261 College Street,
New Haven, CT
College students, 20-somethings and local professionals merge inside the former ballroom of the Taft hotel to dine and drink at Hot Tomato’s. This New Haven nightspot offers inventive martinis and an upscale setting of carved ceilings and soft lighting.
The Vibe Inside: Nestled next to the Shubert Theatre in downtown New Haven, Hot Tomato’s charms with its vast open spaces, enormous white columns, and curved staircase running up the middle of the two-story establishment. Patrons can linger in the restaurant’s chic bar or mosey upstairs to dine in a cozy booth overlooking College Street.
The Crowd: Hot Tomato’s hosts a diverse mix of college coeds, young professionals, and more mature patrons. “We get a lot of college kids on Wednesday nights,” bar manager, Jessica Franks said. “But on the weekends we get a total mix of people.” Although Hot Tomato’s is a popular spot, it is never too crowded, even on weekend nights. There are enough people to make it sociable, but never so many as to make it feel ‘clubby.’ Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays are the busiest nights.
What To Wear: Business casual. This is not a place to wear worn out jeans and flip flops.
Drinks: Cocktails range from $6 glasses of house wine to $4 drafts. The house specialty: award-winning, generous-sized martinis of all sorts, pack a price tag of $8.50. The bar boasts an extensive martini menu, including Banana Cream Pie, The Georgia Peach, and classic Chocolate martinis. The most popular are the “Flirtini,” a mix of Smirnoff Raspberry, pineapple juice, and champagne; and the “Sour Patch,” a blend of three Smirnoffs, orange juice, grenadine, and sour mix, accompanied by a Pixie Stick.
Eats: The menu features eclectic world cuisine that is mostly Italian, and Hot Tomato’s famous garlic bread. A house favorite is the ‘Torte Rose,’ made with sweet Italian sausage, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, light tomato cream sauce, and four cheese tortellini. Another popular entree is the ‘Chicken Pesto,’ which combines grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes ,and house made ricotta gnocchi in a pesto cream sauce. The restaurant also offers a tasty tomato and mozzarella salad big enough for two. Generous portions make leaving with a doggie-bag inevitable. Lunch menu items range from $5 to $14 and dinner items run from $5 to $7 appetizers and salads, to $14 to $25 entrees.
The Music: A barely audible smooth background tune adds to the loungy, conversational feel of the place.
Special Events: Happy Hour, with complimentary garlic bread, is Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the bar. Monday is also $1 Ladies Night, which includes house wines, draft beers, and well drinks. Wednesday night brings Martini Madness, featuring $5 martinis all night, a favorite among the college crowd. Hot Tomato’s has no cover charge.
The Service: The bartenders and waitstaff at Hot Tomato’s are very friendly and accomodating despite the restaurant’s aloof and at times, unavailable, management. The kitchen is located in plain view on the lower level of the establishment. Food arrives hot and in a timely manner.
Awards: Hot Tomato’s martinis have been voted the best in New Haven for six consecutive years by the New Haven Advocate. The cuisine has received numerous accolades, such as Connecticut Magazine’s “Best New Restaurant” statewide and Taste of the Nation’s “Golden Fork Award” in 2003. Hot Tomato’s is one of four restaurants that are part of the Hot Tomato’s Restaurant Group, including Hot Tomato’s, Churarascaria Braza in Hartford, and Bamboleo in Glastonbury.
Bottom Line: The eclectic crowd at Hot Tomato’s compliments its eclectic cuisine and outstanding martinis. A must for sophisticated restaurant-goers and urban bar hoppers alike.
Hours: Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Saturday 4 p.m. to midnight; Sunday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
This article was originally written for and published on CTNow.com.