Brian O’Rourke’s diner just keeps getting better and better. It almost perished in 2006 when it was ravaged by a fire. There was no insurance, but regular customers loved it so much that a fund was created and enough money raised to bring it back to life. A lustrous Mountain View Diner that has been a Main Street fixture in Middletown, Connecticut, since 1946, it supplements familiar diner fare with the local oddity known as steamed cheeseburger, and, best of all, with unpredictable meals from relentlessly creative chef Brian O’Rourke. For example, the menu describes an item listed as “Brian’s Breakfast” thusly: “No two breakfasts are ever the same, and you do not know what you are going to get. Neither do your servers, so do not even try asking!” A few possibilities on the petit déjeuner degustation: duck hash, a waffle topped with barbecued pork, poached eggs with smoked salmon, a Dubliner omelet (corned beef hash and Irish cheddar), banana bread French toast with clotted cream.
Brian O’Rourke, who grew up in the diner started by his uncle John O’Rourke, loves to talk about the food he makes. One spring he enthralled us with a clever story about how he traded meals with a local fisherman to get fresh shad and shad roe for his dinner menu. Another time, he explained in mouth-watering detail how he made an all greens soup because he came across a good supply of fresh collards and mustard greens and the caraway in his garden was ripe for picking; he combined these with sweet kale, sorrel, and ricotta cheese, sour cream, and yogurt to create a thick, invigorating brew as hearty as vegetables can be. “I’ve been doing a lot of drying lately,” Brian told us one September, holding up an plastic carton filled with chili powder made from hundreds of dried, ground, golden cayenne peppers. “Here, smell,” he said, opening the top. The aroma was dizzying – sharp, earthy, sunny. “This is a season’s worth,” he boasted. “All I need is a pinch for my soups or sauces.” Then, even though we had just finished dessert, he brought out a little crock of chili so we could taste. It was zesty, tongue tingling but not scorchingly hot, with a deep savor from the red wine he had included. Wine in chili? It’s not the true-Texas way, but O’Rourke’s is nothing if not original.