On a lazy Saturday afternoon, sun sinking low over the hazy sound, we let the warmth of the day slowly niggle at us until one of us declared, “let’s go jump in the water”. From New Haven, many people either tolerate the many quirky characters of West Haven beach or make the pilgrimage east to Hammonasett State Park or Rhode Island. But for a brief escape to idyllic New England, locals need not travel any further than sleepy Stony Creek.
Nestled amongst lush coastal forest, meandering marshland and expansive Connecticut estates, Stony Creek is a quaint coastal harbor and gateway to the Thimble Islands. The sinuous, labyrinth-like roads through the area are incredibly picturesque biking and cars often share the roads with eager cyclists winding down to the shore. Whilst the harbor is primarily used as a terminus and boat dock for affluent Branford and Thimble Island locals, on the adjacent grassy foreshore and small strip of beach you will often find barbequers, sun bathers and playful children enjoying the last moments of summer. On the water a tourist boat occasionally comes and goes to view the many luxurious properties dotted around the islands, but for the most part local paddle boarders, kayakers and powerboats dominate the water traffic.
After basking in the waning sun, and a quick dip in the water (the water is not as clear as other parts of the sound owing to it’s harbor location, but it’s certainly ‘swimmable’), we realized we were just in time to grab a bite at Stony Creek Market. For the unacquainted, Stony Creek Market is a local landmark. A fixture on the town’s waterfront for going on 30 years, it is part breakfast café/deli/pizza restaurant – part meeting place and local nucleus. As owner Greg Wilkins tells me when we sit down to chat, “million dollar deals have been put together on this deck.”
Greg and his wife, Valerie, have nurtured the market since they took up ownership 18 years ago and have made it the place that it is today. They’ve always been in the food business, having worked with one another at Branford’s La Cuisine and Guilford’s Friend’s In Company before taking on the market and it’s a job few people could complain about. “It’s pretty phenomenal,” he tells me. “I mean, look around you.” Perched directly across the road from the water, the market certainly sports million dollar views. “From the south heading north, this is the first taste of the real New England.” By 5:30pm, tables were already filling as local families and couples strolled in with their stocked coolers or bottles of wine and enjoyed a drink on the deck while they waited for their pizzas.
If you’re looking to escape the New Haven pizza bubble, this is the place. Greg tells me their crust is made with sweet potato and three types of flour and you can certainly taste the difference. It’s crust that holds its own, thin but not too crispy, with toppings covering the entire pizza to appease all those who ‘don’t like crust’ (crazy, they may be). Greg’s spin on the popular white clam pie – he adds spinach and bacon – is a stellar combination for the erstwhile vegetarian and if one of their pizzas doesn’t catch your eye, you can mix and match toppings to make your own.
They also source local ingredients from as close as round the corner – including the special of the day, the ‘Medlyn’, which was made with fresh veggies direct from Medlyn’s nearby farm. As I went to order, who was it beside me but James Medlyn himself, picking up his own pizza order. “Try a piece, I’ve got too much,” he offered as an old friend would. “I don’t use any pesticides on my vegetables.” You could taste the freshness of the tender eggplant and sweet corn, still piping hot from the oven. Sadly, the pizza season is nearly over – it runs from Memorial Day to Labor day each year – but breakfast and lunch will continue to operate. Breakfast-wise, the market’s ‘kitchen sink’ omelettes are most popular, but they also do the usual fare plus egg sandwiches, lox plates and local Willoughby’s coffee. Lunch is an extensive choice of sandwiches and salads where there is something for every taste.
But the market is as much about the food as it is about providing a place for locals and visitors to just…be. Since the hurricane hit and water inundated most of the local area (the water came up to an inch below the market deck, flatting the shoreline grasses and sunflowers), the establishment has been running on generator power and been “out of control busy” feeding and hosting locals who are still without power. One lady enjoying a Caesar salad at the table next to me had been there almost every day this week. Everyone on the deck greets one another on a first name basis, sharing in the common link of a special place – Stony Creek. As a visitor it’s certainly worth being part of it, even for one lazy Saturday afternoon.
Stony Creek Market
178 Thimble Islands Road
Branford CT 06405
(203) 488 0145
Open year round for breakfast and lunch until 3pm, open Labor Day – Memorial Day for pizza 5-9pm
Medlyn’s Farm Stand
710 Leetes Island Road
Branford CT 06405
(203) 488 3578
Open seasonally for farm fresh eggs and produce including tomatoes until ~5pm