Granite State of Mind, #72: Loaf and Ladle, Exeter
Ah, the Loaf. A staple of Exeter's downtown for decades, the iconic yellow sentinel hugged the river (a little too snugly at times) across Great Bridge from Hemlock Square, where High Street becomes Water Street. For generations of Exonians and visitors, there was no better place in town for soup or sandwiches or pies. Now, I'm not a soup guy, but when "chicken noodle" was scrawled on one of those hanging chalkboards, you could count me in along with an immodest hunk of signature anadama bread. Aside from the hearty fare, the restaurant boasted a unique ambience, with uneven, creaking wooden floorboards and local art on the walls. The Loaf was an Exeter institution with personality. There was also a vague soup-nazi-esque quality to the experience of ordering your food, taking your tray and your bent spoon and making sure you had your choice before your turn came. The original owner, Joan Harlow, even released two versions of a cookbook sharing some of her best recipes with the public. (As an aside, I have somewhere a signed copy of the 1983 edition, the prize for best 8th grade home economics student at Exeter Junior High in 1988. Some things are too nutty to make up.)
The Loaf was a great place to eat, but it was also a hotbed of political activity in the town. Candidates for office made it a regular campaign stop, and for many years it served as the unofficial headquarters of the Exeter Democratic Committee. I can remember many meetings there during my 2006-2008 stint as chairman of the local party, and it was there (alongside Maggie Hassan, Pat Yosha, and a few others) that I watched President Barack Obama speak the night he won the 2008 election. It was an electric, exciting moment, a glimpse of the future in a building so evocative of the past.
It's a shame that the Loaf is closed, relegated to memory like so many other places we've cherished over the years. A brewery is coming into the building, as I understand it, and the Loaf has some modest presence over in the Stratham industrial park where Bauer and Lindt live. But it's not the same. Sorry, Exeter. No soup for you.