Middlesex Diner

The Reuben is one of many sandwich options at Middlesex Diner.

Stephanie Kalina-Metzger, For The Sentinel

As a person who has lived in this region all my life and has been dining out at least once a week for years, I often wonder how I manage to overlook certain places, like the Middlesex Diner, for instance.

Until this past Friday, I had yet to experience the 24-hour eatery located at 1803 Harrisburg Pike in Middlesex Township, likely due to the fact that I don’t get out that way very often. Thanks to a recommendation from a friend, I figured I’d give it a try.

The first thing I noticed was the ample parking lot, which provides easy entrance and exit, which is always a plus, but especially for those pressed for time.

My dining companion and I managed to beat the lunch crowd by showing up a few minutes before noon and were greeted by no less than three employees. The hostess who led us to our seat welcomed us with a big smile and asked if we were new, then introduced us to at least two others as first-timers. This information was met with additional smiles and hearty greetings all around.

A waitress took our drink orders within seconds before giving us a few minutes to peruse the extensive menu. If your ideal lunch includes two slices of bread with something in between, you’ll have a wide range of selections from which to choose. The Middlesex Diner offers at least nine burgers, several triple-decker club sandwiches, a variety of “wraps” with ingredients ranging from tuna to chicken, hot pitas stuffed with ingredients like steak and lamb or ham and cheese, and hearty open-faced sandwiches like roast beef and meatloaf.

Entrees take up a few more pages. Eggplant parmesan, ravioli and spaghetti and meatballs are listed under “Italian Specialties,” and seafood can be ordered fried or broiled. Under “char-broiled steaks, roasts and chops” are a variety of cuts like Delmonico, sirloin and New York Strip, listed with a choice of pork chops, ribs and the homey “love it or leave it” liver and onions.

Those who enjoy chicken are chockablock with choices, too, and can order it stuffed with crabmeat or ham and cheese, fried, fashioned into “fingers,” or crafted into croquettes.

Decisions, decisions.

Judging by the size of the entrees I saw being carried past, I figured a lapse in judgment could easily bring on a blissful food coma by 1 p.m., and I had work to do, so I reluctantly consulted the “healthy menu,” which offered lighter fare like salads and marinated chicken and broccoli. I ultimately decided on the lunch-sized Greek salad topped with marinated chicken ($8.95). When I learned that all lunch specials include soup or salad, I decided to add a cup of clam chowder to my selection.

My partner’s eyes alighted on his favorite sandwich and he promptly ordered the Reuben ($6.45), pairing it with a cup of chili ($2.65).

As we waited for our meals, I admired the huge, attractively decorated Christmas tree and other decorative embellishments that give the place a warm and cozy feel, insomuch that the term “diner” seems to be a bit of a misnomer. Rows of spacious booths fill the front room ensuring that no one feels cramped, while lone diners can opt to perch on a stool at a bar that spans the back of the room, and larger parties can be seated in an adjacent dining room.

Our meals arrived hot from the kitchen in what seemed like record time, making us marvel at the swiftness of the service. My clam chowder, chock full of diced potatoes and flecks of clam and seasoned with a hint of rosemary, warmed my insides on that chilly day, and my “lunch-sized” Greek salad with chicken, cucumbers, onion, peppers, tomato and crumbled feta was enough to satisfy a hearty appetite.

My partner said he enjoyed the nicely seasoned chili and said he would return for the Reuben made with tender, corned-beef brisket and containing just enough ingredients to keep it from being messy and difficult to eat. The reasonable price, speedy service and close proximity to work ensures that he’ll be returning often over his lunch hour.

Before paying the bill, I made the mistake of meandering up to the rotating dessert case and taking a gander at the cheesecakes, the carrot cake and the other homemade pastries that seemed to be trilling my name, so I rationalized. I did choose from the “healthy” portion of the menu so ordering a piece of “chocolate thunder” might not be all that bad, am I right? A glistening piece of dark chocolate cake that appears to be 80 percent icing and ganache gets me every time, and I have to admit, I loved every bit of it.

For warm hospitality, generous portions and swift service, you might want to give the Middlesex Diner a try, especially if you have a craving in the middle of the night for a certain piece of chocolate cake.

Next Up: Dinner at VRAI in Lemoyne

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