Lions, and tigers, and bears — oh no!
Just kidding. We are talking deepest, darkest Exeter, but you’re safe from wildlife at the Middle of Nowhere Diner, unless you snag yourself on an antler while sideling through the parking lot some brisk dawn in hunting season. Have no fear, dear Cranston or Warwick natives who consider a drive to Westerly as exotic, and unlikely, as a slow boat to Marseille.
This restaurant is one of those unassuming places that line blue highways up and down America. Outside, it’s a nondescript gray box with a red tiled roof. Inside, it has the requisite row of stools along a counter, per diner designation, plus several booths and two-person tables. The décor is straight out of grandma’s kitchen, with a strip of grapes-and-fruit wallpaper along the ceiling and a cuteness quotient summed up by a framed photo of a kid wearing fairy wings and sitting on a mushroom. The ashes of a Problem Customer rest in a corked jar on a top shelf, warning potential complainers.
You’re probably not in danger — unless you’re like the woman who groused how the enormous portions are wasteful, the only criticism that cook/proprietor Neil White says he’s received about quantities in a dozen years here. Well, that’s why the good Lord made doggie bags, ma’am. When my Exeter friend Gary spoke of the portion of corned beef and cabbage set before him one St. Patrick’s Day, his eyes misted over.
This diner should be called Good ’n’ Plenty, but that name’s taken. The four-egg omelets, for example, are served all day except, unaccountably, on Fridays. Gary claims the one described as “diced thick ham steak ’n’ cheese” ($5.45) contains chunks larger than the dice at Foxwoods. “Neil’s Favorite Omelet” ($6.95) is stuffed with 13 items, including every breakfast meat in the kitchen.
For lunch, the 10-page menu offers plenty of sandwiches and burgers, but it’s the big appetite dinner choices that really tempt. On the carnivore page, they range from a basic burger plate ($5.95) through liver and onions ($7.60), which should be required by law in every place calling itself a diner, to Steak a la Nowhere ($12.95), a 12-ounce ribeye “pressed with garlic,” smothered with sautéed mushrooms and onions, and interestingly “served over garlic bread,” alongside potatoes and vegetables. There are also pasta, chicken, and seafood pages, each with a half-dozen or more choices. Gary recommends the clam strips ($8.25), which the menu describes as an “oversized portion.” One can only imagine what would come with the fisherman’s platter ($14.95), described as “for the Hungriest of Appetites.”
On this visit, I indulged in a favorite of mine here, the Southwestern chicken ($9.75). The grilled split chicken breast was sizable, as expected, but also moist, topped with Swiss cheese and strips of crisp bacon. The French fries were good, the coleslaw juicy, and the bonus of hot pepper rings an unexpected vinegary taste contrast that worked.
My dining companion rolled up his sleeves and took on the yeoman task of checking out the Parmigiana platter ($11.95), the most ambitious item on the pasta page. Out came what looked like a family platter of spaghetti, with meatballs and peppers, plus a cutlet of veal, chicken, and eggplant. The meatballs were a little on the dense side for my taste, but the tomato sauce was exquisite, just thick enough and somehow magnetically attracting my sampling fork. Gary’s a big guy with a healthy appetite, but when he was through, what was left could be spread around to look like no one had touched the plate.
If you’re stingy as well as hungry, you should know about the “Two for Tuesday” dinner specials that start at 3:30 pm. You get two soups, two salads, and two main dishes for $12.99. There are always eight or so choices from the main menu, plus a special or two such as American chop suey.
As for desserts, Neil does his own puddings, tapioca, and some of the pies, such as pumpkin, apple, and apple crisp — including a lemon meringue that I hear is worth the detour. Trouble is, every time I eat here, I end up too stuffed to indulge. Next time maybe I’ll ask for a bigger doggie bag.
Middle of Nowhere Diner | 222 noosenbeck hill road [route 3], exeter, RI |
Open daily, 5 am-8:30 pm | No credit cards | BYOB | Sidewalk-level access |
Bill Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.