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Puritan Back Room: Manchester, NH Chicken Tenders

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Well, I finally tried the famous chicken tenders, and yes they're pretty good. My dilemma is that they aren't good enough to justify the all the hype. We arrived at the Puritan Back Room around 12:15 PM and went inside to order a medium portion of the regular chicken tenders to take out. Five minutes later, our order was ready, which we ate in the car. The tenders were made with fresh breast meat, ample portion served with the requisite watered down duck sauce. The sauce was tasty enough, but the chicken was flavorless--no detectable seasoning whatsoever. As we ate the parking lot became jammed with cars as the multitudes arrived. The place was soon hopping.

I’ve spent the past 7 years chasing elusive ghosts in an attempt to understand local (primarily NH) tastes and preferences. On the advice of others and online reviews, I've eaten many of the things this area has to offer and what it's known for. I've tried maple squares, cardamon cake, Italian subs and now the famous chicken tenders and I've come to a conclusion: in these parts it's NOT about the food as much as it is about cherishing local traditions and memories. Most of the GREAT meals I’ve enjoyed are at places the "locals" tend to shun because they're too "foreign" or "weird."

Bland taste, large portions and affordability are all common denominators for popularity at “local” restaurants, but the most important ingredient is history and tradition in these parts.

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  1. Sadly, I have to agree with this conclusion a fair bit. I take even hearty recommendations for local, established places with more than a bit of salt.

    1. I agree. As a resident of northern New England, I have noticed a trend to favor traditional restaurants for their historical significance, not necessarily their food. This is fine, as long as you understand the component tradition plays in recommendations. All too often I have seen a restaurant that does something much better, but it does not get word of mouth because it was not the original. The key is to remember the source of any recommendation. If it is from someone who grew up in the area, nostalgia is likely to be a key component.

      3 Replies
      1. re: kilarneyvt

        All of this is completely true. I've found it to be the case in central Vermont, as well. The Wayside is a perfectly competent diner and I've never had a BAD meal there. It serves solid, comfortable food for extremely reasonable prices. But it's not outstanding, either. It's been around for a VERY long time, though, and is very busy because of it. It has a lot of regulars! :) We eat there occasionally on grocery shopping night and enjoy the meals we have. But I wouldn't say that they have anything there that's "great". :)

        1. re: Morganna

          Funny you mention that, the Wayside was the exact place I've had in mind: I got dozens of recommendations for it when I moved here. I kind of like the Wayside, but it's definitely nothing special.

          1. re: Morganna

            Talk about coincidence - I read your response as I was dining at the Wayside. I have had business in that area lately. I like to avoid the hassle of going to downtown Barre or Montpelier. This was the third or fourth time I have tried the Wayside recently, and it will be the last. The food is entirely mediocre. It's cheap, which I am sure people like, but there is nothing memorable about it. The problem for me is that I don't know of any other place along that stretch of road that is decent. It seems to be a culinary wasteland. I'm not looking for anything fancy - just a quick and decent lunch.

        2. I have always thought what people are responding to with the chicken tenders is the battered coating. It is sweet and in many minds (not mine) that makes it good.

          1. Skip the chicken tenders. Have the Texas Burger. (not kidding!)