Still Cooking

Still Cooking

For Pasquale “Pat” Puglia Jr., cooking is everything. That’s assuredly one of the reasons why his Hamden takeout/sit-down/catering restaurant, The Everyday Gourmet (map), celebrated its 40th anniversary this month.

“I always say, ‘I don’t own the business, the business owns me,’” he jokes, though that might be because he offers so many options between the permanent, special and catering menus. Takeout and dine-in offerings alone on any given day may range from cream of mushroom soup and BBQ pulled pork to eggplant rollatini and chicken Francaise. Moreover, if it’s not on the menu, and he has the ingredients, Puglia says he’ll make it on the spot.

The few times I’ve visited Everyday Gourmet, I’ve felt like a kid in a candy shop. The regular menu offers dozens of sandwich possibilities, some with locally punny names. My choice was “The Heaping Giant,” a simple, satisfying mix of tender roast beef, roasted turkey breast and imported ham given crunchy sass by a coleslaw topping ($10.95). Other standouts include “The Big ‘Q’ Hoona” with turkey breast, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, fresh peppers and parmigiana dressing and “The Mount Carmelt”—a classic construction of tuna salad, American cheese and tomato.

The “QU” section of the sandwich menu, referring to nearby Quinnipiac University, is devoted to specials invented over the years by Quinnipiac students. “What happened was, kids would come in and order the same sandwiches over and over, combinations that weren’t on the menu,” Puglia says. “I’d tell them, ‘If you’re going to keep ordering it, we’re going to name it after you.’ We decided we liked the creations ourselves, so we made them available to everyone.” Hence, any customer can now enjoy concoctions like “The Big Jon” (hot roast beef with mozzarella and gravy) and “Nicky the Kid” (grilled chicken, baby field greens, roasted peppers, onion, mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette). All sandwiches can be made on a hard roll or white, rye or whole wheat bread ($8.95-$11.95) or as a sub, wrap or panini ($10.95-$14.95). Burgers ($9.95-$10.95) and green salads, available as sides and in small and large sizes ($6.50-$15.50), abound as well, as do daily specials posted every weekday to Everyday’s Facebook page.

When Puglia isn’t cooking, he’s often shopping. “I don’t have a lot of storage space anywhere, so we’re in need of supplies all the time,” he explains. In spring and summer, he visits local farmer’s markets “every night, picking up tomatoes and eggplant.”

Some “specials” are available every day, like chicken cutlets, eggplant parmesan and sides of vegetable risotto and sautéed broccoli rabe. Others are rarer, such as balsamic glazed pork loin, pretzel chicken tenders and crab-stuffed salmon with sides like green rice pilaf and rosemary-garlic roasted potatoes. Puglia’s background is in Italian cooking, and his concept of gourmet food leans toward dishes you might make at home if you only had the time. “Some of what we do are family recipes my mother used to make,” he says, and he finds that some customers go wild for old-school classics like pane cotto and pasta e fagioli.

I was crazy about the ultra-tender sirloin tips in the Steak Diane special, graced with mushrooms, Dijon sauce and black pepper and served over vegetable risotto, as well as the delicate Lemon Dill Salmon, also with risotto (a dish I can’t get enough of). I also highly recommend Puglia’s chicken soup, which was definitely as good as what my mom used to make. Everyday Gourmet’s sauces are fabulous, distinctive yet not overpowering, and I’m not the only local who thinks so: Between 2013 and 2015, three different blends won the Bear Path School PTA’s “Best Sauce” competition. They might have stolen the limelight a little too often: “After three years, they stopped asking us to enter,” Puglia says, laughing.

Just as the specials fluctuate, so do their prices. “That’s because the cost of ingredients changes so often,” Puglia says. “We try to keep them as reasonable as possible, but even chicken, which used to be relatively affordable, has gone from $2 to $4 a pound. Even items you wouldn’t normally consider, like olive oil—we used to pay $18 for a large jug, then that went up to $50. That’s come down a bit; but something else always goes up.”

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Puglia opened Everyday after a few frantic years of working nights, weekends and holidays at local restaurants. “When my wife and I decided to have a family, I realized I couldn’t do those kind of hours anymore,” Puglia says. He originally planned to open his shop on April 27, 1984, but the arrival of his first son on that date delayed progress for a week.

Originally, he created the shop to sell gourmet grocery items “you can’t find anywhere else,” but that idea didn’t fly. “So little by little we turned ourselves into more of a restaurant,” he says. It’s a small but charming space, offering friendly service and a cute cluster of cafe tables whose settings include napkins and utensils wrapped with a bow. Developing the menu was an extreme example of trial and error. “We had no idea what people would like, so we just tried everything, noted what worked, and honed it down,” meaning the offerings were once even more sprawling.

With the success of the restaurant’s catering services, Puglia is back to working days, nights and weekends. He’s planned meals ranging from a dinner for two to a graduation reception for 400, even fulfilling odd requests like a “TV dinner”-themed luncheon served on metal trays for a local office. Such events are carried off by a small, experienced crew he knows well. “Our waitstaff and bartenders have been with us for years and years,” he says. “I don’t want a big operation because I’ll start losing control. The staff makes fun of me sometimes because I want to see, touch and be involved in everything—even the most basic things.”

Though the work sounds punishing—there’s a vibe that reminds me of Hulu’s series The Bear, which Puglia calls “the only series about restaurant work that’s gotten it right”—I can tell he loves it. “If you don’t love it, it’ll kill you,” he says. “Honestly, I don’t know how to do anything else. When I get a call on Sunday morning about a party we catered on Saturday night and the customer raves about how great it was, that’s the best. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

The Everyday Gourmet
3000 Whitney Ave, Hamden (map)
Mon-Fri 8am-3pm (with catering pickups Sat-Sun)
(203) 281-0510
Website | Facebook

Written by Patricia Grandjean.

More Stories