It’s our job as food editors to guide the general public at Wesleyan toward the best dining opportunities, and so without further ado, here are our two favorite picks for a sit-down meal outside of Middletown.  

c/o Willow Saxon

c/o Willow Saxon

Otto Pizza:

In the warm, cozy town of Chester, Conn., lies a pizza restaurant, too far off the beaten path to be well-known by Wesleyan students, but delicious enough to warrant at least a little attention by the more ambitious foodies of our campus. Otto Pizza is a must try, and not just because of taste alone, even though the fennel salad and margherita pizza lie forever embedded in the memory of my taste buds. The charming brick-oven style restaurant offers the full package: a prime location in Chester’s downtown area; a sleek, modern dining concept with an open kitchen; a seasonal, upscale yet homey menu; and the perfect beer and wine pairings. And if all this wasn’t enough, when spring comes along, Otto opens up an outdoor tent with specialty offerings like barbecue and lobster rolls. 

The town of Chester itself is worth a visit regardless of your pizza yearnings. For those with access to a car, it’s a quick 20-minute drive away on the highway (free parking included in a lot that’s a five-minute walk away) and can offer a much-needed break from the trek down to the regular Main Street spots in Middletown. In the fall and early winter especially, the town is the perfect autumnal getaway, complete with tree-lined streets, lovely little shops, and a strong sense of holiday spirit. Otto Pizza is the pinnacle of these strong sentiments, with a dining experience perfectly adaptable to a romantic date night, dinner with your parents, or a group pizza outing. 

Regardless of your party size, the best bet is to share a salad or two while carefully perusing the pizza selection. The menu is carefully curated and culinarily impeccable; it’s small and straightforward enough that you won’t get overwhelmed by a million different iterations of pizzas, but can still experience a multitude of flavor combinations. The aforementioned fennel salad is to die for with a mouth-watering combination of a bright lemony vinaigrette, earthy walnuts and mushrooms, and salty parmesan all sitting atop a bed of thinly shaved fennel. For those averse to greens, there’s often a rotating burrata dish as well.

The pizza at Otto, which stands up to even the most coveted of NYC brick-oven pizzerias, is split between red and white sections. And before you question the validity of a whole section dedicated to pizzas without tomato sauce, you need to taste their mushroom and parmesan cream concoction. They even have a bacon, fried egg, and potato rendition that’ll put any breakfast to shame. On the red side, the classic margherita, done up with dollops of stracciatella, hits the spot with its perfectly sweet and savory tomato sauce, while options like eggplant with scamorza (a cousin of mozzarella) or a bacon and fried egg topped white pizza up the ante even further. 

The ambience inside the comfy-yet-done-up interior of the restaurant almost mirrors that of the town: the servers are beyond friendly and very receptive to recommendations or wine pairing requests, and their open kitchen allows you to watch your pizza enter into the depths of Otto’s massive brick oven from your seat. Your lovely server will often try to offer you dessert, usually a gorgeous square of soft, luscious tiramisu…if the pizza hasn’t made too much of a dent in your stomach, then full steam ahead. And once all of this is done, and the check is paid, arguably the best part of the whole Otto experience comes around. You get to slowly amble out the door and back through the twinkling lights of Chester to the parking lot, with a happy, delirious smile plastered on your face and a stomach stuffed to the brim, yet still craving one more slice of margherita. You can find the menu here.

Atmosphere: Casual with an elegant vibe

Noise Level: Low during weekdays, lively chatter on weekends

Recommended Dishes: Fennel salad, Caesar salad, Margherita pizza, pepperoni pizza, bacon and egg white pizza, four cheese pizza

Drinks and Wine: Craft beer, wine, cocktails 

Price $$$ ($25–30 per person)

Open: Dinner every night, lunch on Saturday and Sunday

Reservations: Not accepted

 

c/o Willow Saxon

c/o Willow Saxon

Pho & Grill: 

It’s with great reluctance that I divulge the existence of Pho & Grill to the general public, for its seats are few and its food phenomenal. Only an eight-minute drive from campus, Pho & Grill is the best restaurant you will find in the five-mile radius around Wesleyan. Nestled unassumingly between fast food chains and beauty parlors, it’s surprisingly some of the best Vietnamese food around.

“I go to Pho & Grill on a biweekly basis,” Willow Saxon ’25, a longtime Pho & Grill patron, said.  Most times it’s with my friend, who has a peanut allergy, despite the kitchen being full of peanuts. We both agree that it’s worth the risk to his life…It’s just that good.” 

As you enter the locale, you can expect to be greeted by the owners and seated at one of the long wooden tables, each equipped with their own rotating rack of accoutrements. The spices include sriracha, hoisin, fish sauce, and white pepper, to name a few.

Scents from the kitchen waft coyly into the dining room, and from certain seats you can see the origin of the smell: large cauldrons steaming in the kitchen, dispersing that unmistakable smell of a pho broth that includes star anise, clove, and cardamom rendered doubly potent by their mingling with beef fat.

Quell your anticipation with one of their appetizers. I suggest the Gha Gio Tom (shrimp & pork egg rolls) or the Goi Cuon Tom (shrimp fresh spring rolls), depending on your entree preference. (The egg rolls are found on several of the vermicelli dishes.)

c/o Willow Saxon

c/o Willow Saxon

The plethora of mouth-watering options always makes choosing an entree impossibly challenging. If it’s cold and rainy, Pho is the soundest option, whether it be the classic Pho Dac Biet (Combo Pho), topped with a combination of rare flank steak, well-done brisket, tendon, and beef balls, or the Mí Gá (chicken with egg noodles), a Vietnamese chicken noodle soup that comes in a glistening chicken and pork bone broth and filled with springy egg noodles, lettuce, and impossibly indulgent fried onions, and pork rinds. But whether you choose to get the more classic beef option or the sickness-curing chicken soup, all Pho comes with an accompanying mound of bean sprouts, basil, limes, and jalapeños.

The crown jewel of this establishment, however, is with no doubt the Bún Thjt Heo Nuong Cha Gio (number 21 for the regulars), which is a vermicelli dish topped with lemongrass grilled pork and aforementioned egg rolls. It’s a dish that appears often in my daydreams, noodles glistening with homemade fish sauce and topped with lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, and a non-negotiable portion of roasted peanuts. It combines all the strong suits of the restaurant into one divinely constructed bowl. You can find the menu here.

Before you call it quits, make sure you glance at the glass display case next to the register. If you’re lucky, it will be filled with sesame balls, plushly fried dough with a mochi-like texture, that are often sold out. Paired with a pot of jasmine tea, these rotund revelations will give you the strength needed to leave the comfort of the dining room and brave the winter chill that awaits you outside its doors.

Atmosphere: Comfortable and casual, with no need to dress up

Noise Level: Low during weekdays, lively chatter on weekends

Recommended Dishes: Bún Thjt Heo Nuong Cha Gio, Pho Dac Biet (Combo Pho),  Mí Gá (chicken with egg noodles), Com Ga Nuong (grilled chicken with rice), Gha Gio Tom (shrimp & pork egg rolls) 

Drinks and Wine: Thai iced tea, taro milk tea, pot of jasmine tea (no alcohol served)

Price $$ (around $20 per person)

Open: Daily except Tuesday

Reservations Accepted, but not necessary

 

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

Gemmarosa Ryan can be reached at gryan@wesleyan.edu

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