Connecticut’s shoreline is unlike others in New England. That’s mostly because, in terms of topography, it’s nearly 100 percent blocked by a certain long island just 10 to 20 miles to the south. Soft, lapping waves and pebbled beaches abound here, with lots of tidal inlets and wetlands. But the central shore of Connecticut is worth visiting for another reason: the food.
While there’s much to enjoy culinarily across all the picturesque Connecticut shoreline towns, this guide focuses specifically on the excellent trifecta of Guilford, Madison, and Clinton. Easily traversed via the Boston Post Road (aka Route 1, aka the King’s Highway, founded in 1650 to link the American Colonies from Boston to Charleston), these three towns have a lot to offer.
Reach them in about two and a half hours by car from Boston, and plan to spend the night for this 24-hour food and beverage itinerary — check out the Madison Beach Hotel or the many beachy motels in Clinton for lodging.
One could get a dive or diner breakfast at lots of places in the area — Nick’s Place in Madison is one local favorite — but the hands-down best spot for morning eats is Beach Donut Shop, tucked discreetly into a small shopping center in Clinton. This mom-and-pop establishment has been open for decades, slinging old-fashioned (cake) doughnuts, yeast (raised) doughnuts, crullers, and of course, Boston cream doughnuts.
Walking in, it’s clear that everything is scratch-made: The air is heady with the scents of sugar, cinnamon dust, and frosting, not to mention baking and frying. Old-timers sit around over coffee. Young families stop in for a dozen en route to the beach. Teenagers drop their bikes out front. It’s perfect when it comes to vibes and, absolutely, flavor. Don’t miss the sour cream old-fashioned and the raspberry jelly stick. (Breakfast sandwiches and pastries are also available.)
Over in Guilford, a second location of Niantic’s Deke’s Bagels opened in 2022. The chewy texture, cornmeal dusting, and out-of-the-box flavors (roasted garlic, red pepper and feta) really set these bagels apart.
Lunch is a great time to visit one of the many lobster shacks and fried clam establishments in the area. Connecticut-style lobster rolls are served warm with the sweet meat slathered in butter, and that’s just what you’ll find at Clinton’s Lobster Landing and the Guilford Lobster Pound. Both are located in eye-catching settings alongside buoy-clad marinas with water views.
The Clam Castle in Madison is another local favorite. If you’re craving fried whole bellies, this roadside joint has been at it for more than 50 years. Order a platter with fries and tartar sauce and a cup of chowder (New England style — chunky, creamy — please!)
Italian culture is also deep in this area, and Saldamarco’s in Clinton is a great place to shop for meats, pastas, stuffed breads, and more. Grabbing a sub for the beach is never a bad idea: Try the Sinatra with Genoa salami, hot capicola, soppressata, fresh mozzarella, and roasted red peppers.
Options abound for the best meal of the day. For a classic New England clam and lobster bake, check out the much beloved and long-running establishment the Place. Located in Guilford, this downright unique eatery commands diners to “put your rump on a stump!” This is actually a literal request — the seats are wood stumps. Running through the middle of this tented, outdoor, and seasonal restaurant is a huge outdoor grill pit. Lobsters, fish, and chicken are available, but a must-order is the roast clam special. Littlenecks are grilled and doused in a buttery cocktail sauce concoction. Bring your own sides and drinks.
Classier options include French bistro Bar Bouchée and Italian restaurant Cafe Allegre, both in Madison. Bouchée has a date-night ambience and wonderful dishes like trout almondine, steak frites with bearnaise, and a house salad with blueberries and Roquefort. Cafe Allegre is family-friendly but also perfect for couples and singles; there’s a lively bar scene. A strong order includes escarole bean soup and spaghetti e vongole.
Bufalina in Guilford is a gem, serving wood-fired pizzas in a tiny space that has additional patio seating. The Bufalina pie with buffalo mozzarella is a must, and definitely try the specials with seasonal ingredients. The restaurant also has a full bar that turns out fun yet serious cocktails not often found in the area.
Bars abound in the area (and can be found in most restaurants, too). A couple of unique standouts include Scottish Dave’s Pub in Clinton and Sheppards Tavern in Guilford.
Scottish Dave’s proclaims that it’s the only Scottish bar in Connecticut; whether or not that’s true, it’s loved by young and old thanks to the welcoming atmosphere and range of events. There are game nights and live music from garage and rock bands. Don’t miss the food, which includes pub grub like Guinness stew, fish and chips, and even the Scottish dish haggis.
“Sheps” is a dive with pool, darts, and an old-timey feel. Nothing fancy here, just a good place to drink some pints and have some laughs with friends.