Branford’s Shoreline Cafe

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The Boston Post Road is one of the busiest roads in the nation. It’s easy to get caught up in the abundance of shops and restaurants that line both sides through most of Connecticut. Sometimes, it’s preferable to the high-speed mad rush of I 95. But every now and then, it’s a good idea to drive closer to the shore into the charming areas of Branford and other coastal towns for a more scenic, enjoyable drive.

Trinity Episcopal Church

Trinity Episcopal Church

It was one of those drives that took me on Cedar Street all the way to Main last Veteran’s Day. Branford honored their loved ones in uniform on the green in front of the Town Hall. Most notable were the hundreds of small US flags standing in the centuries old sacred ground. In the background, the beautiful Trinity Episcopal Church reached for the blue sky pointing at the way of salvation. The old English Gothic edifice stood as majestic and bright as the last time I’d seen it.

My wife, Sheri, and I made our way down the brick sidewalks of Main Street, absorbing the small town ambiance. We nodded in greeting and smiled back at friendly people caught up in the festive mood.

At the corner of Ivy, we decided to walk into the Shoreline Cafe for a bite to eat. We let several people order before us, for we needed more than a few minutes to browse at the chalked menus. We were in awe of the variety of choices, and almost couldn’t get past the desserts behind the glass. Every platter on display looked fresh and succulent. We knew we were in trouble.

Shoreline CafeWhile Sheri fretted over the choices of Italian and American treats, mentally composing a list of what to try then and what to have the next time we came in, my choice was easy.

After living away from Connecticut for thirteen years, any time I ate seafood, I’d think of home but this time, the food at the Shoreline Cafe was about to take me back to the days of my childhood, particularly warm Sundays when my mother made us Ceviche de Camarón, a tasty traditional shrimp dish from the coast that’s one of a kind. Much to my surprise, the platter was labeled with the same word, but what were the chances of coming across one of Ecuador’s most memorable traditional dishes in Branford, Connecticut?

The very first bite flooded me with memories of another life. Nothing had ever tasted so fresh, so delectable. That robust mix of fresh tomato and chopped red onion in lime and oil, along with the satisfying blend of cooked shrimp, (and whatever magic touch from the incomparable Wilson Jara), was simply mouth-watering. It’s something you’ve got to try.

Since then, I’ve visited the Shoreline Cafe as often as I can. It can be a busy little place, and with good reason. The food is excellent, the servers are kind, polite, and efficient. I must also note the coffee is terrific. The artwork hanging on the pale yellow walls give it a sophisticated air reminiscent of a posh coffeehouse in New York City minus the old dusty couches and dim lighting found in the Big Apple. The Shoreline Cafe is alive with light pouring in through its picture windows, and the staff excels at maintaining a pristine setting for the next customer to walk through the door.

It’s easy to carry a conversation with friends while savoring one of the many stuffed breads, digging into a slice of red velvet cake or enjoying a fresh salad if you’re into healthy eating. For those with a healthy appetite, good luck making a choice between the pasta dishes like the Gnocchi Pomodoro with shrimp and the Tortolini Carbonara with chicken. I usually don’t get past the breakfast part of the menu, but I’m on my way to trying every single item.

Ecuadorian Coast

Ecuadorian Coast

I’ve enjoyed the quiet little corner by  the window where I’ve done some work, tweaking another chapter in a novel while savoring the taste of Ceviche, which evokes fond memories of my days as a kid running on the sands of Esmeraldas and Manabi in my homeland. Can’t beat it. Traditional Ecuadorian seafood in a quaint Cafe near the shore in Branford, Connecticut… It’s good to be home again.

Javier A. Robayo 

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The Bookstore in Madison

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The unique reviews written by the staff make your selection process a dream

  I left Shelton and Connecticut behind for college in 1999.  Since then, I’ve returned to visit during holidays and the odd long weekend.  When conditions at my job in Pennsylvania deteriorated, I decided to return to Connecticut with my wife and two daughters last September.

    In my spare time, I struggle to weave words into stories, and it has become a great part of my life.  My new day job, as a chimney sweep comes with the added benefit of driving through picturesque back roads like the scenic highway 80, which on a sunny autumn day, reminded me how beautiful Connecticut really is.

   I’ve found a well of inspiration in the trees gracing the landscape with their fiery hues that made feel welcome back.  I’ve also been to different dots on the map that left impressions on me that I’ll be sharing through these posts.  This one belongs to a spot in Madison.

   Although I’ve visited several states, few of them have small towns with the type of Old America identity of Madison.  Its Historic District along the Boston Post Road presents an opportunity to flash to the past as one admires sites that hold their allure despite the passage of time like The First Congregational Church, the Memorial Hall and the old Academies, and the E.C. Scranton Library.  The sense of history is further enhanced by a row of 18th and 19th century homes, including the Grave House; the oldest house in Madison (1685) just east of the green.

   With all due respect to such impressive landmarks, my favorite spot is a block further; a green wooden facade located on the business strip just east of the Historic District.  The gold letters on its sign above the inviting front door reads: R.J. Julia Booksellers.

   During warmer days, flower baskets flank the doors and stand guard to wooden picnic tables where books await the browsing of passerby but it’s inside, where the real treasure is.  The walls are lined, virtually from floor to ceiling with books, carefully grouped by genre or area of interest.  The dark woodwork evokes a reverence normally reserved for Cathedrals.  On cold days, you can enjoy the warmth of R.J. Cafe & Bistro when you browse for your next read, and drink one of the best cups of coffee.

   What is unique about R.J. Julia is that the staff are readers themselves, and they do something I’ve never seen done in other book stores.  They take the time to hand-write their own recommendations to display right along with the titles.  I’ve left the store looking forward to delving into a novel that elicited the praise of the staff, and I have not been disappointed.

   We live in an era where small businesses are forced to compete with huge conglomerates, think Mom and Pop little shops against Wal-Mart.  Book stores, like R.J. Julia are a community treasure that speaks volumes about the town they serve and its people.  And for this writer, the bookstore in Madison is one of the many places that have made me glad to be home again.

   Javier A. Robayo