All-American feast, at rock-bottom prices

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By Glen Jodoin

Seacoast Sunday, October 25, 1987

The L-Street Tavern, L-Street, Hampton Beach, no phone, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, almost always until 9 p.m. No credit cards. Casual dress and attitude required.

L Street Tavern sign

HAMPTON BEACH -- This review was by far the most interesting and entertaining of my short reviewing career, and I have a feeling that it will remain that way. It started very innocently. I wanted to find a restaurant that served good old American food, cheap. The kind of food that you can eat on a regular basis, not special occasion restaurant food.

I began by looking through the yellow pages and found an advertisement that sounded great. After calling and inquiring of the type of food and the specials, I was sure this was the place. The specials for the evening were New England boiled dinner and meatloaf. We were on our way.

We found the place with little problem, and upon entering, were greeted by some very happy people, sporting self-made newspaper hats and large ”I drank too much beer” smiles. Needless to say, the place was at least, very amusing – and we were happy about our selection. This was, however, not the restaurant we would eat at this night.

Shortly after sitting down, a less-than-aware driver ran into the propane tanks and the restaurant had to be evacuated. The kitchen was subsequently shut down for the evening. Standing outside the restaurant feeling a little dejected, we were wondering what to do when the very nice bartender suggested the nearby L Street Tavern. Why not?

The “L Street Tavern” is the type of place that made the chopped sirloin dinner famous, and rightfully so. It’s the place to go (after the tourist season) if you are a local, and interested in large portions at obscenely low prices. The atmosphere only adds to the mystique in a restaurant like this. The tavern inside is oddly shaped in the form of an “L.” The dining room on the left holds about eight tables for four, and they are lined up in a straight line.

On the wall is a world map, a large poster of the various edible mollusks of the world, and a display case of well over 100 beer cans. The walls also display some original dust. In the front corner is a little gift shop, labeled Grandma’s Corner, selling knick-knacks and stuff. Yes, grandma is the seller.

At the door is an older man seating people, and he is very friendly. The servers are a complete gas. They are the type who do not take any bull, but are also capable, and will have a whole lot of fun with you. Basically you need to go to this restaurant to experience the ambiance, as much as eat cheap, good food. I personally enjoyed everything. Don’t be turned away by first impressions.

WE BEGAN our dinner with some of the “L Street Tavern’s” famous (yes, it is well reputed in the area) chili, for $1 a cup. The chili was almost solid beef, with a few beans and a minor amount of onions thrown in for fun. Despite the lack of all those cute garnishes of taco chips and melted cheese, it maintained high quality. The flavor was wonderful, with a slight bit of sweetness and a bite that slowly crept up on you, and then hit!

The spice was never overpowering and that we appreciated. Along with the chili, we received a hefty portion of Italian bread that was replaced as we ate our way through it. I knew that they had chili, and I knew it was supposed to be good, before we went in. I did not know anything else about the place beforehand.

The menu, which was tossed at us after we were seated (one menu for two of us to share), offered one special a day, a few regular items and a wall full of little paper signs announcing the remainder of the food.

The daily special was a New England boiled dinner for the outrageous price of $2.95. My friend quickly jumped on that. This left me a selection of sandwiches, pizza, or a few dinner items. One of the little paper signs on the wall announced a Delmonico steak dinner for $6.95. Now I relize that is a little pricey, but for Delmonico steak, what the heck?

The portion on the boiled dinner was something to be seen. Mounds of boiled vegetables with heaps of corned beef, served with a side of spicy mustard – this was a meal! Not only was the portion tremendous, but the food was very good as well.

The corned beef was a little light on flavor, but very tender and not salty, The vegetables were likewise, nicely cooked and not salty. The mustard was quality and there was vinegar already on the table.

My meal was not as exciting, but was very good as well. The steak was a good-sized cut (especially for the price) and although it was very slightly overcooked, the meat was very tender and of good quality.

Accompanying the steak was a huge pile of homemade mashed potatoes, with a gravy that was the only disappointment of the evening. The gravy on the potatoes was either canned or made from canned beef stock. The stuff was salty and had that dark type of flavor, if you know what I mean. The vegetable, green beans, was canned, but who cares considering the price.

DESPITE the large portions, we moved on to sample the desserts. In fact, I tried two. My first dessert was homemade bread pudding with whipped cream, $1.35. It was fabulous, featuring a large portion of warm bread pudding that was not too sweet, not too heavy and full of raisins. I loved it so much I wanted a second piece, but decided to try something different.

My second choice was the strawberry shortcake, $1.50. This, although very fun to eat, was not up to par with the bread pudding. The strawberry covering was the same type they used on sundaes or cheesecake in the diners, but that was to be expected. The shortcake was also a little disappointing. It was lighter and airier than it should have been, lacking in biscuit texture.

The third choice, my friend's choice, was the brownie a la mode, $1.50. The brownie was just like the ones I used to make. They were dense, chewy, and very sweet. They also had that very tough bottom that mine always had. In any event, the brownie was completely enjoyable, especially with the ice cream and chocolate sauce on the top.

Okay, here is the great part. The two of us ate (I can't hint as to who it was, since they probably would be a little upset at being associated with eating this much food) two cups of chili, two large plates of bread, two large dinners, three desserts and six beers, for the unbelievable price of $22.

How can you beat it? The atmosphere, the service, the quantity and price of food, all combined to make this a very interesting meal and a great deal, all thanks fo one errant driver and some damaged propane tanks.

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