I have a confession: I desperately wanted out of Connecticut when I graduated high school. So much in fact, that I went to college all the way in Florida. But moving back after college opened my eyes to a whole new side of my state. And now? I love it to the point that I started a business whose sole purpose is to highlight how amazing it is. How's that for a change of heart?
The city of Hartford is a big part of my new outlook. It gains momentum every day with new stores, restaurants, breweries, and stadiums popping up around town. Plus there's a burgeoning art scene, amazing places to eat, markets to discover, and parks to enjoy—so many that you might just have to add the city to your weekend bucket list. These are a few of my favorite things to do in “New England’s Rising Star.”
Food first. (For when a bowl of cereal just doesn’t cut it.)
Tangiers is a family owned Middle Eastern and Mediterranean market in the West End of the city. They have a great grocery section and a little restaurant. Get the spicy falafel, chicken gyro, tabbouleh, baklava... actually just get everything.
Head to hole-in-the-wall market El Mercado for groceries and authentic Colombian, Mexican, Dominican, and Peruvian food stands. The tacos and empanadas are a must—they make it the perfect place to get an inexpensive lunch.
Mozzicato DePasquale Bakery and Pastry Shop is one of the original bakery and pastry shops in the Italian South End of Hartford. Stop into their “caffe” after dinner for an espresso (or a cocktail—they have a full bar) and some pastries. It doesn't get more old school Hartford than this.
Don't miss Adolf’s Meats & Sausage Kitchen; this hidden gem smokes their own hotdogs, kielbasa, bratwurst, sausages, and other Polish and German meats. They sell a variety of Eastern European groceries, too, and can even cater with whole hogs or lambs given a few days notice.
For when it’s been a really long week:
Looking for an inventive cocktail bar that isn’t pretentious? Find it in Little River Restoratives. Chris and his team make a mean drink and have a small food menu that's perfect for snacking. And there's never a rush: The kitchen is open until last call and they make great mocktails for those who don't drink. You’ll find me here any night of the week.
Darts, a jukebox, a thousand televisions, and super laid back, genuine service are all of the reasons to go to The Spigot. They also have a great selection of beers, including a wall of refrigerators that are full of bottles from around the world. Know before you go: It’s cash only and you can bring in any food you’d like.
Why go to The Half Door? To drink alllll the beers and watch alllll the soccer games. They also have live music at least once a week. Grab a pint of Delirium Tremens—on draft—and watch a local band (or a non-local soccer team) play.
Hartford Flavor Company is the new kid on the block, and they're making a name for themselves with their all natural Wild Moon Liqueurs. Their new tasting room is one of the best deals in town: $10 gets you a tour, tastes, light food bites, and cocktail samples. Be on the lookout for food trucks parked outside as well.
Head to Hartford Prints to get handmade and homegrown goods. This adorable little shop owned by three sisters sells gifts, apparel, cards and letterpress items—most that they've designed themselves. If you can, snag a ticket to the Farm to Street Dinner they co-host—it’s an absolute blast.
When you need a little fresh air:
Split between Hartford and West Hartford, Elizabeth Park offers a great hill for sledding in the winter, and beautiful rose gardens and an outdoor concert series in the summer. Pack a picnic or grab food to go and enjoy a concert.
Or go downtown instead: Bushnell Park is sprawling, and has its own summer concert series too. (And a Jazz festival in the summer.) In the winter, take advantage of Winterfest and the free outdoor ice skating. Watch for food trucks year round: The bacon marmalade grilled cheese from Whey Station, and the fried chicken sandwich from Yardbird and Co. are personal favorites.
Where to indulge your artsy side:
Visit the just-remodeled Wadsworth Atheneum (tip: target “happy hour” from 4 to 5 PM on Wednesdays through Sundays for free admission), or catch a play at Hartford Stage, located downtown and within walking distance of tons of restaurants.
Doughnut art counts, right? Tastease is a family-run doughnut and coffee shop in Parkville; get there early because they’re only open until 2pm and frequently sell out earlier.
If you need a pick-me-up (or a pancake):
Try Sarah’s Coffee House—a percentage of all profits go to charities so make sure you buy a pastry, too—or Mo’s Midtown, a cash-only mom-and-pop diner serving some of the best home fries and biggest pancakes around.
For farmers market strolling:
West End Farmers Market, every Tuesday in season (June to October) from 4 to 7 PM, and Billings Forge Farmers Market will both give you your produce fix. The latter draws farms from all over the state as well as food artisans, food trucks, and the well-loved Sweet Madeline’s doughnut stand.
When you want to eat your heart out—or get a little fancy:
Firebox Restaurant's profits help support Billings Forge Community Works (remember the farmers market?); they serve great small plates, and in my opinion, one of the best burgers in town.
If you go to ON20 for nothing else, go for the view: The restaurant is on the 20th floor of One State Street, and boasts seriously impressive views of the city and the Connecticut River. But their food isn't bad, either—their tasting menu is beautiful and perfect for date night.
Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ is a staple for lunch-goers as their cafeteria style service gets you in and out quickly. Grab a beer and their famous Mac Attack (mac and cheese topped with any meat of your choice) and enjoy it all on the picnic tables overlooking their new community garden.
Where do you love to visit in Hartford? Tell us in the comments!