Friday, November 18, 2016

Eat Natural Bars

Update Review, November 2016

I originally discovered Eat Natural bars in London, when they were a vendor at a food fair I attended.  I loved the sample flavors I tried there, but not the bars I took home.

Fast forward a few years, and I saw the Eat Natural bars again, but this time, in France.  I was eager to try more flavors.
Una barre aux fruits secs noix du bresil & raisins secs amandes, cacahuétes et noisettes.
This was a nuts and raisins bar, with puffed rice and a sweet sugar and honey binding, no oats.  The assortment of nuts was great: almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, and Brasil nuts.

It was very good, for what it was.  Lots of crunchy nuts, and the brasil nuts were my favorites.  Overall sweet in a nice way, although I didn't really care for the raisins, and there were lots of them to help stick the thing together.  I also didn't care for the rice puffs, but, at least they were more interesting than standard oats.

Overall, good, if you are into oatless, nutty bars.

Original Review, November 2014

As you've been reading the past few weeks on Travelin' Tuesdays: London, I was recently in the UK for a few days.  While I was there, my office was holding a product fair, and I got to meet many local artisans.  Such fortunate timing on my part, as you know how much I love to try new things, including snack bars.

Eat Natural was one of the featured vendors, handing out samples of their bars.  I don't recall which varieties I tried that day, but I did really like them.  The guy running the booth also gave me two mini bars to take home and try.  In addition to 13 varieties of bars, they also make cereal, all featuring natural, wholesome ingredients, loaded up with assorted nuts and fruits, usually with interesting coatings.

Unfortunately, I didn't really like the flavors he gave me to take home, but I know I liked the ones I tried in person, so, if you ever encounter these, perhaps give them a go!
Dark Chocolate with Cranberries and Macadamias
"A grown-up indulgent bar for those who love a sneaky bit of dark chocolate now and then. You’ll also discover a feast of coconut, brazils, macadamias and cranberries."

The base is shredded coconut and crisped rice, sweetened with glucose syrup and honey, loaded up with dried cranberries and brazil and macadamia nuts.  The bottom half is coated in dark chocolate.

I have this weird thing with both brazil nuts and macadamia nuts.  Sometimes I love them.  Other times I really can't stand them.  For some reason, today was one of those can't stand them days.  They tasted stale and rotten to me, but I'm pretty sure they weren't.  And I never like dried cranberries.  So, this was a flop for me, but I'm blaming myself for hating this, not the product itself.
Almond & Apricot with a Yoghurt Coating.
"A simple mix of juicy unsulphured apricots, crunchy almonds and coconuts, completely smothered in a smooth yoghurt coating".

This is their top seller.  I liked it more than the previous one, but still didn't like it very much.

The same base of crisped rice and shredded coconut, sweetened with glucose syrup and honey, but this time loaded with bits of dried apricot and almonds.  I liked the apricots more than the cranberries in the previous one, and appreciated the bit of chew they added, but they were otherwise uninteresting.  The almonds were whole, super crunchy, again, I preferred them to the macadamias in the previous bar, but, uninteresting.  The yoghurt coating wasn't overly sweet.  But, the thing I didn't care for was the shredded coconut.  It seemed to overwhelm the entire bar, and resulted in a grainy, course texture.
Read More...

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Brunch, Baked Goods, and Pie, from Lou's

Lou's is a restaurant located in the town next to where I grew up.  But it isn't just a restaurant, that isn't a fair classification.  Lou's is an institution!  It has been around since 1947, when it started as a bakery.  Now it is a classic dinner-style establishment, serving breakfast and lunch (breakfast is obviously served all day), but the bakery is still a large focus, as the meals use house made items, but also they have a retail bakery in the front.  Some of their baked goods are still the most lauded items.

Speaking of being well-known, I've known about Lou's forever.  Whenever someone mentions the best crullers, muffins, or pies in the area, Lou's is bound to come up.  Yet somehow, I grew up in my hometown, just a short 20 minute drive away, and never went to Lou's.  I'm not sure how this is possible.

Ounce I turned into uh, a bit of a foodie, it was time to change that.  How could there be a great place near my home that I hadn't been to yet?  Particularly one that makes french toast out of their famous crullers?  Yes, I said it.  Cruller french toast.  I had to visit.  And, just to give a fair review, I had to visit more than once.

First, let me explain, Lou's is not a fancy place.  It really is a diner.  The placemats are paper, the dishware simple white, the cutlery flimsy.  I think the flooring is linoleum.  Like I said, not fancy.

But even though it is no-frills, and even though it has been around forever, Lou's keeps up with the trends.  They have a Facebook page, where they post glamour shots of the weekly specials every Friday.  Even if you don't live in the area, it is worth following them, just to drool.  The specials are insane, particularly the pancakes and french toasts.  I've been tempted to hop on a plane for a surprise visit to see my family, just on account of the Lou's specials.  I'm only kinda joking.

They keep up with the trends in other ways too, like listing the purveyors for the products they use, taking pride in local sourcing.  They make all the breads in house, same with the jams.  So a diner yes, and the decor would never make you think it was a notch above any other generic diner, but, it certainly is!

Most of the menu consists of combo meals, each of which could easily feed a family.  I'm not exaggerating.  A single pancake is the size of a platter.  Not a plate, a platter.

The service is adequate, but rushed.  On one visit, my waitress did an impressive job at keeping my coffee mug full at all times, on another, I needed to constantly ask for refills.  One time, while we got seated relatively quickly, we waited an excruciatingly long time for our food.  The entire place is bustling at all times.  Even if you go even during the week, there will be a wait.  Don't even attempt to go on a weekend for brunch if you aren't patient.  Of course, you can just swing in the bakery rather than getting a hot meal, and you'll be plenty satisfied if you do that.

I'll continue returning to Lou's when I visit the area, and I of course continue to drool over their specials.  One thing they are also known for, among the cooked food, is the corned beef hash.  I haven't gotten a chance to try it yet, as I was too tempted by the decadent sweets on my first visits, but I've got it queued up for next time ...

I've consolidated all my reviews below, in reverse chronological order.

Donuts, October 2016

Lou's is known for their donuts, particularly the "famous" crullers, which I had before, when made into french toast.

But they are also known for another type of donut, apple cider donuts, available only during the fall.  I'd heard about the apple cider donuts from Lou's for years, yet I have not been in town during the fall, so I wasn't able to try them until recently.
Donuts!
Then I visited in October to help out with a recruiting event at Dartmouth, and the host showed up with a bag of donuts.  From Lou's.  Yes.
Apple Cider Donuts. $1.05 each.
"Delicious spiced donuts. An Autumn favorite."

The donuts lived up to the hype.  Dense, hearty cake base, crispy around the edges, and totally coated in cinnamon and sugar.  The size was just right for me - not so huge I felt awful after, but certainly enough to satisfy.

I can't say I tasted apple cider, but, I really enjoyed my donut and would gladly have another.

Cake, December 2014

On a visit to see my family, I was dragged to a going away party for one of my mother's co-workers.  I went along, even though I would know no one there other than my mom.  And well, she promised cake.  Cake from Lou's.
Full Sheet Cake. $110.
"Vanilla and Chocolate Layer Cake with White Frosting. "

I was quite excited, and glad to see the huge cake (serves 80-100).  There were 20 of us at this party.  I knew I'd get to eat as much as I wanted.

Sadly, I didn't end up wanting more than a few bites.  Out of politeness, I tried to finish my slice, but it was truly one of the worst cakes I've had in recent memory, and any grocery store version would likely be better.
Inside the Cake.
The top layer was vanilla cake.  It was dry and flavorless.  "Plain" is more of an accurate description than vanilla.

The bottom layer was chocolate cake.  It was also dry.  Seriously, no moisture at all in either layer of this cake.  It was brown, but didn't taste like chocolate.  No richness, no complexity, nothing.

The frosting is always my favorite part of a cake.  This was described as "white" frosting, which, well, accurately describes it.  It tasted like nothing.  It wasn't very sweet.  It wasn't very creamy.  One person said it tasted like Crisco and nothing else.

The only redeeming things about this cake were the dark chocolate shavings on the outside and the layer of strawberries on the inside.  The strawberries weren't exactly amazing, and one person kept commenting on how the strawberries didn't go with the cake at all, but they were at least sweet and fresh enough tasting.

Breakfast, July, 2014

On this visit, the wait was not too bad, and we were seated within 15 minutes.  Service was friendly, although the server was obviously very busy.  But, the wait for our food was ... extreme.  I went through 4 coffees before the meal actually arrived.  Our waitress came to offer us a muffin even, since it was taking so long (we turned the offer down, since we all had big meals coming).

The highlight was still the whipped cream, the delicious house made jam on tables, and the sausage patty.  But otherwise, it was mediocre, so I didn't return for several years.
Decaf Iced Coffee.
The iced coffee wasn't very good.  At least for decaf, Lou's is really not excelling in this area.  At least they give unlimited refills, which I always take advantage of.
Special: Blueberry Peach Pancakes.  $11.95.
For some reason, I was seriously craving pancakes.  I had them just a few days earlier when I went to brunch with a friend in Boston at North Street Grille, and although those pancakes were excellent, it didn't end my craving.

Lou's has pancakes on the regular menu, available as plain buttermilk, or with blueberry, cranberry, or chocolate chip.  But my eye is always on the specials, which Lou's changes weekly, and always sound so decadent.  This week's specials menu included a pancake option, so, I had no choice but to order it.

The special was blueberry and peach pancakes, topped with homemade whipped cream.  Listed on the menu as a stack of two, but I'd seen Lou's pancakes before, and knew they were absolutely huge, so I asked if they were available a la carte.  "Of course!", my server cheerfully told me.  This was great to know, since I often either want a smaller portion, or want to mix and match.  (Note to self: it never hurts to ask if you can do things a la carte!)

The pancake was a monster, as I expected.  Honestly, a single one of these is easily the size of 3 normal pancakes.  I'm really not sure how anyone could eat a full stack of these.

Sadly, the pancake was not good.  It wasn't light and fluffy; it was thin, and very, very tough.  Almost gummy and rubbery.  The dough had obviously been over mixed, and it also seemed over cooked.  If it was just crispy, that would have been fine, as I love crispy things.  But it wasn't that it was crispy, it was tough, and too dark.

I do give credit for the fruit inside though.  It was loaded up with chunks of peaches and whole blueberries.  I think both types of fruit were frozen and not fresh, but inside the pancake, it didn't matter.

The best part was the whipped cream on top.  Their homemade whipped cream is just killer.  So ... cream tasting!

In the end, I'm glad I only got a single pancake. I traded half to my mom for half of her french toast, since she felt bad for me disliking mine so much.  But ... she didn't bother eat it either.  I did pick out all the fruit and eat it with whipped cream, but wow, that was a bad pancake.  If we hadn't waited nearly an hour to get our food, I certainly would have asked for a re-fire.  It has turned me off from ever trying any more of their pancakes.
Special: Native Strawberry Cheese French Toast.   $11.95.
"A French toast sandwich filled with strawberry sweetened ricotta cheese topped with lightly sweetened native strawberries & homemade whipped cream".

Lou's is known for the french toast.  Well, specifically, they are known for their crueller french toast, where they literally turn 3 whole glazed cruellers into french toast.  I had it on my first visit to Lou's, and it was as insane as you can imagine.  They also offer a regular Texas french toast as well.

But, like I said, it is the specials that always appeal, and the french toast special also sounded amazing.

My mom picked it, with a little coaxing from me, since, of course this was on my list, right behind the pancakes.  I knew she'd share with me.

Her pick was much better than mine.  The french toast itself wasn't anything special, but the ricotta stuffing inside was quite good, slightly sweetened, and it went well with the fruit.

But the fruit ... that was a letdown.  Strawberry season was in full swing during our visit.  I went strawberry picking the very next day.  So, when the menu said "lightly sweetened native strawberries", we expected fresh berries.  Sure, it didn't say that explicitly, but ... that is what we both imagined.  Instead, the fruit really seemed like it had come out of a jar, or perhaps freezer.  It was sweet fruit, and it went really well with the ricotta and cream, but, not what either of us had really wanted.

It was also topped with their homemade whipped cream.  My mom, perhaps trying to be healthy, didn't' eat all her whipped cream.  You can guess who took it all off her hands.  Seriously, love the whipped cream.

Overall, this was mediocre, sans the whip, and I wouldn't get it again.  I'd consider their other french toast choices though.

$11.95 price seemed a bit high, particularly given that it wasn't using fresh fruit.
Side of Sausage Patty. $2.95.
Last time I visited, I fell in love with the sausage patty.  Totally random, but I did.  As soon as I realized I could order a single pancake, I eagerly ordered a side of sausage as well.

I was a bit apprehensive to try it the first time.  I actually don't care for pork (besides crispy bacon), and didn't used to like sausage.  I thought that I must have just been in a really strange mood the day that I loved it.  I didn't expect to like it this time, but I had liked it so much, I couldn't resist.

I'm glad I didn't.  The sausage patty was again amazing.  Juicy and flavorful.  I particularly liked it with a little maple syrup drizzled over it.  Winning element of the meal, even better than the whipped cream :)

The sausage patties come 2 to an order, and are totally worth the $2.95.  I adore these, and will order them every time. I also discovered that they reheat pretty well later at home in the toaster oven, so, I'm tempted to always just add on an extra order, (or two!), of sausage to bring home.

Breakfast, December 23, 2013

Rachel's Favorite: Scrambled Eggs, Cobb Smoked Bacon, Home Fries, Wheat Toast.  $9.45. 
"Eggs cooked to order with choice of cob smoked bacon, sausage or local Vermont ham steak. Served with choice of homefries, baked or black beans, and choice of toast, English muffin or a fresh muffin from our bakery, and homemade strawberry preserves."

The classic breakfast meal is dubbed "Rachel's Favorite".

My cousin ordered this, and got her eggs scrambled, the bacon extra crispy, the toast wheat and buttered.  I didn't try the bacon or eggs, but she loved her meal.

She nicely shared some home fries with me.  Lou's makes their home fries extra special: cooked in bacon drippings (unless requested otherwise).  I like the seasoning on them, and particularly like them with a little maple syrup on them, a delightful mix of sweet and savory.  If ordering myself, I'd ask to get them crispier next time, as these didn't really have the crispy exterior I'm looking for in my home fries.

The toast was classic wheat toast, clearly freshly made and very fluffy, although not very toasted.  Too much butter for my liking, but this was her meal, not mine.  The toast was great with the homemade strawberry jam on the table.  That jam is worth a visit alone!  Sweet, but not too sweet, with large chunks of strawberries.  I always love it.  You can also purchase it by the jar.

Overall, a nice selection of items, a classic combo, and what my cousin orders every single time she visits.  Which, understandably, she does often.
North Pole Omelet, English Muffin.  $11.95.
"A large fluffy omelet filled with Vermont ham, onion, fresh Maple Brook Farms mozzarella & pesto. Served with choice of homefries, homemade baked beans or black beans."

My mother's pick was from the special's menu of the week, the "North Pole Omelet".

My mom mis-read the description, an thought it came with homefries and beans.  She just wanted homefries, but what she told the waitress was "leave the beans and all that off".  She was a bit sad when her omelet arrived sans home fries.

I'm not much of an eggs girl, but I tried a few bites.  It was indeed a large fluffy omelet.  It fed my mom two meals, and she said it easily could have been three.  It was fluffy, and the pesto was well distributed throughout, giving a lot of flavor.  Pockets of cheesy melted mozzarella and a very generous amount of ham completed it.  Really not my thing at all, but my mother really liked it.
Sausage Patty, Side Order, $2.95.
I really have no idea why, but I was seriously craving a sausage patty.  I couldn't tell you the last time I had sausage.  But I really, really wanted this.

And it was awesome.  The best sausage I've had ... ever.  Super flavorful.  Well cooked.  And being a fan of sweet and savory, I really enjoyed it dunked in syrup.

But about that syrup.  When the waitress brought our order, I asked for syrup.  I waited and waited.  She never came back with it.  I ate everything else.  I waited and waited.  I tried to get her attention whenever I saw her on the other side of the room.  She never looked our way.  Finally, my mom grabbed someone else and asked for some.  He promptly brought it.

I took another sausage patty home with me to eat later.  It didn't reheat quite as well, got a bit too crispy, but was enjoyable nonetheless.  Seriously good sausage.  Will certainly get again.  Want more now!
Mrs. Clause's Bread Pudding.  $11.95.
"Homemade bread pudding made with our famous glazed crullers, topped with homemade egg nog whipped cream; made with local McNamara Dairy egg nog."

As I mentioned, one thing that Lou's is known for is their glazed crullers.  Not the french style, but the New England style - fried dough, twisted up, and glazed.  Sweet, fried, decadent.  Delicious on their own with a cup of coffee.  Lou's is crazy and also makes french toast with them, which I had on my first visit.  But on the special's menu during this visit, they also used them to make bread pudding.  WHAT?  Yes.

Ok, seriously?  It was 9am.  I wasn't REALLY wanting something this over the top, the day before our Christmas feast, and several days into my trip that mostly revolved around eating my mom's homemade baked goods.  I wanted the corned beef hash.  Or perhaps just a piece of french toast.  But I absolutely adore bread pudding.  If you've read my blog long, you know I order it whenever I get the chance, although, generally for dessert.  I also do like eggnog.  I decided not to get this dish, for all the reasons listed above.  But then my mother helpfully says, "we can just get one to all share, since everyone wants a bite of it".  And quite honestly, how do you NOT order this?

So, we did.

Sadly, I did not like it.  I'm the queen of sweets, but I found it too sweet for me.  Of course I didn't add syrup or anything, as the glazed crullers provided plenty of sweet themselves.  I think I might have just really not been in the mood for so much sweet, as my mother and grandmother both enjoyed it quite a bit, and both said it wasn't too sweet.  I brought leftovers home to my father and Ojan, and they both also agreed it wasn't too sweet.  But it was for me, at that time.

It also just wasn't the style of bread pudding that I like.  I admit it though, I have VERY specific demands for my bread pudding.  I like the pieces of bread to be largeish chunks, distinct from one another.  I can't stand a homogenous bread pudding that is just soggy.  The top must be crisp, the inside incredibly custardy.  The top of this wasn't crisp. I couldn't distinguish any individual chunks of cruller.  It was however insanely moist.  It also had plump raisins inside (which made my dad unwilling to try it, until I really, really demanded).

It also was just too heavy for me.  Very oily, particularly as the eggnog whipped cream broke down, it added a pool of oil to the dish.  You can see in the photo, that isn't an additional sauce surrounding the bread pudding chunk, that is all oil.

The whipped cream was fluffy, but I didn't taste any eggnog.

So, I didn't like this, but it very gladly got consumed by everyone else I shared it with.  They all loved it.  Normally, Lou's posts photos of each of their specials every Friday, and I drool over them.  The week I visited however, their photographer was on vacation for the holidays, so I didn't see this in advance.  If I'd seen a photo, I could have easily recognized that it wasn't "my" style of bread pudding, and I wouldn't have ordered it, so I really can't fault Lou's on this.

Take Out Muffins, August 2, 2013

The next time I visited my family was to help my little sister move into a new house.  As a treat for the "work crew", my mother went to Lou's to pick up muffins, to fuel us up for a long day of packing, loading up trucks, and lugging boxes around.  I somehow never had Lou's famous muffins before, although my mother assured me they were all fantastic.  I looked online to see what varieties they offered, and requested a Morning Glory or Earth muffin.  Sadly, they were all out of both of those varieties, so my mother instead got a box full of every variety that they did have.  A dozen muffins for 4 people makes total sense, right?
Assorted Muffins, $1.79 each.
I felt like something was just off this day.  While I hadn't had their muffins before, I know many people who proclaim them to be amazing.  These were good, but not anything I'd really go out of my way for again.  Perhaps I just had them wrong (gobbling them down in the midst of moving is very different from having them warm with butter or jam), and they didn't have the flavors I wanted.
  • Apple Streusel: This was a bit dried out, didn't have much flavor, wasn't that spiced, and the topping wasn’t really streusel-y.  It did have good chunks of apple.
  • Blueberry: Fairly boring base, but insanely moist from plentiful blueberries.  Seriously loaded with berries.  But just not great for some reason.
  • Corn:  I love the top of a muffin, particularly the overhang.  The corn did not have as large as a top as the others, but it did have a nice crispy exterior and a good grit.  It was fairly dry.  I think I'd like it warmed up and served with butter and jam, but room temperature on its own it was a bit lacking.
  • Cranberry Orange: This had huge chunks of orange, lots of orange flavor, lots of cranberries.  Not my thing though, since I don’t like orange.  If I did, I think this would be a winner.
  • Raisin Bran: Very dense, loaded with raisins.  I'm pretty sure that if I had it warm with butter, I’d love it.  There was a good heartiness from the bran, and a nice texture.  It wasn't too sweet, the sweetness came from raisins mostly.  The raisins were very juicy and plump.  I'd like to try this again, and this time, serve it warm and loaded with butter.  Or their amazing jam.

Breakfast (and Pie), December 18, 2012

Very Berry Cruller French Toast.  $8.99.
 "Three of our delicious glazed crullers dipped in French toast batter, grilled ’til golden and topped with blueberries, sliced cranberries & whipped cream."

As I mentioned, Lou's makes amazing glazed crullers.  And they make french toast from them.  We HAD to try this.

My mom's comment after taking a bite: "Who on earth thought of this?  Who takes donuts and turns them into french toast?"

I don't know the answer, but whoever it was, he or she is a genius.  This was a very sweet, very decadent meal.  It was downright amazing.

When the server asked us if we wanted to upgrade to real maple syrup instead of the table syrup, I kinda laughed.  How could we possibly want syrup at all, when the french toast was made from GLAZED donuts, was covered in fruit, and served with whipped cream?  But my mom quickly ordered the real syrup.  When you order real syrup, you get your own little custom branded Lou's jar, and can take the rest home with you.  It was good syrup.  And, it turns out, while the french toast was amazing without the syrup, it was even better with.  The french toast was just a tiny bit too dry for my liking on its own, which just made me want to add more syrup to moisten it up.  But, wow, so much sugar.

I also really liked adding jam to the french toast.  On each table is a jar of homemade jam, sweet, with large chunks of berries.  I'm sure most people use it for toast or english muffins, but I thought it was really delicious spread on the french toast.  As if I needed more sugar.

The blueberries and cranberries weren't very remarkable, but blueberries are not in season in December, so I wouldn't really expect them to be good.  The whipped cream was served in a little paper container, but it also wasn't very remarkable, no particular flavor to it.

And yes, a single order of this was THREE WHOLE CRULLERS turned into french toast.  ZOMG.  No one would ever sit down and eat three crullers in a single sitting, and this was even more insane.  At least there was some fruit included?

This was very good, and I'm really glad I tried it, but I'm not sure I'd order it again.  Sure, I'd love another few bites of it, and I'd encourage someone else to get it to give me a bite, but I'm over the novelty of a full order.  Plus, their menu has way too many other amazing sounding dishes to explore!

[ Not Pictured ]
Side of Home Fries, $3.99.

The french toast was good, but the best part of our meal was the side of home fries we also ordered.  They were super crispy, cooked in bacon fat.  Decent seasoning.  Good with either ketchup or syrup.

[ Not Pictured ]
Mile High Apple Pie.  Multiberry Pie.

We were completely stuffed, but Lou's has a genius setup.  You have to pay your check at the front counter, rather than at the table.  The same front counter where all the baked goods are displayed and purchased.  So, while you wait in line to pay, all the baked goods stare up at you.  Sure, you can't imagine eating another bite.  So maybe you can resist the breakfast goods like muffins, scones, and donuts.  But ... there are cookies and brownies.  They'd be good to take home later, right?  And then ... there are the pies and cakes.  Available whole or by the slice.  They all look insanely good.  We had to take a few slices home for after dinner.  Or ... perhaps just later that afternoon, when we recovered from sugar coma.

My mom selected two slices of pie: the "Mile High" apple pie and the multiberry pie.  Both had a decent crust.  The apple looked amazing, seriously loaded up with apples.  They were cooked well, not to soft nor too crisp, but apple pie is never my thing.  My dad liked it.

The multiberry was a mix of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.  Very sweet, but good filling.  None of these fruits are in season in December, but it was more flavorful than I expected.  Both good pies, clearly well made, but I didn't love either.
Lou's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Read More...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Big Mouth Burgers, San Bruno

Big Mouth Burgers holds a special place in my heart.

Sorry, story time.  It is about "B Night".

Many years ago, I commuted regularly, on a shuttle that dropped me off at 24th & Mission in San Francisco.  Right in front of Big Mouth Burgers.  My group of co-workers/friends and I quickly established a tradition of going to get burgers on Monday nights.  We eventually expanded to include Papalote, for burritos, also right near the shuttle stop.  And thus, "B Night" was born.  Let's just say, I ate a lot of burgers back then.

I stopped commuting years ago though, and B Night ended as family obligations took over, and folks moved away.

Fast forward to 2016.  I hadn't been to Big Mouth in many years.  But I was attending a conference in San Bruno, directly across the street from a Big Mouth location (I had no idea that they had multiple locations.  Maybe they didn't back in the day?)  When the inevitable question of "where does this big group of people go to eat?" came up, the answer was clear to me, even though I had never visited that Big Mouth location.

It was a very similar experience to the one I remembered in the Mission.  Order at a register, take a number, seat yourself at the simple wooden tables.  Standard condiments and thin, cheap napkins on the tables in dispensers.  Our group was able to sit together by pulling some tables together, which brought back so many fond memories of doing the same in the mission location.

The menu seems to have expanded, or maybe I just didn't pay attention before.  Along with the standard burgers, with a slew of toppings and suggested creations, there were a number of vegetarian options (including a falafel burger), seafood options (a salmon burger, or fish and chips), salads, cheesesteaks, and more.  Sides also seem to have expanded.  I remembered the fries, cole slaw, and baked beans, but they also have sweet potato fries, garlic fries, cheese fries, and onion rings.  Drinks are basic soft drinks, beer, and milkshakes.

The food was fine, but not particularly notable in any way.  It was freshly prepared, served in a timely fashion, and our group of 6 was served all at once, even though we had an assortment of items.  Staff were friendly, the establishment clean.  A very solid choice, but, not mindblowing in any way.

For me though, it was nostalgia.
Vanilla Milkshake. $4.95.
Burgers, fries, and milkshakes.  That is my trifecta.  Not beer.   Milkshakes.

And Big Mouth is known to make a quality shake, using Mitchell's ice cream.  Unfortunately, I was not really thrilled by my choices: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, or mango.  I wanted ... mint chocolate chip.  Oreo.  Just something more interesting.  I'd normally just pass given the mediocre options, but I was really craving a shake, so, vanilla it was (I don't usually like strawberry, I didn't want the caffeine from chocolate, and mango didn't sound great).

The milkshake was huge.  I'm pretty convinced it had more than a pint of ice cream in it.  It came in the huge metal cup, with a frosted glass with straw and spoon alongside.  Points for the frosted glass, and points for generous quantity.

The shake was far too thick to suck up when it arrived, which left me frustrated.  I kept wanting to drink some, but couldn't.  At least it didn't melt too quickly, I always hate it when my hot food arrives, I focus on that, and then discover that I have a totally melted milkshake.

Anyway, once it became drinkable it was just a very rich, thick shake.  Plain.  Not particularly vanilla-y.  Boring.

Overall, this was a disappointment, but it really was a crazy amount of Mitchell's ice cream for the price, and could easily serve 2-3 people.
Kid's Menu: Small Mouth Burger with Blue Cheese. $6.95. Sub Onion Rings ($1).
A regular burger at Big Mouth is a full half pound.  Add on a serving of fries, and a milkshake, and, well, it is just too much.  My ground of friends and I always ordered Small Mouth burgers instead, from the kid's menu, and even though it says for ages 10 and under, no one has ever questioned us.

The Small Mouth burger, like the regular Big Mouth Burger, is served with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles on the side to add on as you wish.  The lettuce was fresh and crisp, but the tomatoes weren't ripe, and the pickles not juicy or flavorful.  Not the best toppings.

The bun was nicely toasted, although a generic boring bun.  The beef patty was decently quality, but cooked well done, and with the small patty size, this made it fairly flavorless and dry.

The burger?  Not memorable in any way.

Burgers normally come with fries, but you can upgrade your fries to garlic fries, cheese fries, chili cheese fries, sweet potato fries, or onion rings for $1 more.  Or to baked beans or coleslaw for no charge.  I used to always get fries, or sometimes coleslaw, but I read great things about the rings, so went for them this time.

The onion rings were good, clearly freshly fried.  Assorted sizes.  A bit greasy, but not too bad.  The batter didn't fall off.  Rings come with a side of ranch dressing, which is usually a great combination, but, this ranch wasn't particularly good.

Overall, freshly prepared food, but nothing notable.
Chili Cheese Fries.
One of my dining companions opted to upgrade to chili cheese fries.  I tried a couple while waiting for mine to arrive.

The fries were thick cut fries, as I remembered from Big Mouth.  Fresh, a bit greasy, just like the onion rings.

The glowing cheese sauce wasn't very flavorful though, and quite a let down.  I think the plain fries were better.
Kid's Menu: Golden Nuggets $5.95, Sub Sweet Potato Fries $1).
I don't entirely know why,  but one diner decided he wanted chicken nuggets.  At a place known for their burgers.  I understand ordering a cheese steak perhaps, or even trying one of the veggie or fish options, but ... chicken nuggets?

Anyway, I didn't try the nuggets, but I did help myself to most of the sweet potato fries (subbed out for regular fries).  And a generous pile of fries they were.

The fries were much like the regular fries and the onion rings - freshly fried, piping hot, slightly greasy but not overwhelming.  They came in assorted sizes and thicknesses, and I liked the contrast of the thicker fluffy ones and the thinner crispy ones.  The sweet potato flavor was decent.

The sweet potato fries come with a "special" dipping sauce, the lighter color sauce on the right.  I couldn't ever figure out what it was.  It wasn't a honey mustard as I was hoping (my favorite with sweet potato fries).  It tasted a bit like BBQ, except that the chicken nuggets came with BBQ (the darker sauce), and these sauces were quite different.  (Side note: I really didn't like the BBQ sauce, not with the fries, not with the onion rings.  I love BBQ sauce, but this was too sweet and not complex and just not for me).  I didn't like this special sauce with the fries, but I ended up liking it with the onion rings, particularly compared to the ranch.
Pesto, Sundried Tomato Spread, Caper Aioli, Olive Tapanade.
I was pretty unsatisfied with my dipping sauces, always a key element of a meal for me, so I scanned the menu board looking at the other sauces, and went up to order one.  I saw sundried tomato aioli listed, and asked for aioli, thinking it would be great for my fries.  The worker asked which aioli I wanted.  I was confused, as there was only one kind, and said "the sundried tomato?"  She offered that they had caper aioli too.  I said either one was fine, as I really just wanted aioli of any sort.

I assumed she'd just grab a little thing of aioli and hand it over, but instead, she went over to talk to the kitchen, and then went to do other things.  I sat back down, kinda thinking that I wasn't going to get anything, and also wondering if I should be paying for it?  I think sauces were normally $1?  A few minutes later though, she came over with a platter of sauces!  Most weren't appropriate for dipping things, and were more suited for spreads for the burgers, but it was a nice gesture, and of course I tried them all.

The sundried tomato spread, the tapanade, and the pesto were all very flavorful, but they were thick and not really right for dipping.  They would all compliment burgers well I'm sure.

The caper aioli was great though.  I mean, it was mayo with capers, so slightly salty and briny, and right up my alley.  The sweet potato fries were much better when dipped in it.

My favorite bites were sweet potato fries in aioli, followed closely by the onion rings in special sauce.
Big Mouth Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Read More...

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hartland Diner, Hartland, Vermont

Like every good San Franciscan, I adore brunch.  Actually, no, I just love breakfast foods, but my normal life isn't one where I get to go out for breakfast.  I actually kinda dislike brunch, because I do always want something to eat sooner, but don't want to eat too much breakfast before going to brunch, and never know how long we'll need to wait ... 

Uh, oops, sorry, this isn't a rant about brunch.  This is about my love of breakfast foods, and in particular, breakfast from diners.  While I may eat at a lot of nice restaurants for other meals, for breakfast, a classic diner can do just as well as any fancy restaurant (and, frankly, often better).  Maybe my breakfast standards are just different?  Heck, I even love pancakes from IHOP.

While I don't go out to breakfast in "regular life", I certainly do when traveling, and when visiting my family on the east coast.  After a couple mediocre breakfasts at our regular breakfast place, Lou's, I decided it was time to do some research and find a new breakfast place.  And the Hartland Diner quickly rose to the top of the list, even though it was further away (nearly a 30 minute drive from my parent's house).
Hartland Diner FACTS.
The Hartland Diner is located in Vermont, in, you guessed it, Hartland.

It is a small diner, but, they really care about things like freshness and sourcing.  On the tables, on bright pink laminated paper, is a stand with a list of FACTS.

The first set of facts is about all of their local producers, listing out all the suppliers they use for items like their eggs, cheese, chicken, sausage, dairy, and coffee.  The next set of facts is all about how they make many things from scratch, aka, "properly".  This ranges from roasting their own turkey, to making their own veggie burgers and granola, to making their own salad dressings, spicy mayo, and gravy, to pancakes/waffles/biscuits and their famous pies.

Hyper local and even the mayo housemade?  If it weren't for the tacky pink sign, it would fit right in in San Francisco.
What We Are About.
The other side of the pink sign goes into more detail, with a little essay about local, fresh food, community, and how they are the best.

I found this signage all a bit odd, but, I appreciated that they cared so much about their ingredients and quality, and wanted you as the guest to understand it.

My first visit was absolutely incredible.  I was pretty upset that I discovered it on my last day in town, and quickly deemed it a new reason to visit the east coast (well, besides my family of course).   I made a point to go every time I visited the area for two years after that, and refused to try anywhere else for breakfast.  Sadly, no visit measured up to that first one (although none were bad, the food was always fresh, and the coffee always excellent).  Portions are huge, and prices are rather high for the area.  After four visits, I'll definitely still return, and hope for a repeat of that first visit, but I do plan to keep trying more places.

The Space

The diner is not large.  It has a counter, and 5 booths.  That is it.  Not a total hole in the wall, but, close.
Counter Seating.
The counter seating usually has a few solo diners at it, enjoying their meals, and chatting with the staff.  They have all seemed to be regulars, quite at home at the counter.

The staff are always reasonably friendly, although more so with their regulars.
Booths.
The rest of the space is made up of booths, only 5.  The padding of the booths matches the colorful, cheery, turquoise of the stools at the counter.
Specials Chalkboard.
Every single time I have visited, the chalkboard has featured amazing sounding specials (including their famous pies!), plus both breakfast and lunch specialities.  I've still yet to order any though, as I generally arrive with a set plan ...
Clouds.
It was hard to get a photo to really capture the ambiance inside due to the really fascinating lights.  It isn't nearly as dark as it looks here, but I couldn't focus on the cloud-lights and keep the rest of the room brightly lit.  Anyway, the ceiling panels have some of these cloud-lights, which totally amp up the already cheery atmosphere.
Condiments.
Every table has a slew of condiments to choose from, all the classics: French's mustard, Heinz ketchup, Frank's hot sauce, Tabasco, and not one, but two types of sriracha.  I didn't need any of these, but I appreciated that they were all there, easily accessible, no need to ask for them.  Still curious why they needed two different types of sriracha though!
More Condiments.
The other side of the table are sweeteners for drinks, toothpicks, jam, and huge salt and pepper shakers.  This theme of oversized items was going to be a recurring one, we just didn't know it yet.

I thought it was really interesting that the jam was small packages of Smuckers.  The Hartland Diner is all about making everything from scratch, so having very generic jam seemed strange to me.  In this one area, and this one area only, Lou's wins, as the homemade strawberry jam they have on the tables is absolutely amazing.

Visit #1: July 2014

My first visit was in the summer of 2014.  I had been really craving pancakes, did my research, and finally convinced my mom to go out to breakfast with me.
Fresh Brewed Iced Tea.
My mom ordered iced tea, as it was crazy hot out, and she wanted something refreshing.  We were both stunned when it arrived at the table.

It came served in a canning jar, which wasn't exactly the notable thing.  Many places in San Francisco serve drinks in jars, so that fact was barely something I noticed.  What was impossible to miss was the size: quart size!  It was absolutely massive.  It made the salt and pepper shakers look normal sized.

My mom made a comment about how she'd never be able to finish it, yet, somehow, she did.  I didn't try it, but she obviously liked it.  Fresh brewed, unsweet tea.  The massive size of this drink was just an indicator of what was to come ...

My water was also served in a jar, but it was a more reasonable pint size.  Both jar drinks came with colorful bendy straws.  I always use straws, so I appreciated this quite a bit.
Bottomless Decaf Coffee.
Since I was getting a breakfast item, I wanted coffee, decaf as usual.

Behind the counter were standard diner style pots of coffee, regular and decaf.  Pre-brewed, sitting there on burners to keep warm.  I didn't expect anything from the coffee, but I always like to have it with my pancakes.

I was blown away by the coffee.  Like all of the products used at the diner, it is locally sourced, organic, made by Vermont Coffee Company, a small roaster in Middlebury, VT.

The coffee had a really deep flavor, almost chocolately, mocha-like.  It was rich, but not too dark, as I don't tend to like dark coffee.  It came with a little pitcher of cream (from Thomas Dairy, in nearby Rutland, VT), and there were plenty of sweeteners available on the table, but I didn't want to add a thing to it.  Absolutely perfect as was, and some of the best decaf coffee I've ever encountered.  (Side note: for the zero calorie sweetener, they don't have generic Stevia or Truvia, but instead a product from Chef Mark.  I don't know a thing about this, but I was surprised to see that even the basics like sweeteners were non-standard).

Coffee came with unlimited refills, in which I gladly partook.  I think I had 4 while I was there.  It was just so good.  The waitress kept a good eye on my coffee mug once she realized how much I was drinking, and made sure I never went without.
Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict, Homefries. $12.95.
After ordering sweet french toast at Lou's a few days earlier, my mom decided that she wanted to get a savory item, as she felt crappy after having such a decadent breakfast.  The Maple Walnut French Toast at the Hartland Diner sounded incredible, and she *almost* caved and ordered it: "covered on one side with a delicious layer of crushed walnuts, caramelized brown sugar, and organic cinnamon."  If I didn't have my heart set on pancakes, I definitely would have gone for it.

But instead, she opted for one of the many benedict preparations, smoked salmon.

I apologize for the bad photo.  I was too distracted by my amazing pancake experience to properly take a photo of her dish.  I paused just long enough to snap a pic, and take a quick look.  As I watched her cut into the poached eggs, I have to admit, they looked to be poached absolutely perfectly, a fact which she confirmed, and repeated several times.  The english muffins on the bottom were nicely toasted, the smoked salmon was a generous portion, and the hollandaise also garnered a couple mentions from my mom.  In particular, she said it was creamy, balanced, and didn't separate or break at all.  Her only criticism is that she would have preferred a dill hollandaise to compliment the smoked salmon.'

My mother was quite happy with her dish, fairly textbook benedict, a lesson in exactly how this dish is supposed to come out.  I tried a tiny taste of the hollandaise, but, the fact that I didn't demand any other bites of hers is a strong indication of how amazing my own meal was.  I always want to try a bit of everything, and she even offered several times, but I was in my own land of pancake bliss.

I did try the hashbrowns.  The Hartland Diner offers up both home fries OR hashbrowns.  I loved them for this.  I prefer hashbrowns, and I always get sad when places offer home fries.  I can't recall ever having the choice before.  Along with plain hashbrowns, you also have the option to have them covered in cheese, or have onions, peppers, mushrooms, ham, sausage, and/or bacon added.  She stuck with plain.  The hashbrowns were good, nice and crispy, but, just shredded potato, and not particularly seasoned.  I liked them with a bit of my maple syrup on them, but I'd skip them in the future and just focus on the amazing pancakes.

Of all the dishes we had at the diner, this is the only one that was even remotely normal sized.  Two poached eggs, a full english muffin, and a big pile of hash browns is a very *small* dish here.
Single Pancake: Maple Walnut Raspberry White Chocolate Chip! $7.95. 
After all that foreshadowing, I guess it is time to tell you about the pancakes.

First, let me describe the options for the pancakes.  Pancakes are listed as "Vermont Sized" with the tag line, "if something's worth doing, it's worth doing big".  They are sold as singles, or doubles.  It is mentioned on the menu several times that you shouldn't order three: "3 Pancakes - Don't do it!", or "Yes, you can have three if you INSIST", or "Yeah, yeah, we can make you three..." It turns out, this playful discouragement really is in your best interests.  But more on that later.

The pancake menu is divided into three sections: regular buttermilk pancakes ($5.95 for  a single, $10.95 for two), "Fun Flavors" ($6.95 single/$12.95 double), and "Super Special" ($7.95/$14/95).  The "Fun Flavors" are single flavor pancakes, and the "Super Specials" are a list of their recommended combinations.  And of course, you can create your own.

The options for mix-ins are extensive.  For chips, you can add chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, or peanut butter chips.  Prefer fruit?  They have strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, and bananas.  There was also maple walnut, coconut, and a few other options.  As I said, you could get any single flavor, or go for one of their "Super Special" flavors, like banana peanut butter or blueberry white chocolate chip.

I of course had to design my own.  I thought long and hard about my combination.  Finally, I decided that I wanted one sweet component, so I went with white chocolate chips.  I thought the butterscotch might be a bit too sweet, and I didn't want chocolate, even though the waitress told me the chocolate chip were her favorites.

I also decided that I wanted a fruit component.  I'm not sure why I picked raspberries, I thought either strawberries or raspberries would combine best with the white chocolate, and I knew I'd be having strawberry shortcake the next day, so I went with raspberry.

And finally, I wanted something for crunch, so I added the maple walnut.

This turned out to be a killer mix, and it was exactly what I wanted: a bit sweet, a bit moist and fruity, and a bit crunchy.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I ordered a single pancake.  After all, it was only 11:45am, and I'd had a fairly sizable breakfast at 9:30 at home.  I wasn't starving.  And I knew the pancake would be large.

Even with this knowledge, nothing prepared me for what was to come.  When the waitress set down the pancake in front of me, I'm pretty sure I gasped out loud.  I've seen large pancakes in my life, and in fact, I commented on how large the pancake at Lou's was just a few days earlier, but no other pancake compares to this.  I couldn't even see the plate, but somewhere under that massive pancake there was a full size dinner plate.  Yes, my pancake was larger than a plate.  It wasn't a thin, wimpy pancake either.  This was a thick, fluffy monster.

A few days earlier, I had a cookie dough pancake at North Street Grille, and it didn't come with any butter.  After that, I had the blueberry peach pancake at Lou's , which also didn't come with any butter, although it did have a bit of whipped cream.  This one didn't just have butter, it had a massive scoop of butter (Cabot, of course).  It was melting in very quickly.  I usually don't add any butter to my pancakes, or if I do, it is a minimal amount, so this made my eyes bug out a bit.  At first I tried to push it aside to prevent further melting into my pancakes, but, as my entire plate was a pancake, there wasn't anywhere for it to go, and, as I dragged it across my pancake it all just melted in even more.  Oh well, go big or go home, right?  

A bit overwhelmed, I took my first bite.  I hadn't even gotten to the syrup yet.  My mom claims that my eyes rolled back in my head as I did so.  Um, wow.  This was an absolutely incredible pancake.

It was light and fluffy, everything that the Lou's pancake was not.  Yet the outside was a bit crispy, although certainly not burnt.  The North Street Grill pancake was crispier, which I did like more, but it was no where near as fluffy.  The Hartland Diner pancake wins on texture and consistency.

The flavor in the pancake base was incredible, with a lovely tang from the buttermilk (also Thomas Dairy, like my cream for the coffee).  My mix-ins turned out to be an even better combination than I expected.  The white chocolate chips were slightly melted and added a perfect hint of sweetness.  The walnuts gave texture and crunch.  The raspberries were flavorful little pops of moisture.  A wining trio, although next time, I'd choose a fruit other than raspberries, because I didn't care for the seeds.  That is just me and my quirky dislike of berry seeds though.

I was many bites in before I realized that I hadn't even tried the syrup, 100% real Vermont maple syrup of course.  My flavor combinations in the pancake were so good that it honestly didn't need the syrup, although real syrup is always appreciated.  They don't even have the fake stuff, only real, unlimited, and from a farm down the street.  You know me, I'm a sweet tooth and love adding syrup to things, but honestly, the sweetness from the white chocolate chips, the maple from the maple walnut, and the fruit was really totally sufficiently sweet as it was.  I ended up using syrup on some bites, but mostly because I felt like I was supposed to, not because I needed it.

Oh, and that mound of butter that concerned me originally?  I wouldn't say it was necessary exactly, but, I ended up easily using it all.  The butter itself was insanely good ... I guess I'll be on the lookout for Cabot butter in the future!  And not that the pancake was dry or needed it, but the melty butter just made the whole thing even more moist.

So overall?  Amazing.  It was impressive, visually, from the moment it was set down in front of me, and my sense of wonder continued as I stuffed myself full of it.  The largest pancake I've ever seen, by far, and also, I'm going to say it, the best pancake I've ever had.

I'll clearly be going back for another, although I'll force myself to try out more flavor combinations.  I want to try something with peanut butter (peanut butter, bacon, and banana perhaps?), and I think I'd like to try a butterscotch one.  And something with fresh fruit on top and whipped cream.  So many choices.  Must return.
Coconut Cream Pie.  $5.50.
"We’ll put our pie up against ANYONE’S pie out there. REAL, from scratch pastry creams so delicious you could just eat bowls of the filling without ever putting it in the flaky, of course, 100% from scratch crusts. Not to mention every kind of fruit, with a traditional double crust or yummy crumb topping."

Online reviews I read all raved about the pie.  People talked about visiting just to get pie ... for breakfast.  It seemed impossible NOT to try the pie, particularly as I'm such a dessert girl, but, we were stuffed.  I suggested getting pie, and my mom laughed at me.

Undeterred, I said we should get a slice to go, even though we'd already been given our check.  She agreed, I think mostly just to humor me.

The chalkboard boasted 6 varieties of pie, 3 cream pies (coconut, banana, chocolate) and 3 fruit pies (strawberry, triple berry crumb, and key lime).  It was the cream pies in particular that everyone raved about, so that narrowed down our choices easily.  Since I don't eat chocolate late in the day I ruled that out, and I didn't think banana cream would hold up well, otherwise I'd totally go for banana cream.  Thus, coconut cream pie it was.  (Side note: in the winter, they make a maple cream pie that people go crazy about.  I'll have to try that when I visit at Christmas!)

Since we got our slice to go, and mentioned that we'd be traveling back with it, the waitress asked for it to be packaged without whipped cream.  Of course, a cream pie needs whipped cream on top, but given that it was 90 degrees out, there is absolutely no way the whipped cream would have lasted.  We added our own later that evening when we got home.

It was a good slice of pie.  The crust was light and buttery.  The pie itself was pastry cream, loaded up with shredded coconut.  Very creamy, tons of coconut flavor, not too sweet.  Whipped cream on top helped complete it, and I think it would be strange without.

Overall a good slice, but, not something I need to go running back for.  If I was in the area and wanting pie, I'd certainly try another slice from them.  I really do have my eyes on the fruit pie.

I think the price was around $5.50, since it was a bit over $6 once tax was added, and my mom was shocked by the price.  A bit high, even for good pie.

Visit #2: December 2014

When I visited my family for the Christmas holidays, there was exactly one place on my list that I wanted to make sure to visit: The Hartland Diner.  I wanted another epic pancake.  I wanted to try the French Toast.  But ... my mother, the amazing woman that she is, had a house full of sweets waiting for me.  Literally.  There were Christmas cookies waiting for me on my pillow.  A whole pumpkin pie for dinner my first night.  And an entire tray of the most amazing pumpkin bread pudding just for nibbling on (it quickly became my breakfast of choice!).  And this was all my first day.  All my other favorites quickly showed up in subsequent days.

Thus, I didn't wake up craving pancakes at any point.  A rare thing for me, indeed.  But I really wanted to go to the Hartland Diner!  So, on my last day, we headed there, to try out the savory options (gasp!).

Service was friendly, and I really appreciated the waitress keeping my coffee cup full at all times.  The Hartland Diner again went on the top of my list of places to return to.
Fresh Fruit Cup. $4.95.
My mother wanted something healthy to start, so she ordered a fresh fruit cup.

When I saw the $4.95 price listed, I thought it was a bit high for the area.  And then I saw the fruit bowl.  For a winter offering, this was incredible.  The fruit was all clearly fresh cut to order.  The mix contained several types of citrus (grapefruit, oranges) with the pith completely removed.  There was kiwi, perfectly peeled.  Pomegranate seeds scattered throughout.  And bananas and grapes.

My mom loved her fruit, and it was clear that whomever prepared it put love into even something so simple, just a fruit bowl.  The price totally made sense once I saw the quality of the product.
Mason Dixon Bene.  $10.95.
"Grilled biscuit with bacon, sausage gravy, 2 poached eggs, and potatoes."

For the main attraction, we went for the Mason Dixon Bene.  This was a compromise between my mother and I, as we were planning to share a meal, having learned our lesson on portion sizes last time.

I had my eye on the sausage biscuits and gravy.  I knew they made their own housemade biscuits.  And sausage gravy.   I also love a good breakfast sausage patty.  But my mother wanted an egg dish, as that is her idea of breakfast.  I don't really care about eggs.  And the idea of gravy for breakfast was foreign to her.  Thus, the Mason Dixon Bene was perfect - she could get her eggs, I'd get the biscuit and sausage gravy.  And since I wanted even more sausage, we subbed out the regularly included bacon with a sausage patty.  When we ordered, I didn't realize quite how perfect of a compromise this would turn out to be - we both loved exactly opposite components of the meal.

The eggs, sourced from Maple Meadow, were again perfectly poached, but to me, they are just eggs.  I tried a few bites, and then gladly passed my egg over to my mom.

I adored the maple breakfast sausage patty, from Vermont Country Farms.  A bit crispy on the outside, perfectly cooked, incredibly well seasoned and flavorful.  My mother didn't want her whole portion, so I quite gladly snatched it up, in exchange for the egg.  I'll certainly seek out VT Country Farms products in the future.

The biscuit was also fantastic.  Super fluffy and moist.  Good buttermilk tang.  HUGE.  And I liked how it was grilled.  The other benedicts on the menu are served with english muffins, but to me, the biscuit is the clear winner.  So good.  My mother wasn't into this, and I again gladly took her portion.  As I staggered out of the diner after our meal, I somewhat regretted it.  It was a LOT of biscuit, but I really enjoyed it.

And, the gravy: there was tons of it.  When I saw the plate, I thought we'd never use it all.  Halfway through the meal, I found myself stealing the remaining gravy from my mom, since she was still a bit weirder out by the whole gravy-for-breakfast thing and wasn't using much.  Just like the sausage patty, it was super flavorful and well seasoned.  It was thick in all the right ways and incredibly generously loaded up with sausage chunks.

For the included side, we had the choice of hash browns or home fries.  Since we got the hash browns last time and weren't all that impressed, we picked the home fries this time.  The potatoes were again the only disappointing part of the meal.  They didn't seem quite fully cooked, a bit hard.  Not very seasoned.  Served skin on.  But, potatoes aren't generally something I'm super excited about anyway, and my mom enjoyed them, and ate my discarded portion in exchange for the biscuit and gravy.

This dish was huge. 2 poached eggs, an absolutely gigantic biscuit, a full sausage patty, a ton of gravy loaded up with more sausage, plus the home fries.  We both left stuffed - my mom had the eggs and home fries, I had the sausage, biscuit, and gravy that I wanted in the first place.  Two people can easily split a meal, although our waitress told us that she once had one person order this AND a giant pancake.  I can't imagine it.  The price was completely reasonable for a full breakfast for two.

If I was ever in the mood for a savory meal again, I'd gladly split this with my mom, or, I'd just get the biscuit and sausage gravy as I wanted in the first place.

Visit #3: July 2015

The next summer, it was time to return again, and, go back to the pancakes.
Crystal's Bene. $12.95. 
"3 poached eggs on Veggie Hash Browns with our own Hollandaise Sauce and an English Muffin."

I'm usually the one suffering from indecision, but at the Hartland Diner, my mom goes through it too.  The menu is overwhelming.  She went back and forth between getting a omelet special of the day, making her own omelet, or selecting from the massive list of benedicts.  In the end she went for a hybrid, "Crystal's Bene".

It wasn't a traditional bene, even though it was called a bene.  It came from a totally different section of the menu from the other benedicts, those were all part of the "Benedict Central Command" section of the menu, which included traditional bene with ham, the smoked salmon she had before, or options with corned beef hash, bacon, steak, buffalo chicken, black bean burgers, spinach, or tomato, all served traditionally over English muffins, with two poached eggs and hollandaise.

Hers came with the English muffin on the side, and was a bit more crispy than we'd desire.  Not burnt exactly, but certainly well done.

The eggs were nicely poached, fairly textbook, with yolks that oozed out just right.  It came with 3 eggs though, which just seems crazy to me.  I know big omelets are 3 egg omelets, but the normal benedicts are all only two eggs, which seems far more reasonable.  My mom couldn't finish it all in one sitting, and I'm really not sure who could.  3 eggs, plus tons of hash browns, plus a full english muffin?  Portion control!

The hollandaise wasn't as good as before.  It seemed too eggy, like it hadn't been cooked properly, or perhaps had separated a bit?  It also was too tangy and acidic.

Underneath this all was the hash browns, veggie hash browns.  I wasn't really into the plain hash browns before, but I tried them anyway.  They were loaded with peppers, onions, and mushrooms, and my mom was quite pleased, but I still wasn't into them.  She loved all the additional flavor.

My mom seemed to like her meal, but she didn't rave about it in the same was as our previous trips.
Create your own pancake: bacon, maple walnut, white chocolate chip. $9.95.
On this visit, I had my mind made up before I arrived.  I was ready for another epic pancake.

I did love the biscuit, gravy, and sausage for a savory option, but my memories of that first pancake were just too strong to resist.  And, on this visit, I went the very first morning I was in town, so I hadn't yet had a week straight of my mom's sweets, so I was ready for a decadent, sweet breakfast.

Deciding I wanted a pancake was easy (although that maple walnut french toast still sounds fantastic!).  Choosing what to put in my pancake was the hard part.  Did I try to just improve my last one slightly, keeping the maple walnut and white chocolate, and just change out the fruit?  Did I go for the butterscotch that I wanted to try last time?  Or ... what if I got totally crazy, and put in bacon?

Yes, bacon.  Sure, it wasn't listed as an option for a pancake ingredient.  But I follow the Hartland Diner on social media, and I know they put crumbled up bacon inside their pancakes from time to time.  I love combining a little sweet and savory.  Plus, a few days prior, I had an epic waffle dessert containing bacon (a S'mores Waffle Sandwich Wrapped in Bacon A La Mode to be exact, with double layers of waffle, stuffed with s'mores ingredients - fluff, chocolate, graham crackers, the entire thing wrapped in crispy bacon, and topped with huge scoops of ice cream.  Don't ask.), and I wanted to relive that insanity slightly.

So, I ordered a pancake.  I started listing my ingredients, "with bacon ..." I said, and the waitress confirmed, "Ok, a pancake with a side of bacon", and I corrected, "no, bacon bits inside."  Then I added maple walnuts because I loved them last time and the white chocolate chips to give a bit more sweetness.  I originally planned to do bacon, peanut butter, chocolate, and banana, a la Elvis, but I just wasn't feeling the banana, for some reason I didn't want chocolate, and peanut butter seemed too dry.  I knew my creation sounded a bit weird, but, I really wanted sweet and savory.  My other thought was to use butterscotch chips, but butterscotch bacon somehow sounded too strange to me.

Anyway.  The waitress confirmed my order, "Ok, a maple walnut - white chocolate chip - and bacon - pancake".  I laughed and said yes, and commented that it might be awful, and she was pretty polite about it.

The wait for our food was longer than expected, during which time I emptied my coffee cup many times.  The coffee (decaf) wasn't actually very good this time, but I added plenty of sugar and cream, and made it drinkable.  I was sad, since I had liked their coffee so much on the prior visits.  I also had to keep asking for refills, as the single waitress was busy and didn't notice my cup constantly running empty.

Finally, the waitress showed up, two plates in hand.  One was a small plate, with bacon. One was a large plate, with a pancake.  You can guess what wasn't in the pancake.  Yup, the bacon.  And she knew it.

She told me that the cook hadn't understood, and made me a maple walnut white chocolate chip pancake, with a side of bacon.  She asked if I wanted it anyway.

My heart sank.  I was there for my epic bacon pancake!  And, I don't actually really like just eating strips of bacon.  I didn't want a side of bacon.  And a pancake with just nuts and white chocolate wasn't exciting.  But we had waited longer than expected already, and were on a tight schedule (I was in town for my little sister's wedding, and getting my mom to take time for breakfast was pushing it as it was ...).  But I really didn't want it.  She could tell.  She said they would re-fire immediately.

Luckily, they knew better than to let my mom's beautiful poached eggs die in the window while mine was re-fired, and brought hers out momentarily.  My mom ate slowly, politely.  She finished one egg.  And another.  I was still waiting.  We both thought it took an unusually long time to cook my pancake the second time.  Maybe I was just starving, anxious about the time, and really anticipating it though?

When it finally returned, it came sans butter or syrup.  They normally put the butter on top, and I asked for it on the side.  The first time it arrive, my pancake was brought with both syrup and butter in little containers on the side.  This time, it had neither.  Sigh.  I still couldn't dig in!

And the pancake?  Well ... it wasn't great.  Some of it was certainly my fault, my combination didn't work quite as well as I hoped.

But some of it was execution.  The exterior wasn't crispy like on my first visit.  It wasn't nearly as fluffy.  Those were two elements that I really adored last time.  It was more just like any old pancake, far, far thinner.

It was however, still just as large in diameter.  Larger than the plate it was served on, which was a very large plate as it was.  This single pancake was again as large as at least 4 regular pancakes.  My mom estimated 5.  So daunting!

I quickly cut it into quarters, and stacked up 3 pieces, so I could just focus on one, and have some space on my plate for dipping.

The bacon bits were crunchy and a bit salty.  That part was about what I expected.  The maple walnuts were sweet, crunchy, and my absolute favorite component, but didn't really go well with the bacon.  The white chocolate chips were the real letdown.  In my previous pancake, they were melted, yielding little bursts of creamy sweetness.  This time, they were entirely unmelted.

So some of my dislike was that my flavor combination just wasn't ideal.  Yes, I had sweet and salty, and I had crunch, but, it wasn't a winning trio.  But really, I wanted a crispy exterior, fluffy interior, melty chip pancake like I had before.  I wonder if it was just cooked at a higher temperature trying to speed it up for me?  Or, a different cook?

Once I got over my initial sadness, it did grow on me, particularly when dunked in plentiful maple syrup.  But unlike my previous pancake, it really needed the syrup, and didn't stand alone.  I also was perfectly able to save part to bring home, whereas last time, even though I was beyond stuffed, I couldn't stop.  (It actually reheated quite nicely - I wrapped it in foil and threw it in the toaster oven.  Foil wrapping kept it moist and prevented it from getting dry, and then I removed the foil at the very end, which crisped up the outside, just how I wanted it in the first place).

I obviously wouldn't get this again.  If I really wanted bacon, I'd go back to the Elvis idea with at least the chocolate and peanut butter, and probably the banana.  But I think it is time to move on from the bacon, and just go for another sweet combination.  I loved the maple walnuts though, so I'd like to keep them.  Too bad they don't really go with the other things I wanted inside, like butterscotch and peanut butter.

Stay tuned, who knows what I'll come up with next ...
Coleslaw, side.  $3.95.
I wanted to take something home with me for later in the day.  I was originally thinking of pie, but sadly they were out of the pies I wanted.

Since most of the food didn't seem like what I'd actually want hours later, I went for the only thing that seemed like it would stand up: coleslaw.  Also, um, I love coleslaw.

The slaw however wasn't great.  It was only cabbage, and only one kind of cabbage.  No carrots, no red cabbage, nothing for a pop of color.  The cabbage was fairly crisp and fresh, nicely sized pieces.

It was more dressed than I'd like, not drowning in the dressing exactly, but, far more than I wanted.  If I had liked the dressing this would be ok, but, alas, I didn't.  I'm not sure why.  It wasn't creamy, although it looked like it should be.  It had a lot of tang to it that I didn't quite like.  The flavor just wasn't what I wanted.

Ojan ate it instead, and seemed to like it.  I still can't pinpoint what it was about it that I didn't care for.

The $3.95 price seemed high for a small side dish of just some cabbage in dressing, even if it was house made dressing.

Visit #4: December 2015

I was back in New Hampshire to see my family for the holidays, and of course, order of business #1 was going to the Hartland Diner with my mom, before the holiday festivities turned us into stress balls.  It was our chance to catch up and decompress, and then get to work cooking and baking ourselves.

As before, service was pleasant, the place had a homey, comfortable feel, and most diners seemed like regulars.
Grilled Biscuit ($2.50), Side of Sausage Gravy ($2.50), Side of Sausage Patty ($2.00).
As always, I had the hard choice between sweet (swoon, those pancakes! Seriously, best ever!) or savory.  But, also as always, I knew I'd be eating nothing but sweets for the entire upcoming week (my mom is a baking machine when I'm in town!).  So, savory it was.

I loved the biscuits, sausage, and gravy from my modified Mason Dixon Bene on my Christmas visit last year, but, as I noted then, I didn't care for the eggs or hash browns.  The menu also has a "sausage and biscuits" dish, which I assumed was just, well, sausage and biscuits, but, it also came with eggs and potatoes, and my mom had no interest in sharing with me this time around, to take the eggs and potatoes off my hands.

So ... I asked if I could order a la carte, and literally order just exactly what I wanted.  It was no problem.  So, I ordered a grilled biscuit, with a side of sausage, and a side of sausage gravy.  Perfect!

The biscuit was huge, and perfectly grilled.  I really love how they grill it, giving it a crust, but keeping it moist, light, and fluffy.  It didn't quite live up to my memory though, it was tasty, but, didn't quite have the buttermilk tang I remembered.

Of course, I wanted the biscuit as a vehicle for the insanely good sausage gravy.  And that is where things fell apart this time.  It didn't just not live up, instead, I really, really did not like it. At all.  It was thick and gloopy, which isn't necessarily bad.  It had tons of crumbled sausage, but, the flavor was just not good.  I'm not sure what went wrong.  I keep trying it, but, alas, I just didn't like it.  I couldn't force myself to eat much more.  This also meant I had an entirely plain biscuit on my hands, so I asked for butter.  The butter helped, but plain butter and plain biscuit isn't nearly as magically as tangy buttermilk biscuit and delicious gravy.  I only ate half the biscuit, and brought the other half home to enjoy with my mom's homemade strawberry jam.  That was much better (at the diner, they have only Smucker's packaged jams, which always seems strange, given how much pride they take in making everything else themselves.  The best jam at a breakfast joint in the area is definitely Lou's, where I don't necessarily love the food, but adore their jam!).

Anyway, the sausage patty was the highlight for me, although it too had changed.  Before it was a maple breakfast sausage patty, from Vermont Country Farms, and now it was just a basic breakfast sausage patty from Farmland.  It was a fairly thin style, but was still juicy.  It was well spiced, and quite tasty.  I really enjoyed it.  Lou's however wins in the sausage department as well, their breakfast sausage remains my favorite ever.

The prices for my cobbled together a la carte meal were great though, with the biscuit and gravy being charged at $2.50 each, and the sausage patty only $2.  I was a cheap date!
Benedict Florentine (plus Avocado & Tomatoes), Hash Browns.
"2 poached eggs over sautéed baby spinach on a toasted english muffin, topped with our FOR REAL Hollandaise Sauce. Served with your choice of hash browns or home fries."

My mom wanted to order the Crystal's Bene again, since she liked it last time.  I told her she wasn't allowed a repeat, and needed to try something else.  She voiced that she wanted perfectly poached eggs, hollandaise, and veggies, so I encouraged her to get one of the veggie benedict options instead (yes, they have multiple vegetarian benedict options).  But she said she wanted all the veggies: the avocado, tomatoes, and spinach.  I told her to just ask for that.  So she did, and got exactly what she wanted.

I didn't try her dish, besides a little bite of hollandaise, since I don't like eggs, but she again raved about how perfect the eggs were, which I could see as well.  They really know how to perfectly poach an egg!

Visit #5: October 2016

Another visit to the east coast, another opportunity to go out to breakfast with my mother.  I really adore breakfast and diners, and going together has become a tradition.  Over the years, we started close to home at Lou's, but eventually ventured to new places.  The Hartland diner was an instant hit the first time we visited, as you read about already.  My very first visit I had one of the best pancakes of my entire life.  We quickly returned, and I had amazing biscuits and gravy.  Sadly, over the next two visits, it didn't quite live up, so it was time to try somewhere else.  So we branched out again, and went to The 4 Aces Diner, where we again had mixed results over several visits.  Unsatisfied with any of our options, it was time to give The Hartland Diner another try.  I'm glad we did.

Very little had changed since our last visit, so, I suggest you start with my previous reviews, since I'll be skipping general details this time around.

We arrived at 10:20 am, midweek, which was excellent timing.  The breakfast crowd was clearing out, the lunch crowd hadn't yet arrived.  Two parties walked out as we walked in, leaving only one other table occupied.  Service was ok.  I did need to ask for refills of coffee, it was never offered, same with more tea for my mom.  But our server accommodated all our requests easily (I wanted a straw to drink my water, I wanted a second plate, my mom wanted only two eggs not three, etc), food was prepared quickly, and we were offered boxes once she saw us slowing down.

I'll return to The Hartland Diner again, as I have still yet to try their maple cream pie or cornbread, but I am always on the lookout for other excellent breakfast options in the area.
Water.
The first thing I noticed ... the water glasses changed!  No more cute mason jars, instead plastic pink cups with colorful bendy straws.
Crystal's Bene. $12.95.
"3 poached eggs on Veggie Hash Browns with our own Hollandaise Sauce and an English Muffin."

My mom went back to the Crystal's Bene, but she had found the portion to be far too large in the past, normally served with 3 poached eggs, so she asked to have it reduced down to only 2.  They happily gave her just 2 eggs, but still charged full price.

I tried a bite of the veggie hash, specifically a mushrooms, just because I figured I should have something savory.  As always, I didn't really like it.  My mom said it was too oily this time, really greasy, and made her stomach feel bad later.

She said the same about the english muffin, it was just too buttery.  Good, but, too much.  I suggest that in the future she ask for it to be lightly buttered?  I'm sure they could accommodate this.

The eggs looked nicely poached, but I didn't try any.  I had bigger things, literally, to get to.
Maple Walnut White Chocolate Chip Blueberry Pancake. $12.95.
This time, I decided to go with the same idea as the first pancake I tried and loved, only to make a slight refinement: blueberries instead of raspberries.

As always, the pancake was massive. Crazy massive. My mom and I both agreed it was equal to about 5-6 regular pancakes. It hung over the edges of the full size dinner plate on all sides.  I asked my server for a second plate so I could cut off a chunk and have a surface on which to eat … I literally didn’t know how to get started otherwise.

The blueberries were an improvement over raspberries because I don’t really like seeds in fruit. They were medium sized berries, likely frozen since it was mid-October.  Generous amount but not overwhelming.  Fine, but, not remarkable.  Maybe strawberries next time?

The white chocolate chips were mini chips, but didn’t melt at all. I love melty chips in my pancakes, so this was disappointing.

As for the maple walnuts, they were basically non-existent. I found only a couple little bits. The white chocolate chips and berries both came in good quantity, so, I’m not sure why these were so under-represented.

The pancake was nicely cooked, lightly browned, certainly not overcooked, not under.  I really wished the white chocolate chips had been able to melt some though, I wanted that gooey-ness.

I was provided with a small pitcher of real maple syrup on the side, but I didn’t use much of it.  The sweetness of the white chocolate was basically enough on its own, but really, I just wanted butter. More and more butter.

Oooh the butter. I’m pretty sure the butter is just Cabot.  But it is very good butter.  And, my pancake came with a huge chunk of it in the middle, already melting in.  I scooped it off as fast as I could, but, the center portion of the pancake was saturated.  In a very, very good way.  It was soooo much more butter than I’d ever put on anything, but wow it was good.

As always I wasn’t remotely capable of finishing my pancake, so I saved half for the next day. I know from past experience that these reheat fine in a toaster oven, and I imagine they freeze nicely too (as I always do with IHOP pancakes).  I did however finish the butter in that first serving.  Every last drop of it.  On just the portion of the pancake I ate.  Horrible, I know, but oh so good.

I enjoyed my pancake, but, it wasn’t life changing in any way.  I’d get another, swapping out the blueberries for strawberries perhaps, or finally going for butterscotch, peanut butter, or chocolate chips.

The Hartland Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Read More...