The Berlin Turnpike Has Everything
By: Carmine Capobianco
Anything, and I do mean anything, you need or want to purchase or do can be found on an eleven mile stretch of highway known as the Berlin Turnpike. Just remember, if you ask for directions on how to find it, make sure you pronounce “Berlin” with the accent on the first syllable.
The turnpike, part of US 5 and Route 15, was originally built in 1798, although historian, Kathleen Murray, claims it was 1717. It was created as a straight shot from New Haven to Hartford and eventually became populated with gas stations – some people still refer to it as “Gasoline Alley” – and inexpensive motels for the weary travelers.
Today, many of the gas stations are gone and some of the small cheap motels that still stand might be used for afternoon trysts. There are a few adult stores and gentlemen’s clubs like Centerfolds, The Kitchen Café and, well, The Gentlemen’s Club that pepper the highway but most everyone comes to this area to shop or play.
There are so many places to bring the family such as a few enormous miniature golf courses, a couple of go-cart tracks, Chuck E. Cheese, bowling alleys and more.
The tracks include Checkered Flag Raceway which has a quarter mile track full of turns and arcade games including pinball machines and air hockey. The average price for an approximate 4 minute ride is about six bucks.
Berlin Batting Cages also has a go-cart track with what they refer to as “environmentally conscious electric cars” available for five dollars. Along with the batting cages (12 pitches for 99 cents or $30 an hour), there are bumper boats in a pool ($4.00) and a beautiful miniature golf course ($5.50).
For a unique experience (and a more kid friendly theme) Safari Golf offers a miniature golf game full of hippos, giraffes and rhinos for about five clams.
Everywhere you turn, you’ll find a family restaurant, from the franchises like Friendly’s, IHOP and all the familiar hamburger joints but if you only visit those, you are doing yourself an injustice.
Drive up and down the turnpike and you are sure to find Mexican food, Chinese food, buffets, Doogie’s, that serves two foot hotdogs, Mortensen’s Ice Cream & Restaurant and the Olympia Diner.
Doogie’s has been around for a while with wall-posted principles you shouldn’t challenge like: “If you’re cranky, come back another time” and “If we’re closed when you get here, you should have come earlier.” But if anybody wants a real challenge, order a two foot Grote and Weigal hot dog with the works. And don’t forget the loaded French fries. If that’s too much for ya, ya wuss, you can get a smaller wiener. Or, grab a Philly Cheesesteak. Just so you know, people have observed, over the years, diners actually consuming a pair of two footers with chili. What can YOU do?
Now a full service restaurant, Mortensen’s, dating back to 1915, moved into their current location in 1976 and offers great food and over 50 flavors of homemade ice cream. You can get a 200 scoop sundae in a wheelbarrow if you so desire and I think they let you keep the wheelbarrow. But one of their oddest claims to fame started when Joan Mortensen birthed two sets of twins and a set of triplets while on a steady diet of their ice cream. Now rumor has it that, if you are pregnant, Mortensen’s ice cream will help induce your labor. But, technically, you have to be pregnant. That helps.
The Olympia Diner, a 1950’s era O’Mahoney’s diner (I don’t know what that means but diner aficionados will), has graced the pages of many a book on great roadside diners. Worth seeing at night when the gorgeous neon blazes at rushing traffic, the diner also has some good food you can enjoy while pumping quarters into their on-table-jukeboxes.
If you Google “Berlin Turnpike restaurants”, you will get more choices than you can visit in a lifetime.
Now let’s talk about the shopping. Here is a quick list of some of the big box retailers you can find here: Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Raymour and Flanagan, PC Richards, Sam’s Club, Toys “R” Us, Lowes, Home Depot, Bedding Barn, Bob’s Discount Furniture, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Staples, Filene’s Basement and so many more.
There are so many small retailers and THAT list seems endless. You can buy rugs, jewelry, computers, specialty foods and more.
A great and unique shopping experience is visiting Connecticut’s own Stew Leonard’s. With other sites in Danbury and Norwalk (their first) and Yonkers, New York, Stew Leonard’s is the world’s largest dairy store.
Clover Farms Dairy, its original name from the 1920’s when it was just milk, was in the path of a new highway. Stew Leonard dreamed of constructing a retail dairy store where kids could watch milk being bottled, while their moms did their shopping in a farmer’s market atmosphere. In December of 1969, Stew Leonard’s opened in Norwalk and has been growing ever since.
Entering any of the stores, you’ll see a 3 ton boulder inscribed with their philosophy: “Rule #1 — The Customer is Always Right”; Rule #2 – If the Customer is Ever Wrong, Re-Read Rule #1.”
A New York Times article referred to his establishments as “the Disneyland of Dairy stores” and that moniker seems plausible when you walk through any of his entertaining showrooms.
First, the genius lies in the layout. When you enter, you will follow a specific path as the blueprint contains none of the traditional aisles. Your visit will take you down every aisle, past every item as you follow Stew’s maze so Stew can guarantee that there will be something you’ll want to buy. But your tour is definitely not boring. Along the way, depending on the day, are food samples. You might try their apple cider donut holes fresh from the deep fryer and coated with sugar and cinnamon. How about their rice cakes that are made right before your eyes in a machine that explodes them with a loud popping noise into their flat discus shape? You may be lucky and get a little salmon, a chicken sandwich or some new-fangled drink that you need anyway to wash down the several rice cake samples you just gorged on.
There is a great selection of fruits and vegetables, Stew’s own milk and eggs, all your staples and then some, a coffee bar, a liquor store that has a superb wine selection, a sandwich counter for hot dogs and hamburgers, a pizza oven, a sushi-man and an enormous buffet where you can choose every type of chicken recipe you can think of, several Chinese dishes, Italian favorites like sausage and peppers, meatballs, pastas and the great American standards like glazed ham, turkey and stuffing and macaroni and cheese. You can bring all of this home or, if you can’t wait, bring it upstairs to the dining room.
As you walk around the store, you will be entertained by acrobatic chefs or lobsters that dangle from the ceiling flipping over trapezes or animatronics like Diva Cheese, the dancing cheese, singing chickens, mooing cows, farms that come alive and televisions that show you where all the stuff comes from.
And finally, on the way out, you can get lottery tickets, gelato or their delicious frozen yogurt in a cone.
And coming soon to the turnpike is Chef’s Equipment Emporium, their second huge warehouse consisting of restaurant equipment, gourmet products and great stuff for your kitchen. Look for it in August.
If I left out anyone’s favorite store or restaurant, I apologize. I am also sad for the businesses that are no longer there that we have grown to love. I especially mourn the loss of the drive-in theatre.
So, please visit the turnpike with your family or your date or your friends and enjoy a full day of shopping, food and fun. And let me know if you were able to finish that two foot hotdog.