Isn't That Ionic

Some vegan spots emphasize taste over presentation, while others employee chefs who are more artists than actual cooks - they make it look good, but leave the gustatory cells (taste buds) yearning for more. I've always found great satisfaction in dining at a place that combines the two; a little class with flavor waves en masse. There's nothing wrong with vegan cuisine that looks like an abstract painting, but tastes great; I visited and enjoyed many in my travels so far. But, when you enter a place that has quality decorum, well composed dishes, and service that mirrors that small bistro in Little Italy everyone raves about, then, in my book, you have a winner

So my Queen and I found ourselves in middle town, USA...Actually, it's Middletown, Connecticut. A brother of mine recommended I try this spot out years ago, but it took me a while to finally pay 'It's Only Natural' (or ION) a visit. It's located at 606 Main Street, Middletown, CT. Interstate 91 cuts right through northern end of this small town. Do your gustatory cells (there's that word again) a favor and take a detour from your northern excursion. Cool decorum, quality service.

A smart, but dimly lit atmosphere, but not overthought. There are no reservations provided. Its a first come, first serve joint, but the greeters, waiters, and waitresses, don't seem to know that. Their presentation and engagements speaks more of a place where the garçons anticipate and prepare for your arrival. There's a cool simple bar area, a grab and go station, if you will, and of course a dining area. The dinning area is neat, straight to the point, but with hints of personality. For example, there's this wooden table cut straight from the tree. I took a snap of it. Check it out, if you haven't already.

There's an old school blackboard in the rear that read *Specials*: Sheppard's Pie.' Historically, I hated Sheppard's pie. As a ten year old, I thought it was just re-purposed left over meat and potatoes no one wanted to eat as is, but during my first visit to ION, I decided against what my childhood opinions would have me do. I ordered it. It was damn good. I wrote this review. Do the 1 to my latest report.

Loaded Nachos - Quinoa chili, diced tomatoes, onions, black beans, avocado, cheese sauce, salsa, and tofu sour cream. The chili was tasty and had some depth, but it wasn't not full of the bold flavors I expect in my chili. The quinoa was textually and nutritionally a good look and a nice touch. The cheese, a house made cheddar style, was velvet and 'cheesy'. However, it lacked the heavy hit of sodium on my tongue that I prefer with any queso. Overall, this pub - like starter was cool. It was in-line with some other tasty vegan nachos I've tasted, but not outstanding. Report: B-

Crab Cakes
- Hearts of palm, capers, arugula + lemon aioli. I appreciated the technique used to develop this starter. The outer texture has more of a crisp, than a crunch; It was spot on in terms of bite, but the crisp was a bit too well done for my liking. I prefer a lighter fry. The aioli helped mask some of the heavy fry. The interior of the crab cake was moist, not too dense, and consistent. These were crab cakes, but not lump crab cakes. Good presentation, well designed vegan replica of the 'real' thing. Report: B-

Sheppard's Pie - Veggie Protein, Corn, Roasted Garlic, Mashed Potatoes, Vegan Mozzarella. The first thing that hits you is the hint of rosemary on the top of the dish. Take it as a sign of things to come. The potatoes were mashed to a smooth, tender texture. Lightly seasoned with paprika and just enough salt. The combination of the protein, the fresh corn, roasted garlic, and hidden mozzarella was hardy, but still delicate and delicious. But the star of the plate was the rosemary. The chef went heavy on it, but I loved it. Report: A

Southern Plate - Southern Fried Tofu, Lemon Aioli, Baked Black Beans, Sauteed Garlic Greens, and Cornbread. Fresh Greens; sauteed to precision; tender, not overcooked. The cornbread was firm on the outer crust, but moist inside, and had a taste most are familiar with. The baked black beans where left to stand alone. They weren't hidden in a mound of spices. It actually worked well with greens; however they would be more of a success if presented in a small bowl with some of the natural bean's soup and added spices. The tofu's coating was packed with salty southern flavor hyperdrive; however beyond the crust, the tofu tasted untreated. An initial marinade would alleviate that small disappointment. The lemon aioli provided the needed sauce for the meal. It's the perfect pool for dipping the tofu. Report: B

See It's Only Natural's RDR Report Card below

Place Location B Not difficult to get to. A 'mulberry' kind of street with other markets and restaurants. An eclectic area
Parking B Post 6pm, I found parking relatively easily
Restaurant Atmosphere B Casual, home-like feel, with a touch of class. Music turned at a decent volume; diverse selection with a few strong hip hop selections
Cleanliness B- Bathrooms were very clean, but not immaculate. It should meet most standards, with the exception of very very few.
People Service (Hostess, wait time, etc) B No wait time, the greeter, was straight up. No overly welcoming, but certainly didn’t make me want to turn away 
Waiter/Waitress B+ The waiter, and the bar-keep were cool, and down to earth. They allowed tasting before purchase on some of the drinks we ordered
Fellow Customers C This was a diverse crowd; from young couples, to a party of 8 in their 50's. Most kept to their own dinner party
Food Presentation B- Plate presentations were effective. A few garnishes here and there, but not full of pageantry. It was about the food. 
Originality B- Some of the menu selections you know and love from many vegan spots, but the Sheppard's pie, white clam pasta, and pierogi are nice changes of pace
Taste B Some items were very very good, nothing was near bad. The Sheppard's pie was a superior spin on the hungry's man (or woman's) favorite
Nutrition/Ingredients A- Excellent ingredient options; from gluten free, to soy free, to nut free. Plenty of vegetables choices as well
Price Appetizer/Starters/Small Plates Price Range B All small plates ranged from $7.00 to $13.00
Entrees Price Range B+ Reasonable prices on the Entrees/Big Plates. Nothing over $18.00. Other spots could easily hit $20+ with the same plates
Drink Prices B $8.50 for a 'Birch and Bourbon' I requested a 'remix' and the waiter and bar-keep handled it without fomenting a melee

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