The Best Food and Drink in Connecticut for 2019
December 20, 2018
What to eat and drink in The Nutmeg State
The Best Food and Drink in Connecticut
Connecticut may not be the first state that comes to mind when folks start talking about matters gastronomical, but it actually has a lot going for it when it comes to food. Just for starters, it's one of the only states with a food-related nickname: Along with being the Constitution State, it's the Nutmeg State — a sobriquet possibly bestowed because its seaports were important in the Colonial spice trade. But that's just the beginning of its relationship to good things to eat, and to celebrate its culinary riches, we’ve rounded up 18 of Connecticut's tastiest comestibles and most essential eating and drinking places as part of our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
To get specific, Connecticut stakes a claim — contested, to be sure, but what isn't these days? — to having been the birthplace of the hamburger, at the still-thriving Louis' Lunch in New Haven. (The state is also said, somewhat less controversially, to have spawned the steamed cheeseburger, and may have given the submarine sandwich, or "sub," its name, courtesy of the U.S. Navy's submarine base in Groton.) New Haven is also pretty much the pizza capital of America, home to the ineffable Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (not to mention such standard-bearers as Modern Apizza, Sally's Apizza, Ernie's, Zuppardi's, the Brü Room at BAR, and Mike's Apizza).
With its 96-mile coastline, Connecticut is a great place for seafood, too, from Abbott's Lobster in the Rough, waterside in Noank (famous for its eponymous crustacean, either steamed or in the form of a Connecticut-style lobster roll, meaning warm butter-drenched meat on a toasted bun) to the fresh-shucked oysters at Oyster Club —whose specialties go far beyond bivalves, and which we rank as the best restaurant in the state, period.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled the culinary treasures of every state (plus the nation's capital) into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Connecticut gallery ahead.
Best Airport Restaurant: Black Bear Saloon (Bradley International Airport)
A nice full-service restaurant located inside the security checkpoints, Black Bear Saloon is a great option while you’re waiting to catch a flight at Connecticut’s busiest commercial airport. Start off your meal with a Maine lobster roll, mile-high nachos, or crab cakes. The menu includes all kinds of burgers, flatbreads, and sandwiches, as well as multiple white wines and beers in a can, bottle, or on tap.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: Evergreens at the Simsbury Inn (Simsbury)
Evergreens is one of Connecticut’s finest restaurants, located inside the upscale Simsbury Inn, and its Sunday brunch buffet is nothing short of astounding. Crêpes Suzette, made-to-order Belgian waffles and omelettes, carved sirloin and turkey, cheese blintzes, lobster mac and cheese, smoked seafood, cheeses, sesame crusted salmon, veal scallopini, poached eggs with grilled steak, and a massive variety of desserts (among plenty of other rotating specialties) are yours for the taking.
Best Bar: The Griswold Inn Tap Room (Essex)
Connecticut’s best bar is as old as the nation itself. The Griswold Inn opened its doors in 1776, promising “First Class Accommodations, Fine Food and Spirits.” Some 240 years and six family owners later, the inn, its wine bar, and its Tap Room at The Gris (which opened in 1801) still lives up to that promise. Popular with yachters, locals, and celebrities alike (Katherine Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Billy Joel, and many others have had drinks here), the hotel and Tap Room are filled with maritime art, brass bells, and binnacles. There is live music every night, from Dixieland and swing to sea shanties. The Tap Room has an elegant domed ceiling that evokes a time gone by, part of what New York magazine once called “the best looking drinking room anywhere in America.” Additionally, a Christmas tree sits year-round on top of a potbelly stove in the center of the room, and there’s an antique popcorn machine that continuously pops popcorn. There are several beers on tap, including the bar’s own Revolutionary Ale. Cocktails change seasonally, but perennially popular ones are the Connecticut Mule and Liberty Lemonade in the summer, hot buttered rum in the winter, and the Bloody Mary all year round. Tavern food is served from 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily, and includes award-winning New England clam chowder.
Best Beer: Fuzzy Baby Ducks by New England Brewing Co. (Woodbridge)
Brewed with Citra hops, New England Brewing Co.’s Fuzzy Baby Ducks pours with a hazy orange color — think of the actual color of a fuzzy baby duck, and that’s what you get. Despite the adorable small name, this is a big ol’ beer with an ungodly amount of hoppy citrus fruit flavors: Just think of mango, orange, and pineapple, and you’ve got it down.
Best Brunch: Engine Room (Mystic)
“Beer, burgers, and bourbon” is the motto of this popular Mystic hangout, and its “Proper Boozy Brunch,” served every Sunday, keeps the party going. The menu is heavy on house-smoked meats and is conveniently divided into breakfast and lunch sections: Breakfast standouts include made to order cinnamon sugar doughnut holes; slow-smoked brisket Benedict on cornbread with cilantro hollandaise; slow-roasted steak and eggs; sweet potato French toast; house-made bagels and lox; and two egg-topped burgers. Brunch standouts include sweet and spicy mustard-rubbed smoked chicken wings, salads, a veggie burger, slow-smoked pork ribs, and a smoked brisket sandwich. There are also some creative brunch cocktails, including a few large-format ones (try the one with bourbon, coffee liqueur, coffee syrup, house cold brew, and cream).
Best Burger: The Original Burger at Louis’ Lunch (New Haven)
A conversation about Louis’ Lunch is never simple. Is it the birthplace of the hamburger? Supposedly, one day in 1900, a gentleman hurriedly told proprietor Louis Lassen "he was in a rush and wanted something he could eat on the run," resulting in a blend of ground steak trimmings between two slices of toast, with which the gentleman was sent on his way. But was this a "burger," or was it a "sandwich" — because it wasn't a ground-beef patty on some form of yeast bun? Sandwich, hamburger, whatever. So what do you get at Louis' today? A flame-broiled burger made in a vertical hinged-steel wire gridiron that cooks the burgers on both sides at the same time; a hamburger sandwich supposedly made from a blend of five cuts of ground steak. If you want condiments, you’ll have to ask. Otherwise, all you’ll get is cheese, tomato, and onion. No mustard, ketchup, or mayo. But do you really need all that? You can practically taste the nostalgia. And that never disappoints.
Best Chinese Restaurant: Peking Edo (New Haven)
Photo by Annie W. via Yelp
The best Chinese food in Connecticut can be found at three humble food carts in New Haven run by a husband-and-wife duo. Since 1998, they’ve been dishing up classics like roast pork noodle soup from cart one, stir-fried noodles at cart two, and Taiwanese-style Chinese dishes like rice with meat sauce and stewed egg from cart three. This is the real deal, and if you live in or near New Haven, set aside your next three (or 20) lunch hours to sample the offerings.
Best Chocolate Shop: Bridgewater Chocolate (West Hartford)
Connecticut is apparently so well known for its chocolate shops that it has a bona fide tour route for sweet confections called the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. So how does Bridgewater Chocolate stand apart from the crowd? Its stunning packaging, for one, and also its luxurious, rich dark chocolates and turtles that even have the world’s billionaires as fans.
Best Cupcake: Sugar Cupcakery & Bakery (East Haven)
Yelp/ Mary M.
Sugar is a mother-daughter team who have combined their knowledge of baking and passion for decadent dessert to create delicious cupcakes like their signature cannoli — vanilla cupcake, chocolate chip cannoli cream filling, vanilla buttercream, and mini morsels. Other flavors include wedding cake, apple pie, and trick or treat!
Best Dive Bar: The Spigot (Hartford)
The Spigot in Hartford is surrounded by shiny, new bars, which makes this dive all the more charming. Their beer on tap ranges from your classic Miller Lite to regional offerings such as DuClaw. This bar comes with all the dive classics, like TVs on the wall, well-worn dart boards, and a jukebox.
Best Doughnut: Dottie’s Diner (Woodbury)
This retro diner draws people for its world-class chicken pot pie and its wonderful doughnuts. The selection is concise, but no huge range is needed when they’re all made so perfectly. Try a cinnamon-sugar doughnut, which will probably still be warm from the fryer, cakey on the inside, and crunchy and sugary on the outside, just as it should be.
Best Food Truck: The Mercado Food Truck (Glastonbury)
Tapas and small plates from a food truck? In Connecticut? Yes, the Mercado Food Truck in Glastonbury, Connecticut sports a five-star rating on Yelp and has residents smitten with their Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. The chefs don’t shy away from the deep fryer, and nobody is complaining; fried chickpeas, chicharrons, queso frito (fried cheese) and potatoes roasted in duck fat are just a few of the delicious offerings available. Some of the other stand outs include pork belly sliders with pickled red onions and roasted Brussels sprouts with spicy sauce, but it appears that the menu changes around often, which is an excuse for multiple return visits.
Best Fried Chicken: Greer’s Chicken (Bristol)
This tiny, old-fashioned Southern restaurant has been going strong in the small town of Bristol for years, and its fried chicken has made it a local destination. Chef-owner Rich Plantamuro breads his chicken in a secret spice mix and deep-fries it until golden and crispy, and the interior remains moist and tender. Be sure to get some baked beans and mashed potatoes and gravy on the side, and for dessert a container of Swiss Miss chocolate pudding for a buck.
Best Hot Dog: Super Duper Weenie (Fairfield)
What started as a humble hot dog truck is now a full-blown Fairfield institution, with good reason: These are some insanely delicious hot dogs. “Super Doop” owner Gary Zemola makes all the chili and condiments from scratch, and they go atop a hot dog that’s split before it hits the griddle, allowing maximum flat-top exposure. Dogs are modeled after Zemola’s interpretations of regional styles, including the Chicagoan, the Californian, the Cincinnatian, and the New Yorker, but the true standout is the New Englander, an ode to the classic regional dog topped with sauerkraut, bacon, mustard, sweet relish, and raw onion. It’s indeed super duper.
Best Ice Cream Stand: Ferris Acres Creamery (Newtown)
Best Lasagna: Rossitto’s Ristorante (Branford)
Owned by the Rossitto family, Rossitto’s Ristorante is an intimate restaurant that showcases a collection of signature Italian classics coupled with modern American specials. They are most known for slow-roasted meats, fresh seafood, and handmade pastas. However, the lasagne, which is layered with ground beef, ricotta, mozzarella, and sauce, is a match made in heaven and completely addictive.
Best Mexican Restaurant: El Charrito (Riverside)
This community in the famously posh town of Greenwich may be the last place you’d expect to find real Mexican takeout food. But at El Charrito, Carlos and Alex Terrón, who also run a popular food truck in neighboring (and more Hispanic) Stamford, have brought southwestern Connecticut a standard of Mexican cooking usually found only in urban Texas or California. The wide variety of taco fillings ranges from chicken, shrimp, and spicy pork adobada to pig’s ear, tripe, and cow’s tongue. The carnitas tacos are typical: a couple of flavorful steamed corn tortillas with a scattering of sweet, crispy pork bits, minced onions, cilantro, and lime segments on the side to squeeze over everything.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: 2-Foot Works Dog, Doogie's (Newington)
America loves its over-the-top hot dogs, and this hot dog joint in Connecticut is famous for them. Doogie's is known for their 2-foot hot dogs which you can get in any style, but the most impressive is if you manage to down it with "the works": chili, cheese, onions, and peppers. If that's a bit too much for you, they also sell 10- and 16-inch hot dogs as well.
Most Romantic Restaurant: Vue 24 (Mashantucket)
Vue 24 is an upscale and very high-end restaurant perched on the 24th floor of Foxwoods’ Grand Pequot Tower, and it’s insanely romantic. Elegant and refined, with well-spaced tables, live piano music, incredible views from huge windows of woodland as far as the eye can see, and a high-end French-inspired menu. This is old-fashioned Continental dining at its finest: beef tartare, foie gras, escargot, shellfish towers, oysters, caviar, veal Oscar, tableside chateaubriand, steak Diane, USDA Prime ribeye and New York strip… Vue24 is textbook romantic, and it executes that ambition perfectly.
Best Pancakes: Somewhere in Time (Mystic)
This adorable little café is turning out some top-notch fresh baked goods, egg dishes, banana bread French toast, and pancakes. Available in either buttermilk or whole grain, you can fill your pancakes with your choice of blueberries, cranberries, walnuts, almonds, raisins, homemade granola, chocolate chips, or cream cheese, but they’re spectacular with just a drizzle of maple syrup.
Best Pasta Dish: Lasagna, Consiglio’s (New Haven)
This old-school Italian joint has been a New Haven legend since it opened nearly 80 years ago, and it’s still going strong on Wooster Street today. All the red sauce staples are represented here, but it’s the lasagna that the locals swear by. Pasta sheets, ground beef, ricotta cheese, and tomato sauce are layered, and it’s all baked with a melty topping of mozzarella. It’s lasagna perfection.
Best Pizza: Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (New Haven)
Benjamin F. / Yelp
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana retains its crown as America’s finest pizzeria. This is a checklist destination, one you’ll have to make a pilgrimage to if you want to discuss the topic of America's best pizza with any authority. The New Haven icon opened in Wooster Square in 1925, offering classic Napoletana-style pizza made by an Italian-American immigrant. After arriving in the United States in 1909 at the age of 16, Frank Pepe (watch him at work in this video) took odd jobs before opening his original restaurant (the location, now called "The Spot," is now an adjunct to the main Pepe's location).
There are now seven locations around Connecticut, one in Yonkers, New York, one in Rhode Island, and one near Boston; all are operated by Pepe’s 10 great-grandchildren, and all use original recipes to make their coal-fired pizza.
What’s the move? As if you didn’t know! Two words: Clam pie ("No muzz!"). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a charcoal-colored crust. It's a combination that makes this pie one of the most iconic dishes in America. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Of course, Pepe’s summer special, their seasonal “fresh tomato pie” made with locally grown tomatoes, is worth its own trip (and the addition of shrimp to a tomato pie is an under-hyped gem of a combination). No matter what you’re thinking of ordering, expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Dottie’s Diner (Woodbury)
Dottie’s has been a Woodbury destination since 2006, but its history goes back to long before that: The Phillips Diner, which had been in business since 1934, was purchased in that year by Dorie Sperry, who kept many of the old Phillips favorites on the menu, including chicken pot pie and some of the best doughnuts you’ll find anywhere. But if you just drop in for some doughnuts and coffee, you’re missing out. It opens daily at 6 a.m. (Sundays at 7), and the breakfast menu is just about perfect: bagels and smoked salmon, fresh-baked muffins, eggs prepared any way you please, fresh corned beef hash, eggs Benedicts, buttermilk and buckwheat pancakes, French toast, and bacon from nearby Nodine’s Smokehouse. There are no big surprises here, just perfect versions of breakfast staples.
Best Restaurant: Oyster Club (Mystic)
As the name suggests, this small, coastal New England restaurant and bar is famous for its oysters. They’re shucked at the tiny raw bar, and the day’s offerings are scrawled on a driftwood chalkboard. With six draft beers, 200 wines by the bottle and 16 by the glass, a range of spirits focused on whiskey, and eight signature cocktails, The Oyster Club offers a tipple to suit all tastes. Chef James Wayman is plugged in to all the best producers in eastern Connecticut, and his handwritten, daily-changing, farm- and-sea-to-table menu offers everything from clam chowder (New England or Rhode Island style) to a handmade rye ramen with simmered tofu and mushroom dashi to the popular burger (seared on cast iron and served with Grafton Cheddar, smoky bacon, Worcestershire mayo, caramelized shallot, and a brioche bun with house-cut fries.) There's a nose-to-tail aspect to the cooking, too; recent offerings have included goose liver mousse with date mostarda and bucatini with duck hearts, kidneys, and gizzards. Simpler fare, much of it wood-grilled, is served in summer months in an open-air Treehouse upstairs.
Best Sandwich: Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough (Noank)
This legendary BYOB counter-service restaurant on the Mystic River has been steaming lobsters since 1947 in cast-iron low-pressure steam ovens, and it’s only open during the summer months. Their lobster rolls come in a few varieties: First, there’s the lobster salad roll, cold lobster tossed with celery and a mayo-based dressing in a toasted split top bun. Then there’s the piece de resistance: their Famous hot Lobster Roll, a full quarter-pound of lobster meat (a little more than what you'd get out of one whole small lobster), drenched in butter and heaped on a toasted, sesame seed-topped hamburger bun. Want more lobster? Get the OMG Hot Lobster Roll, which packs in almost half a pound, or the LOL Hot Lobster Roll, which contains a full pound of lobster meat.
Best Seafood Shack: Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough (Noank)
The state’s best seafood shack is also home to the state’s best sandwich. Abbot’s Lobster in the Rough maintains a digital countdown clock on their website of the amount of time remaining until they serve their last lobster of the season — a very convenient reminder, because you do not want to miss out on this. Abbott’s has been in business for more than a half-century, and they put a spin on lobster rolls by low steaming them and serving them hot with melted-on butter — not that it makes them scrimp on buttering the roll. Local oysters are on offer, too.
Best Soup: Clam Chowder, The Clam Castle (Madison)
Yelp/ Brigit C.
This seasonal roadside seafood shack is about as legit as it gets, and has been a shoreline destination for more than 60 years. Their lobster rolls and fried clams are second to none, but it’s their clam chowder that sets this joint apart from the pack. Available in both Rhode Island and creamy New England styles, both chowders are equally delicious; the Rhode Island version won 2016’s Chowdafest.
Best Sports Bar: Bobby V's Restaurant & Sports Bar (Windsor Locks)
Fans can catch every minute of the game at Bobby V’s, which boasts over 80 HDTVs and a 17-foot-wide LED screen (which they claim is one of the largest in New England). The upscale bar menu includes portobello and goat cheese flatbread, asparagus fries, and Cajun pork loin. For really big parties, rent one of their private event or party rooms, and if you need to find your zen, visit the indoor golf simulator.
Best Steakhouse: David Burke Prime, Mashantucket
David Burke Prime via Yelp
The best steakhouse in Connecticut is tucked away inside the gleaming and expansive Foxwoods Resort Casino. Executive chef Pedro Avila dry-ages his steaks on site in a salt-brick aging room, and the overall experience can compete with any of the best steakhouses in New York. Steaks age from 28 to up to 45 days, and the 55-day dry-aged ribeye for two is an absolute masterpiece. The menu is rounded out by live lobsters, massive shellfish towers, prime rib, and playful appetizers including surf and turf dumplings and candied bacon. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.