Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve Reminder

As I write this (10 a.m.), the snow is swirling around and sticking to the roads making tough to maneuver. The forecast claims that the worst should be over by mid-afternoon.

Therefore, you may still want to make plans to go to Neely Bruce's "All Mozart New Year's Eve Concert" at 7 p.m. in South Congregational Church, 9 Pleasant Street.  The program, free and open to the public, includes "Sonata in A minor, K. 310", "Fantasy and Fugue in C major, K. 394", and "Sonata in D major, K. 284".  Phyllis Bruce (soprano) will join her pianist husband who promises that the concert won't last more than an hour, leaving time for a short reception and enough leeway to make plans for the rest of the evening.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Quentin Phipps Proposed as Replacement for Fortuna on Planning and Zoning Commission

Democrat Quentin Phipps has resigned his position as alternate on the Planning and Zoning Commission to prepare for his likely assignment as a regular member to replace James Fortuna who died last month unexpectedly. Quipp's resignation was received Wednesday by the Town Clerk, though it was mailed before the Christmas holiday. His name is the only name on the Common Council agenda for replacement of Fortuna.

"It's unfortunate it had to happen this way," Phipps said. "Jim was always great to me. And I think he'd approve of me replacing him."

Phipps was forced to issue his resignation as an alternate, before his appointment as a regular so as not to delay the appointment.

"I'm very excited about this opportunity," Phipps said. "I think I can bring some compromise to the leadership problems the commission has been experiencing, and I look forward to being able to vote on every issue, and to be able to comment on issues without constraint."

The mayor has informed the Common Council that they are obliged to appoint a replacement for Phipps as an alternate within 30 days.

Judith Russo Resigns From Board of Ed

In a letter to the City Clerk, and to Board of Education chairman, Ted Raczka, Democratic member of the board Judith Russo has resigned citing "health issues."

Russo received the second-highest vote count for Democratic Board of Ed candidates in the November elections.

According to BOE chair Ted Raczka, Russo is facing knee surgeries as a result of a fall several months back.

"She thought she'd be missing all of February, March and April," Raczka said. "And she thought that was unfair to the board."

Russo's resignation was sent to Raczka and Town Clerk Sandra Russo-Driska who forwarded it to the mayor. The mayor has informed the Common Council that a replacement must be selected within 30 days. The Council will select and vote in a replacement either at their next regular meeting. Democratic BOE candidate Bill Grady is on the Council agenda as a proposed replacement for Russo. Grady was the next highest vote getter on the Democratic ticket with 3705 votes in the November election.

"Usually, if it's a Republican resignation the Council appoints a Republican, and if it's a Democratic resignation, they appoint a Democrat," Raczka said. "I hope they act quickly because we have a busy couple of months coming up with redistricting and budget."

"I'm certainly going to miss Judy," Raczka said. "She worked hard, and she was good-hearted."

Here is Russo's letter in full:

Please accept this email correspondence as my resignation from the Board of Education of the City of Middletown effective as of this date.

I have greatly enjoyed my time as a member of the Board of Education but have learned recently that my future participation will be severely limited during the next year and possibly beyond due to health issues. The business of the Board of Education requires the full participation of the members. It would be improper to remain when I know I will not be able to do so.

I offer my best wishes to my Board colleagues and the entire school system

Enrolled, a Webseries: Inside the Minds and Dorms of Wes Students

In case you ever wondered what goes through the minds of the "typical" Wesleyan students, the well-produced, well-written and well-acted Wesleyan web series, Enrolled, just issued its second webisode.

Of course, it's fiction, but fiction base in the reality of campus life in the Mid.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Margarita's Is Closing, Owner Showing Interest in Middletown

It's a bittersweet week for Dan Garza, owner of Margarita's in Canton, which will serve its last meal this week.

The Hartford Courant reported last Thursday
that the restaurant, which has been around since 1981, and was a pioneering Mexican eatery (along with La Boca here in Middletown) in the area, will shut it's doors, but that Dan Garza was considering opening a new place in Middletown.

"It's actually been a plan that's been around for seven or eight years," Garza said in a phone interview Monday. "I've been looking at places with Trevor Davis for that long. He's always got me in mind when a lease becomes available."

Garza was planning to partner with former educator Dexter Locker to open up a spot that would feature food along with music, and perhaps some theater. They had their eye on the old Capitol Theater, which has been shuttered for years. Unfortunately Locker died several months ago, and those plans of a partnership ended with Locker's death.

But Garza still has his eye on Middletown.

"Frankly, real estate in the Farmington Valley is much too expensive for a place like ours, and I'm pretty sure I could get a better lease in Middletown," Garza said. "Middletown's a good spot. Seven or eight years ago Trevor told me to watch what was going to happen to Middletown's Main Street. You wouldn't have believed it then, but look what happened."

For now, Garza is concentrating on closing down his successful cantina, and passing ownership to the people who, coincidentally, own Forbidden City, and Char Koon in Glastonbury.

"I'm looking at January and February," he said. "Those are the two toughest months in the restaurant business. And here, in Canton, I said, 'No way.' But I've always liked Middletown. We'll see what lies in the future."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Out of One Year and Into Another

Tuesday December 29:
The Russell Library continues its Teen Anime Film series with a presentation of "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind", the 1984 animated film by Hayao Miyazaki. According to the film's website (click here), the story revolves around "Nausicaa, the princess of a small nation who lives in a world devastated by a holocaust called the "Seven Days of Fire." She tries to stop other warring nations from destroying themselves and from destroying the only means by which their world can be saved from the spread of polluted wastelands." The screening takes place at 4 p.m. in the Hubbard Room and refreshments will be served.  The event s free and open to all. For more information, call 860-347-2528, extension 135.
Wednesday December 30:
You have but one more day to check out the "natural images" of photographer Ross Powell currently on display in The Buttonwood Tree. The Cromwell resident (and Connecticut native) has many peaceful photographs to remind one how beautiful this area can be. Call 860-347-4957 for viewing times.

Thursday New Year's Eve:
South Church, corner of Main & Pleasant Street, presents pianist Neely Bruce performing an all-Mozart program at 7 p.m.  Joining him will be his wife Phyllis, a fine soprano.  The event is open to the public and an offering will be taken for the Church's Organ Fund.

New Year's Day 2010:
The Friends of the Long Hill Estate and the Long Hill Estate Authority presents the 11th Annual New Year's Day Open House, scheduled to take place from 1 - 4 p.m.  There will be carriage rides and guided trail walks (weather permitting) and bluegrass music featuring Amy Gallatin & Stillwaters.  Light refreshments and docent-led tours of the building are also on the day's menu. The event is free and open to the public.  For more information, go to or call 860-347-1064.
On Sunday January 3, my radio pal at WMRD-AM 1150 Ed Henry celebrates his 60th year (!) of his weekly "Polish Melodies Show."  When the show began in 1950, Harry Truman was the President and Chester Bowles was governor of the state.  Nat "King" Cole had a big hit with "Mona Lisa" and Patti Page was all the rage with "Tennessee Waltz". The top movies of the year were "All About Eve", "The Asphalt Jungle" and Walt Disney's "Cinderella"  The Cold War was is full swing and the Korean conflict began.  Mr. Henry will be celebrating on air (as he does every week - his shows are usually filled with joy) - tune in from 10-11 a.m. 

Happy New Year all and have a good, safe, celebration!

Common Council Community Meeting Schedule

Now that the public is not welcome to comment on "Items Not On the Agenda" during regular Common Council meetings, the Council has accommodated public discourse at a new set of Community meetings.

These monthly meetings will be held on regularly scheduled Tuesdays and Thursdays at locations throughout the city. At these meetings the public will be invited to address the Council on any and all issues of concern.

The meeting schedule can be found on the city's website.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

From 1909: The Delights of Woods in Winter

This article is from 100 years ago today, published in the Hartford Courant on December 27, 1909. This is a glorious description of a wild and beautiful landscape which still today has pockets of primeval character. Unfortunately, the article's author is not identified; if I didn't know better I might attribute it to John Muir, as it has the same breathless worship of a desolate wilderness.

The magnificent photographs are all by Barrie Robbins-Pianka.
Enjoyment from a Day's Tramp Down River

Wild country to be found South of Middletown
Long Walk a Panacea for many troubles

An open winter has its own particular joys, and among them are the true delights of the woods, for strange to say, the latter make a better tramping ground than in the months when the foliage is thick. The woodsy places up and down the Connecticut River are veritable delights for those who love a tramp in the open. The true joy in living is only for those who are willing to get into the
open, the further away from the haunts of man the better, and if possible to reach a place where an occasional woodchopper's ax is the only discord in nature's harmony of breeze and underbrush.

The air has a crispness and tinkle and smells clean and wholesome and, what is more, there is a call in itself in the short noon sunshine. Really one is very responsive to the various moods of nature during this season of the winter. It is true there is more fun going to the square inch in the woods at this time, with the leaves under foot, and the sapless branches crackling and the frost crunching and the thick moss and groundpine yielding under boot like a thick carpet, minus the dust and the steam pipes.

The delights of wood travel are now akin to those received from tramping in the forest during the hot days of the summer; only it is better, keener and more inspiring. To be sure it is no lazy man's job. To travel right it is necessary to travel light, even in the middle of December, but the joy is in the poetry of motion, if one is in good health, and endowed with a determination to go fast enough to keep warm.

The first question, of course, that interests the native of Hartford or Middletown or any of the larger centers of living is where to find the best spot for this sort of an outing, and answer in most cases to be any place or stretch along the Connecticut River. There's no doubt that the scenic beauty of the Connecticut is neglected. Expecially in the winter a river seems a sort of cold and dreary spot. The question is--is it?

When the sun is out in mid day, and there is just frost enough to make the footing good and a ripple in the stream that defies the faint hearted attmepts of the lagging season to convert it into ice, then a river has a certain charm of its own.

It isn't always that a stream, robbed of its vernal splendor, will captivate the imagination. The roll of the Connecticut seems to do this, as it wends its way, now from north to south, now running almost east and then southeast while the high tide from the Sound forces the thin plates of new ice steadily upstream.

Of course there are other rivers dear to the hearts of those who have the forest wanderlust. There is the Farmington for instance, but the Farmington lacks grandeur. The Connecticut shows more plainly the marks of a gigantic struggle with the titantic [sic?] forces of the past, and the earth crust has been rippled and burst in scores of places that mere picturesque scars on the landscape.

It is from the top of these that beautiful views can be had that will be a lasting delight to the mind. It is along the tops of many of these wooded cliffs and banks, running high into the air that the venturesome traveler will be amply repaid by the view of stream and forest and of cliff and watery vistas.

To ramble properly it is necessary to get as far from the haunts of mankind as possible. It''s rather difficult to place civilization so very far in the rear, but there are stretches along the river that only the spot-light of the night boat touches during the journey from the island of Manhattan to Hartford. These are a joy to the eye during the summer, but there is as much joy in being on the very place in the winter and possessing the wilderness all to yourself.

Above Higganum and Maromas the river takes a bend and in the bend there is a little forest of wild land that is rapidly getting back to the time when the Indians paddled up and down in birch bark canoes. The top of the tract is near the high bluffs that mark the entrance to the narrows where the beacon light swings all night to keep the boats in the channel. Along the river on the south bank this land has become almost primeval. The ridges run for hundreds of feet above the river, and the outcroppings stand right up against the sky line on the journey to the Sound for several miles. Ending in them or having their start at the river are numerous north and south ridges that parallel each other through the section at distances of not more than a quarter of a mile. Each is crowned with its own particular cap of weatherbeaten granite, atop of which the scrub pines and hemlocks struggle for a living with the blasts of winter.

Geologically, the country is interesting and it is picturesque as well. A rough triangle or tetragon, including the bend of the river and the necessary hinterland might, possibly, include twenty-five or thirty miles. Within it the old workings of the granite quarries and the switchbacks stretch their abandoned and grades along the sides of the mountains [sic].

If the state wanted a natural hunting ground or game preserve it could not do better than to acquire this land. The ground is nearly devoid of human habitation and the rocks are full of caves for sheltering all sorts of wild animals. The thickets of laurel are green the year around and the dense underbrush protects numerous grouse and wild rabbits that scurry across the wood paths. Back in isolated spots are cellars that were once topped by dwelling places. Now all is as desolate as the traditional deserted village. Here and there is a clearing, where crops were grown years ago and a small part of it would still afford pasturage. The roads that wind through this reverted wilderness have been filled up by a steady growth of wood and the
houses have their windows boarded up or else all open to the weather. Ruins of barns and outbuildings and small patches of cleared space
about show where a truck garden was that farming was done. What impresses one most of all is the utter desolation of it, and probably the state would be put to it to find a wilder spot. It is certainly pleasant to ramble through. On one side the road stretches to Higganum and Middletown. On the north and the east the river forms an ever interesting boundary. It is into just some such spot as this that a winter tramp in the woods is most enjoyable. Shun the highways and lanes and wood roads and take right straight across country wherever there is a good climb and good prospect for an extensive view. The cross country jaunt, through the underbrush, with the leaves rustling under your feet and the brambles scratching on your puitees or leggins is part of the joy. The climb up every crag or cliff that looks worth while is a panacea for every known ill that afflicts mankind and the view from the summit where possibly you can smoke your pipe in the lee of a granite ledge is the reward.

There is about everything in a climb of this nature that goes to the uttermost joy of living. There is variety and variety is the spice of life as we all know. There is scope for ingenuity in getting to the top of the rocky outcroppings and there are caves all along the other side, where the frost has cropped the granite off in masses as big as a small house.
Nearly every cliff has one or two caves. Sometimes the particular ridge will abound in them and lead to unusual explorations, where one can crawl through passages that go up and down.

From the entrance to the narrows the riverside of this little natural park gives a view of the country for miles to the north and west. Portland, of course, and beyond, up what looks like an illimitable distance, is Glastonbury, and still further north, in a nearly direct line, is Hartford. The mountain formations that form the setting of the city of Rockville are easily seen, and further down are all the hills so familiar to those traveling over the Air Line. Opposite, the bluffs are full of small cottages, whose steps lead down to the edge of the river. Just back of the jaws of the narrows, one can distinguish the pot-holes and cylinders left by the ebb and flow of the mighty ice torrents of centuries past. The scars in the face of the rock, just above the present level, are easily discerned as well as the rock cylinders and grindstones that wore the holes.

Here and there in the forest, is the sound of an ax and once or twice a day the sound of blasting above Benvenue. The outcrop skirts along the river and following it one can secure a beautiful panorama. In the bold, clear sunshine everything and every natural feature stands out in silhouette and there are beautiful vistas up and down stream of the heights above, crowned with scrub oak and pines and darkening to a dull slate color the running water that during the summer reflects the brighter hues of that season.

In the base of the rock that affords the best view of the Capitol you will find an extensive fox cavern. Near the entrance and further in are bones, some of them evidently from a sheep. Down further, still following the hight, is a beautifully graded and grass grown highway along the face of the mountain. This is part of the old switchback that, years ago, carried the granite to the landing several miles below. The site of the old stone workings are not very far away and by following the path you can see them. All through the woods are traces of old boundary lines. Fences have long ago been turned to pulp, and stone walls have been overtopped by the frost and separated by strong young saplings. Now and then is a relic of a former survey, a pile of stones surmounted by a flat rock and near it the three trees, or the stumps of them, used as reference marks. Down below in the gulleys and ravines are swamps and water courses, sometimes flag swamps, and sometimes small ponds that, in seasons of the year, must be excellent cover for waterfowl. Indeed it would be difficult in any portions of the state to find such excellent cover for game and such an abundance of human habitations. Not for several miles is there an inhabited house and the prospect is as wild and desolate as could be wished.

Through all this is it possible to tramp for all day or half a day, noting the excellent cover for grouse and, scaring up plenty of them. There are gray squirrels, that haven't learned to be afraid of their biped enemies, and which will chatter empty nothings from a branch over you head.Berries are abundant, especially wintergreen which spreads out like a thick carpet. Acorns, hazelnuts, and hickorynuts [sic] furnish a good living for many of the wild inhabitants. After skirting the river, the switchback turns abruptly south and leads over to the new granite workings, also abandoned. Houses are here, but none of them have occupants, save chipmonks [sic] that run in and out of the eves and scamper along the roofless stone sheds.

Consult your pocket compass now and go due north for a half-mile. Overlooking the quarry and about three-quarters of a mile away is a steep ledge of rocks. As a matter of course climb it to get your bearings and running into the base is a big cavern, not unlike the sort the regicides occupied. The sides of the rock seem to have been hard and soft alternately and several of the soft layers have melted away. At all events a hole runs into the earth and the large aperture merges into a smaller one about which are the ashes of the last fire that threatened the serenity of the poor reynard. Over at the other opening, for there usually is another, are faint signs of a forest tragedy. The ground is scratched up. There are bits of fur adhering to the fragments round about and all things point to the passing of a forest wandered. Another squint at the compass now, for you have varied from the west line by the distance of the ledge to the north, and a line run over rock and valley, through gulch and thicket, will if run due west, strike an abandoned road leading to civilization.

Thus you will return, glutted with pleasure, redolent with woodcraft, and at peace with all the animal kingdom. Your hands are free from blood guilt; your face is flushed with the sting of the frost, and your frame exercised from toe to crown with those stiff climbs and agile sidesteppings to get away from the rebound of parted underbrush.

All overhead your ears have been soothed all day by the whisper of the winds through the tree tops and the gentle rustle of the leaves under foot. The crackle and snap of dried twigs has been a pure enjoyment to your senses. The smell of the hemlock and pine is in your nostrils, lending a balm and fragrant peace to your conscience and you have five times the true joy of living that can be gained in any other way.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Russo Says Water Rates Among Lowest in Area

Based on information he found in a Meriden Record Journal story, Water and Sewer Director Guy Russo has sent a letter to the Common Council explaining that the new rates in town will still be among the lowest in the area.

According to Russo:

I have produced the following table for their use. The rates listed below normalizes Middletown's
rates to 100 cubic feet, so they match the rates quoted in the article. Also, Wallingford's sewer rate is based on 75% usage, and that has been normalized to be based on 100% usage, as are all the other towns listed, and as is Middletown's.

Water Rate Sewer Rate
Meriden $3.05 $2.75
Wallingford $2.88 $2.80
Southington $2.25 $2.90
Middletown $2.48 $2.57

Please note that the Middletown Sewer Rate is the new rate that
is going into affect on January 1, 2010. I would also note that of these
Middletown's Sewer Rate is lowest, and our Water Rate is second lowest.
I am not a fan of direct rate comparisons is that they do not reflect
the capitalization to the system, nor the maintenance to make
technological improvements. For those of you who have seen the inside of
our water plants know the efforts we have made to keep our investment
maintained. As for pipe replacement for both water and sewer, I know
that you are aware of all the efforts we have made with aggressively
managing our in field infrastructure, and pump stations. Based on
conversations with my cohorts in the industry, we are in the upper tier
of such replacements.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Community Christmas Dinner at First Church

The room was packed with almost as many volunteers as diners as First Church hosted its annual Community Christmas dinner where all are welcome to dine on Christmas Day.

"We have almost too many volunteer," church member Trevor Davis said. "They're bumping into one another. I can't think of any other Middletown event where there are this many people who show up to help."

"We'll serve about two hundred meals here today," even coordinator Julie Hurlburt said. "But we've already delivered sixty meals to the Eddy Shelter, and delivered 85 meals to people who couldn't make it here today."

Hurlburt demurred when asked about the difficulties in coordinating such an event.

"It doesn't work unless the volunteers show up, and you can see they have," she said. "I'm ust the conductor. They're the orchestra."

This is a meal that was almost outlawed this year. In the controversy over Food Not Bombs earlier this year, this Christmas tradition was threatened when it was discovered that state law prevented meals not cooked in a licensed kitchen to be served to the public. Many of the turkeys and ham served today were prepared in ovens at the homes of volunteers. In a protracted battle which ended with a change in state law, it is now legal for charitable organizations to serve meals prepared in non-licensed kitchens to those in need.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It’s Only Natural Restaurant

Fear and Loathing in Middletown

One cannot help but agree with the concept and principle of It’s Only Natural (ION). The food that we put into our bodies should be of the highest purity, unadulterated so that it can do our bodies the least harm, the most good. We have eaten at this Middletown institution many times and to say that it is the best vegan vegetarian restaurant in town (and by “town” we mean northern and central CT) is faint praise only because it is the only vegetarian restaurant in town. (Whoops! I forgot Udupi Bhavan, an Indian Restaurant in the Tradewinds Plaza on Saybrook Road.). Aside from that, after every visit we come away with the most mixed-up feelings. We begin to have doubts and these doubts lead to self-recrimination, self-loathing, so that we begin to wonder how we have failed so miserably at being parents, educators, people. These fears are fueled by an incorrect omnivorous reality, knowing that in a day or two we will be firing up the Weber to the “as hot as it can get” setting to receive a thick porterhouse steak and then we will be serving that perfectly cross-hatched behemoth, red and juicy, slathered with portabella mushrooms that have been sautéed in a non-stick frying pan with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and a pat of butter. Of course, our cravings further require crusty French bread, a bottle of full-throttle red wine, and, oh yes, a salad. So while we are eating at ION we begin to feel our guilt mounting, our stupidity growing, and we begin to realize that our whole way of life is completely and irretrievably wrong. When we walk out the door at ION we always make a pact to shoot each other the first chance we get.

Happily, this all can be blamed on our parents. And this is another lesson that the ION school teaches – taste is a habituated response. We have learned to appreciate some tastes because we know them well and when we encounter something that doesn’t fall into our “knowing zone” we tend to think that it doesn’t “taste good”. We like what we know rather than know what we like. This is true in art, automobiles, clothes, music, even restaurant reviews. No one cared for the impressionists until everyone did, no one liked the VW Beetle until it became an icon, no one liked the mini-skirt – bad example – no one liked John Cage until there was Phil Glass – but I digress – you get the idea. Just as in architecture where form that follows function might be a means of measuring the beauty of a building, so too in the culinary world we might consider the basis for great cooking to rest on the foundation that it does the body the most good and then go from there. And, just as we adults have outgrown the overwhelming desire and conviction that eating candy all day is not only a tasty thing but a good thing, might not we outgrow our habituated need for red meat, artery clogging cheeses, or treats of saturated fat and sugar? That commercial that is currently airing showing a teen drinking a can of soda and the soda coagulating into fat that drips from his chin as he drinks sort of sums up the case.

Last week we were able to catch up on the latest offerings at ION. The menu hasn’t changed much, possibly gotten smaller, with a few new specials. Their commitment to their concept is stronger than ever. Everything on the menu was vegan (except for some cheddar and mozzarella cheese options), much was gluten-free. They use filtered water, stainless steel cookware (although their tableware was of the cheapest variety); all natural ingredients and they bake their own bread there daily. They also proudly state that they never have and never will use trans fat or microwaves. Even their beer and wine list leans heavily on organic offerings. Like “regular” wines these organic products can be great or execrable. (In the past, the “organic” modifier applied to wine meant drink soon, before it goes bad. Which sort of begs the question, “Is the first duty of wine or food to be “organic”?)

The Tempeh “Crab Cakes”, came on a bed of greens and slivers of carrots. I found them under-spiced and the sauces too bland. Of course I am accustomed to making mine with Emeril’s BAM – whatever that is – so I prefer ‘em hot. In fairness, there is a bottle of spicy commercial sauce on the table to personally crank up the volume. Like all of the plates at ION, the ersatz Crab Cakes were beautiful to look at, artfully composed and presented. The sweet–potato fries are a headliner here and are really good. They are not as good cold, however, so eat them up right away. There’s usually not enough to share. Potato and spinach Pierogis were filling, served with apple “butter”, caramelized onions, brown rice, sautéed garlic, greens and tofu “sour cream”. Again, a little more flavor would have been welcomed. The Phyllo Lasagna layered with tofu “ricotta”, sautéed mushrooms, onions and peppers, was lavishly sauced with meatless and tasty bolognaise and garnished with crispy polenta toast points. Served over fresh greens, this dish would have looked at home in many of Middletown’s Italian kitchens and since it was about half as heavy, one could easily eat twice as much for equal gluttonous guilt!

One of the best things about dining at ION was leaving. And not just because we were escaping the self-loathing, but because afterwards we both thought we felt better – not heavy and over-stuffed, but filled and satisfied. One of us even thought we could go home and begin writing a restaurant review. Silly, that.

We feel compelled to mention the quirks of ION. A bit more pampering at dinner, over and above not having to cook or clean up, would be appreciated. Usually, relief from pain/drudgery is not enough to ensure our highest approbation. We want more! Flimsy paper napkins and bendy utensils are a clue that, unless it is a picnic, we are overpaying. (Prices for dinner at ION are nearly on a par with Middletown’s more accommodating restaurants.) There is local artwork on some walls that is for sale, a raft of “Best of” awards are plastered on another wall, there is sometimes a fortune teller reading palms for $20 each, the chairs are so rickety I had to search for one that would support my weight, there is chalk so that you can write on the table (must be a carry-over from WESU’s tradition of chalking the sidewalks and/or a diversion for youngsters), and the service can be erratic – although we do not have any complaints. The check figures out your 20% tip for you (!) and if you reserve a table for six they take your credit card. If you cancel, they charge it $50.00. Not sure if this threat is in earnest or just a reminder to “be good”. In short the restaurant is loaded with didactic personality. Did I forget to mention the the fact that the restaurant sells T-Shirts and Thongs that say, “Vegetarians Taste Better”? In a reversal of the old Charley the Tuna commercial, I think what they mean is, “Vegetarians have better taste”. Some will be able to take this personality in stride, but some others might turn and leave in a sprint.

Service was friendly and well-paced. Our waitress went the whole nine yards to enhance our experience.

The Facts: Tempeh Crab Cakes Appetizer $9, Pierogis $15, Phyllo Lasagna $17, Pint of Sierra Nevada $5, a bottle of Mionnetto Prosecco $32.

Please Note: The Weekly Eater will not be eating over the holidays but will resume with another review after the first of the year. Happy New Year to all!

First Church Community Christmas Celebrations

Christmas Eve in the Stable
Dec. 24, 6 p.m. at Daniels Farm

By sitting on bales of hay, with living, breathing animals nearby, our understanding of “God in the Flesh” will be deeply enriched. Daniels Farm is located on Millbook Road, 1.2 miles south of Randolph Road. A sign will be on the left side of the road. Turn left in the driveway and stay to the left. The barn where we will be is on the far left (north) side of the property as you face it from the road. Someone will be there to guide you for parking. It might help if you bring a flashlight, since the grounds outside the barn are dark and it can be wet or icy.

Candlelight Communion Service
Dec. 24, 10:00 p.m. in the sanctuary at 190 Court Street

Sermon, special music, Holy Communion, and Carols sung by candlelight at the close of the service. The offering received on Christmas Eve will be directed toward the Middletown Fuel Bank to help our neighbors with heating costs.

Free Community Christmas Day Dinner
Dec. 25, noon to 2 p.m. in the Parish Hall at 190 Court Street

Turkey, ham, potatoes, stuffing, pies, fruit, cookies, carol singing, and an abundance of Christmas joy and good will. Call 860-346-6657 x 15 for transportation or home delivery.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Speaking up for Children and Families, Jan 21

Nearly Flat Budget Proposed for Schools

In a brief school board meeting on Tuesday night, Superintendent Michael Frechette presented his recommendations for a $68,033,807 budget for the 2010-2011 school year (available on the web).

Describing it as the "lowest budget I've ever put together", Frechette proposed a slim 1.28% increase over the current year, or $859,520 more in expenses, while keeping all existing staff and programs. Typically, a budget would include a higher percentage increase even if it did not add any new programs, because of contracted raises for staff. Frechette repeatedly pointed to the cooperation of the teachers union in achieving such a small increase, noting that everyone is aware of the tough budget conditions at both the city and state levels.

He also said that he is hopeful that the 1.28% increase will be even lower when the ongoing negotiations are completed with Local 466 and the paraprofessionals union. As the school budget is 75% personnel costs, the outcome of the four relevant union contracts is the main factor in any budget proposal. Contracts have already been completed with the administrators and teachers unions, and each contains 0% increase in salaries and no step increase. For budgeting purposes, the superintendent's proposal contains projections of 2.5% increases for the remaining two unions, until the final numbers have been agreed upon.

The recent work of the district's new business manager, Nancy Haynes, working with Associate Superinendent Barbara Senges, has led to a number of changes in how the budget is reported. There are a number of lateral transfers of costs from one category to another. For example, the $97,000 which historically was recorded in the transportation line is now more accurately reported under the professional services line, since it represents the now outsourced EMT costs for medically fragile students during their commute to school.

Going forward, this sort of change will be a positive thing for understanding the district's budget. This year, however, it means that those who truly wish to compare apples to apples will have to dig a little deeper to understand if a budget category actually went up or down. In the above example, you can see the professional services line go up, but it's a little harder to see the impact of the removal of those funds from the transportation line, which also encompasses a 3rd year increase in a 5-year contract with Dattco, and some other adjustments.

The Superintendent highlighted the following points of interest in his budget proposal:

• the supplies and materials category of the budget has a slight reduction because of utility savings and holding the line on various teaching supplies at 2007-08 levels of funding (questions from board member Renee Johnson-Thornton at the last board meeting brought out that some of these costs have been absorbed by grants in recent years - the administration represented that students are not being denied materials through this tight budgeting.)

• the figures for some staff benefits are set by the City's risk manager, such as dental benefits and life insurance for all staff, and health insurance for classified staff. These figures may be revised in the coming months.

• unlike Middletown, many other school districts around the state are facing staff layoffs and "pay to play" systems for extras, or cuts in foreign language offerings.

Frechette wrapped up the budget proposal saying "I think that folks should be pleased about having these programs continue next year."

The board also discussed the potential that the Common Council might not accept the 1.28% increase. In a recent meeting with Jay Keiser, budget committee chair, and the Mayor and a few council members, it seemed that there is some resistance to anything higher than a 0% increase. But Frechette held out hope that the union negotiations and other possible savings might get the budget closer to 0% without affecting the classroom.

The next steps for the budget process include a January 12th special board meeting on the budget. The board may vote on a proposal on that date, or may wait until their January 26th meeting. Board members were assured that there will be additional opportunities to amend the budget going forward, as proposals for the possible redistricting or solutions to Middletown's racial imbalance may change how funds are spent. After the Board votes on their proposal, the Mayor proposes his budget, which includes a line item for the total school budget. Ultimately, in late Spring, it's up to the Common Council to review the amount that the state is willing to contribute through Educational Cost Sharing (ECS), and then to approve the final budget that the school district will have for the July 1st fiscal year.

Taking a moment to look ahead, the Superintendent raised the issue that next year's budget process for the 2011-12 school year will potentially be much more challenging, as $4 million of the current budget is targeted for withdrawl. Those funds are currently stimulus grants, either processed through the state as ECS or coming to Middletown for specific special services. Without a new stimulus program, we can expect to start that school budget from a $4 million hole.

One last bit of commentary:
At this stage of the game, the Superintendent's budget proposal is a condensed document, and it's very useful for understanding the big picture of what it costs to educate our roughly 5,200 public school students, and how spending would change from the current year. But this document is not designed to give you a detailed description of what each line in the budget actually pays for. In the case of transportation, how many students are traveling how many miles on how many buses for a total of $5,531,726? How many of the 360 certified teacher, tutor and substitute positions are at what level of salary/seniority in the $24,348,617 line item? Interesting math problems for middle schoolers, or school board members who take their fiscal responsibility seriously as the budget season moves forward.

Shooting Investigated

From the Middletown Police Department

On 12-22-09, at approx. 2:30p.m., Middletown Police officers received complaints of a single gunshot on Atkins St., near the intersection of Pinehurst Pl. Officers responded to the area and after a brief canvass, they located fragments of a bullet which was believed to have been shot from a hunting type long arm rifle. This evidence was located on Pinehurst Pl. No injuries or property damage occurred as a result of the gunshot.

At this time the incident is under investigation and it appears that there was a hunter who had been in that area during the time that the incident was reported.

At this time there is no reason to believe that the gunshot was a result of any act or attempted acts of violence.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Board of Education to Hear Budget

The Board of Education will meet tonight to hear Superintendent Frechette's recommended budget for next year.

The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 8PM, at the Schools Administration Building on Hunting Hill Avenue. All Board of Ed meetings are open to the public.

Five Guys Opens on Washington

From the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce

Five Guys co-owner Robert Barton, Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, co-owner Chris Bauer, and Chamber president Larry McHugh at the Five Guys grand opening on Monday, December 21, 2009.

The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce announced that the Chamber held a grand-opening event for the new Five Guys Burgers and Fries restaurant at 580 Washington Street in Middletown on Monday, December 21, 2009. Five Guys restaurant, which opened for its first day of business in Middletown on Sunday, December 20, is a chain of over 450 restaurants in 30 states.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Arts Take a Back Seat to the Holidays (sort of.)

This will be a fairly quiet week until the day after Christmas.  Wesleyan's Center for the Arts is quiet for the break between semesters (although the Spring 2010 schedule has been announced - more on that later) and the Russell Library closes at 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve and does not reopen until 9 a.m. on Monday the 28th. 

One event that will take place before the holiday is the 4th and final Advent Organ Recital Wednesday (12/23) at 12:10 p.m. in South Congregational Church, 9 Pleasant Street.  Neely Bruce, music director for the Church, is the featured organist.  The event is free and open to the public - an offering will be taken for the Organ Fund.

The Buttonwood Tree gets back into action on Saturday (12/26) with an appearance by Tommy Monaghan, drummer and guitarist with the experimental jazz quartet A Probe Called Gnomes.  Opening the show at 8 p.m. in the jam band known as Frankpipe, another project involving Monaghan (a graduate of the Hartt School of Music).  For more information, go to

Boney's Music Lounge welcomes the Liviu Pop Group with special guest Joe Grieco (keyboards, vocals.)  Grieco (pictured left) is a founding member of The Cartells and has worked with vocalist Phoebe Snow, singer-songwriter Al Anderson and Rex Fowler of Aztec Two-Step.  The music begins at 9 p.m. 

I mentioned above that the CFA Spring Semester 2010 lineup has been announced and tickets are now available online at  Among the highlights are 3 concerts in the Crowell Concert Hall Series including The Shanghai Quartet (Friday February 19), the Turkish music group Dunya (Saturday March 27) and the fine jazz saxophonist Bennie Maupin (Saturday May 1.) 

The Breaking Ground Dance Series presents Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group and its production of "The Good Dance--dakar/brooklyn" to the CFA Theater on Friday April 23 and Saturday April 24.  Described by choreographer Wilson as "post-African/Neo-Hoodoo modern dance", the piece is a collaboration with choreographer Andreya Ouamba and his Company, 1er Temps, based in Dakar, Senegal.  The reviews have been excellent and the performance is quite exciting.

That's just a smattering of the offerings at the University - don't forget the Distinguished Writers series and the free concerts at The Russell House as well as the fine exhibitions at the Davison Art Center, the Zilkha Gallery and the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies.  Those programs and exhibitions will be announced soon.

Have a safe and peaceful Holiday week.  

Making Tracks at Guida Farm Conservation Area

Guida Farm Conservation Area, is best dressed in snow.  What makes it such a great place for cross country skiing is first and foremost it is close to home, at the crossroads of Coleman and Round Hill Roads which is just under 5 miles from downtown Middletown .  Secondly skier's have 99 acres in which to roam with a choice of wooded trails, or open fields that are realitively flat. The third reason I find this spot so great is that beginners and experienced skiers alike can enjoy what the park has to offer. The open flat fields, of which there are 8, allow the beginner to hitch on the ski's without having to worry about a narrow trail, the next tree on the downhill, or the torment of skiing up hill, when you have not yet mastered 100 yards on flat territory. There is however just hill enough where the fields connect to allow for practicing the skills of going up and downhill. There is also just enough
challenge in those hill grades for the skilled skier to enjoy a midweek workout with a few loops around the combination of fields. Setting tracks in the fields also means that skiing at night especially under a full moon (next full moon is New Year's Eve), is easily done with a headlamp to light the way. By way of warning there are 2 ponds on site and a stream, the map only shows one of those ponds. Before heading out for an night-time run, you might want to make a daytime dry run. For directions to the Guida Farm Conservation Area, and more information please go to pages 18 and 19 of the MIDDLETOWN TRAIL GUIDE.  It's not to late, you can still ask Santa for ski's. If you do find some under the tree, (or unused in the back corner of your garage or basement) you won't have far to roam from home, to enjoy them.

Water Main Break Closes Main Street Lanes

The Southbound lanes of Main Street between Grand and Liberty Streets will be closed most of Monday as crews work to repair a water main break that occured in front of the Buttonwood Tree.

The break, which was reported at midnight, appears to be a major break in the century-old main (the original pipes were installed in 1893). Crews are hoping for a clean break, which can be repaired with a "band-aid," a sleeve slipped over the break, but because of the damage done to the street and subsurface, they suspect a blow-out which could take up to several lengths of new pipe to repair.

Crews worked through the night in frigid temperatures excavating the area of the break only to discover that much of the road subsurface between the corner of Liberty to the area where the water gushed from the roadway, was hollowed out by the force of the water.

At seven, a large excavator arrived to begin the major work of tearing through the blacktop and uncovering the source of the problem. The break is also below a conduit which carries utilities along Main Street, which will complicate the repair.

Business on that block on the East Side of Main will be closed today because water is not available. Those businesses include the Community Health Center medical buildings (dental, on the other side of Main is not affected), the St. Vincent de Paul center and the Buttonwood Tree.

The break, one of a half-dozen main breaks this year, demonstrates the fragile nature of the old pipe running beneath city streets. Much of the main on the portion of Main South of Washington Street was replaced this Autumn.

On a slow-news Monday, the water main break drew TV crews from three local affiliates to the North End, for on-the-spot coverage. I guess it's what you call "breaking" news.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Apple Ornaments

Cross-country skiing through an orchard, my daughter and I came across a few rows of apple trees with their fruit still on them. Is our Christmas ornament tradition a mimicry of the fruit hanging in an orchard?

Oh, By the Way, It Snowed

In case you hadn't noticed. Somehow, eight inches of snow in December is big news.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hartford Symphony Orchestra Concert Cancelled

Due to the impending storm, the Saturday performance of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the Connecticut Children's Chorus as Middletown High School has been cancelled. Tickets for the performance will be honored at the symphony's performance of its pop series in February.

Ringing In the Season

Drivers prowled the aisles of Stop and Shop's parking lot searching for the elusive parking space. Inside the store, the impending snow storm had driven end-of-the-world shoppers to stock up on essentials like Doritos, Cherry Garcia and hot wings, and check-out lines stretched into the frozen-food section.

Just outside the door, Bob Binezewski stood in a position much like the one he has stood in for the past ten Christmases. As a Salvation Army bell ringer, Binezewski was warding off the frigid blasts that swept over the parking lot in his direction by vigorously ringing his bell and greeting each entering and departing shopper with a "Merry Christmas."

Some of the shoppers ignored him. Several stopped and placed folding money in the slot in the familiar Salvation Army Kettle.

"People are generous," Bob said. "I think they feel good giving to the poor, and God said to give to the poor."

Some bell ringers are purely volunteer, like the Kiwanis, high school key club members and American Legion members who stood outside of area stores on Saturday. Others, like Bob, trade eight hour shifts in the cold for a small stipend.

"Twenty-five dollars a day," Bob confesses. "But I don't do it for the money. I do it to help people."

A major annual fundraiser for the Salvation Army, this platoon of bell-ringers are in the crucial final days of their effort, and still short of their goal.

"We need to raise twelve to thirteen thousand dollars in the next five days," Salvation Army Captain Rick Starkey explained. "It should be a good day today because so many people are out at the store shopping because of the storm. But tomorrow won't be so good."

Starkey manages and schedules the bell ringers at the six locations covered by the Middletown Salvation Army. And while he confesses that he would love to have enough volunteers to cover each kettle, he relies on a small group of dedicated paid staff to make sure that the bell are ringing and that the kettles are hanging beneath the recognizable tripods.

According to Starkey, the bell-ringing fundraiser goes back 120 years when a Salvation Army captain in San Francisco ran out of food, and took a large black kettle from the kitchen and set it on the street where a bell ringer called attention to their plight.

"It was so successful they did it year after year," Starkey said.

"Today will be cold," Binezewski acknowledged. "But I'm dressed right. Two pairs of socks. Three sweat shirts. A jacket. A shirt. Thermal underwear, gloves and a hat."

"You've got to like people," fellow ringer Berdeen Flowers said. "You have to like to talk to people, and after awhile, they recognize you."

"I raised $750 one day last week," Binezewski said, noting his high for the season. "I wouldn't be surprised if I raised more today. The closer you get to Christmas, the more generous people are."

And this year, Binezewski garners attention with a vintage bell.

"A woman came up to me last week and handed me this bell," he said. "She must have been around 90. She told me she used it when she used to be a ringer. She said, 'I'm passing it on to you, and you can pass it on to someone else.'"

Community Christmas Dinner, Christmas Day

Celebrate the joy, food and fellowship of the season with a Community Christmas Dinner. The free event takes place at First Church, 190 Court St. Middletown, from noon until 2 P.M. on December 25th. For a ride to the Church or to arrange delivery of a meal (or to volunteer) call 346-6657 X15.

Merry Main Street

Although I'm incapable of sending out my own, I truly love to receive holiday cards in the mail every December. One of my favorites this year comes from Trevor Davis, whose real estate company specializes in helping people find space for their businesses in downtown Middletown.

His annual calendar card this year includes photos of many beautiful storefronts from our Main Street and environs. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Happy Holidays to you too, Trevor!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jeopardy Update

Tonight was the night that Middletown resident Bobbie Fulton appeared on "Jeopardy."  She started well but the tall blond on-line tutor to her right started racking up the points and never looked back.  Ms. Fulton played valiantly but, in the end, came in second.

Pedestrian Hurt Crossing Washington Street in Traffic

From the Middletown Police Department

On Friday, December 18, 2009, a motor vehicle versus pedestrian collision occurred at approximately 3:04 PM on Washington Street (Route 66), approximately 100 feet west of Main Street.

The preliminary investigation indicates that the pedestrian, Edward Duwell of Trumbell, Connecticut, age 65, attempted to cross the street 100 feet west of the crosswalk. The pedestrian entered the left side eastbound lane between two stopped vehicles, and then entered the right side lane into the travel path of a 2000 Peterbuilt tow truck being operated by Franklin Smith of Middletown, age 50.

Mr. Duwell was transported by Hunters Ambulance Service to Hartford Hospital for a head injury and is listed in stable condition.

Mr. Smith was not injured.

The investigation is continuing by Sergeant Craig Elkin of the Traffic Bureau.

African Drumming Friday at Wesleyan

Friday, December 18, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
$8 General, $6 Wesleyan Student

Featuring choreographer and Artist-in-Residence Iddi Saaka and Master Drummer Abraham Adzenyah, joined by students and guest artists. This invigorating performance showcases the vibrancy of West African cultures through their music and dance forms.

Eye on the Air, December 18 - The Portland Quarries, A Radio Documentary

Live today, 1-2 PM, WESU 88.1 FM (

HOST: Mary Longley
In this special edition of Eye on the Air, a group of Wesleyan students present a radio documentary about the Portland brownstone quarries, and their effect on the region.

Christmas Toys and Meals Distributed at Salvation Army

"We'll be giving out toys and food for 250 families today," Salvation Army Captain Rick Starkey said as he put the finishing touches on large plastic bags stuffed with toys for families who had submitted requests. "But we still have two pages of people on the waiting list."

The Salvation Army headquarters on Main Street was bustling this morning as families lined up for the holiday packages, and local volunteers, including two Democratic Common Council members, delivered last minute food baskets.

"The toys come from a number of sources, including through our Angel Tree program, and through individual contributions, and contributions from companies and local organizations like the Kiwanis," Starkey said.

The Angel Tree program allows contributors to select tags from Angel Trees placed at a variety of locations around town. These tags contain requests from local boys and girls for the gifts they'd like to find under their trees.

"This is wonderful," recipient Leah Pillerella said. "I'm out of work. My husband's out of work. My daughter wouldn't have a Christmas without this. My daughter told me, 'That's okay Mom, just give me a flashlight for Christmas,' but now we can put some real gifts under the tree."

Recipients will pick up toys, food baskets, and food gift cards throughout the day Friday. When the weekend's done, Starkey will begin calling families on the waiting list.

"We'll have some toys to distribute, but not food," Starkey said. "It's a tough year for a lot of people."

Nurse Practitioner Program Gets Federal Funding

From the Community Health Center

President Obama signed into law a spending bill Wednesday that provides $225,000 in funding for Community Health Center, Inc. (CHC) to support a Connecticut-based initiative, the country’s first formal residency training program for new family nurse practitioners.

CHC developed this program in 2007 in responses to the need for additional training for new nurse practitioners who aspire to practice in the complex setting of federally qualified health centers, such as CHC. Health Centers are the largest system of primary care in the U.S. and face enormous demands for primary care providers ready to care for individuals and families across the lifespan. headquartered in Middletown and provides care to 70,000 patients in primary care sites across Connecticut.

CHC’s residency program accepts four newly graduated and certified family nurse practitioners annually and provides them with intensive training in the health problems commonly seen in health centers. It has several components: precepted or continuity clinics, specialty training in specific high volume areas, and training to a model of primary care that includes electronic health records, advanced access, and a “planned care” approach to both prevention and the management of chronic disease.

The funding was supported by Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd Dist., and Congressmen Joe Courtney, D-2nd Dist., Chris Murphy, D-5th Dist., and John Larson, D-1st Dist.

“We very much appreciate the support of the Connecticut delegation, who recognize the need to train the next generation of primary care providers,” said Margaret Flinter, CHC vice president and clinical director. “They have been
champions of the program, and understand the great value of nurse practitioners
in meeting the health-care needs of our patients.”

This residency, which is an intensive, 12- month program, accepts only family nurse practitioners committed to developing practice careers as primary care providers in community health centers.

CHC graduated its first class of four family nurse practitioners in August 2008, its second class graduated in August 2009 and its third class is underway.

The graduates to date have gone on to practice as primary care providers both at CHC and at other FQHC across the country.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Weekends are Made for Fun Stuff

Friday December 18:
The big news is that a Middletown resident is a contestant on tonight's edition of"Jeopardy."  Roberta Fulton, wife of Don Ciosek, can be seen on the long-running (and fairly intelligent) quiz show, shown at 7 p.m. on WTNH-Channel 8.  You have to watch to see how she does but it sure is fun to root for a local person.

By now, you must have noticed the "ad" on the EYE for Frank Capra's classic "It's A Wonderful Life" being screened at 7 p.m. in the Goldsmith Family Cinema, Washington Terrace. Money raised from ticket sales goes to help Gilead Community Services of Middletown, an organization whose mission "is to provide a broad range of high quality health care and recovery support services in the home and community to improve mental health, physical well being, independence, and community integration for the individuals we serve."  For more information about the showing, call 860-343-5300 ext. 0.

Big weekend in the Performing Arts Center at Middletown High School, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Edward Cumming, music director, will take the stage at 8 p.m.. on both Friday and Saturday evenings for its "Holiday Spectacular."  The musicians and conductor will not be alone in this musicall endeavor.  Joining them will be the Hartford Chorale and the Connecticut Children's Chorus.  For ticket information, call 860-748-8169.  

The Buttonwood Tree welcomes the New York City-based quartet, The Argyle Effect, for an 8 p.m. show.  The foursome blends rock, pop, blues, and klezmer influences into a raucous mash that's fun and high-spirited.  To find out more about the band, go to

The final event of the Fall semester at Wesleyan's CFA is the very exciting and colorful West African Drumming & Dance concert, to be held at 8 p.m. in Crowell Concert Hall. Students of choreographer and Artists-in-Residence Iddi Saaka and master Drummer Abraham Adzenyah join their teachers and special guest artists for an evening of excitement and colorful costumes.  For ticket information, call 860-685-3355 or go to

NuDirexions returns to Boney's Music Lounge, located above Fishbone Cafe, for an evening of jazz-inflected funk and pop music.  They start at 9 p.m.

Saturday December 19:
The final edition of Holiday on Main Street has events for the whole family, starting at 10 a.m. with an Ornament Decorating Workshop conducted by Stephanie Huffaker in The Buttonwood Tree.  The day also includes Hay Rides, a visit from Santa Claus, and Holiday Story Time at Broad Street Books (11:30 a.m.)  For more information, call the Chamber of Commerce at 860-347-6924.

The Buttonwood Tree presents one of Middletown's classic bands, House of Moses.  Join brothers Thomas and Fred as they celebrate Randy's birthday along with guitarist Mick Bolduc, percussionist Ron Edens and several surprise guests.  It'll be a sweet evening of soul and light jazz.  The party begins at 8 p.m.  Call 860-347-4957 for more information.

Boney's Music Lounge presents the Liviu Pop Group. with special guest Toni Lynn Washington for 3 sets of blues music.  Loaded with emotion and a top-notch voice, Ms. Washington (based in Boston) has been singing for 4 decades, bringing jazz and soul influences to her large and varied repertoire.  The band and the chanteuse begin at 9 p.m.  For more information, call Boney's at 860-346-6000.

On a personal note, SEE! HEAR!, my column about music and arts that has been on the Hartford Courant website for the past 4 years, is closing down.  So, I have started a new blog, calling it STEP TEMPEST (named after a song by pianist/composer Herbie Nichols, 1919-1963.)  I'll use that space to review jazz and other music as well as concerts throughout the area. There's some great music being made all over the world and I'm lucky enough to come into contact with a small portion of it.  If you wish to check over and start a conservation, please go to

Luce Restaurant

Show Me The Light

Please, someone, help out with a comment and explain the apparently universal appeal of dining at Luce. We have been to Luce several times for dinner and numerous times for snacks at the bar and we have yet to discover anything to rave about. However, every time we visit, Luce is bustling with diners and every time we talk to someone about the Middletown restaurant scene, Luce is always mentioned as a favorite. This is beginning to baffle us.

The mood is warm, cozy and inviting with two gas-fired fireplaces. The exposed brick wall and carpets, the attractive wooden bar, the big picture window on Main Street leftover from the car dealership that used to trade there, the pressed tin ceiling, the floor-to-ceiling wine rack which greets you at the door –– all these things are attractive and comforting. The lighting is tastefully subdued, erasing wrinkles and “character” lines from the faces of the predominantly mature clientele.

On the night we visited the bar and dining area were populated by a high proportion of women – one table of eight singing happy birthday, another group on what may have been an office outing and an additional gathering of a single male surrounded by six females. Women might feel comfortable in such a setting, and men might like the odds at the bar.

Whatever the reason folks love to go to Luce, we are convinced that it is not for the food. The items that we have had are at best pedestrian, ponderous and ill-conceived. A portobello and eggplant tart with smoked mozzarella and tomato confit was difficult to cut on account of the very firm mushroom and doing so destroyed the desired tart-like composition. The mozzarella was too abundant and obscured rather than enhancing the texture. Crispy calamari is the upscale equivalent of nibbling on beef jerky at any bar. We passed on the oysters as an appetizer because, well, bluepoint oysters are probably the least oyster-ish of all those in the sea and the only reason to order them would be an overwhelming need to slurp – which sometimes happens. The “exotic porcini mushroom ravioli in a black truffle cream sauce” was so thick and heavy-handed, loaded with cream and cheese sauce, that it obliterated what may have been good ravioli filled with subtle porcini. Two bites were enough to know that this dish wasn’t about flavor; it was about making sure the diner went away stuffed with cream and butter. The special pasta dish of the day, a chicken and spinach creation over pappardelle was amazingly similar since it too was swimming in a viscous cheesy sea of cream sauce. Two more bites there. At this point visions of the Pillsbury Dough Boy from Ghostbusters danced in our heads. Wishing we had opted for a green salad, we consoled ourselves with dull bread and an interesting Sicilian red wine and had the considerable leftovers wrapped to go. Dessert was simply out of the question.

On another occasion we tried the sautéed tenderloin which seemed a safe choice but turned out to be an inferior cut of meat gussied up with garlicky potatoes and a thin sauce. It took two at the table to finish the unattractive platter of meat. The seafood in a tomato-cream sauce one of our tablemates chose went uneaten. The Caesar salad was downright excellent by comparison.

The wine list is modest in scope and overpriced – the mark-ups are two or three times cost (sometimes more on the less expensive bottles). Seeing that floor-to-ceiling wine rack by the door also must throw a red flag to some wine connoisseurs being asked to spend over $200 on a bottle of Gaja – is that rack really where the wine has been stored all these years? And the wine-by-the-glass program is not only overpriced but who would risk sampling from the two dozen bottles that were simply re-corked or, maybe worse, had their air and some flavor components pumped out and sit sadly oxidizing behind the bar.

There are innumerable attractions at Luce but to date we have had no evidence that the food is among them. In every instance the good ingredients and creative elements of the dishes were effectively destroyed by a failure in execution. We expect success when most entrees are priced over $20. Go to Luce if you are looking for a warm, comfortable place. Have a snack from the bar menu and one of their good draft beers. It is nice to sit in a comfortable chair, in relatively quiet surroundings, and catch the game on TV. A little like staying home, come to think of it.

The facts: The two pasta dishes were $18.95 and $19.95. Appetizer $8.00. The wine was $35. Total: 81.90
Our service was polite and professional.