As the leaves begin to fall and the air turns crisp, flavors of fall permeate our local kitchens, markets, and restaurants; even our liquor stores pay homage to the change of season. On this particular autumnal day, I ventured to some of my favorite Darien shops and cafes to see what fall flavors they were offering.
Aux Délices Foods, 25 Old Kings Highway North
A place for all things sweet and savory, this little eat-in or carryout caterer’s shop in the Goodwives Shopping Center was my first stop. In keeping with the Halloween spirit, an array of decorated cookie creations from pumpkins to witch hats adorned the communal tabletop. The refrigerator case displayed numerous soups, including “Roasted Fall Squash,” and a less ordinary “Sweet Potato and Leek” soup. The dessert case displayed a rustic apple crostada, piled high with thick slices of apple, cinnamon and sugar.
But the most original and creative creation was the crème brulee housed inside a mini pumpkin. If you plan on throwing a dinner party, take my advice: gather up a bunch of these pumpkins, sprinkle the top with sugar and give them a flash broil (or flame torch) to caramelize the top. Ta-da! You have an impressive, festive and semi-homemade dessert.
The service at Aux Délices wasn't quite so warm. Fall always puts me in a great mood, as does being around food; but I guess the gal behind the counter was not feeling the same way. It was clear that she was not pleased by this food reporter’s presence. Put off, I left without any goodies (I did manage to snap some photographs). I think she needed one of those Halloween cookies to brighten her day.
Panera Bread, 1063 Post Road
On this chilly afternoon of rounding up fall flavors, I decided to treat myself to a soothing hot mug of Panera Bread’s popular pumpkin latte. This high octane, sweet, pumpkin pie-spiced beverage is piled high with the perfect milk foam and creamy whipped topping, drizzled with more pumpkin goodness. One sip from the large mug, and I instantly want to cozy up at a corner table and savor every drop. Panera’s downtown location makes it ideal for people watching.
There’s also a terrific selection of seasonal baked goods such as a cinnamon crunch bagel and even a dutch apple with raisins version.
As for the service, the folks working here are warm and friendly, which only enhances my afternoon.
Glen Liquors, 390 Heights Road
I stop at Glen Liquors to see what they have brewing—literally. Sure enough, the Oktoberfest beer is out in full force. There’s everything from Brooklyn Brewery’s Pumpkin Ale to Woodchuck Draft Cider. There’s even an after-dinner Ice Cider from Neige, for a nightcap by the fireplace. I opt for a bottle of Kunde Cabernet to simmer over a low heat with my mulling spices from Trader Joe’s.
Good Food Good Things, 865 Post Road
I love this downtown shop. It combines fun lifestyle items, home design, and food: three things that make life grand. Walk past the fabulous house wares, gifts, and children’s toys, and you enter the world of Good Food by Diane Brown Catering. The smell of coffee and sweet bakery treats fills the air.
I perused the bakery case filled with cookies, brownies and cakes and settled on the ginger bread, a dark molasses-style loaf bread wrapped in clear plastic and tied up with a checkered ribbon. The packaging alone is warming and inviting, as if it were a present.
“It is great with crème cheese,” suggests the girl manning the kitchen counter.
And, yes, it was! The slight tang of the ginger enhanced the sweet, rich bread, and the crème cheese mellowed it out while adding a layer of decadence. My leftover bread would later be cubed and baked in a milk and egg custard for an out-of-this-world ginger bread pudding.
The whole Good Food Good Things experience left me looking forward to another visit over the holidays.
Espresso NEAT, 20 Grove Street
Next, I decide to visit the girls at the newly opened Espresso NEAT, Rachel and Lori, to see what fall flavors they were whipping up.
Inspired by the season, and eager to share their tasty creations, they got to work on a steaming mug of apple cider. Fresh from a Connecticut apple grove, the cider is heated through with the espresso machine steamer, and poured into a ceramic mug. Gooey caramel can be added as well.
Next up is a milky hot chocolate topped with fresh whipped cream—dessert in a cup, as is the pumpkin truffle on the plate, courtesy of Chocopologie in South Norwalk.
For my frothy cappuccino, Rachel takes milk foam to a whole new level, crafting the shape of a pumpkin using a precision pour of milk foam. The pumpkin shape comes out perfectly, a work of art floating atop the cappuccino. You just can’t help but smile when you see it. I think to myself, “The gal at Aux Délices needs one of these.”