Monthly Archives: November 2012

Having Decoration Desperation?

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My Christmas wish has been the same for the past couple of decades or so.

If only I could walk past my matted, artificial Christmas tree and the 22 bins and boxes of tangled garland, lights, ribbon and such, go to work but some how come home to find a wonderland of lights, shimmer, greenery and joy created using all my stuff.

This year, my wish came true thanks to master floral designer Ruth Loiseau and interior decorator Bruce Valicenti.

The two business owners have combined their talents into a new seasonal venture that offers homeowners a way to get out from under their own Jingle Bells jungle of junk. They do the decorating, and you just enjoy the festive transformation.










turned into this!

Hartford Area Restaurateurs Rack Up Awards At CRA Dinner

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If you went out to eat Tuesday, you may have noticed a lot of restaurant owners in the Hartford area were MIA for the evening.

There was a good reason. They were all at the Connecticut Restaurant Association’s annual “Salute To Excellence”  awards dinner. And for some, the trip to the Mohegan Sun Convention Center was more than worth the while.

Steve Abrams and his “Max Downtown” in Hartford were big winners with Abrams receiving the prestigious “Restaurateur of the Year” award , one he was prepared for when he arrived at the dinner with wife, Paige. But he was surprised (although he did have a second speech prepared, just in case) when it was announced that Max’s was named “Upscale Restaurant of the Year.”

“This is more than I expected,” said Abrams, considered one of the city’s most personable restaurant giants. “I am grateful to my management team,” said Abrams about the staff that he credited with making the restaurant a success. “And as far as Restaurateur of the Year, it is very special to me because it was based on the votes from my peers.”

The Max Group continued to pile up the prizes when Max Fish bartender David Bouchard won the Belvedere Vodka “Mixologist of the Year” award.

Other surprise awards at the dinner emceed by Fox Ct/Clear Channel’s Rachel Lutzker went to executive chef Ryan Jones, who, with his wife Kelleanne, own the popular Mill at 2T in the Tariffville section of Simsbury and Wood -n-Tap’s Phil Barnett and partners.

Jones was awarded the “Chef of the Year” award while Barnett and his partners were awarded the “Casual Restaurant of the Year”  honor.

Barnett, newly elected CRA president, said the year has been his lucky one, noting that he and his partners opened their 10th Wood-n-Tap (with more to come,) that he and his wife Melanie, celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary and it’s also the 10th anniversary of the decision by he and his friends to launch the well-known bar/restaurant chain.

“It was my wife who gave me the loan to get it all started,” said Barnett. “I consider him my best investment,” she grinned.

“Caterer of the Year”  honors went to A Thyme To Cook, owned by Linda Sample.

Named to the “Hospitality Hall of Fame” were  The Mill Restaurant Group and founder Helmar Wolf  and Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale and founders, Lenny and Joe Goldberg.

State Senator Paul Doyle was presented the “Friend of the Industry Award” and Sysco Connecticut the “Vendor of the Year,” award.


Free Breakfast Alert Pancake Lovers!

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Know it’s a ways off yet but it’s best to be prepared when it comes to free flapjacks.

International House of Pancakes is offering free pancakes on National Pancake Day, Feb. 5. And the kicker? The day benefits the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, including the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Here’s the scoop with syrup:

“IHOP, one of America’s most popular family-friendly restaurants, known for “everything you love about breakfast,” will once again invite guests to enjoy free pancakes during National Pancake Day on February 5, 2013, while celebrating Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals’ 30th Anniversary. On this day, the restaurant chain hopes to raise $3 million as the first national fundraising campaign to kick off the 2013 fundraising year for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

During National Pancake Day, the company’s largest philanthropic event of the year, more than 1,500 IHOP restaurants across the country will invite guests to enjoy a complimentary stack of IHOP’s signature delicious buttermilk pancakes from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Guests will be encouraged to make a voluntary contribution to the local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital or other local charities. One hundred percent of the donations will help local charities provide vital equipment, life-saving procedures and critical care for sick and injured children.

This will mark the eighth year that IHOP has held National Pancake Day, which to date has raised more than $10 million dollars for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and other local charities. In 2012 alone, IHOP raised more than $3 million for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and other charities.

“Millions of free pancakes served on National Pancake Day mean millions of miracles for those in need,” said Julia Stewart, Interim President, IHOP and CEO of the parent company, DineEquity, Inc. “The concept is simple, but our mission is ambitious; to save and improve the lives of as many children as possible through Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. For the past eight years, it has been a pleasure and a privilege for all of us at IHOP to participate in this worthy event, and each year our guests have proved to be incredibly generous, helping us not only reach but surpass our goal. We look forward to continuing that trend this year as we plan to once again flip and serve about 4 million free pancakes for charity.”

Guests visiting participating IHOP restaurants in support of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals will also have the option to purchase “Miracle Balloons” for $1 and $5 each, throughout the month of January leading into National Pancake Day, with all proceeds going to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. Participating restaurants will display the balloons in celebration of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals’ 30-year anniversary. Those who buy a $5 Miracle Balloon will receive a $5 off discount that can be credited toward their next visit.

For more information on National Pancake Day, or to learn about Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and make an online donation, visit

Mark your calendars!

Diane Smith Earns Silver!

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Diane Smith will be one of the major honorees today (Wednesday) when the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences New England Chapter gets together in Boston for its awards dinner.

Smith, a popular tv journalist, radio show host, author and senior producer for programming at CT-N, has racked up more than 25 years of distinguished service to broadcasting and the community, a career that has led to her induction into the  NATAS 2012 Silver Circle.

She joins  Candy Altman (Hearst Television; New York, NY), Kim Block (WGME-TV; Portland, ME), Joe Merone (VPT; Colchester, VT), and Tony Petrarca (WPRI-TV; Providence, RI) as part of the 2012 class.

Selected to be inducted into the NATAS Gold Circle for more than 50 years of service is Chet Curtis (NECN; Newton, MA).

Other Connecticut broadcasters who are Silver Circle members include Kenn Venit,  Joanne Nesti, Pat Sheehan and Curtiss Anderson.


Do You Know It’s Christmas? Pretty Soon Hartford!

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What’s a holiday without a couple of landmark traditions. And here they come this weekend so let the holiday season begin!

Of course, Hartford’s Winterfest at Bushnell Park i sunderway and that holiday favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” has opened at Hartford Stage. But there’s more, much more.

On Friday, the Wadsworth Atheneum’s 39th Annual Festival of Trees and Traditions officially opens, once again offering galleries full of trees, wreaths, centerpieces and more. The annual event, one of the city’s most well-known holiday events coordinated by the atheneum Women’s Committee, also includes daily entertainment, children’s activities and special programs for the family. Visitors also have the opportunity to purchase one-of-a-kind trees and decorations created by community organizations and Hartford artists. The exhibit runs through Dec. 9 and kicks off with a “Night of Illumination” preview party Thursday at 6 p.m. For information go to (please note: December 1-2, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders can celebrate the holiday season with free admission to the Bruce Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art and Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art)

Also on Thursday, the American Heart Assn. will hold its 10th anniversary “Go Red for Women” reception at the Hoffman Audi Showroom, 700 Connecticut Blvd., East Hartford beginning at 6 p.m. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman will give welcoming remarks.

On Friday,  the Children’s Law Center of Connecticut will holds its annual holiday  fundraiser, “Imagine 2012″  at Hartford Golf Club. The evening, which benefits the non-profit, includes cocktails, light dinner and auctions.  For more information go to

On Saturday at 8 p.m.,  The CT Forum will host “Vision & Brilliance,” a panel discussion at the Bushnell focusing on technology, science, design and the future. Moderated by NPR’s John Dankosky,  panel members are astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, comics cult figure Neil Gaiman, and designer Neri Oxman. for ticket information go to

The holiday feel also continues Saturday at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme where the annual “The Magic of Christmas, a holiday tradition” tree and art display opens and continues through Jan. 6. Centerpiece for the display is Miss Florence’s  Artist Tree featuring over 130 painted palettes from artists across the country. Go to for information.

Also on Dec. 1, the Bushnell will host its annual Breakfast with Santa event. Breakfast, carolers, crafts, pictures with Santa, visits with the elves and Mrs. Claus and more will be featured. go to for information.

On Dec. 2, American composer and musician Tim Janis will perform at a Christmas concert benefiting  Tabor House, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the chapel of the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent at 27 Park Road , West Hartford. Janis is coming to Ct from performances at Carnegie Hall and is well-known for his altruism and charitable work for nuns. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

 The Friends of  the Mark Twain House & Museum holds its annual Holiday House Tour Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Five  homes in Hartford and West Hartford, along with Mark Twain’s 19-room home on Farmington Avenue in Hartford, will be opened for viewing.

Each historic home will be decorated for the holidays and will feature live music and floral arrangements.

Advance tickets are $30 each and also can be purchased at The Mark Twain House or by calling 860-280-3130. Tickets will be $35 each on the day of the tour.   Proceeds from the tour will benefit the continued restoration, preservation, and education programs of The Mark Twain House & Museum, which is a National Historic Landmark.

Go to for ticket information.



Happy Anniversary City Steam!

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It was 15 years ago,  Nov. 27, 1997,  when downtown Hartford welcomed City Steam Brewery, now one of the most prominent micro-breweries in Connecticut to Main Street.

Over the years, the popular brew pub and its brewmaster Ron Page have been introducing staple beers into the Connecticut craft beer market, including “Test Batch 2,” the second beer brewed there, and now better known as  “Naughty Nurse.”

To celebrate the anniversary, City Steam is offering some of its menu at its original 1997 prices. Among the anniversary reduced-price offerings are meatloaf, buffalo chicken wraps, fish & chips, burgers, wings, the cheddar chicken sandwich,  soup, salad, chicken Philly sandwiches, and of course, “Test Batch 1” and “Test Batch 2”  beers.

The brewery and restaurant , which has 23 tanks and barrels used for brewing and storing beers, also houses the comedy club “The Brew HaHa.”

“We are really proud of what we do here”, says manager Conor Geary. “Not every restaurant has the leadership that City Steam has, nor the loyalty of a very fun and passionate customer base. There are tons of wonderful dining options in Hartford, but it is always nice to see people join us time after time, or see a visitor’s reaction when they walk into this space for the first time”.



Sally ‘s Gets A Grinchy Shoutout

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It was a priceless piece of advertising for James Varano and his Black-eyed Sally’s in Hartford  Saturday night.

The Grinch, (Stefan Karl) from the Bushnell production of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,”  and apparently the rest of the holiday classic cast,  loved the Asylum Street dining spot so much they made it part of the script.

Varano explains he brought his kids to the production at The Bushnell and was “just about falling asleep” when he thought he heard the green guy say “Can we pleeease go to Black-eyed Sally’s” right in the middle of the show.

“Then he says it again,” said Varano whose kids couldn’t believe the pitch as the audience laughed. “Right there in the middle of the show.”

“The only thing I can think of is that they had a cast party at Sally’s on Tuesday night and many of the cast members were in during the run,” said Varano, thankful for the unexpected publicity from the actors who apparently liked his place.

“All weekend friends and customers were calling me to ask how much I had to pay for the plug! Very funny!”

Holbrook Hailed At Twain House With A Hall

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Hal Holbrook was fresh off a Thanksgiving holiday in Connecticut when he arrived at the Mark Twain House & Museum Sunday. But there was still more to celebrate for the actor and author of “Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain.”

Surrounded by family, friends and Twain House supporters, the award-winning Holbrook, whose acting accomplishments include his celebrated one-man show, “Mark Twain Tonight” was honored when the Great Hall at the museum was renamed “Hal Holbrook Hall.”

“I am humbled,” said the very spry looking 87-year-old who is also celebrating the success of his latest movie “Lincoln, the Steven Spielberg directed biopic about President Abraham Lincoln and the political wrangling involved in getting support for the 13th amendment to the constitution. Holbrook plays Republican reformer Preston Blair, a Republican reformer.

“It wasn’t a movie you do for fun but because it’s important,” said Holbrook, who spent Thanksgiving  with his late wife, Dixie Carter’s ex-husband, publisher, artist and investment banker, Arthur Carter, and the combined families. “And you know Spielberg is going to turn out something really good. “

Holbrook, who was clearly touched by the local honor, said Twain might have some other thoughts.

“I don’t think he’d like having a room named for me,” he said laughing.

Saying that he feels great and is taking good care of himself, Holbrook took the opportunity to promote his new movie, “Promised Land” with Matt Damon.

“I have a good role in that one,” he said explaining the story line that centers on the debate about the controversial drilling technique, fracking.

But what about just retiring, especially after 60 years in the business?

“Why retire,” grinned Holbrook. “Then what would I do?” More pictures.

LaBarbera Heading To The Altar

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There was a little something extra to be thankful for on Thanksgiving for WTNH traffic reporter and CT Style co-host,  Teresa LaBarbera.

The woman is getting married!

A glowing LaBarbera simply oozed as she shared the details of the very romantic Thanksgiving Eve proposal by her new fiance,  Brandon Dufour.

“Brandon told me we were asked to do a photo shoot for romantic getaways in Litchfield county and our spot was the Winvian in Morris. I didn’t question a thing,” she explains. “Arrived at the Beaver Lodge and started getting ready. Brandon called me over and said I have something to tell you…there’s no photog coming, we’re staying here tonight and…reached behind him on the fireplace and pulled out a ring box, then dropped to one knee. It was just perfect, he thought of every detail. I said yes!!”

For those interested in pedigree, Dufour is  a Fordham graduate, Gunnery alum and owns All-Star Driver, one of the state’s largest driving schools.

The new bride-to-be said they met when he was a guest on CT Style.

” We were doing a segment on safe driving,” said LaBarbera, who was also once the traffic reporter on WFSB. “It is a match made in highway heaven!

A 2013/2014 winter wedding in the works.