When the Merritt Parkway first opened all the way to the Housatonic River in 1940, it was immediately considered one of the most beautiful roads in the United States. Horse and buggies, bicycles, and pedestrians were banned; this was a tribute to the new road culture. Six rest areas allowed drivers to fuel up, and many New Yorkers picnicked in the parking lots, glad to be out of the big city. But for those who didn’t bring their own lunch, an alternative was needed.
Local entrepreneur Lorraine Kohn knew this and began serving hot dogs, burgers, and seafood in a small hut at the north end of Main Street, off the Merritt Parkway’s primary Bridgeport exit. By 1958, the “Canteen” was doing well, and Lorraine got rid of the little hut and built a drive-in restaurant, complete with ice cream parlor, patio, and garage-style doors that opened the order windows to the sky. It was the first drive-in style restaurant in the area, and became famous as the road culture of the United States continued to boom. The prices stayed low as others in the Bridgeport area went up, and the unusual fast food joint survived all recessions with apparent ease. In the late 20th century, the Canteen became a destination for nostalgic baby boomers, while appealing to new generations with new menu items.
In the 21st century, the Merritt Canteen now serves a large menu of delicious road food items, continuing to thrive despite all the competition from chain fast food restaurants. Along with classic items like their “brutal dog” – a red hot dog with chili – the Canteen has branched out, serving bison burgers, macaroni and cheese bites, deep fried brownies, and more. Stop by sometime and engage in some culinary historical research.