Here is the CTMQ Guide to Manchester with my list and stories about everything I’ve done there! Note: I “re-completed” Manchester again in December 2021.
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 many of our towns already. However, I have been continually surprised by how much more there often is to do. This page includes my “town completion celebration meal” and recap of my Manchester experiences.
Let’s get to it.
Manchester, Hartford County
Population: 58,241 as of the 2010 census. (15th in Connecticut)
Founded: 1823 (126th)
Size: 27.26 sq mi (85th)
Manchester was my: 1st town completed!
First CTMQ Visit: Old Manchester Museum, August 2007
The Celebration Meal
Note: Cavey’s closed permanently in May 2019 and the space became Coach Geno Auriemma’s Cafe Aura.
In the case of Manchester, celebrating this monumental achievement at Cavey’s was a no-brainer. Sure, there are plenty of good eats in Manchester and a couple even have CTMQ pages dedicated to them (Shady Glen and Chez Ben) but c’mon. For my very first town completed, I had to go to the best.
It also happened to be our 14th anniversary. So that worked out well.
For those of you unfamiliar, Cavey’s is an institution. It is also one of the most highly regarded restaurants in the entire state – and one of the most expensive. Sure, when people think about “most expensive” in Connecticut, they think about West Hartford, Litchfield, Westport, Greenwich, New Canaan, and maybe Washington.
And that’s not a knock on the town at all. But let’s be honest, Manchester is not Greenwich and it’s not Washington. Nor does it even want or pretend to be.
There’s a ton online about Cavey’s. That’s what you get with a forever-old restaurant that has more-or-less stayed true to its course for many decades. I’ll just mention this once… it’s time for Cavey’s to update the decades-old décor. It’s pretty awful.
(Yes. I know. They’ve since closed.)
Here’s an absurdly pretentious Chowhound review of Cavey’s, but I learned a lot from the responses.
I suppose a short explanation of this place is in order, as it can be confusing. “Upstairs” at Cavey’s is actually the ground floor. The small bar is here as well as the “Italian restaurant.” If you go downstairs, underground, you will enter the “French restaurant.”
Upstairs is more casual and lively. Downstairs is very formal and as quiet as a morgue. Some dishes appear on both menus. I want to say the French menu is pricier than the Italian one. The wine list is shared.
Oh, that wine list (no longer available online). Said to have the largest wine cellar in all of New England, Cavey’s wine list is unreal. You are handed this massive book with more listings than any human can scan through before ordering.
And as you’d expect, you can drop a few bucks on wine.
We spent 50 bucks on a Sauvignon Blanc because we are mere peasants; both in wallet and palate.
Every morning Chef Cavagnaro visits local area farms to explore and choose which of the area’s seasonal foods will inspire the menus. Cavey’s works with over a dozen local farms to bring you the freshest produce and seafood available; seasonal morels, heirloom tomatoes, local cheese, Nantucket Bay scallops and native corn, all grace our plates at their respective peaks of flavor.
Regarding the unique “two restaurants in one” thing…
Catherine de Medici brought a team of Italian chefs with her when she moved to France from Italy in the 16th century. This retinue of chefs set the stage for future generations to build upon. In much the same fashion, Cavey’s was originally an Italian restaurant, celebrating the Cavey’s Piedmont heritage. Having travelled Europe and explored the history and links between French and Italian cuisine, Chef Cavagnaro grew to love the French traditions equally, so after he took over the restaurant from his father in the late 70’s, he added the French side.
Our meal was fantastic. After each enjoying a drink up at the bar for $23 bucks plus tip (Hendricks and tonic for me and a glass of prosecco for Hoang), we were escorted downstairs.
Into Paris, 1956.
And it was silent. No music, whispered conversation from the other four couple dining there. Eesh. Lighten up, people. Food is fun! Really good food should be really fun!
I always hate taking pictures in restaurants, but I really, REALLY hated taking pictures here. It feels so intrusive and gauche. (Because, well, it is.) As a result, my pictures are horrendous.
Which is a shame, because the presentations were beautiful and the food was incredible. I feel terribly publishing the food pictures, as it is a horrible disservice to the chef and his crew.
Look, we don’t eat fois gras on the regular. Once every five years or so. But when in Rome… or Paris as the case may be. The duck liver was impossibly good.
Our entire meal was impossibly good. It was, I think, one of the best meals in Connecticut I’ve had. Was it worth the price (Ultimately about $250 with tip)? Well, that depends. In one sense, no, of course not. But in another? Sure. 100 bucks for the food/service, 100 bucks for the experience, 50 bucks for having a quiet night to ourselves.
So let’s get back to my monumental achievement! Completing Manchester!
I have lived in seven Connecticut towns: Storrs/Mansfield, Manchester, East Hampton, Glastonbury, Cheshire, New Britain, and West Hartford. While in Manchester, I lived in two different places; a house and in the Mills.
And that’s sort of lame. But, I’d guess, it’s also the norm. Who goes to their town museums? Explores the under-explored trails? I’m not writing this stuff to be some sort of hero or champion of “GET OUT THERE YOU COUCH SLOTHS!”
But yeah… the more I explore and write about Connecticut – and I’ve been at this for nearly 11 years – the more I realize just how much there is out there. I can’t pretend it’s all worthy of your time. It’s not. But there are cool little spots, fascinating people, and things to discover and enjoy everywhere.
People view Manchester through the prism of “the mall.” And that’s a shame. I don’t really know what the town’s identity is though… Post-industrial suburban blue collar up-and-coming exurbia with secretly super nice areas? I just don’t know.
But I do know that I enjoyed my visits and explorations of it.
Thought exercise: If I had to send someone to Manchester for a daytrip, I would tell them to go to Shady Glen for an early breakfast, check out the little-known nearby Porter/Howard Reservoir and then scoot down to find Wyllys Falls. Maybe walk up Lookout Mountain at Case Mountain Park. Grab some poutine for lunch at Chez Ben before popping over to Wickham Park to wander the gardens and gawk at the aviary. Go “downtown” and have a beer or two from Labyrinth Brewing, shop for the kids in your life at the incomparable Time Machine Toy and Hobby and if you’re feeling special, have dinner at Lucky Taco before catching a production at the Little Theater of Manchester.
Surprise(s): The weirdly delightful Hockanum River Trails, Chez Ben
Favorite fact: The Cheney RR was the shortest freight-and-passenger RR in the US… AND was also the longest private RR.
Disappointment: Buckland Hills Mall Carousel