No doubt, New England has a lot to offer. Vermont has its mountains (green); New Hampshire has its mountains (white); Maine is Vacationland or the Way Life Should Be or whatever moniker they’ve assumed this week; Lil’ Rhodey packs a punch in a small package with beaches and mansions; and Massachusetts plays the field from Boston to the Berkshires.
Then there’s Connecticut. I’ll be honest, they sometimes get a bad rap in the eyes of other New Englanders.
When not stopping at the state’s two popular casinos, other New Englanders see not much more of CT than the green line on their GPS. It is the meatiest portion en route from Boston to New York and points south; New England’s southwestern, shortcut connector. Think I’m exaggerating? Even the name says so (go ahead, look). Sure the rolling hills are nice, but route 84 or route 91, it doesn’t matter, it’s still a highway. Connecticut is part of the journey, not the destination.
Connecticut lies there in limbo, perceived as the least convivial of the New England states due to ambiguous sports affiliations and commuter preferences. There are those in the Portland/Boston/Providence corridor willing to relinquish the boxy state to New York, giving full domain to the Yankees, Jets and Giants. Part of the state cheers against the Sox and Pats anyway, why not let them embrace their Tri-State roots? NYC can have the Nutmeg State (nutmeg, really? You nicknamed your state after shaved tree bark excessively used by television chefs?).
On Atlantic Coast road trips, drivers commonly and rightfully plan routes with New York City in mind. But going north, when you exhale after escaping Manhattan, the common phrase is then, “ugh, we still have a few hours through Connecticut.” If you don’t think of this as that bad, compare it to the southbound equivalent: “ugh, we still have a few hours through New Jersey.”
As a Massachusetts native, I have plenty to brag about. Whatever you think of my state, there’s no doubt you’ll ever be bored there or just zip through without opportunity to enjoy something that represents us. But it seems that whenever someone mentions pausing to look around CT, it’s because of family, gambling or a pizza place featured in a bad 80s movie.
But we have it all wrong.
I am here to defend my many friends from Connecticut. After all, they’re exceptionally wonderful people and someone needs to throw them a bone.
There is much more to Connecticut than I will even hint about here. I only spent about 36 hours within its boundaries. But the realization I had was much more powerful than the actual scenery, which was surprisingly beautiful. The Nutmeg State has some wonderful treasures and deserves a closer look.
We must end the CT drive-by!
Ironically, my stomach is actually what opened up the door to Nutmeg State’s brave new world. And as much as I criticize their schizophrenic regional affiliation, I came to realize Connecticut’s beauty lies in how it represents the best of what the Northeast has to offer.
Off of Route 84 in a town called Vernon is Rein’s Deli, a traditional New York style deli serving massive triple-deckers, Reubens and rye. They start you with a bowl of pickles instead of a basket of bread – naturally. My pastrami, corned beef and swiss was stacked high with quality meat and a welcomed amount of cheese. It was what a deli sandwich should be, something rarely found outside of New York City. The campy, touristy feel of the large restaurant actually felt right for its location; what a NY deli would be, if they had the space.
To wash it all down – albeit a couple hours later – City Steam Brewery in downtown Hartford was reminiscent of the microbreweries scattered across Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine. Like Shipyard or Boston Beerworks, City Steam offers pub food as an aside to its fermented main attraction. With a live band strumming away in the corner, we snatched a spot at the bar and soaked in the scene, complete with rowdy revelers and giant metallic brewing equipment.
I indulged in the seasonal brew, an Oktoberfest that rivaled many of the more well-known iterations of its kind. The Naughty Nurse Amber finished smooth, fruity, spicy and hoppy all at the same time. It was a complex and tasty beer, no question as to why it’s their bestseller.
But the most amazing amber color I saw was not in a glass. I set out in the morning on a drive through suburbia, determined for discovery. The morning was hiding behind a thing veil of fog. As it lifted along the back roads of towns like Farmington and Avon, Connecticut exploded in an autumnal rainbow the likes of which I had never seen.
Not in the Green or White Mountains, the Berkshires or lakes of Maine had I ever seen fall foliage as beautiful and vibrant as the foliage revealed in rural Connecticut. Bright oranges, reds, yellows, purples flowed past my car as I zipped by farmland and golf courses. Looking out over the hills, the copper-colored blanket rippled to the horizon, dappled with greens and yellows.
Hints of New York and the other New England states converge into Connecticut's own unique amalgamation. The state merits a closer look, one that will be familiar to many visitors one way or another. Make Connecticut a destination and not just part of the journey. Stop the CT drive-by. Instead, stop and look around.
You’ll be glad you did. Food, beer and beauty –what else do you need?