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.


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