Best of New England: Connecticut

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Lodging

Hotel : Business
THE STUDY AT YALE
The 124 rooms, outfitted with Frette linens and Vermont-made wool blankets, are certainly comfortable. Even better, they’re also practical, offering complimentary WiFi, Mitel phones, convenient desks, and in-room safes large enough to store a laptop. And if you need some inspiration, stroll over to the Yale School of Art next door, or grab a bite in the 100-seat Heirloom restaurant, which serves up continental cuisine that’s perfect for a power lunch. // 1157 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-503-3900, studyhotels.com

Hotel : Waterfront
THE DELAMAR GREENWICH HARBOR
Delamar’s highbrow clientele is a reflection of Greenwich’s status as the world’s CEO capital. The opulent 82-room hotel on the coast is perfect for a weekend splurge: Dock your yacht at the private pier and indulge in an exotic lime-and-ginger salt scrub at the spa before dozing off amid Italian linens and a cloudlike down duvet. // 500 Steamboat Rd., Greenwich, 203-661-9800, thedelamar.com

Hotel : Boutique
HOTEL ZERO DEGREES
Considering its ultramodern vibe, you’d never guess this spot was once a YMCA. Thanks to a $5 million transformation, it’s now a New York–style boutique hotel, done up in a bold palette of dark wood, red and steel-gray furnishings, and pop art. The 97 rooms are supremely comfortable, and the cozy lobby is a lovely place to enjoy the complimentary breakfast in front of a fire. //  909 Washington Blvd., Stamford, 203-363-7900, hotelzerodegrees.com.   

Inn : Lakefront
BOULDERS INN
For sheer heart-stopping beauty, nothing beats this mansion’s perch at the foot of Pinnacle Mountain, overlooking Lake Waramaug in Litchfield County. Though the 20-room Dutch Colonial manor offers massage services, a dining room, and a fitness center, the truly unbeatable amenities are the mountain trails and the bucolic lake. // East Shore Road (rte. 45), New Preston, 860-868-0541, bouldersinn.com

Inn : Historical
THE GRISWOLD INN
One of the country’s oldest operating inns, the “Gris” is situated in the quaint hamlet of Essex, close to shops, galleries, and the majestic Connecticut River. The traditional “hunt breakfast,” offered on Sundays, harkens back to 1812, when the British occupied the inn. And the Tap Room bar is filled with artifacts (and top-flight spirits). // 36 Main St., Essex, 860-767-1776, griswoldinn.com.

Inn : For Gourmands
HOMESTEAD INN AND THOMAS HENKELMANN
This Relais & Châteaux property, a Victorian manor house run by husband-and-wife team Thomas and Theresa Henkelmann, boasts 18 deluxe chambers and suites. But its best feature is its restaurant, which serves French cuisine with a contemporary spin, such as lobster salad with asparagus tips and sauce andalouse, and goat cheese beignets. // 420 Field Point Rd., Greenwich, 203-869-7500, homesteadinn.com.   

Inn: General Excellence
THE MAYFLOWER INN AND SPA
Movie stars on holiday in the Litchfield Hills — or those meeting with locally ensconced producers — love this small country-house hotel, which sets the state’s pampering standard. With 60 acres of gorgeous grounds, luxury linens, expert service, a top-tier restaurant, and one of the best spas in the country, the Mayflower is an Oscar-worthy experience. // 118 Woodbury Rd., Washington, 860-868-9466, mayflowerinn.com

Fantasy Getaway
WINVIAN
You can pretend to be a sailor, an artist, a helicopter pilot, or a kid in a treehouse in one of the over-the-top themed cottages of this ultraluxe 113-acre resort. But unlike the cheesy fantasy resorts of, say, the Poconos, the residences here are the epitome of taste (and at a very steep price). The surrounding grounds allow you to hike, bike, or paddle without leaving the property. //  155 Alain White Rd., Morris, 860-567-9600, winvian.com.  

Alternative to Staying at a Casino
INN AT LOWER FARM
Despite its quiet setting, this 18th-century Georgian Colonial farmhouse is close to many big-name attractions. Mystic Seaport, Foxwoods, and Mohegan Sun lie within easy reach — if, that is, guests can be pried away from the relaxing (and affordable) setup here. It’s the best alternative to paying a premium to stay in a nondescript tower. // 119 Mystic Rd., North Stonington, 860-535-9075, lowerfarm.com.  

B&B
THE INN AT KENT FALLS
The rooms look straight out of a country estate in House Beautiful, the gardens are lush, the breakfast is generous, and the location (in the heart of Litchfield County) is excellent. What’s not to love? Piling on the charm, staffers offer a signature concierge service for guests, and can create personalized spa, yoga, and romance itineraries, among others. // 107 Kent Cornwall Rd., Kent, 860-927-3197, theinnatkentfalls.com.    

Country Retreat
COPPER BEECH INN
With its carved-mahogany four-poster beds, thick tapestries, and comforters that call to mind the interior of a fine Parisian hotel, this Connecticut River country house sets the gold standard for New England inns. There’s even a French-inspired restaurant to match — and it’s all conveniently located about 45 minutes from historical Mystic and the casinos. // 46 Main St., Ivoryton, 860-767-0330, copperbeechinn.com.  

Dining

Pizza
FRANK PEPE PIZZERIA NAPOLETANA
Food lovers flock to New Haven for the town’s supersavory thin-crust pizza. (It’s the old-school brick ovens.) And Pepe’s is the most legendary of them all. Though its white clam pie has been copied in New York and Boston, none matches the original. // 157 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-5762, pepespizzeria.com.  

Comfort Food
DRESSING ROOM
Believe it or not, there’s a classically trained chef in Westport using high-end ingredients not for haute cuisine but for — gasp! — tomato soup, mac and cheese, and pot roast. Ribbing aside, Michel Nischan (who opened the Dressing Room with the late Paul Newman) breathes new life into comfort food. Few fail to be thrilled by his dreamy Amish-chicken potpie, farmstead-cheddar mac and cheese, and local-honey-doused angel food cake. // 27 Powers Ct., Westport, 203-226-1114, dressingroomhomegrown.com.

Spanish
IBIZA
Back when Ibiza opened in 2002, both Esquire and the New York Times called it one of the best Spanish restaurants in the country. It has faced stiff competition since then, but it’s still a jewel in New Haven’s crown. You’ll find more than a mere tapas joint here; the cuisine references that of Barcelona, Mallorca, and San Sebastian, with a nod to modern masters like Ferran Adrià. // 39 High St., New Haven, 203-865-1933, ibizanewhaven.com

Doughnuts
DOTTIE’S DINER
None other than the regents of road food, Jane and Michael Stern, have proclaimed Dottie’s doughnuts among the best in the country. Start with the simple cake variety, topped with cinnamon sugar, then move on to chocolate-dipped. (And for something savory, don’t miss the chicken potpie.) // 740 Main St., Woodbury, 203-263-2545.

New American
RIVER TAVERN
Epicures will appreciate chef Chris Flahaven’s fresh, sophisticated cuisine served up in a sexy, modern interior (deep reds and brilliant yellows, with warm wood throughout). Recent stars of the always-changing menu have included pan-roasted Stonington monkfish with crispy bacon and winter-root-vegetable chowder, and handmade tagliatelle with a ragu featuring pork from nearby Four Mile River Farm. // 23 Main St., Chester, 860-526-9417, rivertavernchester.net

Deli
REIN’S DELI
This roadside diner has hardly changed its menu in 38 years: Jewish soul food like
matzo ball soup, Reubens, and corned beef are still de rigueur. Located near Hartford, Rein’s is a popular pit stop on the drive from Boston to the Big Apple, and for good reason — it’s open till midnight, seven days a week. The pickles alone are worth a trip, as are the kugel and fresh bagels sold at the counter. // 435 Hartford Tpke., Vernon, 860-875-1344, reinsdeli.com.

French
UNION LEAGUE CAFÉ
This fine French restaurant has been racking up best-of awards for years now. We have no problem adding our own, thanks to the consistently excellent food. The exquisite menu changes often, with dishes such as tuna carpaccio, pepper-crusted duck, and risotto with morel mushrooms making appearances. Housed in the historical Sherman Building, the Beaux Arts interior is romantic without being stuffy, and the adjoining club room is perfect for cocktails both before and after dinner. // 1032 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-562-4299, unionleaguecafe.com.    

Lobster Roll
ABBOTT’S LOBSTER IN THE ROUGH
An unassuming BYOB shack with bare wooden tables, Abbott’s happens to offer
some of the best seafood in the state — along with the best water views. This year the summer staple has introduced a raw bar outside on weekends, featuring oysters from nearby Mystic, local clams, and crab claws. Bring a six-pack (or champagne), arrive early to avoid crowds, and get a table on the water. Once situated, order the hot lobster roll (served Connecticut-style with butter, no mayo). You can thank us later.  // 117 Pearl St., Noank, 860-536-7719, abbotts-lobster.com

Farm-to-Table 
STILL RIVER CAFÉ
Her food may be served in a 150-year-old barn done up in minimalist-rustic style, but chef Kara Brooks’s menu is exuberant — a celebration of all the seasonal gems her husband, Robert Brooks, grows on their 27-acre organic farm. Every plate is a union of carefully considered elements: lightly smoked lobster tail with caramelized leeks, beets, lobster bisque, and a lobster croquette; or pork served three ways: a confit of pork belly, a tenderloin with farm spinach, and in a 20-hour cassoulet. // 134 Union Rd. (Rte. 171), Eastford, 860-974-9988, stillrivercafe.com.   

Pastry
ISABELLE ET VINCENT
France’s loss is our gain: Seventh-generation French pastry chef Vincent Koenig and wife Isabelle moved to the U.S. in 2007 and immediately set about re-creating the award-winning patisserie they owned in Strasbourg. Sample any of the divine chocolates, pastries, ice creams, or breads offered here for a true taste of Gallic greatness. // 1903 Post Rd., Fairfield, 203-292-8022, isabelleetvincent.com.  

Pub Food
O’NEILL’S PUB AND RESTAURANT
Owned by an affable crew from County Tipperary, this beloved spot in “SoNo” recently moved from its original space into one that’s twice the size but has the same classic Irish pub feel. Translated, that means: warm welcome, good company, and great food and drink. Try the signature Tipperary “blue and gold” burger — Angus beef topped with blue cheese and golden fried onions — or the Irish scones, made using a recipe from the owners’ mother. // 93 N. Main St., South Norwalk, 203-838-0222, oneillsono.com.

Shopping

Farmers Market
COVENTRY REGIONAL FARMERS’ MARKET
With 75,000 visitors per year, the state’s premier farmers’ market celebrates everything from heirloom tomatoes to flowers, and bustles with live entertainment and kids’ events every Sunday afternoon from June through October. The production has become so popular that Coventry recently added a winter market that runs from January through early March.  //  Nathan Hale Farmstead, 2299 South St., Coventry, coventryfarmersmarket.com.

Gifts
THE BOWERBIRD
This tchotchke shop par excellence bills itself as a provider of “impulsive necessities”: a stupefying 10,000 different items in all, among them posh garden tools, baby gifts, and gourmet foods. No picky bride, fussy baby, or impossible-to-buy-for brother-in-law can resist the charms of these finds. // 46 Halls Rd., Old Lyme, 860-434-3562, thebowerbird.com.

Antiques
COUNTRY LOFT ANTIQUES
In a town hailed as the antiques capital of Connecticut, Country Loft distinguishes itself not only by the memorable ambiance (the setting is a 19-acre estate where stunning European and American pieces are showcased in historical barns), but also by the expert eye of its owners. One is an accomplished architectural interior designer and the other is a Parsons School grad. // 557 Main St. S., Woodbury, 203-266-4500, countryloftantiques.com.

Garden Store
WHITE FLOWER FARM
If you’re a fan of White Flower Farm’s catalog of garden fantasies, you’ll be even more impressed by the place itself. Get inspired by the five acres of lush gardens, including the spring bulb displays, the June rose and peony gardens, and the summer begonia greenhouse. There’s a self-guided walking-tour brochure, which you can pick up at the visitor center, and if you plan ahead you can take advantage of the varied gardening programs offered during the growing season. // 167 Litchfield Rd., Morris, 800-503-9624, whiteflowerfarm.com.

Local Department Store
J. SEITZ & CO
Joanna Seitz’s store will probably never sell AA batteries or quarts of milk, but everything else is fair game, from the sublime (delicate silver jewelry, Chan Luu clothing, antique cabinetry, designer furnishings) to the completely unique (mirrored Venetian glass obelisks, decorative mounted antlers). Whether you’ve got $10 in your pocket or $10 million in the bank, it’s unlikely you’ll leave empty-handed. // 9 E. Shore Rd. (Rte. 45), New Preston, 860-868-0119, jseitz.com.

Attractions

Live Performance Venue
GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE
Since 1963, Goodspeed Musicals has produced Broadway classics out of this stunning gingerbread Victorian castle along the Connecticut River. This was the original home of shows like Annie and Man of La Mancha, and the company, which has won two Tony Awards for outstanding achievement, produces about half a dozen musicals per year. Don’t miss the annual “Festival of New Artists” if you want to get an early look at tomorrow’s Broadway hits. // 6 Main St., East Haddam, 860-873-8668, goodspeed.org.

Off-the-Beaten-Track Adventure
THUMBLE ISLANDS CRUISE ON THE SEA MIST
Off the coast of Branford, the Thimble Islands archipelago has long attracted the rich, famous, and private, including William Howard Taft and Gary Trudeau. There are 25 inhabited islands and about 365 in all, depending on whether you count large rocks and whether you’re counting during high or low tide. Scheduled boat tours depart from the village of Stony Creek May through October, and though they don’t stop (the islands are all private), they do provide an incredible view.  //  Stony Creek Dock, thimble island road, Stony Creek, 203-488-8905, thimbleislandcruise.com.

Art Museum
WADSWORTH ATHENEUM MUSEUM OF ART
For some reason, this sizable institution is not on the radar of many New Englanders. But the depth and breadth of its collections (more than 50,000 items) is always a surprise to newcomers. The oldest public art museum in the country, the Atheneum is known for its impressive Baroque and Hudson River School collections, but its evolving “Matrix” program keeps up with contemporary art. Kids love the “To Catch a Thief” program, which guides them through art-saving missions. // 600 Main St., Hartford, 860-278-2670,wadsworthatheneum.org.
 
Family Activity
MYSTIC AQUARIUM AND INSTITUTE FOR EXPLORATION
At this aquarium, kids and adults can watch a marine theater show, enjoy a face-to-face encounter with an African penguin, or — for an extra fee — get in the water with a beluga whale. And for the rest of 2011, the facility is hosting “Crittercam,” an exhibition that allows visitors to see nature through the eyes of camera-equipped marine animals in the wild. // 55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic, 860-572-5955, mysticaquarium.org.

Farm Experience
LYMAN ORCHARDS
Pick your own berries, peaches, pears, apples, and pumpkins at the charming farm, which has been in the Lyman family since 1741. The 1,100-acre property lies just about midway between Hartford and New Haven, and also boasts two 18-hole golf courses, a market/bakery, and weekend breakfasts on the deck from May through October. Don’t miss the apple pie — many say it’s the best in the state. // Routes 147 and 157, Middlefield, 860-349-1763, lymanorchards.com.

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2011/05/best-of-new-england-connecticut/