Cabela's Candlewood Grill
475 East Hartford Blvd., East Hartford
I don't hunt. I don't fish. I don't shoot arrows, climb rocks or hike trails. So what was I doing in Cabela's, a retail wonderland for outdoorsy types?
Having lunch, of course.
THE VIBE: Even for someone as recreationally-challenged as I am, Cabela's is a wildly fascinating destination. The gigantic store has racks of camo clothing as far as the eye can see, every kind of outdoor gear imaginable, dioramas displaying lifelike woodland and jungle animals and a Connecticut River Valley Wildlife Museum. You could easily spend a day or more just checking it all out. Even the hand-dryers in the impeccably clean restrooms are done up in woodsy camouflage.
My friend and I were focused on lunch, though, and we hunted down some tasty food in the Candlewood Grill on the second level. The place is appropriately done up in greens and browns with plenty of exposed wood and a great view of a craggy mountain diorama populated by bighorn sheep and bison and bears, oh my. You pick up your vittles at food stations and then choose a table in the spacious dining area.
THE FOOD: Sandwiches, salads, soups and sides. Burgers, chilis and nachos. Pies, puddings and cookies. Nothing costs more than $11.99 and the portions are hunter-hearty.
I began with a generous cup of cream of chicken soup with wild rice, but I guess the wild rice was off on safari. Not that it mattered much: this thick-enough-to-walk-on soup had plenty of chicken, white rice, mushrooms, carrots and onion and was warmly spiced. My friend's squash and apple bisque was equally substantial and had a delightful aroma that hinted at honey.
She also had a bison bratwurst with a topping of sautéed green and red peppers, which had none of the brassy taste that green peppers often flaunt. Alongside was a pile of perfectly cooked sweet potato fries. I couldn't resist stealing a few … and then a few more.
I nearly ordered a smoked elk sandwich from the deli station, but, um, chickened out, fearing gaminess. Instead, I went with a wild boar sandwich, which turned out to be a kind of moist and flavorful ham. I chose to have it on their very fresh marble rye with mayo, mustard and lettuce — there are many breads and toppings available — and bagged half of it to take home. The coleslaw, whose tart dressing tastily mixes mayo, sour cream and lime juice, was a great accompaniment.
My friend has had the chicken chili, which, she says, is worth ordering for its medium hot flavor, lean chunks of white and dark meat, celery, onion, tomato and navy and small white beans. They offer beef and buffalo chili, too.
There were some nice-looking desserts in the self-serve case, but we were too full. But as left, we could not resist the Faddy's donut display, a regular fixture outside the store every Friday through Sunday. Two sweet-and-tangy apple cider donuts went into my trophy bag, and a few raised-cake style goodies went into hers. (And yes, we ate one in the car.)
THE BILL: Deli sandwiches made with bison, boar, elk, ham, turkey, roast beef and prime rib were $6.99 to $8.99. Beef, buffalo and elk burgers are $6.99 to $8.99. Sides, including regular and sweet potato fries and nachos, are $1.69 to $3.99. Specials, which come with fries and a drink, include hot sandwiches and were $7.99 to $11.99, that last for a tummy-busting double buffalo and barbequed brisket sandwich. Cups of soup are $4.99, pre-packaged salads ranged from $2.49 to $8.99 and cups of cole slaw and potato salad are $1.69. Servings of chili are $3.79 or $5.99. Desserts are $1.99 to $3.49.
THE PARTICULARS: The Candlewood Grill is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
THE VERDICT: If a lunch bargain is what you are stalking, Cabela's Candlewood Grill is a happy hunting ground.