It’s always a challenge when a business has a great following in one spot and then busts a move to a new part of town. On a crisp February day, the Orangeside Luncheonette, having outgrown its tiny Orange Street location, reopened in a larger space as the Orangeside on Temple. As luck would have it, two feet of snow fell on New Haven that day, and the restaurant had to close for the first three days of its existence. Undaunted, they reopened the following Tuesday and have been doing well ever since.
Owner Tony Poleshek, Jr., a native East Havener, got off to a humble start in the restaurant business, working at Mister Donuts during high school. After an eight-year stint in the U.S. Air Force, during which he served in Desert Storm, Poleshek came home and took a vice-president’s job, commuting into New York City. One day, he decided to give corporate America the heave-ho and he quit.
Both Poleshek and his wife Michelle come from families with local restaurant experience. Michelle’s mother, Christine Ruggiero, owned Crown Billiards in New Haven for 10 years. Fifteen years ago she moved it to East Haven, renaming it Crown East. Tony’s great grandparents, Edward and Julia Torello, owned the Palace of Sweets in the Fair Haven section of New Haven for several years after World War II.
It was time for Poleshek and Michelle to start their own restaurant. After looking at 60 different spots they bought the one at 135 Orange St. in 2008. Even though there had been three restaurants in a two-year time period in that location, the Orangeside was an immediate hit. “No location is bad if you put out quality food, you have a good, friendly environment, and you concentrate on the service,” Poleshek says.
The new location came with a bit of a learning curve. “We didn’t do table service in our old location,” Polshek says. “In the last three weeks we’ve made some mistakes.” His customers have been giving him good feedback and he’s quick to respond to their suggestions.
“We are very passionate about our restaurant,” he says. “This isn’t a business where we just opened the doors. This is our lives. This is our family. Both my sons work here.” Steven, 23, and Matthew, 20, both Gateway students, work for their dad in their free hours. Steven has taken over most of the baking duties.
At the Orange Street location they did breakfast and lunch, but now they serve breakfast all day and have added a dinner menu. The biggest influence on the future direction of the restaurant are his sons, who’ve been working on healthier options – such as a grilled chicken and spinach wrap with fresh vegetables, or a portobello special.
And then there are the donuts. The square donuts. Lauded in this month’s Saveur magazine as one of the top 50 donut shops in America, Poleshek talked about how he developed this oddly shaped delicacy.
In their former location they served a lot of the 360 State construction workers, who often asked for sweets. Poleshek had no luck finding a quality baker who would sell him donuts wholesale. Michelle said, “You used to make donuts, why don’t you just make them?” So he sprung for $30,000 in equipment and set about making his own. “This is how crazy it was,” Poleshek says. “I was going in at 1 a.m., making donuts until 6 a.m., then staying there until 11 or 12 working the grill until my son relieved me. We closed at 2 p.m., and I would do that seven days a week.”
Having spent all that money on equipment, Poleshek couldn’t bring himself to spend $75-100 for round donut cutters. But out of necessity comes invention. Figuring he could cut a square by hand, he took a flat pastry cutter and made a square template out of plastic. The square shape nearly eliminated scrap and made a better donut, since the scrap wasn’t being re-rolled into another, tougher donut. “Ninety percent of my donuts are first generation, first cut,” Poleshek says. “That’s why they stay nice and light and airy, and they don’t get dense, and they don’t soak up a lot of oil.” He now has copper cutters and a cutter to make a square hole. He also recycles his oil more frequently than other donut makers filter their oil. He makes six standard donuts a day: the Turtle: peanuts, chocolate and caramel; the plain; almond-buttercrunch with an caramel drizzle; glazed; powdered, filled; and a coconut-chocolate.
Poleshek continues to tinker and plan for the future. He’s thinking about running around New Haven in an electric golf cart selling his donuts and Zen coffee from Middletown.
I asked Poleshek to describe his food. Before he could answer, a customer called out from across the room, “It’s really good and reasonably priced!”
Restaurant Website: https://www.facebook.com/Orangeside?rf=120936547920160
• The Detes: 25 Temple St., New Haven. 203-773-1000. Open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.,Thursday and Friday 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Saturday 8 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
• Price Range: Breakfasts $2.49 – 7.99, lunch $2.99 – 7.49, dinner around $15.
• Style of Food: American grill
• Favorite dishes: Honey-dipped-glazed donut, the Oscar breakfast sandwich, the Orangeside breakfast (two eggs any style, hash browns, toast), and the burgers.
• Drinks: Fountain drinks – only the Coke line, and Zen coffee from Middletown.
• Catering: Yes.
• Vegetarian/Gluten Free available: Yes
• Outdoor seating: Yes