As I mentioned in the previous review, we’re always doing the drive between Grantham and Manchester, or from Grantham to Boston, so we’re always looking for new places to eat. Another place that recently showed up on my radar was the School House Cafe in Warner. The School House Cafe has been around since August of 2011, when two former waitresses from The Foothills (Warner’s other major breakfast spot) converted the old school house on Route 103 in the Davisville Village part of Warner (Exit 7, for you NH folks) into a catering kitchen, and they converted the rest of the space into a small restaurant that’s open for breakfast and lunch. The result is a menu of “down home” cooking, focusing on omelets, pancakes (big, honking thick plate-size pancakes, like the Foothills), and breakfast combos.
Seeing that we live, well, in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire, we’re always driving South for the day, either to the Manchester area, or to Boston. Often, we’re stopping for breakfast, and we do have some regular favorites, like the Foothills in Warner (which, wow, still haven’t reviewed them…), or the Red Arrow. But after a while we do tire of the same places all the time, so I’m always keeping my eye open for new places along the I-89/I-293/I-93 drive. One place that recently landed on our radar was the Purple Finch Cafe in Hooksett, since the Hippo listed them in a recent article on the Top 25 Local Breakfast Restaurants. so on our way to Boston two weekends ago, we decided to stop and try them out.
Back in April, Seven Days, the alternative paper for the Burlington area, ran an interesting piece about the extensive Handy Family and the positive effect this group of Lebanese immigrants has had on Vermont (see Handyland). One of the places featured prominently in the article is one of Burlington’s older and more iconic breakfast establishments, Handy’s Lunch, which has been on my hit list for rather a long time as a breakfast joint (quite frankly, I don’t often have the opportunity to have breakfast in Burlington that often, I’m mostly a dinner diner in that city). But my recent trip up to the Canadian border had me spending the night in Burlington, so I got to finally check the place out. Located in a modest little building on the corner of Maple and South Champlain in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood near the waterfront. Walking in the door, it’s like walking into another era. Specifically, 1958, since that’s when Handy’s installed their current dining area, with a horseshoe shaped Formica counter.
You occasionally find some interesting hidden items in London, sometimes even hidden in plain sight. St Georges Square is a relatively modest Square in Pimlico, and contains the Pimlico Garden, which aside from a modest statue representing "Boredom rising from the bath", isn’t of much note itself. But on the North end of the garden lies one of the few remaining examples of an anachronism: a Cabmen’s Shelter Fund Cab Shelter. Basically a small shelter containing a seating area for cab drivers on their break, and a cooking area (often staffed by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund, historically, these days often contracted out), these little shelters used to be fairly common all over London, with over 60 of them in the early 1900s. They aren’t as common now (only 13 of them remain in service), but for a small handful of them, the caterers in them are also open to the public, selling the same food out of a window that they sell to the cabbies. St George’s Square has one of these, a business called Alf’s Pitstop, who sells a variety of sandwiches and drinks to the public.
A few weeks ago, I had one of my frequent trips to MIT for work. In addition to my actual work, I look forward to these trips since they give me a good chance to check out places to eat. My actual destination was Brookline Lunch, a nice little diner joint a half block off of Mass Ave in Cambridge with some above-average diner fare. I had eaten there a few years back sans camera, and wanted to go back and try them out for an actual review. Well, Brookline Lunch is closed on Tuesdays, so instead I decided to check out a nice looking place I passed while walking to Brookline, Cafe Luna. Cafe Luna is a modestly-sized joint just a few doors down from Toscanini’s, and they’ve got the basic “breakfast joint” menu down pat, with breakfast all day and a smaller lunch menu (aside from special events, they aren’t open for dinner). But there are two things that really grabbed my attention right away: the iced coffees, and several people ordering up various waffles and French toast covered with fresh berries.
Our friends Rick and Sarah have a fairly regular routine going for their visits to Montreal: on a Saturday morning they drive up to Mile End, load up on bagels from Fairmount Bagel, buy some beer at the local beer store (Depanneur AS, who have a great selection of Quebecois beers), and queue up for brunch at Lawrence. It sounded like a rather good way to spend a Saturday morning, so this time when we were up there, we went with them. Lawrence, like L’Avenue, is one of the hot breakfast spots in Montreal, and, like it’s counterpart, it has a tendency to form long lines. Finishing our beer shopping (picking up some Dieu du Ciel for the road, along with some other Quebecois beer treats), 20 minutes prior to their 10am opening, there was already a short queue forming. But we were second in line, so only minutes after they opened, we were seated at a large central table in the dining room.
Way back in 2002 (years before this blog), a friend of mine from grad school went to Montreal, and recommended one particular place on Le Plateau for breakfast: L’Avenue. It’s a really funky place on Ave Du Mont-Royal Est, and several online resources and word of mouth have mentioned that it’s one of the best brunch places in Montreal. Well, our first visit to L’Avenue confirmed two things: they had a seriously good brunch, and that the word had gotten out, since the place had legendarily long lines (over an hour long on a Saturday morning). The long lines have led to us only returning once in the last few years, but my many visits to Montreal the last few years taught me another lesson: Les Quebecois tend not to be early risers. And noting that L’Avenue opens at 8am, we decided that when we were in town for Mondial, we’d simply rise early and head over to L’Avenue around opening time.
Prior to starting our 21.7 mile march through the various neighborhoods of Boston, we needed a place to have a breakfast, meet up with other hikers, and get a good start to the day. Luckily, only about 100 feet away from the Savin Hill T station is McKenna’s Cafe. A cozy little cafe (note to others: we showed up at 7am to a near-empty cafe, but those showing up later on a Saturday, I’d expect a wait, the place is pretty small), it fits well into the neighborhood. Savin Hill is a surprisingly quiet and mellow corner of Dorchester (and, indeed, even several of my Boston friends mentioned that it was one of those T stops they’ve never gotten off at), and this is the exact sort of cafe you expect in a neighborhood like this. Walk in, get greeted by the staff, and quickly get seated with some coffee to peruse the menu.
Back in February, we came to Kismet to check out a pop-up restaurant they host on Wednesday nights (you can read my review of Himitsu Sushi here). In addition to introducing us to the rather good sushi of Himitsu’s traveling restaurant, this gave us a decent introduction to Kismet as well. While waiting for our Himitsu sushi, we looked over the Kismet menu, and decided to come back and check them out sometime. Well, this Friday we were headed up to Burlington for an extended weekend, and it had us passing through Montpelier during the “late breakfast” period of the day. While we almost ended up going to our standard Montpelier breakfast destination, Coffee Corner, we decided that going over to Kismet and checking out their brunch menu would be a good idea.
This Christmas, we decided to visit Carol’s extended family in the Detroit area again, which meant for a long drive through Vermont (picturesque as Vermont is, it’s a terribly slow state to cross East-West. I’d be in favor of building an interstate crossing it), New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. To cross Vermont, we decided to cross along the southern part of the state at Highway 9, going through Bennington, for another try at The Blue Benn Diner. You see, the Blue Benn has been on our hit list for, well, over a decade. It’s not that we’ve never tried to come her before, it has just never worked out. At least once we arrived just after they stopped serving. Another time, a kitchen fire had caused them to be closed. And yet another time, a power outage had them closed… and at that. this visit was a close call on that front, since several power lines were down in the area and detoured us around in our efforts to get there. But this time we finally made it. Pulling into the Blue Benn around 12:30, we got there in time for a late breakfast with only a short wait in line in the cramped vestibule. Moving inside the restaurant, it’s a cozy diner (I originally thought it was a Worcester diner, but more careful research indicates it’s actually a Silk City diner) with the classic long counters and two sets of booths. Settling into a booth near the end of the diner, we selected our items and enjoyed our coffee while waiting and listening to the crowd, a nice mix of tourists and locals.