Friday, September 18, 2015

Cherrybombs Diner, Dover, NH

The Ride. Dover is located off the path of most of my main routes, being almost due east, right on the border with Maine, but away from the coast. I thought I had only been there once before, some years ago to check out a library sale, but as I came into the town past the handsome late Victorian/early 20th century houses on Route 9 I realized I had been there numerous times, and indeed I had forgotten that the New Hampshire Children's Museum was located there, to which I used to go quite frequently, though usually on rainy or exceedingly frigid days, when my older children were smaller. I don't think my current small children, who are 6 and 4, have ever been there, because now everything we do is geared as much towards the edification of junior high schoolers as it is little boys and girls. As noted above, Dover has a well-preserved older central core and a surprisingly lively Main Street, with few vacant storefronts and a lot of bars. The population is around 30,000, which is comparable to Portsmouth and Concord, and much larger than I would have thought, since it is a pretty anonymous city even within New Hampshire. I am curious to know what accounts for all the bars. Durham, where the University of New Hampshire is located, is only about five miles away, though I have never heard that trekking over to Dover to go drinking was something that was done. For the main ride, I went down on US-4 again to NH-155, which was about seven miles of country road past woods and farms until running into the intersection of NH-9 and 16 (the mysterious Spaulding Turnpike, which due to my awkward location relative to it I have never had occasion to take an extended ride on) on the outskirts of Dover proper. On the return trip I took route 9 back on its way in that part of the state until it joined with US-4--a winding road, that passed a mildly diverting looking general store that retained some slight air of authenticity only because it had not quite attained its ambition to be a known destination on the tourist trail, a lake, and a lakefront community. But other than that I do not remember much distinctly.

Location. Interesting. This establishment is located in a low slung, warehouse type building in a clearing surrounded by woods on a side road beyond the town center towards the Maine state line. The only signal visible from the road indicating its existence is a hand-lettered folding wooden sign sitting on the ground under a tree at the edge of the driveway. It is unlikely many people who do not know it is there or are not looking for it will stumble across it, even if they are completely lost. There is a beaten up hulk of a car from the 1950s sitting near the sign that upon closer inspection is a further piece of advertising for the restaurant. But as ancient, rusting cars are common sights along country roads in this part of the world, it is nothing anyone passing through would take any especial notice of. The wooded setting, especially looking out away from the building, is peaceful and pretty however.

The Day.  The weather had called for heavy rain most of the day, but this held off at least for the duration of the outing. It was overcast, but bright, and warm, around 80 degrees. A good day to be about.

The Ambiance. Weird. The place gave off an amateurish, even half-hearted vibe. The ruling idea, clearly, is to create a 50s, Americana type diner atmosphere, though this aim is somewhat incongruous with the circumstance that the space with which they are working is a 1970s or 80s industrial park structure with cinder block walls. There are a few items of memorabilia affixed to the walls here and there--single pictures of the usual suspects, Elvis, Marilyn, & Jimmy, a plate featuring Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, a few records and advertisements for cars, soap, soft drinks, as well as a steady soundtrack of 50s hits being piped into the mostly empty and energy-less room.

The Crowd. When I first arrived the crowd consisted of two old guys sitting silently at separate tables and the waitress, who was doing something with her back turned behind the counter and did not notice I had come in for over five minutes. Later on though, a couple of other people trickled in, one a younger (late 20s, early 30ish) man who was on friendly terms with the waitress, and a mother/daughter/baby party who were a little livelier. Everyone in the place appeared to be local and decidedly working class, since no one appeared to have an important or lucrative job and most of the conversations, once they got going, kept coming back to depressing themes like not having any money, haphazard and decidedly non-50s family arrangements and such. With regard to sociability the lunch progressed in a stereotypical New England manner, with everyone, including the waitress, being dead silent and outwardly not very friendly towards me or anyone else for half an hour (and I being I suppose the same towards them), in my case I think until they could get some kind of a read on who I was, a strange middle aged man in a button down shirt and toting a baby. But some tentative comments and questions were offered with regard to my baby by the waitress and the family of females and it was established that we were not innately hostile to each other, and it could almost be said that we were on fairly friendly terms by the end.

I think it is worth noting, or at least a curiosity, that so many of the long established family dining restaurants along the coast and in other tourist spots seem to employ exclusively young foreign students nowadays while 10 miles inland at some hole in the wall where six people show up for lunch all of the employees are kind of tough-looking local people of a certain background that does not keep up to date with the fashion in education or food or politics or allows for much evolution in those realms. I know the tourist restaurants are seasonal and I guess they cannot find a workforce adequate to their specific needs among the local population, though it seems strange that the latter are willing enough to work in any number of dingy grease joints and fast food restaurants in Dover when they live ten, fifteen, twenty miles from a busy tourist area that has a desperate need for restaurant workers.

The Food. The menu kept pretty close to the spirit of the 50s--they even offered grilled liver! I got the chili dog, I had never had a chili dog before, mainly because I was always averse to dealing with the inevitable messiness of this dish. It was all right, though it tasted more like something an undistinguished amateur cook would produce in his home kitchen. The fries were good though, and tasted like real restaurant fries. I wanted to help them out a little by ordering dessert, but the pies and cupcakes on the tray again looked more fattening and unfulfilling than inspiring, as if they had been made from a mix by someone who had little experience even with that. In addition they were drooping a little in the warm weather so I had to pass on them.

I am not going to rush back, but I would be willing to try it again to see if different circumstances, crowd, etc, brings out a more satisfying atmosphere. 

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