Top Hartford kitchens
I'm thinking about moving to Hartford, and a big consideration is the local food scene.
I am not a prima donna. I'll eat off a sawdust floor if the food is good and worth it.
That said, I do have some things that I love, namely:
1) Local and seasonal cooking all year round
2) Great wine (especially Oregon Pinots) and Munich beer
3) A _cheese_burger that makes you drool with sweet potato fries
4) Thin pizza with primo tomato sauce
5) Clam and lobster rolls
With that in mind, can you recommend your favorites for lunch and dinner? I'm lucky enough that price point really isn't an issue - only the tastiness level.
I've already been intrigued by Bin 228, Chowderpot IV, and the Grant's mini-empire.
And, isn't there an amazing place that is usually lunch only but sometimes does chef's dinners downtown in one of the highrises? I know I heard about it and even went to the website, but I was foolish and didn't bookmark.
Your suggestions are welcome! If you ever need for Philadelphia or Chicago, don't hesitate to ask. And, I will absolutely put my findings on the board after I come back later this week.
I moved to Hartford from Boston, and the food scene was something I worried about too. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the quality, quantity and varied selection of restaurants. Here's a quick list of some of my favs.
Mexican: Monte Alban - Hartford
Thai: Hot Basil - West Hartford
Ethiopian: Abyssinian - Hartford
Burgers: Plan B - West Hartford, Wood n' Tap - Hartford
Portuguese: O'Porto - Hartford
American: Grants - West Hartford
Local Sourced: Firebox - Hartford
Seafood: Max Oyster Bar - West hartford
Italian/Wine: Bin 228 - Hartford (great Italian wine that is 50% off on Mon nights)
Italian: Bricco - West Hartford
Pan Asian/Sushi: Feng - Hartford
That is a short list... I have never been to ON20 in Hartford - I have to get there soon as I have heard incredible things about it.
Also, in the summer into the fall there is an amazing dinner 'tour' called "Dinner at the Farm." Where chefs prepare family style meals with local ingredients picked fresh (killed fresh) that morning. Everyone eats at one big table under the stars. The series benefits local farms/farmers. Read about it here:
On20 now serves Friday night prix fixe AND chef's tasting menu dinners, but check their website to see if they're being served every Friday. I think On20 is Hartford's answer to Per Se!
My favorite lobster roll is made at Lenny and Joe's in Madison, CT - even though every time I eat one I swear I'll never eat one again (too much butter).
Firebox has some great specials during the week, as well as live, local Bluegrass music on Sunday from 5 or 5:30-8 in the bar area.
Bricco's fried calamari and melt-in-your-mouth short ribs are consistently wonderful.
Local and seasonal.... is somewhat tough. We don't grow much in the winter. Max Downtown and Metro Bis (4 stars. high end) do use seasonal and local as much as possible.. but there are others as well.
Great wines can be had at many restaurants (Max's (any of the Max Empire) , Morton's, Spris, Bin 228, Grants, Bricco, Metro Bis, and a host of others. You aren't likely to find many Oregon Pinots though and when you do, it will likely be the "normal" choices. Wines from Argentinia, Chile, Australia, California, Italy and in higher end places, France are commonly found. Munich beer? You will likely need to head to the East Side Restaurant in New Britain (great German food and a large selection of German beer).
A good Cheeseburger is such a matter of personal taste. A lot of people and the press like Plan B. They are good but not worth the crowd for me. Shady Glen makes a decent burger where the cheesbuger gets fried onto the burger. Max Downtown makes a good burger and at happy hour at the bar its 1/2 price. Lots of pizza choices. You can start a war on that one.
Hartford really isn't a seafood haven.. The best lobster roll was from the late Sally's Fish Camp in Hartford. Meat from a whole lobster, butter and roll. Simplicity and yummy. I haven't tried Tinkers lobster roll so I can't speak to that. Vitos By the Park has raw bar, usually two or three kinds of oysters, littlenecks and cherry stones on the half and shrimp.
Forget the Chowder Pot. Unless you like noisy crowds and fish swimming in oil/butter. The fried seafood is OK, but there is a lot better in Connecticut.
I'd also forget Shady Glen. The meat is horrible, and the only thing the burger is famous for is the cheese.
There are definitely great burger spots in the area though, Joey Garlic's for one. Perfectly cooked burgers with a just-the-right-size bun, fresh toppings, meat ground twice daily, and an unbeatable charred crust.
Okay, I only got to a couple of places, one of which was in New Haven, but that was Amtrak's fault and not mine.
So, with that said, here's my experience.
Had pizza in New Haven at the original Pepe's. Crust = A+. Tomato sauce could have been a little tangier. Too greasy for sure. Also had the white pie with clams, and it was good but at heart I'm a sausage and mushroom girl. Here again, crust was excellent. I'd go back and order something different. Sorry!
Had dinner at Firebox. Solid 2 stars in my world. If you like spicey, gotta get the house margarita with the jalapeno infused tequila. Yum! The oysters were super fresh and well shucked. Would have like a bit more bite to my cocktail sauce via horseradish, but that is a personal preference. App was good - barley risotto with beets. Wanted a) more beets and b) more salt. Dinner was day catch halibut. Melted leeks were really standout. Halibut was perfectly cooked and pan fried if a little too salty. Mentioned it to kitchen. Outstanding ice cream that was Toscanini's (in Cambridge MA) yumminess. That is highest of ice cream compliments.
Got a good sense that there is a real food scene, if you seek it out. And, also, that tasty, tasty ethnic food abounds if you are willing to get out of your car and not be too shy about neighborhood. I'm both, so that bodes well.
Now, is there a local Chow group that gets together? That would be great!
Thanks for all the help - I'm feeling good about this possible move!
For local chow groups, check out and consider a dining group at www.meetups.com
Signup is free, and you can connect with like-minded souls for everything from kayaking to fine dining. I believe there's a dining group in the greater Hartford area that meets with some frequency. You can do a search for "dining" in the Hartford area that should produce some viable options.
The Wooden Tap has GREAT GREAT GREAT burgers and sweet potato fries. My wife and I just moved closer to RI but often come down to hartford to eat there. Plan B is also very good. They have steamed burgers which are a bit different in texture but good flavor. The King and I Thai is the best thai in the area with Hot Basil a close second. New Haven has even better thai. Pizza is everywhere. Max's Oyster Bar and Max fish are good for a sit down seafood dinner or lunch. Great Happy hour at Max Oyster. Try City Fish for a quick and fresh fish and chips. Also the Corner Pug( around the corner from hot basil) has a great beer battered fish. Vaughn's Public House and Agave are also staples of mine.
Forget the Prima donna stuff. I have spent most of my life in the Hartford area before moving to Boston. I have always been amazed at all the inexpensive ethnic eating adventures Hartford holds. Here are a few that I remember
Vietnamese (Pho) Park St.
Thai, Park street a little white house set of the road. used to be a butcher shop or try the converted diner on New Park ave.
Portuguese, Park ave.
Tapas, New Britain ave.
Great Mex @ Coyote Flaco,
Italian Franklin ave.
There is every style of pizza in Hartford from the old style bakery thick to thin at Harry's
Tinkers for fried fish
chow for now
i believe that the little white house on Park Street is "The King & I."
Cosmos International & Tangiers are both on Farmington Ave in Hartford--they are grocery stores but also do great tasty lunches for takeout.
are you thinking of moving downtown, or outside the city a little bit? Hartford doesn't have a grreat mass transit system (compared to what you're used to), so you will need a car to get to a lot of the places mentioned.
rudysmom, you're absolutely right--it's The King & I on Park St. It changed names a couple of times since we've been going there, but I like it, too!
OP: I'm not a lobster roll afficionado, but my mom is in a BIG way. For her favorite lobster roll, hit up Lobster Landing in Clinton, CT. It's not open yet (I don't think), but will be soon.
Bin 228 is great. Grant's and Bricco are delightful places (although Bricco can be loud). However, you must have caught Chowder Pot on a very, very good night to place them in such good company.
Of all places, we've been really happy with the Ruth's Chris on the Berlin Turnpike. Everything is full of flavor there, and they get everything right the first time.
At lunchtime, One State Street Cafe (on the fifth floor of One State Street; the same building that houses On20, mentioned in another post) is a cafeteria but oh-so-much-more; the food is fantastic and a superb value.
Carbone's is great for consistently good Italian food served in ginormous portions. The service is excellent. The prices are a bit high.
The greater Hartford area is far from being a gastronomic wasteland. Stay tuned to Chowhound and to the local food press and you'll discover more delightful places to dine.
The place you may be thinking of is "ON20" in the Hartford Steam Boiler Building; they were only open for lunch and in the last few years expanded their menu to include dinner:
There are many Chow-ish eats in the immediate Hartford area, here are some of my personal favorites: (the list is small, I know I am forgetting alot of places that will surely be mentioned by other posters)
Firebox (local and seasonal); http://www.fireboxrestaurant.com/
Trumbull Kitchen (part of the Max's empire
)Costa Del Sol
Feng Asian Bistro
The Grant's mini-empire is located in West Hartford, which is a very popular area with a nice mix of retail and restaurants. In addition, there are a number of towns surrounding Hartford that are worth checking out.
Best of luck on your decision to move!