Food & Dining Going rustic in Roxbory
Not to be cynical or grumpy (both of which I am frequently labeled) but here is the heartbreaking scenario often encountered by the professional restaurant critic (cue violin strings).
I am driving in my car on a gorgeous day. Connecticut is showing its best side, autumn leaves are swirling, sailboats drift in a harbor of frothy water, white steepled churches peek from town centers and meadows and horse farms share the grid as comfortably as a scene in a Norman Rockwell painting.
And so this particular food critic, now high from the beauty of our wee state, is overwhelmed with a mighty appetite. I want to find a place as unspoiled and lovely as the scenery all around me but after consulting my phone, my laptop, or asking town-folk where to eat, I am stuck with a choice of Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A, Olive Garden or the Cheesecake Factory.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these places, and, yes, I have eaten at all of them more then a few times, but honestly I could be in Nebraska or Utah or just have thrown a dart at a map of the United States to find one of these ubiquitous chains. After a day enraptured by our state’s scenic beauty, eating “corporate” is a major comedown. I want something that reflects the region I am in.
This is why my heart soared when I found Mamies, one of the most original and rustic cafes in the state.
Plunked right in the middle of unspoiled Roxbury woodland, Mamies reminded me of the summer camp brochures from my childhood: hand-painted signs, wooden cabins with a flagpole, perfect for a kid with a trumpet to toot reveille. It was such a visceral memory I expected a color war to break out any moment.
Fortunately for this uncoordinated sort, during my visit to Mamies I was spared archery or three-legged sack races. Instead, I was shown a little table and handed an enticing menu. That is a sport I excel in!
Mamies is eclectic. I think you have to dine there a few times to really get the full effect. To start with, it is open for breakfast and lunch, except when it serves dinner (an event you must sign up for). The menu looks abbreviated until you look at the daily menu board and see the specials. I am not sure what region of this country Mamies menu represents because there is classic Yankee Roast Beef Hash, alongside Southern delights like Cheese Grits and Beef Brisket, and Fried Chicken on a Waffle. There is a very New York City dish of smoked salmon (lox) on toast and a Creole New Orleans Cream Brûlée French Toast. This eclectic assortment of foods is fun, you might be surprised what you can find here on any given day.
The vibe at Mamies is delightfully casual. The servers were all college-age kids, big smiles and more then willing to please. No one batted an eye when I ordered my usual weird and immense combo of foods. I wanted the beautifully simple peach pie, I wanted Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise, I needed to try the seasonal Soft Shell Crab, three huge blueberry muffins, and the Corned Beef Hash with eggs and toast. I think the fact that no one pointed and whispered in my direction means that customers always over order. The food is so tempting I could have easily added three other dishes.
Everything tasted great except for one of the “boutique” small batch sodas they carry. I can’t remember the name of the soda maker, but it tasted like a carbonated horse shoe. Regional sodas can be weird; have you tried Moxie from Maine or East Haven’s Foxon Park specials Gasosa and Iron Brew? At Mamies the server could not have been more accommodating when I asked for Coke or Pepsi instead.
I was a little disappointed in the hash, it was finely mined served in an oval patty and I missed the rugged look of hash where you see the charred peaks and valleys of meat, potato and onions, but it was pretty much the only item I did not care for.
Waiting for my food I glanced outside the covered dining room where I was seated. Now I felt even closer to being at summer camp. Maybe I should have ordered “bug juice” instead of soda.
Outside were picnic tables. Some situated on a porch and some way off on the lawn in the open air. Mamies is very popular and can get crowded. If you have to wait for a table the gracious porch is fun to hang out on. If you are watching the clock, this might not be your best bet. Everything is made to order and the service is erratic, albeit friendly.
Mamies is the total opposite of a corporate enterprise. Quirky, surprising and with an undeniable sense of place. This is Connecticut and Roxbury is arguably the prettiest town in the state.
So when you take a meandering route down country roads and through fields of fat sleek horses and flaming maple trees Mamies is exactly the kind of place where you want to wind up. Even during All-the breadsticks-and-endless-bowls-of- pasta-you-can-eat days, Olive Garden has nothing on Mamies. Eat locally and you will never be sorry.
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, co-authored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern.