One of the best excuses summer provides is the old "it's too hot to cook" rule. The frequency at which folks employ the rule probably has a lot to do with the availability of dining venues with a view. Why add heat to the house when someone else will bring you quick eats and drinks outdoors? To help enable your use of the too hot to cook rule, we offer our favorite casual places to pull up a plastic chair and dine al fresco.
223 Thames St. in Groton;
(860) 445-5276; www.paulspastashop.com
It's like a pretty girl who doesn't need to be smart. A restaurant with a stunning view too often doesn't feel compelled to wow us with its cuisine - because, um, well, hey, check out the view! I'm too much of a food fan to settle for mediocre food. I want dazzling taste. Which is what's so wonderful about Paul's Pasta. The dishes are downright scrumptious. Lobster ravioli with alfredo sauce is my go-to fave, but I've never had a bad dish there - not the spaghetti pie, not the buffalo mac-n-cheese, not the garlic bread, not anything, really.
So the fact that, during the warm weather, I can tuck into an amazing meal while sitting on a rustic deck out back, enjoying a breeze off the Thames River and scanning the New London cityscape across the way? Sign me up.
- Kristina Dorsey
CAPTAIN SCOTT'S LOBSTER DOCK
80 Hamilton St., New London;
(860) 439-1741, captscotts.com.
Mark it down: Whenever we have visitors from the South and they get the (by now well-researched) Full Tour, the overwhelming consensus is that they all LOVE Captain Scott's.
And why not?
While the expanded deck (with a large shaded area in case of rain or extreme heat) might lack the cinemascopic views of some cliff-side joint overlooking the raw Atlantic, there is water and plenty of colorful boats. Occasionally, when you perhaps least expect such a thing, owner Tom Eshenfelder hosts multi-band performances by top area Americana bands.
Routinely, there are so many regulars that almost any visit is as familiar as a neighborhood cookout - if the menu, that is, included the bar-none best hot and cold lobster rolls in the known universe. Too, the fish 'n' chips are superb, the fried clams tender and toothsome, and even the hotdogs and burgers are crafted as though every seafood-hating kid was the Captain's top priority
Oh: often overlooked is a wonderful crab salad roll. I feel it's important to add that. Crab is a sublimely distinctive flavor and this sammich comes in at a very reasonable price.
- Rick Koster
ABBOTT'S LOBSTER IN THE ROUGH
117 Pearl St., Noank;
(860) 536-7719; www.abbotts-lobster.com
Renowned to the point of having a guest book with sign-ins from around the world, Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in Noank features seafood and scenic vistas.
Off Pearl Street in the quaint fishing village, Abbott's has lobster dinners and other seafood specialties from around the area. Head out to a picnic table and watch the boats coming and going through the mouth of the Mystic River. BYOB. Don't leave your meal unattended; the seagulls are aggressive!
Reservations not needed (or taken).
548 Boston Post Road, Westbrook;
(860) 399-7224; www.billsseafood.com
To locals, Bill's address is "by the Singing Bridge on Rte. 1," land of marinas, salt marshes and lazy afternoons. Boat up to the dock or cruise for a parking space (note of encouragement: the lots are significantly expanded from the old days of Thunderdome-esque auto battles), then head out to the outdoor patio and let the hot air, boat motor noises, live music and cheap drinks (in plastic cups, thank you very much) transport you to a more Key West state of mind-although you might have to wend your way around couples dancing in the aisles.
My husband likes to say Bill's is where pirates might go; I say it's where retired pirates might go, in that kids of all ages are welcome, the menu caters to all ages, and no one that I know of has been spirited off onto a pirate ship.
As for eats, the selection of seafood and other comfort foods abound; visiting relatives raved about the seafood roll and I, not a huge seafood gal, find the BLT, fries, and grilled cheese to be quite satisfying indeed. However, even I must recommend one seafood dish and that's the Old Bay shrimp. The portion is generous, and the spice is just right.
Beware of savvy seagulls and save room for ice cream at Ashley's Ice Cream, set up right outside the restaurant.
Old Lyme Marketplace, 90 Halls Road, Old Lyme, next to A&P Liquors;
(860) 434-9800; http://jessiesrestaurant.com
Enjoy high-end dining without pretentions; umbrellas up for patio dining; and new liquor license at this charming little bistro that celebrated its first anniversary in May. Partners Jessie Cunningham-Chila, who grew up in Westbrook and Nicholas Dion, New London, offer an impressive lineup of tasty upscale yet recognizable dishes, from steaks and braised short ribs to grilled salmon on sweet potato hash and grilled Stonington scallops served with creamy risotto, roasted asparagus and lemon basil pesto. Lighter lunch fare includes five Panini sandwiches, from Cordon Blue and roast beef to a concoction of ham, brie and carmelized pears on a croissant roll.
Try the fresh mozzarella and vine-ripe tomatoes with the Caprese salad with balsamic reduction. For entrees, try Jessie's Statler Chicken, a marinated and grilled breast, served over Mesculin greens, with tomatoes, mozzarella, artichoke hearts and lemon caper vinaigrette.
Top it off with a scoop of Georgia Peach ice cream, made by Buck's Ice Cream of Milford, a family-owned business that churns up French-style ice cream.