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Waterbury, (203) 574-1274 (avventuradeli.com)
Tucked away on a side street in Waterbury’s traditionally Italian section known as Town Plot is Avventura, where since 1990 Rosario and Lucy Minnocci have been serving a combination of fresh, wonderfully prepared foods and imported groceries to an increasingly appreciative clientele. Of very special interest are the pastries (zeppoli, cannoli), prepared fresh every morning, gelato, stuffed breads, grinders and the daily specials, which can range from pasta fagioli to Philly cheesesteak grinders and even corned beef and cabbage.
Rein’s New York-Style Deli Restaurant
Vernon, (860) 875-1344 (reinsdeli.com)
For over 30 years, this bustling New York-style Jewish deli has been serving everything from challah French toast, potato pancakes and corned beef to pastrami Reubens and cheese blintzes. They even offer a brand new gluten-free menu, complete with bagels and cream cheese and hot pastrami or corned beef on a gluten-free roll.
The Baltyk Deli
Stratford, (203) 386-9400
A trip to the Baltyk Deli is like shopping at a market in Krakow. Owner Maria Tomaszewski stocks everything: a variety of kielbasa, more than 10 kinds of savory and sweet pierogis, cheese blintzes, sauerkraut in a barrel (sold by the pound), cheese and plain babka, poppy-seed strudel and her own glorious homemade stuffed cabbage. And to wash it all down—Polish beer, of course. In case you’d like to pick up some souvenirs on your trip, a variety of Polish linens, greeting cards and newspapers are also available.
Dinner and . . .
A Bird's-Eye View
Hartford, (860) 722-5161 (ontwenty.com)
Who says dinner with a view always has to involve the ocean or a blanket of rolling hills? Nestle into ON20’s big windowed aerie on the 20th floor of the Hartford Steam Boiler building and see why this dreamlike restaurant captivates everyone who dines here. Survey the city, the Connecticut River and beyond as you enjoy cutting-edge cuisine from top chef Noel Jones. At dusk it’s the perfect romantic setting as the sun drapes its light all around the building.
A Freshwater View
The Grist Mill Restaurant
Farmington, (860) 676-8855 (thegristmill.net)
Serving traditional European-style cuisine with a contemporary flair, The Grist Mill offers an up-close view of the Farmington River from almost every seat in the house. Enjoy the view at the newly renovated Mill Tavern with light offerings and cocktails, or sit on the canopy-covered patio listening to the calm currents of the river. Heighten your waterside experience with one of their signature dishes, perhaps Maryland crab cakes with a spicy remoulade drizzle or osso buco braised veal shank with risotto.
A Saltwater View
The Flood Tide
Inn at Mystic, Mystic, (860) 536-9604 (innatmystic.com)
It’s all about blue views at this oft-celebrated Mystic landmark set high on a hill overlooking Mystic Harbor and beyond to Fishers Island Sound. First things first: a table by the window. Second: curry-dusted Stonington diver scallops with a tomato ragout and microgreen salad. Third: A nice glass of Stonington Vineyard’s chardonnay to savor along with those views. Perfect.
A Sunset View
New Preston, (860) 868-7295 (thehopkinsinn.com)
What could be lovelier than an 1847 inn high on a hillside overlooking Lake Waramaug, where you dine on Austrian specialties (notably backhendl with lingonberries, listed as one of the “50 Dishes to Try Before You Die” in our May 2009 issue) on a flagstone terrace shaded by towering horse chestnut, catawba and maple trees, or on an old-fashioned umbrella-tabled porch, drinking in the panoramic view? Doesn’t get any better, you think? Oh yes, it does—when day turns to evening, the trees are illumined by hundreds of magical twinkling lights and the sky over the lake turns into a glorious splash of golds, pinks and blues. Benches across the street (no parked cars to block the view) and chairs on the lawn are also available for sunset viewing. The twittering of the birds and chirping of the tree frogs are included free of charge.
Gilson Café Cinema
Winsted, (860) 379-5108 (gilsoncafecinema.com)
Named for Warren Gilson, an early film-industry pioneer who taught café-cinema owner Alan Nero the technical ropes 25 years ago, this moviehouse is the definition of “unique concept,” from its Art Deco marquee to the roster of darn tasty bar food: How ‘bout an appetizer plate of pâté and Brie, a Cobb salad and a hot fudge brownie to go with drinks before the feature? (We also heartily recommend Padre’s Place, a tiny, terrific Mexican cantina next door run by former Gilson kitchen manager Lacey Lizzi.) The movies—generally second-run fare—are a steal at $7.50, the popcorn with real butter even more so ($2). And it’s a great destination for “date night”: No one under 21 is admitted Friday or Saturday
Torrington, (860) 489-8900 (backstageeatdrinklive.com)
With an antique mahogany bar and trendy zinc counter, Backstage serves up tasty American fare like crisp salads, hot soups, hand-formed Angus patties on house-baked rolls, sandwiches and comfort favorites. What’s more, enjoy all this while listening to live music from local bands or after catching a show at the Warner Theatre, located right next door.
Infinity Music Hall & Bistro
Norfolk, (866) 666-6306 (infinityhall.com)
Doesn’t matter if you’re Generation X, Y or Next, there are plenty of shows that’ll move you—and your Boomer parents/grandparents, too—at the “all genres are welcome” Infinity Music Hall. The 300-seat 1883 opera house (with original proscenium stage) offers fine acoustics and encourages plenty of friendly informality. You can dine downstairs in the bistro (on small plates, salads, sandwiches and fine entrées like pan-seared sea scallops) before a show or take advantage of the “mezzanine menu,” served in the music hall itself. Upcoming acts include bluesman John Hammond, Tower of Power and the Zombies’ 50th anniversary show.
Middletown, (860) 346-6101 (orourkesdiner.com)
After being devastated by a fire in 2006, O’Rourke’s has risen from the ashes to do what it does best, serve us tasty options for breakfast (Cajun Firecracker Omelet, Irish Benny) and lunch (Smokin’ BLT, Traditional Reuben)—and we’re ever so thankful. They’ve even gained national attention, being featured on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” We’re proud to call this Middletown institution our own.
Dining at the Bar
The Black Duck Café
Westport, (203) 227-7978 (blackduckcafe.net)
The Black Duck is one of the few last vestiges of Old Westport, back before Main Street was a mall, with stores like Remarkable Book Shop and Klein’s, and cherished restaurants like The Ship’s, The Big Top and Rocco’s. They’re all long gone, but the Duck is still where it’s always been, on the Saugatuck River in an 1840 ice-storage barge. Its tiny kitchen produces a remarkable range of good solid American fare: killer clams casino and New England clam chowder, lobsters, steamers and fried clams; the burgers come in two sizes,“big” and “bigger.” If you’re lucky enough to get a seat at the bar, you’ll swear the food’s even better while watching the boats coming and going right in front of you.
Dock & Dine
Fresh Salt at the Saybrook Point Inn and Spa Old Saybrook,
(860) 388-1111 (saybrook.com)
Fresh Salt, which opened in May, is the crown jewel of the Saybrook Point Inn and Spa, which sits dramatically at the point where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound. The cuisine makes the most of the surrounding bounty, and there are few finer summer pleasures than sitting on Fresh Salt’s patio under a market umbrella, supping on pedigreed oysters and watching the boats bob in the marina at your feet.
Woodbury, (203) 263-2545
Destination doughnuts? Really? In a word, yes, when you’re talking about Dottie’s. Step inside this roadside diner, whose lineage goes back over a half-century, and the first thing you’ll see is the bakery display cases. Order three cinnamon (crunchy outside, silky inside), three chocolate frosted (the state of the art), three powdered (well worth the confectioner’s sugar avalanching down your front) and three plain (dunk you very much). Whether you proceed into the diner’s interior (where, rumor has it, the food is just fine) is up to you. Your main mission has been accomplished.
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).