Parke's Place is a small and wonderful family joint in Ledyard
For more years than my team of physicians thought possible, I was a wildly impetuous fellow who could (and often did) hop in a car at the pop-of-a-beer-can and race from Dallas to Galveston or Austin or New Orleans just to see what sort of werewolf I could become in a more exotic zip code.
Not anymore. I am set in my ways. Same thing, every day. Need proof? The clock-keepers at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich call ME to make sure their "meantime" thingy is accurate. My daily routine is carved on the largest boulder at Stonehenge, and Druid monks pause before it in humble contemplation of the idea of Personal Order.
It was a complete surprise, then, when I showed up early to my weekly radio appearance with Lee Elci a few weeks ago and, having a few minutes to drive around Ledyard, discovered a small diner/family restaurant called Parke's Place, tucked just off Colonel Ledyard Highway in its own tree-shrouded grove.
Intrigued, I went back to Parke's Place for lunch after my on-air segment, and I loved the place. My wife Eileen and I have visited twice more and it's easy to see why — as is clearly the case — this little gem is a must-be-there destination for Ledyardians.
(And if Ledyard residents don't refer to themselves as Ledyardians, well, they should.)
Parke's Place is a building of dark wood and has a look that reminds me of summer camp headquarters. This is perhaps enforced by a huge, roadside ICE CREAM banner flapping teasingly in the still-winter breeze. When the time comes, there's a veranda on one side of the building and an outdoor patio on the other side.
In the meantime, you'll feel completely at home with the interior. There's a to-go pickup area/cashier station just inside the main door where you'll be greeted. To the right is a narrow, U-shaped lunch counter where regulars sit on stools and enjoy cordial and marathon breakfast-into-lunch sessions and genteelly solve the world's problems. Apparently, all are welcome: We saw both a MAGA ball cap and a guest's pickup truck in the parking lot with some of the vilest anti-Trump bumper stickers imaginable.
On the opposite side of the restaurant is a step-down dining room with several tables, peach colored walls, and a casual, comfortable feel. This seems to be where families gather, though the vibe is happy and collegial throughout.
The laminated, two-sided menu at Parke's Place epitomized "diner simplicity," with breakfast on one side and lunch/dinner on the other. There are no big surprises on either — the Parke folks stick with the basics and do them very well. Sandwiches, burgers and dogs, soups and a bit of seafood at noon, and the requisite egg dishes, pancakes, combo platters and breakfast sandwiches to start the day (and available till 2 p.m.).
On a breakfast stop, Eileen and I ordered from the specials board. She had a Spinach and Mushroom Omelet ($8.95). In addition to gooey cheddar and the titular vegetables, all of which were fresh, she was delighted by a surprise presence of chopped onion and red, green and yellow peppers. The happily clashing flavors, all held together by fluffy eggs, was delightful, and an accompanying batch of home fries — big chunks of hot, moist potatoes with a nice char — was just right.
I asked for Cinnamon French Toast ($6.50) and, from the regular menu, a side of house-crafted corned beef hash ($3.50). The thick slabs of toast were fanned out one atop another — like a magician saying, "Pick a piece of bread, any bread." They were rich golden in color and the requisite vanilla mixed with the scent of cinnamon freckling the slices in subtle and yet utterly seductive fashion. As fine as the toasties were, I fell completely under the spell of the hash. Shreds of corned beef were strewn throughout browned potato and onion and an unidentified spice — something maple-like — had been cooked into the full-platter helping. I'd have been a fool to not carve a forkful of toast and then maneuver some hash on top. Just outstanding.
On a lunch voyage, I opted for a Tuna Melt and was rewarded with a giant sandwich of toasted (and requested) rye, filled to giddy height with white chunks of tuna melded by not-too-much mayo and nuanced by a melted slab of mellow American cheese. Pre-cut French fries were serviceable.
Eileen had an Egg Salad Sandwich on whole wheat ($6.50 with chips) and the mixture of egg-white, hard-boiled yolk and mayo was thick and filling. At home, E relies on Worstershire sauce, and used hot sauce at Parke's to add a bit of torque.
A Friday-only feature Fish & Chips ($11.95) boasted a pillow of off-the-dock haddock. The breading was thin, absolutely grease-free and providing a gentle crunch in support of the delicious fish. Our hostess, Michelle — full disclosure: she's a retired and former long-time Day employee though I had no idea she was part of the Parke family until I walked in the restaurant — said she'd spent her day cutting and cleaning 50 pounds of haddock.
I was advised by three different employees to try the Reuben. So I did. There are actually two varieties. The regular Reuben ($12.95) is the classic recipe and comes with your choice of nicely trimmed corned beef or pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on grilled rye. The Parke's Place "House Specialty," though, is the Ultimate Reuben Club Sandwich ($16.95) which doubles the meat and combines the pastrami AND corned beef in one monstrosity.
Hoping to walk out under my own power, I went with the, ah, normal version. They hit every aspect perfectly. Just enough sauerkraut for a tangy crunch, not too much sweet and creamy dressing, that spangle of Swiss, and a heap of wonderful, house-made corned beef. The rye was buttered and the whole thing toasted with precision. It comes with a crisp cup of coleslaw, choice of potato and a bland spear of pickle. Next time? I'm fastiing for a week and going for the Ultimate.
After three stops at Parke's Place, reveling in the homey kindness and terrific food, I feel as though I'm an honorary Ledyardian. That's a pretty great thing.
678 Colonel Ledyard Highway, Ledyard
Cuisine: Perfection in the form of a hometown diner
Atmosphere: Comfy family dining room, counter area with regular cast of happy and friendly locals and, in warm months, rustic patio and deck seating
Service: Like you've dropped by a favorite Aunt and Uncle's — the ones who won't let you lift a hand
Prices: very reasonable ranging from $4.25 breakfast combos and $6.50 deli sandwiches up corned beef dinners (Thursdays, $10.95) and seafood platters (Fridays, $17.95)
Hours: 6 a.m.- 2p.m. Sun.-Tues., 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Handicap access: A ramp from parking lot to dining room entry level; steps-only to counter level
Credit cards: All majors with small service fee