Visitors to South Meadows find few restaurants, but several eateries on Murphy Road serve lunch to the work crews and truckers, including fast-food chains, a burger joint and a seafood restaurant. On weekdays, the Market Restaurant cooks up breakfast and lunch favorites, including egg sausage sandwiches, grinders and big salads. Regulars recommend the chicken cutlet or the hand-pressed burgers, which are made to order and topped with fixings such as blue cheese or homemade chili. Though the lunch spot has no wait service, several tables provide a place to sit, and the quality cooking at low prices gets high marks from locals.
The U.S.S. Chowder Pot IV delivers traditional New England seafood fare in a comfortable old-school dining room with exposed rafters and nautical pendant lighting. The extensive dinner menu includes crab cakes, stuffed shrimp and big platters of fried clams, and lobster lovers catch a deal on Mondays, when the establishment serves lobster specials at reduced prices. The dining room fills up on busy weekends, but patrons can order a beer at the bar while they wait for their table.
To shake things up, head west to Franklin Avenue for the best Italian eateries in the city, from bakeries and espresso cafes to upscale Italian diners. Locals who moved away long ago still return to the Franklin Giant Sandwich Shop, which has served mammoth grinders and Italian cold cuts for generations, along with pizza, salads and soups. The dining room with its faux-brick walls hasn't changed much over the years, and customers order at the counter, but the booths make a comfortable spot for a quick dinner with friends, if not a romantic date.
After business hours, South Meadows empties, and visitors will find few people out and about at night. Those looking for a quiet drink can chat up the pilots at Wings Sports Bar & Grill, located outside the tiny Brainard airport, where the bartenders know how to mix a solid cocktail and the reasonably priced drinks soothe travelers while they watch the game on the large TVs or play pool on the coin-operated billiards table. The bar also serves brews on tap and a short dinner menu, including the bar's highly praised honey hot wings. The dining room has views of the runway, and in the warm months, patrons take their glasses outside to the patio to watch the small planes take off.
For dancing, head over to Wethersfield Avenue to Casona, a Latin restaurant by day that unwinds at night with a dance floor and Latin beats, including free dance lessons to those who come early for Latin Fridays, when live jazz bands sometimes play.
When Dutch fur traders arrived in Hartford in 1623, Native Americans fished and planted fields in South Meadows,
a swampy but fertile stretch along the river. English settlers arrived in 1635 and divided the land into farming lots, though much remained undeveloped. In the 1850s, the mini factory city of Coltsville was erected nearby to produce Colt firearms. The Hartford Electric Company joined South Meadows in 1921, along with the Hartford-Brainard Airport.
Today, Coltsville's blue onion dome still stands out against Hartford's skyline, and artists fill the old factory, opening their studios to the public during Open Studio Hartford. South Meadows doesn't have any museums, but just a few miles away, visitors can view the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum's large collection of 19th- and 20-century paintings or catch a Broadway tour at the Bushnell Center, along with performances by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and visiting dance companies.
Industrial parks and paved lots line the streets here, leaving little room for sidewalks or bike lanes. Pedestrians walking to the next-door neighborhoods of South End
or Charter Oak must take either Airport or Reserve road to bypass the busy interstate, and most find running errands requires a car, since large sections of South Meadows have no grocers or pharmacies. However, local bus route 59 takes commuters into downtown Hartford during workday hours for those who prefer not to park, and Uber services the area, as well as taxi companies in the South End.
The short distance from downtown makes South Meadows ideal for drivers, who can reach downtown Hartford in about 7 minutes and take I-91 for quick escapes from the city and weekend getaways to the Connecticut shore. Though South Meadows has little on-street parking, local businesses all have private lots, many of them being quite large, and parking rarely poses a problem.
The flat streets make for easy biking, but the trucks en route to the area's warehouses can make for hairy rides, particularly since these streets have few dedicated bike lanes. Cyclists do have one dedicated lane along Reserve Road for rides into Charter Oak, where they can pick up the bike trails along the river that lead to Riverside Park.
Living expenses in South Meadows are average for Hartford, where residents save about 11 percent overall compared to the rest of Connecticut, largely due to Hartford's inexpensive housing. This industrial-zoned neighborhood has no residential blocks, but in neighboring parts of the South End and Charter Oak, the average one-bedroom
rents for around $700.
The area's bargain priced lunch counters help keep down costs, and a beer can be had for under $4. Gas prices typically run 11 percent higher than the national average, but a one-way fare on the bus costs $1.50, and frequent riders can save 10 percent by buying a 10-ride ticket.
Visitors to South Meadows won't find cute boutiques or old-school record shops. However, those looking for a deal can score at the neighborhood's wholesale stores, including shops for restaurant equipment, lighting fixtures, kitchen cabinets, golfing equipment and even uniforms, most of which lie along Murphy Road.
Home cooks come to Classic Restaurant Supply for everything from knives and wine glasses to pots deep enough to boil a dozen lobsters and commercial gas ranges. At 8,000 square feet, the warehouse stocks a staggering selection, including shelves of baking sheets and walls full of funnels, jiggers and handheld juicers.
At Connecticut Lighting Centers, homeowners wander through rooms full of lighting fixtures from pendants and chandeliers to sconces and outdoor lanterns. The selection tends toward contemporary styles but includes traditional and modern designs, such as Tiffany glass pendants and minimalist flushmounts.
Despite South Meadow's woeful lack of supermarkets, the neighborhood hides a real gem for adventurous cooks. Inside a nondescript industrial park, over a dozen wholesale food distributors ship out everything from fresh produce to steaks and organic eggs bound for restaurants and hotels, making the Connecticut Regional Market the largest wholesale distributor in the state. Most of these wholesalers open their doors to the public, including the refrigerated warehouses at FreshPoint, where savvy customers come on weekday mornings. The Regional Market also stages a huge farmers market every morning, attracting over 40 vendors. Every spring, gardeners crowd the market on Mother's Day for trees, shrubs, perennials and bedding plants that are sold for as much as half off retail prices.
For a more ordinary grocery experience, Price Rite waits close-by in Wethersfield, and the D&D Market in the South End stocks the standard grocery selections, along with a top-notch butcher and large selection of imported Italian items, such as house-made puttanesca sauce
Bird watchers and nature lovers can trek through the wooded wetlands of the Folly Brook Natural Area, where barn owls nest in the old-growth forest and blue herons skim over the water. Kids can look for deer and fox tracks during the summer, and woodchucks and muskrats also live in the peaceful woods.
Visitors to the 107-acre Colt Park find an ornamental pond and old shade trees for summer picnics and quiet reading, while two playgrounds with swing sets let kids blow off steam. Colt Park also has athletic facilities, as well as an outdoor pool.
Dog owners like the trails for long walks, and the park sometimes stages bike races here, along with free summer yoga on the lawns. In the past, the scenic grounds have hosted festivals and community theater, including Night Fall, a pageant of theater, dance and puppetry, and the 200th birthday bash held in honor of Samuel Colt, the famous arms-manufacturer..
Along the river, locals launch kayaks or stroll the lighted river walks at Charter Oak Landing. The grassy banks make a popular spot for picnics and viewing 4th of July fireworks, and visitors can watch the boats pass by while sitting in the shade of the gazebo. Cyclists come here to pick up the riverfront bike trails, and the park also has free public parking and modern restrooms.