There are a lot of restaurants that I like in Middletown, but frankly, there are many that leave me bored, disappointed, or worst, with a stomachache. There are a lot of restaurants around here that just seem to have gotten lazy and started cutting corners with the quality of their food. I don't want to name any specific places, though I can easily recall at least a dozen so-so to really bad meals over the last year. What I'm talking about is dry, unseasoned chicken, cold food, bland pasta, and salsa out of a five-gallon bucket (yes I can see that you chopped fresh cilantro into it but no that does not rescue the old tomato mush that it is). What I'm talking about is a dish on the special menu described as being on a bed of asparagus that arrived with zero asparagus on the plate, a person sitting near me in a cafe complaining to the manager about moldy tomatoes in her salad. And speaking of salad, there are lots of sad, droopy examples around here, without a cucumber, a carrot, or a radish to be found among the lettuce. So I won't out any specific restaurants; there is almost too much bad food to talk about. I prefer to write about the meals I've enjoyed and give positive recognition to the places that I hope others will patronize.
Middletown is gaining a reputation as a dining out destination. The first annual Restaurant Week is coming up later this month and that will be an opportunity for the participating restaurants to shine and to showcase Middletown as a restaurant city. More information available: http://middletownrestaurantweek.com/. With all the restaurants here and the gaining popularity of culinary pursuits in general, I hope that all of the restaurants around town will take a hard look at the food they're putting out and the experience they are providing. Restaurant managers should occasionally read what people are saying are about them on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other review sites. They should watch a few episodes of Kitchen Nightmares. They should talk to their customers. No doubt some are already doing this, but I hope that more will start to on a path to continuous improvement rather than skating by on past success.
Unlimited choice is not necessarily a good thing. In the case of restaurants, a one-page menu with a dozen choices makes me feel hopeful and possibly even confident that I am about to eat a quality meal. Contrast that with a menu that goes on for pages on end. An excessive amount of choices signals a mediocre meal ahead, as so many different items cannot possibly all be fresh and well prepared. In my observation, an unending or overambitious menu tends to create a hit or miss reputation for a restaurant. We all know of places that are known for some signature dish that gets good reviews, but everybody knows not to order certain things there. Well, if it's not good, why have it on the menu? I don't like having to remember what's good and what not to order at a particular place when I go out to eat. I want to know that anything I choose will be worth the cost of eating out.
When I walked into the newly open Cafe Fifty Six on Court Street, I was pleased to find a short and simple menu and the day's specials highlighted and easy to see on the board. Deciding what to eat was quick and easy, the plates were visually appealing, and every bite of the food was incredibly fresh and full of flavor. It was easy to see and taste that everything was made from scratch including the sauces and dressings. Stay tuned for a full review coming soon.
I hope that new competition as good as this might eventually help to elevate all the dining quality in Middletown. I know that for me, since I don't eat out all that often, to put a great new find like Cafe Fifty Six into my rotation will mean I'll stop going to some other place that just isn't hitting the spot anymore. Cafe Fifty Six is a participant in the above-mentioned Restaurant Week and I hope that is a success for all involved. I definitely am looking forward to more meals at Cafe Fifty Six.