c/o Lewis Woloch, Food Editor

c/o Lewis Woloch, Food Editor

To all my fellow food critics and lovers, I’m going to let you in on some of Middletown’s best kept food secrets. From wacky diners, traditional Vietnamese restaurants, and deliciously authentic Mexican food, this list offers a comprehensive opinion of our town’s surprisingly expansive food scene. For those of you who have differing opinions or think that I am a fool for my choices, you are more than welcome to come and write for the food section! In fact, we encourage it. I pride myself on having a fairly refined palate thanks to an adequate amount of dining experience across many different restaurants. That said, I will admit that I can be a little too opinionated when it comes to matters like these, but I am always open to discourse. And without further ado, I now present what will hopefully be the first of many features in the Food Section’s restaurant review column.

1) Lan Chi’s Vietnamese Restaurant and Bar (4.5 stars)

This family-owned Vietnamese spot right near the corner of Washington and Main Street has been my go-to for romantic, family, and friend dinners for the past year. I first discovered it whilst trying to impress my parents with a Brooklyn-esque restaurant sophomore year, and since then I have been hooked. Their pho more than equals that of their counterpart, Pho 170, but the few rice/stir-fry dishes that they boast, as well as their salads and vermicelli bowls, are what makes the restaurant so fantastic. It’s the kind of place where I always leave full but still craving the flavors I just devoured. The lemongrass chicken stir-fry is a standout for me, with its soothingly rich flavor, piles of onions, and scrumptious salad served on the side. The papaya and chicken salads also holds its weight, and the grilled pork vermicelli is a near perfect take on a classic Vietnamese dish. The dressing in which you drench the crispy, sweet pork and noodles is just tangy deliciousness. During one visit, an employee who I often see (who I am pretty sure is the wife in a husband-wife team that owns the restaurant, cooks the food, and serves drinks) boasted to me that she had made all of the cocktails from scratch, in addition to the papaya salad. I had no reason not to believe her, especially as her whiskey-lime cocktail fuzzed up my brain and warmed belly.

2) Salsas 3 Mexican Grill (4.5 stars)

This beloved haven for Wesleyan students and staff alike—I once saw our very own President Michael S. Roth ’78 popping in for takeout—has an enormous menu. I myself desire to try every single thing their kitchen produces by the time I graduate. While I’ve mainly focused on sampling their tacos (which are perfectly sized, flavored, and sauced), they also have amazing burritos, an exciting birria menu, and at least 40 specials on any given day (I am not at all kidding). The staff is incredibly kind, and they are always willing to give you free chips, salsa, and tap water (important note: we should all be tipping them!). The best thing I had there was the chicken flauta plate, which came with a yummy portion of rice and beans. This stuffed me so full to the brim that I considered asking if I could take a nap in one of those red, uber-comfortable booths. I guess the only knock on the place is that some of my friends have complained about having an upset stomach after dining there, whilst others have cited the menu’s lack of vegetarian options. But then again, Wesleyan is home to quite a large number of students with very suspect and barely believable food allergies—not that I have anything against vegetarians, of course.

3) Sarah’s on Main (4 stars)

This pick might catch me a little flak because it isn’t actually in Middletown—it actually lies just across the bridge in Portland. However, its food is so delicious and the quality of its dishes are so much better than the average brunch place that I had to include it in this list. Sarah’s stands out to me for its use of homemade ingredients. For instance, the other day, I treated myself to a weekday breakfast, and the maple whipped cream they put on top of their scrumptious banana-chocolate waffles was entirely homemade. I mean, no one would complain if they served Reddi-whip, but this just shows how much they care about their food. All of their breakfast plates, sandwiches, and omelets are made with love and fresh, high-quality ingredients, and while the portions may be a little small, the flavors are a level up from anywhere else serving breakfast in a nearby radius. My favorite dish might be the tomato-basil eggs Benedict, which is served simply with creamy hollandaise, sliced fresh tomato, and basil leaves. However, I also love their breakfast sandwiches, which vary from pastrami and egg, to black bean and egg. Honestly, Sarah’s could make a shoe leather and egg sandwich, and I’d still eat it. And my god, their home fries are the best I’ve ever eaten. I will end with that.

4) Thai Gardens (4 stars…and R.I.P)

So here’s the thing. I am pretty sure that Thai Gardens is closed for the foreseeable future. This might have something to do with the long family saga that has plagued Typhoon and Thai Gardens, but I won’t speculate. However, I still want to include this culinary gem on my list. I apologize to any first years who may salivate while they read this and will never be able to try the pad thai or fried rice that I describe. My favorite Thai place (oopsie) definitely has some interesting decor, but once the food arrives at the table, you don’t really find yourself looking up from your plate. The restaurant is big enough for huge parties, and it has a lot of dishes that are perfect for sharing. Their pad Thai is a classic and comes with a delicious sweet and savory sauce. However, my favorite dishes on the menu are—were?—the salads. Even Lan Chi’s could learn a thing or two from the cooks at Thai Gardens. The dressings that come with all of the salads (fish, papaya, duck, mango) are fairly similar but differ in amount of spice, fish sauce, and other flavorings. I have been known to drink the entire bowl even after the last tomato has been plucked out. I experience such a strong sense of umami every time I eat one of their salads that it nearly knocks me out. I often black out upon the first bite, wake up, and realize I’ve eaten the whole salad in under a minute and that the friend that I am with now wants to murder me.

5) O’Rourke’s Diner (3.5 to 5 stars…this place is so crazy I can’t even rate it)

Finally, the wackiest restaurant I’ve been to in my life. I placed it in fifth place just so that I could write about it. I walked in for the first time with my parents on a chilly Saturday morning in March. The owner/chef/everyman, Brian O’Rourke, greeted us, introduced himself, and directed us to the menu on our phones while simultaneously informing us of his specials, relaying other orders to his staff, and handing us a plate of complementary homemade pastries. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had also been butchering a chicken at the same time. The one item that I caught from O’Rourke’s menu—and most important one—was “Brian’s Breakfast,” a dish where he’ll cook whatever he wants for you. I have many questions about this. Is it the same for every customer on a given day? Is it completely random? Will you know what you are eating? The latter question can be answered with a firm “no,” but as a food-lover, I loved the idea of ordering such a chef’s special. It came with an assortment of items, most of which were American or maybe Irish-inspired and possessed flavors that were savory, salty, and crunchy. These came together in an incredibly funky way that made me rethink the way I cooked food. As you can see from the picture, the plate defied conventional food logic. There was a perfectly cooked omelet that just happened to be covered in smoked meat. There was potato gratin. There was a singular tomato slice, topped with a mystery, albeit absolutely delicious, mush, and then there was a chili baked potato topped with cheese. I felt unhinged as I ate it and slightly ill once I had finished. But, I have never been more enthralled by a food experience. My hat goes off to Mr. O’Rourke: he has created not just a restaurant, but an institution. 


Lewis Woloch can be reached at lwoloch@wesleyan.edu.     

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