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I'll be honest. When I started as a freshman at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, I wasn't optimistic about the food options around town. Growing up in Boston, I came to love my favorite coffee shop to go study in, my go-to neighborhood pizza joint and my sandwich shop of choice. Leaving home meant I would have to leave behind my regular spots and scout out the best options in a new town, and downtown Middletown didn't exactly look like a food lover's paradise.
But by the time I graduated last spring, I'd discovered that Middletown has way more to offer than meets the eye. From a Thanksgiving turkey sandwich that will rival your grandmother's turkey dinner to some of the best hash browns on the planet, check out my favorite spots around Wes.
Middletown has a large Italian population, and so pizza joints abound. Hands down the best pizza in Middletown, though, is Jerry's. Jerry himself is there everyday, and the crust this guy makes is to die for. And the speciality of the house, a "Sicilian Pizza" made with anchovies and garlic that must be ordered 4 hours in advance to let the dough rise, is a work of art.
The Thanksgiving turkey sandwich from Red & Black Cafe at Wesleyan's student bookstore wouldn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary from its ingredient list: cranberry mayo, stuffing, turkey and lettuce on ciabatta. But when you bite in, you know you've found something special. I think the magic is in the stuffing, which, as far as I'm concerned, can turn just about anything from ordinary to extraordinary.
Eli Cannon's Tap Room in Middletown is something of an institution, and it may be my favorite establishment in town. From the incredible selection of hand-picked seasonal brews and killer fries to the cool and calm waitstaff and the Middletown-meets-Brooklyn vibe, you can't go wrong with a night at Eli Cannon's.
Breakfast/ Hangover Cure
If you want a real feel for the local Middletown scene, make your way to the Ford News Diner. I love the feel: the place is a hole-in-the-wall on Main Street packed with regulars sitting at the counter gossiping about the news around town. But I come for the food: perfect bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, oh-so-buttery pancakes and hash browns so good you'll ask for seconds.
When Someone Has a Car
Udupi Bhavan is a bit out of the way, but I'm convinced this no-frills Indian restaurant has some of the best Southern Indian food on this side of the Pacific. The crisp dosas packed with aggressively spiced potatoes and fragrant, deeply-flavored vegetables curries are two of the standouts.
Middletown doesn't host the greatest selection of coffee shops, but when I'm looking for a solid cup of coffee, a good bite to eat (the eggplant sandwich is a real winner) and a table to get some studying done, I head straight for Brew Bakers on Main Street.
When Parents Are in TownEsca, a recent addition to Middletown's Italian restaurant scene, has become a quick favorite for students when parents are in town. And there's good reason why: the restaurant offers a full stocked bar and wine list with delicately prepared, Italian-inspired mains in a classy setting. Buon appetit!
Best Cheap Eat
Public Markets, an Italian food market on Main Street, houses Middletown's best kept secret: a savory stuffed bread that tastes like it's right from the hands of an Italian nonna (probably because it is!). The bread, similar to a calzone but with a lighter and flakier dough, is super cheap (a few dollars worth will fill you up for lunch) and stuffed a variety of ingredients. My favorite is made with Italian cheeses, broccoli and sausage.
Best Food Shopping
When you're looking for high-quality, low-cost ingredients and prepared foods, nothing beats Wesleyan's student-run farmers market. Products include great local bread, creamy chevre goat cheese from a nearby dairy farm, cute and tasty fruit pies, Connecticut-grown produce I and other local products like honey and dried herbs. I like to take a little from each for an impromptu picnic between classes!
About the author: Will Levitt is a NYC-based food writer and founder of the blog Dorm Room Dinner. He is currently planning the LongHouse Food Writers Revival with CookNScribble and contributes to The Huffington Post, The Brooklyn Paper, edible Nutmeg Magazine, CIBO Magazine and more. Follow him @dormroomdinner.