Jitto's Super Steak in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, looks more like a sprawling home than it does a proper restaurant. This feeling carries through to the inside, too, which has low ceilings and exposed wooden beams and an echo of familiar conversation between the bartender and the band of regulars seated around her. The neon glow of beer lights on the walls guides you through the dining room to a line of customers placing orders at a long take-out counter. And a glimpse into the open kitchen offers up the smells and sounds of a bustling restaurant, where the clang of metal spatulas on the flat-top griddle seems to keep time with the songs on the radio.
Jerry and Linda Nadeau opened Jitto's Super Steak in 1979. Kathy Nadeau and her late husband, Danny, took over the business from her in-laws in the mid-1980s. Kathy tells me that the name Jitto stems from the French pronunciation of “Jerry.”
Over the years, Jitto's has become famous for its version of New England's beloved steak bomb, which Kathy explains “is a steak sandwich with all the fixins: mushrooms, peppers, onions, extra cheese, and salami.” At Jitto's they also add a considerable smear of mayonnaise and recommend American cheese over provolone. But what really sets this steak bomb apart is the steak: hearty cubes of steak tips cooked to medium and hit with an assertive sprinkle of Lawry's Seasoned Salt.
The recipe for the steak bomb hasn't changed since 1979, and to this day it remains Jitto's biggest seller. “That's why our shirts say ‘Bomb Squad.’ Just don't wear [the shirt] to the airport,” Kathy jokes. To keep up with demand, Jitto's goes through 350 to 450 pounds of steak each week, which Kathy cuts by hand every day.
After Danny passed away in 2015, Kathy made the choice to keep the restaurant going. To her and Danny, it was more than a business—it was where they first met, got married, and raised a family. As Kathy hands me a sandwich for the road, she leans in close and says, “I don't want to get teary, but my husband was the best. That's why I keep doing it.”