Monday, September 29, 2014

Danbury First Congregational Church

Enjoyed our book signing the other day at Danbury's First Congreational Church with David Leff for Alice at Byrd's Books, one of my favorite stores in the state. The bonus was the pulpit below, which a certain Ralph Waldo Emerson preached at, lo these many years ago. It was saved from the fire that destroyed the original church.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The People's Kitchen

Had a delicious meal at the People's Kitchen and Citizen's Wine Bar in Worcester, MA.

Of interest was the foie gras burger below, one of the best burgers I've had in recent years.

The dessert, a twist on s'mores, was also a treat. If anyone is in Worcester, I recommend a stop here!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Vineyards of Hamden

In the 1860s, Jonathan Dickerman, the grandson of the man whose house you have visited or seen on Mount Carmel Avenue, planted a vineyard and built a winery on the slopes of Sleeping Giant. This startling fact, mostly unknown by town historians and certainly by the rest of us, was the trigger that led my wife and I to write A History of Connecticut Wine, in which we detail many other examples of successful vineyards throughout the state before Prohibition, as well as the modern rise of today’s booming industry.

In 1872 Dickerman gave an award-winning report to the Board of Agriculture, detailing his decade of wine production in Hamden and his hope for the future of the practice in Connecticut. His rocky land had not even produced peas, but grapes thrived there. He even brought in a winemaker from Germany to help him care for the vines. Turning the grapes into wine tripled his profits in a year, and his lecture to the Agriculture Board inspired the Hartford Courant to champion the cause, encouraging farmers on rocky hillsides to grow grapes.

By the early 1900s, immigrants from southern Europe were planting vineyards all over the state, especially in the Hartford area, and some had vineyards ten times the size of Dickerman’s. However, Prohibition put an end to this in the state, until 1978 when it became legal again to produce wine for sale to the public. Our methods and technologies now allow us to grow the coveted European grapes that make superior (or at least not so sweet and grapy) wine, something Dickerman struggled with in the 1800s.

Today, wineries and vineyards are again springing up all over the state. There are two vineyards just to the north of us in Wallingford, and one on the other side of West Rock in Woodbridge. Hamden has several spots today that are even better for growing grapes, including the excellent site of Dunbar Hill. Maybe it’s time Hamden brought Jonathan Dickerman’s long-ago dreams to fruition.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Finally got a chance to try the fast casual Tikkaway in New Haven, which aims to do for Indian Food what Chipotle has done for Tex-Mex, and more. It's fresh, it's simple, and it's yummy.

I expect great things from this place - maybe it will franchise across the U.S. It has great design, easy use, and tasty food.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Lazy Lobster

In the interest of our continuing quest for the best lobster roll in Connecticut, we visited The Lazy Lobster last week. It is located near the beach in Milford, though not on a 'dock' or anything. So, the site is not very picturesque. But what matters most is the food.

And the food was good. The lobster rolls are served in a piece of French bread, which Amy loved. The only disadvantage is that it doesn't allow for enough lobster per bread bite, if that makes sense. Amy thought it was the second best roll she's had in the state. I would rate it slightly lower, at third or fourth. But totally solid - not rubbery, fresh, and just enough butter. Delicious.

An added bonus is the Lazy Lobster's roasted onion (above), which is caramelized deliciousness. I recommend this place, especially for take out (it's small and hot in the summer), and for the owner's wonderfully pleasant but professional attitude.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Mount Carmel Pass

Driving up Whitney Avenue between Hamden and Cheshire today, we take for granted the easy passage, and most of us probably have no idea that three hundred years ago it would have been impossible. When the early settlers of the New Haven Colony explored the area, they found huge rocky cliffs barring the way. The eastern slopes of York Hill and the head of Sleeping Giant met at the Mill River just where the small dam is today, allowing no one to pass except on foot.

Called “The Steps,” the rock formation was a formidable barrier, known only to hunters, shepherds, and the remaining Quinnipiac Indians. However, shortly after Joel Munson built his mill at the spot, he carved a daunting cart path over the rocks, allowing the slow passage of horses and eventually carts. Throughout the 1700s, occasional gunpowder explosives were used to improve and widen this path. Bellamy’s Tavern was built in 1743 to provide sustenance and lodging for the Cheshire merchants who now used the road to reach New Haven.
When the Farmington Canal was built in the 1820s, the rock needed to be blasted further, down to level ground in some places. Then, when the railroad came through two decades later, more rock was carved away. In the 20th century, the modernization of Whitney Avenue required more blasting, and more leveling, taking the still sizable hill on which sat Kimberly’s famous store stood and flattening it. All this took incredible efforts in the days before modern earth moving machines and nitroglycerine-based explosives.

Today, as the most modern construction finishes up at the intersection of West Woods, Mount Carmel, and Whitney Avenues, take a look around. Perhaps imagine yourself in a tunnel beneath the eastern arm of York Hill, because where the People’s Bank and Hair on Broadway are situated in space was deep underground until very recently. The difficult work done to widen the area and cut through the bedrock is only a fraction of the total done over the centuries.
Three hundred years ago, your car would have never made it, even with four wheel drive.