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Revisiting the Connecticut Dairy Bar and Farm Diner

Revisiting the Connecticut Dairy Bar and Farm Diner
2 votes, 5.00 avg. rating (92% score)

I was in my hometown of Windsor, Connecticut recently and I had the kind of craving that goes beyond food and deep into nostalgia. And in sharing this remembrance of things past, I’m hoping to get some help from any locals or restaurant historians who might know something about the breed of restaurants that I’ve only ever seen in my home state.

 

The restaurants were dairy bars and farm diners with names like A.C. Petersen and Shady Glen. A.C. Petersen still has one remaining branch in West Hartford, and Shady Glen, best known for their signature crispy cheeseburgers, lives on in Manchester. What they all typically shared was a menu of diner classics (burgers, onion rings, club sandwiches, etc.), an ice cream bar supplied by local farms, and a unique floor plan that positioned the booths and counter stools around a central service area where the drinks were dispensed and the ice cream was scooped. Most of them were also decorated with painted wall murals depicting idyllic rural landscapes.

But here, let me be more specific. The restaurant I recently revisited was the old A.C. Peterson’s, now known as Windsor Farms, in the Windsor Shopping Center on Route 159. After driving by this restaurant hundreds of times in the past twenty years, it occurred to me that it might be nice to return to where we used to celebrate dance recitals with ice cream sundaes and root beer.

It looked almost exactly the same, thankfully.

Windsor Farms

Even the original ice cream menu was still hanging from the ceiling…

…as were the original booths. If the producers of Mad Men are looking for a pristine period set to shoot a lunch scene, here’s the place.

They’ve even kept the old mural.

Idyll

I ordered a patty melt, coleslaw on the side.

And for dessert, orange sherbet

Sometimes, you can go home again. Thanks for staying true, Windsor Farms.

Now I want to know more. Could these dairy bars really be unique to Connecticut? It seems unlikely. I’ d love to hear from Yankee readers on this, maybe compile a list of these wonderful old diners. There aren’t many of them left and they’re worth remembering.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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Amy Traverso

Author:

Amy Traverso

Biography:

Senior lifestyle editor Amy Traverso oversees Yankee's Food and Home & Garden departments and contributes articles to the magazine. Amy book, The Apple Lover's Cookbook (W.W. Norton), won an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook award for the category American. Follow !
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8 Responses to Revisiting the Connecticut Dairy Bar and Farm Diner

  1. Pete March 24, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    I think it must be long gone but for a couple of years in the late 70′s I worked for the Greenbacker brothers in Meriden, Ct. They had a dairy farm, a bottling plant,an Agway and operated a dairy bar. They bottled their own milk in the bottling plant that was just on the other side of the door from the restaurant. Talk about nostalgia, I think it was the best job I ever had.

  2. Susan March 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    I grew up in New Jersey in the 50′s & 60′s, and my parents often took us kids to Llewellyn Farms Dairy Bar in Parsippany. It too served diner type food and ice cream treats, and it was arranged just as you described. Alas, it disappeared 30 or more years ago.

    • Amy Traverso March 26, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

      Thanks, Susan! You solved the most nagging mystery, which is whether this style of restaurant is exclusive to CT. Now I need to research it further.

      Pete, it sounds like only the Greebacker Agway remains. Too bad…the dairy bar sounds great!

  3. Missy April 8, 2012 at 6:07 am #

    I grew up in Connecticut and so I know exactly what you are talking about and have eaten at AC Peterson’s many times. There was also if my memory serves correctly AC Neilson which sold milk products and served ice cream too. Sadly all the farms in Bloomfield and Windsor and Avon and Simsbury have been replaced by stript malls and condos.

    • Amy Traverso April 20, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      Missy, I totally relate! I remember how beautiful it was to drive by the Peterson’s farm in the way to Bloomfield. And remember all the farm land you’d see when you went over Avon Mountain? Connecticut is still beautiful, but we certainly don’t have as much access to farmland as we used to.

      Funny enough, I just met Farmer Mike from Urban Oaks organic farm in New Britan yesterday. They are fighting the good fight! http://www.blog.urbanoaks.org/

  4. Pam October 26, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    Moving to Bloomfield Ct in the 70′s was a culture shock to a gal from Charlotte NC. I was there with my new husband and looking for things that reminded me of home. I grew up in Asheville NC and for years I ate a tuna sandwich, Coke and always cherry pie at the lunch counter at Kress’s. When I found the A C Petersen place I was in heaven. Although it didn’t look the same, it had the same feeling that I had come to know. The staff was friendly and the food was good.

    From what I can remember Windsor Farms looks a lot like the Bloomfield location, right up to the ice cream menu.

    So, although you wanted to hear from other Yankees, you got a southerner also. And I thank A C Petersen for making a homesick gal feel welcome in Bloomfield CT.

  5. Bill Schulz December 8, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    Riverside Avenue in Torrington was home to the Torrington Creamery Ice Cream Bar, just as you say, an outlet for the adjacent main business, the Dairy.

    Westwood, NJ, had the Rypkema brothers’ Garden State Farms Milk Bar (“Ryp’s”) which had a Formica bar with rustic-style tables and chairs opposite the bar. There were wooden picnic-style tables and benches in an enclosed, pine-paneled porch.

    The Alfred family of Burlington, VT, had a dairy with the processing plant in either Essex Junction or Winooski and had an ice cream bar on the premises.

    Rhode Island had the Newport Creamery chain, very much up-scale from Ryps, more on the style of Howard Johnson’s snack bars.

    I’d be willing to bet that most dairy plants of any size in the ’30s-’60s era had one.

    Nice trip back. Thanks.

  6. Ray Petersen October 2, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

    I just came across this story while looking for information about a relative. A.C.Petersen was my grandfather, and I worked at our family business for many years. The restaurant that took over our old space in Windsor, now known as Windsor Farms, was similar to our restaurants, but really had no connection to our family. Our family is now out of the business completely, but the flagship A.C.Petersen Farms location lives on in West Hartford, CT. We sold the business to our CFO (who was born and raised in West Hartford) and she is currently running the business, with our blessing, as A.C.Petersen Farms, and she is using virtually the same menu and recipes that we used for many years. The location in West Hartford is the property my granfather purchased in the early 1920s, where he established his dairy plant and ice cream factory, where the company’s headquarters was (and still is) located. My grandfather began his milk business in 1914, so 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the company. And the owner, Catherine Denton, has recently begun to expand the business again, opening a second location, in Old Lyme, CT.
    http://www.acpetersenfarms.com/

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