Cheshire Catches (pt. 2)

Cheshire Catches (pt. 2)Cheshire Catches (pt. 2)Cheshire Catches (pt. 2)Cheshire Catches (pt. 2)Cheshire Catches (pt. 2)Cheshire Catches (pt. 2)

W e left off yesterday at the Cheshire Historical Society, starting to feel our stomachs growl. Good thing it’s just a few minutes’ walk to a pair of memorable restaurants, both residing atop a grassy rise within a labyrinthine brick structure called the Watch Factory Shoppes.

On one hand there’s the beloved and peculiarly nostalgic Watch Factory Restaurant, serving pricy “Austrian country cuisine” from spätzle to schnitzel amidst pastoral knick-knacks and red and white checkered tablecloths. On the other, there’s the artsy, gutsy Funky Monkey Cafe & Gallery, with modern decor, casual vibe and eccentric food menu, plus a dizzying variety of teas vying for diners’ attention with coffees, smoothies, beer and wine.

Today, we’re following the funk. Funky Monkey Cafe owner Tracey Burrill named her unique eight-year-old establishment after “Monkey,” a favorite cat, and has filled the place with creativity and exuberance. Monthly artwork—such as the bird-themed watercolors by artist Sharon Rowley Morgio that now perch along the cafe’s deep pumpkin-peach walls—keeps things fresh even for regulars. So does an eclectic slew of live performers, mostly musicians, making appearances on Friday and Saturday evenings, sometimes taking things outside to the cafe’s courtyard.

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Richard Wilson exhibition at the YCBA

If you come in for breakfast, you might order a panini “your way” from a list of possible ingredients. For lunch, the favorite sandwich is reportedly The Funk-O-Potamus, created by Tracey’s son, stuffed with jalapeno-infused bacon, black forest ham, Swiss cheese, vine-ripe tomato, avocado and mayo ($9.95, pictured first above). An intriguing dinner choice is the Zorba da Greek wrap, with grilled chicken breast, kalamata olives, vine-ripe tomato, feta cheese and spring greens with organic balsamic vinaigrette ($9.95).

Funky Monkey doesn’t desert you on dessert, offering cheesecake, carrot cake, tarts, cookies and more in rotation. Save some room anyway, because there’s a great little artisanal chocolate shop back the way we came called CocoaShak. A stop on the state tourism office’s “Chocolate Trail,” it’s nevertheless tough to find, situated in the rear of a small building shared with other businesses.

Chris Koshak, the owner and chocolatier, had been a chef for more than two decades before a book on chocolate-making—a chance gift from his wife, Jennifer—got him cuckoo for cocoa. Since then he’s been creating truffles, caramels, nut clusters and more, now with more than 80 different items in his repertoire sold by the pound ($29.99 per, or about a dollar for each truffle, Koshak estimates).

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Westville Village Artwalk - May 9 & 10, 2014

Favorites, he says, include a mint and Oreo crumb concoction called Girl Scout Thin Mint, a bacon and peanut butter cup named for Elvis, a zesty smooth white chocolate Lemon Zinger and other items that taste in turns like rum, pistachio, hot pepper, key lime and mojitos. One of Koshak’s newest ingredients is sea salt harvested from Hawaiian volcano sites in white, black and red varieties, which he sometimes sprinkles on to balance sweetness and amplify flavor. Meanwhile, his dark chocolate is true to its name: it’s made with no dairy, making the chocolate itself suitable for vegans and the allergic.

Whatever sweets you try there, give your body a treat afterward with some light outdoorsy pursuits at the Lock 12 Historical Park, just a 5-minute drive and 2-minute walk away from CocoaShak. The “lock” in Lock 12 refers to a set of wooden gate-like mechanisms that helped vessels navigate elevation changes along the old Farmington Canal from 1828 to 1848, when goods were ferried between New Haven and land-locked towns all the way up to Northampton, Massachusetts.

Then railroads rendered the canal and its locks obsolete, prompting the construction of a helicoidal skew arch bridge—an architectural marvel for the time that still stands at the site today—to allow trains to pass through. Now that bridge is used by Cheshire’s runners, bikers and casual hikers to get from Lock 12 Park to the main trail of the Farmington Canal Linear Park, which runs through three miles of adjacent woods and streams. But you don’t have to go into the woods to feel relaxed and amused here: next to the lock is a hilltop pavilion with picnic tables for reposing, and a couple of elegantly rustic buildings for admiring.

You can do a lot more of that than you’d think in Cheshire. We haven’t even gotten into the 20-foot-tall Paul Bunyan at the House of Doors; or the House of Doors itself, which claims to have “the largest selection of doors in the USA;” or Roaring Brook, the state’s highest single-drop waterfall.

Next time you have a free day and a little wanderlust in your heart, consider wandering thirty minutes up I-91/Route 10. Cheshire: she’s a catch.

Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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By day, Bonnie sells life insurance and financial products at her Woodbridge office. By night, she attends theater and writes reviews for the Middletown Press and her blog, which is partnered up with the New Haven Register. A reviewer for 25 years, she’s been a correspondent for the Middletown Press for the past 12. When the curtains go up, she loves being in the front row.

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