Farmhouse meets schoolhouse at chef-owner Tim LaBant’s cozy spot, set on the banks of the Norwalk River in the Wilton neighborhood known as Cannondale. LaBant, who grew up in town and trained in French cuisine, is passionate about farm-to-table food, turning out sophisticated dishes that are breathtaking in their beauty. The restaurant is housed in a real one-room schoolhouse from 1872, owned for a time by actress June Havoc. It has 36 seats inside, and another 36 on an outdoor patio alongside the river.
Why it’s worth the drive: Part of the fun of eating here is experiencing the charms of the schoolhouse itself. But the star attraction is the food — it will make you vow to adapt the farm-to-table lifestyle if you haven’t already — served in an atmosphere that is completely unpretentious. While the prices make the Schoolhouse more of a special-occasion spot (entrees are mostly $32 and up, while appetizers hover around $15), you’ll find yourself looking for excuses to come back just to taste LaBant’s latest creations. Be prepared for lots of special touches, too. If you make a reservation, they’ll print your party’s name at the top of your menu. If it’s raining, they’ll step outside and take your dripping umbrella out of your hands. The service, in other words, is extraordinary.
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What to order: Since the menu changes constantly, it’s hard to know if your favorite dish will be available. But really, everything is good. We started with a strawberry salad with beets, goat cheese, pistachios and saba, a syrup made from grape juice. The calamari, another first course, was perfectly tender, and served with Thai chili sauce and pieces of watermelon. Our favorite entree was the chicken breast with carrot puree, peas, shiitake mushrooms, broccolini and brown butter emulsion — a great combination of flavors that elevated a simple piece of poultry from ordinary to sublime. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, out came the chocolate souffle for two with blackberry sauce and homemade chocolate malt ice cream — one of the best chocolate desserts we’ve ever had.
While you’re there: If you come for lunch, brunch or an early dinner, visit the shops in Cannondale Village, a pre-Civil War “village” adjacent to the restaurant. The shops have everything from antiques and home furnishings to clothing and jewelry. If you’re not a shopper, go explore Bradley Park in Wilton, where there’s a boardwalk trail that leads into a red-maple swamp.
Insider tip: Every Thursday, the restaurant offers a four-course dinner for $48; paired with wine, it’s $65. No matter when you go, if you plan on saving that personalized menu as a souvenir, make sure they have the correct spelling of your name when you make your reservation.
Details: 34 Cannon Road, Wilton, Connecticut, 203-834-9816, schoolhouseatcannondale.com.
— Linda Lombroso