Manchester, NH is a funky little town. New Hampshire’s Queen City, it has a lot of character in some of its neighborhoods. Downtown is located in what used to be the mill district (indeed, most of the Millyard is still there, being converted into various offices, industrial lofts, and the like), and there are even a few ethnic neighborhoods. One of these is the West Side, where two of the larger neighborhoods (Notre Dame and Rimmon Heights) are actually Quebecois in heritage. The area had some tough years, with “urban renewal” between the 1960s and 1980s actually razing two decent neighborhoods and turning them into dismal strip malls, but the area has generally rebounded, diversified a bit, and, well, even gentrified a bit. But in addition to the notable large French Catholic Churches, the neighborhood still has a lot of Quebecois heritage, especially in the food scene. There’s probably no better place for this than Chez Vachon.
As a frequent volunteer for FIRST Robotics, I often find myself having to spend the occasional weekend as a guest judge staying in towns that I’m normally close enough to that I’d just visit them during the day, but due to the early hour that Robotics kicks off, it’s nice staying close by. This also gives me an opportunity to check out some of the local towns in a bit more culinary detail. This year, I was spending a lot of time in Windham, so I ended up getting a room in Nashua. I’ve enjoyed a few places around Nashua before, like Martha’s Exchange or Vietnam Noodle House, but this time, I was craving a gyro. Many other places I’ve lived, gyro joints were a dime a dozen, but in New Hampshire for some reason, they are somewhat rare (although Manchester has a few, like the very good Gyro Spot). But I had noticed that since my last visit, Nashua had added Main St Gyro, so I had to give it a try.
One of the things I learned long ago about living in New England is that certain phrases should immediately make your “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!” alarm go off. One of those is most any sentence containing both “New England” and “Barbecue”. Also up there is “New England” and “Mexican”. Really dangerous is the combination of “New England” and “Authentic Mexican” food, since, while I’ve been to the occasional good actual Mexican place (including El Rincon down in Manchester, or when they have their A game going, Gusanoz, although for the latter I usually need to budget extra for the extra margarita I’ll need to wash down the bad service), usually I find an “Authentic” place to be dismal Tex-Mex at best, sub-Old El Paso at worse. But every once in a while I do stumble across a place that’s actually putting in a good effort, and not just dishing out queso-flavored disappointment. So, on that note, I introduce you to El Rodeo.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, there are some gaps in the culinary coverage up here in Northern New Hampshire and Vermont. Several cuisines are nearly absent: there’s no Vietnamese, for example, between Manchester and Burlington, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an actual Cuban place closer than the Boston area. But one of the odder factors I’ve seen is that while there are quite a few Greek people living in New Hampshire, and even running restaurants, they usually don’t run Greek or even Middle Eastern restaurants, instead, they typically run pizza joints (often with the name “Pizza Chef” or “Village Pizza” as the name). I actually like a lot of these places (Grantham’s Pizza Chef, for example, has surprisingly good baklava, and Mexican Coke in the case). But sometimes I’m craving an actual Greek restaurant. Indeed, living in Michigan, Minnesota, or even Tennessee, it was never that hard to find a good gyro or souvlaki, but up here, it requires a bit of a drive (there are several good places in Manchester, like my already-reviewed Gyro Spot). But a few years ago, Claremont (which isn’t exactly a culinary Mecca), picked up an actual, honest Greek place: Elaini’s Greek Cuisine.
Another of our recent road trips was to the NH Seacoast area, primarily to go to the most excellent NH Hosta Nursery. Afterward, we explored the area, primarily by ducking over into Newbury, discovering two very nice craft breweries (Riverwalk Brewing and the NBPT Brewing Co). After enjoying both of these destinations, we were hungry for a bit of dinner, and decided to head up the road to Seabrook, NH for Jasmine’s Famous Roast Beef and Seafood. As I have mentioned in several other reviews of New England Roast Beef joints, the Roast Beef sandwich is a bit of an art form here: Once you get to the coastal region, all sorts of places are available that sell two things: roast beef sandwiches, and all variety of fried seafood. Not sure where the combination came from, but it’s a common one. But the thing that ties so many of these places together is the focus on a basic sandwich: roast beef.
As I’ve mentioned a few times on here, I generally prefer not to review a place if the reason I went there was a special event. However, some places (like the Cabane a Sucre a few months ago) are special event only, and in other cases (like the The Corner House Inn), the nature of the special event isn’t directly food related, and I’ve got a reasonable expectation of being able to have a similar menu item on a regular visit. In the case of PINE, we went there for a special Friends of Laphroaig Scotch Dinner, and ended being very impressed with the food as well.
I’ve always liked Manchester, the Queen City of New Hampshire. For such a modestly-sized city of ~100,000, it actually has a pretty good dining scene (you can see my other reviews here), and “ManchVegas” still holds a lot of surprises for me, especially in the culinary scene. One of these was over on the West Side of town across the Merrimack River, which I call “Little Quebec”, since the area has a very strong French Canadian heritage. It also has a number of Quebecois restaurants, such as the fairly well known Chez Vachon which has been serving up giant plates of poutine for years. But looking over the various dining options in West Manchester, I saw an interesting one called “Butter My Biscuit”, and we decided to check it out.
Corner House Inn Recently, I had an odd confluence of invites to an event. You see, it’s not every day when I get notices of a special event from (a) the mailing list of the Tamworth Lyceum, a small NH events center (b) the mailing list of a local distillery, (c) a notice from a mixologist I follow on twitter, the “Cocktail Whisperer” and (d) a specific mention of the event by Klaus the Soused Gnome. I figured that the confluence was a sign that I simply had to attend the event: an evening of cocktails at the Corner House Inn in Center Samdwich, NH, hosted by the Tamworth Lyceum and Art in the Age distilled spirits. Despite the rather remote (for us) location, we decided to make a day of it, check out some sights around Lake Winnipesaukee, and end up at what’s basically a pleasant country tavern in the quiet back roads of rural NH. Pairing Menu I’m usually a bit reluctant to review a place that I’ve only attended for a special event, since special events usually don’t show what a normal visit to a place is like (and often, especially for holidays, show places when they don’t have their A game). But this particular event was so remarkably, well, awesome, that it required a writeup. Bitters The concept was simple: a four course tasting menu, with each course paired with a custom cocktail. But therein lies the secret: these weren’t your regular cocktails, but custom-crafted concoctions made by Warren Bobrow, author of Apothecary Cocktails, and featuring high-end ingredients, hand-chipped block ice, unusual infusions, and, bitters. Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another collection of bitters as extensive as that brought by Warren (and that includes visits to such well-stocked stores as Boston Shaker in Somerville, MA). All available for tasting and customization of your cocktails. Klaus meets one of my gnomes The event was off to a solid start right away, with us arriving in the dining room to Warren chipping away at a block of ice and making Root and Ryes: a pleasant cocktail based upon Knob Creek Rye and
A few weeks ago, we wanted to take advantage of the fresh snowfall and go cross country skiing at Windblown Cross Country in New Ipswich, NH. We figured it would also be a good opportunity to finally try one place on our hit list, Parker’s Maple Barn in Mason, NH. There was just one problem…. Parker’s hasn’t opened for the 2014 season yet, so we had to find someplace else in that area for a good breakfast. That’s where My Sister’s Kitchen in Milford comes in.
A lot of the places I go on Offbeat Eats are found by research, but some of them are found by pure happenstance, just by walking or driving past a place that, well, looks rather “Offbeat”. In the case of Beefside, I found this place several years ago, when my brother was returning a rental truck to the rental place in Concord, which was on Route 3 east of Concord, NH. It’s an odd area, mostly full of car dealerships and the likers, but there are a few restaurants oddly sprinkled in between the car dealers, vacuum repair shops, and the like. One of these, Beefside, features on oddly large and comic sign featuring a cow that looks something like the Black Angus twin of Elsie the Cow. It’s the exact sort of sign that says to me “If they’ve been able to survive with kitschy signage like that for so long, they’ve got to have a lot of loyal followers.” So I decided to check them out, and rather liked the place (I first visiting in 2009, it’s just taken me a while to return with a camera).