Visiting Connecticut: The Right Way
If you’re wondering why we chose Connecticut as our fourth installment of The Right Way, then you need to read this. Connecticut is usually thought of as just the Gateway to New England– a place to stop off on the way to the more well-known destinations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. But this gateway to New England might be our most underrated food destination in the country. Forget passing through– spend a weekend in Connecticut or more. It’s fast and easy to get from place to place so you can cover a lot of ground but be prepared to EAT. Plan your trip now, Connecticut is beautiful all year around.
Note: We wouldn’t have the love for Connecticut foods that we have if it wasn’t for Jane and Michael Stern, authors of 500 Places to Eat Before It’s Too Late. If you want to see more on the state of CT and the entire country, pick up a copy of the book, or visit their website, roadfood.com.
Make sure you get a chance to try all the things that Connecticut does better than so many other places. During your visit you’ll want to check out:
- pizza– some of the best in the nation,
- great hot dog joints,
- homemade ice cream,
- a coastline with great seafood,
- the nation’s first Hamburger,
- FOXON sodas, they’re everywhere,
- and a long list of amazing Farm to Table restaurants.
Pizza: The Connecticut Way
The Big Three: Modern Apizza, Sally’s Apizza and Frank Pepe’s Apizza are the holy trinity of Connecticut Pizza. Some people have claimed they’re nothing but tourist joints, (like Pat’s and Geno’s) but we’re calling bullshit. You can safely ignore those people and visit any one of these pizza greats. Yes, they’re better than New York. Better than Chicago. Try any one of them, and you’ll see why we’re picking Connecticut as the Pizza Capital of the country. Only drawback is, there are usually lines. And while they’re all great, they certainly the only worthy places.
- Sallys Apizza. Opened 1938. 237 Wooster Street in New Haven, CT.
- Modern Apizza. Since 1934. Get anything, it’s all good. 874 State Street in New Haven CT
- Frank Pepe’s. Est 1925. Visit their original location at 163 Wooster Street and if you’re into it, try their world-famous clam pie. 157 Wooster Street, New Haven, CT
Connecticut has so many great Pizza Joints beyond the big three. You don’t have to go to New Haven and you don’t have to wait in lines to get it.
Colony Grill in Stamford is a local legend that keeps growing. Yes, it is an Irish Pub, but we can’t think of any reason that would be a problem. for the All of our favorite things combine to make this a top pick– a local neighborhood joint, beer and bar pies. Don’t expect good service, this is a bar. But what you will get is ultra thin hot oil pies, and stinger pies. It’s legit, and has been since 1935. 172 Myrtle Avenue, Stamford CT
Little Rendezvous Pizza in Meriden. We love Little Rendezvous. It’s some of the best pizza you’ll ever have, and the place is priceless. Plus with 70 years in business. the local factor alone is worth the ride. The oven, built in 1888 started out as a bread oven. In 1938 it became a pizza restaurant. Try the pesto. 256 Pratt Street, Meriden CT
Roma’s Pizzaria in Ansonia. No website. Some people swear that Roma’s should be #1 on the list of Ct pizza. The oven is wood fired, so if you like a hint of a smokey flavor on your pizza, give Roma’s a try. You can skip the crowds and have a great pie at Roma’s. 150 Wakelee Ave, Ansonia CT
Honorable mentions: Some claim that you can go to Ernie’s for the same pizza as Colony but without the lines. You also lose much of the charm, but if you can’t wait, it’s a solid option, and check out Carminuccio’s in Newtown for some amazing regular style pizza.
Hot Dogs: The Connecticut Way
Hot Dogs: Many cities and states can lay claim to great dogs, and Connecticut is one of em. Most of the hot dog joints have been around forever and are 100% local, 100% charming and 100% amazing. Here is a short list of some of our favorites and honorable mentions.
- Danny’s Drive-In, Stratford, CT. For a kick ass hot dog at an old school drive-in complete with picnic tables and oldies music, you can’t beat Danny’s. It’s also located right off 95 so you have no excuse for not visiting every time you make that drive from New York up to New England. 940 Ferry Boulevard, Straftford, CT. (203) 378-6728.
- Super Duper Weenie, Fairfield CT. Not only are the dogs great, but the fries are amazing too. The relishes are made from scratch (they even do their own pickling) the breads are baked locally every day, and the potatos are cut and fried fresh on the premises every day. 306 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield, CT.
- Rawley’s in Fairfield CT. No website. What’s the best part of Rawleys? It could be the great hot dogs, it could be the tiny counter with stools that take you back…way back…probably before you were born, or it could be the miraculous black and white milkshakes that make each dog taste even better. 1886 Post Road, Fairfield, CT (203) 259-9023.
- Blackies in Cheshire, CT. Visit Blackie’s on your hot dog tour and make sure you get the relish. They’ve been around since 1928, and you don’t stick around for nearly a century without good reason.
Other Great Local Restaurants. From the shore, to the great farm to table options, there are so many local choices, you won’t know how to choose. Here are our favorites.
Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough. Noank, CT. If you’re one of those people who has only experienced lobster at a restaurant with a dress code, drop everything and head to Abbott’s. This is how lobster should be eaten. Walk up to the window to order your lobster (which, by the way has been caught that day), and go pick a picnic table to chill at, right along the water where the boats dock. It’s not much cheaper than the stuffy restaurant, but you’ll never taste lobster this good indoors. There are many places like Abbott’s along the cost, but they are our favorite south of Maine. Don’t screw around. Just order the feast. Begin with Clam Chowder and Shrimp in the Rough followed by a heaping bowl of Steamers and Mussels, topped off with an Abbott’s Steamed Lobster, potato chips, coleslaw and drawn butter. Seasonal only. 117 Pearl Street, Noank, CT.
Louis’ Lunch. New Haven, CT. The country’s very first hamburger joint is still serving fresh burgers every day, and this is something you must experience. I don’t care if you’re stuffed to the gills on pizza and pastry from the rest of New Haven’s great food, you still need to make room for a burger at Louis’ lunch. Don’t worry, they’re small. And don’t be turned off by the fact that they’re served on something that looks like white bread either. These burgers are fantastic. Grab a Foxon soda with your burger– we like the orange best. And make sure you watch them being made in individual cast iron grills, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. It’s something special. 261-263 Crown Street, New Haven, CT.
Coffee An’, Westport, CT. No website. It’s a tiny little coffee shop-slash-diner. It’s as cute as a button. It’s family owned and run by the nicest people this side of the Mississippi. And it’s everything that people miss about those ‘old days’. They’ve also got a wall lined with photos of politicians, dignitaries and other assorted celebrities. Why? The donuts. You’ve probably been settling for chain-store donuts for so long that you’ve long forgotten what a donut is supposed to taste like. Go to Coffee ‘An and it will all come rushing back. Don’t expect a wall full of choices here though, there are only a few options. Take our advice, don’t mess around — go straight for the chocolate glazed. 343 Main Street, Westport CT.
The Dressing Room. Westport, CT. By now you think we’ve given up on real restaurants where you can sit down and “dine.” We still love restaurants and our first pick is Paul Newman’s place. This adorable country restaurant is tucked behind a local institution– The Westport Country Playhouse, and that would be a destination in itself even if The Dressing Room wasn’t on the premises. You won’t see it from the street, just head into the playhouse parking lot and head around to the back where you’ll find a brightly lit, comfortable and incredibly inviting spot, often with live music blaring from the door. Nothing here is pretentious and everything is completely shareable. Comfort food meets creative, and it’s all very local. The oysters are amazing, local cheeses and hand cured meats, mini burgers, mini meatloaf, Pork Belly Mac n Cheese and it’s all done in harmony with Paul Newman’s food philosophies including his commitment to neighborly hospitality, local, natural and organic ingredients and regional American heirloom food. 27 Powers Court, Westport, CT. 27 Powers Ct, Westport, CT. (203) 226-1114
Carole Peck’s Good News Cafe. Woodbury, CT. Carole Peck’s is unbelievably fantastic. Some have called her the Alice Waters of Connecticut. We can’t really speak to that, but we can tell you that everything on this ever-changing, locally sourced, hand crafted perfect menu is outstanding. Even her roasted chicken with mashed potatoes is life changing. This food will make you cry, mostly because you realize you can’t find chicken that tastes that good anywhere near where you live. Do not skip the dessert no matter how full you are. Go with friends, order everything and share. 694 Main Street, South Woodbury, CT. (203) 266-4663
The Schoolhouse at Cannondale. Wilton, CT. is another one-of-a-kind experience. Meticulously prepared food, sourced from only the freshest New England ingredients and a personalized experience all served up in a former working schoolhouse. Don’t go without a reservation, the Schoolhouse may be picturesque but it’s also quite small. The menu is also limited to specials each night, so be prepared to put yourself in the capable hands of Chef /Owner Tim LaBant. 34 Cannon Road, Wilton CT. (203) 834-9816
Valencia Luncheria. Norwalk CT. Probably the last thing you’d expect to go out for in Norwalk Connecticut is Venezuelan beach food, but we’ve heard nothing but raves that Valencia is some of the best food in Connecticut. Try the Arepas ! It’s been featured on Diners Drive Ins and Dives, loved by the NYTimes, and although we haven’t visited it personally, it will be our first stop on our next trip. Go in the Summer for outdoor seating in the sand. 164 Main Street, Norwalk, CT. (203) 846-8009
Wave Hill Breads. Norwalk, CT. If you can find this little shop tucked under a building, you’ll be grateful the moment you walk in the door and realize you’ve basically walked into the kitchen of a working professional baker. Other than the small counter right by the door, nothing here feels like a shop. You might feel like you walked in the wrong door and try to head out, but you’re definitely in the right place. Not only is everything hand baked on the premises (which you can clearly see the moment you walk in the flour dusted room) but they will also let you taste anything you want. A small refrigerator up front has some great cheeses and other provisions for the perfect picnic. 30 High Street, Norwalk, CT (203)762-9595
Honorable Mentions: Kings Breakfast and Lunch 271 S. Main Street in Newtown, CT no website, Dottie’s Diner in Woodbury, CT (try the Donut Bread Pudding!) No website, 740 Main Street South, Woodbury, CT, Paul’s Pasta Shop in Groton, CT, casual family owned Italian restaurant with oilcloth covered tables, and family in the kitchen, 23 Thames Street, Groton, CT; Kitchen Little at Mystic River Marina, where Flo’s been serving breakfast for over 30 years. (try the Mystic Melt –lump crab and cream cheese scrambled eggs with raisin toast) 36 Quarry Road, Mystic CT; Liuzzi Cheese (and deli) North Haven, CT. Forget the deli part of Liuzzi’s , it’s the cheese that will make you want to move to Connecticut permanently. 322 State Street, North Haven, CT; Ted’s Restaurant for steamed cheeseburgers. Truly unique just seeing them made is worth a visit. 1046 Broad Street, Meriden CT; Beardley’s Cider Mill for possibly the best Apple Crumb Pie you’ve ever had in 278 Leavenworth Road, Shelton CT.
Dessert is Part of the Meal– You can’t throw a stick in Connecticut without hitting a homemade ice cream parlors or dairy farm. You’d have to be crazy to visit a chain store or a shop with a funny name. Here’s our recommendations for the real thing.
Ridgefield Ice Cream Shop. Ridgefield, CT. No website. We can only thank roadfood.com for this amazing spot; we would never have found it without them. What looks like a standard soft serve drive in on the outside, is so much more. According to roadfood, the owner searches far and wide for original Carvel soft serve machines that do not pump up the custard with air like current machines do. The result is a much denser, creamier soft serve. You can’t get this soft serve anywhere else. 680 Danbury Road Ridgefield, CT (203)438-3094
Dr. Mike’s Ice Cream Shop, Bethel, CT.. No website. Visit Dr. Mikes for two things. The chocolate lace ice cream and their homemade hot fudge. 158 Greenwood Ave, Bethel, CT (203) 792-4388
The Collins Creamery. Enfield CT. This is how ice cream was meant to be served. Visit this idyllic setting with its rolling hillside, cows on the premises (of course) and you can even bring your dog along. The ice cream is high fat cream from the farm’s own cows and we don’t see how anything could get any better. 9 Powder Hill Road, Enfield CT.
Rich Farm Ice Cream Shop, Oxford CT, Long lines form in the summer for the homemade farm fresh ice cream served in hand made waffle cones. Yes the dairy cows are on premises! 691 Oxford Road, Oxford CT.
Buttonwood Farm. Located in Griswold, CT and locally famous for their acres of sunflowers, Buttonwood Farm features some very old fashioned, Colonial era flavors and an outrageous Cherry Vanilla. Everything about Buttonwood Farm is authentic, they even built the ice cream stand from timber grown on the land, and the ice cream is made from their own dairy cows. Make a quick detour on the way to Bison Brook Farm to see a field of bison. 471 Shetucket Turnpike, Griswold, CT.
After you Eat…
There’s so much to do in Connecticut, like walking around picturesque Mystic, visiting the historic Yale Bowl stadium and the nearby college campus, Casinos, hiking, great towns to stroll through, but we decided to focus on the food. But here’s a few non-food places we decided to include based on the passion of the readers who sent them in.
Live Music at Toad’s Place in New Haven. Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Koko Taylor were early performers at Toad’s Place. The Rolling Stones played a surprise hour concert for 700 people in 1989. Bob dylan did a four set, five hour show. U2 performed there three times in the 80s, and the Black Crowes did a warmup for their 2005 tour , all at Toads. You can’t find history like that outside of a major city. Drop by for a drink or a show. 300 York Street, New Haven CT. (via Terence)
Danbury Whalers Hockey This is a Single A team playing in the Federal Hockey League (yes, the same name as the league in Slap Shot). They play at the Danbury Ice Arena. That small barn barely fits 3000 people in there. The games are fantastic, the atmosphere in the rink is electric, the beer is cheap, and the night is FUN. It is nothing like any other minor league sporting event that you will ever experience. The fans are aggressive. This is not a family event. The Danbury Train Station is right across the street from the Arena, so you don’t even need a car to get to the game from the City. Drinking before the game is at Two Steps, drinking at the game, and then drinking with the players after the game. (via Steve Swain)
Westport Country Playhouse. Founded in 1931, The Westport Country Playhouse has produced more than 700 plays and more than four million people have attended shows there. At one time, a major player on the Summer Stock circuit, you’ll find the walls adorned with bills showing an endless list of film stars who spent their summers doing theater in Westport. A major renovation was finished in 2005 and the entire theater looks too beautiful to be located in this quiet sleepy Connecticut town. Some of the performers who have graced the stage include Billie Burke, Liza Minnelli, Eartha Kitt, Gene Wilder, Paul Newman, James Earl Jones, Jane Curtin, Ruth Gordon, Kitty Carlisle, Henry Fonda, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Olivia de Havilland, Eva Gabor, Michael Allinson and Jane Fonda.
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Some More Honorable Recommendations and Mentions….
- The Country Diner, Enfield Ct, Small Local Diner, (via Kevin from CT)
- Garden Catering in Old Greenwich CT for fried chicken and cones (fried mashed potatos) (via Hagen)
- Lucibello’s Italian Pastry Shop New Haven, CT (via AJ)
- Franks Mobile Kitchen Family from the Amalfi area of Italy makes a traditional Neopolitan-style pizza right in front of you. (via Annette)
- Skappo Italian Restaurant, in New Haven, CT. Family owned and operated. Off the boat mom and son in the kitchen, daughter and second son work the front of the house. Everything on the menu is cooked to order. (via The Grifter)
- K LaMay’s, just as good as Ted’s & you can’t beat the price for both, you WILL get full for under 10 bucks. (via Dow)
- Glenville Pizza – a hole in the wall pizza joint that makes some of the best pizza. The must have is that salad pizza. It’s a classic Italian chopped salad on a pizza and it totally works… (via Gallo)
- Harry’s Pizza on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford, CT (via Robert)
- Woody’s Hot Dogs in Hartford. It’s tucked into an office building in downtown Hartford. You will have to work a little to find it. Try the Reuben Dog 915 Main Street, Hartford, CT. (via Pat from the Bronx)
- One Eyed Pig BBQ in Newtown, CT The one-eyed pig has some of the best pulled pork in Ct. (via Paul and Kai)
- Foxon Park Beverages. Served at nearly every New Haven apizza joint. Try the Gassosa. It tastes like melted, carbonated, italian lemon ice (via Nicholas)
- Captain Scott’s. New London Ct. The Connecticut shoreline is loaded with great seafood stands/shacks but perhaps the best is the most hidden. Located at the end of a dead end road wedged between a marina and the railroad, Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London is impossible to stumble across. Get a hot lobster roll with butter and half pint of fried whole bellies on the side. (via Nicholas)
- Tolli’s Pizza in East Haven CT for Scarole and beans. (an escarole and bean pizza pie) (via Nicholas)
- Stonington Borough. Think Mystic, but undiscovered.
Got more must-try and must-see Connecticut? Leave us a comment.