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With its location between Olde Mistick Village and the Mystic Aquarium, the Mystic Boathouse restaurant is ideally located to cash in on the region's tourism trade.
And when you enter, and see the nautical decor, you might think that the restaurant focuses on out-of-town visitors.
But visit a few times, and you'll discover that while the Boathouse does a big summer business - like all of Mystic - it's immensely popular year-round with the locals, too.
On a recent Sunday, we settled in the pub area for an early dinner. A half-dozen high-tops are a step up from the bar and separated by a half wall. It's a great spot for a casual dinner - close to the hubbub of the bar but not too close. The dining room, with tables and booths, is also a comfortable place for lunch or dinner.
We started with the hummus platter ($11), which included housemade hummus, feta cheese, pesto, grape tomatoes, kalamata olives and warm pita triangles.
We dug in immediately and, as is often the case with this type of app, the pita vanished long before the hummus and the pesto. As would be the case all night, our server, Christine, appeared right on cue and offered to bring a basket of rolls so we could finish up the platter. A small point: the presentation on a round dinner plate could have been better.
Other enticing apps included mussels ($10), fried pickles ($5), fried oysters ($12), curry fries ($5) and grilled eggplant Napoleon ($10).
For entrees, I picked a Statler chicken breast ($16) and my wife, Betty, went with the Caesar salad with chicken ($14).
I'm a big fan of the Statler chicken breast, which is a boneless breast with the drumette attached and is named for the Hotel Statler in Boston. The skin was nice and crispy from being roasted in the pan, and the breast was flavorful and tender. The gravy was a bit thin and bland, however. The chicken came with polenta and broccoli rabe. I enjoyed the creaminess of the polenta, but found myself wishing I had asked to sub in the mashed potatoes.
Betty opted for the Caesar salad because we were eating earlier than normal, and she found the generous mix of romaine, chicken, shaved Parmesan and homemade croutons a perfect match.
If she had been hungrier, she had her eyes on a special of crab-stuffed Rainbow Trout ($20). Other specials included a Belgian endive salad with ruby red grapefruit, toasted almonds, crumbled goat cheese and lemon-honey vinaigrette ($10); baby spinach and artichoke pizza ($14); and Maine steamers ($14).
Other entrees that caught our attention included short ribs ($22), Cajun chicken penne ($16), Bomster scallops ($22), and grilled pork tenderloin ($17),
My son, Colby, and I returned Thursday after work and were lucky to get the last two seats at the bar. While enjoying pints of Mystic Bridge IPA, from Cottrell in Pawcatuck, we were informed by one of the bartenders that the kitchen was backed up and our dinners would be a while longer. Every seat in the place was occupied, and other people were waiting. When I asked, the bartender explained that they had been busy all week because of school vacation.
That confirmed what I had been thinking: the Boathouse is a perfect place to take the whole family. (In addition to a selection of burgers and pizzas, there's a good-sized kids menu where everything is $7.)
Nicely given the head's up by the bartender, we were enjoying our beers and the music by a duo set up in the bar when our dinners came out quicker than I would've thought under the circumstances. I had ordered the hanger steak ($20) and Colby a buffalo chicken wrap ($11). The 10-ounce steak was perfect: tender, flavorful and cooked to order. The red wine demi-glace was richly delicious. A tasty mix of buffalo chicken, lettuce, tomato, cheese and creamy blue cheese dressing was nestled in a sun-dried tomato wrap. Both were served with French fries, although again I thought mashed potatoes would've made me happier. Next time.
The Boathouse opened four years ago - replacing the 25-year-old Jamm's - and has been building a loyal clientèle since. It's easy to see why. While Mystic is known for its high-end restaurants, Kaitlin Baker-Hewes and her father-in-law, John Hewes, have given the Boathouse the feel of a neighborhood place where, with good food, reasonable prices and convenient parking, you might find yourself coming back again and again.
8 Coogan Boulevard, Mystic
Cuisine: Extensive menu of beef, chicken, pasta and local seafood, as well as a raw bar, pizza, lobster, and fried shrimp, scallops and oysters.
Atmosphere: Whether it's date night or family night out, the Boathouse is a comfortable spot. Patio seating during warmer weather.
Service: Pleasant and professional.
Prices: Entrees run from $10 for burgers to $17 for cod and $24 for N.Y. strip steak.
Hours: Sunday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Credit cards: All majors
Handicapped access: Yes, although parking lot is hilly.