Restaurant Feature: It’s Only Natural

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Tearsheets from Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine

This feature & interview originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine

Q & A with Renana owner of Middletown, CT based ION Restaurant
Photos & Interview  by Annika Lundkvist

A familiar establishment in the vegan scene in Connecticut, ION restaurant has been through a few incarnations. When Renana Magee first found the establishment, it was a tiny restaurant attached to a market. Today she is the owner of what is ION’s third location, a sexy and atmospheric space serving up their own brand of delicious and refined vegan comfort dishes on Main Street in Middletown. Annika chats with Renana about ION’s history, food recent additions to their menu and design of their restaurant space.

Annika: ION has been voted Connecticut’s best vegan/vegetarian restaurant in the Hartford Reader’s Poll numerous times. That’s a fantastic response from the community! What are your thoughts on the vegan culinary scene in Connecticut and diner’s response to ION?
Renana: People eat here for varied reasons, but the bottom line is: the food tastes good. I love that we are plant-based and don’t support factory farms, but I love food and it must be good — I defy any militant carnivore to have a piece of my carrot cake and some sweet potato fries and our kale salad.. Good food is good food. I won’t lecture anyone on why you should eat this way — they’ll figure that out on their own if they care to. We are just serving good food and drinks with a good vibe where all are welcome.

Annika: What are the signature dishes at ION?
Renana: Our signature dishes are the sweet potato fries, southern fried tofu, carrot cake, coconut cake, kale salad and garlic risotto.

Annika: As of Spring 2016, the menu at ION is undergoing a change. You’re planning to add some dishes as well as stop using terms that are traditionally for meat products. What dishes will be added to the menu?
Renana: We added fresh spring rolls — something I really wanted to eat more of! Plus you get to really celebrate what’s fresh when making them. Everything else I do here uses muscle — literally or metaphorically — but preparing spring rolls, rolling them up in thin rice paper, needs us to be gentle. I like to infuse our food with love. We also added a Greek Salad with our housemate feta — again, mostly because I wanted to eat it! As a little girl I used to want access to fresh food — all the time — like a salad bar situation. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, yet here it is! The most intense salad bar I’ve ever been to.

Annika: When did you begin serving Frey wines and why?
Renana: Serving organically produced wines was always really important to me — and Frey was doing it. Their wines have improved dramatically over the years — and their newer labels are gorgeous! We have formed a great relationship with Organic Vintages — and they are as committed as we are.

Annika: What are some of your favorite wine and dish pairings?
Renana: When I am beyond tired, and have forgotten to eat all day because the restaurant was so busy, I’ve been known to have a plate of coconut curry covered in a slice of our coconut cake. Beyond delicious! I stopped drinking about a year ago, but our Pacific Rim riesling would go quite well with that. Again: this is only if you are 100% depleted and need to refuel.

Annika: ION has inhabited a few locations. In its most recent incarnation at 606 Main Street in Middletown you’ve mentioned that aspects of veganism even informed design and functions of the space. What were some of the specifics of this change?
Renana: When I designed the space I had to explain myself more than might have been necessary with a standard dead animal restaurant. For example, we don’t need crazy freezer space — most everything is fresh. We freeze fruit of smoothies, but there aren’t a pile of carcasses lying around. Our vegan kitchen is streamlined, cook friendly, efficient. I always loved design so building this location from nothing was great — I hope I can design more spaces in the future.

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