GROTON, Conn. -- There’s a tendency to think of southeastern Connecticut as casino country. There’s no question that Foxwoods in Ledyard and Mohegan Sun in Uncasville loom large on the tourism map. But dig a little deeper and you’ll rediscover the attractions that drew families to towns like Groton before the casinos - such as the opportunity to wriggle through the narrow passageways of a nuclear submarine, walk the grounds of a Revolutionary-era fort, or take part in a winter seal watch. Old favorites ready to become new ones.
One byproduct of the casinos’ popularity is a surfeit of budget and mid-priced hotels. The Groton Inn and Suites (99 Gold Star Highway, 800-452-2191, www.grotoninn.com, rooms $93-$109, suites $119) provides clean, friendly accommodations; a hot breakfast is included; and there’s a reasonably priced restaurant on site. Ask for its list of 101 things to do in the area. You’ll find indoor pools at the Hampton Inn Groton (300 Long Hill Road, 860-405-1585, www.hamptoninngroton.com, from $79), the Best Western Olympic Inn (360 Route 12, 860-445-8000, www.bestwestern.com, from $110), and the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa (625 North Road, 860-446-2600, www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/gonmm-mystic-marriott-hotel-and-spa, from $169).
Generations of immigrants have brought their cuisine to the area - you will find Italian, Mexican, Japanese, and Indian fare. His Polish and Portuguese heritage notwithstanding, Paul Fidrych runs one of the most authentic Italian restaurants in town, Paul’s Pasta Shop (223 Thames St., 860-445-5276, www.paulspastashop.com, lunch $5.50-$12, dinner $7-$13). At midday you’re likely to see him running long sheets of homemade pasta through an old-fashioned cutter, shaping linguine, angel hair, pappardelle, and ravioli. Lobster ravioli, a house specialty, was perfect topped with special pink sauce (sauces are also homemade). The staff is bilingual at Ortega’s Mexican Restaurant (108 North St., 860-405-1275, www.ortegasmexrest.com, lunch $6.50-$11, dinner $8-$16), where you can top off an authentic meal with sopaipillas, a Mexican-style fried dough. Mix food with theater at Koto Japanese Steak House (527 Long Hill Road, 860-445-5686, www.kotoct.com, lunch specials $8-$10, dinner $12-$32), where guests gather around hibachi tables to watch chefs prepare their meals with dramatic flair. Aromas of curry and cardamom fill the air at Mirch Masala Cuisine of India (156 Kings Highway, 860-445-8043, www.mirchmasalaus.com, lunch buffet $10-$12, dinner $13-$24), tucked into a Ramada Inn, from which it leases space. A big smoker on the sidewalk marks the site of Chester’s Barbecue (943 Poquonnock Road, 860-449-6868, www.chestersbbq .com, $6-$28); we shared a sampler platter of spare ribs, baby back ribs, chicken, brisket, and spicy sausage with sides of baked beans, mac and cheese, and collard greens.
DURING THE DAY
Even the smallest bedroom will look pretty good to children after they visit the USS Nautilus, docked at the Submarine Force Museum (One Crystal Lake Road, 860-694-3174, www.ussnautilus.org, free, closed Tuesdays); the sleeping quarters on the world’s first nuclear-powered sub are shockingly claustrophobic. The areas of the sub, such as the control room, are populated with life-size mannequins behind glass, affording a pretty realistic look at shipboard activities. The museum traces the history of undersea combat, beginning with David Bushnell’s wooden “Turtle’’ in 1776, and follows the work of submarine forces in scientific exploration, oceanographic research, search and recovery, and shipwreck discovery. A 134-foot granite monument marks the site of Fort Griswold (57 Fort St., 860-449-6877, www.ct.gov/dep/fortgriswold, seasonal), site of the 1781 massacre led by Benedict Arnold and now a state park. The Ebenezer Avery House, which sheltered the wounded after the battle, has been restored on the grounds. Winter seal watches continue on weekends through March at Project Oceanology (1084 Shennecossett Road, 860-445-9007, www.oceanology.org, adults $25, children ages 6-12 $20), which is based at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus. Summer activities include lighthouse tours and research cruises.
Wheels rumble under spinning disco-ball lights at the Galaxy Roller Rink (210 Bridge St., 860-448-3882, www.galaxyrollerrink.com), which offers rentals, lessons, and a snack bar. For a less strenuous outing, check out Holiday Bowl (27 Kings Highway, 860-445-6500, www.holidaybowlgroton.com), where you can chow down on pizza and pub food between strings. Listen to live music Wednesday through Saturday evenings at Sneekers Cafe (568 Poquonnock Road, 860-445-1967, www.sneekerscafe.net), which has been rocking Groton for nearly 30 years.