Health Check: The Baited Hook (Lebanon, NH)

Since I’ve been running this blog for well over a decade, every once in a while it’s worth revisiting some of my old favorites and see how the places are doing. In this case, an outing with a local Upper Valley Foodie facebook group has us revisiting The Baited Hook, the well-known “clam shack” on the shores of Mascoma Lake in Lebanon, NH (years later, I still get in arguments about this, but The Baited Hook in unarguably still in Lebanon). Indeed, it was way back in 2008 that I originally reviewed them, and there was a lot I liked back then: a nice dining room and outdoor patio overlooking the lake, a decent burger, and a fair selection of fried seafood specials. Nothing fancy, but certainly enjoyable, and popular with the folks living on the lake.

Well, let’s start with what hasn’t changed much: it’s still basically a “clam shack” on the western shore of Mascoma Lake, and still has the same dining room, outdoor patio, and ice cream counters as before; the ambiance is basically the same and has remained largely unchanged over the decades the place has been open (it originally opened back in 1946!).

But there have also been a lot of changes: The biggest change is the ownership: at the beginning of this season, long-time owner Patty turned the business over to two chefs (Jason and Brandon). Jason Farina, who was kind enough to come out and talk to our group, is no stranger to the Upper Valley dining scene; in addition to his work at The Baited Hook, he’s the general manager at the second Worthy Burger location in Waitsfield, VT, and before that he was one of the first burger chefs at the original South Royalton Worthy Burger. So he brings some good experience to the table from one of my regional favorites. Second, they’ve re-tooled the operating hours; The Baited Hook is still (for now, at least) a seasonal joint, but it’s open every day but Tuesday (the previous Baited Hook had worked its way out of my rotation since it was often not open when I was interested in going). Finally, the menu has had a major workover. The menu is still basically your “burger and seafood shack” menu, but the primary focus is on the seafood. It’s not just the basic “fish and chips” and “clam strips” that a lot of the area snack bars have, but a good selection of seafood dishes including haddock and chips (I greatly prefer haddock to cod, so I always love seeing this), grilled shrimp, clam strips, crab cakes, and lobster rolls. They’ve also extended into tacos, having both fish tacos (using the haddock) and shrimp tacos. And a good selection of burgers, BLTs, wings, and salads to round out the menu with some non-seafood choices.. Meanwhile, they still run the ice cream window as well.

For my visit, I was drawn in by one of the sandwiches: a Po Boy. I do truly enjoy a good, classic Southern-style Po Boy (another note to myself: while I’ve taken many a photo at Mother’s in New Orleans, I’ve yet to review it!), and I always enjoy a nicely composed one: it should have the protein (shrimp and fish work well, roasted beef is good as well), a nice, crusty roll, a good amount of lettuce and tomato, and a nice slathering of either mayonnaise, or preferably, spicy remoulade. The Baited Hook does the later, and this was a great sandwich: the roll was the perfect, crusty sandwich roll (brought in from La Panciata in Northfield, and probably the second-best sandwich roll I’ve had in the area, after the ones that Phnom Penh brings in). I opted for the fish, and it was a generous, perfectly tasty, moist, and nicely crisped filet of haddock (they bring in fresh fish three times a week, and you can taste it, and not a hint of rancid oil, so they’ve got the fish frying down pat). Some actual good, fresh tomato (instead of the random “Sysco truck” pink monstrosities most people are using), and a nicely bold remoulade, and this possibly is displacing Salt hill Newport’s Haddock Sammie as my new favorite fish sandwich in the area. The fries were nicely executed shoestring style as well; the kitchen obviously knows their fries.

Carol opted for the “Hook Smash Burger”, a relatively simple burger cooked smash-style (smashing it into the grill for a good crisp) with bacon, served with fries. This wasn’t a huge burger, but it was perfectly done in the smashed style with a nice juiciness and a good crisp; at $7 (including the bacon and fries) this is one of the best burger deals in the area.

We also went for a side wedge salad: I always enjoy the basic concept of the Wedge: a generous wedge of iceberg lettuce (one of the few ways I actually enjoy it) served up with fresh tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers, and a house-made blue cheese dressing; about the only thing missing was bacon (which is available as an add-on).

Finally, the folks at The Baited Hook have worked on the beer selection as well; they don’t have taps or glassware yet, but they had a seriously good selection of canned beer available, including several from Bell’s Brewing, Harpoon, and Great North. So you can easily drop in and have decent sandwich, fries, and a beer for well under $20.

Really, I was very pleasantly surprised by our trip to The Baited Hook (disclaimer: since our group was invited by the new owners, we got a small 10% discount). It’s still got the same great ambiance and location, and I was fully expecting a good meal like my previous visit, but the new owners have really done a stellar job in upgrading the menu. They’ve brought in some quality fish, and worked on really having a good product while still keeping prices reasonable. I’m really excited to also hear that they’ve got a lot of plans for improving the restaurant next season. Hopefully the next visit will be even more enjoyable.

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