Friday, August 17, 2007

Eli Cannon's

My favorite drinking establishment in the state of CT, with the possible exception of Willimantic Brewery (I would need to visit Willimantic more regularly to form an appropriate opinion).

Eli's is located on Main St in Middletown, right off route 9 where there's a stoplight in the middle of a highway. If you're very lucky, you can park at a metered spot in front of Eli's. If you're lucky, you can find a spot in the parking lot that abuts the restaurant building. Otherwise, you can park in one of the metered spots across the street from Eli's, where there always seems to be room.

The beer list at Eli's is what originally attracted me to it, but the food and atmosphere are what keep us coming back. Words fail to adequately describe the interior. As you walk in the front door, you enter the bar area. To your immediate right is a comfortable nook with a few plush chairs with a table. Next to that are two barber chairs. This is the eclectic essence of Eli's. The bar runs straight in front of the entrance and tends to get very busy just about every night. Sometimes it's hard to meander your way through the bar area to reach the hostess who will take your name for the restaurant area, which is to the right of the front door. The restaurant area is cozy with a mish-mash of various types of seating. Some round wooden tables, some booths, some square wooden tables, a couch with a table pushed up to it, etc. As crowded as it can get, when we sit down I always have that feeling of comfort and relaxation. The clientele is a mix of college kids from nearby Wesleyan, young professionals, young hipsters, old hippies, punks, yuppies, families, you name it. Very little pretension. There are a few TVs in the restaurant area, usually playing a Red Sox game or something similar. The decoration continues in the very eclectic style, from an old-style bicycle hanging on the wall to "restaurant-sanctioned" graffiti.

The restaurant area, at least for us, as much as we like it, is only for the cold months. Even more enjoyable is the wonderful beer garden in the back. A walk through to the back leads to a door that opens onto an outdoor seating area bordered by high fences that completely block the outside world. The front half has eight or ten tables that seat eight and the second half is for people who are either waiting for a table to open or just want to drink. If the tables are full, there's a hostess between the two areas who can take your name. The beer garden is full of kitschy beer related decorations and has a lot of vegetation that really make you feel you're in a garden. Sitting back here, you avoid the hustle and bustle of the bar area and you would never know you're sitting in the middle of downtown Middletown.

As I've already mentioned, Eli's has a wonderful beer list. Their website says they have 36 taps. They use an assortment of chalkboards located all around the restaurant to display the list of beers currently being served and they are usually pretty good about updating them...I rarely ask for a beer they are out of. They keep their lines in great shape and even list the date the keg was tapped on each of the chalkboards. I've never had an off-tasting beer. They usually have 5-6 higher strength beers that they charge extra for and serve in smaller glasses. These are generally listed above the regular offerings. Last night they had Avery Maharaja, Aventinus, DFH 90 Minute, and two others that escape me. For the regular offerings, they have a smattering of safe stuff like Guinness, Boddington's, Stella, and Magic Hat #9. For the beer geek they have a great selection, which last night included, among others: Southampton Bavarian Wheat, Berkshire Brewing Company Hefeweizen, Avery Hazed and Confused, Lagunitas IPA, Avery White Rascal, and Rogue American Amber. No BMC products and the only light beer they have is Sam Adams Light, from the bottle. Their bottle selection also seems very good with many belgians, but I'm not really familiar with it because I always find something interesting on the tap list. If there's nothing new and interesting, I always find an old favorite.

Eli's food is fantastic pub-style food. Everything they make tastes very good and their offerings range from wraps to quesadillas to burgers to shepherd's pie. They have fried pickles, a delicacy I discovered on our trips to AL, which you can't find anywhere around here. If you get a sandwich, make sure to order the sweet potatoe fries. If you like nachos, and who doesn't like nachos, they make the best we've had. They also make very nice wings that they serve with homemade blue cheese dressing.

If you live in the CT area or visit CT, you must try Eli's.

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