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.
For more than 90 years, the same soft morning sunlight has poured over the fields of yellow sunflowers, tasseled stalks of sweet corn, and rows of grapevines growing at Rosedale Farms & Vineyards. In that span of time, five generations of Rosedales have tended to the farm’s fresh vegetables, fruits, and flowers, sharing them with the Simsbury community and even earning a nod in the Washington Post. It wasn’t until 2005, however, that the family produced its first vintage from its 4-acre vineyard of French hybrid grapes. Since then, the winery’s estate-grown vintages have earned several awards, including a double gold at the 2010 Vineyard & Winery International Eastern Wine Competition. Today, at the winery’s onsite bar, staff members pour samples of varieties such as the Simsbury Celebration, which distinguishes itself with a creamy structure, mineral overtones, and a penchant for hiding beneath lampshades. Additional events include fall farm fests that include free hayrides and corn mazes. Partnering with the Max Restaurant Group, Rosedale Farms & Vineyards also features chef-to-farm dinners, during which chefs prepare four- to six-course banquets using ingredients plucked straight from the fields.
At ShelaLara Vineyards & Winery, vintners work with modern equipment to produce more than 20 different wines. Using grapes and fruit imported from California and other sun-soaked regions, the enophiles fill tanks with sweet elixirs including their in-house specialty wine slush. The glacier wines, fruit essences, and vintage wines run a colorful gamut from the off purple of the sky just after sunset to the hue of warm honey. ShelaLara’s winemaking process, including fermentation, bottling, and 21-gun salutes following spills, all takes place in Rhode Island.
While many brothers grow up as rivals, Paul and John Nunes instead became partners. With a love of wines and wide-open spaces, the two siblings decided to establish a winery rather than surrender 60 acres of family farmland to real estate developers. Today, their labor of love, Newport Vineyards, extracts an impressive roster of reds and whites from the trellises that crisscross the farm, spilling emerald floods of vines. The vineyard team nurtures the grape-heavy plants and keeps them from being recruited by gangs of raisins. The fruit eventually becomes wines such as the In The Buff chardonnay, which is fermented in stainless steel tanks to draw out a bouquet of aromas. The Gemini, one of John Nunes's favorite bottles, is a smooth blend of merlot and cabernet.
Most of the wines spend stints in French-oak barrels, which John points out as he leads tour groups across the grounds. At the rough-hewn wooden tables in the tasting room, glasses click together as the vineyard's staff shares anecdotes about each bottle's origins, aromas, and ideal food pairing. Newport Vineyards also carries a variety of holiday gifts, such as wine, wine accessories, and custom labels.
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.
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.