The Day's writers stop by a few places offering outside dining
One of the upsides of the pandemic has been the increased availability and popularity of outdoor dining. During the summer, the weather in southeastern Connecticut and western Rhode Island is often perfect for lunching under a shaded tree or enjoying dinner while gazing at a glorious sunset.
The Day’s food critics and writers sampled a few venues, and here’s what they had to say.
Dog Watch Café
194 Water St., Stonington
(860) 415-4510, www.dogwatchcafe.com
There is outdoor seating galore at Dog Watch Café in Stonington Borough, including the eatery’s Dog Pound, located on a dock overlooking the yachts tied up at Dodson’s Boatyard and gorgeous Stonington Harbor.
This is a fun place with a large menu featuring everything from tuna tartare to bang bang shrimp, chicken wings, brisket grilled cheese, seared tuna, roasted cod, fish tacos, and of course, a lobster roll. Owners Dave and Wendy Eck and Clay Burkhalter run a great restaurant and gathering place, with a second location in Mystic.
At the borough Dog Watch, it’s a casual atmosphere including Adirondack chairs and café tables, porch seating, an indoor restaurant, and the popular Dog Pound. Reservations are highly recommended, and there is ample nearby parking.
Any season of the year, Dog Watch Café is a terrific location to watch the sun go down over Stonington Harbor, and the good food and cocktails make the experience that much better.
— Ann Baldelli
516 Boston Post Road, East Lyme
(860) 691-0477, www.therusticcafe.com
It’s here! The outdoor patio and greenhouse at Rustic Café recently opened, and it’s all pretty fabulous.
The Rustic is famously tiny, which is perfect when you’re in the mood for a charming, cozy vibe. But if you want to be outside (or the next-best-thing to outside), well, the patio and greenhouse are just what you need.
The patio is populated by tables with umbrellas and a firepit for colder nights. You can take in the bucolic view of the lush trees behind the café.
With the greenhouse, you’re inside while feeling that you’re outside. The greenhouse is lovely even with the warmer temps now; it has windows that open and fans to the exterior that provide ventilation. Fabric and shades along the ceiling add visual interest but also help to prevent things from getting too hot.
A new wooden fence gives the whole addition some privacy from the road.
Oh, and as always, the food at the Rustic Café is pretty great. The Rustic burgers are always a fave, but you can also be tempted by specials like peach bourbon BBQ half chicken for $17, or watermelon shrimp salad for $16. The lobster grilled cheese ($21) is one of my go-tos.
— Kristina Dorsey
260 Pequot Ave., New London
(860) 574-9646, www.sellfishusa.com
Truth told, in terms of fun and distinctive outdoor dining, there’s a stretch in New London where the happy diner could easily backflip from Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock to On the Waterfront to Sellfish to Fred’s Shanty. Nothing but greatness for each of those entities.
We’ve become fond of Sellfish for its cozy, tiki-style covered patio. The bar proper backs up to the weathered, wood-shingle building and, in addition to plenty of drink specials and beers that enhance the waterfront atmosphere, it’s a literal raw bar as well. The plank deck hosts wrought iron tables and a fine, up-close perspective of a boatyard and the Thames River.
Food-wise, there’s a nice and representative mix of clam/fish shack-style fried platters, a variety of beef/chicken/seafood saute and grill options, lobster, sandwiches and salads and an extensive appetizers list that’s ideal for happy hour nibbling. Oh, and inside? Enjoy a small but comfy and vaguely European-bistro flavor complete with generous water views.
— Rick Koster
Chester Point Marina, 72 Railroad Ave., Chester
(860) 579-3737, www.markerthirtyseven.com
Last summer, one of our first meals “out” after the Great Pandemic Hunkering was at Marker 37 in Chester. We’d heard good things about it, and we knew it had ample outdoor seating in a lovely setting by the Connecticut River.
For us, we went right into vacation mode when we took a table yards away from the river and literally next to a bustling marina. The boat-people-watching is fantastic, and I always enjoy a chance to hang out near or on the environmental gem that is the Connecticut River.
On weekends as weather permits, head over for live music and cornhole tournaments. (Updates on Facebook are very current.)
Indoors or out, the well-curated menu of small- and large-plate contemporary American dishes with clever culinary twists offers something for just about everyone. (Oysters and steaks and tacos, oh my! Also, an excellent Chicken Milanese entree.) However, if anything, save room for dessert (or have dessert as dinner) and be sure to check out the house cocktail list. Then, just sit back and watch the river go by.
— Marisa Nadolny
Olympia Tea Room
74 Bay St., Watch Hill
(401) 348 8211, www.olympiatearoom.com
It’s not just the sunset view, which is oftentimes pretty spectacular, but also the delicious food, libations, and the people watching and boat traffic that make the sidewalk café at Olympia Tea Room a must-do at least once every season.
There are just seven tables, and they are first come, first serve, but if you are lucky enough to score one, you are in for a treat. As you sip and nibble, there is a steady stream of passerby coming from the beaches toting chairs and towels, and shoppers browsing the many boutiques or just out for a stroll.
In the harbor, there are dinghies and mega yachts to see, and when the sun goes down, you are perfectly situated for the show as the sky and Watch Hill Harbor light up with the dying colors of the day.
The food is always good — try the zucchini ribbons — and the drinks expertly crafted and a generous pour. The Tea Room has been in operation 106 years (yes, since 1916), and current owners Jack and Marcia Felber, with daughter Georgia Felber Jones and husband Eric Jones, clearly know what they are doing. The Felbers have run the seasonal Tea Room since 1980, and 42 years later, customers keep packing the place and patiently waiting their turn for a sidewalk seat or table or mahogany booth inside.
— Ann Baldelli
548 Boston Post Road, Westbrook
My love for Bill’s Seafood is many years old and has yet to fade. It’s a place where you can easily imagine pirates pulling up to the outdoor dining area and declaring the place their own.
The drinks are certainly sturdy enough, and the menu offers an inexpensive suite of New England comfort foods, from fries, lobster rolls, and burgers to chicken fingers, clam strips, and calamari. (Note: Bill’s is a cash-only establishment.)
Bill’s regularly hosts live music both indoors and out, but there’s plenty else to check out and enjoy on the outdoor dining dock. Like wildlife? The remarkably bold seagulls will introduce themselves before stealing a French fry, and further back in the adjacent salt marsh, osprey have taken advantage of platforms built years ago by wildlife advocates.
If people watching is more your thing, just sit back and watch the crowds head in — by boat, on foot, or over the Singing Bridge on Route 1. It takes all kinds to make Bill’s go ‘round, and a fabulous harmony is struck among them within its salty walls. Pro tip: Try the Old Bay Shrimp and a mudslide.
— Marisa Nadolny
30 Broadway Ave., Mystic
Let’s say a hurricane picked up an entire filling station and dumped it on the beach in Puerto Vallarta. Rather than try to continue selling petrol, the owners decided to transform the easily identifiable architecture into a taco bar that opens onto an outdoor cantina.
That’s the instantly welcoming feel at Taquerio in Mystic — and, yes, the structure was at one time a service station. Now, tropically colored and craftily reconceptualized with a modern sports/beach bar feel and an expansive patio, Taquerio is a splendid place to relax and while away an afternoon-into-evening. The menu focuses on street taco constructions, and the idea is to order three or four of the delicacies, mixing and matching from an array of fillings based around pork, chicken, beef, cheese, barbacoa, vegetables and more.
There are also chips ‘n’ salsa, guacamole, queso and other sides — all of which are quickly, deftly and flavorfully prepared. Be sure to take advantage of a fine and creative cocktail menu with plenty of margarita creativity going on. And the staff is always friendly and ready to help.
— Rick Koster
223 Thames St., Groton
(860) 445-5276, www.paulspastashop.com
Paul’s Pasta is rightly renowned for its mouthwatering pasta.
But the restaurant also happens to have a deck out back that offers an amazing view of the Thames River and the city of New London on the opposite shore.
This time of year, it’s a perfect way to enjoy lunch or dinner. The wooden deck is covered with an awning so you won’t broil during the day, and the breeze off the water can provide additional pleasant cooling. Tables dot the deck, and the accompanying chairs are quite comfortable.
And did we mention how ridiculously tasty the food is? OK, just making sure.
— Kristina Dorsey
11th Green Restaurant
Wood River Golf Course
78A Woodville Alton Road, Hope Valley, R.I.
When I reviewed the 11th Green back in 2003, praising the quality of the food at affordable prices, readers made the quick sprint to Exit 2 on I-95 to check it out. The restaurant and golf course are still run by the Thompson family, and the food is still great and cheap. Two dinners and a bottle of wine on Wednesdays and Thursdays will cost you about half as much as at most restaurants. Chicken picatta, rigatoni bolognese, fried scallops and haddock and cod dishes are all under $20. One thing that has changed is the addition of a small pond and a covered patio for ourtdoor dining. Sitting back and watching golfers hit their second shots toward the 11th green while enjoying a nice meal and bottle of wine is a pleasant way to spend the evening.
— Tim Cotter
Bella Fiore in Norwich is my favorite place to dine outdoors. They have a beautiful patio dining area close to nature with lots of flowers and beautiful accent lights at night.
— Earl Colella
My favorite would be Main Street Grille in Niantic because of the lovely waterfront view of Niantic Bay.
The other would be the Caddy Shack overlooking the Norwich golf course.
Both have a relaxing atmosphere, great food and top-notch service.
— Ron Tanguay
I love sitting outside with my dogs at Cafe Sol in Niantic. There are beautiful, colorful flowers surrounding the patio area. It is such a wonderful cafe, and the owner and her daughters are warm-hearted, friendly people. You can spot the yellow umbrellas as you drive or walk down Niantic. They serve fresh salads, sandwiches and are open for breakfast and lunch. Highly recommend!
— Katie Ziskind
That's an easy one. S&P Oyster house, where you can watch the river action, bridge action, and the hustle and bustle of Mystic. Plus the menu is great. Close seconds are Red 36, and Adam Young's place Mix, above Sift. Red 36 again to watch the river action and Mix because the food and ambience are great. I guess you can tell I'm biased in favor of Mystic.
— John E. Dreslin
My favorite outdoor dining is right here in New London ... Capt. Scott's ... you have a waterfront view and the food is fresh and delicious. You can bring your favorite beverage and enjoy an occasional band playing music ... It's truly a great way to dine!!
— Robin Collins
Oyster Club - Treehouse
— Thomas Frickman