Home Dining & Wine Exploring Southeast Connecticut’s Culinary Scene

Exploring Southeast Connecticut’s Culinary Scene

by Jersey Lady

If there’s one place Connecticut is famous for, it’s the coastal town of Mystic.whether Seaport Museum Commemorating its maritime heritage, aquariumAccording to the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, about 1.5 million out-of-towners visit the city’s charming downtown, packed with sea lions, beluga whales, or boutiques and a centenary drawbridge.

But these days, people flock to this town of fewer than 5,000 for more specific reasons. it’s food. In fact, we’re seeing a culinary revival throughout southeastern Connecticut.

The area has long been associated with weathered shacks serving clam strips and lobster rolls. Today, you’re more likely to find barbecued his monkfish cheeks and empanadas stuffed with locally sourced squid, perhaps served with a hibiscus his margarita or orange petnato. The changes are profound.

You could say the bakery was the turning point. In 2016, Adam Young, who was an executive and his pastry chef at the luxury resort Ocean House in Watchhill, Rhode Island, opened a French-inspired bakery. Sieve-yaki shop, in Mystic. The 81-layer croissant and chewy buns dipped in toffee sauce caught the attention of the locals. After that, Mr. Young was named the network’s “America’s Best Baker” in 2017 for his food. In 2018 he won.

“It used to be like Disney,” Young says of the early days. “After waiting in line outside for 30 minutes, I walked through the door and there was another line inside.”

Over time, Young and his team reimagined the spaces and processes inside the clapboard building on Water Street to make them more efficient. they again, rooftop barand opened young buns donuts Around the corner from Mystic’s main drag. Wait times at Sift Bake Shop are shorter, but lines of eager guests are arriving daily.

Croissants aren’t the only thing that made Mystic famous.When Dan Meiser and James Wayman opened oyster clubevoked an appetite for sophisticated cuisine in 2012 with a restaurant on Water Street that specializes in local seafood and products. At the time, there were many restaurant options, but it wasn’t always a destination.

“We saw an opportunity to use the region’s excellent agriculture and fish to create a restaurant that would be part of the local and even national conversation,” explains Meiser.

Now part of Meiser’s restaurant group, the 85th Day Food Community, the Oyster Club continues to serve fresh, locally sourced vegetables, meats and fish. For example, the native monkfish is cooked in salted buttermilk and served with polenta made from corn from Davis Farms, which has been in business since 1654.

Mystic seems to be the busiest place in New England these days.spots like port of calla nautical-themed cocktail lounge featuring a drag show and serving small plates such as crispy boquerones made with local smelt and beef tongue gyro; Nana’s Bakery & Pizza (co-owned and operated by Wayman, who split from Meiser last year) serves donuts and pizzas made to order from organic, naturally leavened dough, landing on “best of” lists. increase. shipwright’s daughteris a 100-year-old hotel across from Mystic River that underpins Whalers Inn, updated in a contemporary beach-chic setting. drizzled with herby green romesco sauce and served with roasted summer squash. It is led by David Standridge, who came from New York City, fascinated by the beauty and bounty of the area.

“It’s like paradise,” says Standbridge of the beach, farm and boat community. Sure enough, through the windows of the restaurant’s elegant, deep blue dining room, you can see kayakers and yachts sailing along the Mystic River, surrounded by rolling green hills.

Fanfare doesn’t stop at Mystic.

About 22 miles west, Old Saybrook has risen and fallen as a popular seaside town for decades. A bustling center of large retail stores is tucked away around breathtaking beaches and lush waterfront amenities.

The Rat Pack used to play in the old Terra Mar Hotel — now a luxury Saybrook Point Resort & Marina — and after spending her childhood summers in Fenwick Borough, actress Katharine Hepburn retired there until her death in 2003. It’s the pride of the town. Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center — Kate — Located on Main Street, the former City Hall now houses a museum and performance space that hosts a rotating series of concerts, plays and films, including Hepburn classics.

It’s now an expanded venue for two celebrated chefs.

“Old Saybrook is on its way to becoming the next Mystic,” says chef and co-owner Colt Taylor. Essex, opened Slow Clams from Kate in December 2021. Just a few years ago, it’s a sophisticated restaurant that may not have attracted diners with its five- and seven-course tasting menus as it does today. Raised.While a taco joint Los Charos The restaurants that spun out of that location in 2018 are booming, and Old Saybrook’s appetite for fine dining concepts never took hold the way it does today.

Serving foie gras “popsicles” and lobster on a bed of beetroot fusilli might seem stifling, but Taylor wants it to be something else. The open kitchen, chef’s counter, and nautical-themed murals above the expansive bar make it more fun than formal.

The desire to disappoint is also Joel Gargano’s intention. In late July, the chef and his wife Lani opened his market, Gargano Pasta & Italian, also on Main Street. “We need to get out of the dockside stigma,” said Gargano, a Connecticut native, lamenting the coastline’s reputation for eating nothing but fried food.

In addition to Italian pastries, salumi, formaggi, and cooked-to-order items, there’s a pasta lab where you can watch the chefs at work and hear their recommendations on which sauces go well with which pasta. “We want to provide products that we want to use,” he says Gargano. “It’s our form of hospitality, ‘This is what I have to give you.'”

The 8,000-square-foot food hall also features breads made with local grains, such as Red Fife wheat from Scoeggan, Maine and spelled from Oaksner Farms in New York City. The bread is a Garganos favourite, along with dishes like Rigatoni Integrale on toasted Maine rye, which goes well with hearty beef ragout bolognese. Grano Also Restaurant in nearby Chester.

A sophisticated Italian spot that shines in a small town that opened in 2017. An artistic community of 3,800 people, Chester was settled on the Connecticut River in 1692. The town has a history of shipbuilding and milling, and in the 17th and his 18th centuries it had oak and maple trees, some as large as a golf cart in diameter. Currently, it is also making a comeback, supported by a strong food scene.

It was Chester’s Sunday market that originally drew Garganos to town. A hawker who hawks produce, baked goods, cheese, fish and meat to live music closes his main street for a few hours every Sunday from mid-June until his mid-October. Resident pride and joy River Tavern, another renowned Chester restaurant that champions local products. It’s where we get our inspiration and ingredients for “Dinners at the Farm,” a 10-week series of Sunday nights each summer, featuring chilled peppers and heirloom tomato soup with panzanella and pesto, peaches and blueberries. may include dishes such as cakes.with ice cream near me honey cone craft ice cream.

“The best part is this contagiousness,” says Gargano of the appetite for more sophisticated and creative cuisine he and other chefs are seeing. “Four years ago there were hardly any tasting menus on sale, which is very interesting.”

The question is whether the same magic happens elsewhere. Later this month, Sift will open in Niantic, halfway between Mystic and Old Saybrook and the river towns. It will be in a new building that is home to other eateries.

Niantic, which happens to be a village in the town of East Lyme where I grew up (shout out to Vikings), is slowly but steadily becoming a popular tourist destination. His 1.8km boardwalk along Niantic Bay was completed in 2016 after more than a decade. Main strip chains like McDonald’s and Friendly Dev’s on Mainsmall plates of Asian and Latin cuisine, gumdrop and lollipop, an old fashioned candy and homemade ice cream shop. last year, La Lorona It opened and brought the flavors and ingredients of southwestern Mexico to a region where spices were rarely seen.

“Circa 2015 is very mysterious,” says Young of Niantic’s momentum. “Many talented business owners are coming to town and starting to invest.”

So far very happy with the return.

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