinian has the look, the taste and the staff, but they need the extra “wow” factor to make their restaurant stand out.  In other words, they need something from the outside to draw the customers from this busy street in, something that says “look at us.”  Abyssinian is  restaurant worth stopping by.  The management needs to find “something” to let Connecticut know this.

Abyssinian Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Delectable Diva La Crêpe


We celebrated CT Snapshot’s one year anniversary at Watertown’s Diva La Crêpe.   We previously visited two crêperies  in Rehoboth, Delaware last August.   These crêperies proved both delicious and awful in terms of their quality and service.  We found the best ones provided quick, quality service,reasonable prices and variety in terms of their menu items.  We felt it was high time we tried a crêperie  in Connecticut.  When we searched for crêperies in our state, we discovered that the prices were higher than the ones in Delaware.  Some  would argue that you should expect high prices of quality, French cuisine.  We hoped Diva La Crêpe, a crêperie with a Japanese twist, would disprove this notion.

Important Note: We encourage Diva  La  Crêpe to check out Groupon and Living Social to increase their number of customers.  They exist in a slightly hidden location, but could quickly become a staple of Connecticut crêperies if they take advantage of these opportunities.

Diva  La  Crêpe

Grade: A

Location: 544 Straits Turnpike, Watertown, CT

Website  Menu  Facebook

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0222131928Atmosphere:  8/10
-When we stepped into Diva La Crêpe, we noticed its quaint atmosphere.  The chalkboard menu, checker tiled floors and pictures of France stood out to us the most. We were taken, but not fully enamored.  If Diva La Crêpe adds a few more decorations to express that they are a Japanese influenced crêperie,they would likely attract more customers.  Nonetheless.  Diva’s modern feel made for an enjoyable stay.  We appreciated the fact that Diva doesn’t try to masquerade as a restaurant that serves expensive French cuisine.

Service: 10/10- What Diva may lack in decor,  they make up for in service.  We encountered fast and friendly service at Diva.  By friendly, we mean a conversational, smiling, polite staff. We have reviewed several restaurants throughout the state and never encountered service this friendly. The chefs also cooked the crêpes quickly without sacrificing composition and taste.  We enjoyed the fact that the chefs make the crêpes in front of you.  This speaks to the honesty and confidence of the staff.

Price/Selection:  10/10-You don’t have to make a dent in your wallet to eat here.  Crêpe prices range from just $4-8.  You can buy beverages and ice cream for $4 and under.  You will also find plenty of variety here.   Breakfast crêpes, sweet crêpes, Japanese style ice cream crêpes and savory crêpes comprise the menu.  You can try a large selection of  crêpes at any time of day.  Check out our choices for the most creative  crêpes-

1.  Choco Loco-a Japanese style ice cream crêpe with nutella, bananas, chocolate ice cream, whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce.

2.  Alaska-a savory crêpe with smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, basil, spinach and house mayonnaise dressing.

3.  Fantastic New York-a Japanese style ice cream crêpe with cheese cake, strawberry, ice cream and whipped cream.

4.  Spicy Mango-a savory crepe with grilled chicken breast, mango, spring mixed greens an spicy mango dressing.

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A Choco Loco Crêpe

Composition/Taste:  9/10-The  crêpes’ decor proved both artistic and appetizing.  The mere  design of the crêpes compelled us to chow down and try more of them.  The crêpes lived up to their savory and sweet labels on the menu.  The ingredients are fresh.  We especially enjoyed sinking our teeth into the Japanese ice cream style  crêpes.  The flavorful ice cream complimented the other ingredients quite well.

Making the choice:  You likely found a number of crêperies in Connecticut.  If you’re wondering what makes Diva La Crêpe stand out among them, consider these differences:

Diva La  Crêpe vs. Bon Appetit Crêperie & Cafe:  We believe customer service is key when making a decision about a restaurant. One Yelp user wrote of Bon Appetit, “My boyfriend left a 20% tip on the table and we went up to her hostess stand to pay. After he had paid she said something to him I’m guessing that was asking if we needed change, implying that we need to leave a tip. When he said, “oh no it’s all set” (meaning we left it on the table) she got upset and said to us with an attitude “You need to leave at least a 15% tip!” I was in utter shock.”  We believe this type of treatment is unacceptable.  Waiters and waitresses should not demand tips from customers or automatically assume that they did not tip.

crepe1Diva La Crêpe vs. Caroline’s Crêperie:  Caroline’s Crêperie  boasts great ratings on Yelp.  Their menu also displays a good variety in terms of crêpes.  Diva La Crêpe offers a more unique selection with their Japanese style ice cream crêpes. Caroline’s  Crêperie is slightly more expensive, ranging from $4-10 in price of crêpes.

In a nutshell:  37/40- Diva  La  Crêpe earns an A for its unique selection, great taste and affordable menu items.  We encourage you to stop by Diva  La  Crêpe for breakfast, lunch and dinner and tell your friends.

Classic Connecticut: Blackie’s Hotdog Stand in Cheshire


Connecticut holds many timeless restaurants. People consider these restaurants “timeless” because they are untouched by the changes of our twenty-first century ways of life. When you step inside, you might forget that you’re in the digital age for a moment. We expected this magical quality when we discovered Blackie’s Hot Dog stand in Connecticut. Founded in 1925 by Mary Mahoney and Art Blackman, Blackie’s maintains its family tradition of serving Blackie’s hot dogs smothered in homemade relish, birch beer on tap, cartons of chocolate milk, being closed on Fridays and offering chips instead of fries. We couldn’t wait to take part in Blackie’s traditions.

For more on Blackie’s history, click here.

Blackie’s Hotdog Stand

Grade: B+

Location: 2200 Waterbury Road, Cheshire, CT

Website

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christina Atmosphere: 9.5/10-When you enter Blackie’s, you’ll notice the double garage doors that pay homage to the original building, a gas station that burnt to the ground in 1945. You’ll also notice historical pictures and newspaper articles mounted to the walls. When we walked in, we noticed people eating hotdogs at metal counters and sitting at the wooden tables.  They represented ages young and old. We also saw the legendary “no dancing” sign on the wall. The restaurant put it up during the 1940s to avoid a cabaret tax. These elements make your experience feel like a true time warp. A juke box would have been the so-called “icing on the cake.”

Service: 9/10-Unlike the previous restaurant, Blackie’s CAN handle the pressure of a crowded interior. The staff uses a number system for each order and delivers them quickly. The tables appeared slightly messy, but this is understandable for a busy day. The staff maintained its most important duties with ease.

menu Price: 5/5-You might do a double take at the prices. $2 hot dogs, $3 cheeseburgers and hamburgers that cost $2.75 might make you do a double-take. The times changed, but Blackie’s changed very moderately over the years. This speaks to Blackie’s authenticity and loyalty to tradition.

Selection: 4/5-Blackie’s offers a modest selection of hotdogs, burgers, fries, chips, ice cream, soda and milkshakes. We would call this selection “limited” for a modern day restaurant, but for Blackie’s, it speaks of the simplicity of the “good old days” and the restaurant’s noble attempts to stick to tradition.

relishTaste: 4/5-Blackie’s boasts about its hot pepper relish and for good reason. For eighty years, Blackie’s has offered its delicious hot pepper relish to its customers. The recipe remains a “closely guarded secret.” Without the relish,  Blackie’s hotdogs and hamburgers aren’t particularly stellar, but they will still satisfy your taste buds.

Composition: 3.5/5-There is nothing particularly special about the looks or size of Blackie’s hotdogs and hamburgers. A handful customers have commented on other websites that the looks have varied over the years. We suggest buying multiple items.

In a nutshell: 35/40-We recommend you visit Blackie’s Hotdog Stand in Cheshire for its rich history and inexpensive eating. While the portions aren’t big, you can purchase multiple items to satisfy your hunger and save a significant amount of money in your wallets.

Check out some of the additional pictures from our adventure!

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Blackies Hotdog Stand on Urbanspoon

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diva la crepe

COMING UP NEXT: Yes, Connecticut has a Creperie. Their prices are more than reasonable and their food looks delicious! Will they live up to the hype? Stay tuned.

Italian Take 2- Procaccini’s Italian Family Restaurant in East Hartford


We dared to try Italian cuisine via Groupon again to kick off the new year. Groupon provided us with a few Italian cuisine options, but Procaccini’s stood out the most due to its unique chef logo and welcoming name.  Since 1969, Procaccini’s has serviced the East Hartford area.  This fact intrigued us.  We expected a family-run  restaurant with old fashioned service and traditional values.  We were a little surprised by the mixed reviews on Urbanspoon.  One user wrote, “We are originally from East Hartford – and have never been able to find a better pizza anywhere!” Another user complained that “…the Waitress did not attend to us being in her section and would not bring us additional seasoned bread after sitting 20 minutes.” With the opposing reviews in mind, it was time to put Procaccini’s to the test!

Procaccini’s Italian Family Restaurant

Grade: B-

Location: 46 Main Street, East Hartford

Facebook Menu Groupon

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familiesAtmosphere: 9/10- When we walked into Procaccini’s,we noticed the eye-catching decor on the walls.  We enjoyed seeing a painted cutout of the Procaccini’s chef  on the wall and a beautiful painting of Venice near the kitchen.  Christina commented that the chef reminded her of Little Caesar’s “Pizza, Pizza”  mascot that sports the same name because of its cuteness and likability. Procaccini’s has the necessary eye candy to elate its customers before seating. We were also intrigued by the number of customers in the restaurant. By 6 pm,  Procaccini’s was filled with hungry families.

Service: 7/10-We found our host and waitress friendly.  They tried their best to bring food out in a timely fashion. Unfortunately,  Procaccini’s is understaffed on a busy night and barely able to handle the pressure. We didn’t wait long for our appetizers, but when the restaurant started to fill, we waited quite awhile for entrees, dessert and check. Procaccini’s needs more employees.

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Price/Selection: 8/10-From burgers to pizza, Procaccini’s has a diverse selection of menu items. You’ll find plenty of soups, salads, pastas, pizzas and desserts.  If you’re looking to order burgers or grinders, you’ll spend on average $10-13.  Pasta averages $12-17  and pizza ranges from $7-26 depending on the size.  You might spend more than you expect, but the prices match the portion size.  You will receive plenty to eat and plenty to take home. If you’re reading this in early January 2013, take advantage of the Groupon deal we provided in the link at the top of the page. If you spend $15, you’ll receive $30 worth of food. This is a standard Groupon Deal.

Taste/Composition: 8/10-We added composition to this category because how a dish looks will influence the way the customers reflects on his or her experience. Procaccini’s composition differs from traditional Italian cuisine.  Most notably, they layer their pizza toppings and serve spumoni without a shell.  We weren’t sure what to make of it, but enjoyed our savory dishes.

spumoniIn a nutshell: 32/40-Procaccini’s Italian Family Restaurant is a restaurant with history and potential to make even more history. We largely enjoyed the atmosphere and the diverse selection. Procaccini’s has the makings of a solid Italian restaurant and people see this potential. We cannot stress enough that this restaurant needs more employees.  A larger staff would help speed up service on those busy weekend nights.

Why you might want to check out Procaccini’s:

1. The onion soup-Procaccini’s offers a delicious onion soup topped with mozzarella cheese.

2. The layered pizza-We found the style a bit unusual, but you might enjoy the toppings layered inside the pizza.

3. The atmosphere-Procaccini’s unique logo and beautiful painting will catch your eye when you walk in.

blackies

Coming up next-Blackies Hotdog Stand exists as a time warp and treasured restaurant in Cheshire.  Will it live up to its reputation? Stay tuned!

Procaccini's on Urbanspoon

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Grab some Gobi Mongolian Grill in Southington


Life feels different in Connecticut lately. We feel different. People seem a little more on edge and for good reason.  You might feel sad and you might be looking for a return to normalcy. We’ve found comfort in spending time with family and friends around the holiday season in an entertaining atmosphere. If you’re looking for some holiday cheer in the nutmeg state, why not try Gobi Mongolian Grill in Southington! We’ve visited twice and definitely enjoyed ourselves.

What is Mongolian Barbecue? Gobi Mongolian Grill in Southington serves a type of cuisine called Mongolian barbecue. Ironically, Mongolian barbecue relates to neither Mongolian cuisine nor barbecue. Taiwanese restaurants developed Mongolian barbecue during the 1970s. The restaurants’ chefs cooked diverse varieties of meats, vegetables and noodles on round, iron griddles. Imagine a hibachi dinner in which you CHOOSE the contents.  Customers handed chefs the vegetables, noodles and sauces and they cooked them without hesitation. This type of tradition caught on in America and has maintained popularity into the 21st century.

Check our Mongolian barbecue adventure-

Gobi Mongolian Grill

Grade A-

Location: 855 Queen St, Southington, CT

Website Menu Drinks Facebook

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from the official website

ImageAtmosphere: 9.5/10: Gobi Mongolian Grill has a spacious interior with an orange and brown color scheme that will likely contribute to your hunger. You will also notice the giant iron griddles that rest in the middle of the room. People wait at marble counters by the griddles with the dishes they selected. Before you visit the counter, go to the buffet area in the back of the room to choose from a variety of noodles, vegetables, meats and sauces for the chefs to cook. Remember-this is all you can eat so grab as many dishes as you desire. You can also choose dessert!

ImageService of chefs: 5/5-These chefs will cook any type of ingredients and quickly. I added pineapple and strawberries to my plate and they cooked it! I was greeted with a few laughs by the chefs and odd looks by Christina and our friend Brandon.

Service of waiters/waitresses: 3/5-On a busy night, you might have to wait a little while for refills of drinks. Your table could benefit from ordering a bottle of wine to prevent waiting or a large pitcher of water. When we visited a second time for Brandon’s going away party, we encountered much faster service.

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Price/selection: 9.5/10-The picture shows only the vegetables you have to choose from! The meats, noodles and sauces boast the same type of variety! You can have as much of this as you want for $15.95. During lunch hours, you can have the same type of buffet for only $8.95. You’ll spend less than you would at a hibachi dinner!  The drink prices are reasonable too.

Taste: 9/10-You can create a seemingly endless amount of tasty combinations. Unlike most buffets, the ingredients do not sit out to spoil. We encourage you to try new foods, but be careful of your choices. Pay attention to the spiciness warnings if you don’t like spicy foods. If you’re not a daring person, choose foods that you are familiar with. Otherwise, you’ll end up wasting a lot of ingredients.

In a nutshell-36/40-Whether you’re visiting at lunch or dinner, with friends or family, Gobi Mongolian grill is a “must try” place in the state of Connecticut.  We encourage you to try this place as a date or with a large group of people. You’ll find good times and holiday cheer at this restaurant!

Gobi Mongolian Grill on Urbanspoon

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Tapas, tapas, tapas! Ibiza Tapas and Wine Bar in Hamden


We almost missed it. Driving down the traffic filled Dixwell avenue, we almost missed the entrance for Ibiza Tapas and Wine Bar, a tapas and wine bar near the border of Hamden and New Haven.  If you’re not familiar with the term, “tapas” are a variety of appetizers and snacks in Spanish cuisine. Chefs create tapas with unique ingredients such as baby squid, raisins and olives. They are served hot or cold and designed to stimulate conversation so people can enjoy the ambiance as well as their meals. Spaniards typically frequent tapas bars in the early evening/late afternoon because they do not eat dinner until the hours of 9 to 11 p.m.

If you enter a Google search for “Ibiza Tapas,” you’ll garner multiple results because several restaurants exist in the United States with a similar name.  This particular restaurant, however, exists only in Northampton, Massachusetts and Hamden, Connecticut.  We visited Ibiza in Northampton and enjoyed our tapas and wine. We decided to visit its sister restaurant in Connecticut and see if it measured up. We almost missed it but, noticed the “I” logo from the window and made a quick U-Turn.  With our bellies rumbling and our taste buds tingling, we entered Ibiza.

Note: the photos on our phones came out blurry so we used pictures from their official Facebook page to try and recreate the experience as best as we could.

Ibiza Tapas and Wine Bar in Hamden

Grade: A-

Location: 1832 Dixwell Avenue, Hamden, CT

Website Menu Drinks Facebook

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Atmosphere: 9/10-When you enter Ibiza, you’ll likely notice the small size of the building’s interior.  Every square inch seems to be covered by tables of all sizes. You’ll also notice that almost every table is full with people enjoying their tapas and wine. This, along with the vibrant red/yellow schema of the interior and the abstract paintings, is likely to intrigue you. During the spring and summer months, crowded tables align the beautiful patio outside.

Service: 9/10-Our hostess held the door open and seated us immediately. We waited a little longer than we expected for our menus but, our waitress brought them out to us and apologized. We understood because it was a busy night.  She also brought us an extra tapa plate that we did not order.  When we informed her, she corrected this error immediately. When your restaurant is filled to its limit of people, waiters and waitresses are going to make mistakes every once in awhile.  Our waitress’s ability to correct it in a quick fashion signifies her quality as a waitress. We also appreciated our quick refills.

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Our hats also go off to the chefs for their creative ingenuity. We enjoyed all of our tapas, but remembered the Lubina a la sal (Salt-baked sea bass with tomato, scallions,   pinenuts, raisins, potato, carrot comfit,   and smoked Spanish paprika oil) and Pollo al Ajillo con Vegetales (Free range chicken sautéed in garlic sauce served with vegetables) the most for their unique culinary design.

Taste: 10/10: We usually place this category last, but it seems like the perfect transition after a paragraph about design.  These tapas taste as delicious as they look. Ibiza’s chefs place an emphasis on flavor. We often said “wow” out loud after sinking our teeth into a tapa. The taste made us pay attention to the ingredients and question what made everything so delicious. We enjoyed experiencing flavors that had never mixed on our palettes before.

Price: 3/5-Tapas prices range from $4.75 to $9.95.  They come as tradicionales (small tapas) and raciones (larger tapas). Keep in mind that the tradicionales, while beautifully designed, are not particularly filling. The raciones can be filling depending on the size.  The idea is for you to order multiple tapas. Depending on your appetite, things can get somewhat pricy. If you’re on a date for two, we recommend you order two tradicionales and two raciones. We also recommend visiting with a group to enjoy company and split the tab.

Making the choice: Ibiza, compared to other tapas bars in Connecticut, is more affordable and more creative.  Ibiza continues to reinvent its menu and offer intriguing daily specials. If you visit Barcelona West Hartford, prices rank up to $10.50 for traicionales and $14.50 for raciones. You won’t pay more than $9.95 for any tapas dish at Ibiza.

Selection: 5/5-Ibiza has a creative, diverse selection of tapas and drinks.  Check out our top 5 picks for most creative tapas and drinks:

1.   Lubina a la sal (Salt-baked sea bass with tomato, scallions,   pinenuts, raisins, potato, carrot comfit,   and smoked Spanish paprika oil)-$6.75.

2.  Pollo al Ajillo con Vegetales (Free range chicken sautéed in garlic sauce served with vegetables)-$9.95.

3. Salmon con Ensalada de Manzanas Verdes (Caramelized Scottish Salmon, green apple, avocado and cucumber salad with extra virgin olive oil and lemon)-$7.75.

4. Moscatel de Valenica-$5.50 per glass.

5. Caves de Cepa-$6.50 per glass.

In a nutshell-36/40-Ibiza Tapas and Wine Bar exists as one of the best (if not best) tapas bars in Connecticut. We recommend you stop by the Hamden location or the one in Northampton for an evening of tapas and wine! We also you recommend you stop by their facebook for the daily specials and other information.

Ibiza Tapas Wine Bar and Cafe on Urbanspoon

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