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Looking for the best destination restaurants in RI, Mass, and CT

  • c

I'm a journalist working for a new media website and digital magazine launching in March of this year. I'm looking for "destination restaurants" in the northeast U.S.--but trying to limit the pool to rural or small town (or small city) restaurants that aren't especially widely known. They should be the kind of restaurants that stand heads and shoulders above the competition in these more remote areas, and while that kind of quality is always debatable--well, that was the debate I was hoping to see here. I've read many of the posts on "destination restaurants" and I have developed some ideas about what will come out of this question, but I wanted to ask more formally to see if it would cause even more winnowing down...Examples off the top of my head would be Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY (I know, not good for *this* board, but just an example), or a place like Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, VT. They're restaurants that might actually motivate you to get in your car and travel an hour or a bit more--or make a long detour to get in a meal. Perhaps if folks offered a list of their top 5 or so, it might force some hard choices?

I'd love to hear from people who have traveled broadly in RI, Mass, and CT and have sampled from a good number of restaurants. If we quote you--or use information generated by Chowhound users--we will give credit in accordance with standard journalistic practices. Thanks much in advance for any help you can give.

I recently cross-posted this on the Northern New England boards, as we're looking at the smaller-venue destination restaurants throughout the entire New England area.

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  1. Just had dinner at Artisan in Southport (at the Delamar Hotel, just off I-95), and I think that's exactly the type of restaurant you're looking for. It received an excellent review in last Sunday's NY Times (Metro section). The place is beautiful, and the food was excellent. I had the duck breast served over a ragout of vegetables with a duck and veggie hash on the side. I think this is the best new restaurant to open in the area in a long time, and I would drive an hour to eat there (thankfully, I don't have to, since it's close).

    2 Replies
    1. re: Plate

      Thanks for getting it started, Plate! We've been pretty successful in our cross-post, and we think there will be more of these types of restaurants in this region... If you think of more, or come cross others, let us know.

      1. re: CBeth

        Hmmm, my first thought is, are we doing the research for you? What is this website? Similar to Chowhound?

    2. I'm with diakon in curiosity about the nature of this inquiry, and can't help wondering what the CH mod team thinks. You give two examples that are both outside this board's scope, so how about you give an example or two that are in scope, and see what people think about those.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Gin n Tonic

        Hi Gin n Tonic (and diakon). I'm aware the examples fall outside of the board's jurisdiction. They are the examples I used for my cross-post on the Northern New England board. Still, I think they work relatively well as examples. I'll try to dig up a few examples in Southern New England, if that makes it easier. I am generally less familiar with the area-- but my sense is that the folks who visit ChowHound know their stuff, so I am asking. It's not an especially uncommon tactic, though of course we use other methods as well-- online research, phone research, and actual visits too. I mentioned I was working for a website as a journalist because the ChowHound rules stipulated that I should, and that I should feel free to ask. The rules make mention of attribution, too, so to the extent that attribution is needed, I made mention of that. Finally, no, we are not similar to ChowHound. We're a travel site (localized), and not at all a food site. If you'd like to participate in the discussion, happy to have you-- and sorry if we've caused any hackles to be raised. If that's still not sufficient as a reply, please let me know.

        1. re: Gin n Tonic

          Oops, suppose I should also say that while the examples are imperfect, the question itself does pertain to this board's geographical jurisdiction...Thanks.

          1. re: CBeth

            Haven't been to either but on my must-try list are Still River Cafe in Ashford, CT and Night Kitchen in Montague MA (not sure NK is in the same league as Still River). Golden Lamb def on that list as well.

            1. re: JaneRI

              Thanks, JaneRI. We'll look into Golden Lamb Buttery, and the Still River Cafe has many ringing endorsements as a foodie destination. Thanks for the feedback. If anything else comes to mind, let us know.

              1. re: JaneRI

                Night Kitchen is fantastic! Highly recommend, even with the lengthy drive.

                1. re: Mrs Carroll

                  Totally forgot about Night Kitchen! That is a great place

                  1. re: Mrs Carroll

                    Ok, we'll take a look. Thank you.

                  2. re: JaneRI

                    Still River suffered some damage from the hurricane at the end of August, though I have no doubt that they will ready for the spring season starting in a month or so...

              2. Since your topic on the Northern NE board has 57 replies, I am guessing that Chowhound has no issues with it so...

                Golden Lamb Buttery, Brooklyn, CT

                1 Reply
                1. re: Tinkerbelldee

                  Thanks, Tinkerbelldee. I responded to the folks who expressed some concern above, too. Hope that clears up the matter.

                2. I have plenty of ideas, but the part about being "not widely known" is somewhat confusing. For example, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is incredibly well known. So using that as my barometer, I'd give the following 5 for RI. Some are quite well known, but they all fit the smaller "destination" vibe I think you're aiming for...

                  Persimmon (Bristol)
                  Tallulah on Thames (Newport)
                  La Laiterie (Providence)
                  Matunuck Oyster Bar (South Kingstown)
                  Nick's on Broadway (Providence)

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: LMWW

                    Add TSK in Newport to that list

                    1. re: harryharry

                      Just returned from Newport. Wish I had known.

                      1. re: CBeth

                        My best meal of 2011 was at Tallulah in Newport. Really, really fresh and amazing. He also does a taco cart that is often at the Coastal Growers Farmer's Market, and it is off the charts.

                        1. re: LMWW

                          where is the farmers market held lmww?...i spend a lot of time in jamestown in the summer, but ive managed to miss that.

                          1. re: katy1

                            The summer market is in North Kingstown at Casey Farm on Boston Neck Road. Saturdays from 9-12. They have great vendors, lobsters fresh off the boat, oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm, live music, and good prepared food (Tallulah's Tacos, woodfired pizza, Olga's and Seven Stars treats, Susanna's Ice Cream). They also give farm tours during the market.

                            Winter market is at Lafayette Mill on route 102, also in NK. Hours are 10-1.

                    2. re: LMWW

                      Hello LMWW, yes this issue was raised on my cross post to the Northern New England board. Generally, I agree, but Blue Hill's Manhattan location is likely the big name here, and on Chow, to be honest, everyone follows food so closely that the distinction I'm trying to make is tough. Folks said the same about Primo in Maine--but a quick poll of my foodie-ish friends revealed that not one could quite place the name. I suppose the difference is between "food-ish" and a truly obsessed foodie. I appreciate your responses, and will look into them. FYI, I'm seeing a lot about Matunuck as I research, and the fact that you bring it up adds weight...

                      1. re: CBeth

                        Matunuck Oyster Bar is a great place, and in fact all of LMWW's recs are excellent, but I'm not sure I'd agree on their being "destinations". To me, that term has two words, not just "restaurant" but "destination", which means some place that has location and location, so if you spend hours driving there, there's scenery and not just food. The Tarrytown Blue Hill is like that, to me, and in my little corner, I'd throw out something like Castle Hill Inn in Newport which is just gorgeously situated.

                        Don't get me wrong, I love, say, Nick's or La Laiterie, but I wouldn't drive from New York or Fairfield county *just* to eat there - I'd need some other reason to be in Providence. Castle Hill would be worth a day trip, OTOH.

                        1. re: Gin n Tonic

                          Hey Gin n Tonic-- yes, these are all hard (and debatable) things to define, but like you I've been thinking of it as: Where would I drive an hour or maybe even two in a pinch, just to eat there. I agree with you that things like location, views, or something else special often enters into the calculus. In some cases, of course, it's just that there's an amazing chef working in a very remote area (the old El Bulli!)... Thanks much! And I've seen the Castle Hill Inn in Newport, and it is extraordinary. How was the food?

                          1. re: CBeth

                            Late coming back to this. I've only eaten there once; it was excellent, just maybe not as personal a connection as you get when, for example, you sit at the counter at Nick's. I guess I'm saying that if Castle Hill weren't where it is, I'm not as sure I'd go there, whereas Tallulah's is, frankly, in a sort of nondescript location, but I'd definitely go there sooner.

                            1. re: Gin n Tonic

                              Thanks Gin n Tonic. That sounds about right...

                          2. re: Gin n Tonic

                            To me, the food alone is what makes those spots destinations. Matunuck is unique in that the oyster farm is right there, as is the beach. Whereas one might say that Wayland Square isn't a destination in and of itself, a chance to eat at Beard-nominee Matthew Jennings' La Laiterie certainly is! I live in South County and have driven to all of the above just for a meal - and some might argue that taking a trip from the West Bay to the East Bay just for a good meal is more notable than someone taking a trip from NY to RI for one!

                            1. re: LMWW

                              Thanks LMWW. Good detail about Matunuck, that the oyster farm is right there. I'll check on the details of that... But much appreciated. Will also look at La Laiterie...

                              1. re: LMWW

                                Well, you got that right. Driving all the way from South County to Wayland Square is truly an expedition, in RI terms. I'm surprised you didn't have to spend the night before heading back.

                        2. For CT, I would wholeheartedly endorse Still River Cafe and add...

                          Pip's at Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton
                          Mill at 2T -- Tarrifville
                          The Cottage -- Plainville
                          Liv's -- Old Saybrook
                          Metro Bis -- Simsbury
                          Cafe Routier -- Westbrook
                          Noah's -- Stonington Borrough
                          Piccolo Arancio -- Farmington

                          14 Replies
                          1. re: chowmensch

                            +1 for PA in Farmington and The Cottage in Plainville. I've been to Max Downtown (Hartford) a couple of times for business lunch with my work group, and must say I was impressed with that one, too.

                            1. re: njmarshall55

                              Thank you--helps when I see multiple strong endorsements.

                              1. re: njmarshall55

                                I like the Max chain quite a bit but there is no way Max Downtown is a "destination".

                              2. re: chowmensch

                                Thanks, chowmensch. Love the handle :)

                                1. re: chowmensch

                                  + 1 for Mill at 2T
                                  +1 for Tallulah on Thames

                                  1. re: chowmensch

                                    Pip's, Cafe Routier, Noah's and Liv's are all top choices. I've only been to the Cottage once, so am reluctant to endorse it as much. Cafe R. also has the advantage that you can use up several column inches talking about the name!

                                    1. re: DonShirer

                                      Water Street Cafe is just as good if not better than Noah's, no?

                                      1. re: chowmensch

                                        I've been to Hen of the Wood and have considered driving there just to have dinner (after a beer at the Alchemist). I would agree that both Mill at 2T and Metro Bis are top notch and that anyone who might be in the greater Hartford area would be well served to venture to Simsbury and try them.

                                        1. re: AWeeHeavy

                                          Thanks AWeeHeavy--heard a lot about the Alchemist and HOW. Will check on Metro Bis and Mill at 2T...

                                          1. re: CBeth

                                            The Alchemist in Waterbury, VT? You do know that it got flooded and is no more.

                                            1. re: RC51Mike

                                              Thanks RC51Mike. I am just recalling that with sadness now. Thanks for the (hard) reminder...

                                        2. re: chowmensch

                                          Chowmensch mentioned several of our favorites. Piccolo, Cafe Routier and the Mill at 2T are, indeed, worth the drive. The Cottage presents great food but the atmosphere's not worth a long drive IMHO. Metro Bis is pretentious and overpriced but, admittedly, is extremely popular.

                                          Not mentioned was the charming Grist Mill in Farmington, or the superb ON20 in Hartford.

                                          1. re: shaogo

                                            Thank you, Shaogo. Great to hear so many seconded here... Helps us identify the true standouts.