Superstar chef-helmed restaurants, cozy community-styled cafes, and hip bars have added to the Constitution State’s drinking and dining scene this year, turning Connecticut into a delicious fall destination for hungry weekenders.
The biggest roar came when Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened Happy Monkey in wealthy Greenwich this spring.
The chic-casual Greenwich Avenue spot has a Latin-themed fall menu of shareables and small and large plates.
Highlights include a seasonally changing margarita menu to pair with grilled maitake mushrooms, $20, shrimp tacos topped with spicy citrus peanut slaw, $21, and grilled lobster served in smoked chili butter $52.
Longtime Jean-Georges kitchen accomplice, Executive Chef Ron Gallo (late of Vongerichten’s the Inn at Pound Ridge and his Upper East Side restaurant JoJo), heads the Greenwich kitchen.
The interior design’s focal point is a long communal table in front of a mural depicting famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo alongside a companion spider monkey, who may, or may not, have been happy (376 Greenwich Ave.).
Nearby, right on Greenwich Avenue, the two-time James Beard Awards’ Best Chef Brian Lewis created a another American venue dubbed the Cottage Greenwich.
It opened this spring, seven years after the launch of the Cottage in Connecticut’s upscale Westport neighborhood.
Try the brisket bao buns with kimchi, $12; or miso basted cod served with a shiitake marmalade, wrapped in a buckwheat crepe, $23 (49 Greenwich Ave.).
Over in northwestern Connecticut’s blissfully bucolic Litchfield Hills, the Mayflower Inn & Spa, Auberge Resorts Collection in Washington recently completed a top-to-toe renovation-transformation with a new chef in residence: James Beard Award-winning author and student of naturopathy and herbology, Cortney Burns.
Dine in the inn’s main restaurant, the plant-filled Garden Room, but be sure to drop into the Tap Room bar, and the intimate terrace overlooking the lawn’s boxwood maze and curtain of woodland.
Burns developed her menu for healthy recipes picked up during travels through Tibet and India, and a tenure at San Francisco’s celebrated Quince, Café Rouge and Boulette’s Larder, as well as Nick Balla’s Bar Tartine.
Along with tasty ingredients from local farms and producers, Burns picks and plucks herbs and produce from the inn’s kitchen garden to create signature breakfast dishes like a soft egg with buckwheat grits, sprouted lentils and locally foraged mushrooms, $24; anise flavored rye flour waffles with rhubarb compote, $21; and a matcha and ashwagandha smoothie to reduce stress and promote gut health, $15. That’s just breakfast: imagine dinner (118 Woodbury Road).
In New Preston, Community Table’s chef Christian Hunter is finally stretching his wings after joining the restaurant in 2020 and riding out pandemic shutdowns and restrictions.
Hunter, an alum of two Relais & Châteaux member kitchens (Lake Placid Lodge and the Weekapaug Inn) spices his New American dishes with Middle Eastern and Asian flavors such as chermoula, freekeh, berbere, house-made garam masala, salsa macha, and locally made miso.
Its ecology-focused wine list highlights lesser known grape varietals as well as small batch organic and biodynamic wines. Along with dishes informed by local farms, guests have the added treat of in-house baked sourdough cardamom rolls served with roasted coriander honey butter (223 Litchfield Turnpike).
Also in Litchfield County, chef and farmer Tracy Hayhurst has launched the Seed & Spoon restaurant at her organic Husky Meadows Farm in Norfolk.
Culinary stays in the farm’s five luxury suites include farm activities, such as discovering wild edibles, creating a kitchen garden, cooking classes, and the Happy Hour Farm Walk, which combines a glass of wine or cocktail and a stroll through the fields. The focal event is, well, eating.
Followed by relaxation in the sitting room, or by the outdoor fire pit. The all-inclusive farm-stay includes all meals and starts at $1,950 per couple. 30 Doolittle Drive.
Isla & Co., which opened in Fairfield in late June, finally received its liquor license and is now firing on all cylinders from morning coffee to late night cocktails — such as the signature Wizard of Aus made from Starward Whiskey, lemon juice, sugar, egg white, and topped off with shiraz, $14.
This sister spot to Isla & Co. in Williamsburg, part of Parched Hospitality Group (the Australian team behind New York City’s Hole in the Wall restaurants, the Sentry, Daintree, Isla and Ghost Burger) brings executive chef Matt Foley’s faves, like spicy shrimp rigatoni in a vodka sauce, $23, fish and chips $26, and Thai vegetable green curry, $22 (11 Unquowa Road).
In New Haven, by the Quinnipiac River, chef Emily Mingrone opened Fair Haven Oyster Co. this summer. The elegant midcentury-designed seafood bar has waterfront views, which is especially nice out on the large deck; grab a spot while the warm weather holds up. Fall returns oysters to their prime and the menu includes a raw bar of local oysters and fish crudos, and such Mediterranean dockside classics as whole grilled sardines, as well as seasonal specials (307 Front St.).
For something lighter, hit Arden’s, a new community cafe, provisions and coffee shop in Rowayton, a shoreline village in Norwalk’s southwest corner.
It has a coastal New England meets Mediterranean menu, and partners with local purveyors like Flour Water Salt Bread, Millstone Farm, and Nit Noi to create a seasonally rotating menu of sweet and savory cafe classics — sandwiches, $16 to $20, salads, $15 to $16, and signature plates, $14 to $22 (158 Rowayton Ave.).
In Mystic, Connecticut’s dining capital, The Port of Call has opened right next to the restaurant credited with turning the town into a foodie destination, The Oyster Club.
This collaboration between Oyster Club owners 85th Day Food Community and the Real McCoy Rum in neighboring Stonington is helmed by Oyster Club beverage director Jade Ayala, its executive chef, Renée Touponce, and general manager Nancy Hankins.
.The Port of Call spreads out over two levels: Upstairs is more refined and styled like a vintage yacht saloon, with a focal point being the “Million Mile Bar,” named because its top is made from wood sourced from the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in the world, which traveled a million miles over 180 years. The teak floors are made from the original deck boards from another ship, the Joseph Conrad. Antique wood aside, it’s the place for crafted cocktails.
Below “deck,” Dive, a diver-themed bar, offers drinks and games with more of a pub vibe. Both share a small plates-style menu (15 Water St.).
Just don’t call Port of Call a dive bar! It’s a diver bar and one more tasty reason for a foodie weekender in the Nutmeg State.
Greenwich Wine + Food fest returns in October to celebrate 10th anniversary
After taking a COVID pause, Greenwich Wine + Food returns in October for its 10th-anniversary blowout benefiting two national non-profit organizations with roots in Connecticut: The Jacques Pépin Foundation and Wholesome Wave.
The 2022 celebration includes a speakeasy dinner at South Norwalk-based distillery, SONO 1420; an omakase dinner at Rowayton Seafood Restaurant and Market; a pop-up dinner at Kneads in Westport; and the Big Easy dine-around event at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY.
But the event’s blowout evening is the GWF 10th Anniversary Celebrity Chef Gala, honoring legendary chef Jacques Pépin. It begins with a VIP reception and continues with a chef’s table dinner by a dozen or so chefs cooking a four-course meal in front of guest’s tables. Tickets start at $1,400.
Also not to be missed, Serendipity magazine’s Most Innovative Chefs awards, which include Steven Chen (MIKU, Greenwich), Will Friedman (Kawa Ni, Westport), Jared Sippel (L’Ostal, Darien) and Renee Touponce (Oyster Club, Mystic).
There will also be performances from Dumpstaphunk (featuring Cyril Neville performing the music of Nola legends The Meters), Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.