Written by Penny Gourmet
East Kingston, NH
There are plenty of people in the Seacoast who have never heard of East Kingston.
It’s on the way down the back road from Exeter to the Massachusetts border, lots
of farms and rural country scenery. There is no one in East Kingstead, when you
get there, who has not heard of Carmen’s friend chicken. If Carmen’s ever looked
like a dining car, it doesn’t any more. But that home-cooked promise is still
Carmen's Diner Family Restaurant
89 Main Street
East Kingston, NH 03827
Official web site
In East Kingston, Carmen’s is the king and queen of fast food. No sane person
would consider a MacDonald’s or a KFC with this good home-cooking near by. Sadly
for most of us, Carmen’s is off the beaten track. Luckily for those who make the
journey, it is bigger and better than ever.
I confess that I do not know the Carmen’s story. Three decades ago, while hanging
out in the Exeter area, local’s always called it Carmen’s Fried Chicken. So I
had the chicken. The two-piece dinner came with a leg and a breast in a thick,
totally edible, deep-fried coating. That’s the special Carmen’s formula – sort
of cakey, not too crispy, wrapped around old-fashioned chicken pieces where the
meat falls off the bone. The dinner ($7.95) came with a vegetable and a potato.
You get half a chicken for $2 more.
"Are the carrots, real carrots?" I asked. They were. "And is the mashed potato
real mashed potato?" It was. So what looks in the picture like the cover of a
Swanson TV dinner, turns out to taste like gramma’s home cooking.
Locals know Carmen’s for breakfast too, and I wish I lived close enough to get
there in the morning. Apparently the place has just undergone a major renovation.
The building is bright red with a wraparound parking lot that spills into the
farmhouse yard next door. Like many of the family restaurants that have grown
up lately (Strafford Farms in Dover, Fogarty’s in South Berwick, Bob’s Clam Hut
in Kittery) it is decorated in historical photos of the place in the olden days.
There is a complete array of sandwiches, seafood, burgers, Carmen’s classic meatloaf
dinner, pasta and soups. With Yoken’s gone, where else in the Seacoast can you
get a liver and onion dinner ($8.95) these days? Gramma would approve. Meals are
available TO-GO and an old promo photo shows a delivery being stuffed into a rural
mailbox. Cute stuff.
We were hoping for more details on the web site which is, so far, still a very
rough work in progress. If you know the story, drop us a line. We’ll ask more
when we go back. By the looks of things, Carmen’s will be around for a long, long
All pictures by SeacoastNH.com.
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