For decades, Phillips Diner was known for donuts and chicken pies. Back in 2006, it was bought by Dotty Sperry, who for a while called her place Dottie’s Diner @ Phillips as an homage to the old regime.
“I knew I had to keep the best of the old place,” she told us early on, “But I wanted to add my personality, too.” The chicken pie is an excellent example. Old-fashioned farm house chicken pie is still available: a small savory crust loaded with nothing but warm, moist chicken meat. Dottie’s newer version, which includes gravy, peas and carrots, is an option. The gravy has changed from the old-style white cream to a darker sauce with spicy zest. Accompanying mashed potatoes are the genuine article; they and cranberry sauce have been supplemented on the plate with a sprig of al dente broccoli and a few thin, buttery slices of cooked squash.
Phillip’s legendary donuts remain among our favorites. There is nothing outrageous or spectacular about them. In a world of culinary extremism, those looking for kicks might find them boring. But to us, they are perfect. Classic. The Platonic Ideal of donuts. Cinnamon donuts are creamy inside with a wickedly crunchy exterior; chocolate donuts come loaded with vast amounts of the glossy dark glaze that so perfectly complements the cake within.
A typical-looking restaurant on the outside, Dottie’s Diner is totally ’50s style inside with checkered floors and bright blue stools and booths. It’s also the home of fresh donuts and old-fashioned chicken pie, both of which were our goals to sample. The donuts are on display in a case by the front door, and after we finished our meal, our wonderful waitress bagged a few to go for us and added it to our bill before paying. The booths were packed with families, retirees, and kids eating donuts, but there were a few stools available at the counter. Note that we also had a lovely waitress whose sassiness earned her an extra large tip! It was all locals, too, as the parking lot was full of Connecticut license plates.
One of Dottie’s signature dishes, the chicken pie (about five inches in diameter, two inches in height) was the Phillips’ all-meat version, though our waitress asked us if we wanted Dottie’s edition with added vegetables. It comes dressed in a robe of light brown gravy, which is draped over a small portion of mashed potatoes. The crust is flaky but not too much so, and of course the chicken chunks are tender and flavorful. This is a pie with crust on all sides, not just on the top as some vendors around New England prefer. The mashed potatoes are exemplary and afford extra gravy for dipping a few chicken pieces when the pie’s own gravy is depleted. Steamed broccoli and cut carrots on the side are also perfect, not overcooked and lifeless like at other restaurants. This pie was our favorite entrée of the day, and we can’t wait to return to order it again.
A chef friend of my father’s once told me that bread pudding always makes hand-over-fist profit, for its humble ingredients can increase its profit exponentially, often by 1,000% or more, and “people order it ‘til it’s gone!” We are definitely among those people, but we’ve never heard of this donut version, which sounds so incredibly decadent. Made with day-old cinnamon donuts (surely the cooks set some aside, because they sell out daily!), this pudding is drizzled with a not-too-sweet crème sauce and sliced strawberries. Our first forkful sent us both into Roadfood oblivion! The moistness of the donuts, mixed with their residual cinnamon-sugar glaze and the sweetness of the crème sauce, puts this bread pudding, quite frankly, in a class all by itself. The ample fruit affords enough for every bite of pudding, as this is a dish that we’ll be talking about for a very long time.
As for the donuts, we sampled two varieties: the standby cinnamon-sugar, and the chocolate-covered old-fashioned. Touted by Michael Stern as possibly the best in the country, we wouldn’t go quite that far with superlatives, but we will state that they are certainly among the best in the state and a very close second to similar pastries at Neil’s in Yalesville. The cinnamon-sugar donut didn’t have the crunch that we’d read about and dreamed of, but the cake texture was absolutely scrumptious, and somehow the cinnamon sugar stayed stuck to the donut, leaving very little for finger-licking afterwards. The chocolate-covered is my favorite of the two, though Amy likes the first one better. This does have a definite crunch, despite most of its surface area being covered by a thick robe of dark cocoa-laden glaze. Our only mistake was that we didn’t take home enough of them.