I’ve always loved university towns, and New Haven is no exception. New Haven is well known as home to Yale University and thus a lively cultural center has sprouted up around it. It’s one of Connecticut’s larger cities, and worth a visit. Here’s why:
By car: New Haven sits along the coast of the Long Island Sound off I-95, making it accessible by car, but you don’t need a car once you’re there.
By train: $30 gets you a round-trip ticket from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan to New Haven in under two hours, with several stops along the way to jump on if you already live in Connecticut. And it’s only a ten-minute cab ride from Union Station to downtown. Have them take you directly to your hotel or New Haven Green on Chapel Street if you’re day-tripping it.
What—and where—to eat
Tip: New Haven Restaurant Week will be running November 2-7, at rates of $18 for lunch and $32 for dinner. Restaurants participating in this event are marked with an asterisk (*) below.
Ordinary (990 Chapel Street; 203-907-0238)
I felt like I’d wandered back into Prohibition when I entered the “speakeasy” ambiance of Ordinary’s paneled, wood back-room dining area replete with a fireplace and moosehead above it. The bar’s location marked the town’s first tavern, opened in 1659, and has been visited by such luminaries as George Washington and William Howard Taft.
Every night features some new cocktail alchemy. One of the four owners, Matt Kolosky, is a walking encyclopedia on libations. Did you know that cocktails are a fully American idea, as opposed to Scotch served neat? This dates back to prohibition days when one needed to camouflage the pungent taste of bathtub booze. Try their “Boulevardier”: Redemption rye, sweet vermouth and aperol served over ice. Smashing!
A short list of small dishes make ample accompaniments to the whimsical cocktails and draft brews. There is no oven in the kitchen, so count on simple but very good offerings like a classic grilled cheese made with jack and extra-sharp cheddar on thick, fresh sourdough. Housemade smoked-meat plates include thick, smoky brisket slices with a spicy-sweet Texas-style dip and rich and shredded chicken-thigh meat piled atop white-bread toast.
Bar (254 Crown Street; 203-495-1111)
Pizza is the name of the game in New Haven, and Bar is the hip lively place to go for it. Housed in a former car showroom, Bar has an airy, industrial feel with high ceilings and ample seating. Order a plain pizza and you’ll get a delicious thin-crust pie with marinara sauce, very light romano cheese with a light char to the crust. Order a cheese pie to indulge in what most of us outside New Haven consider pizza. Bar also is a brewery and has several beers to choose from. All are in the English style, that is, low carbonation. The Toasted Blonde has a light malt and biscuit toast flavor. Only 107 calories for a 12-oz. glass!
- Heirloom* (1157 Chapel Street; 203-503-3919)
Located on the ground floor of The Study at Yale hotel on Chapel Street. Heirloom’s menu draws on locally sourced ingredients from heritage growers and neighboring artisan purveyors from Connecticut and New England. Executive Chef Carey Savona refers to his cuisine as “Farm + Coastal” cooking, and I agree completely. The “Baked Connecticut Clam” appetizer with pancetta, lemon, lardo and rosemary and “Seafood Bouillabaisse,” full of shrimp, lobster, red snapper, and mussels in a delicate, Thai-style coconut broth, were both amazing.I was also surprised to find many excellent wine choices in the $30-to-$40 price range. Heirloom is a great value and nice experience all the way around. And they provide the room service for The Study at Yale hotel. This is not your typical hotel restaurant you eat in as a last resort.
Claire’s Corner Copia (1000 Chapel Street; 203-562-3888)
If ever there was integrity in the food industry, it can be found at Claire’s Corner Copia. Claire LaPia, formerly a registered nurse, and Frank Criscuolo, a musician (who sadly passed away last year), started this vegetarian restaurant in 1975. Taking care of the environment is a real concern for Claire, who lectures frequently on sustainable, organic eating.
Claire Criscuolo received the Organic Leadership Award from NOFA (New England Organic Food Association) for her support of organic farmers. Not only is the food good for you, it’s delicious. Must have: “Huevos Rancheros” with the red beans and guacamole. And a delectable array of baked goods. Cash only.
- And the rest
Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana (163 Wooster Street; 203-865-5762)
Modern Apizza (874 State Street; 203-776-5306)
Sally’s Apizza (237 Wooster Street; 203-624-5271)
Taste of New Haven Tours (203-710-3710)
Zinc* (964 Chapel Street; 203-624-0507)
Wooster Square Farmers’ Market (Russo Park at Chapel Street; Saturdays 9 am – 1 pm)
What to do
Yale University Art Gallery (1111 Chapel Street; 203-432-0600)
An international collection of more than 200,000 pieces, making it one of the largest collections in this country. The entrance building was designed by architect Louis Kahn in 1953, and has been joined in 2012 with Old Yale Art Gallery, showcasing an impressive collection of ancient sculpture in a serene atrium. Frequently changing exhibitions in addition to their permanent collection, including excellent examples of modern art, such as Edward Hopper’s painting “Western Motel” keep me coming back on a regular basis. The gallery is free, but closed Mondays.
- Wooster Square Historic District (East on Chapel Street)
Wooster Square is New Haven’s answer to Little Italy, and is home to some of the world’s best-known pizzerias—namely Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza (both are listed above). Head east on Chapel Street and hang a right onto Olive Street to find the beginning edge of the district. One block south you’ll find Wooster Street. The district covers 40 acres and is centered on Wooster Square Park, which hosts an annual cherry blossom festival in the spring and is lined with lovely victorian brownstones.
- Knights of Columbus Museum (One State Street; 203-865-0400)
One unexpected delight in this museum was an exhibit titled: “Illuminating the Word” (showing through November 2, 2014)—featuring the first handwritten bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in 500 years. But it’s a very modern and visual interpretation of the bible.
On display are 68 gorgeous, original pages on parchment made of calf skin, out of the 1,127 pages that comprise the full seven volumes. The pages are nearly 2-feet tall and 1.5-feet wide created using diverse media including calligraphy, watercolor, mineral pigments, gold leaf, gouache, and Japanese stone ink, etc. Over the course of 12 years, a team of 23 professional scribes and artists in Wales worked under the artistic direction of Donald Jackson, official scribe to the Crown Office of the Queen of England.
- Yale University Campus (149 Elm Street; 203-432-2300)
The Mead Visitor Center is the front door of the university. Drop by for information about Yale or to take a guided tour led by Yale College undergraduates. Groups of 10 or more visiting the campus are required to schedule a private tour for a fee.
- Atticus Bookstore/Cafe (1082 Chapel Street; 203-776-4040)
Atticus is an independent bookstore and cafe serving good food and good books. It’s a great place to stop in while you’re downtown shopping for a delicious bowl of soup and a sandwich. It’s also hands-down one of my favorite places in New Haven to wile the time away. Three homemade soups offered daily. Nice assortment of baked goods, many of which are made on the premise.
For the kids
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (170 Whitney Avenue; 203-432-5050)
Most known by the public for its Great Hall of Dinosaurs, which includes a mounted juvenile Apatosaurus and the 110-foot (34 m) long mural “The Age of Reptiles,” it also has permanent exhibits dedicated to human and mammal evolution, wildlife dioramas, Egyptian artifacts, and the birds, minerals and Native Americans of Connecticut.
Hours: Monday through Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm; Sunday Noon to 5:00 pm.
Admission fees: $9 for adults; $5 for children ages 3-18.
A little New Haven history
New Haven was founded in 1638 by English Puritans and laid out according to what is now commonly known as the “Nine Square Plan,” which involved a clear central space (New Haven Green) with eight squares around it. The downtown area is now centered around the 16-acre green and is the resting place for 5,000+ souls who succumbed to various iterations of influenza in past centuries.
New Haven is full of firsts, including:
- The first nine-square grid city plan
- Pizza and the hamburger both began in New Haven
- Allegedly also credited with the inventions of the: lollipop, corkscrew, fish hooks, stone crusher, sulfur matches, corset, almanac, American English dictionary, silly putty, rubber boots, artificial heart, Erector set, lobster roll and thermoscan
- Over 30 biotechnology companies have been spun out of Yale research; these companies have raised more than $2 billion dollars in investments and employ over 1,300 people
Where to stay
The Study at Yale – 1157 Chapel Street
Staying at The Study at Yale is the “smart” choice if you’re after stylish accommodations in New Haven. And not only because it’s a block away from the Yale School of Architecture and Yale Repertory Theatre, but also because of the comfy rooms and attentive service. The location is ideal for experiencing New Haven on foot.
Each guest room features a comfortable leather chair and reading lamp, extended window-facing work surface, a lofty feather-topped bed, iPod music dock, and an extra large shower (no bathtub). The comfy lobby is outfitted with soft lounge chairs, an array of periodicals and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with a selection of books chosen by the Strand Book Store. There a the wonderful destination restaurant Heirloom right off the hotel lobby. (203) 503-3900
Tip: Guests can request FREE tickets to Yale Repertory Theatre and sports tickets for Yale games by asking the front desk. Subject to availability and on a first-come, first serve basis.
See, weren’t you smart to come to New Haven?