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A TANK AWAY | WETHERSFIELD, CONN.

Colonial and quiet, with modern menus

Preservation both restores, reveals

The Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum comprises three houses that interpret 250 years of Wethersfield, Conn. history. The Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum comprises three houses that interpret 250 years of Wethersfield, Conn. history. (Ellen Albanese for The Boston Globe)
By Ellen Albanese
Globe Correspondent / March 24, 2010

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After several miles of strip malls and chain restaurants on Route 99, better known locally as the Silas Deane Highway, the village of “Old Wethersfield’’ comes as a pleasant surprise. Traffic noise recedes, sometimes replaced by the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages. A 1764 church anchors the downtown, and red-brick sidewalks pass beautifully preserved homes in the largest historic district in the state, all of which makes the town a charming weekend destination for couples.

Stay
The town’s most spectacular lodging is the Silas W. Robbins House (185 Broad St., 860-571-8733, www.silaswrobbins.com, $195-$325), a lavish wedding cake of a mansion across from the picturesque Broad Street Green. After years of neglect, this 1873 French Second Empire home was restored by local residents John and Shireen Aforismo, who opened it in 2007. The Chester Bulkley House (184 Main St., 860-563-4236, www.chesterbulkleyhouse.com, doubles $95-$145) is a homey bed-and-breakfast in the heart of the historic district. The decor reflects innkeeper Tom Aufiero’s penchant for all things Victorian.

Dine
Lucky Lou’s (222 Main St., 860-257-0700, www.luckylousbarandgrill.com, $7-$26) in the 1787 Standish House offers a menu of upscale pub food as well as full dinners all day. Angus burger sliders with Parmesan frites are popular, and a lobster-chive wrap encased loads of fresh lobster. It’s pleasant to sit on the second floor and look through the 12-over-12 windows at the village below. Among the town’s many pizza joints, Village Pizza (233 Main St., 860-563-1513, www.villagepizzau.com, $6-$20) in the historic district and Vito’s Pizzeria (673 Silas Dean Highway, 860-563-3333, www.vitosct.com/wethersfield/wethersfield.htm, $9-$25) stand out. Besides Italian classics, Village offers several Greek specialties, including Greek salad and a moussaka gourmet pizza. There’s more space to dine in at Vito’s, where hot eggplant salad and spinach pizza are popular items. Spicy Green Bean Deli (285 Main St., 860-563-3100, www.spicygreenbean.com, lunch $6-$9.50) is a hole-in-the-wall known for its homemade soups and chowders and “overstuffed’’ deli sandwiches. And, yes, you really do get a spicy green bean and a pickle with your sandwich. There’s more than chocolate to the Narcissus Chocolate Cafe (7 Railroad Place, 860-436-9311, www.narcissuschocolatecafe.com, lunch $5.50-$8.50). The restaurant, in a former railroad depot, also serves homemade quiche, sandwiches, wraps, and panini, which diners can enjoy at tables or in upholstered chairs. Owner Carol Kober-Narciss likes to buy local; she gets organic, vegan chocolates from a chocolatier in Manchester and serves Daybreak coffee roasted in Glastonbury, along with delicious-sounding hot and cold chocolate beverages.

During the day
Begin your visit to the compact historical downtown at the visitors center in the Keeney Memorial Cultural Center (200 Main St., 860-529-7656), run by the Wethersfield Historical Society. Current exhibits include “Legendary People, Ordinary Lives,’’ a timeline of the town’s history, where you’ll learn about “onion maidens,’’ 18th-century women who helped make the red onion the symbol of Wethersfield’s agricultural success, and “Connecticut Rocks,’’ a look at the geology of an area known for its stone walls. The three houses of the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum (211 Main St., 860-529-0612, www.webb-deane-stevens.org, $8 adults, $4 students and children, closed January through March) interpret 250 years of town history. The oldest, the 1752 Joseph Webb House, served as George Washington’s headquarters in May 1781. It was later owned by photographer Wallace Nutting, who was instrumental in the Colonial Revival movement. The Silas Deane House was built for the country’s first diplomat. The Isaac Stevens House depicts life during the Industrial Revolution and contains one of the first cookbooks published in this country. Sign on for a tour with a guide who will weave a fascinating soap opera of the real people attached to these houses. The museum also manages the Buttolph-Williams House (249 Broad St., 860-529-0612, www.webb-deane-stevens.org/williams_house.html, $4 adults, May-October), which was the model for the award-winning young adult novel “The Witch of Blackbird Pond’’ by Elizabeth Speare. At Wethersfield Cove, a 17th-century warehouse showcases exhibits on the maritime trade that flourished between 1650 and 1830 (weekends May-October, $1 adults).

After dark
Thank goodness Clearing House Auction Galleries (207 Church St., 860-529-334, www.clearinghouseauctions.com) was holding an auction when we visited Wethersfield on a Wednesday night, or we would have struck out on night life. Though we weren’t bidding, it was fun to check out the items beforehand and watch the action (clearly someone knew more than we did about the nondescript wooden cow that went for $240). Vito’s (see Dine) has a piano player on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The last concert of this season’s Keeney Memorial Cultural Center music series will feature the Reminisce Jazz Combo on April 8. Narcissus Chocolate Cafe (see Dine) has occasional Friday night movies or music; next up is guitarist Jay Laboy on April 30. Most folks seeking night life head to Hartford, just 10 minutes away.

Ellen Albanese can be reached at ellen.albanese@gmail.com.