I went to college in central Connecticut, where there is not much to do. But, as with any pocket of New England, it has its gems. You only have to find them. Or hear about them. As a New Yorker I read magazines and blogs and newsletters; I use Instagram as a discovery platform by following cool chefs and writers and the like; Foursquare helps me keep track of places I want to go, vet suggestions via the general public (the rating system rarely steers me wrong), find spots nearby, and share my tips. Of course, I hold holy recommendations from in-the-know friends and co-workers. I do not use Yelp. Yelp sucks.
However, in towns like Middletown and Newington and Wallingford, little of the above comes in handy. Luckily, word of mouth flows healthily on a liberal arts campus with an area of just over .5 square miles and a population of 3,000.
That's how I heard about this roadside burger joint just off Route 15 (literally; it's on a turnpike road.) Just a shack that sits on top of a gravel parking lot accompanied by a few outdoor picnic tables, you'd miss it if you didn't know to stop. Its existence was revealed to me in the context of Miller's Pond, where students would go swimming at the beginning and end of the school year. I was told it was a great place to go afterward, and that few people knew about it (all the more enticing). In reality, it wasn't all that close to Miller's or even on the way back towards campus, although it did offer a uniquely satisfying, all-American meal after a day in the water and under the sun.
The deal is burgers, hot dogs, fries, sandwiches, and shakes. You could indulge in a house specialty—made with your choice of burger, grilled chicken, or crispy chicken—such as El Diablo (pepper jack cheese, buffalo tossed onion rings, drizzled ranch, hot pepper relish), but the correct move is self-evident: burger, fries, shake. You cannot order your burger medium rare; they come as they come (medium). This fact is a bummer, especially given that it's not exactly fast food. Recently, when only two small groups were ahead of us, the cashier warned us of a 30-minute wait-time before we placed our order. Alas, even if there were the option to have meat cooked to your preference, I can confidently say that the burgers here still wouldn't be anything special. They are just okay; possibly the best you can get around, but also perhaps not. The fries are better. The shakes are shakes (to quote a favorite person of mine, "how bad can that be?"). The food in and of itself is not why this place rocks.
It has character. Slightly unfriendly service matched with a sassy-charming aesthetic (read: a sign that says "Today's Menu: Take it or Leave it!, a burger o'clock timepiece decorated with miniature hot dog and burger replicas) and an all-consuming feeling of "how did I end up here?" drive it home.
I hadn't been back for three years until last weekend when I was in town for my brother's graduation. I ate a burger (which comes on a kaiser roll, FWIW) and we shared a fresh banana shake and an order of perfectly crispy, waffle-cut sweet potato fries. When my mom had suggested we go (I let her in on the secret the last time she visited me), I wondered if it'd even still be there. Just a right turn off the highway and a few hundred feet later, there it was, true to form; reliably mediocre and marvelous at the same time.
2 Guys 1 Grill
32 N Turnpike Rd, Wallingford, CT 06492
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