Reasonably priced train ticket? Check. A plethora of fall foliage? Check. Great food and historic sites? Check. Mystic, CT is just three short hours away (by train) and it’s the answer to your fall weekend getaway prayers. By Carly Petrone.
Hop aboard Amtrak from Penn Station and sit back and enjoy the scenery before pulling into the heart of Mystic. Technically, Mystic is a village, split between the two towns of Groton and Stonington, Conn. It’s known for its friendly residents, classic seafood and chowders, and historic sites like Mystic Seaport, which houses America’s oldest commercial vessel still afloat. Whether you’re looking to check out a bit of old world New England or you’re more of a wine and diner, this quaint little village welcomes out of towners with open arms.
Most tourists are familiar with Mystic, thanks to the hit film, Mystic Pizza, which starred a young and somewhat unknown Julia Roberts back in 1988. The movie told the story of three teenage sisters who grew up in the coastal town and worked in the popular pizza joint. Today, you can grab a slice at the original restaurant (the movie was actually shot one town over), which opened up its doors back in 1973 by a Greek couple named Steve and Fofi Zelepos.
“Mystic is a great place to relax. It’s very peaceful and tranquil. It really is the best of both worlds. Quiet in the winter time and busy in the summer time. You can meet a ton of people in the summer, there’s a lot of flow and traffic, but in the off season you know everyone,” says Steve Zelepos’ son, who now runs the business.
Fill up on the house pizza special – pepperoni, meatball, sausage, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms – or go off the traditional menu and nosh on a hot or cold grinder.
W. Main Street is filled with mom and pop shops, pubs, and ice cream parlors, making it an easy attraction for out of towners. Sip on a classic New York Egg Cream at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream or grab a nautical souvenir at Hope & Stetson, one of the many specialty boutiques lining the streets of downtown. The Harp & Hound, located just off W. Main on Pearl Street, is the perfect spot to refuel with a lager or catch up on the big game on the big screen. The historic pub is tucked within one of the oldest buildings in Mystic, dating back to the early 1700s. You can dine on a traditional Irish breakfast on Saturday and Sundays while enjoying the festive atmosphere – make sure to check out the Irish road signs that hang on the walls.
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Another great find is the Captain Daniel Packer Inne, located at the end of nearby Water Street. Sip on a piping hot maple whiskey cider and snag a seat by the fireplace because you may want to grab both lunch and dinner at this cozy spot. Allie Nasin currently runs this bustling restaurant and pub, after her late father bought (and restored) the building directly from descendants of Captain Daniel Packer himself, more than 32 years ago.
“My father was very charismatic and liked to entertain. He loved creating an atmosphere for people to have a good time. This place really does that,” explains Nasin.
She works closely with longtime Executive Chef Chaz Paull to help create a seasonal menu — but with a twist.
“With my cuisine, I don’t do traditional stuff. People don’t really know what they’re going to get. That’s why we write everything down on the menu. They probably won’t find chicken marsala here…I like to make venison meatballs and boar sausage,” adds Chef Paull.
Their signature dish, which has been on the menu since day one, is the Lemon Peppered Chicken – egg battered, pressed in coarse breadcrumbs with zest of lemon and cracked pepper that is then pan sauteed and served with lemon beurre blanc. The chicken is crispy but not greasy and the mashed potatoes are buttery with chunks of potatoes with the skins left on. You’ll definitely crave this meal on a cool fall afternoon.
DPI is also a great place to spend Thanksgiving if you’re looking to get out of the city. They’re offering a prix fixe 3-course menu ($38) with traditional favorites like carved turkey with herbed cornbread sausage stuffing, honey caramelized sweet potatoes, and cranberry relish as well as filet mignon that’s been grilled over a smoky hardwood charcoal fire. It’s served with a combination of sauces like creamy gorgonzola and a port wine toasted walnut demi glace. Thanksgiving is definitely one of their busiest days of the year so make sure to reserve your spot now. It’s easy to see why Daniel Packer Inne is a local favorite — the wait staff and chefs have worked together for years (even decades) and the history can be felt within the walls of the 250 year-old building itself (some say it’s even haunted).
Book a room at The Whaler’s Inn, located just blocks from downtown and the train station, and you’ll immediately feel transformed to another time. The rooms are lined with wallpaper, the furniture is quaint and polished, and fresh cookies are left on your pillow at night. The staff is more than friendly and as locals themselves, employees can give great recommendations for things to do throughout the fall season and beyond.
“I think the Inn is unique because our staff members truly love the area. We strive to cultivate relationships with our guests and give truly personal recommendations for things to do in the area,” says Assistant General Manager Amy Munoz, who has worked at the Inn for 11 years. “Our team members not only work in the town but visit the restaurants and attractions, and attend special events themselves. We hope that our guests feel as if they are visiting with us as opposed to being a hotel guest.”
Choose from one of their many rooms, which are spread amongst five different buildings. The most deluxe guest room is located in The Hoxie House, which was built in 2002 and includes a gas fireplace, river view, and oversized whirlpool bath tub. Or stay at the oldest building on the property — the 1865 House — which was once home to a sea captain. Either way, you’re walking distance to the historic Mystic drawbridge and downtown area.
One of the most special parts about Mystic is all of the history that it preserves. Mystic Seaport is home to the oldest commercial vessels still afloat: The Charles W. Morgan. The ship has been fully restored and even went out on a nearly three-month-long journey back in 2014 to raise awareness of America’s maritime heritage and call attention to issues of ocean sustainability and conservation. Bring the whole family and stroll through the recreated 19th Century Village, which is comprised of dozens of real New England buildings that are staffed with historians, musicians, storytellers, and craftspeople. You can even take a horse-drawn carriage ride and watch a shipsmith hard at work. The Seaport is also a great place to sit back and enjoy the view of the Mystic River as well as the beautiful fall foliage surrounding the water.
If you’re in the mood for something warm to drink, grab a cab to B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill in Old Mystic. Established in 1881, this family-owned business is the oldest steam-powered cider mill in the United States. Watch as workers press fresh cider right before your eyes or step into the general store for some fresh apple cider donuts. Warning: you may walk out with a bag filled with hard cider and apple wines, jams, maple syrup, fudge, and fresh pumpkin bread. Enjoy a free cider tasting across the way. We suggest trying the Clyde’s Spider Cider, which is a local favorite made with pumpkin apple spice. Heat it up as a mulled treat or add a cube of ice for a spicy holiday cocktail on the rocks. You can even watch a live cider making demonstration on the weekends through November (see website for more details).
Those looking for a night of theater and dance will be happy to know that the Mystic Ballet season has just begun. The company will be performing original works as well as The Nutcracker Spectacular through December. Artistic Director Goran M. Subotic has lined up a variety of shows including G.R.A.B., which delivers an electrifying and exotic visual — strength and fragility, laughter and smiles, turmoil and harmony. NOTTOBe is an experience that lets you into the world of the past and the future using complex sets and staging, highlighted by Hollywood style FX and tomorrow’s technology. Watch some of the best dancers in the country perform live within an intimate setting.
Finally, make sure to check your calendar because Mystic has plenty of other fun events happening throughout the fall. You just missed the annual Chowder Days festival but you can still catch the Tree Lighting & Boat Parade on Nov. 28, the Downtown Mystic Holiday Stroll on Dec. 1, and the Downtown Mystic Winter Solstice Luminary on Dec. 20. Plus, you can always stop by and say hi to the animals at the Mystic Aquarium or go shopping (and trick or treating) at Olde Mystick Village. Just don’t forget to bring the kiddos to Mystic River Park on Nov. 28, when Santa will arrive by tugboat!
So take a break from the city and book your trip to Mystic before fall officially turns into winter. Watch the leaves change, take advantage of all of the seasonal seafood and local brews available, and enjoy a stroll through the historic streets of this quaint New England town. You’ll be glad you did.
Learn more at http://www.mystic.org.