Photo by Julie Bidwell
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Last summer, I sat on a grassy river bank, gazing out at winding paths of shining water that curved around islets of rushes. I was dreamily spooning mouthfuls of lobster bisque which was itself dreamy, and sipping from a plastic flute of passable champagne that I’d thought to bring along. There was quiche, too, and a side of fruit. And yet my heart ached as I watched a sole kayaker silently glide by, so close that I could have shouted his name, had I known it.
The pain I felt had nothing to do with my riverside picnic. In fact, the food was delicious and the view was sublime. My problem was with the kayaking stranger. I was jealous. I wanted to be him. I wanted to be a part of that scenery, not just sit on my perch and passively watch like a popcorn-munching moviegoer while he, in real time, carved a purposeful path through the wetlands.
Inspired by envy, I did some research, and discovered all kinds of places in beautiful Connecticut where one can not only gaze and graze, but also participate in the surrounding splendor—by sea, river, land, music, theater or sport. The following is my personal bucket list (the deadline being autumn, not the grave), a mad zigzag across the state to spots where paupers and millionaires alike can jump into the view.
Join me, won’t you?
• My mythical-sounding story of lunch by the river is entirely true: It happened at Edd’s Place in Westbrook (478 Boston Post Rd., 860/399-9498, edds-place.com), a tiny treasure on the Menunketesuck just west of the Singing Bridge. Run by the bright-eyed, energetic Edd Hannett, the place is an insider’s dream: a tidy wooden building, nicer than a shack but no bigger, where breakfasts, lunches and dinners are prepared, then taken outside to the banks of the tidal river and relished on one of those picnic tables or, when it’s wet or cold, on an enclosed patio.
Edd’s enormous menu covers major territory, from egg dishes and sandwiches to burgers and dogs, plus ever-changing dinner specials that delve into barbecued ribs, grilled salmon, lasagna and roast duck. Every dish I’ve tried there has been pure pleasure (especially the bisque). What’s more, Edd’s mom bakes all the pies, and they are legendary.
Turns out, Edd’s river view only hints at the 144 surrounding acres of protected wetlands, a paradise for bird-watchers and other lovers of nature. What’s more, it’s easy to navigate that watery sanctuary. All you have to do is visit The Beach Nut (314 Boston Post Rd., 860/399-6534), just down the road from Edd’s and founded in 1958. Owner Tim Swain continues his dad’s tradition of serving local “sportsmen” with such necessities as taxidermy, pistol lessons and, yes, kayak rentals. For only $45 a day, $25 a half-day or $10 an hour (more for tandem kayaks), you and I can put our paddles in the water and explore the river, and then, when it’s time to pause for refreshments, pull up to Edd’s private dock. If it’s the early birds you want to watch, it’s good to know that The Beach Nut opens at 9 a.m. and Edd’s serves breakfast from 7-11:30 a.m. BYO mimosas.
Note to fisherpeople: Bring your fresh catch, cleaned and filleted, and Edd will cook it up for you for $9.95 per person, which includes potato, veggie of the day and salad. Cool, no?
• Perhaps you’ll fall in love with kayaking and buy one of your own—or maybe a canoe. If so, please bring it with you when you visit Jenelle’s Waterfront Café & Catering in New Haven (307 Front St., 203/624-2233, jenelleswaterfrontcafe.com). Another small place with a big river view, Jenelle’s is at the other side of a gravel lot, alongside a wee marina on the Quinnipiac River. The neighborhood is far removed from the bright lights of downtown New Haven and resembles an old-time fishing village—which it still is, in some respects. There’s a lobster company, and commercial fishing boats set out each morning from the marina. Chef Jenelle Schneider opened the place in 2009, and prepares a lovely brunch Saturdays and Sundays, 8 a.m.-2 p.m., and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, 5-9 p.m., featuring fresh, modern cookery.
With 30-something seats and a narrow outdoor deck, Jenelle’s is what a real estate copywriter might call “intimate.” The fencing around the deck is oddly tall, resulting in what my foodie friend and I call “view jail.” But you might not mind, since the slats are spaced nearly wide enough to fit your face, and beyond the bars is the deep, cool river (dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers during WWII to accommodate war ships). Pleasure boats bob in slips beneath your feet, and two of those prime spaces are leased by Jenelle, so that you can arrive by motorboat and walk the wooden ramp to an excellent meal.
As seasoned New Haveners know, it’s surprisingly difficult to find traditional lobster dinners within city limits, and I can’t think of even one place that serves them outdoors. Jenelle’s to the rescue: For $29.99, you can enjoy a 1.25-pounder, served with New England clam chowder, garlic butter potatoes, corn on the cob, coleslaw and homemade Key lime pie—and, for added value, you’re invited to bring your own cocktails.
This summer, in addition to shellfish bliss, Jenelle will be featuring cookouts on the deck, with hamburgers, hot dogs and other backyard fare on Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. Got your kayak or canoe? You can put in at a public boat launch just steps away from the restaurant. There’s a convenient kayak rack there, too, so your boat will be safe while you sup.