Cotton Hollow Kitchen in Glastonbury serves up farm-fresh comfort food

·6 min read

Jun. 10—GLASTONBURY — Cotton Hollow Kitchen opened in late October 2019. Less than five months later it closed its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as businesses reopen, the restaurant is back up and offers a rotating menu featuring fish, burgers, and macaroni and cheese.

Owner Mark Conley said he started his culinary career in New York City, working in and running restaurants on the Upper West Side of Manhattan before returning to his home state of Connecticut, joining Max's Restaurant Group and helping run local restaurant Max Amore.

"Max Amore closed at the end of June 2019 after 25 years," he said. "Our rent was going up there ... and was already high. Our sales were not as good as we needed them to be and we couldn't mathematically continue."

The same day, Conley said, opportunity presented itself as the owner of Figs Bistro and Bar called and asked him to take over the establishment.

If You Go


WHERE: 840 Main St., Glastonbury.

MENU: Burgers, fish and chips, mac and cheese, salmon.

HOURS: Lunch, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, noon-4 p.m.; Dinner 4-8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday

MISCELLANEOUS: Happy Hour 3-6 p.m.

CONTACT: 860-782 8555;

"I talked about it with my partners and we all concluded that it was a bit small for a Max's restaurant, but maybe it would be a great opportunity for me to be a solo partner with my wife and give it a whirl," Conley said.

He said he signed a seven-year lease that would bring him to age 70 when it ended, after which he would retire.

Renovations started immediately, he said.

"I told my contractor I had five weeks," he said. "Six weeks and two days later, we opened. The ceiling was changed, the light fixtures were changed, the furniture is all brand new. We knocked down a piece that divided the bar in half, opened it up, to create this big open space. There were 29 seats around my bar. It's really a showpiece."

The menu, crafted by Chef Niels van Galen, is a seasonal menu with items rotating on and off every month, Conley said.

"South Glastonbury is surrounded by farms," he said. "There are farms everywhere. We wanted to be a local restaurant that featured the farms; whatever produce, whatever meats, whatever we could buy from Connecticut, as local as possible, we wanted to feature.

"We wanted to create a restaurant that was known for comfort food, but upscale comfort food," Conley said. "It's not intimidating. It's not over the top with culinary terms that people don't understand, it's very user-friendly."

The surprise menu items, which has garnered what Conley calls a "cult ... establishment," are the hamburgers.

"It's not the main item on our menu," he said. "Our blend is 70% chuck and 30% brisket and short rib. We cook everything on a flat top so you get this beautiful crust on the outside of the meat with all the juices seared inside. It never touches open flame to get charred or black.

"To me, the perfect burger has a perfect roll, so the bread to meat ratio is exactly right. Some places you'll get a burger that is undersized with an oversized roll, some places you get an oversized burger with an undersized roll. Ours is perfect."

Cotton Hollow Kitchen has two burger bun options for guests: a brioche roll, which Conley said is the perfect size for their meat patty, and a port muffin.

"It's a Portuguese English muffin, or sandwich muffin. If you look at it, unlike Thomas' which has craters and huge pockets, this is a denser muffin, with some pockets, but it's more like a honeycomb," he said. "It's baked in a bakery in Deerfield, Massachusetts. It's the only item this bakery makes and they're perfect for a burger. They're not too bready and it stands up to the juiciness of the burger. It's to me, the ideal roll to serve a burger on. Our burgers, are hands down, I've had people tell me, they're the best burgers they've ever had."

Another hit on the menu is a classic comfort food. "Our mac and cheese will be maybe one of the best you'll ever have," Conley said.

The entrée menu features a variety of seafood and chicken dishes.

"Our salmon will always be on the menu," Conley said. "What's going to change on the salmon will be what's on the plate, the set up. You go from the murkiness of winter where everything's brown and no color and it doesn't feel vibrant and then spring comes and the spring produce is popping up. It's new life, it's color, it's texture, it's taste."

A current item on the menu Conley loves is the cod.

"Our cod is a healthier version of fish and chips," he said. "The cod we're serving is this Icelandic cod that is absolutely beautiful and delicious."

Instead of deep-frying the fish in beer batter, like traditional fish and chips, the fish is pan fried on the flesh side before flipping it and adding breadcrumbs on top to give it the crunch of a fried fish.

The "chips" are double-baked potatoes, Conely said, where after the first bake, the potato is scooped out and fried. It is then served with the fish over a malt vinegar aioli.

"What you get is the sensation that you're eating fish and chips but you're not eating a fully-fried dish," Conley said.

In response to an article in the JI in January about the financial hardships at Cotton Hollow Kitchen, there had been an outpouring of community support, Conley said, with numbers as close to pre-COVID as they could get.

But with mask restrictions being lifted and an honor system as to who is vaccinated and doesn't have to wear a mask, there appears to be another dip in numbers, he said.

"I'm guessing people can't trust being in an open space," he said. "All the barriers are down. In people's minds, how comfortable are they going out?

"Every day I'm grateful that we're here," Conley said about Cotton Hollow Kitchen still being open. "What's the future? I don't know. I'm hoping by July, August we'll be back in full swing. Will it be enough to recap the major losses, I don't know. We're not breaking even. I want to go out happy. I want my guests to be happy. I want my last years in the restaurant industry to be happy."

For coverage of local restaurants, cultural events, music, and an extensive range of Connecticut theater reviews, follow Tim Leininger on Twitter: @Tim_E_Leininger, Facebook: Tim Leininger's Journal Inquirer News page, and Instagram: @One_Mans_Opinion77.

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