Last Monday, we bid a fond “Welcome back” to one of Middletown’s favorite Italian restaurants, Tuscany Grill. After being around almost 20 years, it was decided that Tuscany Grill needed a slight update. Owner, Brenda Reilly, shared that she felt they needed to “remind Middletown that [they] were still here”. Tuscany Grill had become a fixture in people’s lives, the place they went to for special occasions, but it needed a new coat of paint.
After a small renovation, some new carpeting, and new paint, Tuscany Grill is back in business. Surprisingly, the whole process took only 5 days to accomplish, with everyone pitching in to get the job done faster. The new menu, however, took over a month to perfect.
We spoke with the executive chef, Ben Gamble. “Ravioli is an art”, Ben informed us. Their ravioli, he says, are the most time consuming, but also one of the most popular, items on the menu. In addition to butternut squash ravioli, served especially for fall, visitors can look forward to many other fall dishes, such as pork tenderloin cooked with fennel and red pepper flakes, and served with an apple-brandy cream sauce. Ben likes working with the fall menu because it gives him a chance to make heavy, savory comfort food, after the delicate flavors of summer.
What sets Tuscany Grill apart is that they use their creativity to come up with unique dishes that are still traditional enough not to scare people away – like variations on a theme. Instead of a basic baked potato or rice side, Tuscany Grill serves risotto cakes, fingerling potatoes, ravioli (as a side), mashed potatoes with Gorgonzola or cheddar cheese, and green risotto with basil. It’s changes like these that make them stand out, and have the customers coming back for more.
Tuscany Grill tries to buy locally as much as possible. They get a lot of ingredients from the Middlesex Fruitery, and their fish is delivered fresh every day from Connecticut Fish. Their menu is very accommodating to gluten free diets, with a special GF version of the menu, changing small things like substituting gluten-free pasta. This has been really helpful for their guests with celiac, because they no longer have to hunt for dishes they can eat. They also have vegan options, like the eggplant tower (which you can order without cheese).
At the bar, Ruth Shea, who is also general manager, has been experimenting with unusual drinks. She has been making infusions with Onyx Moonshine, from East Hartford. Some of her creations include watermelon jolly rancher, root beer barrel, and jalapeño-citrus infusions. She’s also planning special fall drinks like a Maple Manhattan, pumpkin spice martini, and moonshine infused with figs and port or fresh lemon juice and champagne.
At the grand re-opening, we got a chance to sample some of what Tuscany Grill has to offer. We tried a few crostini, which managed to pack a lot of flavor into a few bites. We also tried the risotto cakes, or arancini, which were like the ultimate Italian comfort food: golden and fried on the outside, creamy and smooth on the inside. Their antipasto had an impressive selection of olives, cheeses, and meats, including wrapped asparagus. From the pasta bar, we were able to try penne in a creamy pesto sauce with vegetables and cheese. The sauce was deliciously silky and the vegetables added both texture and flavor. Even the bred and oil was attractive, with long thin pieces of bread for dipping.
This family business is on the 4th generation. Brenda notes that pretty much everyone in her family has worked at the restaurant in some capacity, with the younger members working as waitstaff or hosting. Brenda has enjoyed seeing Tuscany Grill grow to become a presence in the community. She has seen couples go on first dates, get engaged, and then continue to visit with new families. She has made so many friends that there is always someone to chat with. As she puts it, Tuscany Grill isn’t “something that we do; it’s who we are”.
You can try their new menu starting on Tuesday, September 24th.
- Laura ’16
120 College St
Middletown, CT 06457