Dilly Duck Shop excels at everything from sandwiches to cake
In Norwalk, 666 Main Ave. has become quite a culinary lineup. It is a small and hidden-away strip of stores that gets better and better as another quality place is added.
The store at the end cap closest to Route 7 is the fabulous and well-established Letizia Pizzeria, which, compared to the big-name, thin-crust New Haven joints, is seriously underrated. Down the line is Edo, another wonderful place to eat if you love Korean barbecue. Then there is Michelle’s Pies, the shop that sells the blue-ribbon winning, made from scratch, sweet and savory pies. Now there is a new kid on the block: The Dilly Duck Shop, a fine coffee emporium that also serves delicious food.
The Dilly Duck Shop sounds like a nursery school. The duck motif is understated, my favorite reference being a tiny statue of a duck’s behind as it hides in a hole in the wall. Its webbed footprints give it away.
There is nothing about the Dilly Duck Shop that is childish ... wait a minute, I take that back. On the menu is a jam sandwich, a simple dish made from cream cheese and seasonal jam. I grew up eating cream cheese and jelly sandwiches. My home was not a PB&J sort of place. So, of course, if only for nostalgia sake I ordered the jam sandwich. It did not look like it came out of a lunch box. It is an elegant square of toasted bread, a layer of cream cheese and a slather of perfectly delicious, very grown-up, whole-berry jam. It is hard to find such culinary simplicity these days, but when you do, give it a try.
The Dilly Duck’s menu offers sandwiches, salads, soups and a choice of rotisserie items: pork, beef and chicken. For the side of the rotisserie meat, get the D.D.S Fries: crispy skin on French fries interestingly seasoned with a house blend of spices and topped with frizzled herbs.
I am partial to the sandwiches. Other than the elemental jam sandwich, I fell hard for the Churn It Up! Pressed Cheese. If I had written the menu, I would have called it “grilled cheese” or “melted cheese” because to me pressed cheese conjures up one of those strange lunch-counter cheese sandwiches that look run over by a steamroller. The Churn It Up! is a tall, proud affair not at all squished. But semantics aside, it is melted havarti and Swiss cheese with a surprising tang of crushed pineapple between the two.
Other sandwiches I would point out would be the sophisticated smoked salmon: pink-fleshed fish that shares space with goat cheese, arugula and a piquant honey-lemon dressing. For the health conscious, try the Cardio, a vegetarian melange of roasted zucchini, eggplant, goat cheese and a very cool dash of pumpkin-seed pesto.
The Dilly Duck is small, clean and modern looking. There is something Scandinavian in its sleek lines and use of light wood. On the walls are vintage record album covers, but everything else here screams new. The shop has been open for almost a year, and not only is it not easily seen from busy Route 7, there is pavement-ripping construction going on outside. I think a place like this will only succeed by word of mouth, or in my case word of word.
I have saved the best for last: the pastries and the coffee. The selection of great coffee in Fairfield County is over-the-top. I love coffee and love that no matter in which direction my car turns, it is always there. As a coffee snob I will happily say the Dilly Duck had some of the best brew I have recently tasted. As far as coffee goes, I do not like goofy whipped-cream-laden flavored concoctions, I prefer a cup of the darkest roast with a splash of cream and no sugar. The DDS perfectly hit the mark.
If there were no salad, sandwiches and soups, I would still love this place. Why? Because those who follow this column know that my favorite food group is “cake.” I could easily live on a diet of cake, danish, eclairs and cookies. The pastries made here are right by the front door. Like the rest of the offerings, it is a well-curated assortment, not like Connecticut’s exuberant Italian pastry shops that seem to have one of everything in the world.
The Dilly Duck Shop
666 Main Ave., Norwalk
I would guess at the Dilly Duck there were maybe seven things to choose from. Every one (and I ate every one) went beautifully with the coffee. My favorites included a large cookie that tasted like coffee cake, an air-filled meringue mound, sugary but also oddly sophisticated. I liked the hearty chocolate chip cookies and liked even more the plain sugar cookie in the shape of a duck.
Like the Shakers or Amish (of which I am neither), I like things plain. Cut-rate ingredients and sloppy baking techniques can hide in swirly-whirly show-stopping, eye-popping confections. A sugar cookie is not a master of disguise and that is fine with me. Keep it simple (stupid).
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern. Join her each week as she travels Fairfield County finding a great meal in unexpected places for $20 or less.