As soon as we turn back the clocks, I’m ready for dinner by 5pm (and bed by 8!). Here are a few favorite spots for Happy Hour snacks or Early Bird dinner.
With drinks, apps, and oysters at half price, we had a veritable party. The fried oysters are not to be missed, presented in their shells on a salt bed. A crunchy, tasty delight. Next up, a creamy clam dip with crispy housemade potato chips. We thought we best have some greens, so blistered shishitos to the rescue. Freshly baked bread here is a side order, but don’t stint; the sweet, savory, smoky poblano butter is a revelation.We are big fans of happy hour and early dining, and Shipwright’s offers one worth traveling for. Happy Hour is 4-6 pm, 3-5 pm on weekends. 20 East Main Street, Mystic shipwrightsdaughter.com
Their chef-driven menu and high-quality local ingredients in unusual combinations are a novelty for a brewery. We also love that so many of the small plates and starters are veg-forward, if not entirely veg-friendly because of those luscious bacon chunks in the Balsamic Brussels Sprouts! We love that owners Jen & Steve Lieberman are as serious about food as they are about beer. And no matter what you’re in the mood for (including those delish wood-fired pizzas and a full oyster bar), you’ll find something yummy here. Mon & Thurs, 4-10pm, Fri & Sat, 1-10pm & Sun, 1-8pm. 6 Main Street, Building 3 Suite 333, Centerbrook
When my daughter was limping through Chemistry in High School, we found a tutor in Madison. Every Tuesday, she and I would have an early dinner at Bar Bouchee before her session. It’s one of my best memories of her high school years, a moment with my baby all to myself. Bar Bouchee has long been one of my top restaurants on the Shoreline, and it’s still as consistently delicious as back in the day. While no happy hour is on offer, it’s much easier to get in at a very early hour in this tiny spot where reservations are difficult to snag (our Tuesday date was 4:30). There is nothing on the menu that I wouldn’t eat (if you’re a fan of escargot, this is the place), but I usually go for the seasonal preparation of chicken, this time a pan-seared breast, with celeriac puree sitting on a leek and potato pancake with crispy Brussels sprouts and caramelized cipollini onions. Wowza.
8 Scotland Avenue, Madison
The half-price oysters and clams are the big draw here, but you can pull up to the bar and make a delish dinner out of the Happy Hour offerings. After a day of holiday shlepping, what’s better than a creamy, warming cup of chowder? Ummm, nothing. And Liv’s is the BEST, studded with clams, topped with bacon bits and a chive biscuit. Impossible to resist, too, are the crispy, perfectly fried calamari and those ridiculous truffle fries. Order the whole menu and share away.
Happy Hour, Tuesday – Friday, 4 to 5:30pm
166 Main Street, Old Saybrook
There are a bunch of good reasons to dash over to Los Charros for Happy Hour; maybe the best is the Margarita flight featuring four (smallish) glasses of the flavors of the day. Happy is right, as the presentation alone of colorful cocktails is a mood elevator! It’s about one and a half glasses in all and a fun share. While I’m as big a fan of Mexican fare as anyone, believe it or not, here I go for the Wagyu smash burger, normally a double on the menu; for Happy Hour, you get a single perfect patty on a homemade seeded bun for five bucks. If you add a tasty house margarita for $8, you’ve got a grown-up Happy Meal! Lots more options for $5 on the menu, including single tacos (chicken, pork, or mushroom), chilaquiles, and fries, plus $5 beer and house wine. Can’t beat it. Happy Hour: Tues-Sat 4pm-6pm, and for night owls, reverse happy hour from 9 to 10 on Friday and Saturday.
30 Main St, Centerbrook
For those of us who consider a cheese board and glass of wine dinner, you’ll love Sip Wine Bar in Old Saybrook. The town has been desperate for a place like this for a long time, a cozy spot to meet girlfriends for a prosecco or romantic enough for date night. With a rotating menu of wines by the flight, glass, or bottle, you can also up your skills as an oenophile. Pick your favorite cheeses and charcuterie with accompaniments (from Fromage), or head straight to dessert (pear tartlet, apple strudel, flourless chocolate cake) supplied by Dagmar’s. Open Tues – Sat 2 – 10pm, Sun & Mon 2 8 pm..
85 Main Street, Old Saybrook
We enjoy Black Jax for a super early Happy Hour (3-5pm!) or our latest discovery, Taco Tuesday. Nosh on Jack Flaw’s celebrated beef brisket, pulled pork or smoked chicken atop flour tortillas for just $2.50 each on Tuesday nights. And fish fans can opt for the Popcorn Shrimp. Don’t miss the wings (try all the sauces). Plus $5 Margaritas!
78 Main Street, Centerbrook
We are girls who love a wine bar (and snacks for dinner), so we drooled over the menu of salads and small plates at Pearl. We finally settled on a bright tomato and citrus salad, a pile of shaved Brussels sprouts with basil, hazelnuts, and manchego tossed in a light vinaigrette, and a few grass-fed steak skewers on a bed of miso eggplant and caramelized onion. Everything was excellent, including two interesting skin-contact wines (Love You Bunches is a favorite). Creative cocktails and craft beer are on tap, too, along with a happy, cool vibe. Tues – Sun 5-9 pm, Sat & Sun 5-10 pm.
1140 Main Street, Branford