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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    Regional flavor: Now available to go thanks to La Belle Aurore

    Flaky, rich, delicious chicken pot pie from La Belle Aurore. (Marisa Nadolny)
    The greatest breakfast sandwich of all time, thanks to the bagels available to go at La Belle Aurore. (Marisa Nadolny)

    Years ago, as a newcomer to the New London area, I received 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 in Niantic.

    Of course, our crack team of reviewers has been there and done that in a few different ways over the years (and yep, they liked it), but the COVID-19 pandemic established a new way to enjoy the goods at La Belle Aurore: prepared foods to go and takeout under the banner of La Belle at Home. The take-away fare carries on La Belle Aurore’s locavore history, with guest ingredients from standout providers such as Terra Firma Farm and Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm. As the world’s laziest home cook, I leapt at the chance to bring home something new and do it (decent) justice with simple reheating in the oven. (Takeout doesn’t always travel well, so we stuck to the grab and go items for this review.)

    LBA’s prepared foods trend toward the “comfort food” category, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same old, same old dishes. Super fresh ingredients make a huge difference in the overall dining experience, and the experts know how to let their natural flavors stand out on their own and in concert with other ingredients.

    So, yes, you can enjoy a shepherd’s pie, but it’s going to be made with lamb from Sankow’s and fresh veggies and spices. Our shepherd’s pie ($12) was likely intended as a side dish, if the size of the portion is any indicator. We made a smorgasbord of a few other items we’d picked up and finished our meal perfectly sated. That said, we’d absolutely buy a larger pie in a hot minute and make a meal of it, because: delicious. The tender ground lamb changed the calculus in a delicious, subtle way that amplified the accompanying buttery potato topping, tasty and toothy carrots and fragrant herbs.

    As a Polish gal, if I see pierogies on a menu, I’m getting them, and while my grandmother would have raised an eyebrow at corn, bacon, and potato pierogies, I cannot resist. I love all three of the star ingredients, and you better believe they are fabulous in pierogi form. The directions call for boiling or baking (depending on frozen vs thawed vs preference), and we tossed our pack of six ($10) into a toaster oven on the convection setting. Ten minutes was all it took to enjoy crispy edges and the fully warmed filling within, boosted by expert seasoning. The best part? The way the bacon added a bit of 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 pasties (hand-holdable meat pies) on any menus around our region, but there they were in the LBA freezer case (two to a bag for $12) —an item at the top of the comfort food pantheon. LBA’s aren’t as large as some I’ve seen out in pop-culture land, but one paired with a modest side dish could likely serve as a meal for most. The toaster oven proved a good option once again, rendering the crust nice and flaky and the ground beef and potato filling piping hot. Just a bit of seasoning added depth to the generous portion of tender ground beef within the crusty pocket, and the potatoes within provided just the right medium to pull it all together. If you’re a meat-and-potatoes person, you must try an LBA pasty.

    But our adventures in meat pies didn’t end there! A full-size chicken pot pie from the refrigerated case ($20) became dinner of the week within a few forkfuls. We didn’t finish the whole pie in one sitting, but we came close (no thanks to the mister and his great love of chicken pot pie). The most exotic ingredients we found on the label were thyme rosemary, but the rich, buttery, flavorful pie suggested far more went into its creation. The crust alone would have been delicious, primed as we were by the aroma of it while it was warming up in the oven. However, the signature flavors of fresh local chicken, Yukon gold potatoes, carrots and a bit of onion were all it took to make such a delicious dish possible in the right hands. Highly recommended.

    Now, you might balk at the price of our next item, but consider a few things. Good bagels can be hard to find, and the bagels at LBA are made in-house. That said, a pack of three bagels for $9 (in the freezer case) requires a firm dedication to the ultimate bagel. I’m told the staffer who developed the bagels was on a mission to replicate the goods produced in the kitchens of New York City. He might have surpassed his goal, because holy moly, the bagels are outstanding. They’re very big, pillow-y soft but flavorful inside and the crust offers that perfect crack with each bite. We made breakfast sandwiches with our bagels, and I will forever compare bagels hence to LBA’s.

    We truly enjoyed everything we sampled, but if we had to rank them, we’d place the white bean and rosemary soup ($8) we had for lunch at the bottom. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t good food, it just means the bar is very high at LBA. We seldom say this, but we felt our batch could have used a little more salt or acid or maybe garlic. We did, however, appreciate the way the beans were slightly pureed (just a bit of toothiness) and the rosemary notes underlined by the tomato base added a pleasant layer of flavor. A hunk of crusty bread might have made all the difference, so shame on us for not thinking of that.

    Another fabulous surprise? The apple cider doughnut ($2) we grabbed for the car ride home. LBA’s is officially the best one I’ve ever tasted and manages to deliver subtle apple flavor with just the right bit of sweetness baked into perfectly rendered dough —not too crumbly, not too firm. Grab one now before the seasons shift and new goodies appear on the menu!

    What I’ve learned? The LBA fanbase is correct. Wonderful things are happening in that kitchen, and we can’t wait to dine in and enjoy the dishes that inspired a series of great meals at home.


    La Belle Aurore

    75 Pennsylvania Avenue, Niantic

    (860) 739-6767


    Cuisine: Comfort foods extraordinaire with local ingredients, including meat pies, pasta sauces and meatballs, soups, side dishes such as specialty pierogi, baked goods, and house-made ice cream.

    Atmosphere: Charming and cozy dining room; takeout and to-go cases are to the right and left of the entrance

    Service: Excellent, complete with tips for optimal prep at home

    Hours: La Belle at Home and takeout: Wednesday, noon-6 p.m.; Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 2-9 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Dine-in: Monday, 5:30-9 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 5:30-9 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

    Prices: Reasonable for the quality. Our priciest dish was a $20 chicken pot pie.

    Credit cards: Accepted

    Handicapped access: No stairs to enter and decent-sized parking lot; interior is on the small side.

    Reservations: Accepted and recommended for dine-in

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