To someone from Maryland or from anywhere south of New York, Connecticut is just a place on the map that you never really go to unless for some reason fate sends you there. And that’s exactly what happened to me. A dear friend of mine, The Manly Chef, was graduating from the Coast Guard Academy and to show my support I decided to attend his graduation. Attending his graduation meant having to trek to Connecticut and it meant staying in the greater area of New London and it’s surrounding parts. Let me tell you folks, Connecticut may be gloomy and cold (at least it was when I was there), but the state has plenty of offerings to make your stay worthwhile (for at least a few days).
The Original Grinder
So first thing’s first about Connecticut and the greater New England area, they call subs “grinders.” WTF is a grinder? Was my first expression when I saw that at my first stop in Connecticut. Which is funny because Connecticut is also supposed to be the birthplace of the name “sub” for sandwiches in a long hoagie roll, due to the fact that Connecticut is the submarine capital of the United States and the sandwiches looked like duh, subs.
The backstory behind grinder is a little more confusing, the origin is not 100% clear but some say it’s because when folks started eating subs they felt it took a lot of chewing so much so that they felt like a grinder. Others say that the grinder slang comes from the fact that it was sold to men on the shipyards who were grinding rivets as their day job as shipbuilders. Whatever the backstory is, they’re all just subs to me. But I will say that Connecticut does have some pretty tasty Italian Cold Cut subs/grinders/hoagies whatever you want to call them.
I went to Town Pizza in Voluntown, Connecticut (on my way to New London) and I tried their Italian Grinder with some clam chowder. It was heavenly, the grinder bread was fresh and warm which complimented the fresh cold-cuts perfectly. The clam chowder was everything you want in a warm cozy cup of cheap clam chowder. It had just the right ratio of clam to potatoes to compliment a flavorful cream base.
There are so many pizza shops.
This leads me to my next point, Connecticut is filled with sandwich and or pizza shops. That’s mainly due to the fact that Connecticut has the largest portion of Italian immigrants in the United States based on previous Census reports. It’s only fair that they brought their delicious food with them, but if you’re craving say some delicious tacos you might be left wanting.
Lyme and all it’s diseases. Just kidding, just it’s one disease.
I stayed in the town of Lyme which is apart of New London County, and it’s basically famous for…you guessed it..Lyme’s disease. Hooray! Ticks! Actually not hooray, Lyme disease for anyone who has ever had it is no picnic at all.
But all jokes aside, Lyme is just a small town that’s by the water with a beach that’s probably nice if the weather on the east coast wasn’t a never-ending spin cycle of water when I visited.
So if you’re in Lyme, where the hell do you eat? Good question, venture out of Lyme. But not too far, go to Liv’s Oyster House where you find really strong cooking paired with fresh oysters, because duh seafood is very popular in Connecticut. But if you hate oysters, like me, Liv’s Oyster House will still have you covered with it’s really great menu. Their seafood is great and they offer a host of options that can really satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
I ordered the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich because I couldn’t say no. The chicken was juicy and tender with a breading that provided just the right amount of crunch I needed. The french fries are “old bay” fries, there definitely wasn’t enough old bay on them, but I wont hold that against them. If you do find yourself in this part of Connecticut, this is place is a must visit.
Mystic and it’s famous pizza shop.
Okay so you’re staying in Lyme, Connecticut. What the hell do you do for any fun? Well you can go to Mystic which is just a short drive away, I’d like to add that everything in this part of Connecticut seemed to be a short drive with little or no traffic. At various points in time my Wife and I both just asked ourselves if we were in the twilight zone because we would leave the house at what should be rush-hour with zero traffic.
Anyway, back to my story. Mystic is a cute little hamlet that’s on your way to Rhode Island if you’re traveling to say Newport or somewhere in that region. It’s a picturesque town by the water that has a drawbridge and a famous pizza place, that’s basically it.
Okay I’m obviously overgeneralizing Mystic, you can find plenty of delicious places to eat in Mystic and a few cute shops to visit, but basically Mystic is a place you can “do” in a few hours or so. If you do find yourself in Mystic, you obviously need to try some Mystic Pizza! Or do you? In all reality, you don’t need to try the pizza, it’s okay but not great. Not anything to write home about. They definitely are milking that whole Mystic Pizza thing, but I can’t blame them if I had a whole movie that was set in my pizza shop I’d probably milk it forever too.
If you visit Mystic and you want to go somewhere for Sunday brunch, you have to go to Kitchen Little. It’s situated literally in a local mystic neighborhood, the restaurant is attached to a local marina. Kitchen Little has a tiny dining area but they offer a incredible brunch menu that is reasonably priced as well. We had lobster eggs benedict and a order of sausage and biscuits which were prepared very well. You’re not going to get some sort of culinary explosion of creativity here, but you will get a reasonably priced meal that is satisfying and well prepared.
But say you’re in Mystic and you need to feed 12 people for a post-graduation lunch, what do you do then? Then you go to S&P Oyster House, if not only for their chowder and bisque. It’s melt your face off good. It was quite possibly the best clam chowder and lobster bisque I’ve ever had, and I didn’t even get to eat the whole thing. Oyster House also has great views of Mystic’s waterfront, it can be pricey so if you just want to come for soup, I get it.
Once you’ve eaten, you basically walk up and down the streets of Mystic once or twice and then you’ve done Mystic (you can also visit the aquarium if that’s your thing, we went, it was decent).
Mark Twain’s old stomping grounds and the former richest city in America.
I know I know. The mere mention of it just conjures up all sorts of exciting fantastical emotions within your mind. People wait their whole lives to visit Hartford.
Said nobody ever.
The city of Hartford is Connecticut’s capital city, the insurance capital of the world, and also one of the poorest cities in the United States where 3 out of 10 families live below the poverty line. It also happened to be where Samuel Clemens or Mark Twain as he’s known lived for much of his life (at least while he was famous). We went to his house and basically I learned that Sammy boy sure had a fun life it seemed, at least for a while, then all his children started dying and he went bankrupt. Oh yeah and his wife curated the tour, that wasn’t creepy or awkward at all.
There’s not much to write about for Hartford. It’s a dreary town with not much to it.
We stopped at Ted’s Montana Grill which is a high-endish chain that serves lots of bison based dishes. It was actually really good and if you’re in a jam, I recommend it.
The day we went to Hartford it also happened to be Cinco de Mayo, so my friend, who happens to be an expert former chef, and I planned an epic Cinco de Mayo meal for our 10 other guests we were staying with. We had an epic kitchen service where we served monkfish taquitos with black beans & hominy (heavenly) and seasoned rice. All served with fresh shrimp and guac, it was everything. It was delicious.
Hey! Stop Yaleing at me and feed me some damn pizza.
Our last stop in Connecticut was in New Haven, because evidently it’s like a foodie heaven (sort of). New Haven is also where Yale is located. One word on Yale. Breathtaking.
Yale is visually mind-blowing, the centuries old buildings ooze history and I can’t imagine being able to actually earn a degree there. By comparison my alma mater UMBC is a campus devoid of any character and is filled with ugly buildings. The few modern buildings it has are far outweighed by the relics of the 60’s and 70’s that are glorified brick boxes. Yale seems like a fun place to go to school that is until you see your tuition bill.
New Haven is Connecticut’s second largest city and it’s culture capital, it has a host of theaters, multi-cultural restaurants, and shops. Yale University is the city’s largest employer and biggest taxpayer, college students can be seen roaming the streets and filling up the cafes. Once you step outside of the border areas of Yale in New Haven, you see some less appealing areas that you probably will want to steer clear of.
New Haven has a wide variety of fun food options, on just one corner we saw Italian (obviously), Colombian, Turkish, and American. I’m sure there are plenty of places that I’m missing, but mind you I only had about 4 hours in the city and I only have so much stomach room.
New Haven is also the pizza capital of Connecticut (and sort of the United States), it has a variety of authentic coal fired oven pizza shops that model their pizzas after the pizza shops from Naples, Italy. Their pizza is goooood. Like really good. With only one day in New Haven we only had a chance to eat at one of the notable pizza shops.
We went to BAR which is the favorite of most of the college kids (we were told) in town. The pizza there was pretty good, they’re famous for their mashed potato and bacon pizza.One note on BAR, they’re a little too hip for their own good sometimes, and they lack in some of the soft skills. I.e. their hostess was too cool for school. Honestly, it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t really get past the bizarre flavor of potatoes on the pizza, it would’ve been better had the potato been sliced thinly than as mashed potatoes. But the mashed potatoes were also just mealy also, all in all disappointed in that toppings choice.
But we ordered a second pizza, as one does normally, with more traditional toppings and the end results were heavenly. The crust was cooked well, but I tend to still find it comical that any place calls itself an Italian pizza shop. Pizza’s in the States across the board have too much sauce, too much cheese, and too much toppings creating an end result that is overpowering. True Italian cooking is: less equals more, American commercial Italian cooking is: more more more.
Don’t get me wrong, BAR’s pizza is perfectly fine, in fact it’s really good. But to me it’s not Italian pizza, okay I’ll get off my soap box now.
If you’re in New Haven to have pizza, I would suggest BAR, Frank Pepe’s , Modern Apizza, and Sally’s Apizza
Louis Lunch the Birthplace of the Hamburger Sandwich.
The hamburger is the most popular sandwich in the U.S.A. and it’s said that Louis Lunch is the birthplace of said sandwich. This place has been on all the famous TV shows and for good reason, their burgers are really tasty. When you reach Louis Lunch, you typically will already find that a line has already formed. There was one coming out the door when we got there, but it moves fairly smoothly as there are few options for customization. Also, no condiments are allowed in Louis Lunch, so just deal with it.
When you walk into the restaurant,you see a tiny sign and a cramped sitting space. Bring cash because they don’t take credit cards. The burgers aren’t necessarily cheap, but they’re good so order more than one, you can order a slice of pie with your burger and I recommend you do, because their pie is damn good.
One thing about Louis’ is that the burgers are served on white toast and cooked in vertical cast iron stoves from the 1920s. I’m not kidding.The burgers are packed into these vertical trays that are then flame cooked in the stoves, the end result is a fairly tasty burger that is very easy to eat more than one. I couldn’t help but take some pictures of these ridiculous looking ovens they use. I can’t imagine trying to cook with these things, but they do, and they do it well.
Connecticut is a place that has plenty of gems in it that can make it worth your while to visit, but would I recommend making a point to visit over a place that has great weather and or fun things to see? No I would not. If you have to stop in Connecticut for work or some reason like I did, then there are enough things to keep you busy for a few days. If the weather had been nicer and not a soggy hell storm, I’m sure my reaction to Connecticut would’ve been more positive, since it seems to have some fairly beautiful coastlines. If it were up to me, visit Rhode Island instead and go to Newport.
*This was not meant to offend or denigrate anyone from Connecticut, I would say the same thing about Maryland for the most part, I’m sure it’s a great place to live, but it’s not exactly a paradise for travelers*