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What our critics had to say about Anthony J's, Grano Arso, and Liv's Shack

Anthony J’s

6 Holmes St., Mystic

(860) 536-0448

Whenever I write a food review, I hear from people after about their opinions of the restaurant. Some of those people I know, and some are strangers. Following my June 27 review of Anthony J’s in Mystic, I got an earful.

People really like this restaurant. In calls and emails, I heard from longtime customers who lamented that my review would increase AJ’s popularity and make their favorite eatery a hassle to get into. Oh, well.

The fact that Anthony J’s has been in business for decades and that Bob Sader has been cooking there for years is a big part of the restaurant’s success. It’s a tough business, but owner Skip Torraca clearly knows what he’s doing.

The offerings are extensive, with everything from appetizers like mussels marinara and fried fresh mozzarella, to pizzas topped with deliciousness like soupy and roast garlic or clams and oregano, to entrees such as cioppino, a fresh fish and seafood stew, to lamb shanks and filet mignon.

At lunchtime, there are salads, pastas, pizzas, burgers, and sandwiches like the hot lobster roll or portabella panini.

The bar at AJ’s attracts a faithful group of regulars who are hospitable to newcomers. With the throngs of visitors to downtown Mystic, AJ’s is a sanctuary to escape the crows and get a beverage and a bite.

If you go, try the house-made veal meatballs with San Marzano sauce.

— Ann Baldelli 

Grano Arso

6 Main St., Chester

(860) 322-3143

Since our last visit to Grano Arso, we’ve been proselytizing the restaurant’s many virtues to anyone who will listen.

There are many things that make Grano Arso a home-run dining destination: an emphasis on local produce; very good service; romantic, chic atmosphere; and house-made specialties such as the hand-milled flour, the chief building block of GA’s excellent pasta and breads.

The menu shifts with the seasons, so expect some diversions from the sample menu posted on GA’s website. Pastas likely retain a permanent spot on the menu, and if you see the Rigatoni Bolognese ($23) on it, this is a must-try item. From the fresh pasta to the tender, flavorful ragu itself, your standards for the classic dish will be raised for life.

We’re looking forward to a return visit to sample some of the non-pasta entrees, including the ribeye steak ($38), served with “potato friti,” asparagus, and pea and mint puree. If we’ve learned anything, even basics like steak and pasta can be reinvented in the right hands, and all the right hands are on deck at Grano Arso.

— Marisa Nadolny

Liv's Shack

26 Bridge St., Old Saybrook

(860) 391-8353,

We've been here almost 22 years now, but it still seems to me that folks are fiercely loyal to one seafood shack or another. Is that true? Would Captain Scott's or Abbott's or Sea Swirl addicts willingly travel to try another shack — or is that heresy to suggest?

I enjoy live as a free-range shacker, which is why it was so fun to traipse to Old Saybrook and spend a bit of time and caloric investment at Liv's Shack, a welcome and tasty entry in the seasonal lobster joint sweepstakes. It's located in the quaint and charming Harbor One Marina on the Connecticut River, with an upstairs wraparound wooden deck as well as a tidy lawn with picnic tables out back.

The fried shrimp ($12) and the hot lobster roll ($18, $35) — NO MAYO! is the brazenly proclaimed motto of the restaurant — are outstanding, and an impressively crafted Caesar Salad ($8) and chewy, toothsome Cheese Curds appetizer ($6) were also worth noting. There are also tasty burger/dogs/grilled cheese choices for seafood-eschewers and/or kids.

Maybe the pertinent question is: Would we, as New London residents, make the drive to Old Saybrook again simply for a lobster shack? In the case of Liv's, the answer is Yes.

— Rick Koster




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