Flashing back to recent dining reviews by Day critics

Bayou Smokehouse

214 Route 12, Groton

(860) 440-8776

In the four years since its uneven but promising opening, the Bayou has become one of my fave destinations. Chef/owner Pierre Boutros — who simply started out as an amateur cook/lover of barbecue and resolved, with Michael Phelps, to get really good at it — does a truly nice job with such traditionally southern staples as pork ribs, brisket, gumbo, jambalaya and sides like greens, mac and cheese, and fried okra and fried pickles. BBQ chicken, smoked pulled pork and veggie chili are also very strong options. Prices depend on sandwich or platter presentations, but $7-$20 is the typical (and reasonable) range.

Service is very neighborly — the entire staff makes regular rounds to make sure customers are happy and not wanting — and, if food delivery can take a bit of time, remember that everything is plated to order and there are no microwaves on the premises. And while I fear the new construction going southbound across the Gold Star Bridge, I'll borrow a submarine if that's what it takes to get me back and forth to the Bayou from New London.

— Rick Koster

Velvet Mill, Stonington Borough

There aren't too many places I know of where you can walk into a single building and nibble and sip on delectables ranging from small batch cheeses, high end pastries, micro brewed beers, and paninis, wraps, and homemade soups prepared on sight all afternoon. But the Velvet Mill in Stonington is one such place.

The old velvet factory tucked away inconspicuously on Bayview Avenue, where you could miss it if you didn't know it was there, is home to Cheese Boro Whey, Zest Fresh Pastry, Beer'd Brewing Co., and the Velvet Vine restaurant.

At Cheese Boro, farmer cheese and feta were among the rich and piquant cheeses I sampled on a recent visit. The quark cheese is also a house favorite, but go early in the weekend before the stock runs out. Zest has savory and sweet treats: a cannoli cupcake with ricotta filling and topping ($3) is divine; as is the Gruyere, leek, and walnut scone ($3).

Velvet Vine is a hip and charming wine bar and eatery with small, tapas-like plates and more filling fare as well. The black bean burger ($10) is a hefty and delicious vegetarian option on the permanent menu. Look out for the specials as well: Brie and pesto grilled cheese, challah French toast, and a stuffed breakfast burrito were available on my last visit.

Beer'd is a whimsical tavern and brewery where you can get growlers and cans of small batch, micro-brewed beers that never fail in the area of creativity. There's the Crack-of-Noon espresso, Barrel Aged Roulette Russian Imperial, and Wishker'd Wit with mango puree to name just a very few.

— Alex Nunes

Peachwave East Lyme & Taza Grill Middle Eastern Cuisine

170 Flanders Road (Midway Plaza), Niantic

(860) 451-8061

I'll make a confession: I've had frozen yogurt for dinner on more than one occasion. I don't usually feel guilty about that decision, but on the off-chance I do, Peachwave East Lyme & Taza Grill Middle Eastern Cuisine in Niantic has provided a perfect way to assuage that guilt.

Along with its dozen or so flavors of self-serve frozen yogurt available (and requisite toppings options), this bright, cheery eatery also offers dozens of Middle-Eastern dishes, which make for a perfect, pre-yogurt dinner. Factor in the nutritional bonus points of this fibrous, vegetable-rich fare and you can go forth guilt-free.

Standouts on a recent tour of the grill menu included the chicken shawarma sandwich ($5.99 on a pita); the chicken kofta ($11.99); and the lamb shawarma platter ($11.99). Each dish sang with flavor thanks to expert grilling and seasoning and fresh preparation, and platters, which come with rice, hummus, a small salad, and pita bread, offer a good bang for your buck. The falafel appetizer is among the best preparations I've had, thanks to a judicious hand with the parsley, which can add bitterness quickly. Friendly, swift service was the cherry on top of the yogurt sundae.

—Marisa Nadolny

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