Grab your sandals; we’re heading outside! Last year at this time we focused on fancy fine-dining establishments with impressive outdoor spaces. This year we’re trading in our linen suits for Hawaiian shirts and kicking our feet up in search of laid-back summer bars and restaurants. From rooftop retreats to waterside hangouts, the list includes some of our favorite outdoor spots, places where the sun is warm,the breeze is cool and the living is easy.
The Place, Guilford
This place is unlike any other destination on this list, and that’s the thinking that garnered its name. “There’s no place, quite like this place, anywhere near this place, so this must be The Place,” states the website. Think a large, outdoor clam bake every day. Visitors dine outdoors, seated on tree stumps instead of chairs around large red tables decorated with bottles of freshly cut flowers. Nearby, a crackling wood fire roasts savory clams, smoky lobsters, a variety of fish, chicken, steaks and sweet corn. The menu is simple but delicious, and diners are welcome to bring their own sides and drinks. The Place is BYOB. It is open for the season from about May 1 through September and then only on the weekends in October. The most important thing to remember — The Place does not accept any cards. Cash or check only.
Jessica Tuesday’s, Putnam
This popular downtown lunch spot is the only one on our list where diners can eat only feet away from passing trains. Opened in 2003 in the old train station’s ticket building on Main Street, Jessica Tuesday’s started as a market deli but has evolved into a destination eatery, with house-cured meats, seasonal small plates, gourmet sandwiches, soups, salads and house-made desserts.
Choose from two outdoor-seating areas: a covered, 20-foot-by-50-foot back patio adjacent to the train tracks featuring a custom-built mahogany bar, or a pet-friendly front patio offering diners a more private experience. Out back, freight trains pass at least twice a day. In October, the Great Pumpkin Festival and Foliage Train Ride draws passengers to the tracks, with the train departing from Norwich in the morning, arriving in Putnam, continuing north to Oxford, Massachusetts, before making the trip back to southern Connecticut.
The patio is so often booked for private functions — the “catering business is booming,” says owner Jessica Jellison — that the restaurant is only open for dinner the first Friday of each month. Other days closing time is 4 p.m., so be sure to get there early! Jellison hints at changes coming, however, with extended bar hours Wednesday through Saturday with a mixologist and tapas.
Down the Hatch, Brookfield
A legend in the Danbury area, this seasonal spot is the only waterside bar and restaurant on Candlewood Lake. It offers panoramic views of the famous lake and comfortable outdoor seating with a classic-rock-meets-reggae feel. Accessible by car, boat or seaplane (it has been known to happen from time to time) the place attracts a diverse clientele, from bikers to celebrities. With a full bar and a lineup of draft beers increasingly slanting into craft territory, it is the perfect place to wile away a summer’s afternoon. There are two seating areas: one is an order-at-the-counter section with a bar, the other a full-service dining area. The menu is basic American with burgers, fries, clam strips, fish and chips, as well as salads. We advise visiting by boat if you get the opportunity.
Stony Creek Brewery, Branford
One of New England’s most picturesque breweries, Stony Creek burst on the Connecticut beer scene in March 2015. It made a splash thanks to the quality of its brews and its showstopping brewing space on the Branford River, accessible by car and boat. After touring the brewery, guests can play corn hole while relaxing on one of two decks overlooking the water or at the beach-like gravel area next to the river. Enjoy beers like Dockside, which was the 2016 World Beer Cup Gold Medal winner in the Vienna-style lager category, or the aptly named Sun Juice, an easy-drinking Belgian wheat beer. Beer geeks might also want to check out the Crimsang, a sour double IPA, or one of the rotating nitro beers. The brewery hosts a different food truck every day so there’s always something to pair with your beer.
The Beer Garden at Shippan Landing, Stamford
(Photo by Nicole Samela.)
After its first iteration as a pop-up beer garden at Harbor Point in the South End, the new location at Shippan Landing, open since May for its third season, has a renewed emphasis on hanging out and having fun. With about 15,000 square feet of space, the beer garden is entirely outdoors and dog friendly. Along with Stony Creek, it’s one of the few places on our list with games like corn hole, life-size jenga and more.
But what about the beer? You’ll find local favorites and a few others from more faraway locations, as the beer garden will rotate craft beers this season. The selection includes Hopstillo IPA and Half Full Bright Ale (Stamford), Allagash Saison Ale (Maine), Brooklyn Summer Ale (New York), Downeast Cider (Massachusetts), Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin and Lagunitas IPA (California), and Dogfish Head (Delaware). Also look for some new cocktail options.
Also on a rotating schedule, food trucks include HAPA (Pacific/Asian-style street food), Boothbay Lobster Co., Dough Girls (wood-fired pizza), Have a Ball (rice balls) and Melt Mobile (grilled cheese).
Stop down Wednesday through Friday — weather permitting — but make sure to get there before they close around mid-September. With a westward-looking view over the water, don’t miss the sunset.
Look for updates on Facebook and Instagram: @TheBeerGardenSL
Elm City Social, New Haven
There’s a lot to love at this recent New Haven addition: a chic bar with a prohibition vibe, elegant dining room and eclectic, shareable menu. But Elm City Social’s hidden rooftop deck is the icing on the cake. Climb two flights of stairs, passing the restaurant’s velvet sofa lounge, and discover the small, wood-paneled deck that provides an optimal view of the stars. An abbreviated menu is served in this space and there’s a full rooftop bar that saves waiters traversing the stairs with full glasses of their creative cocktails. For the summer we’re loving the Miami Vice #2 with strawberry- and jalapeño-infused Angostura White Oak rum and lime. And don’t miss the parmesan-dusted zucchini chips off their social plates menu; it’s a great appetizer to split with friends.
Geronimo, New Haven
With the largest selection of tequila on the East Coast, it’s no surprise that Geronimo’s two locations in Fairfield and New Haven are constantly busy. They offer more than 300 varieties of tequila and 27 mezcal choices, which can be mixed up into a variety of cocktails, including their binge-worthy margaritas that come in many flavors. The décor and menu at both locations nod toward the Southwest with Navajo and Mexican influences. Picture buffalo skins, wrought-iron fixtures and strings of dried chilies. We love the mahi-mahi and braised short-rib tacos, three-cheese rellenos and portobello burritos.
The experience at the New Haven location is enhanced by a large, open-air patio that looks out on Crown Street. There are plenty of tables and a second outdoor bar. When the stars come out so do the twinkling lights, and the cocktails continue to flow till 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
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The Restaurant at Rowayton SeafoodSitting on the eastern edge of scenic Five Mile River — a narrow inlet of Long Island Sound separating Darien on the west and Norwalk on the east — “The Restaurant,” as locals call it, is a nod to the nautical heritage of the village of Rowayton. Its myriad seafood dishes, featuring all the New England favorites you’d expect, are sourced from the next-door Rowayton Seafood Market, which is housed in an old fishing shack that was once the oldest lobster co-op in operation on the Sound.
Should you pay a visit during warm-weather months, make sure to grab a riverfront table on the seat-yourself deck, which offers seating for 24 and more along the rail. When the sun is too intense, large umbrellas provide cover. But don’t forget to look out over the water for marina views, as well as to ogle the sailboats and historic homes dotting the shore.
Parking is tight at The Restaurant, which opened in 1996, but there is valet service. Once you’re inside — or outside — the atmosphere is relaxing and comfortable.
Bartaco, West Hartford and Westport
“Inspired by the beach culture of Brazil, Uruguay and Southern California,” according to Bartaco’s website, you’ll feel the beach vibe with the decor and laid-back feel, even though neither of these spots sits on the ocean. You’ll come close at the Westport location, with a patio that seats a couple of dozen along the west bank of the Saugatuck River. It’s great for both people and boat watching.
A more spacious front patio can be found in the trendy West Hartford Center location, with space for about 90 diners. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even sit out there in the chillier months, with large standing heaters and blankets to keep you toasty.
At both locations, the name of the game is antojitos, south-of-the-border street snacks translated to “little cravings.” Sit outside and enjoy them with a beer right out of the bottle or can. Bartaco’s third Connecticut location in Stamford does not have a patio.
West Hartford: 860-586-8226, bartaco.com
Westport: 203-222-8226, bartaco.com
Rooftop 120, Glastonbury
Manny Vargas Photography
Rooftop 120 is aptly named. Its four-season deck is the largest in New England and offers panoramic views of Glastonbury. There’s plenty of space to spread out with a large group here. You can huddle around a fire pit, lounge on a patio sofa or pull up a seat at the restaurant’s enormous wrap-around bar. There is often live music on the weekends, and deals like Buck a Shuck $1 Oysters on Mondays and Half-Off Bottles of Wine on Tuesdays keep the crowds coming throughout the week. The bar is fully stocked with domestic and imported beers, wine, martinis and cocktails. The bar is associated with a restaurant called Nosh 120, whose menu boasts an array of dishes like black cod wrapped in prosciutto and Maine lobster ravioli.
The White Horse Country Pub, New Preston
A classic English-style pub, the White Horse always has a warm and inviting feel, which gets even warmer and more inviting in the summer when you can dine outside. The back patio is right next to the East Aspetuck River and the sound and sight of the gently running water makes it feel like you’ve wandered into Tolkien’s Shire. Food specialties include burgers, shepherd’s pie and chicken pot pie. Inside, the White Horse has many impressive artifacts on display, ranging from a sheet from the first newspaper ever published in England to a vintage Indian motorcycle behind the bar and a guitar signed by members of the Rolling Stones. For drinks there are good spirit options (this is the type of place where a glass of scotch feels extra appropriate)
or you can enjoy a glass of wine or a pint of beer.
Pizza Surf Club at Fortina, Stamford
If the Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett collaborated on a rooftop-hangout design, this is what they might come up with. Opened this spring above Fortina Stamford, the Surf Club features a different menu and more of a summer vibe than the restaurant below. The wacky and wild offerings include Kobe beef corn dogs, sausage sliders and a unique take on tacos (slow-roasted pork, onion, cilantro and other ingredients served in a Doritos bag). Of course there is also pizza, and patrons can walk downstairs and order anything from the regular Italian Fortina menu and then carry it upstairs. When it comes to the bar itself, the specialty is tropical drinks: think tiki bars and hula skirts. One early favorite is a cold glass of prosecco — a sparkling Italian white wine — served with a popsicle in it. 203-703-9080, fortinapizza.com/stamford
The Bar & Restaurant at Captain’s Cove, Bridgeport
All summer long visitors flock to this destination bar and restaurant by land, by sea and even by air — via a helipad in the marina complex. It is part of the Captain’s Cove Seaport on historic Black Rock Harbor on Long Island Sound that opened in 1982. The complex boasts a boardwalk lined with quaint and colorful shops and is home to a full-service marina that can accommodate more than 350 boats. Food can be ordered at the restaurant on dock level: options include seafood favorites like lobster rolls, clams, shrimp and oysters. There are also burgers and fries, plus a gluten-free menu.
Upstairs there is a full bar — built around a 19th-century tugboat — with an expansive outdoor deck overlooking the water. The bar offers live music most nights and “coastal cocktails” like the After Beach Punch (Smirnoff citrus vodka, Bacardi rum, peach schnapps, orange juice, Sprite and blue curaçao). Open seven days a week May through September, it’s the perfect spot to soak up summer. Those coming by boat can notify the Seaport via VHF Channel 18.
Pond House Café, West Hartford
Tucked away in Elizabeth Park, this quaint eatery serves up an eclectic, internationally inspired menu of treats including grilled pork T-bone, an Indian rice bowl and rabbit and dumplings. The Sunday brunch menu has won awards and includes specialties like the Pond House Benedict with two poached eggs over a crab cake and cornbread slathered in hollandaise sauce or the sweet crème brûlée brioche French toast. It’s a menu inspired by fresh, organic ingredients — some of which are plucked right from their own vegetable and herb garden. The outdoor patio, located next to a pond as the restaurant’s name suggests, gives diners an opportunity to convene with nature. Depending on the season, you can enjoy views of the Elizabeth Park roses or New England foliage, and gather by the fire pit when the sun goes down. The Pond House does have a full bar complete with local beer, wine and cocktails, but also allows you to bring your own bottle with a small corkage fee.
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Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough, Noank
Lobster lovers have flocked to this legendary seaside shack on the Mystic River in the Groton village of Noank since 1947. Open every day in the summer before scaling back to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays after Labor Day, Abbott’s last day of the season is Columbus Day.
Lobsters and, of course, the Connecticut invention — the hot lobster roll with melted butter on a toasted bun — are served “in the rough” at picnic tables right at the edge of the water. There are also steamers, stuffed clams, clam chowder, oysters on the half shell, mussels, shrimp, crab, corn on the cob and the kingly New England seafood feast: clam chowder and shrimp in the rough, a heaping bowl of steamers and mussels and a steamed lobster.
Abbott’s is BYOB, and some diners who want to “fancy up” the picnic tables even bring formal table settings with tablecloths and the whole nine yards.
Eli Cannon’s Tap Room, Middletown
From the front entrance Eli’s doesn’t look like it would have much to offer in the way of outdoor spaces. But looks can be deceiving. Walk into the restaurant, then snake your way past the bar and dining area and you’ll find this beach-themed outdoor oasis. It would feel like a speakeasy if it wasn’t, you know, outside. The sprawling space has a surfer-meets-alt rocker/ska vibe. There are picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, a sanded area as well as a deck. Founded in 1994, Eli’s is one of Connecticut’s oldest craft bars and remains one of its best. Choose from more than 30 rotating draft beers that almost always include sought-after sour brews, IPAs and other options from Connecticut breweries and beyond. When it comes to food, customer favorites include the famous nachos, chicken wings (there are 20 custom sauces), the Classic Cannon burger and the blackened chicken wrap.
Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale, New Haven
From four picnic tables at a roadside clam stand in 1979 to three locations in Westbrook, Madison and New Haven, Lenny & Joe’s has been serving patrons ample portions of fresh seafood for nearly 40 years. This is the place to mix and match your favorite fried or broiled seafood like Gulf shrimp, clam strips and scallops. Try the crab cakes and the buttery lobster roll, too.
The New Haven restaurant is located right on Long Island Sound and there are walls of windows to take in the view, but it’s the spacious, wrap-around deck that landed Lenny & Joe’s on this list. The large, outdoor space runs along two sides of the building and provides seating for more than 130 diners.
S&P Oyster Co., Mystic
Consistently rated among the top eateries in the southeast corner of the state, S&P has the view to go along with great seafood. Located in the heart of historic Mystic, S&P’s patio seats 56 and offers views of the Mystic River and its nearly 100-year-old bascule bridge, otherwise known as a drawbridge. Perhaps you’ll spot an old, two-masted schooner pass through when it opens. The flower-filled patio itself is set amid vibrant and lush gardens. At night, the atmosphere is enhanced by a canopy of lights.
Here you’ll find New England seafood featuring locally caught fish and oysters, along with produce, with flavors from South America, all cooked over a wood grill. Beef, poultry and pork are also offered.
Tip: It’s a popular place, so you might want to call ahead for “priority seating.” It’s not a reservation, but they’ll try to accommodate you for the time you request.
The Hops Company, Derby
Opened in November, this new beer garden boasts a large and impressive list of draft beers including local favorites from Black Hog Brewery, New England Brewing Co. and Kent Falls Brewing Co. It also serve house wines and specialty cocktails on tap like the Moscow Mule and margaritas. Zuppardi’s Apizza and appetizers from the new “Snak” window satisfy hungry drinkers, and there’s plenty of space inside to spread out with a large group of friends. But this summer the spot nearly doubled its capacity (and cool factor) when it opened an outdoor bar and picnic seating area. Beer, wine, cider, sangria and some liquors will be available at the outdoor bar, and anyone 21 or older can check out a game like bocce, corn hole, giant Jenga, giant Connect 4 and board games for their group. This is the ideal place to spend a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon with friends.
Da Capo Ristorante Italiano, Litchfield
Tucked in a grassy recess straddling Litchfield and Torrington, da Capo lets you get away from things and relax with familiar Italian fare. Surrounded by a manicured garden, the patio can seat 60 people, with each table protected by a large umbrella. With the brick-lined eatery set back from the street, you won’t be bothered by road noise. And the view won’t be interrupted by houses or commercial spaces. Instead you’ll be treated to the sight of the Litchfield Hills, particularly lovely during the fall-foliage months.
Traditional Italian dishes are served in both regular and family-size portions. New offerings this season include beef carpaccio, linguini gamberi, braised short rib and a locally raised pork chop.
Brunch is served on the patio every weekend in season. But keep in mind outdoor seating is on a first-come, first-served basis (no reservations), and tables can be in demand, especially for brunch.
With a location on a long dock at the mouth of Stonington Harbor, we called Breakwater “the most uniquely situated and breathlessly awaited new restaurant on the Connecticut coast” in a review last summer. In short, you’ll want to break bread at Breakwater. Arrive by land or by sea, as there is easy boat access at the dock. Boaters are welcome to tie up their crafts — both large and small — and dine out on the deck.
More than 100 guests can enjoy the outdoor-dining area, complete with unobstructed views of the harbor and Fishers Island to the southwest. Equipped with large umbrellas and awnings, the deck is open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, longer if weather cooperates.
Occupying the former space of long-time favorite Skipper’s Dock, Breakwater has a more modern feel but retains the relaxed atmosphere Skipper’s was known for. Eschewing the pretentious, the menu is simple with a focus on ocean-to-table dishes with some Asian and Latin-American touches. A short boat ride from the Rhode Island border, the menu straddles that line as well, with the Connecticut-born hot lobster roll, as well as the Rhode Island-sired saugy, basically a hot dog with a snappy natural casing.
Lucky Lou’s Bar and Grill, Wethersfield
The 1787 Deming-Standish house in historic Old Wethersfield had for many years been a fine-dining location. That all changed, however, when Aussie Lucas Kyriakos transformed the space into Lucky Lou’s in 2009. From the pub-like inside to the party-like patio, Lou’s is now a place to sit back and relax rather than sit up straight and avoid putting your elbows on the table.
A menu featuring “New England favorites with a light, modern flair” and “regional favorites with a twist,” says Kyriakos, includes dirty wings and lobster sliders for starters, a variety of salads and “fun plates” like the Texas pulled pork burger, English fish and chips, Greek gyro and Cajun fish tacos.
Enveloped by a white picket fence and nestled in the local village center, the 35-foot-by-70-foot patio seats 175 guests and is available for events like weddings, showers and birthday parties. There’s also plenty of room for bands, with live entertainment every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, in season.
Oh, and dogs are welcome, too!
Smokin’ With Chris, Southington
Barbecue and picnic tables: it’s a classic combination that Smokin’ With Chris in Southington is keeping alive. Of course you can pick a table in the dining room or quaint bar room of this family-run establishment, but when the weather warms up there’s no better place to be than out on the large back patio. Rows of picnic tables provide lots of seating, strings of hanging lights provide a twilight ambiance when the sun goes down and there’s often live music. A large black smoker on one edge of the patio fills the air with the smells of mouthwatering barbecue, inspiring cravings from all who drive or walk by. Pick from the diverse menu of smoked entrees like the brisket, pulled pork, chicken or sloppy ribs and kick them up with their trio of sauces — the Memphis southwestern style JR’s Sauce, the slightly sweet Kansas City style Chris’s Sauce and the traditional, vinegar-based Carolina Kicker.
The Crab Shell Restaurant, Stamford
This local hangout has been “rocking the dock” on Stamford Harbor for 27 years. It offers indoor and outdoor dining and a dockside bar on the Stamford Landing boardwalk that has live music on most nights. The seafood-centric menu includes clams, oysters, shrimp, mussels, lobster, crab, a grilled Cajun swordfish wrap and the shrimp, chicken and sausage Creole. Non-seafood options include filet mignon, barbecue baby back ribs and cheeseburgers. There is a dedicated marina for boats visiting the establishment (it’s $10 to $15 to tie up when the dock attendant is on duty). Those visiting by boat will find the restaurant in Stamford Harbor’s west branch and are encouraged to contact the Crab Shell via VHF Channel 9 or by calling the restaurant.
Blue Oar, Haddam
A riverside gem on the Connecticut River, this cash-only seafood summertime haunt offers great food and views in a laidback setting. Enjoy the reggae vibe as you choose from warm-weather delicacies like hot and cold lobster rolls, salads and a variety of fresh-caught fish. Beyond seafood, the dinner menu includes dishes like Jamaican jerk barbecue pork loin with roasted potatoes and vegetables, rib-eye steak with roasted shallots, garlic, roasted potatoes and vegetables and barbecue baby back ribs with roasted potatoes and vegetables. But you won’t find french fries or other grease-filled offerings, a policy that started out of necessity, as the location’s small kitchen didn’t allow space for a deep fryer, and continued because it just seemed to work. The BYOB establishment is accessible by boat. Owners Jody and Jim Reilly also own Simon’s Marketplace in Chester and the new Simon’s Marketplace Pilot Point in Westbrook.
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