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Tisane Euro-Asian Cafe, Hartford, (860) 523-5417 (mytisane.com)
You might be surprised to learn that Connecticut’s best Bloody Mary lives at a place that calls itself a “Tea and Coffee Bar.” Nestled behind a stony garden that protects the place from a slightly seedy section of Farmington Avenue, Tisane features a menu in which Asia meets Europe. And there, nestled in the back pages of said menu, is the “Bloody Good Mary,” made with house-infused vegetable vodka and an original 12-ingredient Bloody Mary mix, presented with a salt-and-peppered rim and a pickled jalapeño suspended on a wooden skewer. Delightful, especially when enjoyed on the patio at noon on an “Oh, what the hell” weekday.
The Loft, South Norwalk, (203) 838-6555 (theloftsono.com)
We thought the Cosmo was played, suffering from overexposure by way of the very tired “Sex and the City.” Then we went to The Loft, which serves up the sweet, intoxicating concoction made from Smirnoff, Cointreau, cranberry and lime juice in a blushing shade that flatters most complexions—that’s what we call irresistible. Stir in live music four nights a week for guaranteed good times.
116 Crown, New Haven, (203) 777-3116 (116crown.com)
It’s been compared to “James Bond’s rumpus room,” and there’s little doubt that 007 would have a ball at 116. The cocktails are the ultimate in mad mixology, featuring exotic and home-grown ingredients resulting in page after page of outrageous libations like “The New Black” (G. E. Massenez Crème de Cassis de Dijon, Miller’s Gin, Campari and mint) and the “$29 Bunny Hug,” starring Booker’s Bourbon, Grande Absente absinthe and Plymouth Gin—not recommended for beginners.
Doc’s Trattoria, Kent, (860) 927-3810 (docstrattoria.com)
St-Germain elderflower liqueur is one trendy cocktail mix-in, and Doc’s elderflower Manhattan makes magical use of it. Traditional bourbon Manhattans can be smoky and heavy—definitely an acquired taste—but Doc’s variation lightens and sweetens the blend in a way that wins over connoisseurs and nonfans alike: We have yet to see anyone try it who didn’t order one for themselves.
Coyote Blue, Middletown, (860) 345-2403 (coyoteblue.com)
This neighborhood Tex-Mex café serves its margaritas in 16-ounce mugs and—ay, caramba!—do they pack a wallop. A perfect blend of tequila, lime and sweetness, the original ’rita is always a stellar choice, but then there’s the strawberry, raspberry, grapefruit and pomegranate, or how about the “Skinny Girl” made with fresh lime juice and agave? So many margaritas, let’s make the time.
Martel, Fairfield, (203) 292-6916 (martelrestaurant.com)
To H.L. Mencken, this classic cocktail was “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.” These days, it’s the martinis at Martel that strike us as liquid poetry, whether they’re tangy Lemon Drops or (down ’n’) Dirty. We’ve developed a special taste for the Corleone, a commanding, “don”-like blend of Finlandia grapefruit vodka, Campari and Italian vermouth, and the bracing Vesper Lynd, a variation-on-a-renowned-martini-variation with Hendrick’s gin, Lillet blanc, crème de ginger and housemade rosemary syrup. Both mingle playfully on the tongue with a plate of oysters or the truffled mac ’n’ cheese.
Pacifico, New Haven, (203) 772-4002 (pacificorestaurants.com)
When Pacifico opened on the corner of College and Crown in the early aughts, Mojitos were exotic curiosities. Now they’re positively mainstream, but the Nuevo Latino restaurant still does them right, with the labor-intensive fresh mint muddle, squished limes and fresh sugar cane suspended in top-notch white rum—perfect with chef Rafael Palomino’s exceedingly clean ceviche.
Mansfield, (860) 456-8316 (asianbistromansfield.com), Shelton, (203) 926-1933 (asianbistroshelton.com)
With two beautiful, highly textured restaurants and a popular fusion menu, Asian Bistro has a lot going for it—including a full bar. Loads of libations are available, but Saketinis are at the top of the list. The basic model is made with sake, vodka and Asian cucumber, and strained through crushed ice into a martini glass. Other varieties include Lychee and Ginger, with appropriate garnishes, and the resident mixologists are always fiddling with new variations.
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.
Hartford, (860) 524-1488, and New Haven, (203) 785-8888 (cafejojo.com)
How fresh are Jojo’s coffee beans? “So fresh, we have to slap them,” according to owners Bill Sze and Cathy Wei. Now that’s what we like to hear. We also like that Jojo’s roasts its beans lighter than the prevailing fashion—all the better to maximize the flavors and aromas the pair gathers from around the globe. If you’re looking for a coffee shop that smells like, well, coffee, as opposed to a crazed “Southern Amaretto-Banana-Cinnamon-Hazelnut-Snickerdoodle” amalgamation, this is the place for you.
Molten Java Coffee Roasters
Bethel, (203) 739-0313 (moltenjavaevents.com)
Owner Wendy Cahill roasts high-quality free-trade beans one pound at a time at this kitschy coffeehouse. Plan your visit right and you can get beans that are still warm. Signature varieties include Barnum Blend (named for native son P.T. Barnum) and Mad Hatter (honoring neighboring Danbury). Lattes, espresso, cappuccino, soups, wraps, burritos and vegan chili are also offered. Regulars drop by for the board games, Wi-Fi, live music and open mic night on Thursday.
Waterbury (203) 755-3804 (sweet-marias.com)
With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein: How do you eat a cookie like Maria’s? Well, if you’re smart, you do it slowly and savor every tasty morsel. Chocolate almond, gingersnaps, pignoli nut, thumbprints—Maria Bruscino Sanchez has been making 19 different kinds for the past 20 years, each one more delicious than the next, using real butter, fresh cream and a lifetime of baking experience. And if you want a taste of that experience to go along with your cookie, Maria and her staff even regularly offer baking classes. Sweet!
Carmen Anthony Steakhouse
New Haven, (203) 773-1444, and Waterbury, (203) 757-3040 (carmenanthony.com)
Carmen Anthony’s oh-so-delicious potato-encrusted crab cake tops our list again, with good reason. It’s made with Maryland lump crab, pan-fried to a golden brown and served with a special remoulade sauce. Pair it with a glass of vino from their Wine Spectator Award-winning list.
Mystic, (860) 536-6343 (dessertsmysticct.com)
Don’t know about you, but we hate the trend toward froufrou designer cupcakes that are about one inch in diameter and piled high with sparkly, tasteless icing. Bleu Squid makes cupcakes (pictured opposite) like Mom always made: two-fisted in size, moist, with good ol’ buttercream frosting that often has twice the personality of the cake beneath it. We’re sure Mom never had an inventory of close to 40-plus playful flavors, however: Chocolate pretzel, coffee and walnuts, Creamsicle and s’mores are among those we have yet to try (not to mention “adult” flavors—toasted almond, piña colada and brandy Alexander).
Hank’s Dairy Bar
Plainfield, (860) 564-2298 (hanksdairybar.com)
Hank’s may be a northeastern Connecticut icon that dates back to 1957, but that doesn’t mean the folks here don’t know how to shake things up. Yup, you’ll find burgers, dogs, fries and damn-good house-cut onion rings on the menu, but you’ll also find signature sandwiches like the “395 Pileup,” a seasoned burger with cheese, pickles, ketchup, Hank’s secret-recipe coleslaw and french fries all stacked high on a toasted roll, and the “Dog Gone Wilde,” a snappy hot-dog combo with coleslaw, ground beef, mustard, onions, chili and Cheddar cheese.