New London's Sunrise Cafe is a nice addition to downtown

Turkey club sandwich with fries at Sunrise Cafe (Photo by Eileen Jenkins)
Turkey club sandwich with fries at Sunrise Cafe (Photo by Eileen Jenkins)

Many years ago, when he was with Black Flag, singer Henry Rollins wrote in his journal about one of the most amazing things he'd ever seen: Standing at a particular corner in east Dallas, Texas, Rollins could see THREE different 7-Eleven stores within easy walking distance!

This understandably seems like a) poor corporate planning and b) from Rollins' perspective, a dangerously low-bar appreciation of Quality. But maybe you need to be a touring musician to understand why a clustered trio of 7-Elevens excited Rollins so much. Essentially, it comes down to an abstract idea of comfort and convenience. On the road, one might go hundreds of miles and many hours desperate for a 7-Eleven or similar establishment.

Just to know that there are THREE of them — there for you at any time! — is like an embarrassment of riches. In fact, I was a musician at that point in time, and my house was a Drew Brees bomb from all of those stores. It was a beautiful thing.

I thought about all of this recently whilst eating a few times at the quietly impressive Sunrise Café in New London. It's located facing the recently overhauled public parking area between Eugene O'Neill and Bank Street, just behind Hygienic Art. In a more intriguing geographical context, the Sunrise is extremely close to both Monica's State Street Diner and Muddy Waters — two popular establishments that are in direct competition not just with each other but also with the upstart Sunrise.

I do not know the honchos behind the Sunrise — maybe Henry Rollins? — but I do think I can look beyond what might seem an illogical business plan and enjoy the new café for what it offers: convenience, comfort and, yes, quality. I like having the option of settling in at Monica's or Muddy Waters OR the Sunrise, and it's my hope that there's room for all three.

With a diner-style counter at the back, tables in the middle of the black-and-white tile floor and a circumference of high-back booths, the Sunrise is roomy and comfortable. The walls are jack-o'-lantern orange, and the ceiling is painted in a tone that surely inspired Wilco to write "Sky Blue Sky." Framed posters and prints reflect New London's sea-happy heritage, and big plate glass windows provide a vista view of the downtown skyline and brisk traffic along Eugene O'Neill Drive.

As per the venue's daylight hours, the Sunrise menu offers a concise number of breakfast/lunch choices with no frills or heady concepts. Breakfast is served all day and focuses on sandwiches, omelettes and combination platters with hot cakes/waffles/French toast intermingled with sausage/bacon/ham/hash. At lunch, you can select from a variety of grinders, burgers, chicken and deli sandwiches and wraps. There are also soups, salads and fried fish, along with a kids menu and desserts.

Highlights of my explorations:

• A short stack of hot cakes ($4.50) with a side of link sausages ($2.75) — Hot cakes always SOUNDS like a good idea, until I add so much butter and syrup that the cakes melt into a gummy mass. Not at Sunrise, though. The thick, saucer-sized ovals had a fluffy interior and just enough of a toasty surface that they held up beautifully under the assault of butter/syrup. Very nice, and a comingled mouthful of hotcake with the griddle-marked pork sausage was Happiness.

• Breakfast Special #6 (corned beef hash, two eggs, homefries and toast, $7.95) — The attention to detail makes this standard worth it. The potatoes are thinly sliced and quickly fried, with a hint of onion and a sturdy texture, and not at all greasy. They're the perfect counterpoint to a pile of crisply exteriored and savory hash topped with two delicate scrambled eggs. A dash of Frank's hot sauce added a bit of torque, and buttered rye toast was warm and perfectly sturdy for herding my remaining morsels into an edible pile.

• Turkey club sandwich with fries ($8.50) — Ham and cheeseburger are other club variations. The turkey breast was house-baked and generously carved; the smokey bacon was ideally textured (chewy but with a brittle crunch), and with fresh lettuce and tomato. It's a lot of food, particularly with what seemed to be pre-fab but yet tasty crinkle-cut fries. A more than competitive club.

• California chicken sandwich with fries ($8.95) with an opening-act cup of Texas chili with cheese ($5) — A quick note on geography. Not sure why the sandwich is Californian. But it's very good. It's a precisely broiled boneless breast with a generous criss-cross of bacon, a square of American cheese and the lettuce/tomato punctuation. I asked for the "lite ranch" dressing on the side and utilized it as a sparing dip option. More geography: the chili isnt remotely Texan, but that's okay, too. It's more like a chunky soup with thick brown gravy, tender and generous chunks of lean stew meat, and beans. The melted cheese on top was a subtle but excellent touch, and dipping the fries in the "chili" was an inspiration I'm proud of.

I look forward to trying more dishes at the Sunrise, particularly the homemade apple pie and a meatball grinder I saw another guest attacking. In the meantime, I'm perfectly happy to move in checkerboard fashion between Monica's, Muddy Waters and the Sunrise. There's hopefully room for all.


Sunrise Cafe

36 Golden Street, New London

(860) 437-3444

Cuisine: Classic American diner food; basic but nicely realized breakfast and lunch

Atmosphere: Very welcoming; New London-centric decor and big windows to watch the city

Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

Service: Pleasant and quick with coffee-Diet Coke refills

Prices: Very reasonable and competitive; nothing over $10

Handicap access: Dining room very roomy but there's a tricky set of steps to the door

Reservations: N/A

Credit cards: All majors 


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