Tasty Road Trip Along Southeastern Connecticut’s Shoreline: Niantic, New London, Mystic & Stonington
Hugging Connecticut’s southeastern shoreline along I-95, southeastern Connecticut is my stomping ground. I’ve dined out so many times in East Lyme, New London, Mystic, Stonington Borough, and other inland locales that there are only a few restaurants I’ve not yet had the chance to taste. But if you’re not a local, these beautiful shoreline towns feature great sightseeing and more importantly, excellent dining experiences.
The sleepy little village of Niantic becomes a hopping beach town in the summer months, and stuns with its tasty restaurant options. Who’d expect farm to table meals from a restaurant in a small strip mall? At La Belle Aurore, you can see exactly where your food is coming from and even get the chance to meet the famers during special events. Its amazing weekend brunch packed with berry-filled challah French toast and farm stand veggie hash really stands out. Do note that La Bella Aurore has limited seating to provide an intimate atmosphere, so reservations are recommended.
Lillian’s Café (seen above) is another must-visit on any trip that takes you through Niantic or southeastern Connecticut. This cute café is a relative newcomer among Niantic businesses, and entered the restaurant scene to packed tables — and it’s been that way since. Lillian’s offers diners ample indoor and outdoor seating (choose the outdoor seating) and stuns with its eclectic menu of gourmet dishes. While the menu varies frequently, diners can expect a seafood focused menu that doesn’t forget about those of us who’d prefer a non-seafood meal. The salads, especially the granny smith apple and gorgonzola salad, are delicious and perfect for a hot summer’s day.
Continuing north along I-95, the historic city of New London is an important stop for history buffs and provides a peek into a city really working towards urban renewal through local businesses and street art murals. Muddy Waters Café is one such local business that has become an important institution and bridges the gap between locals and visitors — all in a cup of coffee and tasty breakfast sandwich or grilled muffin. Sit indoors among mismatched castoff furniture that creates a cool vibe, or munch on your egg and cheese croissant sandwich on the deck that overlooks the Thames River. Muddy Waters Café is not to be missed.
Owned by another passionate local, Berry’s Ice Cream & Candy Bar is a perfect spot for a sweet. I’d recommend asking the staff for their ice cream recommendation, because you might get a tasty tip such as a milkshake that tastes just like a Thin Mint cookie.
An ultimate town for foodies along our tour of CT’s southeastern corner is the beautiful town of Mystic. With its Seaport and Aquarium, you might even want to plan to spend a weekend. You’ll be spoilt for choice with restaurants in the historic seaport town of Mystic, so much so that you might have trouble deciding where to start. But let’s begin with an amazing brunch at the Engine Room — an absolutely Instagrammable spot with food as gorgeous as its interior. In my opinion, the stand out brunch dish is the cinnamon pecan bun or any other cast iron baked dish. The skillet cornbread is also really delicious.
After a filling brunch, you might opt for a lunchtime sandwich, but don’t settle for just any sandwich. The Bleu Squid in Olde Mystick Village is a gourmet grilled cheese spot that is also known for its cupcakes that might have you ordering a few to bring home. Excite your taste buds with the Arti, which is a grilled cheese stuffed with roasted artichokes, mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto. I’m a chocolate-lover through and through, so my favorite cupcake picks are German chocolate and chocolate pretzel, but there is something for everyone behind the glass display case.
It’d be a mistake to skip over a meal at Captain Daniel Packer Inn, but remember to eat in the cozy basement bar. Locally known as DPI, this is the ultimate after-work local hang out. Pub menu highlights include the almond encrusted goat cheese salad, which is a ball of soft, smooth goat cheese rolled in a crunchy layer of crushed almonds; the crunchy-smooth texture combination is amazing. The Captain burger and lemon peppered chicken are also flavorful options.
Stonington Borough, famous for the movie Hope Springs starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, also has delicious restaurant options. Milagro Café has a small but very flavorful menu of Mexican food served in a cozy and cute interior. The mole sauce at Milagro’s is really rich and moreish, so specials with mole are worth a taste as are the gooey enchiladas.
If you want to breakfast in the Borough, Noah’s Restaurant has fluffy blueberry pancakes that are best eaten with a dollop of butter and drizzle of real maple syrup. The challah French toast with a side of Applewood smoked bacon is the perfect combination of salty and sweet, and the bottomless cups of coffee are what every coffee-lover dreams of.
Even more amazing dining options abound in southeastern Connecticut towns both inland and along the coast. Besides the amazing food, ample opportunities for sightseeing abound.
Websites for restaurants mentioned above:
La Belle Aurore: http://www.labelleaurorect.com/
Lillian’s Café: http://lillianscafeniantic.com/
Muddy Water’s Café: No website. 42 Bank Street, New London, CT
Berry’s Ice Cream & Candy Bar: https://www.facebook.com/BerrysIceCreamandCandyBar
The Engine Room: http://www.engineroomct.com/home
Bleu Squid: http://www.dessertsmysticct.com/
Milagro Café: http://www.milagrocafect.com/