Candidates & Plates
By Tom Long
Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
Stump grub is on the menu at local diners and restaurants as candidates make the rounds in advance of the presidential primary.
Noshing during the first-in-the-nation primary season means the possibility of becoming up close and personal with presidential wannabees, not to mention a chance of making the evening news.
Ambitious politicians are always eager to chat up prospective voters at a local eatery where a warm cup of coffee and a ready-made crowd await them. Meet them were they mingle. It’s retail politics 101.
Consequently, as the presidential primary season heats up you never know who you might run into at a local diner. Here are some favored local pit stops.
Robie’s Country Store, 9 Riverside Street, Hooksett has been a preferred stop for generations of glad-handing candidates. The evidence is right up there on the wall. “George Romney Great for 68,” proclaims a poster for the General Motors executive who visited during the unsuccessful campaign the year Lyndon Johnson chose not to run for re-election.
A generation or two later, son Mitt stopped by and left a color headshot that now hangs on the opposite wall. “To Robie’s, very best,” the second-generation candidate wrote on the pic.
Scores of politicians have trod the creaking floorboards and pressed the flesh under its hammered-tin ceiling since Robie’s opened in 1822. The walls are plastered with political memorabilia, posters for Carter/Mondale, Nixon/Lodge, Robert Kennedy.
A framed array of campaign buttons for Hubert Humphry, H. Ross Perot, John Sununu, John F. Kennedy and dozens of other candidates on a wall near the restroom recalls President Lyndon B. Johnson’s advice to rookie politickers: “Never pass up a chicken dinner or a chance to use the men’s room.”
Roots Café at Robie’s Country Store is a café and store operated by Joshua and Amber Enright who use a wide array of local products including flour and grains from the Littleton Grist Mill, mustards from Black Water, maple syrup from Page’s Sap Shed and other local products.
Their Reuben sandwich with a heap of homemade potato chips is large enough to fuel a candidate for a day and a half of handshakes and happy talk. And the dill lemon tuna sandwich with cucumber, tomato and avocado on rye with a side of homemade potato salad could keep you going through to primary day.
And for those pols who are looking to eat healthy, Robie’s has plenty of choices including the vegan bowl with spinach, mushrooms, roasted veg, tomatoes and quinoa.
Sometimes candidates have more on their minds than food. As a server said, “One candidate was here recently for an hour and a half and he didn’t even eat anything.”
Creating a new, more hipster primary stop is Revelstoke Coffee, 100 North Main St. in Concord. During the primary season visitors included Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, Bill Weld, Mark Stanford and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Down in Derry, MaryAnn’s Diner, 29 East Broadway is a throwback to the happy days of the eateries of the 1950s, poodle skirts, juke boxes, burgers and shakes. Mitt Romney has breezed through as well as Lindsay Graham, Chris Christie and former First Lady Barbara Bush, who was stumping for her son Jeb.
Selections there include American diner “faves” like chicken fried steak with sausage gravy and a grilled biscuit; frank and beans with brown bread; and a roasted pork dinner with applesauce. And what candidate running for the highest office of the land could resist a breakfast of the Red, White & Blue Waffles with strawberries, blueberries and vanilla ice cream?
Given New Hampshire’s deep Franco-American roots, it would be a big miss for a candidate to skip Chez Vachon, 136 Kelley St. on the west side of Manchester, and most don’t. There they can sample Canadian specialties like crepes, pork pies, poutine, smoked meats and other French-Canadian comfort food.
It is a favorite stop for Democrats. Joe Biden has stopped by and Bill and Hillary Clinton had breakfast there when she was running for president. They both had the veggie omelet, and Hillary had a side of sausage.
Theo’s, 102 Elm Street in Manchester, has a picture of presidential candidate Donald Trump sitting at a table on the wall in the entryway. The ubiquitous Mitt Romney has also stopped by this eatery, which has to-die-for marinated lamb salad, spanakopita and arguably the best lentil soup around.
The Puritan Backroom, 245 Hooksett Road, Manchester, has been a must stop since 1917. It is famous for its fried clams and chicken tenders. President George H.W. Bush, Sargent Shriver and Al Gore have dropped by.
Politics is part of the lifeblood of the beloved institution. Co-owner Chris Pappas is currently representing the state of New Hampshire in Congress.
Red Arrow in Manchester is an easy target to hit – it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since its beginnings in 1922 it’s served up burgers and fries, sandwiches and blue-plate specials, which include liver and onions, fish and chips and other comfort foods.
John Kasich, Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and John Kasich have rubbed elbows with the regulars at the counter.
Jajabelle’s Pastry & Coffee Shop in Nashua is a recent addition to stump grub scene. It seems appropriate because it’s right on Main Street not far from City Hall.
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet and Congressman Eric Swalwell have stopped by so far this year. We don’t know for sure but hope they grabbed some homemade blueberry buckle or a finikia (a honey-dipped Greek cookie) and washed it down with a Greek coffee frappe to keep them running on the campaign trail.