Taste of New Haven: Canal Quarter
Holy moly. This is going to be quite a post. You’re in for a little history mixed with a lot of food and drink deliciousness. I’m so excited to share with you guys my second Taste of New Haven experience (I previously took a tour in the Westville neighborhood) in the Canal Quarter area of the city. As soon as I saw the Groupon, I chose a date with my foodie friend and blog-namer Rachel, and bought one for us right away.
From the Groupon description: Experience a litany of other flavors on the Canal Quarter tour, which strolls through bucolic thoroughfares and visits locations nestled in an old iron foundry. After launching from the Audubon Street Bridge, the tour meanders through a loaded itinerary, sampling the globe at the Vietnamese Pot au Pho and the Cuban Zafra RumBar, cavorting with cheesemongers at Caseus, and landing in the beery Emerald Isle at Anna Liffey’s.
That’s not even all the places we went to – more stops were added after the Groupon came out. The New Haven historian, owner of Taste of New Haven, and tour guide, Colin, is always looking for new foodie stops to add to his tours!
Rachel and I ran into a little hiccup when the Groupon itself directed us to an address about 10 minutes from the actual meeting place for our tour group, leading us to park in the incorrect parking garage, but the weather was perfect and we didn’t mind taking an extra little pre-tour stroll to work up our appetites! Plus, the hiccup turned out to be quite fortuitous when we went to leave later, and the garage was un-manned, so we never ended up having to pay for parking!
The first stop on our tour was Koffee? (the use of K’s instead of C’s became quite the theme on the tour, as you’ll see), and I was beyond excited to check it out, seeing as I’m a bit of a cute-cafe-addict. This place certainly didn’t disappoint.
Koffee is a favorite spot for Yale students to come get work done or just hang out. I’m a cafe-studier myself, and could totally see myself parking it in this place with a laptop and getting a ton of work done. If only it weren’t so far away, I’d come back to do blog and MBA work there!
After 5pm, Koffee After Dark begins! Wine, craft beers, cheese plates, and other sophisticated fare become available to patrons. I really love that! I’ve heard that some Starbucks have started trying to do craft beers or wine in select stores in the evening hours, and I’m not sure a massive chain like that can “pull it off”, but Koffee does so effortlessly because of its status as a local treasure. It’s a place where people who knows each other can meet and spend time together and build history!
However the tour started at 3pm, so wine and beer wasn’t on the menu (yet), just coffee. No complaints here though – the flavor was excellent and it was good enough to sip on and drink black. That’s how you know it’s the good stuff!
Koffee serves a different single origin blend daily, and the one we got to sample was from Ethiopia! All their coffees and teas are fair-trade, which is great since coffee shops can’t necessarily “go local” with their java since it isn’t grown around here. This is the next best thing!
The owner , Duncan Goodall, is a Yale grad and “corporate refugee”. A fun employee, Bobby Tan, talked with us about the coffee and brought out a beautiful thing – a tray of pastries, made by Koffee’s very own catering service.
Is that not the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?! I wanted to try everything!! I ended up trying several different pastries by having one or two bites of each.
Rachel’s favorite was the zebra flavor, but I LOVED the pumpkin bread. The icing totally made it. The peanut butter bar was also to die for (Colin’s favorite) – so dense and made with so much pure-peanut butter that I could tell was all-natural. I’m kinda guessing on the last treat’s flavor but I tasted apple and cinnamon, and there was definitely some crumbled brown sugar on top. It was great – maybe there was gingerbread in there too?
You can see above a better view of the peanut butter bar and apple/cinnamon cake, before I took bites! Also pictured above is a chocolate cranberry cake with chopped nuts on top – it was OK but I am not a big cranberry fan so I’m biased there.
By the way, I just checked out Koffee’s savory food menu and am bowled over by both the Odd, But Good and the Leala sandwich, made with clover honey and other unique ingredients. OK, it’s settled, I’ll be back.
Our next stop was right across the street, and may be of interest to plenty of readers right off the bat, considering its name…
Canadian franchise Pure Health Lounge just opened this New Haven location a week or two ago! The menu includes fresh breakfast and lunch food, frozen yogurt, smoothies, and veggie/fruit juices. That’s what we got to try!
The owner was kind enough to come out and give us a quick intro, and let us watch him make a juice drink while serving us samples of one that had already been prepared, called the Detox: parsley, celery, spinach, and carrots. Shots, shots, shots…
It was delicious! Not sure if I could ever order a whole cup of it, but the shot was really great and quite needed after the wining I had done the night before.
Our second sample, the Power Punch, contained carrots, apples, and oranges. It was great, even better than the Detox! Again, don’t think I could drink a whole cup, but the little samples were perfect.
I’d also be curious as to how their coffee tastes. I loved the choice of displaying the beans in those cute jars. Pure Health Lounge only just opened last week in New Haven, on 90 Audubon Street, so stop by and give them some support!
Now that we’d been properly detox-ed, it was time to get more sweets in our system. Katalina’s Kupcakes is the first “cupcake shop” I’ve officially visited, believe it or not. We walked in and a display of samples was already set up for us!
I was psyched especially to see the raspberry scones, since I still had a little bit of leftover Koffee coffee in my cup. Scones and coffee are one of my most favorite combos. I dipped a piece of scone in the copy and couldn’t have been happier. I also adored these particular scones because they weren’t too sweet at all. Scones in general are one of my favorite pastries because they eat more like a breakfast cake than a breakfast sweet dessert, which usually leave me crashing after an hour.
I didn’t try a raspberry walnut bar because I’m not a fan of jam-like raspberry, but the red velvet cupcake was OUT OF THIS WORLD. The top portion was crispy, and the cream cheese icing was just so heavenly.
Katalina herself was kind enough to bring out even more samples! Pictured above was the most unique creation I tasted, the Hot Chocolate: dark chocolate cake with cayenne pepper. The “bite” that came after the first few chews was definitely tasted, though not quite as much as I expected. I honestly could have used a little more cayenne!
Definitely no comparison to the whoopie pies I am used to eating in the dining hall. Rachel used Wikipedia (oh thank you, iPhone) to find out that the name of these treats comes from when Amish women would pack them in their husbands’ lunches and they would cry “Whoopie!” when they opened their lunchboxes and found one!
It should also be known that Katalina’s has plenty of gluten-free and vegan treats. They also host fun baking events that even include cocktails! Finally, their latest Facebook update states that they are gonna be serving savory cupcakes. We are talking goat cheese with fig cream cheese frosting and apple cake with gorgonzola frosting. And they make homemade pop-tarts….this place is worth a visit!
At the beginning of the tour, Colin told us that our trip to a Vietnamese restaurant, Pot au Pho, was unfortunately cut from the tour because they were unexpectedly closed. But as we left our last stop, he told us that, SURPRISE, they were open and back on the tour! Time for the savory portion to begin! We learned upon our arrival that it’s possible that the name “pho” comes from the French word for “fire”. Historically, the soup would be made starting with a VERY hot broth (the temperature of fire). Onions would be thrown in, and the broth’s heat alone would caramelize them. However, it’s also possible that the name comes from the name of the Pantamese rice noodle that is sometimes used in the dish.
We actually started with lychee bubble tea, which I’m absolutely not a fan of. The tea itself is too sweetened and I am not a fan of the texture of those tapioca balls. I know some people love it though! I was however, a big fan of our meal, pictured above. Beef pho, a Vietnamese noodle dish (my friend Joe is obsessed with it so I’d tried it before with him), and Com Tay Cam, a chicken dish served on a bed of rice with ginger sauce and cilantro. The pho was pretty good – I’ve never been a huge fan – but the Com Tay Cam was out of this world! I didn’t have any rice because I just think white rice, and all rice in general, is the most boring food in the world. The chicken with all that cilantro though? PERFECT. I was starting to get full at this point…and we still had three more stops to go!
I loved the exterior of the next stop, Caseus Fromagerie and Bistro. I’ve actually had their cheese before at the CT Wine & Food Fest and was impressed, but luckily, the kind owner Jason Sobocinski (the self-proclaimed “Big Cheese”) had some different cheeses for us to try.
Caseus comes from the Latin root word for “cheese”. Jason’s mission is for his patrons to fill both their stomachs and their minds, something I can get behind. They were voted CT’s most sustainable restaurant by the Edible Nutmeg magazine too!
Time for cheese sampling! The first cheese we tried (the more mild of the two) was Brigid’s Abbey from Cato Corner Farm of Colchester. The cheese’s name comes from Brigid Abbey, the patron milk maid of Ireland. It’s an excellent melting cheese and tasted delicious.
Cato Corner Farm will actually offer tours, something I’d love to look into. Their flagship cheese has a fun name – Hooligan, a signature “stinky cheese”. There’s even a drunken version of it, washed with wine! After looking at the whole cheese list, I’m dying to take a visit to Cato Corner Farm.
The next cheese, Cremont, was stronger and also made partially with goat’s milk. As soon as I heard that, I knew I’d like it more – and I did. Rachel is crazy and didn’t like, but I’ll forgive her. Its name comes from “cream of Vermont”.
Pre-cut cheeses and local beverage options are available for sale at the front of the store, as well as a station where cheese can be freshly chopped and purchased by the weight. Jason informed us that he has recently partnered up with Park Central Tavern of Hamden, CT, to help revitalize the menu. That place also uses bread from Whole G Bakery, which provided me with amazing bread at the farmer’s market during the Westville Taste of New Haven tour! Love seeing these local places pop up everywhere! Definitely want to visit Park Central Tavern sometime. Their martinis in particular look fabulous.
A quick walk through the front of Caseus (the fromagerie) brings you to the bistro portion, which reminded me of a wine cellar. LOVED the vibe! So Italian and cozy. The menu looked excellent and carries a humorous warning: “We use peanut oil…a lot.”
And much like fine wine is stored in a wine cellar with a specially-maintained temperature, fine cheese is stored in a special cooler! Behold the holy grail of cheese!
From Caseus, we took a historical walk to our next location, past some old homes, a closed-down theater (that is going to be renovated, luckily!), a former carriage house (kinda like a garage in the middle of the city for horses!), and a Wells Fargo bank that is apparently the most haunted spot in New Haven! There have been MANY strange happenings there, especially in the basement, which is unfortunately where the only customer bathrooms are located. We did NOT go inside, thank goodness. I’m not up for that stuff…and by this time it was dark out!
Time for a place that isn’t scary at all, unless you want to be cheesy and say “it’s so good it’s scary”. CT’s first rum bar, Zafra, which also happens to house one of the best selections of rum in the country.
This place was easily my favorite stop of the entire tour. I already am planning to return! The term “zafra” describes the sugar cane harvest, which was Cuba’s principle crop and of extreme importance to its people.
Being a Cuban rum bar, Zafra makes a famous mojito. Above you can see individual ones being made. The ones our group tried came from a big batch, so we were told we had to come back and have an individually made one to get the full, wonderful experience. I wasted no time doing that – but more on that later.
I couldn’t believe it when the bartender, Ed, told Rachel and I that the mojito samples we were drinking were not as good as his other mojitos, because it was seriously an AMAZING drink. Best mojito we’d ever had! And best bartender!
This place isn’t just about drinks. The food was out of this world good. Like I said, I already plan to return and sample more of it.
The above cuban sandwich was the best I’ve ever had, by far. The pulled pork was perfect, the bread was crunchy, the PICKLES made it. Next time I go, I want to try the cuban dumplings, filled with pork, ham, swiss, and pickles, with Malibu rum dipping sauce. Are you still alive after reading that? Because I may be only semi-conscious.
The above nachos were also the best I’d ever had, thanks to the addition of fresh, home-made black beans and mango salsa. I’ve never seen nachos served with mango salsa on top, but honestly, why didn’t someone think of it sooner?!
Like I said, Ed is a bit of a maestro. He’s had mojitos in seven countries, so he’s definitely an expert. According to Ed, there are two reasons why people say they don’t like mojitos: they are too sweet, or lime and mint beverages aren’t their favorites. If someone claims a mojito is too sweet, Ed insists that he or she let him make a real Cuban mojito, and the hater’s mind is almost always changed – because Ed makes them correctly! If someone doesn’t like mojitos because they don’t like lime or mint, then Ed lets them be, because they’re not gonna end up liking a mojito, no matter how well he can make it.
Yes, those are egg whites that he’s putting into the drink above! The Caribbean Dream is a beverage he created, and it was featured in the New Haven Advocate. I of course cannot reveal an exact recipe, but there’s plenty involved: three different rums (guava, pineapple, vanilla), bitters, many different fruit juices, and those crazy egg whites! The couple next to Rachel and I were so curious that they each ordered a Caribbean Dream, and Ed was kind enough to let Rachel and I sample some leftovers. De-lish, though I don’t know if I could finish a whole one because it was huge and I like my drinks less sweet!
Did you know that egg whites in drinks are actually not all that crazy? Sour mix gets its foamy-ness from egg whites, and you find that in tons of drinks – more common than ya think!
Ed also created a drink for Colin that I had a sip of, called La Diablita. I don’t remember what was in it but it was SPICY! I could only handle one sip. Colin, Rachel, and I also had a sampler of three rums: Hurricane, distilled in Nantucket, Plantation, from Jamaica, and the Lash, a heavily spiced rum (VERY heavily spiced). Note: The Caribbean Dream, rum sampler, and Diablita were not included on the tour, but are definitely worth checking out!
Ed also handed out $5 gift cards to all of us on our way out! What a perk!
Next stop: Irish pub Anna Liffey’s for classic bar food and more drinks!
The name “Anna Liffey” was used in Irish political songs as a code word for “Dublin”. The code words were necessary to hide the real messages of political music from the British, who ruled the Irish at the time. So, any old Irish songs about a woman named Anna Liffey were actually talking about Dublin!
Our table was set with really pretty stained glass candle holders, and really not-tasty (in my opinion, I’m a beer hater) Guinness.
Everyone except me LOVED it, but I of course swapped mine out for my old dependable, a glass of house red (Malbec, to be specific). And by swapped, I mean I gave my beer to Rachel and she got to double-up, just like she did during the Westville tour’s beer portion. Thank you to Colin and Anna Liffey’s for being so accommodating to this beer hater!
At this last stop I was really quite full and was going to stick to just my wine. But then I decided I was being crazy – this is Taste of New Haven after all! Among the items to sample: french fries, beer-battered stuffed mushrooms, coconut shrimp, wings, mozz/tomato, and spring rolls!
Some of the food at Anna Liffey’s was unique, but most of it was pretty typical pub fare. Definitely delicious and definitely worth a visit, but probably the least unique stop on the tour. It’s tough competition out there with Colin always choosing such great places!
The above photo is NOT pretty, but I really wanted to mention this Guinness soup because I could really taste the beer in the soup, and that was so cool. Since the carbonation from the beer was of course not there in the soup, I enjoyed the taste. I’d definitely recommend it for someone visiting Anna Liffey’s who wants a unique dish!
As someone who is always cold, I definitely appreciated the fact that there was a little wood-burning stove right by the table we were seated at. And after my several libations, I was feeling up for posing for a photo of me “warming myself” by the fire.
So concluded our Taste of New Haven: Canal Quarter tour! Colin was kind enough to bring copies of the four books he’s authored about the history of New Haven, and offered to sign copies too for anyone who wanted to purchase some.
After the tour, Colin, Rachel, and I made one last trip to Zafra, and that’s where I got to try a real Ed-made mojito. Um, amazing. Simply amazing. You have not tasted a mojito until you’ve tasted Ed’s. That’s all I can say – just go to Zafra NOW!
A great way to go to Zafra is to sign up for your own Taste of New Haven: Canal Quarter tour. Better yet, sign up for that, AND the Westville tour. Despite the fact that I used a Groupon, I can say for sure that next time a new tour comes out (there are six more in the works), I will pay full price. It’s beyond worth it and also makes a perfect present for that foodie snob friend that you can never satisfy with your restaurant choices – AKA your friends like me 😉 Colin will also do customized private group tours – another amazing birthday idea! Food party!
Thank you to Colin for bringing the tastes and history of New Haven to those who have so much to learn about this amazing city!
Which stop would you be most excited to try?