The City of Willimantic has a wonderful street festival every month, from May through September. This event, called Third Thursday, draws everyone from this little mill town, and its surrounding towns, to enjoy live music, street vendors, promotions from local businesses and booths sponsored by local artisans, community groups, churches and just about everyone else. There’s face-painting, a climbing wall, street performers blowing bubbles and walking on stilts, and (of course) cotton candy.

My family attends as often as we can, and went last night, as it was an amazing summer night to be outside. After we enjoyed ourselves at the festival, we slipped away to one of the most popular evening spots in Willimantic, the Willimantic Brewing Company, a restaurant that occupies the gorgeous building that once was the city post office, and boasts a pub, beautiful outdoor seating, and its own brewery, which is housed in glass right in the center of the restaurant. If you are fortunate, you might see the brew master in the brewery working on the latest batch (the name of which is always posted on a sign outside the brewery).

The beer they brew there is fantastic, and the menu comes with a little brochure telling patrons the name and estimated “release date” of the next brew that will be on tap — one of the things that makes you want to come back again and again (if you are a connoisseur of microbrewed beers).  We tried the newest release, Downtown Willi India Dark Ale, which was delicious, full-bodied, and very satisfying:

Downtown Willi India Dark Ale
(7/18)An unfiltered Dark hoppy Ale brewed with five flavorful malts and wonderfully hopped with Perle and Magnums. 6.9%abv
The food was outstanding. We started our meal with “Willi Brew’s” signature nachos, topped with blackened chicken, and served with sour cream and freshly prepared salsa on the side. This gargantuan platter is really enough for a meal for 2-3, and the four of us were very full after eating it.
The entrees on the menu sport names of local towns and points of interest. The youngest member of our party had Beerbecue Chicken Tenders, which oozed a dark, delicious sauce. My eldest son had a Manchester Mandarin Tuna Wrap (because, as he said, “Sometimes it’s good to think outside the box.”). It didn’t stick around long, so I’m assuming that meant it was good! DH had a humongous Bigelow Beef Wrap, which was enough for him to take 1/2 home for lunch the next day. I enjoyed a Columbia Reuben made with the leanest pastrami I have ever had — and LOTS of it.
We didn’t get to eat outside (I was voted down by the guys), but the atmosphere inside was fun, relaxed and very accommodating to all patrons, from our party with a young child, to business people who spread out papers as they dined, to a birthday party, complete with a cake, candles and song. Our server, Joel, definitely passed the “small child” test — he was stellar as a host to a little guy who kept flagging him down for extra straws, a refill of lemonade, and just to ask questions.
How was our evening? I can’t count how many times one of us exclaimed how much fun we were having.

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If you are ever in the Willimantic Area, you simply must stop into the Willimantic Brewing Company for a great meal, great service, and some of the best beer ar