I’ve been spending some quality time with my family in my home state, Connecticut, since returning from my overseas expedition. Small suburbs, like the one I’m from, are not known for being particularly varied in their dining-out options. There’s the olive garden down the street, the wings-and-sports bar, the Chinese restaurant with decades-old fish in front.
But just a short drive away is Middletown, a more urban area of Connecticut, with a vibrant youth culture due to its proximity to Wesleyan University. Here, you can find It’s Only Natural – a group responsible for an organic foods market, as well as a funky, popular restaurant only a few blocks away at 386 Main Street.
At this self-proclaimed “hippie” restaurant, more commonly referred to as ION, you can choose from an extensive vegetarian menu, where almost every dish is, or can be made vegan. Non-dairy cheeses, tofu sour cream, and tempeh and tofu mains; there’s a wide variety of options for every diety – even those seeking a gluten or grain free option.
Recommended Dishes: After a few appetizers, including the Vegetable Dumplings stuffed with mushroom and scallion, my parents and I each selected a main dish from the menu. I selected the Cajun Tempeh, which is a great way to try tempeh if you are not familiar with the product. Tempeh, like tofu, is soy-based, but it’s less processed. It’s higher in protein and in fiber than tofu, and the firmer, chewier texture makes it a great meat-substitute.
The Not-So-Good Bite: Across the board, all of the dishes had more or less the same, earthy flavor. The Cajun Tempeh wasn’t significantly spicy, and the tempeh crab cakes that accompanied my father’s entree didn’t carry any of that tangy, sweet flavor you’d expect. The carmelized onions, nutty brown rice and sauteed garlic greens that flanked my tempeh were, however, delicious.
The Good Bite: While ION could kick up the heat in some of their dishes, or toss on a few extra herbs for seasoning, the overall quality of the food is very good. My mother’s wilted Wilted Arugula Salad, at top, came with homemade whole grain croutons, and homemade balsamic dressing. My starter salad came with a delicious homemade carrot ginger dressing, and the bread came with a house-made carrot miso spread. These little details were full of flavor, fresh, and helped the overall quality of the meal.
The Best Bite: Like the sister-market, ION serves up a nice list of organic wines and beers, and features locally grown products. Even if you’re not a vegan, a meal here is a good deed for Connecticut. As another Best Bite, many of these dishes will also appeal to those with a gluten allergy, or those living a grain-free lifestyle. Simply substitue a sea vegetable or marinated portobello for the rice, or hold the side bread.
After closing the night with an organic dirty chai tea, I made my way to Tschudin Chocolates and Confections, the storefront owned by a good family friend, Rob Lucheme. Here, I topped off the evening with a few of his vegan treats, staying true to my commitment to Be Healthy, and to Be Mindful. A chocolate dipped orange peel, and a dark mint chocolate are jusr a few of the sweets I walked away with.
The next time your passing through Connecticut and seeking to satisfy a vegan craving, make sure to pull off at Middletown – a variety of options are available for those seeking to keep things green.
Until next time, when I’m back in Boston , cooking up some wholesome vegetarian dinners with my friends.