December 6, 2018
Dock & Dine: The Blue Oar, Haddam, CT
Row, sail or motor your boat to this Caribbean-flavored restaurant on the Connecticut River.
By Malerie Yolen-Cohen; Photography by Caryn B. Davis
Perched above the Connecticut River, nestled in the hillside adjacent to Midway Marina in Haddam, the Blue Oar is a “gem” of a restaurant—both in terms of color and as a kind of hidden one. Set amid the green foliage and sparse homes a mile north of the East Haddam Swing Bridge, the canary-yellow structure, capped with blue roof and surrounded by seats and picnic tables painted in equally cheerful hues, exudes a fun, funky, laidback vibe, as it has for nearly two decades.
In the mid-1990’s, Midway Marina owner, Scott Davidson, asked local restaurateurs Jim and Jody Reilly if they’d consider opening an eatery in a vacant building on his property. The Reillys agreed, and in 1997 they launched the Blue Oar with a casual waterfront- appropriate Caribbean theme and décor. (The Reillys also own Simon’s Market in nearby Chester).
While the Blue Oar could very well draw customers by virtue of its location alone, the food, in a word, is good. Sometimes very, very good. And not as basic as one would think, given that its counter service is in a room the size of a tiny fishing shack, the bathrooms are remote and uphill (adjacent to the marina office), and the restaurant is cash-only.
Order off the menu scribbled daily on a small blackboard, take a number and choose a seat on the back deck, on the patio closer to the boat slips, or outside the front door on the multicolored picnic tables. The Blue Oar is so chill that it invites diners to “customize their experience” by bringing their own tablecloths, glassware, wine, and centerpieces “to create a romantic dinner setting.” One gets the sense that many marriage proposals have occurred here.
The sensational clam chowder ($6.95) is far from the thick and sometimes gloppy versions found elsewhere in New England. Here, the thinner cream broth is on the sweet-caramelized side of savory, with big chunks of clam, potatoes and celery. The guacamole ($12.95) starter arrives at the table plated like a flower, with freshly baked and pillowy tortilla chips fanned around a large dollop of guac at the center. The lunch menu is heavy on creative salads and sandwiches: salmon, chicken, portobello mushrooms for vegetarians—all of it a bargain at $9 to $13 per item. In the evening you can enjoy burgers, salmon, ribs, and other meat-based dishes.
Over the last 20 years, this counter-service, cash-only, BYOB, no-reservations spot, has become an icon on an otherwise undeveloped portion of the Connecticut River, and on summer weekends it becomes a madhouse. There’s complimentary dockage for 15 to 20 small boats at a time, and if space is available, you can tie up at Midway Marina as well.
HOURS & CONTACT
Open Mother’s Day Weekend through September, 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily, weather permitting. (860) 345-2994 16 Snyder Rd. Haddam, CT 06438