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Be it a trip to Miller’s Pond, an impromptu lunch on Foss Hill, or a full fledge afternoon adventure, there’s never a bad time for a picnic, and luckily, Middletown has plenty of restaurants offering yummy to-go choices perfect for an outdoor dining sesh. Today, before heading out to Lake Waramaug in New Milford, CT for a celebratory end of the season swim, my friend Gillian and I stopped by New England Emporium to pick up a few goodies. Now, you may be wondering why we’ve talked about the Emporium in almost every single post thus far. In case you haven’t gotten the hint, this is a great place. The ambiance is fantastic, it has incredibly versatile options, and the food is of a very high quality. After scaling the expansive menu, which includes 16 different kinds of sandwiches, 17 kinds of crepes, 6 signature salads, a wide variety of daily specials, create your own sandwich and salads, and delicious breakfast, dessert, and drink options, we decided on the Tuna Salad Panini, which combines tuna salad, dill havarti, crisp bacon, and grilled rye. We also got a package of salted edamame beans, which are conveniently located in a refrigerator section to the side of the drinks, an Avery’s Cola, an Olde New England Berry-Lime seltzer, and a pack of Deep River Pack Original Salted Kettle Cooked Potato Chips. The one thing we didn’t take into consideration? The drive is about an hour and thirty minutes long. When we finally arrived, we were ravenous, and slightly disappointed that the panini was no longer hot and toasty. That being said, it’s hard to feel down when you’re sitting outside looking at a gorgeous body of water, and there are few things more satisfying than eating a picnic with fresh sea air (okay, lake air) blowing on your skin, and the sun shining brightly over the water. So how was the food?

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Well, we have to admit, the sandwich would’ve been better hot; however, for a cold panini, it was pretty good. The bread was crisp and dense, with the faintly sour taste that is distinctive of quality Rye, and no overload of butter.  Even though it had been grilled, it still retained a decent amount of moisture. Bacon seems to be making an appearance everywhere these days. You’ve probably seen the commercials for Burger King’s bacon sundaes, but we’ve also noticed and tried concoctions like bacon chocolate, maple bacon cupcakes, and “Elvis” sandwiches, which combine peanut butter, banana. We were curious about the combination of tuna and bacon, and we found that the two actually complimented each other quite well. The tuna salad, which could’ve been served in a bit of a smaller portion size, was not overly doused with mayonnaise, nor was it disgustingly fishy, and the bacon was crisp, and had a hint of sweetness that we enjoyed. We admire the creators of the Tuna Salad Panini for their obviously careful choices of  cheese and bread. The combination of tuna salad and rye bread makes the sandwich familiar enough to fulfill any tuna melt fan’s craving for that specific type of sandwich. Havarti cheese has a fairly subtle taste, and the addition of dill adds a brininess that enhances the taste of the tuna salad, as well as the sourness of the rye. The bacon is a real surprise to the taste buds, but because the other elements of the sandwich are slightly more conservative, it doesn’t make for an overload of flavor. Overall, we’d give this sandwich an A-. True, there was a bit too much tuna per amount of cheese and bacon, and it wasn’t warm when we ate it, but we can only blame ourselves for that.

As far as the sides and drinks are concerned, the edamame beans tasted crisp, fresh, and well-salted. One of our favorite aspects of the New England Emporium is that, as the name suggests, many of their products come from New England. The chips, made by Deep River Pack Snacks, are from Old Lyme, Connecticut, which is a mere 45 minutes from here. Avery’s soda comes from New Britain, Connecticut, and Olde New England Seltzer is from Bedford, New Hampshire. Something about being locally prepared makes food taste better. Probably because it is made in small batches and regularly shipped in fresh. There is nothing better than eating potato chips on a beach. They were crispy, salty, and a tiny bit burnt on the edges, which gave them an authentic look and texture that is definitely not a characteristic of commercial chips. If you’ve ever had a natural or artisanal soda, you understand what we mean by natural-tasting, and we love the different flavors that Avery’s comes in, a number of which are sold at the Emporium. As I’ve stated before, I’m a huge fan of zero calorie drinks that are big on flavor, and I wasn’t disappointed by the Olde New England Seltzer. I could taste definite hints of both berry and lime, which was a refreshing change from other varieties of seltzer drinks.

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New England Emporium is a great place to get a picnic lunch. Definitely try the delicious menu options, and don’t skimp out on the local products that you find in the refrigerator and market section. Our one word of warning, don’t expect a panini to stay hot if you’re going on an hour and a half long drive! The odds are not in your favor.

-Ari Rudess