Looking for the best restaurants in Connecticut? There are so many great spots to choose from, so we turned to the Connecticut Restaurant Association for the 2019 winners and nominees of its annual CRAzies Awards. The awards consider hundreds of contenders, select a short list of nominee finalists, and finally, award winners for the best restaurants in each region. These spots were each chosen by more than 10,000 public ballots, as well as a panel of 25 judges made up of media restaurant reviewers, food writers, influencers, critics and past winners. Hope you’ve brought your appetite!
Regional Winner: Jesup Hall, Westport
Housed in what was once Westport Town Hall, Jesup Hall is no stranger to winning awards. With its creative and ever-changing menu, this hot spot has been recognized throughout the entire country. Offering innovative farm-to-table meals and an extensive drink selection, Bill Tiabe’s dishes create a menu that is anything but average. Set in a rustic, trendy ambiance with a casual and social vibe, Jesup is sure to inspire a unique and delightful night out.
Other nominees in the region included:
This hidden gem offers a down-to-earth vibe in an intimate setting. Crafted with fresh and local products, the menu offers many popular small plate options as well as the On the Fly takeout menu, which is updated weekly based on seasonal ingredients. Extra tip: Taproot is tucked away beside Bethel Cinema and makes for a perfect pre-movie bite.
If you’re looking for a bright, farmhouse-chic aesthetic to accompany your meal, the Tavern at Graybarns is your go-to spot. Set along the Silvermine River in a tavern that once hosted Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher on their honeymoon and received frequent visits from Hollywood heartthrob Spencer Tracy, the setting boasts a glamorous history. As for the food? The Tavern uses ingredients from local farms and even its own kitchen garden to merge history and traditionalism with bold, seasonal flavors.
The exquisite Restaurant at Winvian Farm has earned five AAA Diamonds and membership in Relais & Chateaux, a fellowship of the top hotels and luxury restaurants around the globe. If it’s a regal and romantic ambiance you seek, complete with fire-lit 18th Century dining rooms, you won’t be disappointed – and neither will your tastebuds. Using many of the location’s own resources, this imaginative farm-to-table menu is crafted carefully with ingredients harvested in its own Winvian Farms organic garden, as well as a broad selection of wine from its wine cellar. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, consider an overnight in one of Winivian Farms’ one-of-a-kind accommodations. These breathtaking cottages each offer a unique experience – just seeing your room is an adventure.
Regional Winner & Connecticut Restaurant of the Year: Grano Arso, Chester
Here it is: winner of Restaurant of the Year. This CRAzies award category chooses the best of the best. Most known for its to-die-for homemade pasta, Grano Arso boasts high end Italian cuisine made from locally sourced ingredients that are seasonally inspired. Guests will be welcomed with knowledgeable hospitality and a feeling that they are dining right in the chef’s own home. Set inside the former Old Savings Bank built in 1902, this spot is quaint, intimate and quite the destination restaurant – the old bank vault is even still inside! With a fantastic selection of Italian wine, local beers, and specialty cocktails to pair with any dish, you’re sure to find pleasure and artistry in every meal.
Other nominees in the region included:
Named after a river that flows between the border of France and Italy, this elegant spot serves food inspired by both French and Italian culinary traditions. Housed in what was originally the grand restaurant of the historic Taft Hotel, the spacious setting is adorned with ornate pillars and ceilings with intricate design work. While you’re there, check out a show at the Shubert Theater for a perfect post-dinner outing.
Whether you’re looking for a mouthwatering bite or a gorgeous waterfront view, Shell & Bones will not disappoint. Known for its award-winning steak, seafood specialties and raw bar, each dish is prepared with fresh and sustainable ingredients. While Shell & Bones feels like the perfect seaside escape, it’s actually just a short drive from downtown New Haven – the best of both worlds.
Authentic Italian cuisine finds its home in Connecticut at Strega. This spot is certified as Vera Pizza Napoletana, internationally registered by Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. This rare designation from Naples certifies that Strega’s pizza adheres to the Neapolitan tradition and is made with approved ingredients. In a relaxed and cozy atmosphere met by owners who make guests feel like family, enjoy authentic Neapolitan pizza and other Italian dishes, many of which are made with products imported from Italy.
Regional Winner: Present Company, Simsbury
Located in a former 1860s textile mill, Present Company is the home of chef Jeff Lizotte, winner of Chef of the Year. This chic, open air kitchen offers seasonal American fare made from locally sourced ingredients. Chef Lizotte takes great pride in his cuisine and – in accordance with the restaurant name – is often present during guests’ dining experience, creating an engaging and personable environment. Be sure to treat yourself to the 5-course chef’s tasting menu, which is available nightly.
Other nominees in the region included:
Restaurant Bricco puts a modern twist on the comfort of Sunday family dinner. This Italian-American restaurant offers an extensive selection of wine and Italian cuisine favorites set in a cozy environment that is both classy and casual – a perfect place to make your own family dinner memories.
Housed in the former Mill at Hop Brook in the village of Simsbury, this sophisticated spot offers a wide range of highly seasonal New England-inspired cuisine. Chef Tyler Anderson, winner of numerous accolades and known for appearances on Season 15 of Top Chef, Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay, crafts food from traditional tavern fare to his seven-course tasting menu. With a rustic but refined interior and a stunning waterfall view, you’ll dine in an atmosphere that is both hospitable and beautifully lit at night.
Take your tastebuds across the globe with Zohara’s innovative menu, which draws inspiration from North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Greece. Set in a bright and social atmosphere, enjoy powerfully-flavored small plates and authentic entrees that have been responsibly and locally sourced – plus a delicious selection of hummus plates. While you’re there, take a stroll through the bustling West Hartford Center and enjoy the chic boutiques and cafes that populate its streets.
Regional Winner: Oyster Club, Mystic
Located right in historic downtown Mystic, this spot pairs local ingredients from land and sea with a charming seaside ambiance. Oyster Club believes their food has a story and through partnership with local Stone Acres Farm, strive to tell that story from seed to harvest, bringing creativity and vision to every meal. It features seasonal specialties including Stonington sea scallops, pasture raised beef, local produce and artisanal cheeses. Quaintly set inside a former carriage house, this restaurant will serve up tastes of scrumptious cuisine and the historic vibe of downtown Mystic.
Other nominees in the region included:
This creative eatery was designed for community to come together to enjoy the humanity and hospitality of seasonal, homemade food. With fare that celebrates the work of farmers, foragers and fishers, inspired by the New England seasons, this innovative menu of shareables is fresh and local. Enjoy the inviting and social vibes alongside fresh dishes – the perfect spot for a casual group outing.
If you’re a steak connoisseur, look no further than David Burke Prime Steakhouse. Conceptualized by one of the nation’s most innovative leaders in cooking, this award-winning steakhouse showcases hand-picked and high-end cuts of meat including dry-aged meat that is expertly dried in house. For the wine lovers – you’re in luck – this spot boasts an impressive 750 bottles to choose from. Located right in Foxwoods Resort Casino, David Burke Prime makes for a fantastic destination within your night of festivities.
More than just a dining spot, RD86 creates a dazzling event-based experience around food, music, art and entrepreneurism in downtown New London. The RD in this restaurant’s name stands for “research and development,” as the spot offers space, support and resources for entrepreneurs to test concepts in order to further innovation in the food space. In an industrial meets garden setting just steps from the Thames River and the Shore Line East Train Station, enjoy tasty American fare accompanied by various entertainment offerings including RD86’s classic jazz night.
Best New Restaurant
Newcomer of The Year: Tavern on State, New Haven
Foodies take note of this hot new spot – Tavern on State is winner of Newcomer of the Year. While this restaurant has been running for less than two years, chef Emily Mingrone is already thinking outside the box with her ever-changing, ever-inventive menu. The creative ambiance comes complete with a flamingo theme (including a signature neon flamingo that lights up the space) and alleyway sidewalk tables.
Other nominees in this category included:
The delectable plates at this sister-owned restaurant will transport you right to Spain. Enjoy cold and hot tapas with stellar presentation and flavors to match. The warmth and hospitality will draw you in and the savory Spanish cuisine will have you coming back for more.
With deep roots in the Elm City, this New England kitchen is a fun and creative place to be. In addition to its locally sourced cuisine, OLMO takes your dining experience to the next level with Tuesday theme nights such as Chinese Take Out and Oyster Night. The creative flair doesn’t end there – if you’ve ever wished you could combine a bagel shop with a boutique bakery, wish no more. OLMO’s “bagelry” reinvents the bagel experience with specialty bagel sandwiches and freshly baked treats made from homemade ingredients.
The location of this eatery is anything but ordinary. Set in the Swift-Bull home built in 1781, over the years this spot has been everything from a domestic home, an Episcopalian worship center, a “lubritorium” servicing early automobiles, a pharmacy and an ice cream parlor. Working closely with Rock Cobble Farm, Swyft serves up wood-fired pizzas, shareable small plates, and mouthwatering seasonal entrees. Enjoy the flavors of farm-fresh ingredients in a setting that retains its historic roots, creating a modern restaurant in an old-fashioned setting.
Owned by a husband and wife team, Whitecrest Eatery will make you feel right at home. If you’re looking for a small, intimate space to grab a delicious bite, this is your place. Enjoy locally sourced small and large plates in an industrial-chic setting, with meals served on mismatched China dishes.
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