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Posted by Michael Stern on Saturday, October 10, 2015 5:01 AM

If it’s your lucky day, you will eat at the Tilt’n Diner when roast beef hash is on the menu. Waitresses Cheri and Katy told me that the boys in the kitchen make it two or three times a week. It is terrific: subtly seasoned, moist and easy to fork up by the bite, with just enough spuds woven in among the beef to temper its protein potency. It’s pancake-shaped and gently fried so there is a crisp web on each side of the cake, but this hash is all about softness and comfort. Corned beef hash, on the other hand, comes from a can and tastes it.

Among side dishes available with eggs, pancakes, etc., are baked beans. They are made-here baked beans with porky sweetness, and they add a welcome true-Yankee taste to the meal. The rest of the breakfast menu is predictable, and lunch includes burgers, sandwiches, and such locally-liked hot dishes as American chop suey, fried cod, and shepherd’s pie with creamed corn. Maybe some day I will sample some of these things, but the next time I am in the neighborhood, I am going to call ahead and see if the boys have made roast beef hash.

The Tilt’n is a true mid-20th century diner with a large new room and kitchen added on the back. It is self-consciously do-wop, with oldies on the sound system and vintage pop culture memorabilia everywhere, but in fact it really is vintage… in looks, attitude, and much of the no-nonsense menu.
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Posted on Saturday, October 10, 2015

This $4 sampler includes all three falafel flavors, each a distinctly different color.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Friday, October 9, 2015 3:02 AM

It is a problem deciding what to have for breakfast at the Four Aces Diner because there are so many inviting choices. How could one NOT have a hot popover with maple butter on the side? Or an immense maple-glazed sour cream donut cut in half, buttered, grilled, and topped with whipped cream? I went for both and had no regrets, but I am sorry I did not taste the creamy pimento cheese polenta sticks and the sweet corn fritters topped with powdered sugar and maple syrup. Also among the specials the day I visited were smoked peppered salmon and cream cheese on a bagel, maple baked beans, and a blue-plate special of pan-fried calves liver smothered with onions and bacon.

I get happy when I see red flannel hash on a New England menu. It is an old-time dish that once was popular but now is hard to find. What it is: corned beef hash with beets added. Normally the beets are mixed in enough that the hash turns the color of red flannel. At the Four Aces, little cubes of beet are added, contributing their flavor in tiny pops, but not dramatically effecting the taste of the whole dish, or its color.

West Lebanon is north enough that road signs give distances in kilometers as well as miles, so I felt obliged to try the poutine (a Quebecoise passion) that was also on the daily-special menu. It is half good, the French fries crisp and elegant, the cheese more flavorful than most (while not at all squeaky fresh like connoisseurs demand), but the whole thing is undone by gravy that tastes ersatz. I don’t know if it actually comes from a can, but it tastes it.

Four Aces, which is Worcester Dining Car #837, is one of the most handsome, most well-worn classic diners I know. There’s almost no pattern left on the Formica counter, and there are places where decades of elbows have worn right through. But overall it presents a fine picture with its curving pink ceiling, dark wood booths, chrome-banded counter stools, and tiny-tile floor. If you're a diner lover, it's a must. And if you are hungry in West Lebanon, it will fill the bill.
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Posted on Friday, October 9, 2015

Pannakakku is listed among Finnish Specialties on the Suomi breakfast menu. It is rich and eggy, really more like breakfast custard than a pancake.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Thursday, October 8, 2015 5:05 AM

Decisions, decisions. Should I choose roast beef hash or corned beef hash? “Try both,” my waitress suggested as she brought a mug of coffee to my booth at the Sunny Day Diner. Brilliant idea, but the compare-and-contrast session that followed was a mind bender. Both hashes are excellent: very finely chopped, soft and moist and almost reminiscent in texture of a succulent boudin. Neither has an assertive flavor. Both, in fact, are subtle and elegant. The roast beef hash, which contains limp little bits of onion and pepper and, of course, potato, is underseasoned in the best possible way, like grandma’s comfort-food hash. Corned beef hash has a bit more punch, a faint briny character, but it too is laid back. Neither offers dramatic surface crunch, but that’s ok. These are all about gentility.

They do a lot of baking at the Sunny Day Diner and among the specialties is banana bread, which is made into French toast for breakfast. It is like warm cake: moist, rich, faintly fruity, and very sweet. It comes topped with maple cream, and the waitress strongly suggested I try it as delivered before adding any maple syrup, which is the real deal, presented in a jug. She was right. Between the banana bread and maple cream spread across it, no more sweetness is required.

As I left, I asked my newfound friend if I had eaten the kitchen’s best stuff. She gave it some thought and instructed me to return for eggs benedict (“the best anywhere”) and a Reuben sandwich that contains the same fine corned beef used to make the hash. I shall return!
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Roadfood of the Day: Becca's - Tasley, VA
Posted on Thursday, October 8, 2015

Smith Island cake: the official state dessert of Maryland, as served in easternmost Virginia
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Posted by Michael Stern on Wednesday, October 7, 2015 4:57 AM

A fact that eluded me when I studied American history in school is that the chicken tender was invented in Manchester, New Hampshire, by Arthur Pappas and Louis Canotas of the Puritan Back Room Restaurant. In fact, the Puritan Back Room has eluded Jane and me all the while we have been writing about American food. No surprise: it really isn’t a Roadfood restaurant, but I list it here for history buffs. Its name makes sense; it really is the back room of a huge building that also is a function hall and ice cream dispensary. Ambiance is well-to-do bourgeois: a happy bar with TVs overhead, plush upholstered booths and banquettes, thick rug on the floor. When I arrived at 5pm, there already was a wait-list for tables. The good people of Manchester love this place.

“I guess I better get the tenders,” I told the waitress after she clued me in to the restaurant’s place in the annals of gastronomy.

“Yes, you better!” she said with glee, offering me a mix of regular tenders, coconut tenders, Buffalo tenders, and spicy tenders. When I asked about the onion rings, she assured me they were not the big, gross ones, and like everything else on the menu they were hand-made, from scratch. In fact, they’re pretty good: not the wispy type, but nice, thin hoops with crisp crust and sweet onion flavor. As for the tenders, the regular ones are encased in a batter that is slightly sweet and the spicy ones are quite peppery. One order is absolutely immense, enough for three or four moderately hungry people, or for a dozen people who don’t like them very much. They come with a ramekin of clear liquid that tastes like hummingbird nectar. “Duck sauce,” the waitress said, for dipping the chicken. “Sweet and sour.” Yes, it is sweet; but sour I did not taste.

The dish I liked best was the Greek salad that preceded the mountain of tenders. It comes with a block of good, tangy feta cheese and is dressed with a well-seasoned vinaigrette that reminds me of the Greek salad they served at the old George & Harry’s in New Haven.
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Roadfood of the Day: Smoke & Bones - Derby, CT
Posted on Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Long ago, burnt ends were simply cutting-board scraps. But people like them so much that many barbecue parlors offer big hunks of edge-meat, ribboned with fat.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, October 6, 2015 4:22 AM

I had time for only one meal at Bufalina – one pizza to be precise – but based on that experience, I highly recommend this place to pizzaphiles. The style is true Neapolitan, each pie a good-size meal for one. 90 seconds in a 900+ degree wood-fired oven yields a pizza with a thin, chewy crust that is gently fire-blistered at its puffed collar and infused with smoke that so nicely enhances the dough’s long-risen, yeasty savor.

Roadfood of the Day: Red Barn - Exira, IA
Posted on Tuesday, October 6, 2015

One of Iowa's great tenderloins -- crisp, juicy, hugely satisfying. And garnished with slices of garden-fresh tomato.
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