Published March 01. 2012 4:00AM Updated March 01. 2012 9:20AM
As downtown New London's food scene expands, we full- and part-time denizens benefit all the more. We have an embarrassment of eats-riches here in the Whaling City, and now with places like Sweetie's opening up, some of us (me) run the risk of getting spoiled. For starters, macaroni and cheese is a staple menu item. That, my friends, is a game changer.
There's comfort foods, and then there's well-thought-out comfort foods prepared by actual chefs - in Sweetie's case, Johnson & Wales-trained Lindsay Kreutter and Aaron Dronberger. When a proper chef makes something like, say, roasted sweet potato soup, that chef knows to experiment with it until it's just right, bearing in mind customer feedback. The result at Sweetie's is an apple-infused, soul-warming batch of soup that's a full meal in itself. Bonus round: there's no dairy in it, thereby saving the lactose-challenged (me) a whole lot of agita.
Another standout soup is the tomato bisque, frequently available as a soup of the day. It's a thicker bisque, with a refreshing infusion of herbs cutting the acidity of the tomato. As a longtime fan and taster of tomato soups, Sweetie's emerges on the top of my list.
As for that all-important macaroni and cheese, Sweetie's take truly is like the stuff that mom used to make. Grandma's Mac as they call it, is a basic recipe and sports a nice toothy layer of bread crumbs to seal moisture into the creamy, cheesy noodles beneath. Good cheese-to-macaroni balance makes this a flavorful and filling dish. Keep an eye out for other mac and cheese specials, as Grandma's Mac - once a rotating special - becomes part of the regular menu.
But back to all that proper chef-ery: order a sandwich at Sweetie's, and you'll likely get back some house-cured/brined/roasted meats, always served on house-baked bread. In a world of processed food crud, I very much appreciate an eatery that takes the time to offer fresh, whole food for decent prices. It's extra fabulous to sit in a charming little diner setting while your server pulls heaven-scented bread out the oven.
So, when you take freshly made meatloaf and serve it on the day's bread, what you've got is a hearty, happy lunch. The meatloaf is moist, savory, and nuanced; the bread is more than just a functional part of the sandwich, offering soft, toasty texture to the thick cut of meatloaf. The bread becomes an equally enjoyable part of the grilled cheeses (yes, that's plural) available on the menu, too. You need something substantial to pull together a sandwich like the Farmer's Delight: a grilled cheese with bacon and caramelized onions. A thick layer of onions (too thick for this gal, but some may love that) melded with a thick layer of cheese needs all the starch support it can get! The end result is more filling than most grilled cheese sandwiches, so gauge your appetite well before you order it with a cup of soup.
With all that baking going on, it's only natural that Sweetie's would offer daily sweets, including a steady supply of filled, cleverly flavored cupcakes (on a recent day, a Coke Float cupcake nearly went home with me). Cookies, muffins, and other treats are made on the premises and make for great coffee companions - I'd first recommend the chocolate chip muffin when it next shows up in the bakery case. While it isn't much for appearances, it's a flavorful (maybe bolstered with cinnamon? clove?) and chocolatey treat.
Of course, appearances can be deceiving. It's a bit of a letdown when a beautifully frosted cupcake delivers not so beautiful results - in this case, a banana cream cupcake. While the cake and cream filling were terrific, the bright yellow frosting tasted as neon as it looked. With the right repairs, this cupcake can be saved. Indeed, as a true scientist, I had to try one more on my next visit. (Seriously, I can't resist a pretty cupcake.) I opted for a raspberry-vanilla combination, and I'm thrilled to report that the raspberry flavored frosting was lovely. It tasted like actual raspberries, and not some candy-flavor version of one. Once again, the cake was moist and flavorful on its own, made even better with cream filling. My hope is restored!
Actually, my hope is more than restored. My experiences at Sweetie's leave me assured its gifted owners want to settle in on Bank Street (they opened in late December) and offer customers - customers with many local choices available to them - exactly what they want, mindfully prepared and served. That level of thoughtfulness is too often hard to find here in the Material World, and for that I'll be sure to head back to Sweetie's soon.