Green To Go: Going off the Wagon at Red Wagon Bakery
Trying a new restaurant with the Dartmouth Outing Club’s Dinertoure group did not disappoint.
The avocado toast proved to be a vegetarian-friendly treat.
This is the first edition of Green To Go, a fortnightly column that will review restaurants in the Upper Valley with a focus on vegetarian options, detailed accounts of the food and ambiance and accessibility to a variety of students, especially FGLI students.
I recently went on my first Dinertoure trip, visiting Red Wagon Bakery, a small diner in Canaan, New Hampshire. For those who have never experienced Dinertoure, it’s a Dartmouth Outing Club-sponsored program that takes students to diners in the Upper Valley every Thursday morning via DOC vans — typically departing around 6 or 7 a.m.
Upon entering the bakery, the teenage staff behind the register greeted us warmly and in unison with a “Good morning and welcome to Red Wagon Bakery.” It was a simple introduction, yet their authentic enthusiasm nurtured a welcoming atmosphere. My eyes danced around the room, taking in its grandma-esque, nostalgic furniture, the color palette and fabrics. The restaurant’s interior reminded me of the Morgan Hill Bookstore in New London, New Hampshire. Our DOC group chose some tables to sit at, and I settled into one covered with a blue and white square-patterned yarn tablecloth. Each table covering in the restaurant was unique.
At this bakery, you order at the counter. A majority of the offerings are vegetarian — the only meat option I saw was bacon, which can be substituted or removed from an order. I decided on Tina’s Toast, which the menu describes as “smashed avocado, everything seasoning, goat cheese, heirloom tomato, two fried eggs, red pepper flakes on locally-made sourdough.” I usually don’t opt for avocado toast, but I was intrigued by Tina’s Toast, and went along with it.
To accompany my entree, I ordered an oat milk latte to wake me up and a mini key lime pie as dessert. The latte came out first in a classic solo cup with a removable, clear, plastic lid. It tasted decent for its $3.75 price tag. I remember muttering, “Meh, but still enjoyable.” I would place it a little under Still North Books & Bar’s oat latte, but above Starbucks. The creamy consistency of what tasted like Oatly brand oat milk rectified the otherwise mediocre espresso shot.
As I waited for my breakfast, I studied the bakery more, looking past the three small yet crowded tables of the cozy room. In the corner of the store was a red wagon, like something you would imagine out of a children’s book. My friend caught me staring at it and told me that Nellie Smith, the store’s owner, would sell baked goods from that wagon when she was a kid. I enjoyed the memorabilia of the place — and maybe I’m just a romantic, but the wagon alongside the crudely-written “Nellie’s Baked Shop” in crayons on the sign next to the bakery case entertained me while I waited for my meal. The kitchen behind the counter allows guests to see every part of the cooking process.
After twelve minutes, our food arrived. Tina’s Toast consisted of two slices of toast next to some dressed leaves of lettuce. The simple idea of avocado toast juxtaposed the vibrant textures and colors on the plate, creating a pleasing aesthetic balance. The dish echoed the restaurant’s ambiance: simple in concept, yet purposefully intricate upon closer inspection. The toast was loaded, yet nothing spilled off of it. They made sure to confine all the contents squarely between the crunchy crust of each slice of toast. It signaled abundance, but not vanity. All the colors paired well. The whites of the goat cheese emphasized the whites of the egg and vice versa; the green leaves of lettuce matched the green paste of avocado; and the red, matte pepper flakes paired nicely with the moisture of the cherry tomatoes. All together, the three colors brought about a feeling of freshness to the plate — everything sparkled.
By this point, I was about to start drooling. I bit into the floating garden, and the experience surprised me. The crunch of the sourdough sharply contrasted the light, fluffy crumb that lay beyond it. The same crunch balanced out the mush of the avocado spread, the tender egg white, and the tomatoes. The tomatoes brought an explosion of water to each bite. In a dish with such richness from starches and fats, the freshness of the tomatoes changes the game. Tomatoes elevate the dish from something you can only take a few bites of before feeling full to one which allows you to enjoy every bite of the dish without feeling too heavy at the end.
At first, I was uneasy about the choice of goat cheese with egg, but the citric tang that it added to the creamy bites of avocado allowed for a great experience. I felt the acid cutting through the fat, which, like the tomatoes, made the dish lighter and easier to enjoy. The tang also served as an opener to the kick of the red pepper flakes, which didn’t come into play until the goat cheese subsided, keeping the experience active and ongoing. It’s fair to say I enjoyed this dish, but it wasn’t perfect. After the crust, it lost that nice textural contrast in each bite, especially near the middle of the toast. It became too mushy: the fluffy crumb, the dripping egg yolk, the creamy avocado, the malleable cheese. I wish the chefs had done something to counteract this effect, to maintain that contrast throughout the toast. This is, however, a regular American breakfast diner, and this was a reasonable $10 plate. All in all, I consider Tina’s Toast a great dish given these limitations.
Finally, the key lime pie arrived. As a native Floridian, I kept my expectations low. When the servers gave me the plate, the first thing I noticed was how pale the pie looked. Usually, my key lime pies take a more yellow hue due to the quantity of egg yolks in the custard. My pies also smell more fragrant because of the obscene amount of lime juice and zest. None of these nuances existed here. I also noticed that this pie had a matte texture on the custard, almost as if a film developed on top. But, it tasted good for a $4 pie; I would rate it as average for an Upper Valley key lime pie, and although this matte texture intrigued and surprised me in a positive way, I still prefer the traditional, creamy style.
For my first DOC Dinertoure trip, I would give this experience a fairly high rating. The other students in my group agreed, raving about the cuisine. Despite the fact that Red Wagon Bakery is a small, family establishment, it still has a solid grasp of what works and what doesn’t. The taste and presentation of Tina’s Toast was surprisingly more intricate than what I expected, and the vegetarian options were plentiful. I give them bonus points for the look of their establishment, which I think is truly a feast for the eyes in itself. If you find yourself in Canaan, stop by and give Red Wagon Bakery a moment of your time. I didn’t regret it, and I doubt you will either.