Pending my upcoming relocation (see “Our Transition”) I’ve been thinking about all the places I’ll miss eating in Connecticut. Having lived here for 4 years, I’ve had occasion to try out a lot of the local establishments. Being that Manchester is one of the busiest retail areas in the entire state, chain restaurants abound. This is a mixed blessing. There are a ton of places to eat, but the flip side is you can get the same food anywhere. I’ve tried to keep my list to places that 1. keep me coming back 2. I take friends and family to when they visit, 3. are somewhat in the Manchester area, 4. are restaurants (not specialty food places like Starbucks, smoothies, or food stands) and 5. preferably aren’t a chain. If they are a chain, they aren’t very common (like the ubiquitous Panera or McDump…er, I mean McDonald’s). So here’s my top 5 places to eat (in no particular order since prices vary):
- Ted’s Montana Grill (Evergreen Walk in South Windsor) – I first went to Ted’s with guest worship leader Kent Henry just a few months after we moved to CT in 2008. I was supposed to take him out to get something to eat; instead he told me where to take him out to eat because he came to Ted’s on a prior visit. My first two thoughts: 1. “OMG this is the best burger I’ve ever had!” and 2. “OMG why are my Connecticut friends such jerks for never telling me about this place?? I’ve been here for months!” Food is spectacularly fresh. I usually get the Skinny Dip beef burger on kaiser with sweet potato because the meat patty is so good I don’t want anything obscuring the taste. Ted’s sweet tea is to die for, and more recently people got me on their cherry lemonade as well as the mango iced tea. I could drink any of those teas to death. If you like chili, go for their bison chili. Best chili I’ve ever had.
- Pepe’s Pizza (near Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester) – This is brick oven pizza at it’s finest. Iris and I usually get “the special” aka the cause of my high cholesterol, but what a way to climb the ladder! Pepe’s cooks the toppings on the pie in the oven giving it a very fresh and perfectly gooey pizza. I’ve never tried the original place in New Haven, but heard this is just as good. Just a warning…if you get “the special” you’ll be drinking lots of water after your meal because of the sodium. We always ask them to hold the salami or one of the other meats because of that. In a hotel room in San Francisco, I happened upon a food magazine outlining the top 5 pizza places…IN THE U.S.A. Pepe’s was on that list. ‘Nuff said.
- Rein’s New York Style Deli (Vernon) – Jewish Deli. Great vibe, had tons of laughs with friends here over the years especially because it’s one of the few places open late at night after a service or conference session. Little steep in price (real NYC delis/diners are way cheaper) but a must for hosting out-of-town guests. Pastrami Reuben with Russian dressing is amazing. I load up on their Dr. Mike’s Creme Soda when I’m there, too. Try their potato pancakes with apple sauce and sour cream (thanks to Pastor Eric Peoples for introducing me to this unlikely yet heavenly concoction). If you haven’t guessed by now, I eat incredibly unhealthy food. Don’t judge me (unless you’re my wife…in that case, Iris–please stop reading).
- J. Gilbert’s (Glastonbury) – Our favorite overpriced/nice place/celebrate special occassions/blow lots of money/steak place. Reservations required. Snooty town atmosphere included (no offense, Glastonbury). Shrimp Durango + Kansas City Strip + Creme Brulee = I’m so full, sleepy, and weak-willed an 8 year old girl could mug me in the parking lot and steal my wallet…twice.
- Pho 501 (East Hartford near UConn’s football stadium) – I am not really a big fan of noodles & stew despite my Asian embodiment. However, this place won me over. Pho is Vietnamese noodle soup. A very simple dish, they add sprouts, basil, some other chopped veggie fillers and your choice of beef, chicken, or shrimp boiled in the soup. You are out of God’s will if you do not try this on a cold, dreary, grey, miserable, depressing, has-God-forsaken-us?!? winter New England day. Be forewarned: lines at lunch go out the door. The decor is nothing to write home about…it’s a total hole-in-the-wall. The owners live above the restaurant, it’s family run, but get this: it’s run by real Vietnamese people! HINT to all non-Asian readers: the way to tell if an Asian restaurant of any kind is good is if it has Asian clientele (not just Asian owners). Cash only. A meal for two here costs ~$13.00. Yes, you read that right. You’ll be warm, full, and not broke.
- Honorable Mention – The Gathering (Manchester) – A recent find, this is a breakfast and lunch place only. I didn’t know places could only open for breakfast and lunch and stay in business. Back in NYC/NJ, people would laugh at you if you did that. Guess you can get away with that here. Anyways, I always get breakfast here. I’m the furthest thing from an omelet person but I actually love their omelets. Home fries are great too. Downside: coffee isn’t so good (and I’m not even a coffee snob) and again…they’re not open past 3:00 p.m. But I do crave their breakfast rather often.
Local necessities: Sal’s Pizza in South Windsor (everyone needs a go-to pizzeria for a slice…or ten), Sun Sun in South Windsor (everyone needs a go-to Chinese place), Mulberry St. in Manchester (Goodfellas pizza is great and their wings are good), Sawadee Thai Cuisine in South Windsor (Pad Thai & Mango Delight dessert are ok but this place is almost double the price of Thai food in NY or SF).
Happy eating! If you own one of these restaurants…I expect a discount.