Chuck Wagon Restaurant
I’m very excited to write this page. This is the 14th of what may ultimately be 169 town completion celebration pages! Yes, of course I am fully aware of how absurd that is. But I love it.
For those of you who are new here… In late 2016, after a decade of writing CTMQ, I decided to try to “complete” towns. In that decade of traveling and writing, I had already done a lot of stuff in most of our towns already. However, I have been continually surprised by how much more there often is to do. This page you’re reading includes my “town completion celebration meal.” These will sometimes be at the best restaurant in town. Or the most historic. Or the most iconic. Or the most unique. Or the only one. Or at a gas station. Every town is different!
Let’s get to it.
Ellington, Tolland County
The Celebration Meal
When selecting my Ellington celebration meal, I went to Peak Ellington. Sure, there are a couple fancier joints in town than the Chuck Wagon, but I didn’t feel that they’d give me the full Ellington experience. After all, this is the town known as “Smellington” because of its huge cow population – and the name “Chuck Wagon” alone evokes visions of cattle drives. To me, this was a no brainer.
Note: this restaurant smells perfectly fine.
Located in a little town center strip mall, The Chuck Wagon is more or less a diner that doesn’t really bill itself as such. The waitstaff seemed to know almost every patron besides myself. The walls are decorated in that homey way that all of these small town joints are decorated. Old pictures of the town, some random pieces of Americana here and there.
Another throwback is the tabletops, filled with advertisements for local businesses: roofers, plumbers, feed stores, real estate agents. That last one is probably a decent gig in town, as Ellington has been going through a massive home-building spurt over the last decade. As I took the scene in, my server appeared and mentioned the special Thanksgiving platter. I was sold.
Ellington is America in a sense; a rural cow town with a small town center with encroaching suburbia. And what’s more American than Thanksgiving, our country’s best holiday by far? Nothing. Bring me my turkey and mashed potatoes!
Holy cow, the amount of food on the plate was enormous. I had been hiking around town to “complete” it, so I was hungry. But I wasn’t this hungry! I forget how much it cost, but it wasn’t expensive at all. The Chuck Wagon rules. Don’t believe me, check out the ONE online review they highlight on their website:
That is some kind of endorsement.
I was asked if I preferred white or dark meat (“both”). I didn’t get to toast the town with a proper drink, so iced tea it was. (This is where the other choices for celebratory meals would have had it over The Chuck Wagon, but whatever.) The turkey was really good, even if it was “on special” and doused in gravy – a sign that they were hiding its expiry date somehow.
Potatoes, good. Stuffing, a little wet to my taste, but still good. This was a hearty and rather delicious inexpensive lunch in Ellington. The Chuck Wagon not only has Demetri Skyriotis’s endorsement, it has CTMQ’s.
Special bonus: there’s an ice cream joint next door called The Scoop Ice Cream Café at which I enjoyed a chocolate mint chip cone. While their ice cream comes from “some place in Massachusetts,” and therefore doesn’t get a page on CTMQ, it was still good ice cream.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. Or, rather, the cow in the room. Yes, Ellington is known as “Smellington” and yes, the moniker exists for a reason. Ellington, quite often, stinks. This is what happens when the largest dairy farm in Connecticut is smackdab in the middle of your town. There’s just no denying it.
In fact, when I worked in Enfield, 8 miles north, I could smell Ellington. My friends in East Windsor complain about it at times. My son, upon exiting the car for a short little Ellington hike, recoiled and screeched, ”What’s that smell?!”
Lots of cows live in Ellington and their doody stinks. Moreover, the fields used to grow feed for them are often fertilized with their own liquefied manure. Good times.
As more and more residential homes are built in town, I wonder if that classic ironic NIMBY thing happens when new residents complain of the cows that have been there for a century. Probably. Humans gotta human.
As for me, an Ellington interloper, I never gave the smell too much thought. For I had a town to “complete!” There’s not much in the way of museums here, but I did spend a fair amount of time hiking the various trails throughout town; all of which were relatively short and easy. The long-distance Shenipsit Trail courses through town as well, and takes hikers down dirt roads that may catch some by surprise, if only because there are very large and very nice houses along some of them.
I enjoyed the Bat Houses while hikng the town’s Batz Property. I enjoyed learning that the first Methodist Parsonage in New England is in Ellington. I enjoyed learning that Daniel Halladay invented the world’s first successful self-governing windmill in Ellington in 1854. I love that Ellington is the only Connecticut town that has a land border with 8 other Connecticut towns. You can go skydiving in Ellington if you’d like. Crystal Lake is nice. Shenipsit Lake is nicer.
I’m not sure what else you’re expecting here… Cold Creek Brewery used to be a really great little brewery, but then the head brewer left for greener pastures and they changed the whole business model. Connecticut Valley Distillery never opened for visitors and the same owner’s Nordic Moon Meadery may open its tasting room someday.
But no matter, the pace of life in Ellington is a step slower than elsewhere. It has to be… with all the cowpies everywhere.
Thought exercise: If I had to send someone to Ellington for a day, I’d send them driving through Oakridge Dairy farm to get a taste of “Smellington.” Perhaps breakfast or lunch at The Chuck Wagon. Walk over to the Scandinavian Gift Shop and buy some salty licorice just because. From there, head over to the Ernie Boothroyd Nature Preserve in the town’s odd panhandle and then circle back to civilization with a pint or two of Cold Creek beer at the Cold Creek Tavern. I realize that this isn’t a super exciting day, but hey, you’re in Ellington.
Surprise: The 21st century Ellington housing boom.
Favorite facts: There is a decent Swiss population in Ellington and they started the only Apostolic Christian Church in Connecticut which is very conservative and has been accused of being a cult. Also, Oakridge Dairy Farm is the largest dairy farm in Connecticut.
Disappointment: Cold Creek Brewery’s decision to close their taproom and open a tavern.