Bidding farewell to Walt at Kamp Dog, our next stop on Wanderingjew's tour was The Shack (Roadfood.com overview), a classic Connecticut diner just off of I-95. Nearly everything we ordered met and exceeded our expectations, but Beth thought the daily special of turkey noodle casserole (above) was superior as the "ultimate comfort food." It also underlined what we love about group outings: we'd've never ordered this on our own, but we love sampling dishes like this with the gang.
Dale started the meal with this excellent corn chowder:
Amy opted for the clam chowder as featured in the Roadfood.com review:
Karilyn ordered a bowl of chili, which was presented differently than the cup that Michael Stern photographed in his original review. Maybe the management acted upon his criticism ("What, no cheese to sprinkle on top? No raw onions?") and actually changed the item to reflect that:
The cornbread that came alongside the chili wowed us all. Our server told us that it was from a box (Gold Medal Corn Muffin Mix), but its half-bread, half-cake quality certainly impressed us:
I ordered the baked macaroni & cheese, which Bruce Bilmes called "the finest version we've had outside our own home." Comparing his photo with this, the kitchen must've changed recipes since Bruce's visit because this was nothing like the version that he once enjoyed. Not showing any oven-baked crust whatsoever, it was just thick, Velveeta-like goop to me, though others liked it. Cooked with three cheeses, the flavor was indeed rich, but the presentation was ruined due to my preconception:
But the weakest link was undoubtedly their "famous" chili dog, which was downright terrible. And I knew that I shouldn't've ordered it here, but I was buoyed by our victory at Kamp Dog earlier and suckered by the "famous" tagline. The weiner was split and grilled, which denied it of needed moisture. The bean-heavy chili was clearly not intended as hot-dog chili, as it was the same they served in Karilyn’s bowl above. The sweetness of the green peppers in the chili completely distracted our palates, and the kidney beans are simply an abomination on a hot dog. Even the bun wasn’t adorned in any way, as if the cook simply took it out of the package and plopped the frank inside. This was more correctly an "infamous" chili dog, and Yvel & I were embarrassed to let the group try it (no one did!):
For dessert, we shared a piece of average chocolate cream pie:
But Yvel was curious about the Caribbean cake (with orange & pineapple), which was better, though the citrus notes could've been more pronounced:
The Shack was another solid stop on the Roadfood map, as long as you do not order the hot dogs:
This was a big lunch for all of us, so our next stop was a scenic one at Gillette Castle State Park, which involved taking the ferry over the Connecticut River:
The castle is an iconic structure, once the resident of actor William Gillette, who became famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. He was responsible for giving the Holmes character his now-trademark curved pipe and deerstalker cap. He also coined the famous phrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson." His eccentric nature is displayed in his choice of architecture, and the castle walls look like piles of unfinished local stones set in place with mortar:
From the castle grounds on the hill, you have a clear view of the river below, and we hiked down to the river's edge and back:
Not far from the castle is one of the state's finest seasonal burger stands, Harry's Place (Roadfood.com overview) of Colchester. Paulde and his daughter Kim met us there, after stopping at D'Elia's of Norwich for grinders (I had asked for D'Elia's to be added to the tour, but we couldn't fit it into the schedule. After hearing Paul's less than positive report about the sandwiches, I'm glad I didn't push for it!). Tim & Terri were also on hand to indulge in Harry's amazing burgers: very small buns with very thick, juicy patties cooked to order:
Harry's chili dog was, of course, no match for the burger, but at least it was ten times better than The Shack's sad excuse for a dog:
And the homemade potato chips are always a treat, very crispy with just the right amount of salt sprinkled on top. I love that ranch dressing comes on the side for dipping, too:
My friend Liz also drove up to meet us at Harry's, and she loved the burgers. She ordered the fried mac & cheese bites to sample, which were fun to try for variety's sake:
In a state with some seriously superior burger shacks, Harry's Place stands tall in the Top Five. They also have ice cream, but we had to save stomach space for the next stop!
Next up: fresh ice cream at Buttonwood Farm and lobster rolls at Ford's on the water. Stay tuned!