Known as one of the first states to house European settlers, Connecticut boasts delicious food that was inspired by the state’s immigrants, local resources, and classic American fare. The birthplace of one of the most famous food chains in the world, Subway, there are plenty of iconic meals to try while visiting the Constitution State.
From fresh-caught seafood to decadent desserts, in no particular order, here are 8 of the most famous foods and drinks you’ll find in Connecticut:
No trip to coastal New England is complete without seafood. Invented in 1929 by Perry’s Restaurant in Milford, Connecticut, lobster rolls are one of the most well-known seafood dishes in the Northeast. Using warmed, fluffy split-top buns, which differ from Maine’s version, as they are served chilled, the bread is lightly toasted before being filled with hot, buttery lobster.
With lemon juice and seasonings used sparingly on top, the fresh taste of the meat is the highlight of the dish. The lobster roll is one of Connecticut’s proudest culinary achievements. One taste of this hearty dish, and you’ll understand why!
New Haven-Style Pizza
The city of New Haven is the birthplace of a pizza style praised around the country—apizza (pronounced “a-BEETS”). Also referred to as a New Haven-style pizza, the dish resembles authentic Italian pizza, as it was created by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s who longed for the cuisine of their home country.
Cooked in coal-fired ovens, imparting a smoky flavor, apizzas have thin, crispy, chewy, perfectly charred crusts. You won’t find many loaded with toppings—most only have tomato sauce, parmesan or pecorino cheese, garlic, oregano, and olive oil.
The signature apizza is the white clam pizza created by Frank Pepe at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (or just Pepe’s). Fresh clams from nearby Long Island Sound are the star of this pie being supported by flavors of light cheese, garlic, and olive oil. Giving New York style and Chicago deep dish a run for their money, make sure you visit New Haven’s pizzeria-filled Wooster Street.
Speckled with apple orchards that allow visitors to pick their own fruit, especially during the peak season that lasts from August through November, those exploring Connecticut will find no shortage of apple ciders, pies, and doughnuts across the state. Particularly popular during the fall, apple cider has an earthy, sweet flavor that can be served hot or cold.
Not just a drink, it’s also used to make the New England classic apple cider donuts. These are moist cake donuts flavored with sweet apple cider and typically coated with cinnamon sugar. Often filled with autumn spices, these donuts are right up there with warm apple pie as a staple dessert in the last few months of the year.
Most people know cheeseburgers as grilled, greasy food. But in the 1920s, central Connecticut conceptualized a different way to cook burger patties using steaming. Believing at the time that steamed food was easier to digest, and thus healthier, the steamed burger was born.
Placing patties on stainless steel trays so the fat could drip off instead of being absorbed, the cooked meat was placed on a bun before melted cheese was poured on top of the patty. The resulting steamer is juicier than a grilled burger and just as tasty.
Whether you’re interested in a potentially healthier option or you just want to taste a unique kind of patty, a steamed cheeseburger is worth a try if ever you’re in town.
Dairy farming has been prominent in Connecticut since European settlers brought their cows with them to the New World in the 1600s. Many parlors and farmland creameries across the state are family-owned and have been for generations. Their dedication to maintaining great farming techniques means that Connecticut’s ice cream is some of the best you’ll find.
In today’s fast-paced world, the pasteurization of ice cream can be done within minutes. However, many Connecticut creameries stick to the 24-hour process of decades past, which results in silky, high-quality ice cream with the perfect blend of fats and sugars. Some dairy farms, like Ferris Acres Creamery in Newtown, give patrons a glimpse of what went into making their ice cream.
Visitors can enjoy their frozen treats while watching dairy cows grazing on rolling pastures. Connecticut’s ice cream consistently makes it into not only the top ranks of New England but also the country as a whole. With such a huge variety of classic and original ice cream flavors, you’re sure to find your new favorite.
If you’re wondering how well Connecticut does hot dogs, filmmaker Mark Kotlinkski made a documentary in 2010 called “A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour,” where he traverses the state to try its wide selection of hot dogs. The documentary shows that even with such a large number of hot dog establishments across the state, every single one is unique.
Each restaurant has its own process for cooking the sausages themselves, whether it’s by steaming, grilling, or deep frying them. But it’s the toppings that really make individual restaurants stand up. At Rawley’s Drive-In in Fairfield, you’ll find a hot dog piled high with bacon and sauerkraut. Blackie’s Hot Dog Stand in Cheshire offers mouth-watering homemade Hot Pepper Relish.
And at Capitol Lunch in New Britain, you’ll find dogs topped with their signature Greek-style meat sauce that has been praised by Food Network. No matter where you are in Connecticut, you’re never far away from a tasty, all-American meal. With such a vast array of hot dog styles, everyone’s guaranteed to find one they love.
Foxon Park Sodas
In the 1920s, Italian immigrant Matteo Naclerio began making and delivering sodas in the city of East Haven. Foxon Park sodas have been a Connecticut favorite ever since. In fact, the sweet, bubbly beverages are so loved that they’re now being shipped all across the United States.
The key to the Naclerio family’s incredible sodas is only using pure cane sugar as the sweetener. That, and their selection of almost 20 kinds of soda. Along with several fruit flavors, Foxon Park offers the cool wintergreen of White Birch and the familiar warm vanilla of Root Beer. But their signature soda is Gassosa, a classic Italian lemon-lime soda.
Foxon Park sodas can be found on the menus of pizzerias across the state. Washing down a white clam “apizza” with a Foxon Park soda is one of the most authentic Connecticut meals there is. Try their cream soda flavor (affiliate link).
All states have sandwiches, but Connecticut is the birthplace of the famous sandwich chain Subway. Subway opened in 1965 as Pete’s Super Submarines, a shop opened by 17-year-old Fred DeLuca in Bridgeport to earn money for medical school. The franchise has since expanded to become the largest fast-food restaurant chain in the entire world.
The heavy Italian influence of the Connecticut/New York/New Jersey tri-state area makes deli sandwiches a common lunch choice. In New England, these sandwiches are often called “grinders,” probably originating from the fact that you had to grind your teeth through the tough Italian bread and mounds of meat to take a bite.
Though history will say that grinders are served warm and subs are cold, they’ve become essentially synonymous over time (although some Nutmeggers are staunchly Team Grinder or Team Sub). For a traditional delicatessen experience, visit one of many Nardelli’s locations around the state.
Even the roots of the mega-franchise that is Subway tells a familiar Connecticut tale—a local with a passion for making good food opening a restaurant that remains beloved for decades. While you can revel in the state’s history at a local Subway restaurant, dining at a smaller mom-and-pop deli joint is likely to give you a better taste of what the state’s food scene is all about.
Connecticut may be small, but it has no shortage of interesting and appetizing dishes. People travel from all over the country and world to try the Nutmeg State’s best-known foods and drinks. When you’re in Connecticut, your next favorite meal is always right around the corner.