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Pull Off I-84 for a Unique Dining Experience... and a Free Book!
"FOOD and BOOKS" says the giant sign outside The Traveler Restaurant in Union, Connecticut. Union, which has a population of about 850 residents, is the state's smallest town, and you might not even know you're passing through as you leave Connecticut driving eastbound on I-84. You can't, however, miss the bold sign that touts this unique restaurant, where more than 100,000 books are given away every year!
I had seen the restaurant's sign dozens of times and always been curious about what I'd find inside, so on a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, with my parents and my daughter, I decided it was finally time to explore this intriguing eatery.
I'll take you inside The Traveler Restaurant and tell you more about its unique book giveaway program, but first, here are all of the details you'll need if you want to visit this roadside restaurant:
The Traveler Restaurant
1257 Buckley Highway, Union, CT
Located off I-84 eastbound or westbound at exit 74 in Connecticut, just west of the... Massachusetts state line.
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.Continue to 2 of 4 below.
02 of 04
A Book Lover's Ideal Eatery
If you love books, you'll feel right at home the moment you step inside The Traveler Restaurant. Shelves of books surround the main floor dining room, and all of the volumes you see are available for free with the purchase of a meal.
Keep in mind, now, that you won't exactly find the latest bestseller among the 5,000 or so selections available at any given time. The Traveler Restaurant obtains its books from library discard sales, auctions, flea markets, book fairs and other used book sources. The menu says: "Our hope is that each and every one of our guests finds a book on our shelves," and if you're patient and spend some time browsing, it's almost guaranteed that a volume or two will catch your eye.
My preschooler loved exploring the children's section, and although the hardcover Sesame Street book she selected was a bit worn, she loved having a new story to look at in the car on the rest of our drive. My mother scouted out some paperback romances--the perfect light reading to... tuck into a suitcase or beach bag. I went straight to the vintage travel guides, which, though horribly outdated, were fun to flip through for a look at hotel prices that can't be touched nowadays. On my second visit to The Traveler Restaurant, my friend Jessica was thrilled to discover some old cookbooks tucked away on a bottom shelf.
When the price is "free," the quest for the perfect choice becomes a bit of a game. You'll find that the time spent waiting for your meal to arrive flies by as you wander the restaurant in search of a book to call your own.Continue to 3 of 4 below.
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In Good Company
Marty Doyle, the original owner of The Traveler Restaurant, was a book collector who came up with the restaurant's unique marketing concept because he wanted to thin out his own collection. The current owners have continued the free book tradition, and they give away an estimated 50 tons of books each year.
Lovers of literature will enjoy perusing not only the restaurant's shelves but its walls, which are decorated with literary memorabilia including photos autographed by well-known authors such as New England's own Dr. Seuss.
If you're a book collector or even just an avid reader, you'll also want to venture downstairs to the Book Cellar. The 20,000 old books on the cellar's shelves aren't free, but they're priced reasonably, and you just might find a volume you'll treasure among the stacks.Continue to 4 of 4 below.
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A Menu with Something for Everyone... Kids, Too!
It's easy forget that this cozy roadside spot is first and foremost a full-service restaurant. Don't get so lost among the bookshelves that you allow your meal to get cold!
The Traveler Restaurant offers a diverse menu with something for everyone, from steaks and seafood to salads and sandwiches. Turkey is cooked fresh every day and served several different ways. Vegetarian items are available, and there's a kids' menu, too. Solo diners will find this a friendly and comfortable place to dine and browse.
My preschooler ordered grilled cheese and fries; between her new book and the view of a bird feeder from our window side table, she was kept entertained throughout our lunch. My mother opted for a clam strip sandwich; Dad had the grilled portabella sandwich with sweet potato fries (pictured above), and I chose the Chapter Chicken Grill--a grilled chicken breast sandwich with cheddar and tomato--and a side of onion rings. The menu is reasonably priced, and while a meal here will cost you... more than fast food, you'll never discover a beloved book from your childhood or a quirky science tome in a rest area McDonald's.
If your travels take you through Connecticut on I-84, be sure to pull off at exit 74 to feed your belly and your brain. The Traveler Restaurant is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.