Living in Stamford over the years, I have had the opportunity to explore the menus of many of the city’s varied eating establishments. Stamford is located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and lies about 45 miles northeast of New York City. It has many longstanding eateries and newer ones that offer a variety of culinary choices. I’ve chosen my personal picks for both “good eats” and comfortable atmospheres to sit down and partake – from Italian cuisine and brunch to a “diner” with a twist and a place that serves an excellent cup of coffee and other tasty treats.
These are in no particular order. However, I thought I’d start with an establishment that has been a venerable, favored Stamford dining staple for many years.
1. Pellicci’s Ristorante
Located on Stamford’s West Side, Pellicci’s has been a well-established part of the city since its 1947 opening. Walking into the restaurant, guests are greeted by an old-world, homey atmosphere complete with a plethora of photos gracing its walls of the many celebrities who have dined there over the years. Pellicci’s boasts spacious dining areas where visitors can savor each bite of its traditional Italian fare. One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is its baked chicken – a secret family recipe. The menu is wide-ranging, spanning antipasti, appetizers, soups, salads, main courses, desserts, and much in between (including pizza). I am partial to good pasta, and Pellicci’s certainly delivers. My last visit had my taste buds in delicious overdrive to its linguine Bolognese. I finished the meal by sweetening my palate with some light and flavorful rice pudding.
“The inspiration behind the menu is our family recipes carried down through seven generations, along with newly added items,” said owner Toni Lupinacci. Pellicci’s also offers specials, rotated a minimum of twice a month. The restaurant’s lasagna is Lupinacci’s mom’s original recipe, “always homemade,” she emphasized. Also homemade are Pellicci’s sauces, bread, crab cakes, and most menu items. The sweet side boasts homemade tiramisu and the aforementioned rice pudding. The restaurant offers a full bar, and Lupinacci noted that Mother’s Day and Christmas Eve are its busiest holidays.
“Pellicci’s has appealed to generations of customers for 75 years, taking pride in treating their families as our family,” she said.
Pellicci’s entrance, first-floor dining area, and facilities are wheelchair-accessible, except for its downstairs room.
The top of this eclectic eatery’s menu explains its unique name: “A dish of many different ingredients” (from Spanish olla, meaning stew, which traces its origin to the Latin word for “jar”). Olio offers a wide-ranging yet distinctive array of nouvelle cuisine dishes. The restaurant, which opened July 2012, serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday (it’s closed on Mondays). I have been to Olio for brunch several times, and I guess I am a creature of habit when something tickles my palate, as each time I came back for more of the banana rum brioche French toast with fresh berries. I also highly recommend the very flavorful cinnamon sugar ricotta donuts for those of you who veer to the sweet side. I might add, Olio’s mimosas make a fresh brunch accompaniment.
Olio’s intimate yet airy atmosphere is ideal for enjoying menu items ranging from the previously mentioned French toast to its dinner menu, featuring starters such as its blue cheese salad, yucca-crusted wild Mexican shrimp, and entrees such as wild mushroom ravioli and pan-roasted sea scallops, just to name a few.
Olio’s owner and head chef, Steve Costanzo, draws on a range of influences for his menu. “My inspirations are really a hodgepodge of ingredients from my previous career as a corporate chef at many local office buildings, and also a lot of ideas from my wife, who is from Colombia and influences my food quite a bit,” he said. Olio features daily specials, as well as seasonal menus four times a year, plus a full bar serving wine and local beers. “We have house made items, such as fresh pastas; all our desserts; pickles, and stocks,” said Costanzo. “Our bread is made daily, and if I can make it myself I do.
Costanzo summed up what he thinks draws visitors to his eatery. “I think the biggest appeal, other than the freshest food around, is that I’m here every day. The customers see my face in the kitchen and dining room on a daily basis,” he said. “Many owners are not around too much, and I also make all the food and prep with my sous chef, Alfredo Bello. You definitely need to love this business; it’s not easy, and has a very high stress level.” Costanzo’s dedication is shown in the success of Olio’s appetizing offerings.
Olio is fully wheelchair-accessible.
3. Tőmato Tomāto
This restaurant with the catchy name (pronounced tomato-tomahto) is in the Shippan area of Stamford, which happens to be my neighborhood. Tőmato Tomāto serves as an ideal go-to spot for quality dishes, a casual and roomy dining atmosphere with both tables and booths, a full bar with big-screen TVs for sports fans, and a welcoming staff.
Tőmato Tomāto’s extensive, yet well-balanced menu includes a mix of items from starters and sandwiches to entrées and desserts. It offers traditional Italian food to a sprinkling of American pub fare, with a Greek dish for good measure (the restaurant’s pastitsio, a pasta dish similar to lasagna, is a favorite of mine). The signature salad and pappardelle Bolognese are among my other choices when dining.
Tőmato Tomāto opened in April 2013. “We thought a balance of both authentic Italian fine dining fare in a modern and casual atmosphere would be a perfect combination. Hence the name, Tőmato Tomāto,” said Peter Vavoulidis, who, along with his brother (Frank) and cousin (Mike), is an owner of the restaurant.
Tőmato Tomāto offers its full lunch and dinner menus 7 days a week with weekly specials, including certain choices of appetizers, entrées, and a dessert. There are also weekly soup specials during the winter season.
“Everything on the menu is made fresh,” said Vavoulidis. “All of our pastas, sauces, and dressings are homemade, as well as our famous meatballs and pastitsio, just to name a few. Not to mention our 12-hour braised short rib that is offered as an entrée or paired with our fresh pappardelle.
“We believe our key appeal and the recipe for success has been our attention to detail, high quality food, and our drive to offer unsurpassed customer service in a casual, fun atmosphere.”
Tőmato Tomāto is fully wheelchair-accessible.
4. The Stamford Diner
There’s something for everyone at The Stamford Diner, or “The Stamford,” as it’s affectionately known. Its wide-ranging menu, featuring everything from breakfast, lunch, and dinner to desserts (and lots in between), offers a fine balance of comfort food and specialty dishes. The diner’s signature giant coffee cup adorns the outside signage, welcoming visitors.
I can always rely on The Stamford’s scrambled eggs with home fries and whole grain toast, or one of its many omelets. The house-made carrot muffins, served warm with a pat of butter, literally melt in the mouth and are a study in deliciousness. The diner’s grilled cheese is also a favorite, as well as its pasta dishes or Mediterranean specialties such as the spinach pie.
The Stamford’s general manager, Laura O’Brien, is a graduate of the esteemed Culinary Institute of America and is a chef (and pastry chef) herself. She is proud of the personal touch she brings to the restaurant. “I will call our customers and let them know when the items they want are on the menu,” she said. “Our menu is based on seasonality. For example, we have lighter fare in the summer. We always use fresh ingredients, and we listen to what our customers like.”
The Stamford has breakfast, lunch, dinner, daily specials, a full bar, and special shakes, among other beverages. It also presents comedy nights, musical performances, children’s character dinners (ages 5 to 7), and a Thanksgiving dinner package.
O’Brien best sums up its key appeal. “The Stamford is a restaurant disguised as a diner,” she said. “Everything from its Art Deco atmosphere, to its comfort food yet with an elevated feel, it all comes together.”
The Stamford Diner is fully accessible.
I must give an honorable mention to Donut Delight, which has long been fueling my caffeine fix with its aromatic and excellent coffee (and hot chocolate, too). Paired with one of its many breakfast items, it hits that morning sweet spot to perfection. There are also teas, iced coffee, and other beverages on the menu to satisfy its many customers’ tastes.
Donut Delight, which is fully accessible, opened in 1991, and there are six locations in Stamford and one in Norwalk, just a few miles northeast. “Our coffee is our own blend that has been tweaked and adjusted to our customers’ preference,” said co-owner Peter Athanasiadis. “The current blend has been the same for the past 15 years, and we don’t ever anticipate changing it again. Our most popular items are coffee, breakfast sandwiches (a customer favorite), bagels, high end teas, and smoothies.” Athanasiadis explained what he thinks is Donut Delight’s main appeal. “We use quality products for equal or less than our competitors,” he said. “For example, our bakery products are made fresh each day, we use real eggs for our breakfast sandwiches, and our coffee blend is made from quality beans. Customers appreciate that they can get these products relatively quickly, either inside the store or at one of our drive-thrus. I also think there’s a hometown appeal, as we are mostly local to Stamford.”