By Linda Giuca
Willie Nelson’s song “On the Road Again,” could double as the theme for summer vacationers taking to the road for some R&R. Whether that road trip is a quick daycation or the beginning of a lengthier break from work, an on-the-go meal becomes part of the “getting there” experience.
Rest stop meals often mean either vending machines or fast food, but a slight detour off the highway can yield far more appealing options and still supply speedy service. Depending on the time of day, these roadside restaurants – some with sit-down service, others more do-it-yourself – will serve up a hearty breakfast or a quick lunch. Here are some locally owned eateries, not far from major travel routes.
Ted’s Restaurant, 1046 Broad St., Meriden, about three miles from I-91 (with locations at 43 Berlin Road, Cromwell, on Route 372 between I-91 and Route 9; and 344 Washington Ave., North Haven, about a mile from I-91)
Louis’ Lunch in New Haven often is credited with serving the first American hamburger, but central Connecticut lays claim to an unusual variation – the steamed cheeseburger. Ted’s Restaurant has perfected the art form and even holds a registered trademark on Ted’s World Famous Steamed Cheeseburger. Forget grilling, pan frying or broiling. The raw beef patties are plunked into a small rectangular pan and tucked into the steamer for cooking. Steamed separately is a block of cheese. When the cheese melts and the burger is cooked, the two come together on a roll. We all know that steaming is a healthy way to cook, but don’t think for one minute that this burger is cholesterol- or fat-free. Instead, thank that steaming method for a juicy, moist burger.
Lenny & Joe’s, 1301 Boston Post Road, Madison, 203-245-7289, less than two miles from I-95
Who needs fast food when you can eat fresh fish prepared to order in no time at one of the shoreline’s beloved restaurants? Step up to the counter to order a meal, but be sure to begin with the clear broth clam chowder. Although the large menu includes grilled, broiled and sautéed fish dinners, treat yourself to the fried specialties, like whole belly clams or the Super Fish Tale Platter, a huge serving of scallops, shrimp, scrod and clams. The house-made coleslaw is first-rate, and there is a children’s menu. After lunch, the kids can ride the carousel – and for a good cause. Proceeds benefit local organizations.
Harry’s Place, 104 Broadway, Colchester, (860) 537-2410, about one mile from Route 2
An institution since 1920, Harry’s is a no-frills, seasonal operation known for its juicy, griddle-fried burgers, cheese fries and milkshakes. Throw cholesterol caution to the wind, and ask for those fries with a topping of chili or bacon. If you like your potatoes sliced and fried, Harry’s also makes kettle-style potato chips either plain or with dips. Hot dogs share the same griddle with the burgers and also are crowned with a no-beans chili. (Harry’s also makes a bean chili, sold by the cup.) The Garet family, who bought the business in 1978, has expanded the menu in recent years. They’ve added soups, grilled chicken sandwiches and a hot, buttered lobster roll. The burgers, though, still outsell everything.
There’s a good reason for hitting the road early: breakfast at The Shack, which opens at 6 a.m. A friendly staff and a homey atmosphere complement the large menu of breakfast staples. If you can’t find something tempting among the choices of egg platters, omelets, French toast, griddle cakes, Belgian waffles and breakfast sandwiches, well, you just aren’t hungry. Or maybe you need a slice of homemade pie. Chocolate or banana cream, apple crumb and Toll House Cookie are regulars, while flavors like coconut custard or cheesecake appear as specials. The Shack’s extensive menu for lunch and dinner includes roast turkey breast and all of the Thanksgiving trimmings as well as a meatloaf dinner.
Lobster Landing, 152 Commerce St., Clinton, about 1-1/2 miles from I-95
The only problem with Lobster Landing is that you won’t want to leave. The stresses of the day instantly disappear as you take in the shabbily quaint fish market, the boats and the view of Long Island Sound and breathe in the salt air. This seasonal, outdoor operation is quite casual. Mosey up to the counter, place your order, choose a bag of chips and check out the cold drink options in the cooler. Then, stake out a spot on a picnic table, and wait for the staff to deliver the sandwich, wrapped in aluminum foil. The big chunks of lobster, drizzled with butter, are sweet, and the roll is properly soft.
If you’re traveling on a Friday, you’ll have to find somewhere else to eat. The hot dog stand has always been closed on Fridays, a throwback to the days when the Catholic Church prohibited eating meat on that day. Not much else has changed in 84 years. There are no French fries (have another dog instead), but there is birch beer on tap, chocolate milk and the unforgettable hot, spicy relish, made from the original recipe. Pick up a jar of the relish to enjoy at home, and top off the meal with a scoop – or two – of locally made Big Dipper ice cream in six flavors.