1320 Boston Post Road, Madison
Ask your waitress if there’s really a Donahue, and you’ll find out there are 12 of them. Two right here and a third next door at the Clam Castle, a 60-year-old town favorite summertime haunt just recently added to the Donahue family.
For a great fish taco al fresco, visit the Castle, but if it’s a sit-down meal in an airy dining room and maybe some live music at the bar, Donahue’s Madison Beach Grille is perfect.
You might have come for a burger, and the burgers are juicy, cooked with integrity, and offered with the traditional options for toppings. But the menu lures even a passionate burger-obsessed foodie to other classic sandwiches like the Rueben or a Black Forest Ham and Brie; the ever-dependable club sandwich; a beer-battered codfish sandwich (a delight!); or the pulse-stopping beer-steamed, fire-grilled knockwurst with sautéed onions and American cheese, served on rye toast with a side of baked beans.
After all, a burger experience doesn’t always have to involve a hamburger.
The Rabbit Hole
256 Main Street, Old Saybrook
This here’s your signature sports bar, a hole-in-the-wall tavern with nine TV screens visible from every seat in the house and free “munchies” with Sunday Night Football. Tuesday night is $2 drink night; drinks and appetizers are half-off for the girls on Wednesday’s Ladies’ Night; and you can go make a fool of yourself in front of friends, family, and strangers on Thursday’s Open Mic Night.
But the burgers. You can choose from inventive combinations like what’s on top of the California burger: grilled onions, guacamole, alfalfa sprouts, and a drizzle of jalapeña oil. Or the unexpected Pepe le Pew: caramelized apples, smoked bacon, and brie cheese. Sure, you can get an ordinary bacon cheeseburger, but why would you, with about a dozen other adventures to choose from?
For you hot dog fans, the same thing goes. Go crazy. Order a Maui Wowee or a One- eyed Jack. Cruise the rest of the menu, but don’t miss the guacamole.
Haywire Burger Bar
730 Post Road, Westbrook
The word’s out. Family-friendly, senior-friendly, great music, outrageous burgers, spiked milkshakes, and fried Oreos. Start there and add the excitement of roasting your own s’mores at your table. Haywire Burger Bar has quietly lured Plan B devo- tees into its clutches.
Once your 8th grade geography kicks in, you may remember a map where Macedonia and Bulgaria cozy up to Albania, which is where the owner’s beguiling accent comes from. This is Avni Krasniqi’s first foray into the restaurant business here in the United States, and he seems to have got it all perfect.
The menu at Haywire Burger Bar is, um, burgers: classic burgers, chicken burgers, surf burgers (crabcake, tilapia, salmon), and “no” burgers (veggies, grilled portabello & arugula, grilled cheese on sourdough). If you must, Krasniqi offers salads and entrees from all your expected food groups: chicken breast, steak, salmon, mac & cheese, and ribs.
But it would be hard to stray from the burger choices, which include Don’t Mess With Texas (chili, cheddar, pickled jalapenos on Texas toast), Lamb Mediterranio (lamb burger, feta, tomatoes, red onion, olive tapenade, cucumber ribbons, and garlic yogurt), Brie Burger (bacon, brie, caramelized onions, and apricot preserves),
and Aloha (shaved ham, provolone, rum-glazed pineapple, red onion and citrus mayo).
Careful. Don’t over-order. Portions are generous, and sides are irresistible. The waffle fries glopped with chili and drizzled with melted cheddar is more than enough for two.
Plan your visit during the week. There’s always a wait on the weekend.
Let’s not even talk about the milkshakes.
472 Main Street, Durham
The handsome guy brandishing a frighteningly sharp knife in the meat department is Lino, short for Pasqualino. And that gray-haired gentleman gently squeezing the tomatoes? Lino’s dad, Salvatore Ataro, straight from Italy. This irresistible specialty food market, established in 1994, is family-owned and operated, and a serious draw for shoreline natives and visitors for fresh, local produce and all-natural meat products.
So when the unquenchable urge for a good burger drives a man or woman to distraction, it can also drive said man or woman to Lino’s for an effortless do-it-yourselfer on those cloudless days that inspire backyard barbecues.
Like the trendy burger joints, Lino’s offers burgers with tasty additions to its ground sirloin or chuck. Unlike the trendy burger joints, tasty additions are folded into the raw meat and shaped into plump 8-ounce or 1⁄4 pound patties for you to take home.
Locals recommend the portabello mushroom, cheddar, and Monterey jack burger, with or without apple smoked bacon, but consider a jalapeno-pepper-&-blue-cheese burger or a burger with Lino’s own brand of barbecue sauce. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a couple dozen naked burgers in a box. Happy barbecuing.
The Blue Oar
16 Snyder Road, Haddam
Note to self: The Blue Oar is cash or local check only and B.Y.O.B.
You meant to go on vacation. You certainly deserved it, but there were the kids’ soccer games and swim meets, doctor appointments, the in-laws came to visit, and then the dog got sick. The weather is still calling you outdoors, but you’re pretty tired of your backyard by now. And you know what?
You want a darn hamburger.
With all due respect to Neil Diamond, pack up the babies and grab the old ladies, put a bottle of wine in a cooler and drive down to The Blue Oar on the edge of the Connecticut River in Haddam. Just cresting the hill that leads to the water is enough to con- vince you you’re not in Kansas anymore.
You really can’t call the Blue Oar a restaurant—it’s really a snack shack with tables and chairs outside—but the happiness is infectious: people rubbing shoulders waiting to order; those at tables, barefoot and watching boats glide by. There’s a bar (but, remember, it’s BYOB) which faces away from the activity in the snack bar and overlooks the marina, the river, and the trees beyond. The tables and chairs are painted random combinations of pink, yellow, turquoise, purple, and green; and when Management jacks up the reggae music, it’s official: you’re on vacation.
Lunch is beach food. You got your requisite hamburger (local favorite is topped with roasted red pepper and provolone), as well as the expected array of sandwiches and sides like potato salad and clam chowder. Dinner entrees are more formal and based on the day’s catch. And when dusk arrives, tiny white lights do their twinkle on awnings, railings, and fenceposts.
Who needs the Islands when you’ve got Connecticut?
Image Credits: Photo courtesy of Shutterstock