As we scour the Connecticut countryside in search of simple pleasures, we discovered an avenue of decadent delight in the quiet corner.
State Route 97 runs north and south between the well-traveled northeast Hartford-to-Providence connectors routes 44 and 6, a gentle country lane that breezes through the farmland of Abington and Hampton.
The first of two stops on our taste bud-tempting tour is one my missus and I discovered more than 10 years ago. On that beautiful spring Sunday, we spotted a small hand-painted sign on a hill overlooking Route 44 that simply said, “We-Lik-It, Ice Cream, 1 mile,” with an arrow pointing south on 97.
Well one lesson that has been driven home time and time again is if you want something to eat or drink when you’re out in the country, don’t start pining for something familiar. Go where the natives go. If you see a cluster of cars and a smattering of cycles buzzing around a little shack, don’t scan the horizon for golden arches. For heaven’s sake, get in line!
I sidled up to the counter where a stunning young lady had scoop in hand, ready to serve.
“Is this ice cream fresh?” I asked in an attempt to stimulate conversation that my family and friends know well.
Answering a question with a question isn’t always the thing to do but it worked well here.
“Do you see that cow over there?” she said, gesturing around the side of the building where a bossy or two were grazing.
I got the picture.
The ice cream was out of this world, so we keep making excuses to return to the northeast corner.
“Tag sale? In Pomfret?” said I.
“Sure, why not?” said Lisa. “We-Lik-It!”
One strawberry rhubarb on a wafer cone later, we hopped back in Lady Avalanche in search of an adventure to make this Saturday a success. Boy, did we ever find it!
About two miles south of We-Lik-It, we saw a familiar sign indicating one of the state’s fine wineries was off the beaten track.
Now neither of us is one of those connoisseurs that smells the wine, swishes it between our molars, wrinkle our brow and hand out descriptions that mean nothing to most people, many of who spent their late teenage years and early 20s swilling either Boone’s Farm Apple Wine, Ripple or Yago Sant’gria at The Ground Round.
The bright sun that had the temperature into the low 80s glinted through the forest on either side. We navigated a few curves and suddenly the forest opened into a beautiful meadow of the greenest grass and wildflowers.
About a quarter-mile later, a sign welcomed us to Sharpe Hill Winery and a more fortuitous right-hand turn I’ve never made. A meticulously maintained 1700s-era farmhouse was surrounded by a sprawling vineyard. A colonial-style fence snaked up a stone drive where we parked and entered a pristine barn-like structure where a friendly woman was pouring out concoctions, some as clear as spring water, others with a hint of red and some deep maroon.
She directed us to an outdoor patio where we sat in rocking chairs, soaked up some sun and wet our lips with Sharpe Hill’s labor of love transformed lovingly from what was growing on the nearby vines not so long ago.
For $10, Lisa and I got to taste five different varieties. I guess the server appreciated my gentlemanly charm because we got to sample seven, including two of the delicious dessert wines that we have come to enjoy from time to time.
We kept sipping, that sun kept shining and she kept bringing more. The only problem was the 45-minute ride return to reality loomed.
Sharpe Hill also operates a restaurant on the premises, a thought that we food junkies found tantalizing. The salivary juices bubbled through the wine when she announced what was on the menu. Unfortunately, there were no openings for dinner and we weren’t prepared to stay.
The restaurant operates only selected hours so our hostess suggested that we make plans well in advance, particularly if we thought the idea of dining, sipping local wine amid the changing leaves of late September or early October offered any attraction. Ummm, yes.
Well we had pushed hospitality to the limit. Our $10 had been astutely and refreshingly spent and it wasn’t fair to sit there much longer with the first traces of an eager dinner crowd crunching up the stone drive.
We were on our way home – Hampton, Ashford, Willimantic, 384, over the river and through those nasty West Hartford curves. A Saturday well spent.