Best of Connecticut | 2019 Editors’ Choice Awards

Looking for top-notch dining, lodging, and attractions in the Nutmeg State? Here are two dozen picks from our editors for the best of Connecticut.

By Yankee Magazine

Apr 22 2019


Best of Connecticut 2019 | Foxwoods HighFlyer Zipline

Photo Credit : Courtesy of Foxwoods Resort Casino
Planning a Connecticut vacation, day trip, or getaway? From dining and lodging to attractions that are well worth the drive, here are two dozen picks from our editors for the best of Connecticut.


Best of Connecticut 2019 | O’Rourke’s Diner
Photo Credit : Mark Fleming

BARBECUE Bear’s Smokehouse at the Stack, New Haven

This is one BBQ behemoth, with seating for 200 indoors, another 250 in the biergarten, and hundreds more on the lawn of the amphitheater, where local artists will perform this inaugural summer season. Come hungry for favorites perfected at Bear’s three Hartford-area outposts (such as the stack of cornbread, mac and cheese, and smoky meat known as the Bear Attack), plus New Haven–made Lamberti’s sausages given the low-and-slow treatment. And come thirsty, too: The in-house brewery is a test lab for collaborations with regional brewers. 203-350-9060

BRUNCH Fresh Salt, Old Saybrook

It takes two rooms to contain this every-Sunday spread, so settle into a marina-view indoor or outdoor table and don’t expect to be back to your car—or boat—for hours. There’s no compromising when it comes to this gustatory odyssey that can hardly be called a buffet, so much is sliced or cooked to order before your eyes at the waffle, omelet, pasta, and carving stations. For seafood fans, the heaping raw bar alone is worth the all-you-can-savor price. 860-388-1111

DINER O’Rourke’s Diner, Middletown

The next-level fare that springs from the tireless mind of chef-owner Brian O’Rourke makes the battle for diner supremacy in Connecticut no contest (think: bacon vs. candied jalapeño bacon). Beloved dishes such as Irish soda bread French toast are available all day, but once lunchtime kicks in, steamed cheeseburgers are the “when in Connecticut” choice most folks gravitate toward—even 2018’s surprise visitor, Harrison Ford. 860-346-6101

FARMERS’ MARKET Stonington Village Farmers’ Market, Stonington

Something’s fishy about this Saturday morning tradition—that’s what makes Stonington’s farmers’ market distinct in a sea of over 100 statewide. Bring an ice-filled cooler, because you’ll be tempted by Stonington Seafood Harvesters’ famous Bomster scallops before you even reach the field beside the town dock, where fresh-caught fish is as enticingly displayed as the seasonal produce. Village walking tours depart from the market at 11 a.m. June through August. 860-405-5434

FRIED CLAMS The Sandpiper Restaurant, East Haven

It’s a chicken-or-egg dilemma: whether to praise first the plump, pillowy whole bellies or their light, translucent-gold batter. Generous plates of these crisp-fried, oceany mouthfuls give you time to ponder if it’s one, the other, or just this restaurant’s “X” factors that make its clams second to none on the Connecticut shoreline. There are, after all, certain advantages to being open and on your fried-fare game year-round. 203-469-7544

ICE CREAM Ferris Acres Creamery, Newtown

This fifth-generation farm has grown something new since 2003: a devout crop of ice cream fans. They come to milkshake away their cares in this folk-art scene of red barns and stone-walled cow pastures. There are frozen treats for all, including nondairy and allergen-free options, and prices are so down-to-earth you may be tempted to stack up scoops of everything from the s’mores-inspired Campfire to the cherry-studded chocolate-almond Bada Bing. 203-426-8803

LOBSTER ROLL LobsterCraft, Fairfield

Lobster and steak cuddled up in one bun is such a “Eureka!” taste combo, you’ll wonder why it took so long for surf and turf to get together under a light cover of garlic aioli. If you’re a purist, no sweat: Mike Harden—lobsterman turned food truck owner turned restaurateur—perfected Connecticut’s signature sweet-butter-soaked hot lobster roll before retooling it. The tastiest variation of all? The sushi-style California, sharp-dressed in cucumber, avocado, and wasabi-charged soy sauce. 203-292-5350

NEW RESTAURANT Porrón & Piña, Hartford

Telegenic restaurateur Tyler Anderson of Top Chef fame opened this dual-concept restaurant in 2018: Porrón is a gustatory journey to Spain, while Piña is a gourmet doughnut and coffee shop by day and a craft cocktail bar by night. Launch into your day with Connecticut-roasted Giv coffee and pastry chef Kristin Eddy’s playful breakfast sweets. Stop back in the eve for fresh-shaved ham bar selections and cervezas, or convene over colorful tapas plates in the brick-walled restaurant. Dishes such as smoked, sherry-glazed duck legs with spiced yogurt honor the spirit, color, and flavor of the Iberian peninsula while departing for intriguing places you can only get to from here. 860-904-2101


Best of Connecticut 2019 | Mayflower Inn & Spa
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Mayflower Inn & Spa

B&B The Riverwind Inn, Deep River

Nab a front porch rocker. Plunk the piano keys. Congregate with not-for-long strangers over plates of pesto-splashed poached eggs Caprese on homemade English muffins. Kick back by the fire pit. Make country-cozy living spaces your own. Innkeepers Stacie and Mike DiNello didn’t spend 10 years scouring the East Coast for the right opportunity to have your stay be anything less than stellar. In just two years, they’ve given a tired 1854 inn a facelift and a jovial, warm new heart. 860-526-2014

HISTORIC VIBE Spring Hill Inn, Storrs

Embrace the creak of old floorboards or fire up the noise-canceling machine—this inn, where lodgers have slumbered for centuries, is simultaneously modern and authentically colonial. In reviving this “UConn country” landmark and its restaurant, owners Diane and Lee Lambert have preserved details like wavy window glass and peg-joined timber columns. Four of the six guest rooms are in the c. 1734 section, but all have down comforters—so taking scratch-baked breakfast goodies back to bed is tempting. 860-477-1199

LUXURY STAY Mayflower Inn & Spa, Washington

Subtle changes make Connecticut’s most iconic luxury property a place to rediscover. Participate in such bespoke experiences as a cheese-making class at a family farm, or unwind in this 58-acre estate’s new outdoor lounge areas. Staffers seem to almost intuit guests’ needs, delivering a poolside lunch or appearing with a snuggly wrap as soon as it gets chilly on the garden-view dining terrace. And it’s not unusual to have the world-class spa practically to yourself. 860-868-9466

NEW INN GrayBarns on the Silvermine River, Norwalk

The long-shuttered Silvermine Tavern, where Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy, and Lauren Bacall ducked the spotlight, has been reconstructed and reinvented by the Glazer Group, and the result is stunning and nostalgic. The most primo of the c. 1810 inn’s six rustic-ritzy king suites have decks overlooking the river, which once powered the property’s mill (now a four-bedroom vacation rental). In-room wellness treatments and complimentary bars make staying in appealing, but the riverview tavern beckons. It’s a sunlight-splashed, homey space for cocktails and seasonally inspired fare. 203-489-9000

PET-FRIENDLY LODGING Interlaken Inn, Lakeville

Do your canine companions relish lake dips, canoe rides, and woodland hikes? Give them the good news: This 30-acre resort with its own beach and boat dock on Lake Wononscopomuc has eight pet-friendly, ground-level, outdoor-access rooms at Woodside House. Each has a queen bed, sleeper sofa, and cushy pet bed, so the whole family can rest easy. And creature comforts for you—including a heated outdoor pool, spa, and restaurant—are steps away. 860-435-9878

UPDATED HOTEL Hotel Hi-Ho, Fairfield

The red neon MOTEL HI-HO letters are six feet tall—you can’t miss ’em from the Merritt Parkway—so calling this 40-room property a hidden gem is a stretch. And yet even those who heigh-ho off to work this way don’t realize the 1960 motel has undergone a metamorphosis: classy outside, with a whitewashed facade and ornate railings, and groovy and high-tech inside, with rooms outfitted with Andy Warhol quotes and Roku devices. Virtual check-in means you’ll arrive hassle-free; complimentary breakfast and a tapas bar mean you won’t go hungry. 203-259-5264

WATERFRONT LODGING Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, Niantic

As Niantic’s stature has swelled to rival Mystic’s, this perfectly situated B&B has expanded too. You’ll love breakfasting with a view of boats heading out of the harbor: Take homemade treats like ricotta pancakes and pistachio cake outside to the wraparound porch or patio. Then select one of the innkeepers’ secret-filled itineraries hanging from the main staircase, and set out on a coastal escapade. 860-739-0331

WELLNESS RETREAT Mountain View Green Retreat, Norfolk

Tech entrepreneur Wendy Roberts’s latest brainchild is a place to reboot your operating system. With husband Michael Dillon, she opened this seven-room hideaway in 2018, softening the Victorian decor of the former Mountain View Inn with Zen touches. Custom-crafted breakfasts—featuring fresh-squeezed-juice drinks and organic hot and raw dishes—recharge guests, as do garden walks and the petite spa’s eclectic treatments. 860-542-7941


Best of Connecticut 2019 | Foxwoods HighFlyer Zipline
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Foxwoods Resort Casino

BREWERY EXPERIENCE Kinsmen Brewing, Milldale

When this brewery opened two years ago in a 19th-century factory with one couch and a bring-your-own-glassware policy, nobody was deterred—the beers were that good. Fast-forward to now, and the taproom resembles an Arthurian lair. Beer fans stay for hours, playing games and sharing Sauced’s gourmet pizzas (the soppressata-and-honey-topped Hot Lips is the one to try). The Farmington Canal Trail runs right past the patio, and only cyclists with extraordinary willpower can resist popping in for a pint. 860-578-4778

HISTORICAL EXPERIENCE Wigwam Escape at the Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington

The instructions seem basic: Load your backpack with water, two cooked meals, and medicine for your ailing neighbors. But this is 1518. And like the native peoples who inhabited the woodlands surrounding this museum complex, you’ll need intuition, patience, knowledge, and collaborative skills to gather and hunt for necessities. This hourlong escape-room immersion for three to seven players aims to attract teens and adults ready to solve problems the ancient-school way. 860-868-0510

KID-FRIENDLY ATTRACTION Bradley Mountain Farm, Southington

Playing with goats makes everyone feel like a kid, so don’t feel bad if you’re secretly more excited about “Goats N’ Pajamas” than your offspring are. You’ll all love brushing and feeding these frenetic animals, wriggling them into jammies, and reading a story (just try not to let them munch on Goodnight Moon). With free Open Farm Sundays and more signature experiences—including goat yoga, walks, soap-making workshops, and even Goatee Academy for would-be farmers—it’s no wonder some families opt to become official Goat Nannies, for the perks and the joy of sustaining this 200-year-old farm. 860-385-4628

MADE-IN-CONNECTICUT SHOP Mystic Knotwork, Mystic

“Knotwork is a book with no last page,” said the late Alton Beaudoin in a 1964 Yankee interview. He had not yet completed his masterpiece: a fancywork frame that hangs in the larger of two open-to-the-public workshops where grandson Matt and fellow artisans create expertly tied rope bracelets, wreaths, and other nautical wearables and home accents. Your purchases—and photos you share of Alton’s sennit frame, a five-year labor made with more than 110 miles of cordage—keep the story flowing. 860-889-3793

NATURE EXPERIENCE Hummock Island Oyster Tours, Westport

A quick boat trip on a tidal pond, and you’re in the midst of an unimaginably alluring artisanal oyster farm, where you’ll learn how the Northrop family has reactivated their ancestors’ 18th-century shellfishing grounds using 21st-century sustainable aquaculture practices. This 90-minute adventure also includes shucking instruction and unlimited raw oysters to pair with whatever you’ve BYOB’ed. 203-340-1311

NEW CULTURAL ATTRACTION New England Motorcycle Museum, Vernon

Housed in an old textile mill gorgeously restored with high-gloss wood floors and distressed brick walls, this is the East Coast’s largest museum devoted to two-wheeled transportation. Dreams for the 150,000-square-foot factory complex are even bigger, and with more than 100 vintage and modern bikes already in the collection and acquisitions ramping up, there’s excitement to burn. 860-454-7024

QUIRKY MUSEUM Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum, Bristol

Like the Creature from the Black Lagoon—whom you’ll meet in life-size 3-D—this museum of monsters and movie magic surfaces from out of nowhere each year for the month leading up to Halloween. Founded in 1966, when horror-bilia collector Cortlandt Hull was just 13, the former backyard museum now takes up residence in the Bristol Historical Society. Hull runs the projector, screening black-and-white flicks; film buffs point out original props, including the last surviving E.T.; and goth-costumed guides lead spine-tingling walks through darkened rooms filled with legendary villains. 860-583-8306

THRILL RIDE Foxwoods HighFlyer Zipline, Mashantucket

At Foxwoods Resort Casino, you can step off a rooftop 350 feet in the air and fly at a dizzying 60-plus mph over the lush treetops of an ancient cedar forest. Connecticut’s biggest zipline, which debuted last year, speeds you nearly a mile to your safe landing spot at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. If ever there were a time to wear a GoPro camera, this is it. 860-312-3597

SEE MORE: Top 10 Connecticut Summer Events of 2019Best of New England | 2019 Editors’ Choice Awards