When it comes to a waterfront dining experience, "Don't underestimate the Thames River," says Stash Schiavone.
"You go to restaurants on the ocean and what do you see? Nothing," he says. "At night, you look at darkness."
The riverbanks of the Thames may be taken up by industry, but that only means it's bustling with cargo ships, ferries and submarines and lighted up at night.
"It's a working river and that's part of it," says Schiavone, who owns On the Waterfront on Pequot Avenue in New London. "For dining you can't beat this."
The restaurant features seafood and Italian cuisine and has a dark interior with beige and brown walls, but it lets in light through the bank of windows that look out on the water.
Facing Electric Boat and Pfizer, it's tucked amid marinas that show off their rows of sail and power boats parked neatly in their slips. The porch off to the right that was once open-air was enclosed in the winter so it can be air conditioned in the summer and used year-round.
But if you want less heavy equipment in your water view, head across the river to Groton. On an 80-degree summer day, a light breeze rustles the green-and-white checked tablecloths on the wooden deck of Paul's Pasta.
Paul Fidrych says he and his wife hadn't even planned to use the Thames Street deck when they first opened Paul's Pasta 23 years ago, but the covered area, with drapes that can come down in inclement weather, has become part of the draw.
"It's a different view from here," Fidrych says, looking across the water at the red brick buildings of New London. "You see the train station, the ferries... we love our view."
And if you time your dinner right, the sunsets are great, he says.
Norwich offers a special riverside spot at The Marina at American Wharf, though the seasonal restaurant has changed hands a few times. Now the Surf and Turf Café, the building's highlight is a bar at its center and windows on all sides, propped open to the air. The warm wood interior and nautical flags complement the marina location. Though it's next to downtown Norwich, the views down the river are greener and less developed than the scenery at the mouth of the Thames.
It's not your typical waterfront dining, because you have to navigate your way through a casino to get there, but Mohegan Sun's
Margaritaville does offer a glimpse of a rural piece of the Thames.
The restaurant is an adult playground of palm trees, boats, tiki huts and parrots, but if you want to really feel like you're in the land of Jimmy Buffett, climb to the restaurant's top level and venture outside on a hot day. The Thames may not be Carribbean blue, but there's something about drinking a margarita by the water while watchin' the sun bake.
We can't ignore the obvious Bank Street in New London, where a block of bars and restaurants offer a look at trains passing through the city, the waterfront pier, ferries docking and leaving and the river itself.
There's Muddy Waters for coffee, breakfast and lunch, and for dinner and/or drinks - depending on the scene you're looking for - check out the decks at Hot Rod Café, the Exchange, the Roadhouse, the Brass Rail and Mambo.
The New London waterfront also provides the perfect venue for fried seafood, at Fred's Shanty on Pequot Avenue and Captain Scott's Lobster Dock on Shaw's Cove, both with outdoor, picnic-table seating.
On Groton's Thames Street, Puffin's has a few deck tables overlooking the river, serving breakfast and lunch through its vocational training program for those with physical and developmental disabilities.