I don’t know whether or not it’s evident from the way I pronounce the word room as “rum” or from my naturally discerning pizza palate, but I’m originally from the North East. I was born in Maine, but spent the majority of my formative years between New York and Connecticut.
While most of my own family has left the state of Connecticut, my husband’s huge clan is still rooted quite firmly in the Western part of the state. Every so often we find ourselves loading little CC onto a plane to go and visit.
While we are there we do our best to load up on carbohydrates – Western Connecticut’s signature food group. Should you find yourself in this neck of the woods our favorite places are not to be missed.
Our favorite breakfast place: O’Neil’s Coffee and Sandwich Bar in Bethel, CT
Scott and I have been frequenting this place and every previous incarnation of it back to the fabled Dr. Java’s (RIP) since we were rosy-cheeked teens. It’s our very favorite place (perhaps on the entire planet) to grab a bacon-egg-and-cheese (I like mine on a hard roll. Scott prefers a bagel.) or a big fat sandwich (I love the PT Barnum and Scott gets the Italian Combo every time.) Scott’s family works hard at keeping the place in business. When you stop by be sure and let them know that The Leonards sent you!
Our favorite donuts: Dottie’s Diner in Woodbury, CT
We spent a very chilly year living in a renovated barn in nearby Washington, CT., and while there we fell deeply, madly in love with the donuts at Dottie’s Diner. They are the donuts that dreams are made of – cakey and crumbly inside with a crispy crunchy exterior. They are served naked or dressed simply in either cinnamon sugar or chocolate frosting. Get there early if you’d like your choice. Individual flavors are known to sell out. Dottie’s also serves up an excellent and quintessential New England diner-style breakfast and lunch menu. While you are in the neighborhood you can either go for a drive through the amazing scenery on Route 47 or 317, or make the trek out to Averill Farm, one of my favorite spots to go apple picking in the Fall.
Our favorite Greek Pizza: Famous Pizza in Bethel, CT
My in-laws were literally this restaurant’s FIRST customers back in 1982. The little family-owned pizza parlor has come a long way since then and while there will always be a part of me (and of Scott) that misses the magic of their original menu and cramped space we couldn’t be happier to see this place expand and thrive. Famous Pizza is now a full-fledged sit-down restaurant with a big menu, waiters, and even a party room! The pizza is what I would describe as Greek-style with a crispy crust that is pleasantly greasy and just a tiny bit puffy beneath a layer of cheese and sauce. If you’ve never had Greek pizza this is a great place to give it a try.
Our favorite place for New York Style Pizza and Grinders:
This is a tough one since really, most places serving New York pizza in Western Connecticut are great. To tell you the truth you could stop almost anywhere for a decent slice or grinder. Still, there are a few that we remember more fondly than others and are known to seek out when visiting. But WAIT, what’s a grinder, you ask? It’s something that is NOT to be missed! To be more precises, a grinder is a hot sub filled with something delicious (and often covered in red sauce and cheese) like chicken parm, eggplant parm, or meatballs – a staple comfort food loaded with carby, fatty, baked-brown cheesy goodness.
Our favorite New York Style Italian Food:
Again, this is a lot like naming your favorite taco joint in Austin, if you’ve never had baked ziti or mussels marinara in a restaurant you could probably go anywhere and have your mind blown. However, there are a few places we know from experience where you can be guaranteed to have a great meal.
Our Favorite Ice Cream:
Nobody does ice cream like New England. Well, maybe Italy or France. I’ll give you that, but the ice cream in New England is still out of this world. It’s rich and creamy, light and smooth, never greasy and the best places always have a spot to sit or a sidewalk to stroll down. These are my very favorite places to grab a cone. Each has it’s own virtues, so if you have the time (and lactose tolerance) to try them all, I highly suggest you do!
The Farm has a huge and delicious menu plus a gorgeous setting. The ice cream stand is plopped right in front of a real working dairy farm surrounded by rocky hills, rustic barns, and if you’re timing is just right, cows. Dr. Mike’s offers a small, but superb selection of ice creams including their famous Chocolate Lace. Il Baccio is your classic Italian ice cream joint with a checkered floor and a long freezer case packed with amazing flavors. Cookie Monster is my personal favorite, but Tiramasu runs a close second.
Our Favorite Deli Sandwiches: For Pete’s Sake Delicatessen in Bethel, CT
Sandwiches! How I miss them. The key to a really great sandwich is the bread, always the bread. This part of the country is great at bread. It’s close enough to New York to enjoy authentic crusty Italian loaves and flavorful ryes while providing a taste of the country with artisan sourdoughs and hearty grain breads. Personally, I adore the roll. Be it hard or grinder, if you stuff it to the gills with deli meat, cheese, and pickles you will have my heart. There is no shortage of places to get great sandwiches in Western Connecticut but Pete’s is my favorite. Get there early. Order anything.
Our Favorite Burgers: The Sycamore Drive-In in Bethel, CT
This 50’s style drive-in serves up the most amazing little burgers. They call them French-Style. The patties are made with some mysterious combination of ingredients (which I suspect involves eggs and perhaps butter) and ground beef and then pressed as flat as pancakes on a hot griddle. These paper-thin burgers are stacked on top of one another creating the foundation for The Sycamore’s signature burger, the Dagwood. The crispy, caramelized edges of a Sycamore burger are like nothing I’ve ever seen again. So so good. By the way, here’s a little fun fact about The Sycamore. It’s where Scott and I had our wedding photos taken! The restaurant hosts Cruise Night every Saturday during the summer. Classic cars fill the parking lot just begging to be photographed with a surprise wedding party.
Our Favorite Grocery Stores to Grab a Quick Dinner
Let’s face it. When you are traveling with a toddler dining out can get a little tiresome. Eating with our little escape artist is kind of exhausting so while we’d love to stuff our faces with restaurant food every night of the trip that just isn’t realistic. Of course, when you are living out of a hotel room, a guest room, or in the case of our most recent trip, a 200-year old log cabin, cooking a meal from scratch isn’t easy either.
This is why I love grocery stores that offer a great selection of pre-prepped or pre-cooked foods. Caraluzzi’s Market in downtown Bethel, Newtown, and Georgetown is a great choice for a quick stop. If you have more time to kill stop by Stew Leonards. The massive supermarket calls itself a Dairy Store but is really closer to an amusement park. Look for animatronic foods, singing twinkies, and over-the-top food displays around every corner. It even has a real petting zoo! Best of all, you’ll find a prepared foods section of truly baffling proportions including a multicultural hot buffet. My only complaint with both Caraluzzi’s and Stew Leonard’s is a lack of seating. So much to eat but nowhere to sit! Plan on taking your meal back home to enjoy it.
Our Favorite Place to Have Beers with Friends: Greenwoods, Putnam House and The Spot in Bethel, CT
Every town has its own little watering hole, but downtown Bethel has three! Our personal favorites fall into the following order: Greenwood’s, Putnam House, and the Spot. Greenwoods has a great selection of craft beers both on tap and in the bottle and plenty of space to stretch out if you are meeting a large group. Putnam House is right next door and like Greenwoods, has a sort of classy-casual vibe that lets you feel like a real grown-up while you knock back beers and chow burgers with your old friends. After you’re done feeling fancy you can wander across the train tracks (literally, but also carefully please) to The Spot where cheap beer, karaoke, and almost everyone that Scott and I went to high school with awaits.