At the Blue Oar, the views are superb, the burgers are great, and the vibe makes you want to linger. Learn more about this Connecticut riverside hideaway
By Amy Traverso
Apr 06 2020
A note from the editors: Since this story was published, chefs and restaurants around New England have been changing their operations in light of COVID-19. Please call in advance or check their websites for the latest updates.
The Connecticut River runs 410 miles from northern New England to Long Island Sound, but nowhere is it more of a presence than in its namesake state. It flows showily under the Victorian porches of the Goodspeed Opera House and through nearby Essex, where the marinas are stocked with pleasure cruisers and the Connecticut River Museum tells its long history. Farther upstream, ferries that were established before the American Revolution still operate in Hadlyme and Glastonbury.
Here the river is more than just a byway—it’s a destination lovely enough to make you question your default preference for oceans and lakes. And just 10 minutes up the road from the Hadlyme ferry, the Blue Oar dangles another lure: a seasonal riverside restaurant where diners can watch the sunset and catch a cool breeze off the water.
Finding it is a minor adventure down a steep hill to the river’s edge (word to the wise: use the facilities at the Midway Marina next door before heading down to the restaurant). At this point, you’ll second-guess your directions, but look to the left and you’ll see a white picket fence, a flood of twinkle lights shining on the water, and picnic tables painted in Caribbean pastels. Grab a seat and settle into the soft murmur of no-wake boats pulling up to the docks and, above that, the one-drop rhythm of Bob Marley on the stereo. Savvy diners bring tablecloths, flowers, and candles to dress things up. Otherwise, it’s a casual spot. You might come straight from the beach, feet still prickling from the shells, and feel right at home.
To order, go inside the main building, which sits on stilts above the river and provides some of the only sheltered dining on a wraparound porch. This building was once a storage shed for the marina, before owners Jody and Jim Reilly converted it into a kitchen and takeout counter in 1997, and it could easily pass for a lagoon-side fish shack in St. Croix. As you place your order, take note of the cakes and tortes in the dessert case. They’re made by a pastry chef in Middletown and can sell out, so be sure to put your name on one. And don’t forget to BYO wine and cash.
Then it’s just a matter of waiting for the young, often casual staff to bring your food. But you shouldn’t mind the time. The river flows by, your cares drift away, and the sky turns pink, then purple, then blue.
Oh, and the food, you ask? It’s just as good as it needs to be. The burger is great. There’s a quirky hash of scallops, potatoes, peppers, and bacon that seems as if it shouldn’t work, but it does, and the sautéed mussels with herbs and white wine are addictively snackable. Stick with simple things—and know that the “tortilla chips” are made with flour, not corn. (Some of us would’ve appreciated a warning.)
More than anything else, notice how good this place makes you feel and how beautiful the river is as the moon rises over the hills on the opposite bank. One late summer night, a family at a nearby table is dropping a small bunch of black-eyed Susans into an empty ginger ale can. “Someone gave them to us,” the mom marvels. “They were leaving and they passed them on to us. Wasn’t that nice?” Such is the power of a place to inspire—and we go with the flow.
16 Snyder Road, Haddam, CT. 860-345-2994; blueoarct.wixsite.com