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WHY GO: The Stamford CT motto – “The City That Works” – suggests more of the Puritan Work Ethic than the Pleasure Principal. Yes, worker-bee commuters swarm daily into Connecticut’s 4th largest city (after Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford), just 50 minutes by Metro North train from Manhattan. But there is another side to Stamford – which happens to be this Maven’s home. One that has less to do with profits and more with fun. And sometimes weirdness.
We had Jerry Springer, a church in the shape of a fish, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and a surprisingly vibrant nightlife. Vibrant enough to bring New York City dwellers out to the burb’s. These contradictions are what make Stamford so intriguing as an Offbeat Getaway. That and the fact that the culinary scene is so darn diverse. Of course I’ll let you in on my favorite haunts.
Things To Do In Stamford CT
This treasure of a local attraction is worth a morning or afternoon. If only to engage in meaningful eye contact with two acrobatic otters that implore you to stay in their homey enclosure. “Don’t leave us,” their antics beseech.
But you must, in order to see all there is to see in this complex that includes an art museum lodged within the former country home of retail mogul Heni Bendel.
The “heritage breed” farm houses a corps of barnyard animals from bygone days, including a dozen breeds of chickens, pigs, sheep and bovines. Here, nature trails feature sculptures and wildlife. A “Nature’s Playground” allows kids (and kids at heart) to sprawl out in an “hawk’s nest.” And there’s an observatory with a 22 inch telescope open to the public most Friday nights.
There’s always some goat or lamb, piglet or calf being born in the Spring, a season that also brings the popular Sheep Shearing Festival. Programs abound, for kids and adults. But if time is short, stare down “Big Sis” – the resident 800 lb pig. And of course, be sure to say goodbye to the otters when you leave. Heckscher Farm, Daily 9 am – 5 pm; April – October. Daily 9 am – 4 pm. November – March, Bendel Mansion & Galleries, Mon.- Sat., 9 am – 5 pm; Sun., 11 am – 5 pm, $10 adults, $5 kids.
Trails throughout the 91-acre tree sanctuary lead past lawns, woodlands and brooks. If exotic species of plants and trees are your thing, an afternoon here offers pure bliss. Open daily from 9am until sunset, $5 donation.
It’s immediately obvious that this church was built in the shape of a fish. This out of the ordinary design is what most people see when they pass by on busy Bedford Street. But step inside and you are suddenly in the center of a massive kaleidoscope.
Designed by Wallace K. Harrison – the architect who led the multinational team that designed the UN Building in New York, and who also had his hand in building Rockefeller Center and Lincoln Center – this stunning sanctuary opened in 1958.
With more than 20,000 individual pieces of faceted stained glass set in concrete, it’s truly like being inside a work of art. Even if you are of another faith, come to hear the thunderous tones of the Visser-Rowland pipe organ, containing over four thousand pipes. The experience is absolutely spine tingling in this magnificent space. Click here to see astonishing aerial and interior views of the Fish Church taken via a drone. Open daily, free.
These two art venues, side by side in renovated row homes across from the Stamford UConn campus, are “friendly” but separate neighbors. Stamford Art Association showcases the creations of local artists in two small galleries. Shows rotate seven or eight times a year. Plus, all art is for sale.
Franklin Street Works focuses on contemporary, experimental, highly conceptualized multi-media works, arranged by professional museum curators. An on premises café offers free wi-fi and outdoor seating. Stamford Art Assoc hours Thurs/Fri 11-3, Fri/Sat Noon-3, free. Franklin Street Works and Café, Wed-Sun 12-5, Thurs. open till 7pm. Sandwiches and salads $7-$10. Wine and beer offered.
DO: Sail on The 80 ft. Schooner SoundWaters
From May to November, this floating Long Island Sound classroom offers two-hour public afternoon and sunset sails. Hoist canvass to the rhythm of sea chanteys and watch as lobsters, seastars and jellyfish are brought on deck, studied, and released.
SoundWaters seeks to protect the Long Island Sound through education. When out on the water, you’ll see why. This Atlantic Ocean estuary is one of the most scenic bodies of water on earth. April – Nov, two-hour cruises $30 adults, $15 children 5-12. Check website for schedule.
SEE AN INDIE MOVIE: The Avon Theater
Before his death, resident notable, Gene Wilder, sat on the board of this independent arts movie theater. Every so often he’d participate in a Q&A after one of his “Wilder’s Picks.”
This area of the country, actually, is replete with big and little screen actors who just “vant to be alone.” But some are willing to emerge from seclusion to speak before or after a screening of a movie that he or she has directed or starred in.
Frank Longella discussed “Starting Out in the Evening,” and Charles Grodin told an intimate audience what it was like to work with Robert DiNiro in “Midnight Run.” Though DiNiro hasn’t made an appearance onstage here, he has filmed a couple of movies in Stamford. So, perhaps its just a matter of time.
RIDE: The Harbor Point Trolley
Park your car once in Stamford and you can get to most attractions and restaurants on the FREE 14-stop Harbor Point Trolley. This mode of transport is a boon to residents and visitors – bringing you from downtown theaters and eateries (and the great Ferguson Library) to the waterfront. Check it out and ride it just for the kicks!
DRINK: Half Full Brewery
Here’s your chance to visit and sample homegrown, craft brews. Established by young Conor Horrigan, who left his Wall Street job after an epiphany on vacation in Peru, Half Full has been a Stamford sensation since it opened its doors. I’m partial to the creamy Half Full Chocolate Coffee Brown Ale. Open Thus and Fri. 4-9, Sat 12-9, Sun 12-5 for tastings, tours 2 and 4 Sat/Sun.
Best Restaurants in Stamford CT
These days, when everyone seems to be opening a “make-your-own” cafeteria-style eatery, Roasted stands out for its full bar (novel in the fast slow-food space) and a variety of meats slow-roasted by owner Bill Hall. Bill starts roasting the turkey breast, pork, and beef at the “time-to-make-the-donuts” hour of 4:30am. Each and every day.
Bill’s wife, Kristin, with a Masters in Neuroscience, brings her love of the scientific method to their restaurant. Diners “Build” their meals by choosing a “Bottom” – either rolls or salad/grain bowls; a “Middle” – from a roster of roasted meats including Italian herbed pork loin, jerked chicken, chile sugar brisket, and now roasted salmon (my personal favorite). And, for the vegan in your life – BBQ Tofu. For the “Top,” choose from dressings and foodstuffs that have been life-lab tested for perfectly balanced combinations of textures and flavors.
This Ethiopian grain has been called a “superfood,” “the new quinoa” and so many other superlatives, you’ll feel healthy just dining on the spongy teff-based bread (injera) alone. But this bread is merely the delivery device for excellent stews and warm salads – hallmarks of Ethiopian food.
Vegans will adore all the vegetarian offerings, which make great use of beans, greens and other veggies ($17 includes four small portions and two injera). Meat lovers won’t feel left out either. Tasty chicken, beef and lamb is on offer ($23 for spiced lamb cubes and two vegan dishes). As you might be able to tell, I’m one of Teff’s biggest fans.
EAT/BUDGET: Remo’s Brick Oven Pizza Co.
It’s not fancy or (thankfully) pricey, but Remo’s was purported to be one of Bobby DiNiro’s favorite hangouts while filming in town. And it’s my favorite “neighborhood” brick oven pizza joint. Of course the pizza’s great, but I’m partial to Remo’s Chicken Balsamic – a mélange of boneless chicken breast, sliced portabella mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes over penne pasta, tossed with a balsamic glaze I apparently can’t resist ($17.95). All fish, chicken and veal entrees hover around $20, a bargain in this Gold Coast city.
This tiny Latin Fusion restaurant used to be that hidden, aesthetically pleasing hole in the wall that no-one outside of Stamford knew about but where we all took our out-of-town friends. On busy Route 1 near car parts stores, you could park on a side street and just walk in.
Those days are gone. And though the food remains incredible, you’ve got to call days in advance for a reservation. And then hand your car keys over to a valet when you arrive. I still take my out of town friends there, and meet other in-town Brasitas loving friends just so I can get my Carne Asada fix: pan roasted Black Angus hanger steak with smoky chili emulsion ($25).
EAT: Locals Love
Cafe Silvium for intimate and old school Italian. Olio for eclectic “New” American, newcomer Dhabewala for Indian. And newish Kouzina Greek Tavern.
Three Stamford restaurants currently serve a large Kosher population. Soosh at the JCC offers great sushi (and pizza!). In addition to Teff (above), my vegan husband also loves vegetarian Navaratna Indian Restaurant. Meat-lovers won’t be left out at 613 Restaurant, which also crafts some great cocktails.
Hotels in Stamford CT
STAY: HOTEL ZERO DEGREES
There is one groovy boutique hotel in Stamford, CT, repurposed from a well-used YMCA dorm. The hotel is so cool and inviting, you might not notice that it sits on a busy road.
Serene music neutralizes street and city noise. And a patina of cool (Designs Within Reach furniture, black and red leathers, muted copper color scheme) neutralizes roadside urban hazards. Real or perceived.
Rooms are outfitted with all the elements of a true boutique; leather headboards, inviting throws artfully folded at the foot of white-duvet clad beds, one saturated-color wall for punch, Porcelanosa bathroom tiles, and locally sourced art.
Flat screen TV’s and free wi-fi round out the great, comfy deal. Rates from $139 include hot breakfast buffet, free wi-fi, state of art fitness center, newspaper, Starbucks coffee.