Over the last couple of decades, our palates have broadened to incorporate a variety of cuisines. Home cooks are experimenting with more unusual spices, trying new ethnic recipes, and becoming more creative in the kitchen. This holiday season, if you want to try something a little out of your comfort zone, whether it’s an international dish or a healthier version of your usual holiday dinner menu, you don’t have to travel far to find the ingredients needed to complete your meal. There are many specialty markets in the area that offer products for virtually any type of cooking, and while you’re there, you can find special gifts for the foodies on your list. Visit any one, or all, of these markets to help you create that new dish you’ve been hungering to try.
For 25 years, family-owned A&S Italian Fine Foods in Fairfield has been a destination for quality meat from its full-service butcher shop. “We make our own sausages and have a selection of marinated meats, plus a full case of fresh-cut, certified Black Angus beef, Bell & Evans chicken, and prime American lamb and pork,” says owner Carmine Battimelli. The market custom makes sandwiches and sells imported Italian groceries and table cheeses. The bakery department features classic baked goods and bread from New York. “We carry a full line of groceries, including hard to find Italian specialties, fresh pastas, and sauces, plus a large selection of grab-&-go meals.” Customer favorites include fresh, house-made mozzarella, and chicken parmigiana.
Rated #4 on TripAdvisor of 10 Things to Do in New Canaan, Goldenberry is a charming shop filled with English, Irish, Scottish, and European gourmet foods and gifts. “We’re eclectic. We search out unique products,” says Deb Hecht, manager. Products include authentic British Isles sausages, Scottish marmalade, Scottish meat pies and haggis, English pork pies, Christmas pudding imported from England, and imported Irish ham. Goldenberry also carries jewelry, paper goods, and fine bone china.
Nature’s Temptations in Ridgefield is a natural foods market, juice bar, café, and deli. “We support local causes that contribute to the betterment of the environment and community and strive to create an exceptional customer experience and to make the world a better place,” explains Jeff Konchalski, owner. Since 1993, it has offered fresh gourmet food, including fruit, vegetables, meat, cheeses, a wide variety of groceries, sports, diet, and organic supplements, vitamins, and homeopathic remedies. “Our foods nourish the mind and body,” Konchalski says. The store also carries products for special diets. The kitchen features daily homemade soups, rotisserie chickens, grab-&-go meals, custom order sandwiches, fresh salads, and baked goods.
Open since 1972, Steve’s Market in Norwalk, a three-generation family-owned and operated market, specializes in Greek and Mediterranean foods. “Some of our most popular items are olive oil, feta, and fresh olives, all imported from Greece,” says Kiki Kydes, the owner’s daughter. The store carries feta cheese, including Dodonis, a blend of sheep and goat’s milk; house-made Tzatziki; and pork and chicken souvlaki. A unique item is hand stretched, white or multigrain pita bread. Traditional Greek products include phyllo dough, grape leaves, spices, coffee beans, jarred and canned goods, and Greek baked goods from Astoria, N.Y. Steve’s also sells imported Greek chocolates and beverages.
At Rowayton Market in Rowayton, which in the mid 18th Century served as an offloading port for fresh meats, produce, groceries, and dry goods coming off of packet ships, Chef Marc Poidevin plans his prepared foods menu around seasonal ingredients. The market offers restaurant- quality prepared foods, fresh cut meats, and gourmet take-out, including roasted fall vegetables, braised shortribs, beef bourguignon, pub stew,, roasted turkey, and turkey cranberry salad, plus sandwich and fruit and cheese platters.
Family-owned Patel Brothers in Norwalk carries a full line of grocery and spices from the South Asian subcontinent and Middle East. “We have our own brand called Swad, which includes hundreds of items ranging from spices, dry fruits, nuts, rice, lentils, flours, snacks, and everything in between,” states Rahul Patel, co-manager. The store is known for its exotic spices, vegetables, and other ethnic items not found in supermarkets.
Since 1932, the name Karl Ehmer has been synonymous with premium, high-quality German meats. “It’s simple, wholesome food,” says Gabrielle Freundt, owner. A staple in town since 1976, the German delicatessen, located in Danbury, serves fresh-made sandwiches. The store is known for its pre-cooked, ready-to-eat sausages, bratwursts, Weisswurst, knockwurst, Bauernwurst, and Polish kielbasi. It also carries German cold cuts, in addition to various hams, roast beef, turkey, and salamis. Other items include salads, spaetzle, mustards, preserves, rye bread, European specialties, Christmas baked goods, beer steins, and giftware.
Opened in 2003, UK Gourmet in Bethel features foods from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, and South Africa. “It’s like a museum of food,” notes Lisa Whitmore, co-owner with her husband, Nigel. The store carries an assortment of cheese, chocolate, teas, breads, biscuits, bangers, bacon, meat pies, frozen Brennan bread from Ireland, beverages, and groceries. “Our name brands may be very similar to American ones but the flavor and ingredients are very different, like Heinz baked beans. The British version isn’t as sweet and has no bacon or meat flavors added. Mr. Kipling is a very famous cake and mini tart company that’s also very popular,” Whitmore says, noting its crisps (potato chips) come in fun flavors like ketchup, Marmite, and pickled onion. This is the place for cheese, such as Harlech, a creamy cheese from Wales flavored with horseradish. Customers whose children have food dye allergies like to shop here. The store also carries an assortment of gluten-free snacks, and at Christmas sells Kinderton, a nut-free line.
At A&S Fine Foods in Westport and Stamford, a completely separate entity from A&S Italian Fine Foods in Fairfield, owner and chef Al Pizzirusso and his staff offer hungry, time-constrained patrons a wide variety of prepared foods, which according to Al, are the future of the business: “No one has time to cook anymore!” he says. The menu includes Tuscan Bean and Grilled Pear salads, Chicken Piccata, Veal Parm, Meat or Vegetable and Cheese Lasagna, Grilled Organic Salmon, and Short Ribs braised in red wine, beef stock, and rosemary.
A Taste of Holland is a store and mail-order business for imported food items from the Netherlands and Indonesia. Owner Justin J. Schenkels notes that the store carries items such as Leyden cheese, smoked eel, mackerel, and North sea herring. Big sellers include Stroopwafels, speculaas, and licorice.
For 37 years, Chamomille Natural Foods in Danbury has been on the cutting edge of organic and healthful nutrition. “People are interested in organic and non-GMO foods more than ever in order to stay well and get well. We’re known for introducing products from small, local businesses that are as passionate as we are about nutrition and the health of our planet,” states Barry Sherr, co-owner. Chamomille carries an expansive selection of supplements, freshly-made food and juice, wholesome groceries and produce, and organic body care. “We make a limited amount of freshly made salads and sandwiches, and purchase many unique food choices from quality small producers,” Scherr notes.