Oct 5, 2011
12:37 PM
Discover Connecticut

Best of Connecticut Road Trip: Lyme, Niantic, New London & Groton


Here's a Best of Connecticut road trip that incorporates a scenic drive along the southeastern Connecticut coast as well as a few winners. Like many of these trips, I had a hard time deciding which way to go—from Groton to Old Lyme, or vice versa—but finally decided that since I love barbecue, it only made sense to end up in Groton at Chester's BBQ.

This one you can start on Route 1 in the commercial center of Old Lyme, where you will find the Old Lyme Marketplace and The Bowerbird gift shop. The shop takes pride in having gifts for everyone on your shopping list, and is also a great place to browse to find a few things for yourself. (Shh! We won't tell—get yourself that hopside down beer glass.)

When you've had your fill of gift shopping (which admittedly is sooner for some of us), it's time to get in the car and head west on Route 1 briefly before catching Route 156 east toward Niantic. This is a nice ride through the southern portion of Old Lyme past lots of nice homes, Rocky Neck State Park and into Niantic. Just before you reach downtown Niantic, on the left you'll see the eclectic collection of buildings and shacks that make up The Book Barn. This may be one of my absolute favorite places in the state to visit, and I highly recommend that when you do stop by, you allot yourself the proper amount of time (literally, hours) to explore all the nooks and crannies here. I guarantee you'll find at least one used gem to take home.

Continuing along on Route 156, you'll soon be in Niantic proper, where you can stop for a stroll along the boardwalk or, if you haven't had enough, visit The Book Barn Downtown, a much smaller outpost. A detour north on Route 161 takes you to Flanders Fish Market & Restaurant. Although I'm not a big seafood fan, I can easily see why so many people love this place—fresh lobster is the specialty here, so plan on bringing your bib and butter (although I'm sure they provide both.)

Heading back down Route 161, pick up Route 156 East again, and take it along the scenic Niantic shoreline into New London, where the road merges with U.S. Route 1, which becomes Bank Street. A few quick turns (check map) has you on Washington Street, home to the Bean & Leaf coffee bar. Featuring artisanal coffees and teas as well as light fare, the Bean & Leaf also offers coffee-house-type events: jazz, acoustic folk, poetry, etc. I also recommend exploring the waterfront area here as there are lots of shops, galleries and other things to enjoy here.

Finally, it's back on U.S. 1, over the bridge and into Groton, where a short ways into town at the Big Y Plaza you will find Chester's BBQ. Chester's has been feted for their beef brisket sandwich—which is truly "like buttah," as they say—but there are all sorts of slow-smoked goodies to try here, especially the ribs and chicken. Oh, and don't forget the cornbread! A full belly end to a great day.

Below are each winner's write-up from our September Best of Connecticut issue.

Gift Shop
The Bowerbird, Old Lyme
(860) 434-3562 (thebowerbird.com)

You can get almost anything you want at The Bowerbird—shoppers inclined to give friends fishing lures, a bottle of Irish whiskey or diamonds on special days will come up dry—but if, like most of us, you’re looking for that perfect baby toy (whether the “baby” is two- or four-legged), a bit of moderately priced bling for a significant other, some Caspari paper goods for a hostess gift or just a cheery greeting card (more than 60 companies are represented), you’re golden. Because there’s a 10,000-item inventory (from roughly 2,000 different vendors), you’re sure to go home with a treat for yourself, too. The shop knows whereof it speaks when calling its wares “impulsive necessities.”

Bookstore: Used Books
The Book Barn
Niantic, (860) 739-5715 (bookbarnniantic.com)

There are barns, sheds, shelves and wagons galore stacked with books from classic to contempory at The Book Barn. In fact, there are so many titles (over 500,000) that the main Book Barn area expanded to two other venues: The Book Barn Downtown and Midtown, where different classifications of books are kept and sold. All titles are grouped by genre, making it simple to find what you’re searching for. Plus, they’ll buy your books back for cash or store credit. Truly the spot to find your inner Hemingway or Kerouac.

Fish Market
Flanders Fish Market & Restaurant
East Lyme, (860) 739-8866 (flandersfish.com)

Since 1983 Flanders Fish Market, located in a renovated single-family house, has been providing customers from near and far (they’ll ship live lobster anywhere via their online marketplace) with the highest-quality fish and seafood. They also offer a selection of prepared dishes, ready for take-out or to heat and serve later or, of course, you can stop in and stay awhile at their 150-seat restaurant, and feast on delights like fish-and-chips (named a “Finger Lickin’ Favorite” by The Food Network).

Coffee Bar
Bean & Leaf
New London, (860) 701-0000 (bean-leaf.com)

Hippies make the best coffee, don’t you think? They’re so virtuous, all “organic” this and “sustainable” that. The Bean & Leaf is peacenik central, but not without a sense of humor: “Unattended children will be given espresso and a free kitten” reads a sign. There’s live music, a poetry night, board games and superb java—try the cold-brew iced coffee for a righteous jolt.

Beef Brisket
Chester’s BBQ
Groton (860) 449-6868 (chestersbbq.com)

Owner and barbecue master Chester Dugas lives by the mantra “It’s not the sauce, it’s what the sauce goes on.” With that in mind, he devotes 15 hours to slow-cooking and smoking chicken, pork and, most importantly, beef, which is the key to his melt-in-your-mouth brisket that is piled high on white bread and served with homemade sauces. After one bite, you’ll understand why it’s one of the most popular items on the menu, and why people come from near and far to try it.


Best of Connecticut Road Trip: Lyme, Niantic, New London & Groton

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