A big topic of conversation these days is how we will socialize distantly this fall and winter. Restaurants are busy installing heaters and roll-down sides to their tents, and some of us are feeling OK about dining inside. But here’s my idea: BRUNCH. While you’ll have to wrap up a bit, it’s a festive way to end the week or start a new one (and avoid the Sunday Scaries). Laura and I fled our houses (she’s homeschooling, so you know what I mean) for a brilliant midday on the deck at Carlson’s Landing on Sunday. Bundled in sweaters and scarves, we enjoyed the river view as we sipped Bloody Marys and a refreshing Highclere Gin & Tonic, spiked with orange and rosemary. The menu features riffs on all the brunch standards (steak and eggs, seafood hash, brioche French toast), but their new chef has taken it a step further to include tempting and original dishes. I can’t resist a savory crepe, and their version, stuffed with vegetables and whipped ricotta and topped with a dollop of parmesan cream, was a delight. Huevos Rancheros arrived in freshly fried tortilla cups stuffed with chorizo, black beans, and Pico de Gallo, topped with a perfect sunny-side egg (this is an excellent dish to share). Laura, who somehow always chooses the best thing, ordered the Fried Oysters. YUM. Crispy bivalves on herb-buttered French bread, drizzled with a cranberry beurre blanc. A delish, umami-rich, and interesting combo, elevated by Carlson’s house-made butter. We think the third time’s a charm with new chef JP Dillon at the helm. He’s maintaining the seafood-focused menu while stretching creative muscles developed at Max Restaurant Group and Michelin-starred restaurants in NYC and Chicago. We can’t wait to see what he’s up to with his new fall menu launching on September 30th. Good to know: Tented seating is available on the lawn. We love the deck with a river view, and the bar is a happy, socially-distanced place to dine (all windows were open). The dining room (one of our favorites; a glam modern space) is open at half-capacity. Gather a group and reserve the private deck upstairs that fits up to 10. Reservations are a very good idea. 63 Main Street Essex (next to The Connecticut River Museum). www.carlsonslanding.com See the Brunch menu here. https://www.carlsonslanding.com/menu#menu=brunch Call for reservations: (860) 767-2727 Open for lunch and dinner, closed Tuesdays.