Croissants | Hilltop Café in WiltonPhoto Credit : Sara Zin
They turn customers into proselytizers. Tell one such fan that you’re headed to Maine for the weekend and he or she will lean in in missionary zeal: “You have to stop at my favorite place for the chowder,” you’ll hear. “Food of the gods. It’s just an hour or so out of your way if you take exit 45 …”We’ve done such testifying ourselves, and over many trips and tastings have amassed a list of can’t-miss foods from each of New England’s six states.
Here, in no particular order, we present 10 of these New England dishes, chosen with a diversity of places and price points in mind. They’re all menu regulars, so you can expect that they’ll be there whenever you are. Keep them in mind when you hit the road this summer. They’re all worth a detour.
Mushroom Toast | Hen of the Wood in Waterbury and Burlington
Sometimes the simplest things are the most memorable. Here it’s toasted bread (made at Red Hen Baking Company from Vermont-grown wheat) topped with house-cured bacon, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and an oozy, creamy poached egg that forms a mushroom-scented sauce when pierced. It’s the best breakfast you’ve ever eaten for dinner. Price: $14.
92 Stowe St., Waterbury; 802-244-7300. 55 Cherry St., Burlington; 802-540-0534. henofthewood.com
Pint of “Frys” | Al’s Frys in South Burlington
Fans have been lining up for these beauties since Al and Genevieve Rusterholz first opened their shop in 1948. Ben and Jerry love them; UVM students live on them. Prince Edward Island–grown russet potatoes are sliced and prepped on site and fried in a blend of beef fat and canola oil to crisp-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside perfection. Price: $2.58 per pint.
1251 Williston Road. 802-862-9203; alsfrenchfrys.com
Croissants | Hilltop Café in Wilton
When Christie and Ben Reed moved to New Hampshire from Portland, Oregon, they missed the café scene of their hometown. So they opened their own spot in a white farmhouse on the idyllic Temple–Wilton Community Farm. Through trial and error, Christie discovered that she had a knack for turning out fantastic croissants: buttery, yeasty, and so crisp on the outside that they seem to shatter with each bite. Order them plain or with sweet or savory fillings. Price: from $2.75 each.
195 Isaac Frye Highway. 603-654-2223; hilltopcafenh.com
Dark-Chocolate Gelato | Morano Gelato in Hanover
Megan Morano spent six years in Tuscany learning the gelato craft before opening her first parlor. The flavors are all sublime, but dark chocolate stands out for its silky, almost pudding-like texture, and a taste that encompasses the whole spectrum of chocolate: nuts, fruit, caramel, coffee. (Good news for flatlanders: This past year, the company opened a second location, in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.) Price: $3.25 for a small serving.
57 South Main St. 603-643-4233; moranogelato.com
Tagliatelle Bolognese | Sportello in Boston
A great Bolognese sauce is all about patient layering: sweating the onion, celery, and carrots; browning the meat; simmering everything in liquid for a couple of hours; finishing with butter or other dairy. Barbara Lynch’s recipe takes it all a step further, combining pork, lamb, veal, and chicken livers for meaty richness, plus two kinds of stock, red wine, cream, and butter. Tossed with fresh tagliatelle and fried basil leaves, it’s the Platonic ideal of pasta. Price: $24.
348 Congress St. 617-737-1234, sportelloboston.com
Stuffed Clam | PJ’s in Wellfleet
PJ’s massive menu and peppy slogan—“Where there’s something for everyone!”—could scare off serious seafood lovers, but they’d be mistaken. As the steady crowds attest, the quality here is excellent (making up for the unscenic U.S. Route 6 setting). The zingy stuffed clam (a.k.a. “stuffie”) is a savory wonder, with breading, spicy linguiça, and briny bivalves in perfect proportion. We can’t drive this route without stopping for at least one, topped with a gentle squeeze of lemon wedge. Price: $6.25.
2616 U.S. Route 6. 508-349-2126; pjscapecod.com
Chocolate Soufflé for Two | Schoolhouse at Cannondale in Wilton
In the current craze for desserts in jars, deconstructed classics, and haute junk food, it’s easy to forget the timeless appeal of a classic soufflé, expertly executed and served with a gush of cocoa-scented steam at the table. So come to this most charming spot, located in a refurbished schoolhouse, to remember why the French remain the masters of the dessert table. Price: $22.
34 Cannon Road. 203-834-9816; schoolhouseatcannondale.com
Jamestown Fish Cookpot | Jamestown Fish in Jamestown
Consider it Rhody’s own take on bouillabaisse or cioppino, a rich stew combining white fish and bivalves in a spicy tomato-based broth. But chef Matthew MacCartneycreates his own signature flavors with the addition of lobster (half a hard-shell), mussels, scallops, clams, saffron, Pernod, and chouriço, among other ingredients. Served with grilled bread to mop up the juices, it’s the ultimate coastal feast. Price: $39.
14 Narragansett Ave. 401-423-3474; jamestownfishri.com
The Hand Slab | Slab: Sicilian Street Food in Portland
Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizza may be all the rage, but one bite of Stephen Lanzalotta’s thick Sicilian pies will turn your head. The oil-enriched crust is so tender and lofty, we suspect there’s a crew of well-muscled angels in the kitchen. The one-pound slab comes topped with rivulets of tangy-sweet sauce and melted mozzarella and provolone. Simple, perfect. Price: $6.
25 Preble St. 207-245-3088; slabportland.com
Buttermilk Flapjacks | Palace Diner in Biddeford
The upscale diner grub at this tiny 1927 dining car has earned reams of breathless reviews since Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell revived it in 2014. Their secret: limiting their modest menu (eggs, bacon, tuna melt, burger) to only those dishes they had utterly perfected. Case in point: fluffy, tangy pancakes—bolstered with real buttermilk, lemon juice, and zest—that float in a pool of Maine maple syrup like griddle-cooked clouds. Price: $10.
18 Franklin St. 207-284-0015; palacedinerme.com
Which New England dishes do you deem worth traveling for? Let us know in the comments!