The Review Reviews: Molly’s Balloon

The Review reviews the Hanover favorite.

The Review reviews the Hanover favorite.

Introduction:

At 6:00 PM on the Thursday of Green Key, Nick received a text from Jack, a young Review staffer with a hankering for some food. Being that it was the first official night of the weekend and Jack was rather enthusiastic about Viceroy’s imminent arrival, his message was all but inscrutable to the allergized and DayQuil-addled Nick: “ayy bro finna hit up food? TDR $$$.” Luckily, a sober friend was present to help translate the message and explain that The Dartmouth Review in fact was willing to buy him dinner if he would write a review of the experience with Jack. Not one to pass up a free meal — especially one paid for by a bunch of fiscal conservatives — Nick quickly agreed and before long, he was meeting Jack in the foyer of one of Hanover’s most beloved culinary institutions: Molly’s Balloon.

Ambiance:

Almost immediately, however, the duo’s enthusiasm was muted by the long wait that greeted them at the door. To help pass the time, the slightly dazed and increasingly hangry Nick thought up a new game to play: inquire after the “balloon” portion of the restaurant’s name. Unfortunately, none of the hostesses, bartenders, or waitresses that rushed by seemed to have any information about its origins. Nor, for that matter, did the decorations provide any clues: in place of the blimps, blobs, balloons, and Hindenburgs that the name might evoke, the walls were instead covered with a number of vintage jerseys, pictures, and banners from Dartmouth’s pre-Lohseian Era. Nick found their presence striking and appreciated the restaurant’s effort to steep diners in College lore. A rather impatient Jack, however, was less enthusiastic and suggested that its owners should acquire some of the more authentic “kitsch” that Alpha Delta would be selling to pay for the house’s legal fees.

Luckily, before Jack could spit any more venom, one of the many hostesses announced that a table was ready. She led the duo past the restaurant’s wood-fired pizza oven to a small booth near the back patio. There, Jack discovered a small placard that contained some information about the history of the establishment. It explained that the building in which they were dining was originally occupied by Hanover’s Town and Country Dress Shop. After it closed in 1983, it was purchased by Marc and Patty Milowsky, the owners of Jesse’s Steak and Seafood on the outskirts of town, and was converted it into a 130-seat restaurant and bar named Molly’s Balloon. Since then, the Milowsky’s have worked to make it “the unofficial Hanover Historical Museum” while renovating much of its layout to ensure that it remains “a favorite of Dartmouth students and locals alike.”

Jack, now much more pleasant after being shown to a table, begrudgingly noted that they had “done a pretty good job decorating.” Both reviewers quickly agreed that the restaurant had one of the best ambiances in town and concluded that although it tended to be a bit loud at times, it was easily one of the most comfortable places to meet friends or visiting parents for a weekend meal.

Service:

The same, however, could not be said for the restaurant’s service. Having dined at Molly’s before and been boundlessly impressed by the waitstaff’s capacity to write their names on the table upside down, Nick grew increasingly impatient as he waited for the server to arrive. In a moment of frustration, he challenged Jack to a game of hangman, but promptly lost after Jack correctly guessed all of the consonants in F_CK MDF. Fortunately, before Nick could suggest any more inane diversions, the long-awaited server arrived. His name was “JV,” which quickly became grounds for many quiet quips about our desire for his superior brother “Varsity” throughout the remainder of the evening. For the moment, though, the duo was thrilled to have someone with whom it could finally place its drink and appetizer order. Jack requested an ice water and the chicken quesadillas while Nick ordered one of Molly’s famous margs and a Johnny Walker Black. F_CK MDF, indeed.

The Bread: Soon after JV disappeared with the list, he returned with a fresh batch of Molly’s famous bread. A dense, soggy, and warm loaf likely laced with opium for addictive effect, the legendary aperitif-complement kept the duo entertained with a quest to find suitable adjectives to describe it. Nick was enthralled by the sweet butter, the cup of which always failed to provide enough topping for everyone’s fill. Bit by bit, the two tore the round mound apart until only a small portion remained. “There is other food coming, you know,” Jack warned. “But will it be this good?” Nick replied. Jack shrugged and claimed the final piece. Sadness overcame the two of them, but only for a moment, as JV soon arrived with their appetizer.

Appetizers: Though they had nearly come to blows over the comparative merits of the classic spinach and artichoke dip (“hot out of the wood-fired oven appetizer with artichokes, spinach, mozzarella and Parmesan, served with warm pita chips,” $10) or the wood-fired chicken quesadilla (“Cheddar, black bean corn salsa, caramelized onions and grilled chicken breast; served with chipotle ranch,” $12), both agreed that they appeared to have reached the right conclusion. JV left them with the plates as Jack fumbled with his silverware in anticipation. The quesadillas, six slices in total, were arranged in fallen-domino pattern across the plate and flanked by the cups of salsa and chipotle ranch. The portions were large, more than enough to tide over the duo until their entrees arrived.

Nick, however, was dismayed by the messiness of the Mexican delicacy. One of the shells lay askew, open and spilling out its delicious contents. In one of his more creative moments, he suggested that the plate’s presentation looked about as attractive as Gorbachev’s birthmark. Jack, on the other hand, was not deterred, and he dove straight into the damaged slice.

During their first bite, he was immediately taken aback by the cheesiness of the quesadillas. Cheddar oozed out of the shells like the grease in one of the Courtyard Cafe’s classic Bobs. Given that both were seeking comfort food on this holiest of Dartmouth days, this liberal helping of dairy was a welcome surprise. The best part of the dish, though, was the accompanying chipotle ranch sauce. Neither too spicy nor too fatty, it was a well-balanced and forward-thinking addition to the already enticing quesadillas. For this reason, aside from the deficient presentation, the duo was wholly impressed with the order.

Entrees:

Although JV was quick to retrieve the empty dish and carry it off to the kitchen, he was rather slow in returning with the entrees. The minutes ticked by as Nick and Jack awaited their main courses. Just when it seemed like JV had not been sighted in hours, he approached with two appetizing dishes. The duo’s faces dropped, however, as they realized that the plates were bound for the elderly matrons at a nearby table who walked in a full twenty minutes after them. The younger one belted out an obnoxious cackle as JV set down her meal, and Nick’s eyebrows tightened. A few more minutes ticked by as the holes in the boys’ stomachs continued to deepen. Finally, a heavenly glow exuded from the kitchen, and JV exited with a tray holding what were easily identifiable as Jack and Nick’s entrees.

As soon as he placed them on the table, the two began digging in without a moment’s hesitation. Although he was still disappointed by the restaurant’s decision to remove his beloved Robie Burger from the menu, Jack greatly enjoyed his first bite into the proscuitto-fortified Robie mac and cheese (“Chef Jay’s creation, voted best in NH, featuring local cheeses topped with buttered bread crumbs; served with a balsamic dressed garden salad,” $14). He appreciated the cylindrical noodles that were coated in the oil and cream of the melted cheese, and remarked that the toasted bread crumbs added some much-needed texture. After a few more bites, making sure to gather up the dispersed bits of cured meat, Jack remained fully in support of his decision to replace his usual burger with an order of mac and cheese.

Nick, however, was less impressed by his fried haddock fish tacos (“Your choice of seafood with cabbage slaw, cheddar, guacamole, side of chipotle ranch and rustic salsa; served with Mexican rice,” $14). Although they were still warm, he noticed that the corn tortillas were soggy and that much of the cheese had liquefied, suggesting that the dish had sat out under heat lamps for some time. He also did not appreciate the egregious quantity of guacamole that the chefs had spread across the top of each taco and thought that such an addition overpowered many of the other ingredients beneath it. Matters were not helped when his first bite sent an errant glob of the green stuff tumbling off his plate and onto his lap. Fortunately, Nick later found that pastel shorts were adept at masking avocado stains.

Desserts: Though the entrees left him unsatisfied, Nick ultimately agreed to join Jack in sharing one of Molly’s famous desserts. Once JV reappeared from the kitchen, the two order one of “Morgan’s Magic Brownies” ($6), which is likely to have confused many of Hanover’s freer spirits. When it arrived, it made quite the entrance, attracting a great deal of attention from our matronly neighbors who were still at work on their entrees. From afar, Nick could hear them commenting on the gooey mass of chocolate in front of him and see them gesturing jealously at the generous scoop of vanilla ice cream that came on the side. He and Jack struggled to decide which was more enjoyable: the dessert itself or their healthy pangs of schadenfreude.

Price: Shortly thereafter, the bill came and the duo was pleasantly surprised by the tally. “The price was wonderful!” Jack scribbled in his notebook. Nick was quick to remind him that The Review was kind enough to cover the cost of the meal, and the pea-green freshman’s joy turns to sincere gratefulness. Despite the generosity of their benefactors, though, both agreed that Molly’s pricing seemed reasonable and its $18-a-plate average was spot-on for a restaurant of its character.

The Bottom Line: As one of Hanover’s flagship dining establishments, Molly’s Balloon remains an ever-popular destination for the residents of Hanover. As Jack and Nick found out on that Green Key Thursday, the legendary restaurant is truly deserving of its prominent status, slow service and the occasional bad entree notwithstanding.

Nicholas P. Desatnick also contributed to this report.