At City Steam Brewery Cafe, the owners concoct some of the area’s finest beers, scoring “best of” awards from Hartford magazine and Connecticut Magazine. They also brew potent batches of laughter inside their 200-seat comedy show-room theater. Ensconced in the historic Brown Thomson and Co. building, which was the state’s largest department store in 1877, Brew Ha Ha once was known as the Last Laugh Comedy Club, where fledgling unknowns such as Ray Romano and Kevin James vied for laughs in the smoky rathskeller of a restaurant.
Reborn in 1997 under a new moniker, the standup speakeasy keeps its calendar packed with nationally touring comics and local joke slingers. During shows, guests can toast with mugs of handcrafted beer and make edible sculptures of their favorite comedian using menu’s custom burgers, pizzas, and omelets.
Founded by certified beer judge Michael Bernier, DIY Brewing Supply equips and educates patrons in the arts of at-home fermentation procedures and food construction. Beginner's brewing classes steer students through four hours of crafting an extract beer and ingesting significant brewing concepts. Aspiring homebrewers learn to settle down yeast and barley for a midday nap in the mashtub, as well as how to perform simple troubleshooting should a batch end up tasting like lasagna. Winemaking classes help students study grapey elixirs on the journey from fermentation to sanitation to staining cashmere sweaters. Students can also round out their education with a mozzarella-making class and a one-hour coffee-roasting class, where they roast 1 pound of coffee.
After learning the tricks of the brewing trade, guests can stock up on the tools with DIY's extensive selection of wine and beer-making equipment. Homebrewers can create their own batches of booze with kegs, recipe lists, yeasts, and plenty of literature and books.
Voted the area's best place for tapas in 2012 by readers of the Valley Advocate, Ibiza Tapas Wine Bar swells with the aroma of Spanish small plates. The culinary team whips up traditional dishes such as fried spiced potatoes and spanish veal and pork meatballs alongside modern creations such as babyback ribs with fried potatoes and barbecue aioli and short ribs in caramelized garlic and oatmeal beer sauce. Their menu also includes paellas, fideuas, and gluten-free Catalan-style crème brûlée, which guests can wash down with beer, sangria, or a wealth of white and red wine from the dramatically lit stone bar. Orange and burgundy walls enliven Ibiza's lounge-like dining room, where patrons can enjoy dinner or parties of 40–80 guests or retired Zorro's can feast at private soirees.
A fountain's mists drift over a cool, quiet water outside the windows of Vito's By the Water, where chefs have been cooking up traditional Italian food for many years. Following recipes that have been in the owner's family for years, they craft traditional entrees such as New York strip steak with demi-glace or lobster ravioli with vodka-cream sauce. They also adorn thin and Chicago-style deep-dish stuffed crusts with quality toppings such as baby clams, breaded eggplant, and seasoned ricotta.
Vito’s has also sponsored a “So You Think You Can Cook” competition, handing the kitchen over to nine aspiring chefs for a three-day cook-off. Like many timed cooking competitions, this one required the chefs to create a dish using a mystery ingredient, such as bacon or love. The winner received a farm-to-table dinner for 10.
Ranked 73rd best brewer in the world by RateBeer and 15th out of the top 50 American Microbreweries by BeerAdvocate, Thomas Hooker Brewery has earned its share of accolades. The brewery’s staff has been forging consistent, small-batch brews for more than a decade. Today, they produce 11 one-of-a-kind beers, with year-round flavors such as the Hop Meadow IPA, or the Irish Red Ale. Their seasonal flavors, meanwhile, include the Chocolate Truffle Stout and the Watermelon Ale, whose fruity notes make it ideal for summer drinking or as the proper liquid with which to hydrate a fruit garden. The team leads a tour and tasting on Saturday afternoons, and their gift shop is fully stocked with paraphernalia and growlers of their popular brews.
Dotcom Wine & Spirits, winner of the 2010 Best of Hartford award, is fully stocked with bottle buddies for all shapes, sizes, and species of wine. Its staff of expert sommeliers helps weaves wine wayfarers through the extensive collection of oenophilic ornaments. Grape-stompers can tiptoe through the glassware selection, which includes the Stolzle Burgundy receptacles ($9.99) and the Riedel Vinum Bordeaux two-pack ($69.99). Remove sediment from older wines with a Ravenscroft Omega decanter ($59.99), or pick up a six-bottle wood wine box to ensure that your wines will never feel lonely at night again ($39.99). Pop open a bottle's gob with Dotcom's Gattorna corkscrew ($50) and reward well-behaved blends with a slide down the aerating funnel ($19.99). Ample outdoor parking means that grape enthusiasts can amble through Dotcom's warmly-lit, wood-paneled aisles to remind the more than 5,000 wines on the shelves to play nicely with their accessories.