Campo Enoteca (Manchester, NH)

Like many trips, upon arriving mid-day back in New Hampshire from our trip to Detroit, we used it as an opportunity to stop in Manchester on the way home for a light dinner. Depending on time of day and mood, there are a lot of good options on Manchester’s Elm Street or nearby, including some great authentic Mexican at El Rincon, funky fusion fare at Mint, or, one of my favorites, light bistro fare at Republic. However, I realized it had been a while since I had been to another bistro on Elm, Campo Enoteca.

Campo Enoteca is the sister restaurant to the above-mentioned Republic, indeed, describing it as the Italian version of Republic is a great way to summarize the experience: the interior is nearly identical in feel and configuration to Republic, they feature the same farm-to-table ethic with extensive use of regional, seasonal ingredients, and they’ve got a nice selection of appetizers, small plates and full entrees. The menu is primarily classic Italian, with a variety of pasta dishes, antipastos, grilled pizzas, and Italian dinners like bucatini, cannelloni, branzino, and bracciole.

And, like Republic, if you are an early diner, they have some outstanding happy hours specials (usually two-for-one appetizers and discounted house wine). In this case, we opted for a pair of our favorites: the white bean dip and the polenta fries. The white bean dip itself is rather good (a nice, smooth, garlicky blend of cannellini beans), but the actual attraction of this appetizer lies more in the bread, each order being served up with a hearty portion of sliced, house-made crusty Italian bread. A bit of olive oil with cracked pepper, a schmear of the bean dip, and that great bread make this a reasonable deal at the normal $5 price, and an even better deal during happy hour.

The polenta fries are a nice variation on polenta as well. I first ran into these almost a decade ago at Pi Bar in San Francisco, and the concept still works well as a combination of “polenta” and “fries”: little slabsof firm polenta, deep-fried, served with a nice Rosa (cream and tomato) sauce. The resulting texture is a nice combination of everything that’s nice about fried polenta (fluffy interior, deep corn taste) and fries (crispy exterior).

For my main course, I went for a classic: spaghetti and meatballs, or in this particular case, polpetti: meatballs of locally-source beef, pork and guanciale (as an aside, I need to see if I can find an easy source of guanciale). A simple dish, but everything here was hitting on all cylinders: the meatballs themselves were moist, nicely herbed, and very meaty, with a very nice crisp applied to the exterior. Unlike 99% of the spaghetti served in the US, the spaghetti was perfectly al dente with a nice bit of toothiness, and the sort of nicely finished texture you only get by finishing the noodles in sauce. The marinara was a rich, roasted tomato marinara without a lot of salt, and it tied everything together well.

Carol opted for different take on pasta, doing the radiatore. The particularly convoluted shape of radiatore makes it one of my favorite pasta shapes (up there with orecchiette) since all the convolutions make for a lot of surface area to capture the sauce. Served up with a nice pepper-forward Romesco, some wilted organic spinach, and a sprinkling of shaved asiago cheese, this was a very pleasant pasta dish as well.

Overall, like our previous visits, we really still like Campo Enoteca, as well as Republic down the street. Especially when looking for a lighter dinner or some lighter fare with some wine, the prices are good, the service pleasant, and the food quality outstanding.

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