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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.

                                        3. Greetings from central MA. I consider Baba in Worcester a destination restaurant. I have foodie friends who drive from Amherst to eat there. Best sushi, sashimi, etc. I've had anywhere.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: Rick_V

                                            Thanks Rick. That's a surprise-- haven't heard of this one yet, and serving great sushi and sashimi is always tough. Much appreciated. We'll take a peek...

                                            1. re: CBeth

                                              I haven't been, but CH friends have and speak highly of Gill Tavern in Gill, MA. WAY out there...
                                              the menu has some encouraging offerings.


                                                1. re: CBeth

                                                  Would add Bar Buchee in Madison, Gabrielle's in Centerbrook, Quattro in Guilford, Le Petit Cafe and Foe in Branford to the list.

                                                  1. re: jdgall

                                                    Thanks, jdgall. Quite a few new additions here...

                                                2. re: kmetzaholic

                                                  Never heard of it and I live in the area. Either very underground or not that great?

                                              1. re: Rick_V

                                                I'll second Rick's rec on Baba. We lived in Boston for 8 years and had some pretty great sushi, but we were stunned to discover how great Baba is in the middle of Worcester.

                                              2. I would throw Community Table in Washington, CT.

                                                Best meal I've had in CT? No, but definitely very good. Also out of the way which makes it "a destination" restaurant.

                                                1. Just thought of another for you, this one in CT:


                                                  1. Famous New Haven pizza is a must:
                                                    Pepe's, Sally's, BAR, Modern

                                                    In CT, here's some of what I would consider the best, most known, etc. Mostly in the western part of CT.

                                                    Community Table in Washington
                                                    Schoolhouse in Wilton
                                                    LeFarm in Westport
                                                    Louis' Lunch in New Haven (invented the burger)
                                                    Miya's Sushi in New Haven
                                                    Bentara in New Haven
                                                    Bistro Basque in Milford
                                                    Ibiza in New Haven
                                                    Mezcal in New Haven
                                                    Prime 16 in New Haven
                                                    Any of the Barcelona restaurants in CT
                                                    Napa & Co in Stamford
                                                    Capital Grille in Stamford
                                                    Sycamore Diner in Bethel
                                                    O'Rourke's Diner in Middletown
                                                    Artisan in Southport
                                                    The Place in Guilford
                                                    Toymakers Cafe in Falls Village (a little bit in the middle of nowhere, but very unique!)
                                                    Belgique Chocolatier in Kent
                                                    Walnut Beach Creamery in Milford (ice cream)
                                                    Any of the Coromandel Indian restaurants

                                                    I could go on!

                                                    13 Replies
                                                    1. re: Stylo

                                                      Hello Stylo! Thanks for this list. I am seeing a lot of Artisan mentions here, and more than a few nods to Community Table too...

                                                      1. re: CBeth

                                                        Artisan is good. I certainly wouldn't drive an hour to eat there. It was very good when they first opened, and been a little more on the average side since. Menu has been pretty stagnant for a place saying they were going to change it very often.
                                                        There are a few on Stylo's list that we love, but most of the others are not "destination" restaurants in my opinion.
                                                        Barcelona is good, but it's Tapas...nothing special, certainly not a destination place. Same goes for Coromandel...decent Indian, nothing you can't find in most towns.
                                                        Tried Bistro Basque, thought it was mediocre, wouldn't return. Barcelona is better for tapas.

                                                        1. re: sibeats

                                                          Thanks for the feedback sibeats.

                                                          1. re: CBeth

                                                            Yes I agree on Artisan. It's very good but not really different enough to warrant a trip.

                                                            I couldn't disagree more on Bistro Basque though. I've been there near a dozen times, as have a few friends and we all find it superlative. Barcelona is great too but a different style of food. As far as I know Basque is the only restaurant in the region that specifically focuses on Basque cuisine, and the owner is from there. It's all subjective though...

                                                            I also disagree on Coromandel just being "decent". I find it to be best in class, but I do question it being a destination as they just do Indian really, really well. I wouldn't call it unique, just some of the finest Indian in the tri-state.

                                                            Barcelona is well known, have a nationally published cookbook, and are a staple in CT food with outposts all over southwest CT. They do more than tapas, and the tapas they do are very good. In that sense it's a destination.

                                                            Community Table is definitely a keeper too.

                                                            1. re: Stylo

                                                              Stylo, I'm with you on Barcelona and Bistro Basque.

                                                              1. re: DonShirer

                                                                We went to Bistro Basque based on all the rave reviews here and were just really unimpressed. Thought it was just okay, never went back.
                                                                Barcelona is good, we go there all the time for tapas, I'm just saying in my opinion it is not a "destination" restaurant. If I drove over an hour to go there, I would be really disappointed. Lots of places have cookbooks, doesn't make them a destination.
                                                                Different strokes for different folks, just trying to give other opinions!

                                                                1. re: sibeats

                                                                  Thanks, sibeats. I agree it's a high bar, the question of a "destination" restaurant. Feel free to keep the feedback coming...

                                                                  1. re: CBeth

                                                                    I agree this thread has been unintentionally "hijacked". This is not a what are some quality restaurants in New England thread.

                                                                    A destination restaurant has to be one that you will travel 2+ hours to get to. Maybe it's in a city, maybe it's not. Either way it should be one of the top restaurants in its category. It should be the best pizza in the state or the best lobster roll or best overall dinner. Just my opinion...

                                                                    1. re: wreckers00

                                                                      Thanks for the feedback, wreckers00. In the original post, we described these restaurants as "small town" venues "...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?"... That said, this is all debatable, and our editors will comb these recs, and ask chefs and other experts as well, so we're sure we have a really solid list. We greatly appreciate the efforts of everyone so far.

                                                                      1. re: CBeth

                                                                        Yes of course. I missed that part of your original post.

                                                                        I just found too many people mentioning run-of-the-mill cafes and the sort, so wanted to flesh out the *best*

                                                        2. re: CBeth

                                                          I can't believe I forgot Caseus (and their famous food truck) in New Haven. They've been on a TV a handful of time and are an amazing cheese shop and bistro.

                                                        3. re: Stylo

                                                          I must say that on the 2 occasions when I ate at O'Rourke's, I was not impressed. I was looking forward to a great experience, and my reaction was ehh, what's the BD?

                                                          1. re: DavidA06488

                                                            It is unique diner food, nothing more. Their problem is consistency, on the menu and in the kitchen. If the owner is there it's usually a good thing.

                                                        4. I drive an hour to dine at G-Zen in Branford, CT. They describe themselves as "organic vegetarian sustainable cuisine." They do wonderful things with veggies at this place, it's well worth the drive.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: coastalgypsy

                                                            Another historical/destination veg place is Bloodroot Vegetarian Restaurant and Feminist Bookstore in Bridgeport (Black Rock). The food is VERY good, and the atmosphere unique. Don't let the Feminist Bookstore moniker scare you away- all are welcome ;~)

                                                          2. Also, in the summer - Dive Bar in West Haven, right on the Milford border.

                                                            Why? Not only some of the best burgers in the area (only Prime 16 rivals it IMO), but one of the only casual eating places/bars with a direct view of the Long Island Sound in its full glory. The fact that the front window opens up to the sound like a garage door is the icing on the cake.

                                                            It's not well known necessary, but it should be!

                                                            1. Wright's Farm in North Smithfield RI is an institution - Family Style chicken, pasta, fries

                                                              Aunt Carries in Narragansett
                                                              George's - Narraganseet

                                                              Both are amazing on/near the water spots for amazing Clam Cakes and seafood

                                                              1. Nudel in Lenox, MA....... Mezze Bistro in Wlliamstown,MA........ Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough, MA....... Mill on the Floss in Asford, MA

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: rhoneranger

                                                                  Thanks rhoneranger (ha! great handle!), we're hearing quite a bit about Nudel and Mill on the Floss. Excellent to hear seconds and thirds...

                                                                2. Matunuk Oyster -- The food is just wonderful...and the menu choices are, also. I am a native Rhode Islander, my whole family is there, and I am there every two weeks. I would also say that TINI (across from Trinity Square theatre) is a place to try. There are only 19 seats, and they are around a U-shaped bar. The menu choices scroll down on big, flat screened monitors. The people working the bar are very friendly, and, you get to talk to the people around you and get feedback on their menu choices. And the best part?--They TAKE reservations. I have lived in The Berkshires for almost 32 years...Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough IS a destination spot. It has gotten great press over the years. I have known Peter Platt for over 20 years...not only is he a great chef, but also an extremely affable person. There are no electric lights in the dining rooms...all lit by candle. Also, there is James Stahl, the wine czar. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the business I can think off. Their cellar is amazing, and, if you tell him what you like and your price point, he will find you a fabulous bottle. Also, on Sundays and weeknights, Peter offers a three course price fixed menu that is SO good, that people often ending up going there just for that.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: AikiLou

                                                                    Thanks for the Matunuk Oyster and Old Inn reviews... Again, we have heard a lot about both, and both are on our list for research. We can't promise either will make it, of course, but we will look. Much appreciated for your feedback!

                                                                    1. re: CBeth

                                                                      When will you make the final decisions?

                                                                      1. re: chowmensch

                                                                        Hello chowmensch, to get everything out the door by June, we'll need to start finalizing a list by mid-to-late April. Early May at the latest, or we'll start to panic!

                                                                  2. Sonoma in Princeton, MA, Haiku in Worcester--my husband had tuna there that was the best he'd ever had (also like Baba-saw that mentioned.) Gilson's Herb Lyceum in Groton, MA-they only serve on Friday and Saturday nights. L.A Burdick in Walpole, N.H is very good and the town itself is classic New England--old white clapboard houses around a town green.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: MRSHG

                                                                      Thanks for the additions MRSHG...Just noting that your mention of LA Burdick is the third or fourth time we've run into it. We're glad to see so many people in agreement, as it tends to suggest something outstanding. We've already begun further work on that spot--and several others--and we are starting the process of whittling down the list. That won't stop us from checking back in here...

                                                                    2. I second the Golden Lamb Buttery in Brooklyn, CT. Also excellent is the Hopkins Inn on Lake Wauramog in CT. Great Austrian food, the view looking out over the lake is breathtaking, and you can get a room for the weekend. No, I am not on their payroll; I just enjoy their food a lot in a beautiful setting. It is a true destination.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: DavidA06488

                                                                        Thanks DavidA06488--lots of mentions of the Golden Lamb Buttery now. Your description of the Hopkins Inn sounds lovely. We note that Dano's Heuringer on Seneca Lake sounds similar--we've been, and liked it a lot (Dano Hutnick was just named nominated for a James Beard award, I believe...) Thanks much for your contribution.

                                                                      2. Sharpe Hill Vineyard (Pomfret, CT) remains among my top picks for destination dining in CT tho' I haven't been recently. I've been a fan for many, many years and am long overdue for a return trip. Older reviews and pics here:

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. Seeing as the Cape hasn't been represented here, my vote goes to 28 Atlantic at The Wequasett Inn. Exquisite fine dining in a beautiful waterfront setting. One of the best restaurants in the state IMO.

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                                                            Hey CapeCodGuy--I was wondering the same thing. Very few mentions of the Cape. Was thinking perhaps most people consider that 'greater boston'? We weren't thinking of it that way, and we'd be happy to hear about more from the area...

                                                                            1. re: CBeth

                                                                              Although the Cape has it's fair share of fine restaurants, Abba, Cape Sea Grille, Ocean House, Victor's, Regatta Cotuit, Blackfish and several others all fit the bill. 28 Atlatntic is the only one that I would truly consider worth a 2 hour drive.

                                                                          2. I don't see much here about the Pioneer Valley (Northampton-Amherst-Greenfield). We don't have destination restaurants here in my opinion though some would disagree. I do think the croissants at 40 Green Street in Northampton are the best I've had in the US. I've had NYC croissants and Northern CA ones, too. The owner/baker was trained by a retired Parisian pastry chef (his French wife's uncle). He uses the best ingredients. If you are having a truly epic craving for real French croissants, and you can't get to France or even Montreal, they are worth the drive. We also have some of the damned finest artisanal goat cheese anywhere. I'd actually recommend our Saturday morning Farmer's Market over any particular restaurant. But I also love the Brattleboro Farmer's Market. That one has really really good stuff, including home-made foods and takeout. The Northampton Saturday FM does not have much in the way of ready to eat food except the goat cheese and any ripe produce you want to stuff in your face in the car.