Editor’s Note: Food Haven is a new documentary featuring the best restaurants in New Haven. This article was written by director Jim O’Connor as a way of introducing people to the film and also to the flavors of the city that he calls home.
Growing up, I always knew that New Haven Connecticut was a special place. It had an almost Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory kind of magic to it.
It was only on special occasions where my family would take me out to eat (maybe four or five times a year). We’d go to Pepe’s Pizza, and occasionally to Modern, and that may have been it. It wasn’t until I started working in the hospitality industry that I started to truly appreciate what New Haven had to offer culinarily.
One of my first bartending jobs was at the old New Haven Meatball House that is now Barracuda. I can remember how embarrassing it felt when locals would ask me where they should go and eat in New Haven, and I couldn’t give them any direction. I made it my goal to go to every restaurant, every bar, every music venue that I could. That way, I’d have more knowledge to share—and I’d get more tips!
Turning That Knowledge Into A Movie
When I was living in Los Angeles, it was clear to me that it was a place where food people—chefs, etc.—could become stars around the world. Every new restaurant gets a nice write-up in the local paper, a TV spot, and most likely a huge red carpet opening.
When I returned to New Haven, I was determined to take the passion and support for the culinary arts that I saw in LA and bring it back home. My goal was simple: To create a film showcasing the amazing multicultural foods and flavors of the people of New Haven, and to have the passionate locals of New Haven talk about what food and culture really means to them. And so Food Haven was born.
The restaurants that I chose for the film were basically places where I have had great experiences over the years. I think of it largely as a memoir of my early twenties. It is not a big Hollywood film where I was getting paid to make it—it’s simply a story that I felt had to be told, and I feel very honored that I was able to tell it.
Food is something that brings people together (and sometimes tear them apart!). That’s what is so glorious about how the culture of food has evolved.
A side note: To me, the people who work in the hospitality industry are true superheroes. Day in and day out, consistently creating a comfortable atmosphere for people to dine together can be a truly religious experience.
The Restaurants of Food Haven
The easiest way to truly understand all of the amazing foods that New Haven has to offer would, of course, be to try them for yourself! To help make the taste-testing process a little easier, here is a list of all of the restaurants featured in the film, alongside what I believe are their must-have dishes (if you’re only going to eat one from each!):
Miya’s Sushi—Wild Plant Nigiri
Zinc/Kitchen Zinc—Salmon Gravlax Poke Bowl
Casseus Fromagerie/Grilled Cheese Truck—Mac & Cheese
Geronimo Southwestern Grill—The Molcajete
Union League Cafe—Confit de Canard
The Coffee Pedaler—Hot Latte
116 Crown—The Forth and Clyde & A dozen Oysters
Claire’s Corner Copia—Roasted Organic Vegetable Plate
L’Orcio—Ravioli di Ricotta
Tripletas & More Food Truck—The Jibarito
Elm City Social—Chicken & Waffles
Partner’s Cafe—Drink Specials
Da Legna Pizza—The Torrina
Bar—Mashed Potato & Bacon Pie
Pepe’s Apizza—Fresh Clam Pie
Sally’s Apizza—Fresh Tomato Pie
Modern Apizza—Eggplant Pie
Louis Lunch—Burger with Works
If people from out of town watch the film, I hope they get so excited about New Haven that they come here and bring everyone they know to have a taste of this great city. If locals watch the film, I hope they feel proud and maybe learn something new about their city.
New Haven is definitely a Food Haven!
Food Haven Official Trailer (2017) from Jim O’Connor on Vimeo.