The Dartmouth Bucket List

by Lauren Vespoli | 10/4/12 10:00pm

Recent fall rain pushed me inside and in pursuit of another establishment to add to my personal, college career-spanning diner tour. I ended up at Shyrl's, an easily overlooked dive on the side of Route 4 in West Leb, splitting a vegetable omelet and French toast. More on that later. I realize not everyone has a passion for pancakes or an available vehicle to embark upon their own diner ventures. However, in addition to being delicious, the diners of the Upper Valley are worth visiting for the insights into the communities that they serve. For your convenience, I've gone through my working diner repertoire and personified each spot so you can decide what's worth visiting.

Lou's (Hanover): If you haven't yet made it to this Hanover institution, kindly move that rock you've been living under and get yourself a cruller or a morning glory muffin. Lou's appears to be your average diner with vinyl stools at the counter and a black-and-white checked floor, but check the menu there's a goat cheese egg-white omelet and homemade granola amidst classic diner fare and notice its more upscale pricing. Lou's is an old-money New Englander who acts like he's less wealthy than he is, probably a Dartmouth alum. It's a classic for those parents-in-town brunches, but get there before 10 a.m. at the latest to skip the long lines.

Four Aces (West Lebanon): The Four Aces is a doo-wop-loving old man trying to keep up with what the kids are doing these days, all while not giving a damn about his arteries. It shares its name with an all-male 1950s pop group, has wood-paneled ceilings with chrome accents and one special is called "The Hangover Helper." It's a great value for the monstrous portion sizes. After stopping here, you might not be hungry for the rest of the day.

Tuckerbox Cafe (White River Junction): OK, not so much a "diner" as a coffeehouse. But I'm including it for the greasy glory of its breakfast sandwich, known as the "egg samich." It comes with cheddar cheese and your choice of ham or turkey and is held together with butter-drenched bread. Other menu items like the pear and bleu cheese salad, as well as the decor, reveal Tuckerbox's true identity as a 30-something hipster. Patrons sit with wide coffee mugs at wooden communal tables or on black leather couches and focus on their laptops.

The Fort (formerly Fort Lou's) (Lebanon): The Fort would be a hardy trucker, since its 24/7 hours draw truckers as its main clientele in addition to drunk Dartmouth students. Besides the hours, it's a pretty standard diner, though not quite as good as other Upper Valley options. A friend got sick from their eggs las migas, which was horrible karma, considering she was the designated driver for her drunk friends who convinced her to take them. I hate staying up late enough to warrant eating at a 24/7 place, so maybe it's just not my scene.

Shyrl's (west Lebanon): The most recent stop on my diner tour. Shyrl's is a well-meaning yet absent-minded grandmother, evidenced by the stuffed animals used as decorations and the baby I noticed hanging out behind the counter. Shyrl's is certainly the cheapest place I've been to in the Upper Valley it's also delicious and the service is fast. I'm not sure about the cleanliness of the whole operation, but since the kitchen is completely open, hopefully they've got nothing to hide.

Diners are perfect for college students old enough to require the recovery a greasy breakfast can bring after a night of studying or imbibing, yet young enough not to care about its effects on your health and the Upper Valley is full of options.