Like its aromatic “Nutmeg State” nickname, America’s third-smallest state punches up the flavor for group dining.

“Connecticut is home to hundreds of extraordinary restaurants, meeting venues and hotels that can serve up a wide variety of cuisines and dining environments,” said H. Scott Phelps, president of the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau. “With many attractions doubling as unique off-site venues, the possibilities for themed dining are endless. In addition, many eateries can offer special food-and-beverage-related activities to enhance a group’s experience. Culinary teambuilding, cooking classes and even tasting events and food festivals can make any meeting or convention memorable.”

Exemplifying this banquet of options is the concentration of group venues in centrally located Hartford and the southeastern Mystic region, which includes the celebrity chef-driven worlds of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Hungry for Hartford

Connecticut’s capital has national culinary cachet in American Cookery, the first true homegrown American cookbook. Published here in 1796, this 17-page volume significantly includes the makings for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  

While some scholars suspect that author Amelia Simmons may have been using a pseudonym, the cookbook, named one of the 88 “Books That Shaped America” by the Library of Congress, had undeniable influence.

Today, the 540,000-square-foot Connecticut Convention Center, the largest convention facility between New York City and Boston, is among area venues practicing the use of “fresh ingredients” and “fine techniques” described in American Cookery. With the uncommon advantage of an entirely in-house catering team—not often found in convention centers—the venue works directly with clients to create unique and memorable dining experiences.

“Whether suspending tables for floating chef stations or challenging the palate with unique flavors to offer culinary diversity, our award-winning culinary team is second to none, and we have the client satisfaction and reputation to prove it,” said Michele Hughes, director of sales and marketing for the Connecticut Convention Center. “For over 10 years, the top client comment describing the food and the service has been ‘incredible,’ and that’s entirely due to our commitment to culinary excellence.”

Overlooking the Connecticut River, the Center is backed by downtown’s Front Street District, an expanding dining and entertainment hub where group venues include Infinity Music Hall & Bistro. The live-music venue incorporates a four-star contemporary American-style bistro and hosts intimate to large-scale private events. Its sister location in Norfolk, Conn., is home of the nationally televised PBS music series Infinity Hall Live.

Sweeping river and downtown vistas, paired with cutting-edge cuisine, make luxurious ON20 an exquisite choice for private and corporate events. Located on the 20th floor of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Company building, a short stroll from the convention center, the restaurant turns 35 in 2018.

Housed in the former home of Connecticut’s largest department store, Brown Thomson and Company, event-capable City Steam Brewery Cafe & Restaurant, which pairs live comedy with food and beer, turns 20 this year. Designed by legendary architect H.H. Richardson, the 1877 building, a Romanesque-style masterpiece, provides evocative ambience, while the Hartford Steam Company provides the brewery with its steam—and its name.

Recently opened in a historic building where the first pay telephones were made, Hartford Flavor Company hosts tours and offers tastings of its all-natural, botanically flavored liqueurs. Just south of the city in New Britain, it’s Oktoberfest year-round at historic Bavarian-style East Side Restaurant, offering banquet space and event catering.

Mystic Menus

Salted with 300-plus years of maritime history, Mystic Seaport and its environs are well-seasoned destinations for coastal New England fare.