For Connie Luna, opening Connie's Kitchen was a much-needed deceleration. She’d spent the previous 25 years aboard moving trains as a private railcar chef, zipping across the country while honing techniques that would contribute to her restaurant's menu of comfort food. Today, she stays grounded in a room filled with cheery sunflower wallpaper, colorful teapots, and the aromas of homestyle entrees such as chicken piccata in lemon-and-caper sauce. Also in the kitchen is her son Michael, who earned the nickname "the Ladle King" for his proficiency in conjuring up savory soups.
The family pair whips together breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and teatime meals, trying to incorporate organic ingredients whenever possible. Much of their produce arrives from local farms, where it grows without receiving additives or having its big-city dreams smashed to pieces. To further their commitment to health, the mother and son have also refused to install a deep fryer. Their oven still churns out crispy eats, however, baking english shepherd's pie, artichoke-stuffed garlic bread, and fish 'n' chips. Vegetarian and vegan options also join the catalog of internationally inspired plates with meatless lasagna and chili.
Spiced up by the saucy skills of chef Howie “Bulldog” Kleinberg, who was on Top Chef Miami, Bulldog Barbecue's menu features no-frills, North Carolina–style barbecue. Hearty options—such as the popular beef brisket ($18), shrimp and grits ($18), and baby back ribs ($15–$23), all of which come with Carolina slaw, cornbread, and your choice of side—satisfy stomachs with unmatched sass. Non-carnivores can focus on the selection of fresh salads or a smoked portobello burger with caramelized onions and balsamic mayo ($9). Unlike most restaurants 500 miles beneath the earth's surface, Bulldog Barbecue provides drink items, allowing guests to fight off dehydration with made-to-order lemonade ($2); a root-beer float ($4); or a choice of red wines, white wines, or bubblies.
Creek Monkey pairs cozy pub fare bursting with fresh, locally grown flavors alongside a roster of more than 20 craft and specialty beers. Blue cheese, bacon, and smoked cremini mushrooms pile atop the Bleu burger ($13.50), and grilled-fish tacos ($8.75) house sea inhabitants and house-made salsa inside corn-tortilla walls. Prime-rib platters ($14.25) arrive bearing hearty helpings of mashed potatoes and sweet white corn and—like a pair of blue jeans—can be enjoyed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Creek Monkey's fleet of frosty brews enchant palates with fresh watermelon flavors, floral hops, or thick, malty sweetness in a brisk outdoor beer garden, which allows diners to enjoy their meal while photosynthesizing their dessert.
When he cofounded his first sandwich shop in 1965, 17-year-old Fred DeLuca planned to use his profits to pay his way through medical school. But the combination of quality ingredients and friendly service at the shop—then called Pete's Subway—proved so popular that nine years later, he and his partner found themselves in charge of 16 locations across Connecticut, and Fred left behind his doctoring plans for a career in business.
Today, Subway restaurants number over 34,000 around the world—almost as many shops as there are sightings of Elvis buying cold cuts. At each location, staffers pile sliced ham, marinara-slathered meatballs, and other fillings into halved loaves of bread before customizing handhelds with tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and other healthy toppings plucked from chilled containers behind the counter. Salads free crisp veggies from bread's overprotective embrace, and crunchy baked chips or apple slices accompany entrees to tables. Subway's website also facilitates health-conscious eating by listing each item's nutrition information and fastest mile time online.
The Village Cafe takes “the most important meal of the day” seriously: inside the welcoming restaurant, you can enjoy breakfast fare such as pepper-jack and chorizo omelets, croissant breakfast sandwiches, and hand-battered French toast with an optional garnish of seasonal berries. But it takes lunch just as seriously—try their BLT, build your own giant one-pound cheeseburger, or enjoy their take on the Monte Cristo sandwich, which comes with battered bread, ham, cheese, and a swordfight. Feel free to kick up your feet and stay a while—there’s free WiFi here and a TV.
When it comes to specialty pizzas, Napoli Pizza & Pasta bats for the fences. Since 1968, the pizzeria has pleased customers, stuffing their menu to the breaking point with a whopping 15 different specialty pies that entice vegetarians, meat-lovers, and barbecue fans alike. Fixins such as salami, sausage, barbecue sauce, pesto, artichokes, and chicken crowd the crusts—crusts that come in regular and gluten-free varieties. The pizza Christonio, named after the owner’s son, leaves off the sauce completely and piles on four cheeses. Another pizza named after the owner’s daughter, Natalia, slathers pesto sauce atop the crust. And the chefs don’t just make pizza. They also have a variety of homemade pasta dishes, sandwiches, and calzones.