But tucked in between are a few restaurants that stand on their own, and the newest addition in that comfortable home-style category is "Fat & Happy."
"Mario's brother came up with the name," explains general manager Dave Moreau, who runs the family-style restaurant and bar for owners Mario and Laura Cournoyer and Robin Mayo. "We are a casual restaurant that is suitable for a business lunch or a family night out or for the sports crowd that wants to watch a game at the bar."
The building was previously occupied by a 99 Restaurant. The owners had wanted to get into the restaurant business and saw an opportunity to offer a better dining option to those who weren't franchise fans.
PHOTOS: Fat & Happy Bar and Restaurant
"Everything around us is a chain," says Moreau. "Because we are not, we can offer fresh food, change the menu and listen to guests who have suggestions for what they would like to eat."
"We are fussy about what we serve," says executive chef Joe Rinaldi, who has worked at Max Amore in Glastonbury and Quarry Ridge Golf Course in Portland. "We have fresh fish dishes every day; our dressings are made from scratch in-house; and we buy fresh meats and produce almost daily. The only thing in our refrigerator is our rolls because everything else is used up each day."
The interior has been spruced up with paint, new furniture and other renovations, and an outdoor patio is scheduled to open soon. Happy hour specials, live music on Thursdays, ladies night on Wednesday and a prime rib dinner special on Tuesdays are some of the enticements Fat & Happy has successfully initiated since opening in April.
Rinaldi is adding seasonal items to his summer menu, but some of his specialties are menu standards as the crops come in. Blackened scallops are served with fresh corn salad, and shepherd's pie is a beef-and-lamb mix blended with carrots, onions, peas and whipped potatoes and topped with Vermont aged cheddar cheese. The most popular menu items are fish and chips, traditional pub-style beer-battered whitefish (fresh catch of the day) with homemade fries and fresh tarter sauces, and, for the beef lover, its signature 14-ounce New York strip steak with sautéed mushrooms and garlicky spinach.
Rinaldi loves to experiment in the kitchen, and one of his recent additions to the menu is a buffalo chicken egg roll stuffed with shredded chicken, blue cheese crumbles, carrots and celery.
"I like cooking good food," says Rinaldi. "I am still trying to play to the clientele, which is a business crowd at lunch and a happy-hour crowd and families at night.
Desserts include Rinaldi's bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce and real whipped cream.
"I also do a nice fruit cobbler," he says.
>>Fat & Happy Bar & Restaurant is at 2095 Berlin Turnpike in Newington. The dining room is open daily for lunch and dinner. Hours are: Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The bar, which has 17 beers on tap, is open until midnight on Monday and Tuesday, until 1 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday; until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday; and 11 p.m. on Sunday. Information: 860-436-3550 or fatandhappyct.com.
>>The Market at Hartford 21, 230 Asylum St., is the spot for Hartford's newest green market, called, appropriately enough, The Farmers' Market at Hartford 21. The weekly outdoor market features Connecticut-grown produce from area farms, a variety of dairy products, fresh flowers, baked goods, jams, jellies and artisanal goods Wednesdays from 3 to 6 p.m., weather permitting, through the end of October.
>>Jonathan Rapp of River Tavern in Chester and the Farm Dinner team will launch the annual Dinners at the Farm series July 7 to 10 at Barberry Hill Farm in Madison. The fifth anniversary season of the open-air dinners will feature a multi-course meal using harvested-that-day ingredients and dishes that are cooked from scratch. Beneficiaries of the dinners are CitySeed, Connecticut Farmland Trust and Working Lands Alliance. Dinners are also on July 14 to 17 at Berbarry Hill Farm and Aug. 11 to 14 and Aug. 18 to 21 at White Gate Farm in East Lyme. Information: 860-526-8078 or DinnersAtTheFarm.com.
>>The Litchfield Saltwater Grille and Sunset Meadow Vineyards will present the Sunset in July Farm to Table Dinner on July 8 beginning at 6 p.m. at the farm in Goshen. The menu features dishes made with fresh products from local Litchfield County farms and wines by George Motel of Sunset Meadow. Tickets are $95, including tax and tip. Reservations: 860-567-4900.
>>Treva, at 980 Farmington Ave., West Hartford, is hosting a summer happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Cocktails include "The 980," featuring muddled strawberries and basil with infused rosemary gin, and appetizers include ravioli of the day and steam mussels.
>>Slow Food Connecticut will hold its "Tomato Tom-mah-to" heirloom tomato tasting on Aug. 21 at Upper Forty Farm in Cromwell.
>>Priam Vineyards, 11 Shailor Hill Road, Colchester, will host "A New England Clambake" July 23 beginning at 6 p.m. Food including clam chowder and Maine lobster will be prepared by Flanders Fish Market and Restaurant. Cost is $80, which includes tax and tip. Reservations: 860-739-8866.
>>Cavey's, 45 E. Center St., Manchester, has resumed its Tuesday-night wine events. The evenings include five wines and five small plates for $25. The tastings begin at 6 p.m. "La Vie En Rose" is the theme for June 28 and will feature Jeff Gledhill with five rosé wines. "The Great American Cook Out" is the theme for July 5, featuring tradition July Fourth food accompanied by five all-American wines. On July 12, Seignor Mastroberardino, a winemaker from Terridora di Paolo, will present wines from the Campagnia region of Italy.
Cavey's is also hosting a four-course Library Wine Dinner on July 1 at 7 p.m. Cost is $110 a person.
The restaurant is also offing a $30 fixed-price three-course summer lobster fest Thursday through Saturday. On Thursdays and Fridays, it has a $35 fixed price Provence-inspired dinner. Information: 860-643-2751.
>>Send restaurant news at least 10 days before publication to MaryEllen Fillo at firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-241-3717 (phone), 860-520-6927 (fax) or in care of The Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115.