Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery in Hanover, NH.Photo Credit : Courtesy of Lou's Restaurant and Bakery
Town and gown are agreeably blurred in Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College, the Ivy League’s smallest and most rural school. Main Street, with its awning-shaded brick storefronts, flows seamlessly from the central campus green. Sidewalks are busy with kids in “D” sweatshirts, mothers pushing strollers and retirees walking dogs. In winter, Occom Pond is shared by grad students playing pick-up hockey and toddlers wobbling on double-blades, and in spring, the Connecticut River is creased by Big Green rowing shells and family motor boats. This intermingling reaches its convivial zenith at Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery, a breakfast-all-day joint that has for decades pulled off the neat trick of allowing locals and students to think of it as their very own.
After Lou Bressett, a Hanover native and decorated U.S. Marine, opened Lou’s in 1947, it quickly became an essential gathering place for professors, coaches, businesspeople, and hung-over frat boys. (Dartmouth didn’t start admitting women until 1972.) Lou sold it in 1979 to Bob Watson, most remembered, alas, for removing the black and white photos of Lou’s regulars from the walls. When current owners, Toby and Pattie Fried, bought the place in 1992, they won over skeptics with their commitment to the quality of the food. They got points, too, for honoring customers’ wishes and re-hanging a gallery of restaurant denizens behind the soda fountain counter.
The Frieds also expanded the bakery offerings to showcase Toby’s pastry-making skills, acquired in his native Vienna and honed at Boston’s Ritz-Carlton.
“We made a conscious decision to have people pay at the front register,” Pattie says with a laugh. “That way they had to see all the desserts in the glass case.”
From the small kitchen, Toby and his team turn out sensational pies and cakes—including seasonal specialties such as blueberry-peach pie, pumpkin-ginger cheesecake, Zwetschgenkuchen plum cake, apple strudel and Austrian stollen.
Though there is a full lunch menu, including burgers, Reubens, gyros, and terrific bone broth tortilla soup—breakfast dishes are why people wait in line for thirty minutes or more at peak times. Many have come specifically for the Cruller French Toast, created as a practical use for leftovers. The egg-dipped and griddled glazed crullers turn out not to be the teeth-ringing sugar grenades one might imagine—even when drizzled with local maple syrup. The interior of the semi-flattened cruller is eggy and airy, and the outside, crisped and golden brown.
Another big seller is corned beef hash, made from scratch using marinated corned beef brisket baked with onions, then shredded with red potatoes, onions, spices, and basil. They go through 200 pounds of it a week.
Being in a college town means having to stay current. Pattie has learned how to use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—and is no longer puzzled by youthful customers Snapchatting their doughnuts. The Frieds have also adapted to culinary trends by adding vegan and gluten-free dishes, including a hearty oat-based breakfast cookie, and by promoting the local farms and producers who supply the restaurant.
Still, Lou’s biggest draw is tradition. September after September, freshmen arrive and vow to complete what is known at Dartmouth as the Lou’s Challenge—that is, pulling an all-nighter and being at the restaurant at 6 a.m. when it opens. Alumni return to be playfully sassed by the same waitresses who slid them platefuls of eggs and home fries in their letter-sweatered youth. Stumping presidential candidates turn up every four years to glad-hand the crucial New Hampshire primary voters. And regulars, including Ned Redpath, the former owner of Hanover-based Coldwell Banker Redpath & Co. Realtors, who has eaten at Lou’s three to five times a week for the past twelve years, come through the door knowing they will be warmly welcomed.
“My table—booth number five—is already set for me when I arrive,” Redpath said. “And every morning Ginny, my waitress, comes over and says, ‘The usual?’ (Single egg scrambled, single white toast.) It’s kind of cool.”