Dec 5, 2011
09:05 AM
Discover Connecticut

Best of Connecticut Roadtrip: Mansfield, Willimantic & Storrs

 

Although some of us may not have taken full advantage of what's available at UConn and the surrounding areas during our college days (you know, aside from the bars and parties), it doesn't mean we can't go back now to experience it. As this year's Best of Connecticut suggests, there are plenty of great things for everyone to enjoy, both on campus and nearby. And we don't even need fake IDs any more!

For this sojurn, let's start right on campus at one of my favorite places in the state: The UConn Dairy Bar. For me, it could be the dead of January with 10 feet of snow on the ground, but it's always a good time for ice cream. Simple chocolate chip is my usual, but here, the "Jonathan Supreme" rules, as well it should: peanut butter swirl with chocolate-covered peanuts in vanilla. Yum! I also love the whole retro '50s look of the Dairy Bar and that you can watch as they make the ice cream (actually make, not just mix in flavors from prefab mixes like so many other places do) right on the premises. Sweet!

To work off that double-scoop cone (eyes are always bigger than the stomach when it comes to ice cream, right?), you might want to walk over to the UConn Co-op rather than drive; it's less than a mile away. Like many bookstores, it's a great place to lose yourself for a few hours, wandering among the stacks and browsing the wide variety of titles. There's also other merchandise here—Husky-related, of course—as well as a cafe and convenience store.

Staying on campus, you can wind down your day with a show at the Cabaret at the Jorgensen Center, an intimate venue that inspires extraordinary performances. On January 27 & 28, try a course with "the dean of Latin jazz," Chucho Valdés with the Afro-Cuban Messengers; February 17 & 18, trip out with The Pink Floyd Experience; and on April 13 & 14, spend an evening with star of stage and screen, Bernadette Peters.

Going off campus, there are two nearby options to end the day, and like many college activities, both revolve around alcohol. For the first, head due south on Route 195 to Mansfield, where you will find Asian Bistro, home of the best saketini in the state. You can try the straight version with sake, vodka and Asian cucumber, or experiment with versions made with lychee and ginger—all will create the desired effect. The fare here is also top-notch, so feel free to try something from the extensive menu.

If you epicurean tastes shade more to the domestic, then continue along a little further south into Willimantic, home of the Willimantic Brewing Co. In addition to having over 100 items in the menu—everything from nachos and chicken wings to rib-eyes and wraps—this restaurant and pub brews over a dozen handcrafted beers on site, plus regularly has more than 20 microbrews on tap. It's the type of place where you'll want to belly up to the bar, raise a mug and celebrate that after a visit to campus, you've got no homework!

Best of Connecticut 2011 full write-ups below:


Ice Cream
UConn Dairy Bar
Storrs, (860) 486-2634 (dairybar.uconn.edu)

For almost 60 years this dairy bar has been serving rich, mouthwatering ice cream. It’s all made right at the creamery, and there are always at least 24 flavors on hand. The signature flavor, “Jonathan Supreme” (named for UConn’s mascot), combines peanut butter swirl with chocolate-covered peanuts in vanilla ice cream and is sure to fuel Husky spirit. Seasonal flavors include Butter Pecan, Peppermint Stick and Pumpkin, making this treat enjoyable and accessible whatever the time of year.
 

Bookstore: New Books
UConn Co-op
Storrs, (860) 486-3537 (bookstore.uconn.edu)

More than just an on-campus bookstore, the UConn Co-op sells not only textbooks, but also a wide range of contemporary and classic titles. The two-story store also offers computer repairs for students, all kinds of apparel and merchandise, a café and a convenience store, making it the hot spot on campus—a place where you can explore for hours or just stop in to browse the aisles and grab a bite to eat.
 

Cabaret
Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts
Storrs, (860) 486-4226 (jorgensen.uconn.edu)

Topflight musicians, chanteuses and comedians let their hair down in this intimate club’s setting. From sophisticated divas to cutting-edge improv groups, they make you feel like an invited guest in the comfortable room filled with candlelit tables. Food and drinks are available and highly recommended. Coming up this season are Al Jarreau, piano virtuoso Chucho Valdés, Bernadette Peters, the Pink Floyd Experience and 80 Jim Henson puppets (uncensored!) in Stuffed and Unstrung.
 

Brew Pub
Willimantic Brewing Co.
Willimantic, (860) 423-6777 (willibrew.com)

Willimantic Brewing Co., located in a historic 1909 U.S. Post Office building, gets top honors again, due in part to the 14 hand-crafted beers they brew each month—including Late Night IPA and Smokey the Beer—plus the 20 craft microbrews on tap, many from New England. Add in a menu of post office-themed delights, like Parcel Post Pizza and Return to Tenders, and the fact that you can view the seven-barrel brewery from the dining room, and you’ve got a winner.
 

Cocktail: Saketini
Asian Bistro
Mansfield, (860) 456-8316 (asianbistromansfield.com)

With two beautiful, highly textured restaurants and a popular fusion menu, Asian Bistro has a lot going for it—including a full bar. Loads of libations are available, but Saketinis are at the top of the list. The basic model is made with sake, vodka and Asian cucumber, and strained through crushed ice into a martini glass. Other varieties include Lychee and Ginger, with appropriate garnishes, and the resident mixologists are always fiddling with new variations.
 

Best of Connecticut Roadtrip: Mansfield, Willimantic & Storrs

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