By Susan Hayes
The Pond House Café is housed in a building that used to be home to the snack bar in the heart of Hartford’s venerable Elizabeth Park. While a small snack bar still exists at a window on the exterior of the building, I am still nostalgic for boxes of cracker jacks and salty popcorn as I enter the café. However, what awaits you now within the Pond House far excels the old snack selections sold!
The Pond House Café underwent extensive renovations prior to its opening date in 1999 and the end product is a charming café nestled into the park surrounded by abundant flower gardens and a seasonal vegetable garden. The Pond House café recently acquired a liquor license after years of being strictly a BYOB establishment. The short beer and wine list is fairly local and reasonably priced. As a courtesy to their customers who were used to bringing their own bottle, they still allow this and only charge a minimal corkage fee. The café has become a mainstay for those visiting the park and if it is not yet been so for you, consider a visit and renew your love of this old time park and its innovative café, where the food is thoughtfully prepared and artistically served.
The menu is tweaked seasonally, but you can count on a number of items always being there. We like to start with the nachos, which are layered with their own vegetarian chili, chock full of beans and vegetables, melted cheese, olives and tomatoes. A tortilla cup of sour cream and guacamole sits atop the nachos. My family digs into these with a vengeance on each visit. The salads are delectable, always seasonal and appealing. On a recent visit, I split the Greek salad served on crisp flat bread. It was flavorful and fresh. I am a fan of the salad-topped pizza. Innovative, flavorful and fresh cuisine is the key to the Pond House’s longevity. Another international highlight served at the café that I have ordered again and again is the Indian rice, which is studded with dried fruit, nuts and laced with exotic spices that impart an exotic aroma. Look for pasta dishes that change with the temperature and a café made veggie burger, which is particularly good served with sweet potato fries.
While I have through the years enjoyed many desserts at the café, I have on occasion been slightly disappointed. In an effort to embrace a current food trend, the dessert menu at times offers “deconstructed” items, which means the final product will hint at the original dessert you know and love, look architecturally pleasing but not measure up to what you expect. Ask questions, because the ingredients used are high quality and many offerings will please most palettes.
As you enter the café, you are greeted with the work of local artists and photographers, often depicting the garden space at the park. The café itself is fairly simple and consists of both indoor and outdoor dining. There is a porch-like area that is covered and heated and can be used into the cooler months. Next to the café there is a hall used for functions. At times parking can be at a premium if a wedding or bar mitzvah is being held.
The Pond House Café sits in one of historic Hartford’s oldest parks, a stones throw away from the governor’s mansion. Look at their website for special deals. They have a monthly three-course meal available at a special price on Tuesdays called “Tasty Tuesdays.” The café offers Brunch on Sundays, lunch and dinner, so there are ample opportunities for a visit. If you visit in June, enjoy one of the most noted rose gardens in the country, in summer months the perennial gardens, in the fall the colorful foliage rimming the pond and in winter the blanket of pristine snow. The Pond House Café excels in its approach to fresh seasonal cuisine and offering something to please everyone.
The Pond House Cafe
1555 Asylum Avenue,
West Hartford, CT 06117
Hours: Lunch Tues to Sat 11am-5pm; Dinner Tues to Sat 5pm-9pm; Brunch Sat 10am-2pm; Sunday brunch 10am-2:30pm
Susan Hayes works at a local High School in her spare time, but her true passion lies in culinary pursuits, cooking gardening, blogging and discovering new dining spots. Her work can be found at Black Cat Cooking Chronicles.