Since 2012, we at CTSnapshot have done our best to review Connecticut’s fun and food. We have focused more on the “food” aspect of that phrase in recent years, however, because Connecticut has so much to offer in terms of its diverse restaurants. In 2015, we will do our best to deliver reviews with respect to both because we want residents to never stop exploring what their state has to offer in terms of its activities, entertainment and cuisine. In 2015, we will continue be honest and sometimes blunt about our experiences because our readers deserve to know the truth about the quality of the places we visit.
Check out the list below for a sneak peak of our season 4 reviews. This is a tentative list and by no means a comprehensive one. If you have any recommendations about restaurants or other establishments we should visit, we would love to hear your suggestions!
With the summer winding down, we decided to explore the natural side of Connecticut. We took a week’s vacation to Delaware and discovered that we missed Connecticut’s nature most of all. To satisfy our longing, we hiked Talcott Mountain in Simsbury on Saturday and stumbled into Apollo’s Pizza and Pasta on our way home. Then it hit us-hiking and lunch is an ideal outing for friends, family and dates! If you choose a mountain with a great view and eat great local food nearby, you might make a tradition out of it! We knew Talcott mountain had a great view, but we had no idea about its historical significance. Here is how our afternoon panned out-
Overall Grade: A-
Location: Talcott Mountain State Park, 560 Simsbury Road, Bloomfield, CT
Parking fee: 10/10-There is no parking fee!. Your trip to Talcott Mountain is actually free fun! Please note that you must park on the grass on the side of the road that lies before the trail. Parking fills quickly. If you want to find a decent parking spot, your best bet is to go before noon. Talcott Mountain State Park closes at 5:00 P.M.
Atmosphere of Mountain: 4/5-Talcott Mountain is located just 6 miles west of the city of Hartford, bordering Farmington, West Hartford, Bloomfield, Simsbury and Avon. It is comprised of many notable cliffs, including the 950 ft high point on which the historic Heublein tower stands. We enjoyed the variety of hikers, animals and vegetation. The mountain is suitable for all ages . We saw kids as young as three and adults well into their eighties walk to the top. If you’re looking for a longer hike, you might want to start at Penwood State Park, which located a short distance away from Talcott Mountain State Park.
Atmosphere of Tower: 5/5-The historic Heublein Tower has a lot of history. The setup is like a mini museum inside. Every room is a mini exhibit that tells a great deal about the tower’s history. We don’t want to spoil the rich history for you, so we’ve selected five interesting facts to share about the tower-
1. It served as Gilbert Heublein’s home and retreat from the 1914 until his death in the 1930s. He founded Heublein Inc, an American producer of beverages and food. He was most notably a manufacturer of Smirnoff Vodka and A1 steak sauce.
2, While hiking with his wife on Talcott Mountain, Gilbert promised her he would one day build her a tower.
3. Ronald Reagan, Prescott Bush and Dwight D. Eisenhower were guests at the tower during the 1950s. The staff threw an election party for Eisenhower during the 1950s.
4. The Hartford Times used the tower to operate its FM station from 1948 to 1950.
5. The State of Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection now manages the tower.
Trail: 8/10-The trail is short, considering Talcott Mountain spans only three miles at its widest point. The trail, however, offers a nice view of the Greater Hartford area a short distance from the top.
View from Tower and Mountain 9/10-Fromthe top of the tower, you’ll get a great view of Farmington, West Hartford, Bloomfield, Simsbury and the Farmington River. The tower offers a panoramic view of the Hartford skyline, the Farmington River, the Farmington valley, Mt. Tom and four New England states. We were more than delighted to receive these incredible views for free. The view from the top of the tower was a perfect way to top off our hike.
In a nutshell: 36/40-We thoroughly enjoyed our hike and we recommend you visit for….
-The free parking
-The scenic trail
-The historic Heublein Tower
-The Snapple machine inside the tower. (This machine offers Snapple in a can. A rarity at most venues).
-The view from the top of the tower and the top of the mountain.
Atmosphere: 9/10-Our hike inspired us to venture into Simsbury for lunch. We stumbled upon Apollo’s Pizza and Pasta on Hopmeadow street, a five minute drive from the mountain. When we entered the restaurant, we we noticed the small, classy interior. You’ll notice that the staff advertises Avery’s Soda at the front counter. Avery’s Soda is old fashioned soda that comes in a glass bottle. Avery’s boasts a variety of flavors from Black Cherry to odder flavors such as Bug Barf soda. No, we’re not kidding. The old fashioned sodas sparked us with a sense of wonder about the menu items.
Service: 9/10-We appreciated our service. We received our food in under 15 minutes and constant refills from our waitress.
Price/selection of lunch: 4.5/5-The lunch menu is noticeably cheaper than the dinner menu. Entrees average around $10 to $14. You’ll receive a considerable amount of food for the price you pay.
Price/selection of dinner: 3.5/5-Entreesranges from $11.5o to $19.50. A large, traditional pizza costs only $11.25! This is considerably cheaper than the price for most large pizzas. If you want a large, gourmet pizza you will pay around $18. Apollo’s entrees are still considerably cheaper than many restaurants in Simsbury.
Taste: 8.5/10-We enjoyed our entrees but expected slightly more because of the flavorful composition of the dish. The portion size definitely matches the price. You won’t leave the restaurant hungry.
In a nutshell: 34.5/40-Apollo’s scores a solid B+ for its good food, good service and great lunch prices. We recommend you visit, especially if you’re looking for a nice hole in the wall restaurant after you hike Talcott Mountain. Check out our top four picks for the most creative items!
1. The Simsbury Burger (this may not be the name). Apollo’s does not have a lunch a menu online so we cannot double check.
2. Scallops Ala Vodka
3. Florentine Pizza
4. Eggplant Rollatini
Below you’ll find additional pics from our Simsbury adventure!
There are a lot of interesting deals on the Groupon and Living Social websites. These websites seem to offer great deals on dining, fun activities, products and vacations because of their intriguing descriptions. Recently, Groupon posted a deal for CoCo Key Water Resort, an indoor water resort in Waterbury. The Groupon description reads, “Regardless of the weather outside, CoCo Key Water Resort simulates an 84-degree Key West day.” A Key West setting in Waterbury? This sounds amazing and a little too good to be true. When we scrolled down to the reviews, we noticed 143 reviews with an average two star rating. One user wrote, “The smell inside was horrible who knows if they even use chlorine to sanitize. Asked an employee for the manager and didn’t see anyone for at least 20 min until we asked someone else.” Many of the other reviews mirrored this one. Before buying a Groupon or Living Social Deal, always check the reviews and purchase at your own risk.
Of course, many deals on Groupon match their descriptions. El Flamboyan in Wallingford exceeded our expectations with their savory Puerto Rican cuisine. Groupon offers the catchy descriptions to get the ball rolling on business. Businesses that choose to use Groupon either live up to those standards or fall short of them. We gave Groupon another go with the Historical Ghost tours of New Haven. Connecticut missed out on Halloween last year due to a violent snowstorm. We’ve been craving some creepy fun ever since. This is how our night played out-
Atmosphere: 8.5/10-If you’re not from the New Haven area, you might have trouble finding parking. If you can’t find street parking on Chapel Street, we recommend you park at the garage on College Street where the Shubert Theatre lies. Chapel Street is a short walk from the garage. We met our tour guide and our group in front of the Starbucks on Chapel Street. Our tour guide led us to a number of interesting destinations in a ninety minute period. We wished could have gone inside some of the tour destinations. If we were allowed to go inside the Grove Street cemetery or the Skull & Bones society, we would have enjoyed the tour a lot more. Check out our picks for the most interesting destinations:
Skull & Bones Secret Society: Located on High St, this secret society is known for its mysterious rituals and traditions. The ghost of Geronimo, a famous Apache chief, supposedly haunts these grounds. Legend has it that Prescott Bush, our former presidents’ father and grandfather, stole Geronimo’s skull from his burial site. The members of the secret society reportedly require new members to kiss Geronimo’s skull!
New Haven Green: Bounded by Chapel, Church, Elm and College Streets, the green rests over thousands of burials of yellow fever victims that died during the late 1700s.
Grove Street Cemetery: This is cemetery is home to many historical figures such as Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin and Noah Webster, the creator of the Webster Dictionary. Grove Street Cemetery is also home to Midnight Mary. You can read her story on Damned Connecticut.
Service: 8.5/10-Our tour guide displayed vast knowledge of New Haven’s haunted history. She was quirky but did not project the spooky vibe one might expect for this type of tour. Nonetheless, we enjoyed following our tour guide to the various destinations on the tour and listening to her stories.
Price: 6.5/10-Without the Groupon deal, Historical Ghost Tours loses points on its price. $25 per person is steep for a 90 minute tour, especially one that does not venture into most of its destinations.
Variety: 8.5/10-The tour covers a handful of places in a 90 minute period. We found this to be the most desirable aspect of the tour.
In a nutshell: 32/40-Historical Ghost Tours in New Haven-it’s a good idea and has a lot of interesting elements. We recommend you try this tour if they launch another Groupon deal or if you feel the price matches the quality. We would like to look into more of Connecticut’s haunted history and we’ll most likely try this type of tour again in the near future.
If you’re looking to take advantage of Connecticut’s wonderful weather this summer, why not go for hike! There are hundreds of hiking trails in our state and many of them lead to great views. Whether you’re an experienced climber or you’ve only gazed at mountains from afar, Connecticut has hikes for all levels and ages. I’ve hiked across the country since the age of twelve as a member of the Highpointers Club. Christina, a city girl at heart, is fairly new to the hiking scene. Regardless of our differences, we enjoy what Connecticut has to offer in terms of hiking. On Sunday, we climbed Sleeping Giant in Hamden. Here is how our afternoon panned out-
Overall Grade: B
Address: Sleeping Giant State Park, 200 Mount Carmel Avenue, Hamden, CT
Parking Fee: 8/10-The parking fee is $10. If you’re planning on camping overnight, this is not a bad fee. If you’re only planning on a day hike, however, it might seem kind of steep.
Atmosphere: 9/10-Sleeping Giant lies in Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden. The park is across the street from Quinnipiac University, a private institution with an enrollment of approximately 5900 students. A large fraction of those students hiked Sleeping Giant on Sunday. Most of the other hikers included families with small children and teenagers. The park offers hiking, picnicking, camping and fishing. The mountain offers a lookout tower, a modest nature trail and a scenic view. You’ll find plenty to do if you decide to spend the day.
Trail: 8.5/10-The trail is only 1.5 miles long. The park’s website calls it “scenic” but the mountain is cloaked by trees until you get to the top. We enjoyed the historical trail markers we found along the way. You’ll also notice a modest amount of wild life.
The view: 9/10-When you reach the top, you’ll find a nice view of Long Island Sound and the New Haven area from the stone observation tower!
In a nutshell: 34.5/40-If you’re looking for a nice quick hike with a great view, Sleeping Giant delivers. We recommend you take advantage of the park’s fishing and camping opportunities to make the most of your parking fee.
Okay, we admit it. We promise to review “fun” and “food” but we’ve kind of strayed away from the “fun” aspect lately. It’s the weekend. You’ve enjoyed a great meal at an unconventional restaurant. Now, you want to enjoy yourself. You want move around! You want to be active! Or, somewhat active. We recently visited Monster Mini Golf in Windsor Locks and Roller Magic in Waterbury for our after-meal fun. Monster Mini Golf is a glow in the dark, indoor miniature golf course with plenty of scary props and a decent sized arcade. Roller Magic is a combination of a roller rink and an arcade. This is the breakdown-
Course: 8.5/10-When we entered Monster Mini Golf, we immediately noticed the glow in the dark lighting and Halloween themed props. We felt as if we stepped into an episode of 90′s Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid Of The Dark, a Twilight Zone/camp fire story show for kids and nostalgic adults. Are You Afraid Of The Darkfeatured an episode with a murderous clown named Zeebo who haunts a fun house. The creepy clown face (see the picture above) reminded us of him! Monster Mini Golf changes their props around Christmas to create a Nightmare Before Christmas feel! We found the course itself a little tricky. You need to calculate each shot around winding corners and tricky props. We enjoyed the challenge but felt that it slows down the progress of the game. You might spend a little extra time waiting from one hole to another.
Service: 9/10-We appreciated the creativity of the staff. During your game, a staff member will announce an upcoming challenge for players with a certain color ball. Another staff member (wearing a white lab coat) will randomly select a player for a challenge. The staff member challenged me to a mini golf shoot off! The objective: one hole, one shot. The person who putts closest to the hole wins the challenge. Unfortunately, I lost the challenge. Nonetheless, he awarded me with glow in the dark fangs as a complimentary prize!
Price of Course: 8.5/10-$8 for adults. $7 for kids. It’s a fairly standard price among mini golf courses in Connecticut. Monster Mini Golf will offer discount deals on their facebook page. They’ll often post secret words for weekly discounts on group games. Check back with their facebook page often for secret words and other prizes. Monster Mini Golf held a costume sweepstakes last October.
Arcade: 9/10-We loved their arcade! It’s a nice kick back to the 80s/90s with classic games like Pacman and shuffle board. Like drive-in movies, Connecticut seems to lack arcades so it’s always a delight when we find one.
In a nutshell: 35/40-Monster Mini Golf delivers Halloween fun all year round and pays respect to the classics with its retro arcade. Despite its tricky course, we recommend you visit for the creative staff, spooky props, glow in the dark lighting and, of course, Zeebo the clown! We will be back very soon (especially for Halloween). Here are the top three features we would love to see the staff add to Monster Mini Golf:
1. Scarier music: Music enhances the atmosphere of any environment. Scary music would definitely compliment the spooky props.
2. Remixed holes: Mini golf courses change up the structure of their holes every once in awhile. We would love for Monster Mini golf to add new, spooky holes with different obstacle courses when the customers least expect it. People love the element of unpredictability!
3. Tournaments: Farmington Mini Golf holds a tournament every August. The top prize pays $100. Monster Mini Golf could hold a tournament at Halloween that pays this amount.
On a final note: There are several Monster Mini Golf courses throughout the U.S. and Canada. We would love to see more of them in the Hartford county area. Monster Mini Golf will soon open in Stamford and Orange.
Atmosphere: 9.5/10-RollerMagic is located in a part of Waterbury that looks like San Fransisco with its very long streets and houses/condos with decks on each story. The rink itself is hidden behind some factory buildings. These factors added to the adventure. They made us feel like we were in a place far removed from our state. When we found the rink, we discovered a parking lot filled with cars! We knew then that this place was a community secret. Families, teenagers and young adults poured into the rink the way college students pour into clubs in downtown New Haven. But unlike those clubs, the RollerMagic holds the crowd with ease. The building is spacious. It contains a large rink, a small food venue and an average sized arcade. We enjoyed skating around the rink for a good hour and a half. Christina showed off her roller blading expertise while I tried to stay on my feet. You could tell the customers were regulars by their expertise as well. We enjoyed watching the skaters show off their jumps, dance moves and other crazy tricks.
Service: 9/10-RollerMagic has fast and friendly service. No matter the size of the crowd, their staff takes care of you in a jiffy. They make you sign a waiver before you skate but do their best to ensure the safety of the skaters. The staff will skate around the rink to prevent any injuries or other difficulties. If you have any questions, they will be happy to help you. If you ask them questions while you’re skating, be sure to watch where you’re going!
Price: 8.5/10-The price is relatively cheap compared to other skate rinks in Conneticut. They offer deals at certain times during the week. Click here for more detailed information. RollerMagic could benefit by using Groupon like Ron-A-Roll Skating Center in Vernon does.
Arcade: 9/10-This is yet another arcade that pays tribute to the classic arcade games and incorporates new games as well. We liked the fact that Pacman costs only 25 cents per player! This is definitely reminiscent of the older arcades.
In a nutshell: 36/40-Whether you’re a skating pro like Christina or a skating novice (to put it nicely) like me, you’ll have a lot of fun at RollerMagic. You will burn A LOT of calories without realizing you’re doing so! Here are the top three features we would love to see the staff add to RollerMagic:
1. Larger lockers: Larger lockers would offer more room for the customer’s items.
2. A wider variety of snacks: This would attract more customers who feel hungry or thirsty after a round of skating.
3. Skate competitions: I won’t be participating in these anytime soon but it would be nice to see roller derby make a comeback!
After a very long break, we’re back! We last left off with a dinner + movie review at Gilson Cafe Cinema in Winsted. We liked the movie prices but weren’t too impressed with the food. We decided to try this experience again at the Southington Drive-In. The Southington Drive-In served the town of Southington from 1955 until 2002. The town decided to reopen the drive-in 2010 as a community run theater. Nostalgia was reborn! The drive-in drew a large crowd of both newcomers and movie-going veterans who longed to relive their drive-in memories. We visited Southington Drive-In last summer and loved our experience. When we learned Pop’s Burgers (also of Southington) serviced the Drive-in, we decided to review the drive-in as a dinner-and-a-movie package. This is how our night panned out-
Atmosphere: 10/10-We felt as if we were reliving a piece of history. We were in awe seeing the many cars lined up toward the drive-in screen. We recalled our experience at the Hartford Drive-In before the town abandoned it and the Toll Brothers built mundane looking houses on the land. We knew the importance of this drive-in from the moment we parked. There are only three drive-ins left in the state of Connecticut. By the 1980s, drive-ins rapidly disappeared from the state. The town of Southington cared enough to keep their drive-in alive and the community cared enough to show up in large quantities. The power of nostalgia is something we cannot word eloquently but we can say that we were moved, truly and deeply moved.
We are also moved by Southington Drive-In’s choice to play classic movies and old fashioned commercials. The drive-in plays a wonderful selection of movies. They range from kid friendly like Shrek to scary movies like Friday the 13th. We enjoyed watching Shrek on the big screen again. We caught all of the “adult jokes” this time around! If you visit the website, you’ll find a wide selection of movies that play throughout the summer. When you visit the drive-in, you’ll notice commercials like the one below. See if you recognize this gem!
Service: 10/10-We appreciated the hard work and personalities of the staff at the Southington Drive-In and Pop’s Burgers. They greeted you with smiles and provided quick, quality service. Be sure to thank a staff member on your visit. They put A LOT of effort into making your experience enjoyable so remember to reciprocate Also, show some respect for the park. We saw a couple rude customers waiting in line for food and two women (with children) who smoked in front of them and threw their cigarette butts on the grass. We shouldn’t have to tell you why this is rude, disrespectful and downright stupid. You are NOT entitled to disrespecting the property or the employees.
Price of food: 4/5-The prices are decent compared to other theaters. You’ll pay less for any of the items on Pop’s menu than you would at a regular movie theater. You’ll also A LOT pay less for Popcorn and Candy. For example, a large bag of popcorn costs $3. You can’t even get a box of candy for that price at most movie theaters! Many people sneak in food to movie theaters because its so expensive. At Southington Drive-In, you can pay for dinner and a snack and not feel broke.
Taste: 8.5/10– We also liked the taste of our food better than we do at most movie theaters. Pop’s burgers and fries are made fresh on a grill. We found the bun to be the most appealing part of our burger because it tasted like freshly cooked bread from a bakery. We especially loved our savory fries. The staff serves them in large quantities (like Five Guys Burgers & Fries) but they taste better than Five Guys’ fries.
Price of movie: 5/5 $10 a car for Southington residents. $13 a car for non-residents. Pack a car full of friends (or family) and take advantage of the awesome price!
In a nutshell: 37.5/40-Southington Drive-In earns an A because they deliver great nostalgia, great food and great customer service. The summer is young. Check out their website and visit them this summer!
EVERYTHING about Gilson Cafe Cinema in Winsted excited us. When we learned a dinner and movie cinema existed in Connecticut, we felt elated. We thought once we visited old fashioned theaters and drive-ins, we were entrepreneurs of the “classic” movie-going experience. Boy were we naive! This cafe cinema has existed in the heart of Winsted for the past twenty-five years. Twenty-five years ago, Alan Nero, a former firefighter, converted this abandoned vaudeville theatre into a movie house complete with two screens and a built-in restaurant. Our hopes were high for Gilson Cafe Cinema. This is how our night panned out-
Atmosphere: 9/10-When we arrived in Winsted, we were immediately reminded of Northampton. No, Winsted center is not as big or flashy but it comes equipped with plenty of quaint shops, hole in the wall restaurants and historic buildings that somehow age with grace. Gilson scheduled a jazz band to perform after the movie but canceled at the last minute. This band might have echoed the building’s vaudeville days. The movie house provides a retro vibe with its retro wall colors, comfy seats and old fashioned movie screens. Our tables, however, stood no taller than a standard footstool. We had to hunch over to eat our food.
Service: 9/10-Service was fast. The waitress provided our meal within the first fifteen minutes of the movie. She also brought us our check before the movie ended. It was kind of distracting to see waiters/waitresses walking around the theatre during the movie. We thought this protocol make might work better if the servers brought the food BEFORE the movie started and left a large pitcher of water on the tables. Come to think of it, we would have liked it if our tables stood taller than foot stools.
Price of Food: 3.5/5 Don’t be fooled by the seemingly cheap prices on the menu! You don’t get a lot for your money. Our $6.50 meals came with small sandwiches and a handful of chips. If our meals came with larger portions, the price would match. Unfortunately, our meals were no more filling than a snack off the dollar menu at a fast food restaurant. We recommend you eat at one of the nearby hole in the walls before you are seated for your movie.
Taste: 7/10-The taste of our meals left much to be desired. By that phrase, we mean we took a bite out of mediocrity-it wasn’t particularly good or bad. The taste lacked complexity and failed to differentiate from a typical movie theatre snack. We failed to see why we shouldn’t be eating popcorn or candy. Perhaps we ordered the wrong items or caught the chefs on a rushed day. We are open to broadening our horizons and re-evaluating this category.
Price Of Movie: 5/5-Gilson Cinema Cafe charges $7.50 per movie ticket! Most movie theaters charge upwards of $10+ dollars. AMC Loews charges around that amount for college students… but only on Thursdays. Bowtie Cinemas charges $8.50 for students with a college ID. Gilson’s charges never waiver. You pay for great sound quality and a large screen with Cinema-quality graphics.
In a nutshell: 33.5/40-Gilson Cafe Cinema left us with mixed emotions. We valued Gilson’s historical significance, great movie ticket prices and fine staff. However, we strongly believe that if Gilson adds variety to its menu and larger portions for the price, it will find more success as a dinner + movie venue. We recommend you visit for the low ticket price, great sound quality and the historical experience. You might also want to check out the jazz band (and other musical performances) if you stop by on a Saturday night.
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