Health Check: Four Aces Diner (West Lebanon, NH)

One of the more venerable dining institutions of the Upper Valley is the Four Aces Diner in West Lebanon. You can read about their fairly complicated history in my previous review way back in 2011, but in the last 14 years since the owners, the Shorey family, resumed management and daily operations of the diner, it has been a consistent spot for classic American diner fare for lunch and dinner.

Unfortunately, however, with the passage of time the Shorey family is again looking towards retirement, and since late November 2022, the diner is once again for sale, so when we recently were heading down south for a weekend, we decided that it was time to get another visit in while they are still running at full strength, check out our favorites and give everyone an update on how the place is going.

One of the big features of Four Aces is that the word has definitely gotten out about the place; if you aren’t showing up on the early side, a typical weekend visit easily can have the line out the door and along the front of the building… and that’s if you can get a parking spot. They’ve alleviated some of this during the warmer months with the addition of some awnings and outdoor seating (they even started this pre-Covid, just rolling with it during the 2020 height of pandemic), and the staff is pretty efficient, so don’t worry if the line is modestly long; it does move quicker than you think. But if there’s a long line and you are also hunting for a parking spot? You might be better of coming another time.

But once you get in the door, one thing I adore about the Four Aces is that the overall experience is surprisingly unchanged since my last review: aside from a few changes at the tables (at some point, the tables lost the no-longer-working miniature juke boxes), and possibly a little bit of new upholstery, the interior is still pretty much “classic Worcester Diner”: lots of chrome, formica, spinning stools, leather booths, and the like. And that shouldn’t be surprising; despite currently being located in a larger building, the Four Aces actually used to be a free-standing Worcester Diner, but after a fire and relocation in the 1980s, it was integrated into a larger structure to stabilize the diner structure and provide a larger kitchen. And the diner also sports more than a little “American Kitsch”, including a good collection of Elvis paraphernalia. So they’ve got the ambiance down pat.

Menu-wise, it’s pretty much “upscale dinner”. The backbone of the menu is classic diner dishes, with breakfast combos, Benedicts, omelets, burgers, melts. If you’re looking for a diner classic, chances are, they’ve got it, including a lot of the New England stalwarts like baked beans, kielbasa, and corned beef hash. And occasionally, I’ll also see some of the more obscure choices, like red flannel hash or scrapple.

Two of the notable house specialties are baked items: the infamous “Bigly Donut” which is basically a giant plate-sized donut, served either straight up or grilled with maple syrup and whipped cream. I’ve had it, and it’s great, but it is kind of excessive. More up my line is the next baked specialty: popovers. It’s a classic popover with a simple egg batter, but they cook these in small batches all day so they are always fresh and crisp, and when served up with a maple compound butter, it’s a one of those old-school dishes that I look forward to on most visits, although Carol and I will often share one to cut back on the overall calories.

For my main course… the menu at Four Aces always has a good selection of Benedict variations, usually five or six, including a Florentine (spinach and Feta), a bacon-based one, an Irish one with corned beef… and frequently the Montrealer, with smoked-meat. I went for the Irish Benedict (looking over the history of Offbeat Eats, this is now probably my single most frequently ordered dish), and it’s always a solid dish here: a nice house-made CBH with some seriously good chunks of meat and a nice crisp, a good toast on the English muffin, a nice tang to the Hollandaise sauce, and some perfectly-poached eggs. Add in some of the area’s better home fries, and it’s a winning dish.

So… if you’re around the Upper Valley… the for-sale sign is up, they are looking for new owners, and the clock is ticking. We may end up lucking out with a new owner that keeps the tradition alive… or we might not. Strike while the iron is still hot.

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