U pper State Street patisserie/boulangerie/cafe Chestnut Fine Foods & Confections has been around for as long as owners Fred and Patty Walker have been married: 28 years.
In that time the business has evolved quite a bit. It began its life in Wooster Square, at the corner of Chestnut and Chapel Streets, as a cheese store, selling about 150 varieties. Fred was the cheese maven and Patty was the interior decorator, who also loved to cook. They stayed in that first location for 18 years; now they’ve called the East Rock section of State Street “home” for a decade.
Entering through double oak doors, past tiny light-festooned trees, it’s hard to know where to look first. On marshmallow bunny-pink walls hangs original artwork—at the moment, by painters Paul Iversen, James Breuer and Casey Dory. Round glass-topped tables with ice cream soda chairs and blooming floral tablecloths rest below fetching feathered light shades. (It’s not uncommon to see and smell warm loaves of bread, like the popular Scottish Oat or Cinnamon Walnut Raisin or Carrot Tarragon, cooling on those same tables during slower hours.) Jars of olive oil, local honey, fruity curds and jams populate neat shelves along the back wall, with rows of prepared foods and piles of flowers in the middle.
When the Walkers’ store moved away from a focus on gourmet cheese, which it still stocks in abundance, sandwiches were on the docket. The couple tried commercial breads for their new sandwiches but couldn’t find any that were good enough, so Fred, who had never baked bread before, suddenly found himself experimenting. Now he makes 7 or 8 varieties every week, 10 loaves at a time, around 200 loaves a week.
As for the catering, Fred and Patty’s clientele “demanded” it of them, they say. One man even had them cater all three of his weddings. The Walkers have had to adapt to some unusual circumstances on the fly, like the time they catered an event for Yale University deep in the woods and discovered there was no running water. Or the time they did a party outdoors after a big rain storm and the entire bar started sinking in the mud and all the champagne glasses started sliding. They also count among their challenges a Manhattan wedding situated in an abandoned building. When one bride discovered her antique wedding dress had been clawed up by the cat, Patty got out a sewing kit and saved the day.
Perhaps their biggest challenge to date was a wedding in Edgerton Park, to which the bride, a teacher, in her joy, casually invited all her students and their parents. With less than half a day’s notice, the Walkers fed 400 guests—200 more than they’d been been told to anticipate—and even had a little food left over.
Speaking of food, back in the shop you can order from more than ten sandwich selections on your choice of fresh crusty breads, like the #4—featuring roast beef, roasted red peppers, romaine, tomato, onion and horseradish mayo—and the #11—with grilled portobello mushroom, tomato, Caesar-style artichoke hearts, romaine and Gorgonzola (each $8.95). An assortment of entrees and appetizers/sides are sold by the pound daily, like Homestyle Meat Loaf ($10.95/lb.), Eggplant Parmigiana ($9.95), Sesame Ginger Dumplings ($11.99) and Chickpea & Artichoke Salad ($9.95).
It’s a good idea to leave room for one of Chestnut’s numerous dessert options, like a lemon meltaway cookie, “Butterfinger Chewy” bar or Passionfruit Truffle, or a piece of Captain Morgan’s Banana Cream Cake (with a rummy golden genoise base) or Sour Cream Blueberry Bundt Cake. Combining the Walkers’ first love with the benefits of a recently secured beer and wine permit, the shop now hosts periodic wine and cheese tastings.
After 28 years, Chestnut Fine Foods is a New Haven establishment in the deeper sense of the word, but it’s nice to see that it’s still learning new tricks.
Chestnut Fine Foods & Confections
1012 State St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat-Sun 9am-5pm
Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photographed by Dan Mims.