So you're a graduating Wesleyan senior and you want to leave town as quickly as you can, feeling you've seen everything you can bear to see in Middletown. Or you're a graduating senior who wants to ditch the parents and send them off for a few hours over the weekend so you can hook-up with a friend for the last time. Or say you're a Middletown resident who spends too much time in the old cul-de-sac.
In 2009 I wrote a column with some suggestions for places you, or your parents, can visit before departing the Midd, or returning to the safety of the cul-de-sac. Some suggestions are leftovers from last year, but I've solicited a few really interesting additions. And so....
Where the Coginchaug Meets the Mattabassett
Just North of downtown on the Connecticut River two rivers, the Coginchaug and the Mattabassett meet, then flow intertwined into the Connecticut. The rivers drain through parkades and suburbs then snake around the old landfill. The huge wetlands and watershed supports a huge diversity of avian and aquatic life, floating meadows, wild rice fields and miles of navigable (by canoe and kayak) waterways. The easiest and only way to tour the fascinating backwaters is to launch a canoe at the new Philip Salafia Middletown boat launch on Johnson Street and navigate the Connecticut River until you reach the mouth of the Mattabassett. An interesting note, the Mattabassett were a tribe of native Americans who called an area from the Connecticut River and west to what is now Berlin, home. Mattabassett is the original, and native American name for Middletown. Wesleyan biologist Barry Chernoff, along with John Hall of the Jonah Center often organized informative paddle tours of the watery wonderland. It's a shame there isn't one being offered this weekend.
This prestigious and well-loved craft guild was founded in 1948 as a guild to foster the crafts. It continues to offer classes and its gallery displays juried pottery, glass and ceramics from the craftspeople associated with Wesleyan Potters and from artisans around the country. It's a great place to find a one-of-a-kind gift. But it's your bad luck that Bowlapalooza is next weekend (Friday May 29). It's a wonderful fundraiser with food, music and pottery in which your $10 admission entitles you to pick a pottery piece from the Bowlapalooza table. Wesleyan Potters is located at 350 South Main St.
The Sri Satyanarayana temple at 11 Training Hill Road is also known as The Connecticut Valley Hindu Temple Society. It comprises the state's largest and most active Hindu spiritual community. Numerous daily temple services and weekly poojas revolve on an accessible schedule, and visitors are welcome to tour the beautiful grounds. The temple features a splendid setting and thoughtfully appointed deity statuary, as well as a warm and friendly atmosphere. Graceful, pristine white marble and delicate tapestries complement the open space and airiness of the building.
The Other College
Middlesex Community College, is also on Training Hill Road, in the hills on the South side of town, and sometimes referred to as MxCC, it's part of the state's community college system. A two-year college, it offers a variety of degrees, is a feeder school for four-year universities, and it also offers certificate programs in accounting,
television broadcasting, early childhood development, web development, hazardous waste handling and several other disciplines. It also offers weekend and evening courses for adult learners. The grounds, on one of the highest hills in town, looks out over the Connecticut River valley, and is the site of ArtFarm's summer drama festival, Shakespeare in the Grove, which presents The Servant of Two Maters, a classic Italian comedy by Carlo Gordoni, this year.
After a year or two on campus you've likely found Stop and Shop, Waldbaum's and now Aldi. But you're not likely to have stumbled on this hidden ruby. Sure to offend any vegetarian or vegan, Meadow Meat is an old-fashioned wholesale and retail butcher shop, where the day's cuts and catches are posted on a blackboard, and you make your purchases by stepping directly into the meat locker where you'll find a counter surrounded by cuts of chicken, beef and pork. The prices are very reasonable, especially if you're buying in quantity, and the advice is expert. Want to know how to cook a spoon roast? Just ask. On the days leading up to summer holidays like this one, the lines can be very long, winding down the concrete loading-dock stairs. And don't wear a sleeveless shirts and shorts. When it's time for you to squeeze past the plastic curtained doorway, you'll find a shorter queue inside, but you're likely to experience hypothermia if you're exposing too much flesh. You can find Meadow Meat by traveling East on River Road, making a right when you have to on Eastern Drive, going under the railway trestle, and it's the non-descript industrial building on the right painted, appropriately enough, blood red. Better make your visit now, because in the grand plan to redevelop Middletown's riverfront, this old-fashioned butcher shop may victim to high-end condo development.
While not technically in Middletown (we're only talking a matter of yards), Miller's Pond State Park is a beautiful freshwater site that's perfect for picnics, gentle hikes and swimming. It's not an official state swim site, so there're no lifeguards, and lots of sub-surface boulders, so divers need beware. It's also not a site that all of you have missed. Miller's is known at Wes as a place for an impromptu picnic - bread and cheese and the appropriate mind-altering substance - and then a swim, often sans suits. So you had your skinny dipping fun, why not recommend it to your parents, and your roomates' parents as a way to cool down. And if the thought of that is too disgusting to bear, tell them to head out Millbrook Road, continue onto Foothills Road, and settle in for a late afternoon "picnic."
The Airline Billy Joel Took
The beautiful old swing railroad bridge over the Connecticut River was once a part of the Airline Railroad. While "airline" and "railroad" seem not to go together, the Airline Railroad was a line which ran from Middletown to Providence for the Providence and Worcester Railroad along a rail built through the hills on a series of trestles. The rail bed still exists and is called the Airline Trail and is used for hiking and biking, and is accessible in East Hampton. Billy Joel used the railway bridge across the Connecticut for his music video of the song River of Dreams. Walking on the bridge is prohibited, but you can get a close look at it just off deKoven Drive.
Mt. Higby is a beautiful example of the traprock ridges that run north-south the length of our state. Higby Mountain, at 892' is the highest point in Middletown, and offers spectacular views all along the ridgeline.
To the north is Lamentation Mountain (also partly in Middletown), due west is Chauncey Peak (in Meriden), and to the southwest is the valley containing Meriden, Wallingford, and other towns along I91.
There are three different access points to the Higby Mountain Trail (with a car or bicycle shuttle, you can do a nice one-way trip). The nicest place to start is at Tynan Park, on Higby Road at the intersection of Sisk Street. A well-worn trail leads from the dirt parking area into the forest, across some hayfields, and onto the slopes of Higby Mountain.
Another access point is at Guida'srestaurant on Route 66 (itself a fantastic destination for the very best milkshakes in the area). They have a big parking lot at the rear. The trail starts very close to the highway, on the west side of Guida's. Finally, Mt. Higby can be accessed from a turnout on Country Club Road, about 200 yards from the I91 on-ramp. Look for a dirt road on the south side of Country Club (there is a for sale sign there). Follow the dirt road, which is called Massatom Road (no signs though), up the mountain, and then follow the blue-blazed trail markers along the ridge.
Speaking of Guida's, on the other side of town, the Guida Family Preserve at the end of Coleman Road, offers a short an lovely loop hike through former farm pastures, meadows and woodlands.
Henry Clay Work House.You'll find a bust of this relatively unknown songwriter of the Civil War era, appropriately enough, in Union Park on the South end of Main St. (the South green now also features a flock of black speaker posts which blare either country or classical music, which is reportedly enough to drive vagrants from the park's benches, but also enough to drive anyone looking for a peaceful downtown sojourn, crazy). Clay was the composer of such classics as Grandfather's Clock, and Marching Through Georgia and was born in Middletown but lived much of his life elsewhere. A printer by occupation, Work came to songwriting by avocation. Biggest little known fact: the tune of his song, The Ship That Never Returned was used for the classic country music song (in fact the first million selling record, ever), The Wreck of the Old 97, recorded by artists as diverse as Vernon Dalhart and Johnny Cash. The same tune was used for a hit song of the sixties, M.T.A. by the Kingston Trio. The Henry Clay Work house still stands on Mill Street.
A hotly debated section of town for many years. Recently, it's been in the news because a new gas-fired energy plant is being built there, and because the Army proposed building an Army Reserve Training Center there (which was eventually built in Cucia Park, on the Eastern border of town). This Southeastern corner of Middletown (a section as large as neighboring Cromwell), is mostly wild, rugged and beautiful as it hugs a broad turn in the Connecticut River. But it's also home to a power plant, a jet engine manufacturing plant, and an old feldspar quarry.
You likely read about Maromas when tragedy struck the Kleen Energy power plant there in February 2009. An explosion at the plant, resulting from a purging of pipelines with natural gas, destroyed the plant and killed six workers and injured many others. The investigation into what the causes of the explosion were is still underway.
Maromas is eminently hikable, and if you're lucky you stumble on the rock shelter that was used by native Americans, and in the 19th century by the famous hobo, the Old Leatherman, who was made famous most recently in a Pearl Jam song, and received new acclaim in a volume published by the Wesleyan Press and written by Dan Deluca.
The "Insane Asylum"
The other institution on a hill in town is located to the East of Wesleyan, and visible from there. Legend has it that occasionally parents have mistaken Connecticut Valley Hospital for Wesleyan and have dropped their young student there. It's the hospital currently known to locals as CVH. Connecticut Valley constitutes the only state hospital dealing exclusively with mental health issues in the state. It's a huge campus, and the older, unoccupied buildings are a frightening example of "insane asylum" red brick Victorian architecture. But don't take any pictures, because you might get arrested.
|The Italian Society, where The Cantina |
is hidden in the basement.
Commencement weekend is among the busiest for Middletown's many restaurants. If you like Italian food, and pizza, you are in luck. But Middletown has a variety of food offerings. Some may be familiar, but some are brand new. Many are walkable from campus, and the rest are just a short drive away.
Walkable from campus.
Eli Cannon's - Arguably the best craft beer selection in Central Connecticut, curated by knowledgeable beer lovers. Pub grub. An eclectic-to-the-extreme, decor. And an outdoor patio/beach for a satisfying pint and some hot wings on a nice day.
O'Rourke's - If you've attended Wesleyan, then you've inevitably stood in line on Saturday or Sunday morning for some morning-after imaginative breakfast grub served up by the inimitable Brian O'Rourke.
Nora Cupcake - Not a restaurant, but where else could you get a chicken and waffles cupcake. Now known statewide because of the Nora Cupcake Truck, and Middletown's gift to hoighty-toighty West Hartford, in Nora's new location at Blue Black Square.
Krust - Creative takes on tradititional wood-fired pizza, and great whiskey. What more do you need to know?
It's Only Natural - For the vegan and vegetarian diners.
Brew Bakers Cafe (North) - A North-of-Washington offshoot of the popular breakfast and brunch spot for Wesleyan students. If you don't want to be elbowing blurry-eyed college students, this breakfast and lunch nook is an alternate to the original.
Iguanas Ranas - fresh, affordable, tasty, authentic Mexican.
Lan Chi - The Vietnamese food is great here, but owner Chu Ngo makes everyone feel welcome, and she's become the unofficial ambassador for Main Street Middletown.
Luce - great place to bring all the relatives visiting for graduation for a quality sit-down meal.
Esca Wine Bar - another great place for a family meal, with upscale Italian fare, fine wine and well-crafted cocktails.
Mikado Sushi Bar and Grille - great place for Sushi, around the corner from Main Street, and down a flight of stairs for a real Japanese experience.
Camp's - comfort food with an attitude. Upend your expectations of home-cooking. Casual and dining at a leisurely pace.
New England Emporium - coffee, crepes, salads and sandwiches, and the anchor of the Main Street Market.
El Pulpo - Spanish cuisine and tapas worth the short walk through Main Street Market.
Typhoon - the bastion of Thai cuisine in Middletown. I recommend the Drunken Noodles.
Celtic Cavern - not the easiest to find, but worth it when you do. Gastropub with a respectable taplist often filled with Connecticut-brewed favorites.
Perk on Main - one of the newest restaurants on Middletown's Main Street. Perk On Main has been a successful draw in neighboring Durham for years, and they bring a wide variety of sweet and savory crepes, along with sandwiches and coffee to the cozy space on the main drag.
Firore II - classic Italian fare from this favorite on Main Street.
La Boca - the bar is always hopping, the food is always plentiful and the margaritas are satisfying and strong. On Friday's and Saturdays La Boca offers some of the most interesting live music in Middletown's downtown.
Forbidden City - forget your preconceived notions of Chinese fare. Forbidden City offers upscale dining, fine wine and cocktails.
Mezzo Grille - A chophouse around the corner from Main on Court Street. A big bar with big screens, and a lovely courtyard on a nice night. A hangout for Middletown's finest when they're off-duty.
Cafe 56 - If you're lucky, you'll find you're way here for breakfast or lunch on Friday or Saturday of Commencement Weekend. Chef Sabrina Cortes offers her take on the cuisine of the Americas. A hidden gem on Court Street.
Cantina - If you can't get a local Sicilian family to cook you a dinner while you're in town, this is the second best. Hidden in the basement of the Italian Society on Court Street, don't expect much in the way of atmosphere, but be prepared for huge portions of old-school Italian cooking.
Kleckolo - For nearly 25 years serving the best coffee in Middletown. Sit down at the table, and you're liable to be sitting next to a politician, professor, skate punk or anarchist.
Amici Grill - Another example of fine Italian food on Middletown's Main Street.
First and Last - And some more great Italian food and pizza on Main Street.
Tschudin Chocolates - A must-stop for any chocolate lover on an amble down Main Street. Tschudin has gained national notoriety with features on the Food Network and in Yankee Magazine.
Herd - Finally, an honest-to-god steak house in downtown Middletown. Newly opened, and just steps off Main Street in the Metro Square Shopping Plaza.
Puerto Vallara - Tex/mex giant burritos, sizzling fajitas and generous helpings of all things Mexican in the Metro Square Shopping Plaza.
Mi Argentina - Argentinian pastries, coffee, entrees and empanadas of many varieties numbered for your convenience.
The Hop Knot - imagine all the ways you could twist a pretzel into a meal, and you've got some idea of what The Hop Knot offers. One of the brand new restaurants on Main Street, which also offers a sizable craft beer tap list.
Tuscany - Did I mention really good Italian food in Middletown? Here's another one, just around the corner from Main on College Street.
The Green Room Cafe - family-run, truly hidden gem and a great place for lunch, but you're liable to walk by without noticing it, as it's in the underbelly of the concrete parking garage on College Street, a half-block West of Main.
Moonlight Sushi - Sushi, hibachi and bento boxes in a building that may strangely resemble a Burger King, because that's what it once was.
Pho 170 - newly-opened Pho joint on Main Street.
Brewbakers (South) - I've sat at the counter with my twin sons every Sunday for 12 years and have enjoyed watching the controlled chaos as townies and Wes students vie for a booth, a coffee drink and a bagel. A regular weekend hangout for Wesleyan students.
Mattabessett Canoe Club - the only Middletown Restaurant on the banks of the Connecticut River. A lovely place to sit on a sunny day, or a warm evening, for a drink and a sandwich, or something that came out of the sea at the end of the river.
Thai Gardens - since 2000, a little bit of Thailand on the corner of Main and College Streets.
Asian - from Lo Mein to Thai curry, and many Asian stops in between, Asian has an entire corner of the world covered.
Tavern at the Armory - if you're one of the lucky families to find a room in Middletown's only hotel downtown, the Tavern is a great place to grab a traditional meal. Even if you're not staying the night, the food is good.
Mondo - When Mondo opened one might have thought "another Pizza joint" and one might have been wrong. Mondo was one of the first non-traditional pizza, pizza joints in town, and it still serves some of the most interesting and tasty pies, along with other Italian fare.
Bread and Water - fine Italian cuisine served in what was Middletown's mid-nineteenth century jailhouse. Excellent food in a unique setting, and just a short walk from the Butts.
Nardelli's - we call them grinders around here, but you might know them as subs, hoagies or po' boys. More protein stuffed into a roll then you can likely eat at any meal. Just off campus on Washington Street.
A short drive away
Illiano's - many people claim this is Middletown's best pizza. It's been around a long time, and its popularity has not waned. With one on Washington Street and one on South Main, you can barely get out of town without passing one. You might want to try the scaciatta or the stromboli, but the local favorites are the buffalo chicken pizza and the white clam.
Taino - up until a few weeks ago, Middletown's only barbecue joint. Tiny, eclectic and usually packed, on busy weekends the ribs can be sold out before you make your way to the cash register. Here's what the NY Times said.
Jerry's - another contender for Middletown's favorite pies.
Uduphi Bhavan - people in the know say this is the real deal. South Indian vegetarian cuisine. If you visit, you'll likely be eating with many of the area's Indian families.
Fresh Tomato - I guess one must suspect a pizza restaurant that features a hamburger and fries as it's Facebook page header, but this place has been receiving raves for its farm-to-table approach to pizza. Ignore the strip mall location and focus on the food.
Haveli - a standby Indian restaurant, and favorite of visiting Wesleyan families.
Red Fox Restaurant - a newcomer to Middletown, and a spot not likely to be found by Wes students or visiting families, the Red Fox features an inventive Italian-leaning menu. The New York Times found some nice things to say.
Coyote Blue - on the outskirts of Maromas, Coyote Blue offers a New England interpretation of Tex-Mex with some dangerously strong margaritas. Designated drivers recommended.
Blue Oar - not in Middletown but a twenty minute drive from campus, the Blue Oar is a local casual, on-the-river spot with great seafood and burgers. It's BYOB, and al fresco dining is required, so the restaurant is closed on rainy days.
Middletown was once heavily industrialized, shipping everything from rubber banding to fertilizer from its deep water port (and importing opium in the "China trade.") One of the things manufactured here was the Noiseless Typewriter. The Noiseless company was bought by Remington, which became Remington Rand. The company was the site of a bitter labor dispute in the thirties, and the company later was involved in early electronic development, including creating a television camera designed to aid in the launch of guided missles. Today, the city of Middletown owns the site, after another attempted sale fell through this year due to its status as a brownfield, and it is the home of a number of small companies. Go to the North end of High Street, then turn right onto North Main and you'll find the gate to the old factory.
An addendum from Beth Emery
The Noiseless Typewriter company was originally the Keating Wheel Company established in 1897. They manufactured bicycles and then motorcycles. I knew this to be part of the history the building and went online to see if I could find dates. From The Salafia Property report commissioned by the Jonah Center for Earth and Art in 2006, I found out the following information. (http://www.thejonahcenter.
Barley, Yeast and Water, Crafted in Middletown
If you're a craft beer fan, there are plenty of spots where you can find the best of Connecticut. Check out brews from New England Brewery (Woodbridge CT, 20 minutes from campus - beer to have:G Bot), Firefly Hollow (Bristol, CT, 20 minutes from campus - beer to have: Coneflakes) Thimble Island and DuVig Breweries (Branford, CT 35 minutes from campus - beers to have, respectively Ghost Island and DuVig Cream Ale) and Steady Habit Brewing, Haddam CT, 20 minutes from campus - beer to have Our Daily Bread). In town, these beers can be found at Eli Cannons, Krust, the Hop Knot and the Celtic Cellar.
But a short fifteen minute walk will bring you to two Middletown breweries located in the Remington Rand building, on Johnson street, mentioned above.
Stubborn Beauty is open Friday evenings, and Saturday afternoon for tastings and growler fills in their taproom. Naughty Eskimo, Nummy Nummy and Conqueror are favorites.
In the same building, through the same doorway, you can find the just-opened Forest City Brewing company. Doors opened last week, but reviews are good for their American/English style IPA and their ginger Saison. Reports are that their taproom is only open on Saturday afternoon.
A Cool Italian Idea
Vechitto's Italian Ice is an institution in Middletown (and on the CT shoreline). It's tiny, nondescript