Thursday, November 17, 2016

Brunch, Baked Goods, and Pie, from Lou's

Lou's is a restaurant located in the town next to where I grew up.  But it isn't just a restaurant, that isn't a fair classification.  Lou's is an institution!  It has been around since 1947, when it started as a bakery.  Now it is a classic dinner-style establishment, serving breakfast and lunch (breakfast is obviously served all day), but the bakery is still a large focus, as the meals use house made items, but also they have a retail bakery in the front.  Some of their baked goods are still the most lauded items.

Speaking of being well-known, I've known about Lou's forever.  Whenever someone mentions the best crullers, muffins, or pies in the area, Lou's is bound to come up.  Yet somehow, I grew up in my hometown, just a short 20 minute drive away, and never went to Lou's.  I'm not sure how this is possible.

Ounce I turned into uh, a bit of a foodie, it was time to change that.  How could there be a great place near my home that I hadn't been to yet?  Particularly one that makes french toast out of their famous crullers?  Yes, I said it.  Cruller french toast.  I had to visit.  And, just to give a fair review, I had to visit more than once.

First, let me explain, Lou's is not a fancy place.  It really is a diner.  The placemats are paper, the dishware simple white, the cutlery flimsy.  I think the flooring is linoleum.  Like I said, not fancy.

But even though it is no-frills, and even though it has been around forever, Lou's keeps up with the trends.  They have a Facebook page, where they post glamour shots of the weekly specials every Friday.  Even if you don't live in the area, it is worth following them, just to drool.  The specials are insane, particularly the pancakes and french toasts.  I've been tempted to hop on a plane for a surprise visit to see my family, just on account of the Lou's specials.  I'm only kinda joking.

They keep up with the trends in other ways too, like listing the purveyors for the products they use, taking pride in local sourcing.  They make all the breads in house, same with the jams.  So a diner yes, and the decor would never make you think it was a notch above any other generic diner, but, it certainly is!

Most of the menu consists of combo meals, each of which could easily feed a family.  I'm not exaggerating.  A single pancake is the size of a platter.  Not a plate, a platter.

The service is adequate, but rushed.  On one visit, my waitress did an impressive job at keeping my coffee mug full at all times, on another, I needed to constantly ask for refills.  One time, while we got seated relatively quickly, we waited an excruciatingly long time for our food.  The entire place is bustling at all times.  Even if you go even during the week, there will be a wait.  Don't even attempt to go on a weekend for brunch if you aren't patient.  Of course, you can just swing in the bakery rather than getting a hot meal, and you'll be plenty satisfied if you do that.

I'll continue returning to Lou's when I visit the area, and I of course continue to drool over their specials.  One thing they are also known for, among the cooked food, is the corned beef hash.  I haven't gotten a chance to try it yet, as I was too tempted by the decadent sweets on my first visits, but I've got it queued up for next time ...

I've consolidated all my reviews below, in reverse chronological order.

Donuts, October 2016

Lou's is known for their donuts, particularly the "famous" crullers, which I had before, when made into french toast.

But they are also known for another type of donut, apple cider donuts, available only during the fall.  I'd heard about the apple cider donuts from Lou's for years, yet I have not been in town during the fall, so I wasn't able to try them until recently.
Donuts!
Then I visited in October to help out with a recruiting event at Dartmouth, and the host showed up with a bag of donuts.  From Lou's.  Yes.
Apple Cider Donuts. $1.05 each.
"Delicious spiced donuts. An Autumn favorite."

The donuts lived up to the hype.  Dense, hearty cake base, crispy around the edges, and totally coated in cinnamon and sugar.  The size was just right for me - not so huge I felt awful after, but certainly enough to satisfy.

I can't say I tasted apple cider, but, I really enjoyed my donut and would gladly have another.

Cake, December 2014

On a visit to see my family, I was dragged to a going away party for one of my mother's co-workers.  I went along, even though I would know no one there other than my mom.  And well, she promised cake.  Cake from Lou's.
Full Sheet Cake. $110.
"Vanilla and Chocolate Layer Cake with White Frosting. "

I was quite excited, and glad to see the huge cake (serves 80-100).  There were 20 of us at this party.  I knew I'd get to eat as much as I wanted.

Sadly, I didn't end up wanting more than a few bites.  Out of politeness, I tried to finish my slice, but it was truly one of the worst cakes I've had in recent memory, and any grocery store version would likely be better.
Inside the Cake.
The top layer was vanilla cake.  It was dry and flavorless.  "Plain" is more of an accurate description than vanilla.

The bottom layer was chocolate cake.  It was also dry.  Seriously, no moisture at all in either layer of this cake.  It was brown, but didn't taste like chocolate.  No richness, no complexity, nothing.

The frosting is always my favorite part of a cake.  This was described as "white" frosting, which, well, accurately describes it.  It tasted like nothing.  It wasn't very sweet.  It wasn't very creamy.  One person said it tasted like Crisco and nothing else.

The only redeeming things about this cake were the dark chocolate shavings on the outside and the layer of strawberries on the inside.  The strawberries weren't exactly amazing, and one person kept commenting on how the strawberries didn't go with the cake at all, but they were at least sweet and fresh enough tasting.

Breakfast, July, 2014

On this visit, the wait was not too bad, and we were seated within 15 minutes.  Service was friendly, although the server was obviously very busy.  But, the wait for our food was ... extreme.  I went through 4 coffees before the meal actually arrived.  Our waitress came to offer us a muffin even, since it was taking so long (we turned the offer down, since we all had big meals coming).

The highlight was still the whipped cream, the delicious house made jam on tables, and the sausage patty.  But otherwise, it was mediocre, so I didn't return for several years.
Decaf Iced Coffee.
The iced coffee wasn't very good.  At least for decaf, Lou's is really not excelling in this area.  At least they give unlimited refills, which I always take advantage of.
Special: Blueberry Peach Pancakes.  $11.95.
For some reason, I was seriously craving pancakes.  I had them just a few days earlier when I went to brunch with a friend in Boston at North Street Grille, and although those pancakes were excellent, it didn't end my craving.

Lou's has pancakes on the regular menu, available as plain buttermilk, or with blueberry, cranberry, or chocolate chip.  But my eye is always on the specials, which Lou's changes weekly, and always sound so decadent.  This week's specials menu included a pancake option, so, I had no choice but to order it.

The special was blueberry and peach pancakes, topped with homemade whipped cream.  Listed on the menu as a stack of two, but I'd seen Lou's pancakes before, and knew they were absolutely huge, so I asked if they were available a la carte.  "Of course!", my server cheerfully told me.  This was great to know, since I often either want a smaller portion, or want to mix and match.  (Note to self: it never hurts to ask if you can do things a la carte!)

The pancake was a monster, as I expected.  Honestly, a single one of these is easily the size of 3 normal pancakes.  I'm really not sure how anyone could eat a full stack of these.

Sadly, the pancake was not good.  It wasn't light and fluffy; it was thin, and very, very tough.  Almost gummy and rubbery.  The dough had obviously been over mixed, and it also seemed over cooked.  If it was just crispy, that would have been fine, as I love crispy things.  But it wasn't that it was crispy, it was tough, and too dark.

I do give credit for the fruit inside though.  It was loaded up with chunks of peaches and whole blueberries.  I think both types of fruit were frozen and not fresh, but inside the pancake, it didn't matter.

The best part was the whipped cream on top.  Their homemade whipped cream is just killer.  So ... cream tasting!

In the end, I'm glad I only got a single pancake. I traded half to my mom for half of her french toast, since she felt bad for me disliking mine so much.  But ... she didn't bother eat it either.  I did pick out all the fruit and eat it with whipped cream, but wow, that was a bad pancake.  If we hadn't waited nearly an hour to get our food, I certainly would have asked for a re-fire.  It has turned me off from ever trying any more of their pancakes.
Special: Native Strawberry Cheese French Toast.   $11.95.
"A French toast sandwich filled with strawberry sweetened ricotta cheese topped with lightly sweetened native strawberries & homemade whipped cream".

Lou's is known for the french toast.  Well, specifically, they are known for their crueller french toast, where they literally turn 3 whole glazed cruellers into french toast.  I had it on my first visit to Lou's, and it was as insane as you can imagine.  They also offer a regular Texas french toast as well.

But, like I said, it is the specials that always appeal, and the french toast special also sounded amazing.

My mom picked it, with a little coaxing from me, since, of course this was on my list, right behind the pancakes.  I knew she'd share with me.

Her pick was much better than mine.  The french toast itself wasn't anything special, but the ricotta stuffing inside was quite good, slightly sweetened, and it went well with the fruit.

But the fruit ... that was a letdown.  Strawberry season was in full swing during our visit.  I went strawberry picking the very next day.  So, when the menu said "lightly sweetened native strawberries", we expected fresh berries.  Sure, it didn't say that explicitly, but ... that is what we both imagined.  Instead, the fruit really seemed like it had come out of a jar, or perhaps freezer.  It was sweet fruit, and it went really well with the ricotta and cream, but, not what either of us had really wanted.

It was also topped with their homemade whipped cream.  My mom, perhaps trying to be healthy, didn't' eat all her whipped cream.  You can guess who took it all off her hands.  Seriously, love the whipped cream.

Overall, this was mediocre, sans the whip, and I wouldn't get it again.  I'd consider their other french toast choices though.

$11.95 price seemed a bit high, particularly given that it wasn't using fresh fruit.
Side of Sausage Patty. $2.95.
Last time I visited, I fell in love with the sausage patty.  Totally random, but I did.  As soon as I realized I could order a single pancake, I eagerly ordered a side of sausage as well.

I was a bit apprehensive to try it the first time.  I actually don't care for pork (besides crispy bacon), and didn't used to like sausage.  I thought that I must have just been in a really strange mood the day that I loved it.  I didn't expect to like it this time, but I had liked it so much, I couldn't resist.

I'm glad I didn't.  The sausage patty was again amazing.  Juicy and flavorful.  I particularly liked it with a little maple syrup drizzled over it.  Winning element of the meal, even better than the whipped cream :)

The sausage patties come 2 to an order, and are totally worth the $2.95.  I adore these, and will order them every time. I also discovered that they reheat pretty well later at home in the toaster oven, so, I'm tempted to always just add on an extra order, (or two!), of sausage to bring home.

Breakfast, December 23, 2013

Rachel's Favorite: Scrambled Eggs, Cobb Smoked Bacon, Home Fries, Wheat Toast.  $9.45. 
"Eggs cooked to order with choice of cob smoked bacon, sausage or local Vermont ham steak. Served with choice of homefries, baked or black beans, and choice of toast, English muffin or a fresh muffin from our bakery, and homemade strawberry preserves."

The classic breakfast meal is dubbed "Rachel's Favorite".

My cousin ordered this, and got her eggs scrambled, the bacon extra crispy, the toast wheat and buttered.  I didn't try the bacon or eggs, but she loved her meal.

She nicely shared some home fries with me.  Lou's makes their home fries extra special: cooked in bacon drippings (unless requested otherwise).  I like the seasoning on them, and particularly like them with a little maple syrup on them, a delightful mix of sweet and savory.  If ordering myself, I'd ask to get them crispier next time, as these didn't really have the crispy exterior I'm looking for in my home fries.

The toast was classic wheat toast, clearly freshly made and very fluffy, although not very toasted.  Too much butter for my liking, but this was her meal, not mine.  The toast was great with the homemade strawberry jam on the table.  That jam is worth a visit alone!  Sweet, but not too sweet, with large chunks of strawberries.  I always love it.  You can also purchase it by the jar.

Overall, a nice selection of items, a classic combo, and what my cousin orders every single time she visits.  Which, understandably, she does often.
North Pole Omelet, English Muffin.  $11.95.
"A large fluffy omelet filled with Vermont ham, onion, fresh Maple Brook Farms mozzarella & pesto. Served with choice of homefries, homemade baked beans or black beans."

My mother's pick was from the special's menu of the week, the "North Pole Omelet".

My mom mis-read the description, an thought it came with homefries and beans.  She just wanted homefries, but what she told the waitress was "leave the beans and all that off".  She was a bit sad when her omelet arrived sans home fries.

I'm not much of an eggs girl, but I tried a few bites.  It was indeed a large fluffy omelet.  It fed my mom two meals, and she said it easily could have been three.  It was fluffy, and the pesto was well distributed throughout, giving a lot of flavor.  Pockets of cheesy melted mozzarella and a very generous amount of ham completed it.  Really not my thing at all, but my mother really liked it.
Sausage Patty, Side Order, $2.95.
I really have no idea why, but I was seriously craving a sausage patty.  I couldn't tell you the last time I had sausage.  But I really, really wanted this.

And it was awesome.  The best sausage I've had ... ever.  Super flavorful.  Well cooked.  And being a fan of sweet and savory, I really enjoyed it dunked in syrup.

But about that syrup.  When the waitress brought our order, I asked for syrup.  I waited and waited.  She never came back with it.  I ate everything else.  I waited and waited.  I tried to get her attention whenever I saw her on the other side of the room.  She never looked our way.  Finally, my mom grabbed someone else and asked for some.  He promptly brought it.

I took another sausage patty home with me to eat later.  It didn't reheat quite as well, got a bit too crispy, but was enjoyable nonetheless.  Seriously good sausage.  Will certainly get again.  Want more now!
Mrs. Clause's Bread Pudding.  $11.95.
"Homemade bread pudding made with our famous glazed crullers, topped with homemade egg nog whipped cream; made with local McNamara Dairy egg nog."

As I mentioned, one thing that Lou's is known for is their glazed crullers.  Not the french style, but the New England style - fried dough, twisted up, and glazed.  Sweet, fried, decadent.  Delicious on their own with a cup of coffee.  Lou's is crazy and also makes french toast with them, which I had on my first visit.  But on the special's menu during this visit, they also used them to make bread pudding.  WHAT?  Yes.

Ok, seriously?  It was 9am.  I wasn't REALLY wanting something this over the top, the day before our Christmas feast, and several days into my trip that mostly revolved around eating my mom's homemade baked goods.  I wanted the corned beef hash.  Or perhaps just a piece of french toast.  But I absolutely adore bread pudding.  If you've read my blog long, you know I order it whenever I get the chance, although, generally for dessert.  I also do like eggnog.  I decided not to get this dish, for all the reasons listed above.  But then my mother helpfully says, "we can just get one to all share, since everyone wants a bite of it".  And quite honestly, how do you NOT order this?

So, we did.

Sadly, I did not like it.  I'm the queen of sweets, but I found it too sweet for me.  Of course I didn't add syrup or anything, as the glazed crullers provided plenty of sweet themselves.  I think I might have just really not been in the mood for so much sweet, as my mother and grandmother both enjoyed it quite a bit, and both said it wasn't too sweet.  I brought leftovers home to my father and Ojan, and they both also agreed it wasn't too sweet.  But it was for me, at that time.

It also just wasn't the style of bread pudding that I like.  I admit it though, I have VERY specific demands for my bread pudding.  I like the pieces of bread to be largeish chunks, distinct from one another.  I can't stand a homogenous bread pudding that is just soggy.  The top must be crisp, the inside incredibly custardy.  The top of this wasn't crisp. I couldn't distinguish any individual chunks of cruller.  It was however insanely moist.  It also had plump raisins inside (which made my dad unwilling to try it, until I really, really demanded).

It also was just too heavy for me.  Very oily, particularly as the eggnog whipped cream broke down, it added a pool of oil to the dish.  You can see in the photo, that isn't an additional sauce surrounding the bread pudding chunk, that is all oil.

The whipped cream was fluffy, but I didn't taste any eggnog.

So, I didn't like this, but it very gladly got consumed by everyone else I shared it with.  They all loved it.  Normally, Lou's posts photos of each of their specials every Friday, and I drool over them.  The week I visited however, their photographer was on vacation for the holidays, so I didn't see this in advance.  If I'd seen a photo, I could have easily recognized that it wasn't "my" style of bread pudding, and I wouldn't have ordered it, so I really can't fault Lou's on this.

Take Out Muffins, August 2, 2013

The next time I visited my family was to help my little sister move into a new house.  As a treat for the "work crew", my mother went to Lou's to pick up muffins, to fuel us up for a long day of packing, loading up trucks, and lugging boxes around.  I somehow never had Lou's famous muffins before, although my mother assured me they were all fantastic.  I looked online to see what varieties they offered, and requested a Morning Glory or Earth muffin.  Sadly, they were all out of both of those varieties, so my mother instead got a box full of every variety that they did have.  A dozen muffins for 4 people makes total sense, right?
Assorted Muffins, $1.79 each.
I felt like something was just off this day.  While I hadn't had their muffins before, I know many people who proclaim them to be amazing.  These were good, but not anything I'd really go out of my way for again.  Perhaps I just had them wrong (gobbling them down in the midst of moving is very different from having them warm with butter or jam), and they didn't have the flavors I wanted.
  • Apple Streusel: This was a bit dried out, didn't have much flavor, wasn't that spiced, and the topping wasn’t really streusel-y.  It did have good chunks of apple.
  • Blueberry: Fairly boring base, but insanely moist from plentiful blueberries.  Seriously loaded with berries.  But just not great for some reason.
  • Corn:  I love the top of a muffin, particularly the overhang.  The corn did not have as large as a top as the others, but it did have a nice crispy exterior and a good grit.  It was fairly dry.  I think I'd like it warmed up and served with butter and jam, but room temperature on its own it was a bit lacking.
  • Cranberry Orange: This had huge chunks of orange, lots of orange flavor, lots of cranberries.  Not my thing though, since I don’t like orange.  If I did, I think this would be a winner.
  • Raisin Bran: Very dense, loaded with raisins.  I'm pretty sure that if I had it warm with butter, I’d love it.  There was a good heartiness from the bran, and a nice texture.  It wasn't too sweet, the sweetness came from raisins mostly.  The raisins were very juicy and plump.  I'd like to try this again, and this time, serve it warm and loaded with butter.  Or their amazing jam.

Breakfast (and Pie), December 18, 2012

Very Berry Cruller French Toast.  $8.99.
 "Three of our delicious glazed crullers dipped in French toast batter, grilled ’til golden and topped with blueberries, sliced cranberries & whipped cream."

As I mentioned, Lou's makes amazing glazed crullers.  And they make french toast from them.  We HAD to try this.

My mom's comment after taking a bite: "Who on earth thought of this?  Who takes donuts and turns them into french toast?"

I don't know the answer, but whoever it was, he or she is a genius.  This was a very sweet, very decadent meal.  It was downright amazing.

When the server asked us if we wanted to upgrade to real maple syrup instead of the table syrup, I kinda laughed.  How could we possibly want syrup at all, when the french toast was made from GLAZED donuts, was covered in fruit, and served with whipped cream?  But my mom quickly ordered the real syrup.  When you order real syrup, you get your own little custom branded Lou's jar, and can take the rest home with you.  It was good syrup.  And, it turns out, while the french toast was amazing without the syrup, it was even better with.  The french toast was just a tiny bit too dry for my liking on its own, which just made me want to add more syrup to moisten it up.  But, wow, so much sugar.

I also really liked adding jam to the french toast.  On each table is a jar of homemade jam, sweet, with large chunks of berries.  I'm sure most people use it for toast or english muffins, but I thought it was really delicious spread on the french toast.  As if I needed more sugar.

The blueberries and cranberries weren't very remarkable, but blueberries are not in season in December, so I wouldn't really expect them to be good.  The whipped cream was served in a little paper container, but it also wasn't very remarkable, no particular flavor to it.

And yes, a single order of this was THREE WHOLE CRULLERS turned into french toast.  ZOMG.  No one would ever sit down and eat three crullers in a single sitting, and this was even more insane.  At least there was some fruit included?

This was very good, and I'm really glad I tried it, but I'm not sure I'd order it again.  Sure, I'd love another few bites of it, and I'd encourage someone else to get it to give me a bite, but I'm over the novelty of a full order.  Plus, their menu has way too many other amazing sounding dishes to explore!

[ Not Pictured ]
Side of Home Fries, $3.99.

The french toast was good, but the best part of our meal was the side of home fries we also ordered.  They were super crispy, cooked in bacon fat.  Decent seasoning.  Good with either ketchup or syrup.

[ Not Pictured ]
Mile High Apple Pie.  Multiberry Pie.

We were completely stuffed, but Lou's has a genius setup.  You have to pay your check at the front counter, rather than at the table.  The same front counter where all the baked goods are displayed and purchased.  So, while you wait in line to pay, all the baked goods stare up at you.  Sure, you can't imagine eating another bite.  So maybe you can resist the breakfast goods like muffins, scones, and donuts.  But ... there are cookies and brownies.  They'd be good to take home later, right?  And then ... there are the pies and cakes.  Available whole or by the slice.  They all look insanely good.  We had to take a few slices home for after dinner.  Or ... perhaps just later that afternoon, when we recovered from sugar coma.

My mom selected two slices of pie: the "Mile High" apple pie and the multiberry pie.  Both had a decent crust.  The apple looked amazing, seriously loaded up with apples.  They were cooked well, not to soft nor too crisp, but apple pie is never my thing.  My dad liked it.

The multiberry was a mix of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.  Very sweet, but good filling.  None of these fruits are in season in December, but it was more flavorful than I expected.  Both good pies, clearly well made, but I didn't love either.
Lou's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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