I can’t believe that in eight years of asking people where I could go to the beach from DC by train, nobody’s ever suggested Mystic. Still, that’s remedied now, and I had a great time. The train journey itself was great – I love long train journeys, seven hours in this case – and it feels safe and relaxing in this 2020 year, with only every other seat booked and masks worn throughout (expect for eating and drinking).
The town of Mystic is lovely – its walkable centre has character, classy boutiques (including a Fat Face, with a deck out the back looking onto the river), and a great independent bookshop where I walked my friend round the fiction section, helped her pick out two novels, and discovered new books for myself, too – it’s always so much fun to see the differences in curation between indie bookstores.
Mystic also has lots of great food, but more on that in a moment.
We stayed at a fairly disastrous motel – it was Labor Day weekend and we were late in making our plans – which turned out to be fortuitous because not only did it have a great pool with only minimal highway hum, it was also just a few minutes’ walk from Old Mistick, a quaint pedestrian shopping area that reminded me a lot of Old Town San Antonio. There’s a lot of great shops there – jewellery, candles, sweets, artisanal coffee – and a place of wonder, half of which is called Extra Virgin and sells organic flavoured oils and vinegar and then other half of which is called Sticky Situations, selling flavoured honeys from small farms across the US. I recommend a visit, and if you don’t want to carry it home, they ship.
Breakfast at Blue Squid
In Old Town Mistick, there’s also a great place called the Blue Squid Bakery and Breakfast Café. We sat on their deck and had breakfast sandwiches, pancakes with maple syrup, or omelettes, depending on the day. The food was delicious and the welcome was friendly; the coffee was more than decent and the fresh orange juice was great too.
Seafood fettuccine at Bravo Bravo
Before coming to Mystic I checked my 2012 guidebook of the USA for any hints and tips. 2012, I’m told, is quite a long time ago, but still, I paid attention to the mention of Bravo Bravo, and we were lucky to snag a table outside what, eight years later, is still a great restaurant. For starters, we had whipped goat’s cheese and for mains my friend had scallops and risotto. I tasted a little and it was delicious (I can’t resist a mushroom-free risotto). I had the seafood fettuccine, which was stellar. I love dishes that give you a little bit of many things, and this one included lobster, mussels, scallops, and more.
Orange-flavoured donuts from Young Buns
First of all, let’s pause and admire the creativity of the name of this new but already legendary doughnut place, which opens at 7 am daily and closes when the donuts sell out, which they say is at approximately 3 pm most days. By the time we got there, a few flavours had gone already, and it was helpful to have the choice whittled down a little! I chose an chocolate-orange-flavoured donut, and it was… well, “orgasmic” is probably not too strong a word. The orange cream which topped it decoratively was a delight in itself. Run don’t walk to this place; you won’t regret it.
Barbecue chicken pizza from Mystic Pizza (preferably on a boat)
Speaking of legends, Mystic Pizza is clearly one of them – the setting of an early Julia Roberts movie I plan to watch when I feel nostalgic about my seaside holiday. They lean hard into this theme at Mystic Pizza, with the movie playing on a loop both in the entrance and upstairs in the dining area and countless stills from the movie and other vintage pictures from showbiz on the walls up the stairs and in the dining room.
And while they could probably coast by on tourist-fuelled experience alone, their pizza is definitely worth making a stop for. I had the barbecue chicken and a hearty helping of also yummy cheesy garlic bread, which, along with a takeaway glass of Pinot Grigio, I took onto the Sunset Boat trip my friend and I went on. It departs from the dock right by S & P Oyster Bar, lasts an hour and a half, and is idyllic. Take a jacket even if you think you won’t need it, though – it gets chilly on the water after sundown.
Arancini at The Mariner
We needed some substantial food before heading to New London (hint: plan more than two hours there, it’s a glorious beach; also, take vinegar for any potential jellyfish stings). We thought we’d just pick up a lobster roll from Mariner’s, but in the end couldn’t resist having a full meal there. The lobster roll was good, but even better was the fish and chips – the chips were fries, but good, and the battered fish was flaky and delicious. But the best bit of the meal was the arancini we split for starters. As discussed, we both love risotto, the main ingredient in the arancini, but even better, it came with a mouth-watering pork ragú. Pair it with the Jean-Luc Colombo rosé and you’re golden.
Vermont Maple Nut Ice Cream at Mystic Drawbridge
There are so many flavours to choose from at this place, which takes its ice cream very seriously. It’s handmade in the European way, one batch at a time and with cream from a local dairy and cane sugar for sweetness. I opted for the Vermont Male Nut Ice Cream and it was delicious. It paired very well with the fresh strawberry flavour, too. Word of advice: get it in a cup. The cone gets soggy fast on a warm Or even warmish night, and I didn’t want to risk such amazing ice cream meeting a calamitous and tragic end on the pavement.
Breakfast at the station café
All train stations everywhere should take a leaf out of Amtrak Mystic’s book. In plenty of time for the 9.52 am train back to DC, tables were arranged outside in the sunshine, and omelettes, scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and more were served. I had the California omelette (in honour of my lost holiday there, thanks to 2020) with a very generous side of bacon. I’m glad that for once in my life I made it to a station half an hour earlier than I needed to, or I would have missed this train, which was a great way to start the long journey home.
I’ll definitely plan to do this again next time – and if I have my way, there’ll be plenty of next times. Mystic was just what I needed – accessible but a world away from my daily life, and lovely too. Not to mention delicious.