Connecticut has always been somewhat uncharted territory to people living outside the state– but with a new Hartford-via-New Haven line of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Corridor opening up the transport lines between New York City, Boston, and Hartford, places like West Hartford, Simsbury, and beyond are becoming more and more accessible to weekend travelers and foodie tourists alike.
Below, we spotlight some of our favorite classic and emerging destinations in central Connecticut– in particular, West Hartford, where new luxury hotel offerings, lovely gardens, and an incredible local food network continues to evolve and inspire.
Artisan West Hartford
Fresh off its one year anniversary, Artisan West Hartford continues to inspire patrons with finessed neo-New England fare served inside of what is, no doubt, a real-life version of The Secret Garden. Located in the heart of Blue Back Square at the Delamar Hotel, Artisan is open 7 days a week and features an expansive 1500 square feet of outdoor pergola and garden space– the first of its kind in the region.
Designed by gardener Renee Giroux (of Bouley Botanical fame), the concept is about as wholesome and idyllic as it gets: chefs grow the vegetables they cook with in the garden that surrounds the restaurant, harvesting items like patty pan squash, eggplants, and tomatoes just moments before they are cooked into elevated dishes that are served to diners in the same garden where they grew. (That’s about as farm-to-table as it gets.)
Executive Chef Frederic Kieffer’s menu is influenced by the seasons and as such is constantly changing, but Fall 2018 patrons should look out for the restaurant’s stellar crab meat and tomatillo gazpacho, which features a bed of succulent crab meat topped with avocado sorbet and a gorgeous bright green soup that they pour table side for added flourish. Seafood dishes, moreover, are excellent, while the wine list is selected with aplomb and dessert is thoughtful and tailor-made (items like local salted caramel goat cheesecake are offered alongside homemade ice cream and olive oil cake).
Those organic ingredients that cannot be supplied by the on site garden are sourced from area farms, so that Artisan can continue to offer fresh, artful cuisine year-round. In design as well as in practice, Artisan honors local craftsmanship and agriculture by paying homage to Central Connecticut’s tobacco farms with a series of oversized murals featuring flowering tobacco plants that echo the lushness and intimacy of the garden just outside. The result is a setting that is refined yet welcoming. To quote the restaurant itself: “The ambiance of a lush, romantic garden is transportive.”
Artisan West Hartford, 1 Memorial Rd, West Hartford, CT 06107
Elizabeth Park Conservancy (Hartford)
Elizabeth Park Conservancy is a 102-acre historical city park listed in the National Register of Historic Places that straddles both Hartford and West Hartford– a shared gem among the two municipalities. With a beautiful dahlia garden, a charming duck pond, and a world-class rose garden on site, it’s a great place to take the kids or dogs out for an afternoon spent in nature, and a lovely spot to run, walk, or picnic amongst the flowers.
The Elizabeth Park Rose Garden is the oldest rose garden in America– renown for its lush alleys of blooming heritage roses and it’s copious, expertly maintained espalier. Visitors to the garden can enjoy a meal at the nearby Pond House Cafe (which also hosts events and weddings) or do as the locals and get a takeaway lunch from Popover (see below) to enjoy a perfect outdoor meal in the park.
Elizabeth Park Conservancy, 2804, 1561 Asylum Ave, West Hartford, CT 06117
The Delamar Hotel & Spa (West Hartford)
Part of what makes Artisan so appealing is The Delamar Hotel, where the restaurant is situated. Not only is the Delamar the area’s premiere luxury hotel destination (featuring the work of local artists, a delicious complimentary breakfast, and local transportation services powered by a Tesla) but the on-site Spa is fabulous, offering a variety of bespoke esthetician services powered by Biologique Recherche and Valmont skin care products.
Services at The Delamar Spa range from non-invasive facelift treatments that use triple micro-current technology to manual lymphatic drainage, collagen eye masks, blow outs and deep conditioning treatments, and deep tissue massage, all of which are administered by highly trained, friendly staff. Many of the spa treatments also take place on an Amethyst BioMat, which offers the benefits of far infrared heating, which is thought to improve circulation, immune function, and fight inflammation.
The Medspa at the Delamar, meanwhile, offers Coolsculpting, Botox, Juvederm, and Kybella, among other medically approved health and beauty treatments. Locals can get treatments before heading down to Artisan for the perfect stay-cation, but visitors to the area will also enjoy the relaxed, restorative offerings.
Delamar West Hartford, 1 Memorial Road, West Hartford, CT 06107
Popover Bistro & Bakery (Simsbury)
We’ve had many good popovers in our day– but none seemingly as inspired and inventive as those sold at Popover Bistro & Bakery in Simsbury. Popover’s Mission is synonymous with its name: they specialize in popovers (again: why doesn’t every city have one of these?!) and salads that are made from farm-fresh ingredients daily.
Popover aims to source local, healthy, organic products whenever possible, and they take special care to create allergy-conscious food with universal appeal. Fortunately, the bakery is also open late (as far as bakeries are concerned, 8 PM is late) and on the weekends. It’s a truly modern operation that knows what it does well, which is why people keep coming back.
Popover Bistro & Bakery, 928 Hopmeadow Street, Simsbury, CT 06070
Millwright’s Restaurant and Tavern (Simsbury)
Since 2012, Millwright’s has been serving seasonally inspired New England cuisine that includes micro-gastro triumphs like Chef Tyler’s signature tapioca custard, “All The Flavors of Clam Chowder,” which is now a guest favorite. Special care is also given to actively use ingredients that would have been available in New England historically– and with the exception of citrus and a few seasonal necessities that can’t be grown in the winter, they’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to their source bioregion.
Millwright’s Restaurant and Tavern, 2424, 77 West St, Simsbury, CT 06070
Emerging Wine Scene, Hiking, Architecture, and Beyond
Towering above the beautiful woods of Central Connecticut, the 165-ft tall Heublein Tower is a stone landmark located atop Talcott Mountain, a state park that attracts hikers seeking beautiful views from the 1,000-foot summit. The mountain’s foliage is particularly gorgeous (and distinctly New England-looking) in the Fall.
Connecticut has historically not been on the national map when it comes to wine tasting and agro-tourism, but Rosedale Farms & Vineyards in Simsbury offers both. Stop by for fresh roadside veggies and Chef-To-Farm dinners in the Summer, or go in the Fall for pumpkin picking and classic New England hay rides with the whole family.
If you don’t have time to venture outside, the historic homes on Prospect Ave and the University of Saint Joseph make for lovely sightseeing while driving around West Hartford, and the Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge in West Simsbury is enduringly charming in peak bloom. All in all, experiencing any of the area’s beautiful indoor-outdoor offerings makes a great idyllic weekend escape for city dwellers, and for those who live nearby… well, what are you waiting for?
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