Dinner And Dessert in the Middle of Nowhere: Haveli India Restaurant and Vida Doce Cafe & Pastry Shop


Think about your last dinner date.  How did you go about selecting the restaurant?  Did a friend or family member recommend it? Did you choose based on the plethora of good reviews? Or did you choose a restaurant based on familiarity? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you fell victim to the dinner date routine! We can sympathize.  We’ve been there before and while routine is not necessarily a bad thing, it can get a little boring after awhile.  Tonight, we ventured into an Indian restaurant that masquerades as a small hotel and quaint little bakery/cafe that hides across from a Citco gas station on the Berlin Turnpike.

Haveli India Restaurant

Overall Grade: B+

Links: Website, Menu

Location: 1300 South Main St., Middletown, CT

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Atmosphere: 8.5/10-Haveli India Restaurant rests just off the highway in the middle of nowhere. There are no other restaurants nearby.  This is why Haveli India Restaurant qualifies as a M.O.N.E (Middle of Nowhere Establishment) instead of a hole in the wall.  This intrigued and confused us. If we hadn’t been looking for Haveli, we would have dismissed it as a modest hotel. When we first entered Haveli, we were reminded of the Stanley Hotel from the 1980 horror flick The Shining. We noticed the same, creepy rug pattern and to add to horror-esq vibe, were the only ones there!  Fortunately, an older couple and a family arrived shortly after us and the creepiness wore off.  We found the Indian paintings pleasing and dug the authentic music as well.  The track repeated after 15 minutes or so.  Authentic music enhances any restaurant environment.  We would have loved more variety.

Service: 9/10- Service is a “make it or break it” deal for restaurants. Bella Anthony’s cracked under pressure with only four small groups of people.  Haveli’s served about the same amount with ease. They handed out the menus as soon as we sat down, delivered the food in a short amount of time (while it was still hot and fresh) and constantly refilled the drinks at every table. We never needed to ask for “more” of anything and we didn’t have to wait long for a check. The waiters weren’t too personable but they compensated with their dependability.

Price/Selection:  8/10- The price is fair but it is somewhat disproportionate to the amount of food you receive. We expected larger portions but that can be a petty American bias.  Haveli’s offers a wide selection in terms of hot/cold appetizers, vegetarians specialties, seafood specialties, chicken and lamb specialties, Indian bread, Kebab’s, rice, and desserts. Haveli only offers a small amount of Indian drinks such as Lassi, a salted or unsalted yogurt drink that is flavored with sugar, rose water, or crushed cumin seeds. The American/Euro-centric amount of drinks could pertain to general pickiness.

Taste: 9.5/10- We ate “seafood” that tasted like a TV dinner at Red Lobster earlier today so we welcomed the savory taste of Haveli’s dishes. Highlights include- the extra doughy bread that soaked up flavor residue like a sponge, the coconut flavored white rice and the curry that complimented our taste buds and cleared our sinuses.  We strongly recommend the chicken or vegetarian curry if you are losing your Indian-cuisine virginity or if you long to revisit your first taste of Indian cuisine with an enlightened perspective.

In a nutshell-35/40- Haveli India Restaurant scores a solid B+ in total and an A in taste. We cannot emphasize this enough.  This is one of the more authentic Indian restaurants in Connecticut. We recommend you stop by for the exquisite taste, the fast service, and of course, the Shining vibe.

Vida Doce Cafe & Pastry Shop

Overall Grade: B  

Links: Facebook, Website

Location: 262 Brockett Street, Newington, CT

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Disclaimer:  We base this grade off of only the dessert/cafe experience.  Vida Doce Cafe & Pastry Shop also offers a wide variety of specialty cakes.  If you’re looking for potential catering, we strongly recommend you contact Vida Doce and schedule an appointment.  You should also look for personal reviews from previous customers who used Vida Doce’s catering services.  We can say that the cakes look creative and simply stunning.

Atmosphere: 9/10-Vida Doce’s interior looks adorable.  It has plenty of tables for two, which is an unspoken welcoming for couples to sit, sip some cafe drinks and socialize.  I secretly longed for some mellow music for my girlfriend and I to chill out to. There was something special about sitting right next to window while the snow fell (even though I normally hate snow after December).  The vibe is inherently New England and somewhat reminiscent of the cafes I visited in Paris.  I longed to share that experience with her so it was nice finding a place that hinted of French tranquility.

Service 10/10: Vida Doce’s staff is very personable and very organized.  We appreciated their pleasant demeanor and the fact that they refrigerated our take-home food while we ate and talked.  The staff also keeps the place very clean without a single crumbs in sight! If you’ve visit enough cafes, you’ll notice that is not always the case.  Finding a cafe in which the staff doesn’t need to wipe down the tables before you sit is a rarity.  The length of time the customers spent in Vida Doce also speaks to their excellent service.

Price/Selection: 7/10 Vida Doce loses a few points on its price and selection. The pastries average $3-5 per portion.  This wouldn’t be a problem if Vida Doce provided larger portions. We finished our pastries in very little time and we were already pretty stuffed from Haveli. The pastry selection lacks some variety.  The desserts on display looked appetizing but they left us wanting more to choose from.  One can probably attribute the lack of variety to the fact that Vida Doce specializes in its special event cakes.  We surveyed plenty of variety in this category!  Vida Doce is also a fairly new establishment. You’ll notice that the pastry portion of their website is “under construction.” They do not list their pastry at the counter so you need to ask.  They are probably still in the experimental phase with these categories.

Taste: 8/10-We felt satisfied with the taste of our pastries. We could easily differentiate these pastries from the pre-made imitations that other restaurants attempt to market as gourmet food.  Their cafe selection wins in the taste category, however.  We recommend you try the cappuccino or some mocha.  The succulent flavor rivals that of Starbucks or Dunkin Doughnuts.  Best of all, they serve it in a large cup and fill it to the top.  Chain restaurants that supposedly specialize in cafe drinks will often fill it only three-quarters full.  *Cough McDonalds*

In a nutshell-34/40– Vida Doce Cafe & Pastry Shop scores a high B in our book.  They are new and promising so this grade is definitely subject to change for the better.  We recommend you visit for the cafe, the friendly service, the adorable tables for two and make your own judgement on the size-portion ratio of the pastries.  If you’re interested in specialty cakes, please visit their social network sites or stop in for a visit.

Haveli India on Urbanspoon

Vida Doce Cafe & Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon

More Hole In The Walls


Imagine that you’re with your friends, family or significant other on a weekend afternoon or night.  You’re looking for place to eat where you don’t have to wait long.  You’re starving and.want instant gratification.  You can opt for fast food.  Most people do.  But why settle for greasy mediocrity when you can have great local taste? This week, we’ll take a look at two Newington Hole In The Walls that offer just that.

GoldBurgers

Overall Grade: A

Links: WebsiteFacebookMenu     

Location:  1096 Main Street, Newington, CT 06111

Atmosphere: 9/10-    When you enter this brightly colored restaurant, you’ll be immersed by creativity.  You might first notice some local faces hanging in picture frames on the wall.  These are the winners of GoldBurgers’ food challenges.  The “Big Dog” and “Trinity” challenges require contestants to finish a large  amount of food in less than 45 minutes.  You will also notice a specials board and a suggestion box.  If you have a creative idea for a new menu item, you can submit it to the suggestion box.  The GoldBurgers staff considers new items all the time.  They could choose your idea and add it to the specials board!

Service: 10/10-   We’ve visited GoldBurgers several times since its opening in 2009 and we’ve always encountered friendly and fast service.  The staff tries their best to make you feel at home and will often inquire about your day, local events and how your food tastes.  This “hometown personality” cannot be replicated by a chain restaurant or  some fast food joint.

Price: 4/5-  Revision 12/28/12: We did an inventory of burger places in Connecticut and discovered that GoldBurgers prices DO NOT border on the high side. In fact,  Goldburger’s prices are pretty competitive. This is why we changed the score to 4/5. You can buy a solid meal (a burger, fries and a drink)  for around $10.

If you’re looking for an economical route, we suggest the “Build Your Own Burger” option.  For $3.49 you can build a single patty burger with choice of a number of free toppings.  You can even choose potato chips and banana peppers!  For $4.99, you can build a double patty burger.

Selection: 5/5-GoldBurgers oozes with creativity and variety!  In addition to the menu, the specials board features even more creative items that were brainstormed by the staff and customers.  Check out our five picks for GoldBurger’s most creative items.  For more information, check out the menu:


 1.  The GoldBurger:  2 beef patties, American cheese, lettuce, onions, GoldBurger sauce topped off with potato chips.   $5.99

2.   The “Boss” Burger:  2 beef patties layered with cheddar cheese sauce and jalapenos topped with pepper jack cheese and spicy mustard.  $5.99

3.  Chicken Hummus Burger:  Chicken burger topped with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato and roasted red pepper hummus.  $5.39 

4.  Build Your Own Burger:   See menu.  $3.49- $4.99 +

 5.  Fully Loaded Fries:  Your choice of fresh cut fries or waffle fries topped with nacho cheese sauce, crumbled bacon, sour cream & jalapenos.  $5.99.  Add Chili for $1.00.  

 Taste  9/10:  Yes, GoldBurgers’  menu items taste as delicious as they sound.  They’re juicy, freshly made and packed with plenty of flavor.

In a nutshell: 37/40-GoldBurgers stands as one of the best burger joints in Connecticut because of its creative atmosphere, diverse menu and dishes that drip with flavor.  We strongly recommend you stop by for a bite if you live in Hartford county or if you’re willing to make the trip.

Tokyo Café

Overall Grade: B+

Links: FacebookMenu

Location: 451 New Britain Avenue, Newington, CT 06111

Atmosphere:  9/10-  Located on the border of Newington and New Britain, Tokyo Café exists as an anomaly in this part of town.  When Tokyo Café opened in the Summer of 2010, we thought it would be doomed to close early, knowing the history of several ill-fated restaurants that attempted to survive the slow business of New Britain Ave.  Tokyo Café has since beaten the odds (knock on wood) and we can’t be surprised.  The restaurant seats only a handful of people but one will overlook this because of  the charming Japanese decorations  and relaxing music.  Tokyo Café omits an aroma of authenticity, one that is hard to come by in other Japanese restaurants.   Few things about Tokyo Café scream “Americanized.”

Service:  9/10– You’ll find humble and pleasant service at Tokyo Café.  The staff greets and serves you with a quiet kindness.   You won’t need to wait long for your meals or for a check.  You can also order take-out style.

Selection/price: 8/10-   Tokyo  Café  has a diverse selection of items.  When you scan the menu, you will find a unique selection of  items that don’t exist at other local Japanese restaurants (i.e. Philadelphia Roll, Peanut Avocado Roll, Sweet Potato Roll).  You can also order a select number of hibachi items. Tokyo  Café  is fairly priced for a sushi and hibachi restaurant.  It could, however, benefit from an “all you can eat-sushi” option.  Check out  our five picks for  Tokyo Café’s most creative menu items.  For more information, check out the entire menu.

 1.  Philadelphia Roll: smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese.  $4.50

2.  French Dragon Roll:  Spicy crunch shrimp and avocado inside topped with crab meat and finished with eel sauce, spicy mayo and boney wasabi sauce.   $8.95

3.   Dinosaur Roll:  Salmon tempura inside topped with salmon and avocado.    $9.95

4.   Bento Box Lunch:  Your choice of vegetable, shrimp, chicken, beef, salmon, chicken or steak teriyaki, tempura or negimaki with California rolls, Shumai, White Rice, Miso Soup & Salad. $7.50-8.50

5. Authentic Japanese sodas: Flavors include-strawberry, orange, kiwi and mango.

 Taste:  9/10-Tokyo  Café serves a fresh and delicious taste.  Tokyo Café’s sushi dishes are not all together filling. If you are looking for a filling meal, we suggest you order one of the bento box options or the hibachi dishes.

In a nutshell: 35/40-Tokyo Café scores a solid B+ in our books.  You can expect authenticity and quality when you visit this restaurant.  We recommend you stop by with a couple of friends or a significant other. Tokyo Café is not big enough to hold a large group of people.  We hope it stays this way =)

GoldBurgers on Urbanspoon

Hole In The Walls


Update 7/20/12: Bella Anthony’s is officially closed as of April 2012.  To quote one user from Urban Spoon, ” The place is padlocked and clearly not in operation. A phone call confirmed the line is disconnected. Their website is not operating.”

Let’s be blunt.   If you’ve lived in Connecticut long enough, you’re probably sick of your predictable weekend routine.  All too often, you find yourself saying, “I can’t find anything to do.”  Don’t give up!  Let CT Snapshot be your guide.  Each week, we’ll review the best and worst of Connecticut’s weekend life.  Be informed.  Never settle for predictability.  This week, we examine Hole In The Walls.

The Online Etymology Dictionary defines the term “hole in the wall” as a “small, unpretentious place.”  Some of the best restaurants in Connecticut are hole in the walls! They often serve up an authentic taste that trumps the flavor of popular chain restaurants.  BE CAREFUL.  Not every hole in the wall is as authentic as it purports.

Banana Brazil Luncheonette

Overall Grade:  B+

Website: None

Location: Main St (State St), Danbury, CT 06810-7803

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Atmosphere: 8.8/10- We really had to dig to find this place.  Banana Brazil Luncheonette does not have a website and it is not widely known.  These factors are the hallmarks of a true “hole in the wall.” Banana Brazil Luncheonette lies in a diverse neighborhood on Main Street in Danbury.  This street features a variety of restaurants from around the world. This is the perfect location for a place like Banana Brazil. Its interior bares similarities to a modest café because it is not particularly colorful and has minimal seating.  But the aroma of South American cuisine makes the atmosphere truly captivating.  From the moment you walk in the door, you will smell freshly cooked meats and vegetables.

Service: 9/10- The bulk of Banana Brazil functions like a buffet.  Unlike some other buffet places in Connecticut, the food is always fresh and always hot.  The chefs cook diligently in the kitchen and the cashier greets customers with a friendly attitude.  When we passed the street a few hours after we ate, we discovered that Banana Brazil is open well into the night.  These long hours benefit the traditional “sit down” customer along with those who prefer take-out and/or late night snacking.

Selection/Price: 8/10-The buffet costs only $8! This rivals HomeTown Buffet’s standard price of $10 or more per person.  Banana Brazil offers a delicious variety of food including:  fried chicken, garlic pasta, plantains, salad, beans, rice and a rotisserie of slow-cooking cuts of meat. You can also purchase authentic, South American sodas. This delectable selection left us wanting more. The majority of Connecticut is largely unfamiliar with Brazilian cuisine. Banana Brazil could broaden its selection by exposing its customers to traditional desserts or stews.

Taste: 9/10-The food is nothing less than savory.  We recommend you sample of all of the dishes.  Polish off a sweet plantain.  Chow down on some finger-lickin chicken.  Munch on a juicy slice of meat.  If you can’t finish it all, take it home in a doggy bag.  The flavor won’t disappear if you decide to reheat it for a quick lunch.

In a nutshell:  34.8/40-Think of Banana Brazil as an opportunity to experience the dishes of different culture.  Don’t expect fancy decorations or enticing music.  Banana Brazil keeps it simple and authentic.  Like any true “hole in the wall,” this restaurant is a delectable discovery.  Since 1998, Banana has kept it simple and delicious.

Bella Anthony’s

Overall Grade: D

Website: http://www.bellaanthonys.moonfruit.com/

Location:  580 Silas Deane Hwy. Wethersfield

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Atmosphere:  5/10- Bella Anthony’s first sparked our interest on Groupon.com.  We saw the description of the Inghilterra family and their “old-world recipes” and felt elated.  Bella Anthony’s website added to the intrigue with details about musical entertainment in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, this is where the intrigue ended.  The show tune singer/piano man could not save the restaurant from its bland interior.  Other than a few film noir posters, Bella Anthony’s lacked any decoration that would indicate to the customer that it was authentically Italian.

Service:  6/10-We found the service to be disappointing but not without potential.  Bella Anthony’s is less than month old and it has a lot of kinks to work out.  To truly thrive, they need to hire a host, additional waiters/waitresses and more chefs.  Their only two waitresses treated with us with kindness and respect. Nonetheless, they were overwhelmed by a number of disgruntled customers who failed to understand that they were understaffed.  By hiring more employees, Bella Anthony’s will surely cut down the level of dissatisfaction.

Selection and Price: 8/10- Bella Anthony’s menu features a considerable number of items.  Customers can choose from a variety of Italian favorites including:  Pasta Fagiolli soup, Fried Mozzarella, Chicken Marsala, Lobster Raviolli, Spicy Sicilian Pizza and Espresso & Sambuca.  These prices range from $2 to no more than $18.  From a glance, Bella Anthony’s seems diverse and affordable.

Taste:  6/10-Our experience with Bella Anthony’s dishes left much to be desired.  The pre-course salads and bread did not taste distinctly Italian.  One would expect different from “old-world recipes.” Our Shrimp Scampi and Chicken Parm tasted either too hot or too cold and lacked spices.  We encourage you to try the other dishes to make a more informed decision. As with all restaurants, some dishes will taste better than others.  This depends on the quality of the ingredients and the chef’s experience with creating the dish.

In a nutshell: 25/40-For now, Bella Anthony’s scores a D.  We understand that Bella Anthony’s is a new restaurant, and we still see potential, but to compete with the other restaurants on the Silas Deane, they need to make some fundamental changes.  We will revisit this eatery in the coming year to measure the improvement, or lack thereof.

Bella Anthony's on Urbanspoon

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