Editor's note: Please welcome Jeff Schlesinger to the AHT team! He's here to help beef up (pun...intended) our sub-meager Connecticut burger coverage, so feel free to give him burger recs. You can read more from Jeff at his food blog, Jfood Eats.
Cherry Street East
45 East Avenue, New Canaan CT 06840 (map); 203-594-1515; cherrysteast.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Favorite local watering hole that serves perfectly grilled, hand-pattied burgers and great hand-cut onion rings
Want Fries with That? The housemade onion rings are worth the extra $2; sweet potato fries are also good
Price: Basic hamburger, $8.95; w/cheese, $9.50; bacon cheeseburger, $10.50; onion rings, +$2
On a fateful day in April 2006, Cherry Street East, known affectionately by locals and regulars as CSE, suffered the ultimate catastrophe: It was engulfed in flames and two hours later it was a total loss. Many loyal patrons stared at the ashes of their local pub, their beloved hangout, and the place that served their favorite hamburgers since 1977. But Cherry Street East was more than just a pub; it was part of the fiber of New Canaan, and fear struck the community. Would CSE become just a distant memory? The owners, John and Mary Bergin formed an alliance with many customers and residents, and together they reconstructed an exact replica and re-opened in 2008.
The first floor is dominated by an L-shaped bar with nine stools and three TVs behind the bar broadcasting numerous sport events, plus CNN or MSNBC. The always-occupied bar serves six beers on tap—Bass, Bud Light, Guinness, Sierra Pale Ale, Smithwick's Ale, and Stella—with additional choices available in bottles. Surrounding the bar are eight two-person tables plus eight booths to serve an additional 50 customers; if that's not enough, there's another dining room on the second floor. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed, engaging, and friendly. The staff has been there for years and treats everyone like they're a member of the family.
With the structure now rebuilt to its former glory, the big question was, would the legendary burgers return? After several years of enjoying their burgers, my answer is an overwhelming "YES!"
Their eight-ounce burgers are made of hand-pattied 80/20 certified Angus chuck ground daily on the premises. Each of the more than 1,000 weekly burgers is carefully cooked to order on an indoor gas grill. I always order my burgers medium rare and in each instance my burger was received as ordered, plus the server followed up to check if it was cooked properly.
The coarse ground patties have a firm but tender texture and deep beefy flavor. They're seasoned with a slight amount of salt and pepper and obtain just a touch of smokiness from the grill. The patty was juicy, but not to the point of soaking the bun.
CSE offers 14 predetermined combinations—I recommended the "Vermonster" ($10.50) topped with cheddar and bacon on an English muffin—but the customer can customize their own combination. A bacon cheeseburger ($10.50) at CSE includes two slices of creamy, melted American cheese (Swiss, cheddar, Jack and smoked mozzarella are other options) and three strips of mildly salty bacon, complemented by half-sour pickle chips. By default it's all encased in a soft Kaiser roll, which tastes better if you ask for it to be grilled. For a more flavorful choice, substitute the roll with an English muffin, whose flavor and texture better complements the beef. I found the roll a little too bland to hold up to the richness of the meat, and I appreciate the crunchiness that the toasted English muffin adds to the burger.
Other toppings include tomato, lettuce, grilled peppers or onions, mushrooms, chili, guacamole, jalapeño peppers, and salsa. Mix and match to your heart's content, or if you can't decide, go with one of the pre-constructed burger options. If you prefer an alternative to the beef, CSE also offers a turkey and a vegetarian patty, although not having tried them, I can't vouch for either.
And let's not forget the burgers' remarkable co-star: the housemade, hand-cut onion rings, well worth the $2 surcharge. The thickly sliced onion rings feature a crisp breading and onions that are moist and not too sweet. They would taste even better if they were salted immediately after they were removed from the oil, but customers can salt the rings at the table. CSE also serves russet and sweet potato fries; I prefer the sweet potato over the mild russets.
Cherry Street East is a burger destination and after one bite you understand why; the meat has a full, rich flavor, and reminiscent of all the burgers you love when you grill at home. If you are in the mood for a great hand formed burger with a side of delicious housemade onion rings or some fries, then Cherry Street East will satisfy those cravings.
About the author: Jeff Schlesinger's first memory of hamburgers is carrying a single dollar bill to White Castle for a 6-pack (around 10-cents each), fries, and a Coke. Many years later he still enjoys the flavors of a great hamburger. His wife of 32 years and two daughters make sure he balances his love for hamburgers with plenty of exercise and other great foods in their home town of New Canaan, CT. Read more from Jeff at Jfood Eats and CTbites.