Our Gourmet: College tour, Part 2: In the Ivy League at Molly's in Hanover
There's nothing like a visit to Dartmouth to show a state-school grad how the other half lives.
You may recall that we've begun visiting restaurants in college towns around the state to correspond with our Teenage Bottomless Pit's impending decision on where he's going to go to college. TBP won't be going to Dartmouth (we wish!), but he had to be in Hanover recently for a sporting event, so we tagged along to watch, to check out the Hood Museum, and for our next dining adventure.
Hanover's food landscape, both in terms of cuisine and price points, puts our humble but beloved Durham's to shame. From Mediterranean to Asian, burgers to haute cuisine, the choices befit an Ivy League market. But since our objective in this college-town series is to choose places that parents might take their students when visiting or that students might choose for a nice yet affordable date venue, we opted for Molly's, located right in the center of the action in downtown Hanover just steps away from the famed Dartmouth Green.
Molly's is big, bustling place with seating for scores of diners in several rooms. The decor is engaging, comfortable and entertaining, something of a cross between Cheers and a Dartmouth sports museum in an arts-and-crafts style space.
The tables are covered with craft paper torn from large rolls with each new setting, and alongside the condiments, a cup of crayons is standard equipment - handy for allowing our waiter, Alex, to introduce himself by writing his name, upside down so we could read it, on the table.
The makeup of the crowd, when we visited at lunchtime on a Saturday, confirmed that Molly's fit our target: Parents with their students, young couples and groups of friends - young and old - were all enjoying themselves over the great range of offerings from Molly's menu. The menu is a great mix of casual pub/bistro fare, including sandwiches, pizzas, salads and full-on entrees, with vegetarian and gluten-free choices duly noted.
Since it was only lunchtime, and we had an event to get to, we tried to go light with our selections, at least to the extent possible when one is obligated to sample appetizers, entrees and desserts in the name of comprehensive journalism.
Speaking of appetizers, the hands-down highlight of our meal was The Dining Companion's Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms ($9). These delicious little caps, filled with a spicy stuffing of cracker crumbs, chorizo and red pepper and then beer-battered and fried, were buttery, slightly crunchy and absolutely addicting. Chipotle ranch dressing was a great dipping sauce - when we took the time to dip before popping the mushrooms in our mouths.
We also ordered the Bistro Truffle Chips ($4), not so much as a first course but to have handy throughout our meal. These potato chips were freshly fried (some dark, some light) and thick enough that they could be crunchy and still have a bit of potato texture inside. Perhaps my palate isn't sufficiently refined, but I wouldn't have known the seasoning was black-truffle sea salt if the menu hadn't told me so.
For my entree, I chose Fish Tacos with optional grilled Ahi tuna ($14). The sliced tuna was excellent, browned outside and still pink in the middle with a soft, buttery consistency and a mild but distinct flavor that might have been lacking had I stayed with the standard fried haddock. The two soft taco shells were more like mini pita loaves, thick, fresh and tender. The guacamole that provided the cushion between shell and tuna was nicely seasoned with just a bit of a hot-chilies kick. On the down side, the accompanying corn and bean salsa and brown rice pilaf were unremarkable, and the whole thing benefitted from a big squeeze of lime, which I had to request.
TDC chose Pan-Seared Thai Chicken ($12), which was served over confetti Jasmine rice. The chicken was perfectly cooked, moist and tender. The flavors in the sauce - composed of coconut milk, green curry, ginger, scallions, sweet bell peppers - blended wonderfully, but the plate was overflowing with sauce and snow pea pods. Half the amount would have been just right.
Who orders dessert with lunch? We do, at least when we're working. Thankfully, Alex the waiter warned us that Molly's desserts "tend to be kind of big," so that affirmed our plan to order one to split (and two more to go for The Bottomless Pit and his buddy, who were off working up an appetite at their track meet).
We chose the Mud Pie ($6), and indeed, it was huge - as big as my hand. It was also ridiculously good. Our only complaint was it was a bit too frozen, which made it hard to get through the two layers of ice cream and the hard-packed Oreo cookie crust with a spoon. Still, a good splash of hot fudge and some whipped cream make it easy to overlook a few faults.
The boys were happy - and were the envy of their teammates - with their delivery of carrot cake and strawberry cheesecake. Even THEY thought the desserts were massive, but that just gave them more incentive to polish them off.
We finished our lunches satisfied - and slightly overstuffed - and happy with our choice. If we (or our college-bound offspring) were going to spend any amount of time in Hanover, we'd be excited by the smorgasbord of dining options available to us, but we'd also be glad to have Molly's to rely on as a fun, comfortable and affordable home base.