Good | Worth a Return
Puritan’s Back Room
Review by: Michael Stern
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 had eluded Jane and me all the while we were writing about American food. No surprise: it really isn’t a Roadfood restaurant. But it deserves attention if you are a history buff or if you like chicken tenders.
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 tell the waitress after she clues me in to the restaurant’s place in the annals of gastronomy.
“Yes, you better!” she says with glee, offering me a mix of regular tenders, coconut tenders, Buffalo tenders, and spicy tenders. When I ask about the onion rings, she assures me they are not the big, gross ones, and, like everything else on the menu, they are 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 two or three hungry people. They come with a ramekin of clear liquid that tastes like hummingbird nectar. “Duck sauce,” the waitress says, for dipping the chicken. “Sweet and sour.” Yes, it is sweet; but sour I did not taste.
The dish I like best is the Greek salad that precedes the mountain of tenders. It comes with a block of 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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