One in a series on iconic New England eateries.
MANCHESTER — You never know who you might meet at the 24-hour Red Arrow Diner — and we’re not just talking about the night owls.
Ellen Ryan has been working at the Manchester landmark for more than eight years and she can’t begin to keep track of all the celebrities and politicians who’ve stopped by. “I met Hillary. That was a thrill,” she said. “Bill Clinton, Obama, they all come here.” The Red Arrow also gets its share of A-listers who aren’t hustling votes, including Diane Sawyer, RuPaul, and Sarah Silverman. For a more complete rundown, simply search the long counter for nameplates that identify who sat where or check the signed photos on the walls. The Barenaked Ladies haven’t actually visited, but “they send their roadies in for food when they’re performing in the area,” Ryan said. “The song ‘Weiners and Beans’ was written about us.”
Singer-songwriter Josh Logan and actor Adam Sandler, both local boys, haven’t forgotten their roots. Sandler still brings his family in for a meal. The “Stan the Man’s Favorite” plate of two eggs, bacon, toast, and choice of panfries, hashbrowns, beans, or grits is named after his late father, according to Ryan.
That breakfast plate is one of the more sedate choices on a menu studded with quirky dishes like slices of French-Canadian pork pie (“Grandma’s Recipe”), macaroni and cheese with the diner’s own pulled pork mixed in, bowls of American chop suey (Guy Fieri’s favorite), and big mugs of chili topped with melted cheese. Desserts include strawberry shortcake made with the Red Arrow’s own version of a Twinkie (called Dinah Fingers) and an awe-inspiring Giant Éclair about the size of a softball.
Burgers have always been a draw. Arrow’s Original Hot Hamburg Sandwich on white bread with gravy dates to 1922, when founder Dave Lamontagne saved up his earnings as an iceman and his purses as a boxer to open the diner. More recent burgers are much more elaborate. On a recent Friday, Yinian Dai, a Northeastern University student from China, was sampling the Dinahmoe — two chuck-sirloin steak burgers with lettuce, tomato, bacon, cheese, and thousand island dressing on a triple-decker roll. “I go everywhere looking for the best burger,” he said.
Next time, he may tackle the Newton Burger, a beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, and onion, then with a ball of deep-fried macaroni and cheese — all of it layered between two grilled cheese sandwiches.
Bob Gallant, who usually stops in for lunch on Friday, had a tip for how to handle the handful. “Put the meat in the middle of a grilled cheese sandwich,” he advised. Gallant started coming to the diner in 1956 and even served a short stint in the kitchen. “I can’t remember which politicians I’ve seen,” he said. “We try to avoid coming when the politicians are here and all the cameras.”
Waitress Ryan avoids discussions of politics — but they are inevitable. The diner is, after all, a home away from home, and what family doesn’t gravitate to the subject? There are certainly differences of opinion, and even seats to be avoided lest one be identified with the wrong candidate.
RED ARROW DINER 61 Lowell St., Manchester, N.H. 603-626-1118, www.redarrowdiner.com. Open 24 hours, every day. Breakfast $2.99-$12.99, sandwiches and burgers $3.50-$11.99.Patricia Harris and David Lyon are authors of “Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire.” They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.