If you’re going to San-Fran-cisco…

My adventures in Connecticut have sadly come to a close.  I left Nutmegger country last month in a hurry, but I’ll always remember my wanderlust adventures fondly! Whether it was a trip to Old Saybrook for a great tag sale or finding a favorite concert venue in Northhampton, Mass, I loved the opportunity to wander about the state as if it were my very own over-grown, badly-in-need-of-weeding playground; treasures lying beneath the surface just waiting to see light.

Thank you for taking the time to read my whimsical opinions on CT locale and I hope you’ll continue to follow my ramblings as I wander west to San Francisco. Just as I did in CT, I’m taking this city on with bright eyes, fresh thoughts and documenting from the ground up: tips on navigating the landscape of apartment open houses, using public transportation, what walking the hills does to your legs and how to avert spit puddles in Chinatown.

 

 

And with that, I present one final Wanderlust in CT Review….

 

 It took me a full year to finally venture into this well-known, centrally located restaurant.

But it was worth the wait! Happy Hour runs until 6 pm (great excuse to leave work early) and includes a quick list of delicious and filling taquitos plus half off all drinks, including their house margarita; Patron with a pomegranite-tangerine juice — officially my new favorite drinks! To top it off, we got the homemade guacamole, for which they for to charge us, making it even better!

I’d stayed away from Besito all this time due in part to rumors of overpriced, mediocre Mexican food, but I was so happy to dispel these misgivings.

Forgot to mention something amazing: at te end of our visit, the waitress stopped by with hot churros, ON THE HOUSE. They were beyond excellent and really topped this dining experience.

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Scenesters of WeHa, this one’s for you.

Barcelona is the place to go in West Hartford when you want to be seen, hands down.  You’ll see older groups, younger couples, but regardless of age or which insurance company you work for, everyone’s dressed to the nines (pulling out their best Brooks Brothers blazers and Ann Taylor dresses; there’s also a cloud of bronzer in the air, adding to the warm, almost tropical atmosphere) and ready to mingle.

The tapas are excellent and quite reasonably priced (something I love about tapas!  $3 for an empanada?  Suddenly fancy food seems cheap!).

The wine and drink selection is extensive, however, the pisco sours they advertise making are rarely available; twice I’ve either been told the bartender who makes them isn’t working, or they are simply out of pisco.

And yes, Saturday night after about 11 pm, a DJ shows up and spins some tunes.

Overall, I love this place because I can get awesome empanadas and a nice glass of white wine without breaking the bank. Meanwhile, there’s entertaining people-watching, oh, and one more thing: lots and lots of free bread!

It’s where you go if you didn’t learn how to make friends after high school, and maybe, just stretching it, after UConn.  You’ll find a mix of guidos (probably just waiting until the DJ sets up at Barcelona, then they’ll be out of there), jocks “watching the game” and suburban hipsters (a suburban hipster buys their skinny jeans and plaid shirts at American Eagle or the Express).

The drinks:  nice selection, standard Irish bar favorites.

The food: excellent grilled cheese made with real, orange, cheddar.

The popcorn:  free.

Worth going to?  Maybe.  It gets extremely crowded (standing room only) Thursday-Saturday nights, so beware if you aren’t a fan of moshing (do people even do that anymore? I feel old referencing it).

Its great if you are headed out to catch up with friends you’ve known since you graduated from Kingswood Oxford (WH school), listen to some live music (later in the evening) and eat free popcorn.

But in comparison to Half Door, it becomes a don’t-even-bother.

 

 

Baked goods and even better music

I’ve heard rumbles about this bakery since I first moved to West Hartford, though no one could actually tell me if it was any good. A recent Saturday morning I took a walk there to yay or nay the bakery once and for all.

At the time, Halloween was just around the corner and I was in the mood for festive fall flavors. I went with pumpkin and apple cider donut holes (or as Little Something calls them, “dirt bombs”). They were okay. The pumpkin seemed too doughy and lacked a clear flavor. The apple cider tasted great, but the sugar dusting (it was more like a hurricane of sugar opened up above these bombs) was overwhelming.

Little Something does have an adequate menu with an array of options and I might have to go back for a cookie or pie sometime, but for now, I’m going to stick to my tried and true bakery of all bakeries: Whole Foods.

Last month I learned Andrew bird, an extremely talented musician, was playing only 45 minutes north of my home, in lovely Northampton, MA, home to Amherst and Smith College. I’d been looking for a good excuse to visit the scenic town, and this suggested escape was just the ticket. I was able to find free (after 6 pm) street parking and venture toward the brightly lit Calvin Theater.  Joyful college youth filled the venue, chatting, laughing and sporting costume-like hipster uniforms (don’t understand what a hipster looks like?  Here’s the diagnostic:  girls make themselves look like unattractive nerdy men and men make themselves look like emaciated women). I had an excellent seat only a few rows back from the stage, and sat back and enjoyed one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.  The opening act, Dosh, is originally from Minneapolis so I was thrilled to watch some hometown representation.  Andrew Bird’s commanding stage presence was careful, nonchalant and dare I say imperfectly perfect.  The theater offered ideal acoustics for his bellowing voice and violin strums—and his whistling, of course. 

I can’t wait to go back to Northampton. Specifically the Calvin, and take in a bit more collegiate fanfare.

Anywhere But Here (Farmers Market, Taste of India and Cuvee)

D.C., Boston, Minneapolis and San Francisco — all in two weeks. Its exhausting simply to read on paper, but to actually travel to, cramming every second with excitement, could make someone delirious.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Whether scoping out Italian food and shopping in the North End, dodging fellow zombies on a pub crawl, spectating a drum circle in Delores Park, or relishing my cheeseburger at In N Out, I was so happily entertained outside the state of CT.

Please allow me this excuse to my very overdue Wanderlust post.

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  •  West Hartford Farmers Market

I use the above header very lightly. It was more like a farmer’s… backseat.  I approached the “market” off of LaSalle Street one Saturday morning and was looking forward to the fresh produce that would soon overfill my canvas tote bag. But to my dismay, I couldn’t find it. Confusing since there was a sign at the edge of the parking lot calling out its existence.  Oh wait! No! There it is!  I almost missed the three white tents where elderly West Hartford residents were crowding. I thought maybe it was a local gardening club or something, yet this was it—a few barrels of apples, an onion or two and a potato.  Farmers markets in every other city I’ve ever lived can span blocks and draw people from all over the area. This was clearly a hoax, and I went to Whole Foods for my fruit and vegetable fix instead.

  •  Taste of India
  • West Hartford Main Street

In West Hartford, a restaurant’s success can be judged by two factors: the ethnicity (or lack thereof) of the cuisine, and the line out the door.  On a Saturday night, Max Burger (standard American fare—CHECK) had a 45 minute wait. Typical for this neighborhood favorite and its synergy of comfort (unambiguous menu) and popularity.

Our little dinner group was almost positive an exotic place like Taste of India would have open tables waiting for us. But boy were we surprised when we discovered a 30 minute wait (standing next to the anise scented rice no less)!  Once seated, we were greeted by friendly waiters eager to teach us they ways of Indian flavors and what “really spicy” means to them. It was a delightful meal with great company and plenty of leftovers (if you aren’t afraid of making your entire refrigerator smell like curry).

  • Cuvee
  • West Hartford Blue Back Square

I love this wine bar, and I’ll tell you why: Half off. The entire menu. TUESDAY-FRIDAY 5-7.

We are talking awesome food, delectable drinks at dirt cheap prices!  You like fancy cheeses?  They’ve got ‘em.  You prefer sloppy pulled pork sandwiches?  You’re at the right place.  I’m starting to wonder why I bother buying food at the neighboring Whole Foods to bring home and cook when I could likely save money and have a good time eating dinner each night at Cuvee.  There may be a lifestyle change in my future.

Claire’s Corner Copia, Shish, and of course the Mark Twain Graveyard Shift Ghost Tour

Claire’s is located on the corner of Chapel and College Streets, easy walking distance from the Yale campus.  It prides itself in organic, vegetarian cuisine, and they even have a gluten-free menu for those interested. I was so excited to find a café with more of a metropolitan vibe (so hard to find in CT).  I ordered the enchiladas and frozen lemonade.  The lemonade hit the spot on this hot and muggy evening, but the enchiladas were very sub-standard. The sauce was watery and the plate resembled a soup rather than a meal. However, my friend’s pizza on whole-wheat crust was pretty tasty.

If you are looking for a strong martini in the West Hartford vicinity, go here.  The drinks are expertly prepared and reasonably priced. The Afghan cuisine is delicious; I recommend the Chicken Shammi Kebab. A huge plus for Shish is they stay open until 10 pm on weeknights and until 11 Friday and Saturday. Finally—something to do after 8 pm in Central CT!

My long-awaited visit to the Mark Twain Museum and its exciting Graveyard Shift Ghost Tour was an oddity to say the least.

The basics:  The tour was guided by Grace Belanger, who gave long historical accounts of the neighborhood, its famous residents, Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) and his family.

The spooky: Unlike the day-time tours, these evening visits focus on the spiritual adventures of the mammoth home on Farmington Avenue, and Twain’s beliefs and interests in the afterlife.  Ghost Hunters, a Syfy channel favorite, filmed at the house a few years back and accounted for various activity, some of which is thought to be connected to the spirit of Twain’s eldest daughter, who died in the home at the age of 24. You can take a look at the full episode here: http://www.extremeghosthunters.com/ghosthunters/5-23.html

The strange:  The tour began in the grassy lawn outside of the home entrance.  Within about 10 minutes of standing and listening to our guide, I began to feel very light headed.  I sat down to prevent passing out and assumed I’d be fine shortly thereafter. When we entered the house, to my embarrassment, I had to use a folding chair while everyone else stood and speculated the dark rooms.  The musty, stuffy air (the Ghost Hunters proclaimed “it even smells like a haunted house”) did not help my situation and the dizziness persisted.  Once I left the home, I was better within minutes, and cannot help but wonder why this peculiar sickness came over me, almost like the house didn’t want me there.  I can’t tell you I saw any ghosts or heard creaks on the stairway as reported by other guests, but I can definitely tell you there’s a curious unrest about the place, and my vertigo incident remains inexplicable.

Anthro Opening, Blue Back Square Events, The Half Door and Frank Pepe Pizzeria

Attention all fashion-savvy shoppers: Anthropologie is opening at Westfarms Mall and basically your pocketbook should beware. Gorgeous and detailed coats, sweaters and dresses will beckon you into the warm-lit entrance attracting visions of a crisp fall breeze and the crunch of new-fallen leaves, meanwhile the smell of soft herbal fragrances will have you asking for more! Opening event: Thursday night 6-8 pm and first full-functioning day is Friday, September 2.

This past Tuesday Blue Back Square hosted “Number 9” who serenaded us with one Beatles hit after another. The evening weather was ideal (especially considering our recent stint with Hurricane Irene) and families listened and danced, and sang along. Keep up to up to date with concerts and other fun events in Blue Back Square by checking out the website above.

I was pleasantly surprised by this friendly Irish bar tucked just off Farmington Avenue on the Hartford/West Hartford border. The location is iffy, as I’m not privy to the Hartford scene, however the bar is a haven from its neighborhood, housing an awesome list of beers including happy hour specials (we banked on the Harps for $3 a pint) and a simple menu of Irish bar food, all of which were prepared and served with care and attention often expected of higher-end establishments. Wait staff: so nice and accommodating, from the bartender making genuine chit-chat with guests to the waitress who took my off-the-menu order of grilled cheese. Would I go back? Absolutely.


New Haven is considered the birthplace of American pizza, and is littered with cozy pizza joints to fill your craving. CT rightfully boasts some of the best pizza in the US, or maybe the planet, and Frank Pepe’s explains why. There is no arguing this pie is pretty darn delicious.
A friendly feud with neighboring Sally’s Pizza has been going on since it opened in 1938 by Pepe’s nephew. The two establishments sit just doors away from each other on Wooster Street. If you’re up for the challenge, I recommend grabbing a pizza from each and deciding for yourself which is preferred. Talk about a sweet dilemma.

Mini- road trip, Litchfield County and great company = success!

Rogers Orchard is probably best visited in the fall when you can scope out the rolling hills and pick your very own apples from fragrant trees.

For now, you can check out the general store for fresh and local produce plus my all-time favorite, apple cider donuts.

Southington, in my opinion, does not offer much, but Rogers make it worth the short hike (and if you think Southington is a valuable destination with loveliness I am missing, please correct me!).

  • Roxbury
  • Old Tophet Road
  • Home of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller

Following the narrow path of Tophet Road, pre-independence era stone walls guide and mark the rolling homesteads and farms.

Perched atop a lovely green and wooded hill lies the home of Arthur Miller, and during their marriage, Marilyn Monroe. The quaint cottage is shaded from the winding road, and lies within the depths of Litchfield County, on what feels like a private corner of the world. And these among other reasons are probably what this famous couple loved so much about the estate.  After their marriage in 1956, the two escaped New York City hustle and bustle for Roxbury, CT and their country home.

The food festival mentioned above was hardly a festival, rather what happens when you bring a handful of neighbors together with some fancy tents, large vocabularies and pesto finger sandwiches.  However, the ice cream sandwiches prepared by www.sugarhoot.com, were excellent and a huge hit with the small audience.

I never thought I’d have the opportunity to witness a Civil War reenactment, but I don’t think a residency in CT is complete without living out this Gilmore Girls fantasy.  The site of these men dressed in 1860’s uniforms while carrying muskets was a total blast from America’s past, and an afternoon highlight for me.  For more information on civil war-related events, check out the link above.


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