Located off of Exit 74 on I-84, in Union Connecticut, right on the border with Massachusetts, the Traveler Restaurant is a gem of a roadside haunt that is renowned for not only it’s outstanding food, but a very special and unique promotion.
Walking into the Traveler it appears like any country roadside eatery. A simple dining room with conservative decoration, and tables that are spread out just enough to give some semblance of private eating, but without sacrificing the feeling of a community dining experience. A second look though and it might remind you more of a library than a restaurant, that is because the walls and shelves are lined with books. And these books are not just for show.
All visitors to the eatery are free to take a complimentary book from the restaurant’s large collection. What started as a way for the former owner to clear out his large book collection now results in around 100,000 books being given away every year! The books are donated from visitors or collected from libraries and schools that have excess. You’ll find plenty of older books ranging from all genres and categories, and are free to peruse the selection while waiting for your order. It is a nice way to spend a few minutes before your food arrives and you never know when you’ll find the perfect book for that long ride ahead of you. The system for organizing the books is very basic and there isn’t any sort of cataloguing so don’t treat it like a Barnes and Noble. This is book browsing at its finest. In the basement of the restaurant they have a larger book selection in the form of a used book store, with slightly more organization, but don’t worry the price on most of the books is rarely more than five dollars.
This has long been my stopping point on trips between Connecticut and Massachusetts during my college years. It is perfectly accessible right off the highway and provides the comforting atmosphere you look for when looking for a short respite from a long drive. The menu doesn’t have a whole lot of special bells and whistles, but it is chock full of simple honestly classics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When on a long driving trip you want food that is comforting and substantial, but won’t weigh you down and stick to you the whole ride.
It seems the menu has been built to provide exactly that type of food. It’s also not the most extensive menu, but by no means is it restrictive. From salads sandwiches to typical entrees there is definitely enough variety to please everyone and everything provides excellent value for even the most frugal travelers. However, when I make a stop at the Traveler I don’t even need to look at the menu. There’s only one thing that I want, the Thanksgiving Wrap.
This is easily the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever had.All other turkey sandwiches and “Thanksgiving” sandwiches are judged against this one. To this point, nothing comes close. I have dreams about one of these fresh sandwiches served with perfectly crisp sweet potato french fries, and though I’m no longer in college, I try to make excuses to drive up to Union as often as I can. The turkey is cooked fresh daily and they cut it to the perfect thickness. This is not cold cut turkey, it is the real deal. The sandwich has the perfect balance of turkey, with moist bread stuffing and scratch cranberry sauce. There isn’t really a slathering of gravy on the sandwich which some people might prefer, but you still do that get that rich savory taste from the stuffing and turkey itself. The sweet potato fries are always cooked perfectly and they compliment the sandwich better than even the best plate of mashed potatoes would.
This sandwich is so good I’ve had other diners interrupt my meal to ask me if they should order it. Usually I just nod my head between bites, my mouth too full to speak out an answer. Not quite an “I’ll have what she’s having” moment, but darn close.
As fantastic as the turkey sandwich is, I always make sure to save room for dessert, specifically the pie. There are always at least three flavors rotating on the menu, with standards like Apple always available. Each has a firm and flaky crust with a nice buttery flavor and the filling is just sweet enough without being overpowering, but marries well with the saltiness of the crust. The apples retain just a bit of their crunch to provide texture. Even better, take a piece of pie with you to go and you’ll have an outstanding snack for the next rest stop. Though if you have the willpower to just drive and not try to consume the pie instantly, you’re a stronger person than me.
Food & Beverage:
The Thanksgiving wrap itself is worth stopping for, but the rest of the menu is home style country food done simply and done well. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, especially the pie.
The service is always friendly and prompt. Servers are exceedingly knowledgeable and provide suggestions on menu choices. There’s also always someone to help out if you’re trying to find a particular book, even with the lack of a cataloging system.
The perfect stopping point for the road weary. The quiet welcoming dining room is the perfect place to take a break and relax with outstanding food, and the opportunity to pick up a free book is outstanding.
(restaurant photo courtesy of hiddenboston.com)