Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Books and Food, Oh My

Traveler Food and Books
1257 Buckley Hwy (just off Exit 74 on I-84)
Stafford Springs, CT
Hours: 7 AM-9 PM
Alcohol: Four Mass-Market Beers on Tap and ChocoVine
Food: Basic American Food

I like reading when I eat alone.

It's a great way of passing the time on slow work days, and you can get into a surprising number of conversations, depending on what you read.

So for me, the idea of a place that is a restaurant and a book store is an interesting one, especially given how many libraries have no food rules.

While going from the Boston area to New York as a kid, my family stopped several times by the Traveler Food and Books right by the Connecticut/Massachusetts border on I-84.

I was just a kid, and I didn't know any better about the food, but I remembered the place when, as a freshman in college, I drove a young woman I was very much interested in back to Wellesley on my way back to my college.

I was all excited, because I thought she'd love the concept because she was and is really into reading.

Instead, she was full from a meal mid-afternoon, tired and really just wanted to head back to school, and she hadn't told me that she'd been to the place before with her parents, and she didn't think the food was very good, and she only ordered cinnamon toast.

So I had a bad association with the place for a number of years, and hadn't been back until recently, when another bookish friend of mine expressed hunger a few miles before the exit, and I pulled off, warning him that the food's not that great.

Walking in, it was about the same as it ever was.

The books upstairs are free -- you're allowed to take up to three with your meal. There were lots of Reader's Digest collections of book summaries and some other stuff.

Downstairs in their basement, they charge for books. There was some interesting stuff like old editions of National Geographic (though they've taken to boxing them so you can't look at individual covers), but it's not really all that great compared to some other used bookstores I've been to, and in many sections, the books aren't in alphabetical order, so you're just hunting and pecking.

The food, on the other hand, was a good deal better than that young woman thought. Not great, and pricey for what you get, but definitely decent food.

Mr friend ordered a burger with fries for $8.99, while I had a chicken spinach salad for $12.99.

The salad was definitely tasty, but it was, well, basic: just a bed of spinach with dried cranberries, some chicken and a vinaigrette. And garlic bread on the side which was cold by the time I sat down (I was downstairs looking at books while awaiting my order).

If a place is going to charge $12.99 for a salad, and it's not in a major city like New York or Boston, it had better have a little more flare to it. Bigger chicken breasts that are still hot when they come out. More complex preparations. Whatever it is.

There was a sign out front saying they open at seven, so presumably they only recently started serving breakfast, though it's not available all day like in a lot of roadside places.

Outside, they had a patio that was closed in the freezing conditions, but it looks like they try to draw some sort of bar-type crowd, which is kind of weird given the rest of the business and its location in the middle of nowhere on the side of a highway.

Overall, it's an interesting concept for a restaurant, but it wouldn't surprise me if the place recently changed hands, that that while the new owners are OK at making sure the food's tasty, they don't really have much of a vision for what they want the place to be, so they just add little things onto the core concept.
That “this is interesting but irrelevant” tendency spills over into the booze selection. Overall, they just have four beers on tap (Bud, Bud Light, ShockTop and one other), but then there are table tents at each table advertising ChocoVine, which is some mix of Dutch chocolate and wine that they’re selling.

It's not bad, but it's definitely not somewhere I plan on going again unless I'm in another situation with a hungry bibliophile in the car who’s interested in seeing something different. I'd try one of the various diners in Worcester, MA or any of several places in Hartford and Southern Connecticut that I know of before going here again.
There just isn’t enough time in life for overpriced mediocrity, even if it’s off-beat.

Rating: Would Wear the Shirt if It Was Free, But It Was $12.99

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