By Doug Ireland
---- — DERRY — It's known for its 1950s atmosphere, fast service and a place to see some famous faces.
But MaryAnn's Diner is probably best known for the food that makes it worth driving miles out of the way to get.
That's why the East Broadway diner is one of "603 Reasons" readers say New Hampshire is special.
For many, a visit to MaryAnn's is like taking a step back in time when Elvis was America's heartthrob and poodle skirts were popular.
Icons from the 1950s, such as Chubby Checker and Rex Trailer, have been there.
"I love it here," said Brenda Carr, 74, "This is our era."
Carr and her friend, Roger Comeau, were traveling from their homes in Lynn, Mass., to Lake Winnipesaukee and decided to take a worthwhile detour to Mary Ann's.
"I will always make a stop here," Comeau said.
He comes to the Granite State about six times a year to visit the North Country and go skiing. Carr and Comeau said they love the food, friendly servers and fast service at MaryAnn's.
It's those qualities that bring in a large breakfast and lunch crowd every day, manager Karen Lewis said.
"They come in for the atmosphere, but the food gets them," she said.
The food certainly got Derry resident Jim Hoole, 67.
"The menu is excellent," he said. "It's really friendly here, good food."
Yesterday, Hoole ordered the "Hungry Boy Special" — three eggs, pancakes, home fries, ham, bacon, sausage and toast.
Comeau and Hoole said they weren't surprised to hear that the family-run restaurant, now in its 25th year, is a well-known campaign stop for presidential candidates.
"It looks like the kind of place John McCain would go to," Comeau said.
Past visitors also include former President Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Bill Bradley, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Their photos, many taken with owner Bill Andreoli, grace the walls of the eatery.
"I know they've all been here," Hoole said. "Clinton has been here, Gore has been here ... ."
The restaurant is often visited by local and state dignitaries as well, including former Gov. John Lynch.
The most recent high-profile candidate to visit was U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown. The former Massachusetts senator stopped by twice in the last month to greet customers.
More candidates are expected as the campaign season progresses.
Brown's visits left an impression on waitress Julie Duddy, who has worked at MaryAnn's for two years.
"He was my first bigwig," she said.
Nicole Coffey, an employee for eight years, recalled meeting Clinton and getting a chance to shake the former president's hand in 2009.
"The place was a zoo," she said. "I remember he had such soft hands."
Well-known athletes stop by, too, including former Boston Red Sox players Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller.
But the most popular athletes in Derry yesterday were members of the Pinkerton Academy girls lacrosse team. They celebrated their state championship victory by having breakfast at MaryAnn's, Lewis said.
Lewis, who has worked at MaryAnn's for 20 years, said the chance to meet loyal, friendly customers each day makes her job so enjoyable.
Next week, Lewis said, she's looking forward to seeing the same group of approximately 20 motorcyclists who have stopped by MaryAnn's each June for years on their way to celebrate Motorcycle Week in Laconia.
"It's such a diverse group," she said.
First-timers or regulars, famous or not, it all comes down to the food.
Just ask Derry resident Richard Cowette, 76.
"I've never gotten a bad meal here," he said, polishing off breakfast yesterday.