You know it’s Family Weekend when you and your tribe wander down to Mondo and find that everybody and her mother had the same idea. Here are some restaurants less traveled for when your family descends this weekend and you don’t know what to feed them.
It’s Only Natural
606 Main Street
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Middletown’s only vegan restaurant, It’s Only Natural (ION) is as delicious as it is ethical. You can’t go wrong with any of the items, from the appetizers—which include Southern fried tofu, a hummus plate, and vegan nachos—to the main dishes, which come in small or large plates and include truffled mushroom with wild rice risotto, potato and spinach pierogi, and a gluten-free sweet potato enchilada. Plus, right now, as a seasonal dish, they have a smooth harvest pumpkin sweet onion bisque and a tangy autumn field salad. And don’t forget to ask for the dessert menu when you’re done with your main course; It’s Only Natural boasts one of the best cruelty-free chocolate cakes in the world (or so we imagine).
It’s Only Natural Market
575 Main Street
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Yes, it shares a name and owner with the restaurant across the street, but the counterpart to It’s Only Natural serves delectable, ready-made meals. It is a grocery store on (all-natural) steroids. If your family is into cooking and your place of residence has a kitchen, come here to stock up on ingredients to cook in the comfort of your own home away from home. With a smoothie station and an incredible array of non-dairy ice cream flavors, the Market offers a wider and more diverse selection than is offered at Weshop. It’s Only Natural Market has everything you could possibly want—from produce to non-dairy cheese, to seemingly hundreds of varieties of pasta (including gluten-free varieties), bright sauces, and spices galore.
100 Riverview Center #135 (just off Main Street between College and Court Streets)
Hours: Monday-Tuesday 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday 8 a.m.– 6 p.m.; closed on Sunday
It’s best known for being a bakery (hence the name), but as we found out earlier this year, Fusion is much more than that. The bakery has recently launched a savory menu that includes sandwiches, panini (some of which are rumored to include Nutella and fluff), and wraps. And the best part is that when you’re done with lunch, you can mosey over to the ample dessert cases and have your pick of cannoli, cupcakes (including vegan and gluten-free options), and other treats. While you’re there, check out the gorgeous art on the walls. And don’t forget to use your Wesleyan student ID for a 10 percent discount!
864 Washington Street
Open 24 hours
It’s not quite on Main Street, but it’s worth the extra effort to avoid the crowd downtown. This homey Greek diner is everything it should be: well-lit, cozy, comforting, and, most importantly, delicious. Whether you’re in the mood for a simple salad or something greasy (because, let’s face it, nothing lessens familial tension like French fries), Athenian has got you covered.
Location: 782 Main St.
Hours: Sunday through Saturday, 6:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Okay, we know we said not to go here, but we changed our minds: O’Rourke’s Diner is a longtime favorite among Middletown residents and University students alike, and its popularity is not surprising. O’Rourke’s is quite simply the bomb. Ironically, the family-owned diner has achieved its classic eatery status by offering food that is quite the opposite of classic. As a matter of fact, Food Network sensation Guy Fieri described the restaurant as “funky” (which is probably why he featured it on his show “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives”). This funkiness is a testament to the menu’s fusion of traditional diner fare with Irish ingredients and flavors.
As my taste for food tends to err on the side of sweet, my personal O’Rourke’s favorites include the banana bread French toast (a dish Mr. Fieri himself tried) as well as the mini raspberry pancakes. Others, however, rave about the wide array of omelets and hashes as well as “Brian’s Breakfast,” a mystery breakfast spread that is not revealed until it is placed on the table in front of the dare devil who orders it.
Pretty much the only reason we would recommend not taking your family to O’Rourke’s Diner is to avoid the inevitable wait. The diner after all is the go-to breakfast/brunch destination for most family visits. That being said, the O’Rourke’s experience, with its top-notch food and familial ambience, is, in our opinion, worth the wait.
Location: 102 Court St.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 8:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
With its understated storefront and rather unsightly view of a parking garage, Café 56 is a place that most of us overlook. This inattention is unfortunate, however, as the restaurant sells what may very well be the tastiest eats in Middletown.
Like O’Rourke’s, Café 56 features a menu that boasts a fusion of ethnic influences. Hoping to foster a flavor experience that is “global,” Sabrina Cortes, chef and owner of Café 56, not only offers classic American options—like the Modern Club and BLT sandwiches and Cobb Salad—but also dishes with clear Latin American inspiration. One such dish is the Tacandwich, which is a scrumptious fusion of a taco and a sandwich.
We highly recommend dining at Café 56 for a hearty Saturday lunch of soups, salads, or sandwiches. Though the façade may not be particularly appealing or inviting, the interior offers a quiet and quaint setting that is perfect for a small group meal that will undoubtedly wow you with its flavor.
New England Emporium
Location: 386 Main St.
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 8:00 a.m.- 8:00 p.m.; Friday through Saturday, 8:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Sunday, 9:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.
The New England Emporium—The Emporium for short—is the perfect dining destination for a family that is large and prone to disagreement.
With a wide array of tables, chairs, and couches, Emporium is able to comfortably fit groups of all sizes and seating preferences. Offering various omelettes, crêpes (both sweet and savory), pancakes, salads, and sandwiches, the eatery boasts a menu that is so inordinately large and diverse that it is virtually impossible for a person to not find something they want to eat and/or drink.
At Emporium, try the iced vanilla chai (with soy milk rather than dairy milk, because this decision makes the drink inexplicably better) and a grilled cheese of some kind. The perfect combination of crispy and potato-ey, the steak fries are everything one could desire in a fried potato and more.
If you and your family crave a lunch that is hearty, but (a) can’t agree on any food attribute other than hearty and (b) can’t find a restaurant that will hold your party comfortably, The New England Emporium is the ideal place to satisfy your hunger.