By Patti Woods
Shoveling out from one snowstorm in order to prepare for the next has become old hat around here. If there's one thing on people's minds (besides a one-way ticket to Florida), it's how to keep warm despite the frigid temperatures. If you're brave enough to venture out, there's a plethora of places where you can chase away the chill during the long, cold days of winter.
Most people start their day with coffee, but there are times when it moves beyond an addiction. When it's this cold, coffee becomes a necessity at all times of the day. Thank goodness for the local coffee shop, the place where you can settle down with the newspaper or your iPad, or meet a friend, and sit and savor a big, hot cup.
The newest, hippest place on the scene is Java Coffee & Cafe in Westport. Located on Church Lane, the cafe is what downtown desperately needed: something other than Starbucks. Java is actually part of a small chain of coffee shops based in Idaho, yet it has a decidedly independent feel to it. This is due largely in part to the menu, which features locally baked bread, soup made with farmer's market vegetables and homemade muffins and scones. On a cold winter day, you can warm up at Java with any number of coffee-based drinks, including their signature "Bowl of Soul," a blend of chocolate, espresso and homemade whipped cream.
In Fairfield, Las Vetas is a well-established place to hang out with teenagers, hipsters, commuters and, well, just about everyone. Coffee is the main focus of this comfortable caffeinated enclave on Unquowa Road, but they also have an entire menu of warming drinks to choose from, including espresso mixed with flavors ranging from caramel to marshmallow, and lots of hot chocolate choices.
When it comes to lunchtime, is there anything better on a snowy day than a piping hot bowl of soup? Sure, you can open a can at home, but there are so many amazing soups available at area restaurants.
Mecha Noodle Bar in the Brick Walk commercial complex off the Post Road in Fairfield, is all about big bowls of hot soup. There's the Japanese-style ramen, with noodles made from wheat and a gravy-like broth, and Vietnamese Pho, with rice noodles and soupier broth.
A little farther down the Post Road, Chef's Table offers at least a dozen different soups every day. On a freezing cold day, it's hard to decide between split pea, matzoh ball or good old chicken noodle soup.
A newcomer to Fairfield, Local Kitchen was one of the winner's at this year's Chowdafest, a giant soup competition held on Super Bowl Sunday in Bridgeport. The restaurant, carved out of the old factory that now is the Sportsplex off Mill Plain Road, features its Savory Tomato Bisque on the menu every day; pair it with a grilled cheese and you'll be transported back to your childhood.
And speaking of soup and grilled cheese, there's the Grilled Cheese Eatery in downtown Fairfield (and soon to come to Westport). On the menu are countless variations of grilled cheese, along with three different types of tomato soup: Mom's tomato soup, Zesty Betsy spicy tomato soup and Smoky Spanish paprika tomato soup.
In Westport, you can sample another Chowdafest award winner -- first place in the Manhattan/Rhode Island clam chowder category -- at Dunville's, the venerable bar/restaurant in the Saugatuck section of Westport.
Or have a cozy lunch and watch the snowflakes fall at the new Post 154 at the former Westport Post Office downtown. The Golden Corn Bisque, made with grilled corn and crème fraiche, is not only warming and one of the best soups around, but it also gives a little reminder that summer eventually will be here again.
The groundhog recently proclaimed we have six more weeks of winter. Hopefully he's wrong. If not, at least we can enjoy all the warm comfort food the area has to offer.
Java Coffee & Cafe, 44 Church Lane, Westport / 203-557-8989
Las Vetas Lounge: 27 Unquowa Road, Fairfield / 203-255-1958
Mecha Noodle Bar, 1215 Post Road, Fairfield / 203-292-8222
Chef's Table, 1561 Post Road, Fairfield / 203-255-1779
Local Kitchen, 85 Mill Plain Road, Fairfield / 203-955-1920
Grilled Cheese Eatery, 57 Unquowa Road, Fairfield / 203-292-8014
Dunville's, 41 Saugatuck Ave., Westport / 203-227-0511
Post 154, 154 Post Road East, Westport / 203-454-0154