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Classic New England: Old Saybrook, Conn.

Elegant seaside town offers fine dining, history, theater

The Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, located on the marina, offers water views. The Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, located on the marina, offers water views. (ELLEN ALBANESE FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)
By Ellen Albanese
Globe Correspondent / September 14, 2011

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Water views and great restaurants are the best reasons to visit this town halfway between Boston and New York, which bills itself as the place “where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound.’’ Add a little history and boutique shopping, and it’s a great destination for couples, especially foodies.

STAY

The premier lodging is the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa (Two Bridge Street, 860-395-2000, www.saybrook.com, $199-$599), a rambling wood structure on the marina that offers rooms and suites with private balconies, water views, whirlpools, and working fireplaces. Its restaurant, recently renovated and renamed Fresh Salt, specializes in locally sourced foods. The 1746 Deacon Timothy Pratt Bed & Breakfast (325 Main St., 860-395-1229, www.pratthouse.net, $120-$200), listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is in the heart of the historic district. Each room features a four-poster or canopy bed, fireplace, and Jacuzzi tub.

DINE

Nothing about the exterior of Johnny Ad’s Restaurant (910 Boston Post Road, 860-388-4032, www.johnnyads.com, sandwiches $3-$16, plates $11.50-$25) says ocean, but the nondescript gray building on Route 1 has been famous for seafood since 1957. You can eat outside or in and get your lobster roll hot or cold. At Liv’s Oyster Bar (166 Main St., 860-395-5577, www.livsoysterbar.com, dinner $12-$32), there are always at least a half-dozen varieties of oysters on ice. The contemporary dining room is decorated with portraits of the owner’s young daughter (and the restaurant’s namesake) Olivia. Looking for something with a continental flair? Rosemary & Sage (1080 Boston Post Road, 860-388-1166, $9-$28) is a French-themed bistro with fresh flowers on the tables and creative takes on local seafood, such as scallops rumaki, Stonington sea scallops and fresh pineapple wrapped in bacon with an apricot soy dipping sauce. A highlight of any meal here is the crusty French bread with a garlic aioli, rendered pink and slightly sweet by a beet reduction. Aspen Restaurant & Bar (2 Main St., 860-395-5888, www.aspenct.com, lunch $10-$15, dinner $10-$34) has the feel of a historic building with its 12-over-12 windows, but the decor is sleek and contemporary. The creative menu includes small plates and mains; we loved the shrimp and fig flatbread and the truffle fries.

DURING THE DAY

Start your exploration of Old Saybrook at the Chamber of Commerce office (1 Main St., 860-388-3266, www.oldsaybrookchamber.com), where you can pick up maps for a self-guided walking tour highlighting 36 historic landmarks and a 10-mile scenic loop ride from Main Street to the river, along the sound, and back. The General William Hart House (350 Main St., 860-388-2622, www.saybrookhistory.org), home of the Old Saybrook Historical Society, is open weekends during the summer. At Fort Saybrook Monument Park (College Street, ctmonuments.net/2010/01/fort-saybrook-monument-park-old-saybook) you’ll find pretty marsh views and storyboards that walk you through the town’s history on the site of a historic fort. Stop for an ice cream at the 1896 James Pharmacy and Soda Fountain (2 Pennywise Lane, 860-395-1781), www.tissascountrymarket.com), with its original cabinetry, tables, and chairs with heart-shaped backs, and Vermont marble countertops. Kathy Benjdid, who owns the soda fountain and a Moroccan market next door, recommends Moroccan Delight, orange ice cream with chopped dates, almonds, and cinnamon. The shops at Old Saybrook Country Barn (2 Main St., 860-388-0891, www.saybrookcountrybarn.com) feature apparel, home goods, furniture, and gifts in a 40,000-square-foot complex.

AFTER DARK

The cultural heart of the town is the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, known as “The Kate’’ (300 Main St., 860-510-0473, www.thekate.org), which presents music, film, theater, and programs for children. A tribute to songwriter Leonard Cohen is on the bill for Sept. 16. Rounding out the month are performances by songwriter and storyteller Steve Poltz on Sept. 23, Connecticut Virtuosi on Sept. 24, and French horn masters Quadre on Sept. 25. The Back Porch restaurant (142 Ferry Road, 860-510-0282, www.backporcholdsaybrook.com, sandwiches $9-$12, entrees $16-$28) offers live entertainment Wednesday through Sunday nights on its large porch overlooking the river.

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


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