Now available to take away thanks to La Belle Aurore
Flaky, rich and delicious chicken pot pie from La Belle Aurore. (Marisa Nadolny)
The best breakfast sandwich ever, thanks to the bagels available to take away at La Belle Aurore. (Marisa Nadolny)
Years ago, as a newcomer to the New London area, I was given an abundance of great places to go, see and taste, so to speak. Among the most frequent restaurant recommendations I received was La Belle Aurore at Niantic.
Sure, our team of experts have been there and done it in different ways over the years (and yes, they’ve loved it), but the COVID-19 pandemic has established a new way to enjoy products at La Belle Aurore: prepared meals to take away and take away under the banner of La Belle à la Maison. Takeout continues the locavore history of La Belle Aurore, with guest ingredients from exceptional suppliers such as Terra Firma Farm and Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm. As the world’s laziest home cook, I jumped at the chance to bring something new home and do it (decently) justice with a simple reheat in the oven. (Takeout doesn’t always travel well, so we stuck to takeout items for this review.)
LBA’s prepared foods tend toward the “comfort food” category, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same old dishes. Super fresh ingredients make a huge difference to the overall dining experience, and experts know how to let their natural flavors stand out on their own and in concert with other ingredients.
So, yes, you can enjoy shepherd’s pie, but it will be made with Sankow’s lamb and fresh vegetables and spices. Our shepherd’s pie ($12) was probably meant as a side dish, if serving size is any indicator. We made an assortment of a few other items we had picked up and finished our meal perfectly satisfied. That said, we would absolutely buy a bigger pie in a hot minute and make a meal out of it, because: delicious. The tender ground lamb changed the math in a delicious and subtle way that amplified the accompanying buttery potato filling, savory and toothy carrots and fragrant herbs.
As a Polish girl, if I see pierogies on a menu, I take them, and even though my grandmother would have raised her eyebrows at the corn, bacon and potato pierogies, I can’t resist. I love the three star ingredients, and you better believe they are fabulous in pierogi form. The instructions call for boiling or baking (depending on frozen vs. thawed vs. frozen preference), and we tossed our six-pack ($10) into a toaster oven on the convection setting. Ten minutes was all it took to enjoy the crispy edges and fully warmed filling inside, enhanced by expert seasoning. The best part? The way the bacon added some salty, smoky depth to the sweet corn and creamy potatoes, both of which were individually fresh and delicious.
Now you don’t often see Cornish pies (handheld meat pies) on menus in our area, but they were there in the LBA freezer case (two per bag for $12) – one item at the top of the comfort food pantheon. LBAs aren’t as big as some I’ve seen in pop culture, but one dish paired with a modest side dish could probably serve as a meal for most. The toaster oven proved to be a good option once again, making the crust nice and flaky and the ground beef and potato filling piping hot. Just a little seasoning added depth to the generous portion of tender ground beef in the crispy pocket, and the potatoes inside provided the right medium to bring it all together. If you like meat and potatoes, you have to try an LBA pate.
But our meat pies adventures didn’t stop there! A full-size chicken pot pie from the chilled crate ($20) became dinner of the week in just a few bites. We didn’t finish the whole pie in one sitting, but we got close (no thanks to the gentleman and his great love of chicken pot pie). The most exotic ingredients we found on the label were thyme and rosemary, but the rich, buttery, savory pie suggested contributed much more to its creation. The crust alone would have been delicious, primed as we were by its aroma as it warmed in the oven. However, the signature flavors of fresh local chicken, Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots and a little onion were all it took to make such a delicious dish in the right hands. Highly recommended.
Now, you might balk at the price of our next article, but consider a few points. Good bagels can be hard to find, and LBA’s bagels are made in-house. That said, a three-pack of bagels for $9 (in the case of the freezer) requires a firm dedication to the ultimate bagel. I was told that the employee who developed the bagels was on a mission to replicate products made in New York kitchens. It might have exceeded its target, because holy moly, the bagels are outstanding. They are very big, chewy but tasty inside and the crust provides that perfect crack in every bite. We made breakfast sandwiches with our bagels, and I will always compare bagels to LBAs.
We really enjoyed everything we tasted, but if we had to rank them, we’d put the white bean and rosemary soup ($8) we had for lunch at the bottom. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t great food, it just means the bar is set very high at LBA. We rarely say this, but we thought our batch could have used a little more salt or acid or maybe some garlic. We did however like how the grains were lightly pureed (just a little toothy) and the rosemary notes underlined by the tomato base added a nice layer of flavor. A piece of crusty bread might have made all the difference, so shame on us for not having thought of that.
Another fabulous surprise? The apple cider donut ($2) we took for the drive. The LBA is officially the best I’ve ever tasted and manages to deliver a subtle apple flavor with just the right amount of baked sweetness in a perfectly rendered batter – neither too crumbly nor too firm. Grab one now before the seasons change and new goodies appear on the menu!
What did I learn? The LBA fan base is okay. Wonderful things are happening in this kitchen, and we can’t wait to dine in and savor the dishes that have inspired a series of great meals at home.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
The beautiful sunrise
75 Pennsylvania Avenue, Niantic
Cuisine: Extraordinary comfort food with local ingredients including meat pies, pasta sauces and meatballs, soups, side dishes such as specialty pierogi, baked goods and ice cream homemade.
Atmosphere: Charming and cozy dining room; take-out and take-out boxes are located to the right and left of the entrance
Service: Excellent, complete with advice for optimal preparation at home
Opening hours: Beauty at home and to take away: Wednesday, 12 p.m.-6 p.m.; Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 2pm-9pm; Sunday 9am-1pm Dinner: Monday 5.30pm-9pm; Thursday to Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Price: Reasonable for the quality. Our most expensive dish was a $20 chicken pot pie.
Credit Cards: Accepted
Disabled access: No stairs to enter and decent sized car park; the interior is rather small.
Reservations: accepted and recommended for meals on site