(Update: Milltowne Grille had a great run of almost two decades, but it ended in late 2013 when the owners opted instead to focus their energy on their more profitable non-airport operations)
Sometimes you find quality in places you really aren’t expecting it.
I’ve been a fan of the French Dip sandwich since I was a kid. There’s just something nice about some good rare roast beef served in au jus on a nice crusty roll.
Unfortunately, most places don’t do a good French Dip. They use overcooked, cheap roast beef; low-grade salty bullion; and soft buns that quickly get waterlogged.
There is, of course, the occasional exception. That place that makes a good case for having inventing the sandwich in the first place, Phillipe, makes a seriously good French Dip (I particularly recommend their Lamb Dip). And, to this day, my gold standard for a good French Dip is the version that was made by the Harrison Roadhouse in East Lansing, Michigan (with extra-rare, cold roast beef on a delicious onion bun, served with a rosemary-infused au jus). Alas, the Harrison Roadhouse itself stopped making it more than a decade ago.
However, a few months ago I was in the Manchester, NH airport waiting for a flight, and decided to try out the recently reconfigured Milltowne Grille restaurant behind security. One of the items on the menu was the “Roast Beef Panini.”
Upon ordering it, I found that it was basically a French Dip, and, unlike the vast majority of airport food, was well done. The beef was nice and rare. The panini bun was just the right level of crustiness to keep from getting soggy. And the au jus was nice and beefy, and not overly salty. And the cole slaw on the side was a nice basic southern-style (not overly creamy) rendition. Not perfection, but very, very good. Excellent when you consider the environs.
But I didn’t have a camera that time, so I had to come back. This time, the sandwich was still as good as before.