Considering my lack of transportation at UConn for my freshman and sophomore years, I honestly have not been able to explore much of the food options more than 15 minutes out of campus. That, and the fact that a student’s time is valuable when they’re running around for classes, meetings and extracurriculars all the time. But acquiring a car this year and catching up with people I haven’t seen for more than a year merits an out-of-town excursion to see what towns that are otherwise irrelevant to me have the offer. Fortunately, the trip to Ellington to the charming, casual tavern of The Hidden Still was worth the drive, as well as the company of the friend I dined with.
The cozy atmosphere of the restaurant reflected the comfort level of its clientele, which ranged from older patrons to families with younger children. There is a nice seating area with lights in the back, but my friend and I opted for the bar, where we could quickly order our drinks and food. I appreciated how the atmosphere was lively with appropriate volume and selection of music and reasonable lighting for a tavern.
Although I’m a food columnist, I’m going to put my Thirsty Thursday cap on and start with the star of the meal: the drinks. However, considering The Hidden Still is Connecticut’s first moonshine bar, can you blame me? The selection was varied and wide, with moonshine selections from in-state and around the country, wine, bourbon, whiskey, beer on tap — the works. However, what caught our eyes were the specialty cocktails with none other than moonshine. They had simple fruit cocktails — Pineapple Refresher, with pineapple moonshine and soda water — intense fruit cocktails — Ellington Sunset with moonshine, orange, pineapple juice, grenadine float, fresh orange and cherry — indulgent dessert cocktails — blueberry cheesecake cocktail — and everything else in between.
I started out with a Berry Moonshine Mule because I’m a big fan of ginger and herbs in my drinks, and it didn’t disappoint. The mule was perfectly balanced with the alcohol, ginger beer and lime juice. I guess I’m a fan of moonshine! Or maybe we had a really good bartender. Or maybe both. My friend started with the Skinny Cucumber with cucumber vodka, soda water and fresh cucumber, which was perfectly refreshing, but I think she was missing out on trying some moonshine. That was quickly remedied with her second drink of Peach Tea, composed of peach cobbler moonshine and iced tea. The drink was well-balanced and not at all sugary like some iced teas. Another well-made drink!
As for appetizers: I honestly usually never get appetizers with my family — we go straight for the gold, A.K.A. the entree — but for some reason, with friends, I am much more inclined to be order-happy. When you’ve got an appetizer spread like The Hidden Still, which features bar favorites with unique twists (clam fritters? I honestly would get those next time), I am even more inclined to forgo my usual entree expedite. I let my friend lead the way, and she ordered boneless wings (classic) and Bavarian pretzel sticks with beer cheese and mustard (which I honestly had never had before but was excited to try). The restaurant had over 20 unique sauce options, and the smoked garlic sriracha seemed right up our alleys — which was correct. The wings were a reasonable size with succulent meat and a garlicky, smoky sauce — perfectly yummy, but boneless wings are never really anything to write home about. The soft pretzels were definitely worth the try though, as the texture truly was soft and fluffy, with just enough salt. The beer cheese really elevated the appetizer though, being a delectable mix of creamy, tangy and warm — I could’ve eaten it with everything.
I’m extremely indecisive when it comes to ordering, so usually I choose under pressure. When the waitress came to me, I landed on the shrimp and grits (though I was debating the drunken Irish stew — I have a soft spot for mashed potatoes and tenderly cooked beef). I’ve never had grits before either, and it seemed like a night of trying new things I feel like I should’ve had before. The shrimps were large, succulent and seasoned with a Cajun sauce that melded nicely with the heaping bowl of cheesy grits. However, considering my entree was only shrimp and grits, and grits are pretty much an inexpensive filler carb, I wish they gave more shrimp — I think the dish came with 6. The grits pretty much tasted like creamy cheddar mashed potatoes with some texture — yes, I know, the grit –—and I would say I liked them, but now I’m realizing why I probably felt sick when I got home and when I eat the leftovers, considering how much butter, milk and cheese are in the grits. No wonder they taste so good — just maybe not worth the heartburn and upset stomach.
The tavern also offers a large variety of burgers, wraps, salads, paninis and other entrees. My friend got the hangover burger with bacon, fried egg, fried avocado, cheddar cheese and hollandaise, and it looked heavenly. The garlic seasoned tater tots were amazingly crispy and abundant, too.
The Hidden Still is a great casual joint at which to catch up with friends or family over some delicious drinks, yummy appetizers and fun entrees in very sizable portions for the price. Barring my intolerance for dairy, at least everything tasted pretty good. It was maybe not worth going completely out of your way for, but if you’re in the area, it’s worth a try.