310 Hop River Road (Route 6), Bolton
My office mates were recently talking about all-time great cheeseburgers. That got my mind racing. Shady Glen in Manchester became our fallback awesome-burger place many years ago. But recently, Shady Glen's wacky sculptured cheese has been challenged in our hearts by Fay's Place in Bolton, which, coincidentally, is just a mile or so down the road from Shady Glen. When I told the fam I wanted to go there again, three of us enthusiastically said yes. The fourth, a
THE VIBE: Fay's is a little shack on the side of Hop River Road; just merge to the right turn where I-384 comes to an end. Diners stand under an overhang decorated with nautical decor, read the menu on the wall and order, then pay and wait a little bit while drinking their beverages. This is not fast food, but it's worth the wait. Diners who can snag a table in the back — there are only two — are lucky. Those who can't probably will wind up eating in their cars. (So don't take your brand-new car.) The restroom is a port-a-potty.
THE FOOD: I ordered a cheeseburger and a hot dog with onion rings. My husband ordered the clam strips with fries. My oldest daughter ordered chicken strips with fries. I had a lemonade, my husband had a lemon-lime and my younger daughter, the vegetarian, had a couple of birch beers and nommed off our fries and rings. The meals come in white boxes.
The burgers there are so good, so extraordinarily fresh-tasting and perfectly cooked, that they make you realize how meager other burgers taste. The hot dog also is excellent, but we were all most impressed with the delicious toasted bun. The chicken strips — which are usually the last thing on the menu I'd want to order — tasted more tender, juicy and meaty than most other chicken strips. My husband was more pleased with his strips than he was with the whole belly clams he had ordered the last time we were there. He said the meal was better-sized.
Something must be said about the French fries, which, like all the other fried foods, are fried in peanut oil. The fries also are sprinkled with dried ranch dressing, which is made at the Spice Mill in Manchester. Absolutely irresistible. The rings are terrific, too, but the fries are a hard act to follow. Leo Bushey, the former Hartford Club executive chef who owns Fay's, has chosen all local ingredients. Beverages are Hosmer Mountain, bottled in Willimantic. Meats are all from Bogner's in Manchester.
The condiment and napkin table is self-serve. The only mustard is French's, but they have malt vinegar for the fries, which is a plus.
Getting back to the veggie dilemma. If the vegetarian in your party shuns seafood as well as meat and chicken, there's nothing on the menu that person can eat, unless you consider a big pile of fries or rings a meal. Not only that, the first time I went to Fay's, about a year ago, I had to explain to the woman behind the counter that some vegetarians don't eat seafood, either. She said "that's crazy!" Sometimes it's nice when a restaurant seems suspended in the past. But sometimes it's ridiculous.
There are no desserts on the menu, but like I said, Shady Glen and its wonderful ice cream are just down the road. Save some room and make a stop there on the way home.
THE BILL: Depending on what you want to eat, the prices may challenge the concept of "Bargain Bites." Whole-belly clams and lobster rolls go for market price, the seafood box is $25.95 and the eight-pieces-of-shrimp box is $18.95. Everything else is squarely in bargain territory. Burgers are $5.95, cheeseburgers $6.95, double cheeseburgers $11.95 and hot dogs $3. Box meals (with cole slaw and either fries, rings, or sweet potato fries, which come with a marshmallow dipping sauce) range from $7.95 (clam roll) to $16.95 (shrimp box). Fries on the side are $3, onion rings $3.50 and sweet potato fries $4.50. Clam chowder is $4.25. Hosmer Mountains, in a wide variety of flavors, are $1.75.
THE PARTICULARS: Fay's Place is open Sundays through Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. It closes in November for the season. Cash or check only.