M/Bar, the classy roadside bistro fashioned out of a former gas station along Route 1, the heavily trafficked main thoroughfare in and out of Mystic, just claimed a smorgasbord of awards in the Best Restaurants 2019 Readers’ Choice voting conducted by Connecticut Magazine.
The restoration of the gas station a couple of years ago was the inspiration of owners Michael and Merrily Connery, of Stonington, who also planted and created, more than a decade ago, Salt Water Farm Vineyard on the site of a former community airport, with its vintage timber-trussed hangar, in Stonington, turning that cove-side property into what has become a solidly successful wedding venue.
The restaurant awards garnered by M/Bar in the most recent magazine statewide poll include:
- Best overall excellence in New London County.
- Best American food in New London County.
- Best chef (overall excellence) statewide winner: David Pottie, who won the same award in the magazine's 2018 readers’ choice voting when he was at Friar Tuck’s in Mystic. He also took third place in the Best Chef (up and coming) in the 2018 poll.
- Best fine dining in New London County.
- Best bistro in New London County.
These awards, of course, are rather subjective and open to speculation, good-natured or not, about taste and fan voting blocs and the like.
However, M/Bar took one other top award that begs just who or what was behind the voting. That award was: Best outdoor dining in New London County.
Few would deny the tastefulness of the exterior and interior work executed in transforming the gas station, but the locale, and the outdoor dining area spruced up by plantings and handsome stone slabs, is essentially in what was a gas station entrance and bay area, with Route 1 traffic motoring by.
Outdoor dining excellence? How about S&P Oyster Co., by the flagpole in downtown Mystic, with its dining patio overlooking the Mystic River? Or Harbour House, on the Inn at Mystic hillside, with its panorama of marinas and Fishers Island Sound? Or Ford’s Lobsters and Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough, both in Noank and perched along the Mystic River, where diners gather al fresco? Or, perhaps the most splendid outdoor vista of all, Breakwater in Stonington Borough, formerly Sandy’s and then Skipper’s Dock, with its wraparound deck essentially floating on Stonington Harbor?
Too nitpicky to begrudge M/Bar this outdoor dining “best” in light of its other top honors? Maybe. But it is rather disingenuous to dismiss the open airs and ambiance of what these other eateries afford, in our tourist-happy coastal towns, and reckon just how unique it must be at the outdoor tables at M/Bar when the drawbridge is up some August afternoon and the idling traffic is backed up past the bistro entrance.
A farewell to three people we lost as the year turned.
- James Stidfole, of New London, whose animated mop of curls and tangles was as irrepressible as his personality and stentorian voice, is mostly remembered as an advocate and vital fixture at Hygienic Art in downtown New London. But in the four decades I knew him, I was aware also of the countless students at Waterford High School, people in theater arts in the region, artists and woodcarvers like himself, musicians and choral members who worked with his wife, Sherry, and just folk in New London and Quaker Hill and towns throughout the region who called him Stidfole or Jim or James, or more to the point, friend.
- Sue Buchman, of Norwich, was a librarian at the Stonington Free Library when I got to know her, and a delightful part of being in that close and well-appointed library was chatting with Sue and her colleagues about everything and nothing. I was intrigued by the fact that she came from Wyoming, not the usual homeland of people around here, and did time at the Rhode Island School of Design, and that she sported a couple of modest tattoos, and that she would take the time to pass the time, and do all that she was able to find what a patron wanted.
- Stan Gaby, of Mystic, was a regular at the Mystic and Westerly-Pawcatuck branches of the Ocean Community YMCA, and would agreeably join in locker room and sauna hot-air bluster about politics and climate and recent lectures at the La Grua Center in Stonington, where he, too, once gave a talk and displayed his art. He was a professor at what began as Mohegan Community College and morphed into Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, teaching geology and oceanography. He was a sculptor, a collector of classic cars — well, at least one that I saw — and among the many admonitions he was adamant about voicing was wearing a hat. He always did and cautioned others to do the same.
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.