While it’s easy to drive past Tomato & Basil on bustling Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield, CT, you may want to make an effort to stop in for a bite. The 12-table Italian establishment offers friendly staff, a modern decor, extensive beer selection, trendy cocktail list and quaint outdoor seating area. They have a sizeable menu ranging from handmade pastas and brick oven pies to gourmet salads, classic entrees and sandwiches prepared on their signature fresh-baked pizza bread. Specials are updated on their website daily, and take-out or catering orders are always available.
I had the opportunity to dine outside on one of these beautiful summer evenings, and was immediately intrigued by the basket in front of me. I know ‘they’ say not to fill up on bread, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was inspired by Tomato & Basil‘s warm pizza rolls. It’s as if you’re tearing off that beloved crust without ruining the integrity of a slice. Fresh out of the oven, with a crunch on the outside and a chewy-soft doughy center. Dip them in the seasoned olive oil infused with crushed red pepper, salt, pepper and rosemary and you’ll be off to a great start before you even order.
First up was the cream of mushroom soup; a velvety, decadent broth with a slight hint of heat. The appetizer felt hearty while remaining light enough to move on to another course. The soup was drizzled with olive oil, and had a generous amount of tender dried porcinis running through it. The bright chiffonade of basil on top tied all the components together. I would’ve dipped my bread in the bowl if I had left any to spare.
I moved on to the crab cakes served with a nicely seasoned Cajun remoulade. They were certainly up to par with a spot-on golden brown pan sear that was music to my ears when I cut into it. Inside revealed a mixture of moist, succulent lump crabmeat with pieces of sautéed vegetables for a satisfying bite.
I continued with a heaping bowl of Prince Edward Island Mussels Pedicini, simmered in a white wine and basil bath with juicy stewed tomatoes, onions and minced garlic. They were cooked properly–not fishy–and served in the shell for shameless slurping. A romano crostini on the side assisted with the remaining sauce begging to be soaked up.
Of the fairly extensive salad menu, I chose the cool, refreshing port wine poached pear over baby spinach with tart dried cranberries, fresh, summertime raspberries, crunchy candied pecans and soft, crumbled goat cheese dressed in a sweet honey balsamic vinaigrette. It was a slight twist on a favorite, full of texture and bursting with flavor. I appreciated the touch of the port wine poached pear,which provided depth to the dish.
The pasta recommended by our waiter was their melt-in-your mouth cavatelli (made from scratch, but not in-house), handmade crumbled sausage and broccoli rabe tossed in garlic and oil. The fresh, ground pork sausage supplied a nice kick to balance the naturally bitter broccoli rabe, all perfectly complimented by hints of parmesan and white wine I tasted in the savory sauce.
Of course, I couldn’t leave without sampling one of their hand-tossed pizzas, so I went with a classic: margherita. I bit into a thin, crisp crust topped with sweet crushed, plum tomatoes, melted buffalo mozarella and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to seal the deal. It was exactly what a pizza should be.
To finish my meal on its usual sweet note, I rounded out my dining experience with dessert. The nutella cheesecake practically had my name written next to it. I slid my spoon into the copious layer of sweet, chocolate hazelnut indulgence, down towards the creamy, NY-style cheesecake that rested gently on top of a soft, cinnamon, sugar graham crumb crust on a pool of chocolate syrup. More, please.
From start to finish, a satisfying, well-executed meal from every column of the menu. Well done Tomato & Basil. Well done.
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