Connecticut's Culinary Trails Last Updated 7/18
By Edie Jarolim
From wine and beer to chocolate and "chowda", discover how a small state packs such a flavorful lunch along Connecticut's many culinary trails.
Connecticut’s most cosmopolitan trail has more than, well, Cosmopolitans going for it, though you’ll find many versions of these cocktail-culture favorites among the featured drinks. Selected by social media surveys, the watering holes highlighted here range from swanky to down home. Several venues at Uncasville’s Mohegan Sun celebrated the arrival of the Trail with spirited sips; you can depend on the drinks menu at Todd English’s Tuscany to feature such specialties as the Poker Face—silver tequila with Cointreau and pineapple juice. At the elegant Restaurant at Winvian Farm in Morris, the Apple Old Fashioned includes fruit slices, sugar, nutmeg bitters and bourbon. A mixologist’s mecca in New Haven, 116 Crown serves up the likes of the Church Key, an aquavit, passion fruit and ginger combo that many consider a religious experience.
New England foodies and chefs flock to Westport the first Sunday in October for Chowdafest, where judges choose the region’s best chowder, soup and bisque. Can’t make the event? No worries. Drop in on one of the state’s many contenders whenever you visit. Grab a picnic table at Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London and savor two types of chowder or creamy lobster bisque—in a bread bowl if you like—while watching the boats bob in the marina. The New England-style clam chowder at Clam Castle, a no-frills roadside spot in Madison, is laced with bacon and deliciously rich. The broth-based Rhode Island version is lighter but tasty, too. The chunky chowder at the Chowder Pot of Hartford is a popular prelude to their substantial seafood and prime rib dinners. At the waterfront Crab Shell Restaurant in Stamford, sample four different styles of seafood soup, including red (tomato-based) clam chowder and New England crab chowder, perhaps accompanied by a nice Chardonnay.
This chocoholic’s dream route around the state includes confectioners who have catered to cacao lovers for decades, along with recent arrivals bearing sweet surprises. Founded in 1946 as The Dandy Candy Company, Bolton-based Munson’s used locally sourced ingredients before anyone heard the term “locavore.” The company is still in the same family, and their popular delectables are now sold in several Connecticut outlets. Another generation-spanning family business, Fascia’s has been winning the hearts—and palates—of chocolate lovers since 1964. You’ll find their wares all around the state, but for the full chocolate experience tour and class, visit the Waterbury headquarters. Le Rouge purveys its handcrafted treats in an intimate cafe in Westport, where many deliciously nontraditional creations are whipped up. The chocolate sculptures at Tschudin, including stylish high-heeled shoes, are a delightful novelty, but it’s the complex flavors of the bonbons, truffles and ganaches that draw repeat customers into this downtown Middleton shop.
Craft brewing dates back to revolutionary times—George Washington made beer as well as whiskey at Mt. Vernon—and Connecticut brings that tradition up to date with award-winning breweries around the state. Among the favorites of suds-loving locals is Willimantic Brewing Co., in Willimantic’s 1909 post office. Postal puns abound—Mail Carrier Maybock, for example—but the handcrafted beer is seriously good. Tour Two Roads Brewing Company, a converted industrial space in Stratford, to see where its (literally) world-class brews are made: Two Roads partnered with Guinness & Co. to create two small batch beers. Its distinctive takes on IPAs are among the reasons that Woodbridge’s New England Brewing Company got the nod from BeerAdvocate.com as one of the top 20 breweries in the country two years running. In Branford, the “aggressively laid-back beers” at Stony Creek Brewery include seasonal favorites Sun Juice and Snow Hole. Guests here can even dock their boats to access the indoor/outdoor taproom. In Bloomfield, sample Thomas Hooker Brewing Company’s wares straight from their brightly colored vats. The blonde ale and pilsner number among the year-round favorites, and many eagerly await seasonal specials such as Chocolate Truffle Stout.
The journey is part of the reward on Connecticut’s Wine Trail, winding through historic towns and picturesque landscapes to a distinctive array of wineries—something for every taste and level of wine savvy. Perched atop a hill with eye-popping vistas in rural Wallingford, the 140-acre Gouveia exudes Old World charm. Enjoy a picnic by the pond or cozy up to the tasting room’s fireplace. Its unique location near an inland lake and associated microclimate means a longer growing season than usual at Hopkins in New Preston. Among the results: a beautifully fruity ice wine. In the northeast corner, Pomfret’s Sharpe Hill is known for its award-winning Ballet of Angels—a white blend that outsells every other wine in New England—and its excellent Fireside Tavern restaurant. You can claim continuing education as your reason to visit Stonington Vineyards, named for the town in which it resides. After the comprehensive wine tour, kick back on one of the patios or decks and savor your newfound oenophile knowledge.
Beer and burgers are a perfect match, and many say the iconic sandwich made its American debut in Connecticut. This claim to hamburger fame is disputed, but there’s no questioning the state’s chopped-meat know-how. The Library of Congress cites Louis Lunch, opened 1895 in New Haven, as the hamburger’s birthplace. Louis’ great grandson is now the keeper of the secret recipe that has locals lining up for a meaty midday break. Since 1948, Manchester’s Shady Glen has been known for the crispy cheese crowns on their thick patties, veritable works of dairy art. Several places around the state purvey steamed cheeseburgers—prepared, as their name suggests, in a stainless steel steam box—but Ted’s in Meriden put this Connecticut specialty on the map in 1930, catering to hungry factory workers. At City Steam in Hartford, the burgers are charbroiled and often elaborate—one comes enfolded in quesadillas—and the steam is used to brew the beer, not to prepare the meat. That’s Connecticut versatility for you.