Spring driving-around-in-the-car season has officially arrived, and we’d like to provide you with some destinations. Destinations for food, that is. Road food. Casual chow. Guilty pleasures. This time, we looked for spots we haven’t often included before (Super Duper Weenie, Harry’s, Blackie’s, Rawley’s—you know who you are). So go, enjoy—and don’t forget the napkins.
BURGERS AND SHAKES
254 Main St., Old Saybrook, (860) 510-0048; 1244 Storrs Rd., Mansfield, (860) 487-9066
Chef Jack Flaws has been making culinary magic in Connecticut for a while now, and here, at two locations, is his latest rabbit-out-of-the-hat effort. The setting is comfortably retro, the $5 cheeseburgers come with a choice of seven cheeses, the shakes are seriously creamy and there’s a good menu of other shake-shack treats (great wings and Hummel hot dogs).
50 Memorial Rd., West Hartford, (860) 236-8400
The only New England outpost of this national chain, The Counter is known primarily for its customizable burgers, claiming 312,120 possible variations, so it’s likely you will find exactly the combination you want. A fully loaded 1/3-pound cheeseburger is $8.50. The shakes don’t get top billing here (there’s a full bar), but ours was chocolaty and thick.
372 Scott Swamp Rd., Farmington, (860) 678-7231; 150 Kitts Lane, Newington, (860) 372-4620
More full-service restaurant than shake shack (the pizza is a big draw here), Joey G’s is nonetheless hard to beat for a burger and shake. The burger meat is ground fresh twice a day and the half-pound cheeseburger with fries is $8.99 with free add-ons ranging from mushrooms to a fried egg. The “Best of Connecticut” milkshakes are sublime.
Burgers, Shakes & Fries
302 Delavan Ave., Greenwich, (203) 531-7433; 800 Post Rd., Darien, (203) 202-9401
Perhaps taking a cue from the granddaddy of them all—Louis’ Lunch in New Haven—BSF serves its excellent burgers on buttered, toasted white bread; its shake menu includes vanilla, black & white, Neapolitan, chocolate, strawberry, coffee and cinnamon. The original tiny location in Greenwich, home of BSF founder Kory Wollins, only recently took on its larger partner in Darien.
Moe’s Burger Joint
997 Main St., Bridgeport, (203) 333-9500; 1340 East Putnam Ave., Greenwich, (203) 990-0119
It’s so great to find a top-quality burger and shake in downtown Bridgeport right between McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Our $5.25 Cheddar-topped cheeseburger was thick enough to cook medium-rare, as ordered, and tasted freshly ground. The shake spent what seemed like a lifetime in the blender and was agreeably creamy and cold.
Lake Zoar Drive-In
14 Roosevelt Dr., Monroe, (203) 268-8137
We had to have at least one picnic-table burger joint on the list, and Lake Zoar, with its big, messy burgers and delish shakes, is it. This is actually a breakfast, lunch and dinner spot, but the emphasis seems to be on the burgers. The Zoar Burger is a quarter-pounder with bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard, raw onion, ketchup and mayo. Highly recommended.
1125 Post Rd., Fairfield, (203) 292-8233
Ah, the mocha shake. For years, we put up with Arby’s mediocre fare just for a taste of their mocha concoction. So it’s nice to see it as a menu staple at Flipside, where the burgers come with many options (each adding to the cost) and taste fresh and beefy.
1248 Queen St., Southington, (860) 747-0566
You’ve got to trust a hot dog place that’s been around for 44 years, and that’s certainly the case with Saint’s. And when the menu is headed with the words “Saint’s Famous Chili Dog,” you’d probably need to have your head examined not to order it. The chili sauce is not especially meaty, but it’s sweet and addictive nonetheless. A real central Connecticut gem.
Mr. Mac’s Canteen
838 Main St., Monroe, (203) 459-9595; 2004 Bridgeport Ave., Milford, (203) 874-1515
If you like your chili dogs hot, we mean really ridiculously hot, you’ve got to get yourself to Mr. Mac’s. The chili sauce is meatless, more a mélange of chopped-up hot peppers that will make your lips and tongue burn and possibly even catch on fire. The Hummel franks and toasted buns are both good, too, with or without the chili sauce.
Chef’s Dog House
337 Willard Ave., Newington, (860) 667-3700
Tucked away behind a 7-11, Chef’s is a nice new addition to Connecticut’s hot-dog universe. The main brag here is the size of the condiment bar, with its 30 freshly made toppings. The chili dog, served on a buttered, toasted roll, contains real chili, with meat and beans—an abomination to some, but delightful to us.
940 Ferry Blvd., Stratford, (203) 378-6728
Here’s another chili sauce that’s thin and red-hot rather than meaty and thick. Danny’s is a classic hole-in-the-wall below an I-95 overpass in Stratford that’s been serving dogs and more since 1935. Our deep-fried Hummel dog had snap, and the heat was supplied by Kuhn’s chili, an old Connecticut recipe that still kicks it.
Al’s Hot Dog Stand
248 South Main St., Naugatuck, (203) 729-6229
Yet another hot-dog joint that summons up an earlier time with its foot-long franks, picnic tables and quirky roadside ambiance. The chili dog may not be the great stand-alone attraction here, but the chili makes a nice complement to the melted cheese, bacon strips and sauerkraut in the aptly named Hippo Dog.
231 East Putnam Ave., Cos Cob, (203) 861-0075; 364 West Putnam Ave., Greenwich, (203) 625-3322;
151 Elm St., New Canaan, (203) 972-2100
There’s a lot going on at Chicken Joe’s these days, but nothing so much as the chicken. Most prominent on the menu are hand-cut nuggets, sold by weight, in all sorts of combinations with fries, fritters and potato cones. But what we’re talking about here is the fried chicken by the piece—never greasy, never overcooked or undercooked, always just what you were looking for. May CJ’s expansion continue into other parts of the state.
Hen House Bar-B-Q
192 Main St., Southington, (860) 276-0798
The Hen House is a full-fledged barbecue place, but founder Ron Amorando learned his trade at Bridgeport’s Drumstik Bar-B-Q, so chicken takes an honored place on the menu—and in your mouth, too. The moist, flavorful two-breast fried chicken dinner, including fries, coleslaw and a roll, goes for $7.69. It might make you want to pull up stakes and move to Southington.
64 Matthews St., Bristol, (860) 583-3191
Here’s a bit of a hidden gem for fried chicken lovers. Tucked away down a Bristol side street, Greer’s is bascially a caterer, and there’s no sit-down dining here save for a couple of picnic tables out front, but the fried chicken is always available for takeout, and it’s delicious. The companion macaroni and potato salads are very good, too.
4189 Main St., Bridgeport, (203) 374-6151
For 46 years, Drumstik Bar-B-Q has been making its acclaimed fried chicken from a closely guarded family recipe. What’s the secret? Well, for one thing, “fresh chicken.” Be sure to check out the family deal at this “Best of Connecticut” winner: 12 pieces of chicken, six dinner rolls, potato wedges and a large side for $22.99.
Southern Hospitality Soulfood
427 Whalley Ave., New Haven, (203) 785-1575
This no-frills, no-nonsense little three-table joint is a welcome touch of the South in downtown New Haven. Southern Hospitality’s fried chicken dinner for take-out with, say, collard greens, sweet potatoes and corn bread, can turn your drive home into an exercise in self-control.
Danny’s Little Taste of Texas
19 Oakland Rd., South Windsor, (860) 436-1232
Although crowded out somewhat by other tasty things on the menu like ribs and barbecued buffalo, the fried chicken at Danny’s stands up to the taste test, too. The Chicken Coop Fried Chicken Dinner offers four pieces of chicken with two sides for $10.99. It feels pretty authentic in an area (Greater Hartford) that’s served almost entirely by fried-chicken chains.
569 New Haven Ave., Milford, (203) 877-9502
As all good foodies know, the seasoning can make or break fried chicken, no matter how well it’s cooked. At the unprepossessing Chicken Basket, the seasoning is sublime and the fried chicken is justifiably well loved by the locals.
SEAFOOD MARKETS WITH TAKE-OUT
City Fish Market
884 Silas Deane Hwy., Wethersfield, (860) 257-6465
The fish in the market is perfectly fresh, the staff is helpful and knowledgeable and the take-out is just plain terrific at this 80-year-old institution. The to-go menu offers lobster rolls (hot and cold), fish-and-chips, clam chowder and fried clams, oysters, scallops and squid. There’s a dining room, too, and daily specials galore.
Close Harbour Seafood
959 Meriden-Waterbury Tpke., Plantsville, (860) 621-7334
There’s a real heads-up attitude at Close Harbour, and attention to detail. And let’s not forget the freshness of everything on the menu. We are suckers for the take-out Gulf shrimp and Manhattan clam chowder, but the menu is extensive and they’ll even quickly pan-sear 8-ounce portions of any fish in the case for you to take home.
Uberti’s Fish Market
88 Ferry Blvd., Stratford, (203) 377-1429
There’s indoor and outdoor seating for take-out fans at this longstanding fish market near the water in Stratford. The fresh fish sandwich with lettuce and tartar sauce and a cup of chowder ($4.99) is a favorite.
New Wave Seafood
81 Camp St., Stamford, (203) 461-7720
New Wave is a big wholesale and retail seafood operation with a take-out menu that goes a bit beyond the usual. There are Creole crawfish cakes, for example, a smoked-salmon wrap, a crab salad wrap and lobster bisque. The lobster roll is the cold salad variety, but we’ll try not to hold that against them.
Cove Fish Market and Clam Shack
20 Old Stonington Rd., Stonington, (860) 536-0061
At last word, Cove Fish Market was on the market itself, but we’re hoping any sale will not diminish its charms. The fried-fish sandwiches here have been widely celebrated, and the chowder, clams and fritters remain top-notch as well. And you’ve got to love the photo of the citronella candle on their home page—summer dining out in Connecticut!
Blue Lobster Seafood
376 Berlin Tpke., Berlin, (860) 828-5833
The last time we looked, this inland seafood oasis was offering a hot lobster roll, with potato chips, for $9.50 (a real bargain)—and we made a mental note to get there as soon as we could. The extensive eat-in or take-out menu runs from steamers to a poached-cod dinner.