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• In the same general vicinity, but a bit farther north, is The Vanilla Bean Café in Pomfret (450 Deerfield Rd., 860/928-1562, thevanillabeancafe.com), offering a very different and considerably louder scene.
The Bean, born in 1989, is the brainchild of brothers Barry and Brian Jessurun. A darling of critics, locals and tourists, the restaurant has won heaps of awards and accolades. But “fancy” is not on the menu: it’s a relaxed, self-serve eatery with well-crafted offerings like chili, righteous sandwiches, salad and quality desserts, in addition to breakfast dishes.
A good part of The Bean’s offbeat charm is due to a circuit, and an intersection.
The circuit is the National Folk Music Circuit, which means that some of the finest players in the country—with an emphasis on the East Coast—come through to perform in the 65-seat listening room, which, on concert nights, is separated from the kitchen and take-out area by a heavy curtain. This month, scheduled acts include Rusty Belle, Peter Mulvey and Becky Chase, with ticket prices $10 to $25. There are also open-mic nights, plus the very cool Songwriter Sessions, in which invited songsmiths are given subject matter decided upon by the audience. They go home and get to work, returning a month later to perform the new tunes.
As for the intersection, that’s the triple corner of Routes 44, 169, and 97, which makes it the perfect stopping place for motorcyclists joyriding the scenic routes on summer days. When I visited The Bean on a weekday, the front yard looked like a tiny state park, with a few imposing pine trees shading picnic tables in a rustic parking lot, but co-owner Barry tells me the place is crazy with bikes and tricked-out cars in the high season. “It’s a place to be and be seen,” he says. “Everyone hangs out with their fancy machines and talks about them.”
When you’ve had it with Harleys, sneak across the street to the soothing Martha’s Herbary (589 Pomfret St., Pomfret, 860/928-0009, marthasherbary.com), a sweet oasis planted with raised herb beds and a sunken medicinal garden outside, and a charming boutique with jewelry, clothing, gifts, books and more, inside a house that you wish once belonged to your great-granddaddy.
• On the other side of the world—or so it seems—is the quintessential New England destination, the kind of place that Hollywood location scouts dream of when they imagine genteel Connecticut: Warren’s impeccable Hopkins Inn, overlooking Lake Waramaug (22 Hopkins Rd., 860/868-7295, thehopkinsinn.com). I traveled there on a gorgeous spring day, and sat with a friend on the stately inn’s patio under the branches of a towering horse chestnut tree. Lawns stretch from beneath our feet to the sparkling lake and the foothills of the Berkshires beyond. We feasted on Austrian specialties, including an outstanding ramp soup, made from locally foraged greenery, piquant pickled herring and an amazing Farmer’s Salad, with bacon, warm potatoes, greens and pumpkin seeds in a fragrant herbal dressing. These and other delights were prepared for us by two chefs who are the real (Toby Fossland, raised at the inn) and honorary (Franz Reiter, from Austria) sons of innkeepers Franz and Beth Schober.
With Lake Waramaug State Park just down the road, there are plenty of activities in the area, including boat rentals. But lazy diners can seek more convenient pleasures directly across a narrow driveway, at the Hopkins Vineyard (a separate entity from the inn, located at 25 Hopkins Rd., 860/868-7954, hopkinsvineyard.com). What began as a family farm planted by Elijah Hopkins in 1787 is now a thriving winery tended by Hilary Hopkins and her father, Bill, with the help of resident winemaker Jim Baker. The vineyard is centered on an antique barn where tastings of award-winning wines are offered ($6 per person for seven tastes, and you can keep the glass). Shoppers can choose from a variety of locally produced goods such as jams, handmade soaps, cutting boards and, sometimes, fresh veggies from the Hopkins’ family garden. Best of all, you’re also welcome to wander the manicured acres of plantings and greet the grapes that might someday be served in your souvenir stemware.
• Lights, pasta, action! This summer, Consiglio’s Restaurant in New Haven (165 Wooster St., 203/865-4489, consiglios.com) is again offering dinner and a show on weekend nights, starring, perhaps, you. This is the third season of “spaghetti musicals” presented by the family-run Consiglio’s, which is celebrating its 72nd year in New Haven’s Little Italy. The 2011 production is “Garlic, the Musical,” a spoofy romp with sing-alongs, dancing, broad comedy and surprise appearances by diners called to the stage for their moment in the spotlight.
The shows take place under tall white tents in Consiglio’s charming brick courtyard, decked out in climbing vines and whimsically painted fences, with a platform stage that keeps the performers close to their audience/victims. Four-course meals are offered at cabaret-style tables dressed in white tablecloths and fresh flowers. Tickets are $65 per person, which includes dinner and entertainment (tax and tip extra). Each dish showcases the classic Italian cookery that has earned the restaurant legions of fans for decades.
Doors opened at 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in June. Starting this month, Sunday performances are added, with doors opening at 4. Reservations are required. So is a devil-may-care attitude and a hearty appetite. (Insider’s tip: Arrive early if your inner ham is begging to be part of the show. No guarantees, but it helps.)