I’ve never been much of a shopper.  I don’t relish braving the crowds, tracking down bargains, and vying for the most in-demand items. I tend to take the easy path, made all the easier these days with online ordering and speedy delivery.

But sometimes a trip to the store is unavoidable. There are things that need to be tried on, checked for color, or seen first hand.  I hate to admit it, but sometimes a trip to the store is essential to look for ideas or just to see what’s new.

I find that these expeditions can be made more acceptable with a good lunch – not the brand-name lunch from the mall food court, but an original, carefully prepared, delicious lunch, preferably with wine.

I may have found the perfect answer at the Chamard Vineyards winery Bistro just up I-95 in Clinton.  Not only is it a delightful restaurant set in the center of its own vineyards, the Clinton Crossing Premium Outlet Mall is right next door – a match made in my shopping heaven.

Yes, it’s about an hour from Norwalk, but I understand shoppers consider that a reasonable distance for a good retail experience. I certainly consider it well within limits for a memorable lunch.

We arrived on a bleak day with a light coating of snow melting below the orderly bare vines. The winery tasting room is to the left as you enter the wood-shingled visitor center, with the inviting restaurant to the right. Natural wood tables, a fieldstone fireplace, and a barrel stave sculpture grace the high-ceilinged space. Executive Chef Matthew

Executive Chef Matthew Bouffard (L) and his cooks in the open kitchen

Bouffard and his cooks can be seen hard at work in the open kitchen.

Seventeen Chamard wines are offered as a 2 oz. taste as well as by the glass or bottle. We focused on the estate wines, made from vines on the property just outside the Bistro windows.  Riesling, chardonnay, rosé, merlot, and port are all from the grapes grown right there. We passed tastes of riesling and chardonnay back and forth and then switched to merlot and rosé with lunch. The dry wines are all well-made and delicious with the bistro offerings. Next time we’ll dig into the non-estate wines, made from purchased fruit.

The Mediterranean plate ($12) was a good start with the white wines. House-made hummus, tapenade, and eggplant spreads came with grilled pita bread. The three flavors and two wines made for lots of pairing combinations. Riesling and tapenade was my favorite.

Vineyards just outside the Bistro windows

A sunny side egg sprinkled with chopped parsley topped my croque madame ($15).  Under the egg, black forest ham and Swiss on sourdough slices was topped with a cheesy (in the good sense) mornay sauce. The plate was balanced with a tangy green salad to cut the richness and add a halo of health to the proceedings.

Crisp grilled flatbread ($14) was baked with a sweet and salty olive-fig tapenade, herbed goat cheese, and Serrano ham, then dressed with a generous handful of baby arugula.

Both mains were good matches with the fresh rosé and the more sturdy merlot.

A shared apple galette and good café presse postponed the inevitable shopping. There’s lots more on the French-accented, locally-sourced menu to try next time.  The same menu runs at both lunch and dinner.

We stretched our legs with a walk through the high top tables of the tasting room. The back bar wine bins are creatively designed with curved barrel staves for some free-form shelving.

After lunch, turn right out of the Chamard driveway and the Mall is just a few minutes south.  Clinton Crossing, a well-known shopping destination, has about 70 premium outlet stores from Abercrombie & Fitch to Zales, all packed the day we were there with extra holiday stock, gearing up for the Christmas season.

Marsha raided a few children’s stores, where grandma’s are welcomed as honored guests and serious shoppers. I cruised the men’s stores and scored a pair of shoes, but mostly window shopped up and down the pedestrian walk mellowed by our delicious lunch.

Barrel stave shelving in the tasting room

There aren’t any winery restaurants in our neck of the woods, but there are a few opportunities for lunch and walkable shopping.  For the high-end, walk Greenwich Avenue and stop in at Méli-Mélo for a quick lunch or Versailles for something more leisurely .

In New Canaan check the stores on Elm Street and pop into Pain Quotidien or Rosie, next to the bookstore.

Almost any restaurant on Westport’s Main Street would fill the bill, but look out for Tavern on Main for a comfortable refuge from cold weather shopping.  

Shopping is inevitable ( I guess)  but so is lunch, and I think the two pair up rather well.  

A barrel stave sculpture hangs from the ceiling in the Chamard Bistro