Restaurant Review: O’Rourke’s Diner

 

This is a review of a local diner in Connectict. The Budget Epicurean has not been compensated in any way for this review, and all opinions are my own. For reviews, preference will be given to unique, local, family-owned establishments. Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (Buckingham Palace)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

 

In the heart of Middletown, Connecticut, just off Route 9, sits a classic metal diner.  The type of train-car shaped metal diner that brings to mind the “good old days”, Route 66, and other memories of a bygone era. This is O’Rourke’s Diner.

O'Rourke's Diner in Middletown CT

Established in 1941 by John O’Rourke, and owned to this day by his son, Brian, this diner has seen good times and bad, as well as a few reincarnations. A brief history, from their website:

O’Rourke’s Diner – A Brief Timeline
1941 – Uncle John J. O’Rourke, a veteran of Jack’s Lunch, purchases the old wooden Dunn’s Diner.
1946 – Uncle John replaces the diner with a brand new sparkling Mountain View diner to accommodate the growing crowds.
1966 – As a high school honors student, Brian works at the diner up to 40 hours per week, in addition to delivering newspapers.
1977 – Uncle John retires. Brian O’Rourke and his cousin, John Sweeney O’Rourke buy the diner. Brian’s culinary talents emerge in the form of wonderful soups like Irish stew and roasted plum tomato.
1985 – Brian buys out his cousin to “take the diner to the next level.” He uses his experiences throughout the ’80s in the kitchens of New Orleans, Barttra (Ireland), and the Caribbean to reinvent the omelet. This is the beginning of O’Rourke’s Diner as we know it – a cross-section of humanity with amazing culinary artistry!
August 31, 2006 – O’Rourke’s Diner is decimated by fire.
Sept. 2006–Feb. 2007 – The community unites to “raise the phoenix from the flames!”

Interior of ORourkes diner

The interior of the new/old diner is cozy yet not claustrophobic. There is a lovely bookshelf just inside the entry way containing an eclectic mix of mismatched awards, family photos, knickknacks, books, and other paraphernalia. A wrap-around bar seating circles the kitchen area, welcoming locals to sit down, have a cup of coffee, and chat with the waiter, waitresses, and hard-working chefs.

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When we ask the staff for favorites and suggestions, of course they say it’s all good. Every food place usually does. But of course, since they have been seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,  plan on ordering at least one of those items recommended by the great Guy Fieri.

When we are told about Chef Brian and how he took the place over and totally revamped the menu, and that not only does he have a “Chef Brian’s Special of the Day” but that he is in the building this morning, we know at least one of us is definitely ordering that. So that left two more people to order.

Busy kitchen at ORourkes diner

After a little discussion, and an evaluation of what people were in the mood for, final decisions were made and the orders placed.

First up, we had to try their fruit juice of the day. It was a mango-pineapple juice, with frozen cubes of mango and cantaloupe to keep it chilled instead of ice to water it down. All of their breakfast smoothies and juices are made fresh each morning with usually local, seasonal fruit. They come in cute hand-held-sized cups with decorative straws. I really appreciate the small details.

Next up, we had to try the “Leprechaun Bites”.  According to their menu: “Every morning the little leprechauns in the kitchen start the day off by baking a variety of goodies. Leprechaun bites are an ever-changing assortment of daily sweet breads, cakes, treats, and toppings.” Today, the leprechauns were in the mood for poppyseed & lemon bread, and blueberry muffins it seems.

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The breads were both tasty, not overwhelmingly sweet. The blueberry ones weren’t quite blueberry enough for me, and a little dry. But I really enjoyed the lemon poppyseed, I feel like I could eat a whole loaf of that easily.

The next plate to hit the table I didn’t even get a picture of because it was gone too quickly! Chef Brian’s special comes with an ‘appetizer’, which was a small wedge of pistachio pancake with homemade whip topping. The pancake was Kelley green, and lightly nutty with just a hint of sweet. It was a delicious teaser for what followed.

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Chef Brian’s breakfast was a work of art. Two eggs benedict sat atop a bed of greens, tomatoes, and olives with two crostini on the side. It was like nothing any of us had ever tasted before.

My choice was the Mexican breakfast platter – 2 eggs topped with black beans, guacamole, tomatoes & onions & home fries. I’m a big fan of black beans and guac, and was just in the mood for something different. This was just the ticket. With a healthy heaping of proteins (hello eggs and black beans on one plate!) and good fats from the avocado, this breakfast was very satisfying and I didn’t feel at all guilty about finishing the whole thing.

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Though I did ask for my eggs scrambled, and they came out over-hard.

My dining neighbor ordered the buckwheat pancakes with sweet potato homefries. A fellow healthy eater, she was very pleased with the health factor of this meal. Definitely not for a meat-and-potatoes kinda person, who would be confused by the heavier consistency. But I thought they were quite tasty, and the sweet potato homefries are a great idea.

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But the breakfast that really took the cake was of course the DDD special: Banana Bread French Toast. Diner, Drive-Ins, and Dives recommended this plate, and now we know why! Two thick, hot slices of house made banana bread, coated in egg and fried, then doused in sweet syrupy cooked bananas. It was absolutely delicious!

O'Rourke's diner banana french toast

Lesson learned, when a very famous person know for eating good food recommends a certain dish, that’s probably what you should order!

The restroom was cramped but clean, and our waitress (plus two others wandering about) was very friendly, helpful, and always kept the coffee refilled. We felt very welcomed and comfortable. The only complaint I have is that it was FREEZING. They had the air conditioner was set to Arctic blast evidently. Luckily it was a gorgeous sunny day and we could escape to the sunshine, as soon as we gorged ourselves on bananas and pancakes. =)

ORourke Diner clover sculpture

Overall, I’d give O’Rourke’s diner:
  • Taste: 6
  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Value: 7
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