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What’s “The Best” According To CT Mag

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Courtesy of Connecticut Magazine

It’s that time of year again, and we’re not talking “unofficial end of summer” or “back to school and the regular work grind” time. But rather Connecticut Magazine’s 17th annual “Best Of” issue, the one where editors (with some reader input) rate the best places to eat, play and shop.

If you are in the Hartford area or don’t mind a bit of drive, lucky you! You have lots of “best of” choices to savor.

Let’s start by shopping!

Hartford’s own Stackpole Moore Tryon Tuesdaysstackpole was named best when it came to “Women’s Wear” while Lux Bond & Green, with several locations in the area, was judged “Best Fine Jewelry.”

West Hartford’s Kimberly Boutique was voted “Best Casual Jewelry.”

In the “Fun and Leisure” category, Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park in Portland was judged  “Best Action Park” and Crocodile Cove at Lake Compounce in Bristol  “Best Water Park.”

“Best Beer Garden” went to East Side Restaurant in New Britain, with On20 in Hartford named the “Best Draft Cocktail” award. And speaking of drinks, City Steam in Hartford was deemed “Best Happy Hour”  while Vinted in West Hartford was named  “Best Wine Bar.”

Middletown’s Oddfellows Playhouse garnered the “Best Children’s Theater” award with “The Kate” in Old Saybook named best small concert venue. Toyota Oakdale Theater in Wallingford was named “Best Large Concert Venue.”

woodntapIn the “Food and Drink” category, Plan B with locations in West Hartford and beyond was named “Best Burger” and “Sweet Maria’s ” in Waterbury “Best Cake.” Rein’s in Vernon was named “Best Deli” and Dottie’s Diner in Waterbury and Woodbury “Best Doughnuts.” (watch for A La Carte online and in the Courant to read about those award-winning doughnuts and beyond!)

Doogies in Newington was named “Best Hot Dog” and in the “Best Ice Cream” category it was Arethusa Dairyarethusa11 Farm in Litchfield.

Wood ‘n Tap, with several locations including Hartford, was tapped  as having the “Best Nachos”  and Sixpence Pie company with locations in Southington and New Haven named, what else but “Best Pie.”  Bartaco, with several locations including one in West Hartford, grabbed the “Best Tacos” award and as far as “Best Wings,”  it was “J. Timothy’s in Plainville.

The “Best Consignment Furniture” went to Middlebury Consignment with RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison named as “Best Independent Bookstore.”

Over the Moon in Avon won “Best Kids Boutique” and when it came to “Best Toys,” the award went to Kiddly Winks in Canton.

shrineMohegan Sun and Foxwoods split awards in the “Casinos ” category with Foxwoods being named “Best Fine Dining” for its Paragon Restaurant.” Foxwoods Grand Theater was named  “Best Large Entertainment Venue” and its Shrine named  “Best Nightclub”

Mohegan Sun took the “Best Small Entertainment Venue” with its Cabaret Theater and “Best Shopping”  at its The Shops at Mohegan Sun.

For the complete list go here.



DWTS Derek Hough Comes To Connecticut With His Book

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derekHe’s the guy most women would say “that’s the partner I want if I were a contestant on “Dancing with The Stars.” Blonde good guy with a ton of talent and even more patience, Derek Hough has won five “mirror ball” trophies on ABC’s popular dance competition reality show. But now the 29-year-old Emmy winning choreographer, dancer, singer and actor has a new accomplishment to add to the list, author. Taking the Lead: Lessons From a Life in Motion,” is his first book, one that is half autobiography and half self-help book, focusing on how trying, facing uncertainty, being fearless and seeing opportunity rather than defeat can change a life. Hough will be meeting fans and signing copies of the book at RJ Julia in Madison on Thursday, Aug. 7 and at Mohegan Sun on Friday, Aug. 8. Known for his creativity, his exuberance and his seemingly non-stop motion, he was heading to Connecticut and sitting still when he Spilled the Beans with Java.

Q: After reading the book, you are either the greatest guy who has ever lived or someone who can give everything, even your shortcomings, a positive spin. Which is it?

A: The second one, I hope. So the thing is I just came off tour and hadn’t really stopped in seven months, and when I came off it, I had post-tour blues. I had this massive energy shift so I was in this weird place and read my book to bring me back. It was almost like I wrote it for the place I was in. My book has lessons that are meant to learned and relearned, and I know I will keep going back to that what I wrote when I get down. I am far from perfect and that is all in the book. But the point is I wrote something that was more than a commercial venture. It is what I learned and they are lessons others can tap into.

Q: I know you are friends with Tony Robbins and wondered if you see yourself following his path by becoming a motivational speaker and all that goes with that profession?

A: I could possibly see it as a career path. I never really consciously thought about being a motivator or self-help adviser. It just kind of happened. I kept journals for years and every time something happened and I learned from it I would write it down. As I began touring with DWTS I would meet people and the questions would come and I would talk with people and it all connected somehow. I reflected on my ups and downs and then was approached about doing a book and I realized I had already written it.

Q: But you do have another career path these days, a show on HGTV? I don’t remember you talking about your constructions kills in the book!

A: I know. I am no good with a hammer and neither is Mark Ballas. The name of the show is “Mark & Derek’s Excellent Flip.” Mark and I had bought a house and decided to flip it and HGTV heard about it and asked if we would do a show and we thought, ‘sure why not?’ It was all pretty funny to us because neither of us have any real skills. But I love the smell of wood, I love watching something being built and as a kid, I couldn’t stay away from construction sites. It’s a four episode series and we just finished filming the first one and people were actually pretty impressed at what we did know. And really, redoing a house is so much like DWTS. You take something that’s not very good but is full of potential and you say ‘let’s do it’ and you make it better.

Q: So this all begs the question, will you be on DWTS next season?

A: I don’t know yet. We are still figuring it out.

Q: If they offered you any partner to get you to commit, who would be the gal to seal the deal?

A: Megan Fox

Q: Are you seeing anyone?

A: No. I am available.

Q: Would she have to know how to dance?

A: I won’t lie. I think there is something attractive about a girl that can dance. I veered away from it in past relationships but I think it is something I would want.

Q: You talk at length about being bullied as a child. Do you ever want to call those guys and say ‘look at me now?’

A: I don’t. When I reflect on those times I have such empathy and sympathy for people who have to be mean like that or hurt somebody to feel worth something. Those kind of people, clearly there is something going on inside of them. I just moved on and never dwelled on it. I just learned from it.

Q: If you could dance with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

A: Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. I would love to do a trio with them and then pick their brains about how they did what they did.

Q: Do you have any goals before you hit that “30 years old” benchmark?

A: Spend more time outside. As a hobby I love being outside and love doing things that give me a rush like jumping off cliffs. My plan is to definitely do more.


‘Fifty Shades’ (And Mr. Grey) Strike Again

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Fifty Shades of GreySeems like just yesterday Ms. James’ “Fifty Shades” series had Connecticut readers running (and blushing) to RJ Julia in Madison and again to The Omni in New Haven when the suddenly famous author made a guest appearance in Connecticut in 2012.

And now…get ready to be teased again as the red-hot trailer lures you in. 

Can’t help but wonder if Connecticut’s Paier School of Art, mentioned in the book, will make it into the movie?



“Pearls Before Swine” Pastis Coming to CT With New Book

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stephanpStephan_Pastis_2_photobySusanYoungStephan Pastis is the #1 New York Times best-selling creator of the offbeat “Pearls Before Swine,” a comic strip that appears each day in the Hartford Courant. The California native who began drawing when he was child, has just written his first children’s book, “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made,” and yes, it includes characters and drawings sure to make any young reader smile. The lawyer-turned comic strip creator –turned author will be at RJ Julia Booksellers Saturday.  But before he arrives in Connecticut, where he hopes to visit the Mark Twain House & Museum as well, he Spilled the Beans with Java, sharing what inspired the funny book featuring Timmy, the child detective,  and a story that is full of the trials and tribulations of childhood and the imagination they inspire.



Q: My experience is that when someone writes a children’s book, there is some of their own experiences in there somewhere. What childhood events of your own did you includes in Timmy Failure? And are you Timmy?

A: When I write it there is no intent to put any of my own childhood in there. I don’t write that way. I write in a strange odd way, the way I have done the strip for years and years. I put music on really loud at the computer and I do my best to think as little as possible. But I guess there are things from my childhood in the book. When I was a little kid I was obsessed with my grades, I always had to have good grades. I had an ulcer in fourth grade. So I share that with the character Rollo. I was essentially an only child like Timmy because my sisters were much older than me. So I lived mostly in my own head like Timmy. And when I was in school all of the smart kids were girls so that would be the character Corinna Corinna.  And I already wrote a second book and after I wrote it realized that one of the characters’ is a lot like my grandmother.

Q: What components do you think a children’s book needs these days to prompt a child to put down the video games and read instead?

A: Most reluctant readers are boys and I think you can compete but you need a few things. If a page is dense with a lot of words and nothing else, it is boring. A page needs to be more sparse and in my genre funny with some kind of illustrations. One of the best pieces I got was from Jeff Kinney(who wrote “Diary of A Wimpy Kid”) who told me to just be funny. He writes his books by starting with jokes and then builds the plot around those jokes.

Q: Somehow it seems so discouraging, a kid named Timmy Failure…maybe I am not seeing it but there is something a little sad about him, I think?

A: the name, I thought, was funny. Timmy strikes me as one of those 1950’s era kids and that combined with the last name was funny, an attention grabber for the reader. It’s not your average name. It’s not discouraging because Timmy is the relentless optimist. He believes so much in his abilities as a detective. He is the last person to get discouraged.  If he can make it, any kid reading the book will think they are in a better place.

Q: Do you have children and do they have any say in the book storylines?

A: I have a 15-year-old Thomas and 11-year-old Julia. And they do have input, especially Thomas. When I wrote the first book I had him read out loud in front of me and every time he laughed I stopped him to ask why. I am sure he found that annoying and probably kept from  laughing by the end so he could get through the book. I’ve always considered him my editor.

Q: What authors were your favorites when you were at that 8 to 12-year-old reading range?

A: There was a book called “ A Wrinkle In Time” and “How To Eat Fried Worms, the whole C.S.  Lewis series, those were huge. When I was a little older, the author I read was Kurt Vonnegut. He wrote those real simple sentences, he had an impact. He had a book called “Breakfast of Champions” where he actually drew drawings that are part of the narrative. The drawings in my book are not as clean as the ones in my comic strip but it’s because they are supposed to be drawings by Timmy. Sometimes the drawings become part of the sentence in “Timmy Failure.”

Q: Why did you make Timmy a detective in the book?

A: I think it’s every kid’s dream to be a detective. As a child I loved the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series and “Encyclopedia Jones.” They all share ridiculously clever characters. They are timeless. I just turned it on its head and had the detective least likely person to solve a mystery but he believes he is the best detective ever.

Q: Have you ever been to Ct?

A: Once, to take a deposition. But I am a huge Twain fan and just finished Ken Burns documentary so I want to find some time to get to Hartford and the Twain House while I am there.

Q: Something no one knows about you?

A: I will sit for four hours on a Saturday night and play Star Wars Battlefront with my son.

Pastis will be at RJ Julia, 768 Boston Post Road, Madison at 4 p.m. on March 2. For ticket information go to rjjulia.com

Bob Steele Takes On Gambling in ” The Curse”

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For most in Connecticut, the name Robert Steele conjures up the image as a former Congressman who unsuccessfully ran again the late governor Ella T. Grasso, the well-spoken politician whose dad, Bob Steele, was a radio icon.

These days however, Robert Steele is an author. His debut book, “The Curse,” is a novel, a family saga that begins in the 17th century and morphs into a contemporary tale of the arrival of casino gambling in Connecticut, complete with historical references, mobsters, politicians and business moguls looking to get rich quick. Steele, a one-time resident of Ledyard, lived next to the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation, affording him a front row seat to the state’s emerging gambling industry. Why he wrote the book and how he did it were some of the topics he discussed when he Spilled the Beans with Java.

Q: You were such an intense politician in your heyday so I was surprised you wrote a novel rather than some “think tank” non-fiction about the evil of gambling. Why do it this way?

A: I came in touch with this story in many different places. I played Little League baseball in Wethersfield within a mile of the Pequot attack. I served in Congress so I knew the political aspects and the players and the chiefs of the tribes. And then I lived on edge of the reservation for 21 years till 1998 and as I watched this develop it seemed this was one of the most fascinating stories in Connecticut. Here was this region that was hit out of the blue, something that had an enormous impact on its economy and culture. People who don’t live there can’t begin to grasp the impact of casino gambling. The more I thought about it and trying to link it to my experience, it seemed to me the whole story of the past and how it happened was a fascinating one. I knew there were three factual books already written on the subject so I saw no reason to try that but decided to do it from a different direction and to a broader audience. I think a good story is always made up of what is most interesting. I think it is an absolutely intriguing story and even more intriguing as I tell it from a fictional character point of view.

Q: Clearly you have a personal interest in that you represented that area of the state. Given the name of the book, was writing it a way to unload your pent-up anger or a gentle way to teach a lesson?

A: I hope people will find it a fascinating story. I hope it will serve as a cautionary tale about bringing gamble casinos into their towns and communities. Every week we read about economy and jobs and I am most concerned as the gambling monopoly ends, what happens next? The best independent economists and analysts say the cost benefit ratio of a casino is 3 to 1, that’s three dollars spent for every dollar in benefits, money spent on things like social issues, broken families, gambling addiction. Ct has been in a more advantageous position because more than half of these gamblers are from out of state but that is going to change as other states add casinos. Now our governor is saying double down and we should be a leader in internet gambling.

Q: I take it you don’t agree with that?

A: There is a double concern. It’s terrible. I think it is time for some leader to step forth as Gov. Weicker did and say more gambling is not what this state needs.

Q: The story line of your novel pretty much boils down to greed and what seems to be politicians and slick business people who use their positions to undermine others and that never-ending battle of money somehow circumventing common sense. Or did I read it wrong?

A: It comes down to public policy and where are our leaders? There is another new book that will scare the daylights out of you by an MIT professor called “Addiction by Design.” It’s about how today’s modern slot machines are addiction delivery devices that are designed to maximize the time people are on the slot machines. Liberals and conservatives agree it is an aggressive tax that goes after people who are susceptible. Internet gambling which would put a casino on everyone’s Smartphone. Somebody has to ask ‘is that good?’The book is intended to entertain as an engaging gripping novel and be a cautionary tale about where America is going.

Q: You sound as though you might have some renewed political plans?

A: Politics are distant in my past and I am totally sitting on the sidelines. No absolutely not. I spent a long time writing this book and I couldn’t step up any more.

Q: Any thoughts on the state of our state from a politician’s point of view?

A: I think we are doing everything we can to encourage jobs and the economy and I applaud those efforts. I like seeing the biotech and other technology growth and what seems to be a replacement for manufacturing. We should ride that, it seems to be the trend in the country. It should not be more gambling.

Q: What about the current national campaign, the U.S. Senate horserace between Chris Murphy and Linda McMahon?

A: I am still a Republican. But I look at these candidates and the arguments and one of the things that bothers me is nobody wants to tell the truth about what has to be done. There is no way there will be Social Security when my grandkids are ready unless we reform it. It is so dishonest to say ‘I will do nothing about social security.’ Everybody is going to have to get together and make these tough decisions. I don’t even want to discuss who I am supporting. Don’t want it to get mixed up with the book.

Q: Will you consider writing any other books?

A: I have a different feeling every day. It depends on how exhausted I am. I have no immediate plans. This book was really unique because I lived there for 21 years and knew the players.

Steele will disucss his book on Nov. 8, at the Essex Library and on Nov. 15, at RJ Julia in Madison.

Fall’s First Weekend Brings Lots To Do Hartford

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It’s the first weekend of autumn and that is reason to celebrate. And with the season change comes lots of ways to do that.

On Thursday, head over to the dedication of artist Adam Niklewicz’s installation, a water-activated mural of Hartford’s historic Charter Oak on the side of a former synagogue at 215 Pearl Street.

The “Walking Around a Tree” project, a joint venture between the city of Hartford, the Wadsworth Atheneum and Real Art Ways, is a component of the statewide City Canvas public art program which includes artworks in New London, Waterbury, New Britain, Torrington, Bridgeport and Stamford. The opening reception is from  4 to 7 p.m., and begins  at the gallery on the second floor of the office building at One Constitution Plaza, where an exhibit will show all the cities’ murals. The unveiling of the tree mural  will then be held at  215 Pearl St.


Interested in some star-gazing? A couple of choices on Thursday. Actor Tony Danza will be the featured author at  RJ Julia Booksellers program on his new book ” I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High.The event will held at Walter C. Polson Middle School 302 Green Hill Road in Madison.  Go to rjjulia.com for ticket information.

At Quinnipiac University,  Charles Gibson, the former “ABC World News” anchor, will deliver the lecture, “The (Im)Balance of Power in Washington: How Things Went Off the Rails and How They Can Be Fixed,” at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Burt Kahn Court on the Mount Carmel Campus.  This event is free and open to the public.  For more information about the lecture, please call 203-582-8652.

A few parties to choose from Saturday including the Hartford Symphony Orchestras Prelude Gala, a black- tie soiree benefiting music in the community.

This year’s party will be held at Rentschler Field  House in East Hartford. The evening includes a VIP reception , cocktails, dinner, live auctions and music by Carolyn Kuan & The Hartford Symphony Orchestra. For information go to hartfordsymphony.org.

At Glastonbury Hills Country Club, Hartford Magazine will be toasting its 2012  “Best of” winners. Food, music and dancing will be featured . Tickets must be purchased in advance. For information go to http://bit.ly/QdrXln

On Saturday and Sunday, head over to  the Connecticut Convention Center for the 10th annual Women’s Expo. Guest stars including Shawn Christian who plays Dr. Daniel Jonas on “Days of Our Lives” and WWE personalities David Otunga and Eve will be featured as well as more than  400 exhibits and demonstrations, makeovers and fashion shows.  Go to  ctexpos.com for information.




Tony Danza Coming To CT With New Book

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Tony Danza was everybody’s favorite taxi driver on the TV show “Taxi” and everyone’s favorite single dad and housekeeper on “Who’s The Boss.” Now the former boxer and Broadway star is also known for his books, including his newest, “I’d Like To Apologize To Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year As A Rookie Teacher at Northeast High.”

The book tells the story of Danza’s tenure as a 10-grade English teacher at Philadelphia’s largest high school. The yearlong journey was also the subject of  his TV series “Teach: Tony Danza” on the A&E channel two years ago.

A single dad who divides his time between New York and Los Angeles, Danza will visit Connecticut on Sept. 20 to talk about his experience and his book courtesy of RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison.

With a couple of play and TV series projects in the works, Danza is still enthused and retrospective about his time as a teacher and what better time to Spill the Beans with Java then as a new school year begins?

Q: While reading the book, I was struck by how emotional you were, the breakdowns as you struggled with being a teacher and the demands. Did those emotions surprise you?

A: I was absolutely surprised how emotional I got although I am a bit of a crier. It was unbelievable. I think I had two stages of hysteria when I taught. There was that total fear that I would make a horrible mistake in front of people. There were days when I thought I had the greatest lesson plan and was going to make such a difference and then it didn’t happen. I think in the beginning I put too much pressure on myself and was making myself crazy. I was wondering if I was going to get my comeuppance. It’s a tremendous responsibility to be a teacher and I don’t think you understand until you are in front of the room and they are all staring at you. I felt like they only get one chance at 10th grade I have to make it happen.

Q: After that year and the discussion that seems to be never ending when it comes to education, do you think people still believe in public education? Is it still effective?

A: That is the question and there are factions that don’t believe it. I think that’s part of the push to privatization. I think we have to decide as a people if public education is worth the endeavor. These are America’s kids. We have to make a decision. I think public education is what made our country great. There was the time when no matter who you were or where you were from you went to the same school. Now there is a caste system. Know what the model of America is? E pluribus unum, out of many, one. You don’t hear that anymore. Now it’s “I got mine, what are you doing?” It’s crazy and the current culture doesn’t help.

Q: That said, tt would seem education reform is tied directly to politics. There have been suggestions you would run for office? Would you?

A: I did say something on a red carpet about running but I was not serious. I am not sure I could stand the scrutiny. But if I were running, my platform would be “e pluribus unum, we are in this together and until we remember that we hang together or die separately.”

Q: What was your best subject in school?

A: In high school, biology. I graduated from college as a history major.

Q: What was the one piece of advice you wanted your students to walk away with after a year in your classroom?

A: Make school count. One day you are going to be 60 like me and regret it. No matter what the obstacles, no parents, poverty, violence, whatever, you have to have an education. The hard part is lecturing about how good behavior and hard work will pay off and then they go home and watch something like “Jersey Shore.”

Q: What grade would you give public education in America?

A: I am not in a position to give a grade. I wish I were an expert.

Q: You have been single for about a year now following your divorce. How’s that going for you?

A: It’s different, really different.

Q: Would you want any of your own children to become teachers?

A: I would want them to follow the occupation that is in their hearts. My oldest son is a chef, we wrote a cookbook together, and I have a daughter in the fashion business and another that is an arts major in college.

Q: Who was your favorite teacher?

A: Charles Messenger. He was my English teacher and produced the musical shows at our school every year. You could be in his class and he would transport you to Broadway. He had enthusiasm and you knew he loved what he was doing. He got it.

Q: What’s next for you professionally?

A: I’m trying to get “Honeymoon in Vegas” on Broadway and am in the very initial stages of a new TV sit com.

Q: What is something no one knows about you?

A: I play the ukulele and sing along. It puts my voice in a place I kind of like.

The event will be held at the Walter C Polson Middle School, 302 Green Hill Road in Madison at 7 p.m. Ticket information: conta.cc/QnNNCa

Madison On Yankee’s 25 Best Beach Town List

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When it comes to beaches, food, wine, and hospitals, Connecticut is holding its own according to a flurry of published surveys.

Since it’s summer let’s start with the beach.

The July/August issue of Yankee has included Madison and its Hammonasset Beach as one of the “ 25  Best Beach Towns”  in New England.

Placing number 17 on the list, Yankee editors write “From the heart of Madison it’s a  four-mile drive to one of Connecticut’s favorite sandboxes, Hammonasset Beach. That’s not a deterrent however, for the countless beachgoers who visit this delightful three-block village of coffee shops, bookstores, and restaurants after a day of lounging.”

Adding a “don’t miss” editors give a shout-out to RJ Julia Independent Booksellers, noting you can find “the country’s top authors reading from their latest works.”

First place went to Ogunquit, Maine, with Provincetown, Mass. in second place. Nantucket, Mass. was tapped for  third place and nearby Newport, Rhode Island fourth. For a complete list go to yankeemagazine.com.