I’ve always enjoyed the little town of Hartland, VT. It’s a nice quiet little town, just off of I-91 and down the road from Windsor. It’s a bit funny, since it really has three village areas: Three Corners (where Route 5 and Route 12 intersect, and basically the main part of town), Four Corners (to the west, where Route 12 and Brownsville Road intersect), and North Hartland (a quiet little village nestled in between I-91 and the Connecticut River, and home of the North Hartland Dam, a rather nice little recreational area). As small Vermont towns go, Hartland is nice in that it’s actually got enough basic amenities: a gas station, two convenience stores, a library, several churches (including the host of the Famous Roast Beef Supper) and the like. And a diner, the Hartland Diner.
A recent work trip down to Billerica, MA left me passing through Lowell around breakfast time, and a quick trip through the Lowell area quickly led me to The Owl Diner. I’ll fully admit to having a weakness for classic Worcester Diners, and the relatively busy parking lot showed that the Owl was definitely popular with the locals. So I decided it was indeed time for breakfast, and headed inside.
I’ve always liked Manchester, the Queen City of New Hampshire. For such a modestly-sized city of ~100,000, it actually has a pretty good dining scene (you can see my other reviews here), and “ManchVegas” still holds a lot of surprises for me, especially in the culinary scene. One of these was over on the West Side of town across the Merrimack River, which I call “Little Quebec”, since the area has a very strong French Canadian heritage. It also has a number of Quebecois restaurants, such as the fairly well known Chez Vachon which has been serving up giant plates of poutine for years. But looking over the various dining options in West Manchester, I saw an interesting one called “Butter My Biscuit”, and we decided to check it out.
As I mentioned in my previous review of Surdyk’s Flights at MSP, there are good and bad airports for layovers, at least if you are looking for good dining options. And unfortunately, SEA seems to be perpetually locked sometime in the mid-1990s when it comes to airport dining. Aside from a number of Starbucks that would be considered implausibly high in most other places (I passed three just walking from my gate back to security, this is Seattle, after all!), aside from Ivar’s Seafood Bar, the options at SEA mostly involve… Sbarro and McDonald’s (the latter being a fairly recent addition). But there’s actually a good, non-obvious option at SEA, at least if you’ve got a layover of at least two hours: Leave the airport! In a mere five minute walk from any gates but the N/S concourses (which have the little tramway connecting them to the rest of the airport), you can not only be back through security, but outside of the airport, and in another 5 minutes of walking, you can be off the airport entirely, and sitting in the warm comfort of 13 Coins.
A few weeks ago, we wanted to take advantage of the fresh snowfall and go cross country skiing at Windblown Cross Country in New Ipswich, NH. We figured it would also be a good opportunity to finally try one place on our hit list, Parker’s Maple Barn in Mason, NH. There was just one problem…. Parker’s hasn’t opened for the 2014 season yet, so we had to find someplace else in that area for a good breakfast. That’s where My Sister’s Kitchen in Milford comes in.
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.
Carol’s employer has some pretty cool employee benefits programs. One of them tries to address the fact that the Upper Valley area of NH/VT isn’t exactly the most happening place, and offer a lot of programs for both local recreation, as well as travel. As part of this program, they offer up cheap trip (that’s how we went on last month’s trip to New York City for Grimaldi’s, for example). This month, they offered up a cheap day trip to Montreal, so at 5am, we hopped onto a bus at Dartmouth, and by 10:30 we were at Dorchester Square in downtown Montreal. After breakfast and some light shopping, we decided to head up to one of my favorite parts of town (the “Plateau”, where there are a lot of cool shops and restaurants on Boulevard St Laurent and Rue St Denis). To get up there, we availed ourselves of Montreal’s most excellent Bixi bike rental system. After an hour of riding Bixi bikes around Mont Royal park and the plateau, we decided a small lunch was in order. We ended up going to a place that’s been on my hit list for a while: Patati Patata, a small little diner featuring sliders and poutine.
It’s been several years since I reviewed Wasp’s Diner, and since it had been quite a while since I’d even been there, I decided on a recent trip over into Vermont that it might be a good idea to check in on them and see if things are still going strong. My previous review focused on their breakfast (in particular, the rather good eggs Benedict I ended up having, with a top-notch Hollandaise sauce on it), so this time we ended up getting lunch. I opted for the grilled cheese and ham, and Carol opted for the shepherd’s pie…
One of the primary reasons I started this blog was that the greater Upper Valley area suffers from a dearth of restaurants. I’ve long been surprised that many of the area towns lack a decent number of eateries, and for a long time downtown Lebanon has lacked a real breakfast joint. Rumors would occasionally swirl around about a place opening up (there was even talk of another Farmers Diner happening here at some point), but nothing ever materialized. Until last month. Andy Hill used to be one of the bartenders/managers at Salt hill Pub on the other end of the Lebanon Mall, and I remember him telling me a few years ago that what he really wanted to do was to open his own breakfast spot in the community. Well, after several years of planning, he and his wife (city councilor and former mayor Karen Liot Hill) were finally able to bring the plan to fruition, opening the Lebanon Diner on the west end of the mall (across from The Cave, in a location that’s been, in my time here, a smoke shop and an eyeglass shop).
After our business meeting in Dayton, and a dew spare hours spent at Wright-Patterson AFB at the Museum of the United States Air Force, it was time for us to head back home, via the Columbus airport. On the way, we decided to stop off for some lunch at Tommy’s Diner in Columbus. Located on the west side of town in the Franklinton neighborhood, it’s a bit off the beaten path. Well, not quite, the path is actually beaten to Tommy’s, since that place pretty much is the major destination for that neighborhood. Tommy’s is basically the embodiment of your classic Greek-owned diner of the ’50s. Sporting two of those U-shaped Formica counters, swivel stools, and waitresses that still call you “Hon” when you order, Tommy’s has your basic Greek diner fare: burgers, hot dogs, gyros, grilled sandwiches, fries, and the like. They also have a lot of kitsch on the walls, including old road signs, and the fairly obligatory wall of old license plates.