The Borough of Middletown1, Pennsylvania is probably most famous for being next door to the site of the worst commercial nuclear power accident in history2. Three Mile Island is located in the middle of the Susquehanna River, just south of this town of 9,242.
And no, the residents don't really glow in the dark.
The town itself is actually a pretty fair representation of small town Americana. It is the sort of place in which Norman Rockwell might have painted a scene or two 50 years ago.
Like many 21st Century small towns in the USA, Middletown has a struggling downtown business district. Many of the downtown shops have closed and moved to suburban strip malls and shopping plazas. Even the post office has abandoned its downtown location for a roomier place in a mall on the edge of town. But don't let the lack of commercial vibrancy fool you. This town still has a lot of life - much of it in the way of restaurants.
Middletown has several restaurants of which annually make reader's choice lists in regional newspapers and magazines. Among the restaurants are:
Alfred's Victorian - This restaurant features fine dining in a large restored Victorian building that is on the National Register of Historic homes. Named for owner Alfred D Pellegrini, the menu features many dishes from northern Italy and is complemented by an excellent wine list. The on-site herb garden provides the freshest ingredients. It is open for lunch and dinner, and dinner reservations are strongly encouraged. It's a bit expensive, but it has been consistently voted by regional magazines as the area's 'most romantic' dining spot.
Guido McNeall's- Inspired by a visit to Ireland, the Pellegrini family fell in love with the food and pub life so much that they opened their own pub on the town square. The restaurant borrows the best of the atmosphere and cuisine of a traditional Irish pub and combined that with the family's own Italian specialities. The rotisserie meats are highly recommended - or you might want to try some of the lighter fare. The homemade dessert list isn't extensive, but everything on it is well prepared.
Brownstone Cafe - Located in a refurbished bank building, the Brownstone Café features a traditional mixed fare menu. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And the dessert menu is always worth a look, especially after a late-night movie at the nearby Elks Theatre.
Kuppy's Diner - It looks like a hole-in-the wall kind of place, but for it to have survived 70-plus years, they must be doing something right. One of the region's best-kept secrets, Kuppy's has the one of the best breakfast menus in south-central Pennsylvania3. Breakfast offerings include scrapple and creamed chipped beef. Traditional Pennsylvania Dutch favourites like chicken corn chowder soup is served on Saturdays and Mondays and a wide selection of pies are baked on-site.
Lamp Post Inn - Specialises in typical American dishes such as steak, poultry, seafood and pasta dishes and the fare is all reasonably priced. This is one of the town's more affordable and established restaurants and is a favourite with locals.
MidTown Pizza - What small town doesn't have its own pizzeria? This one is outstanding with plenty of well-prepared offerings that you'd expect. It also has a fully-stocked beer refrigerator for six packs to go. And a recent expansion has added a more 'upscale' restaurant with a full bar. Try the Pasquale Surprise pizza for a real treat.
Cona Cabana - And just as every small American town needs a great pizzeria, it should also have an ice cream shop. Cona Cabana fills this niche perfectly with wonderful hand-dipped ice cream.
Demp's Corner Pub - Not really a restaurant, Demp's is more of a working class tavern. But don't let the lack of food keep you away, there's a pool table and the jukebox always has plenty of good rock 'n' roll.
Aside from these restaurants, there's really not much to recommend Middletown to a casual visitor. But among the best of what's left are:
Elks Theatre is one of the oldest continually operating movie theatres in the United States. It operates as a second-run cinema downtown - giving you a chance to see films on the big screen for half the cost if you're willing to wait a few months after the initial release.
There are five parks in town, including the ten-acre Hoffer Park where the Swatara Creek flows into the Susquehanna River. Hoffer Park has wide expanses of lawn, playground equipment and some picnic pavilions and it is home to many of the town's special events.
The Middletown and Hummelstown Railroad operates excursion trains from the former Reading Railroad station in the heart of the town to nearby Indian Echo Caverns and back again. The route parallels the abandoned Union Canal and Swatara Creek.
Middletown is the oldest town in Dauphin County, older even than the county seat in Harrisburg. It was named for being midway between Lancaster and Carlisle, serving as a rest stop for wagons and stagecoaches on the old toll road which is now state Route 230. This history is reflected in many different styles of architecture, including seven buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
Keeping with the historic theme, St Peter's Lutheran Church4 is one of the oldest houses of worship in the region and its cemetery has the graves of several American Revolutionary War soldiers and other early white settlers.
Even the town's arts festival has a historical theme. The annual Colonial Arts and Craft Fair is held in June in Hoffer Park and features craftspeople and food vendors wearing Colonial-era costumes. The craftspeople are all juried and the food vendors are all affiliated with local nonprofit organisations and churches. Admission is free.
But the most curious thing about the town is its insistence that it was the birthplace of Disney icon Mickey Mouse. According to local historians, a Middletown toy company was selling a 'Micky Mouse' toy as early as 1926, at least five years before the famous cartoon mouse hit the big screen. Some of the patent documents and toys are on display in the town historical society museum.