Dining Out

I n a climate that drives us indoors most days of the year, it’s a special pleasure to dine and drink al fresco, literally “in the cool,” though we haven’t felt a chill in weeks. As city sidewalks heat up, cafe tables all around downtown invite us to enjoy some rays and beams with our rice and beans. Some outdoor seating sprawls out, like Temple Grill’s, which stretches from the street for which it’s named into Temple Plaza under a shady bower of trees. Other tables barely squeeze in, like those that seasonally claim a single parking space outside Atticus Bookstore Cafe on Chapel Street.

But what about the evasive outdoor eateries—the ones less obvious to the casual passerby? I went in search of the more hidden spots where you can enjoy your food and your summer at the same time.

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Waterfront dining is surprisingly rare in our coastal city, but you can find it, especially on New Haven Harbor. At casual Lenny & Joe’s, a covered wrap-around deck next to the Canal Dock Boathouse offers a view past pilings where cormorants roost to the busy city port. Down the harbor’s western coast, ritzier Shell & Bones boasts another large deck, this one with a close-up view of boats docked at the Pequonnock Yacht Club and a far-off panorama of Lighthouse Point and the harbor’s breakwater. Up the coast from Lighthouse is Amarante’s, a waterside event venue that’s been expanding on its reputation for weddings and other private functions with public dinner hours Mondays through Wednesdays.

On the Quinnipiac River, where there’s less sea spray and more greenery on the horizon, I sat down for a salad, some sweet potato fries and an iced tea one afternoon at Anastasio’s Boathouse Cafe, located at the Quinnipiac River Marina. A pleasant breeze rippled the water below the narrow back deck and teased the table umbrellas while a group of women chatted at a nearby table and took photos along the railing. Even if you have occasion to drive down Fair Haven’s Front Street, you might not notice this cute spot, set behind the unassuming marina’s parking lot. The comprehensive menu is full of Italian staples and seafood (entrees range from $14.95 to $27.95, pizzas from an $8 small mozzarella to a $29.95 large, seafood-topped “Boathouse Special”) and the interior decor is homey. But the cafe’s deck is its golden ticket. There may be no calmer place in the city to sit over a meal on a summer afternoon than this little perch that’s literally on the water.

Closer to the heart of the city is another hidden al fresco gem: Kasbah Garden Cafe. An archway on Howe Street leads the adventurous to follow the white footprints painted on the driveway and the trickling sound of water into a cool, Moroccan-style oasis, where the French doors of Kasbah’s long, low building open to a patio. Hanging lanterns, umbrellas and plenty of flora—holly, roses, grapevines, hostas—lend a lush feel to several little dining areas. One in the front is relatively open, while a second is partially enclosed by a brick wall. Or follow an overgrown path over a little footbridge to two more tables tucked at the side of the plot.

At Kasbah, birdsong can be more prominent than engines and horns, and it’s possible to feel you’ve escaped for a while. One hot and humid afternoon, I claimed a Kasbah table and watched a breeze spin a colorful pinwheel near my feet while leafy shadows flickered on the brick wall beside me. My meal was fresh and satisfying, too: a make-your-own sandwich of delicious falafel—crispy outside, soft inside—with a generous serving of onion, tomato, cucumber and red pepper in a pita, accompanied by tahini sauce and a mint iced tea. Kasbah also serves couscous dishes ($11.50-13.95), Moroccan tagines ($13.95), appetizers, sandwiches, salads, smoothies and a long list of hookah flavors ($18).

Other courtyards and gardens hide from the street as well. At 116 Crown, seating on a back patio is surrounded by a small urban garden. Kitchen ZINC, reached via a Chapel Street alley, has its patio tucked into the back of Temple Plaza, where New Haveners outside the patio’s fence lounge on mats of perfect (artificial) grass or rest at colorful little cafe tables with folding chairs. On Wooster Street, Tre Scalini’s fenced-in patio is spruced up with bright red potted geraniums. On State Street, L’Orcio’s elegant courtyard is surrounded by vine-covered walls, while Goodfellas sports a breezy rooftop “sky deck.” Elm City Social on College Street has a rooftop tiki bar with its own drinks menu, cushioned benches and strings of electric lights in lieu of torches.

Good thing it’s July, and we don’t need the extra heat.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1, taken at Shell & Bones, photographed by Sorrel Westbrook. Images 2 and 3, taken at Anastasio’s Boathouse Cafe, photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 4, taken at Kasbah Garden Cafe, photographed by Daniel Shkolnik. Images 5 and 6, of L’Orcio and Goodfellas, respectively, photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Join her this month on Goodreads for a guided winter reading of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.

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