Water Street Cafe – Laconia

$ 3 3 1

IMG_5967One of these things is not like the other…. (Read with grandfatherly-type voice) “Back in the olden days, when people didn’t lock their cars…” my dad worked for a hospital doing HVAC repairs. Part of his job often included driving the department’s white van to the local hardware store for parts. One such day, he parked the white vanvan, left the keys in the ignition (it’s the olden days, remember?), purchased his parts, and drove away. A few miles into the trip, he noticed a coffee in the cup holder. “Wait a minute,” he thought “that’s not mine.” (Actually what he said was a lot different, but it uses a lot of fancy $^@* to type out). Upon further inspection, he realized he was driving the wrong white van. He spun around and returned IMG_5965to the store, to find a  very angry man (come on, it’s an accident – and you left your keys in the ignition too!) and his actual white van.

No worries, you will not confuse your breakfast at Water Street with a cookie-cutter restaurant breakfast. This place takes traditional food and adds a twist to make it interesting, more delicious and a nice break from eating the same old same old.

The hubs and I were recently invited to eat breakfast at the Water Street Café, located in Laconia. They have a big parking lot, great prices and a bright, clean dining room.  Upon walking in, I noticed a cheerful sign suggesting something like “Why not have a mimosa or bloody mary with breakfast?” IMG_5935Hmmm, I can’t think of a good reason why not…I’m in! The café has both tables and booths for you to seat yourself. The menu itself has a lot of variety (seven different kinds of eggs benedict!), but make sure you ask your server about the items not on the menu, like the ‘Waffle Stacker’ and their delicious side option of breakfast rice.

While I was enjoying my refreshing mimosa , the owner came over for a quick chat. He was incredibly friendly and clearly  passionate about what he does. A lot of thought goes in to the menu planning. We happened to be there during NH’s maple weekend, and the café planned several specials around the maple syrup theme.

Our server was adorable. She cheerfully came back repeatedly while I took my typical, ridiculously long time to decide. Not only did she make me feel comfortable taking my time, she answered all my questions and made several yummy suggestions.

I ordered the John Daly Omelet: seasoned pulled pork, bacon, onions, cheese and JD Whiskey BBQ sauce. Items are made to order, so you can play around with the menu. I added broccoli to balance out the bacon (eating healthy works like that right?) with home fries and cranberry orange bread. Rick ordered the Santa Fe Eggs Benedict: pulled pork on English muffins topped with 2 poached eggs and chipotle hollandaise with breakfast rice and maple walnut toast.

First, let’s talk breakfast rice. Based on something the owner tried while on vacation, it’s basically a twist on fried rice. Moist and tasty, this was a treat. I am so glad the server told us about it, because it is not on the menu. Make sure you order this! If you are a careful reader, you noticed this was with Rick’s order, but I had the good sense to steal it off his plate and eat it while he wasn’t paying attention.

Luckily, this wasn’t hard, because he was too preoccupied with his Eggs Benedict. Rick loves Eggs Benedict and the pulled pork is a genius twist.

IMG_5947

After I finished Rick’s rice, I proceeded to dig into my own enormous omelet, which was stuffed to the gills with fillings and generously drizzled with BBQ sauce. You will not confuse this with the skimpy omelets you might get for breakfast elsewhere. This was a monster. I was hesitant about the pulled pork with eggs but it turns out I love it.

IMG_5953

The homemade cranberry orange and maple walnut bread needed no butter or jelly to be delicious. Each made their flavors wonderfully clear, by both scent and taste (and check out the cool twisted presentation for the maple bread!). After hearing me rave about the sweet breads, the server suggested I try them grilled next time, and also pointed out that you can order French toast made with either bread. Deliciousness slathered in deliciousness ? (aka syrup) Yes please!

IMG_5959

Now the horrible news is that about a week after our delicious breakfast, the Café suffered a fire! The notice on their website states “Water Street Café is currently closed until further notice for renovations after a fire. Our catering is still available during this time.” So I strongly encourage you to check in on them in a little while so you get a chance to losing-your-khakisexperience their wonderful food (and mimosas!)

Just make sure you don’t leave with some angry guy’s white van if you old-fashioned folks leave your keys in the ignition.  ¡Buen provecho!

Posted in Laconia | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Barley House – Concord (part 2)

Click for icon explanationNeed to build a submarine?  Go to the Library! My dad both loves to – and excels at – learning new things.  He chooses a hobby, researches it, and then follows through.  Example:  He is not, nor has ever been, in construction, but he built the house we grew up in.  And 30 years later, it’s still standing.  In fact, if I’m honest here, it’s probably the sturdiest, well-made house I’ve ever seen.  As a child, this didn’t seem like the enormous accomplishment it obviously is.  But now, as an adult who can’t even figure out how to put up her own blinds, I am completely flabbergasted that someone with no background can accomplish this.  A few years back, I asked, “Dad, how did you know what to do?  How did you keep from electrocuting yourself, make sure the walls didn’t fall down, or even know where to start?”  He replied, “I decided I wanted to build a house, so I went to the library and checked out a book on building houses.”  And he wasn’t joking.  He actually learned to build a house by reading a library book.  Geez!

I guess we all need hobbies, and this past summer, I chose a much less daunting task.  Instead of learning to build a house, I set out to try a whole slew of Barley House burgers.  Each Thursday during the summer and fall, the Barley House debuted a new burger.  Rick and I made the long trek to Concord to try as many burgers as possible (and a few other dishes along the way).   I’ve reviewed the Barley House once before, click here for the first review.

In general, the Barley House has fairly small portions, but reasonable prices, so it seems fair.  Their complimentary hummus and bread sticks are always my favorite part of the meal.   When the waitress heard how much I liked the hummus, she brought me the recipe.  I highly recommend it and can’t WAIT to make it myself (if the link to the recipe doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll happily type it out).

The service is typically slow, so don’t expect to get in and out quickly.  Over my many visits here, I’ve come to realize that the Barley House makes excellent burgers, but not much else.  Most of their other dishes are lackluster and disappointing.  

Their burgers come with fries of course, and in addition to regular ketchup, they have a chipotle ketchup which is fun to try.  Especially since I did by accident (even though it is clearly labeled).  Let’s first look at the burgers that are always on their menu:

Caprese Turkey Burger – walnut pesto, tomato, fresh mozzarella, ciabatta bun.  The patty itself was well seasoned, but the pesto flavor wasn’t strong enough to shine through.  Chunks of mozzarella and slices of tomatoes added a nice texture.

Black Bean Burger –vegetarian burger of black bean, sweet potato, red peppers, and garlic. This sounded delightful but was entirely disappointing.  The patty crumbled all over the place, and the flavor was boring.  I didn’t taste any sweet potato whatsoever.  The burger came with a creamy avocado sour cream on the side, which helped a little.

Now for the Weekly Burgers Specials: in order from favorite to least favorite.

Salmon Burger- Salmon burger topped with onion, spinach, and garlic & chive cream cheese, all served on a warm, soft bagel.  This was one of my absolute favorites!  I loved how the cream cheese melted into the salmon, and the texture of the chewy bagel was a great pairing.

Brie Burger – melted brie with honey garlic sauce and walnuts.  The honey sauce was incredibly good and matched beautifully with the brie.  I couldn’t find or taste the walnuts, but it was still an incredible burger.

Baked Bean Burger – coleslaw, beans, chili sauce, onion, cheddar cheese, and bacon.  The chili sauce really made this burger stand out, although it came with a side of mad cow disease.  The medium-well burger came out completely pink, but I was too much of a wimp to send it back.  Moooo!

The Mac and Cheese Burger – topped with mac n cheese with a breaded tomato.  The burger had a good flavor, but it was lacking pizzazz.

Buffalo burger – buffalo sauce, coleslaw, blue cheese.  It was nothing special but still good.  Even Rick, who loves this type of food, wasn’t overly impressed.

Other Meals:
The Portabella Panini is still my favorite food item they make.  Crispy bread surrounds veggies and cheese.  Everything is flavorful and warm, and the cheese is smooth and melted.  The only thing that could be improved upon is more veggies inside.  It’s a very thin sandwich, almost like a quesadilla.

The Cranberry Chicken (a special, not on their normal menu) was served atop creamy, delicious mashed potatoes.  The breading on the chicken was light and flavorful, and the addition of dried cranberries brought it all together.  Other than the Portabella Panini, this is the only other meal – that isn’t a burger – that I have really enjoyed.

Rick ordered the Fish and Chips but he intelligently sprayed them down with vinegar (aka Kim repellant) before I could snag a bite.  He claims he enjoyed the meal.

The Guinness Beef Stew was enjoyed by everyone else at the table.  I’m not a huge fan of stew, but the other people who tried it really liked it, so I think is probably one of the better meals on the menu.  They did, however, comment on the high $14 price tag considering how shallow the bowl was.

My Tequila Cilantro Lime Sea Scallops were a huge disappointment.  They were pricey and totally void of any flavor.  The scallops were served on plain white rice.  The tiniest dab of (amazing) cilantro lime sauce was sprinkled on top, but I had mostly finished my meal before I realized there was even any sauce at all.  In hind sight, I would have asked for more sauce, which would have completely changed the dynamics of this bland meal.

So, if you’re looking for a good burger joint, the Barley House is for you.  If you’re looking for a good meal, you might want to look elsewhere, since the Barley House is inconsistent.  And while my burger hobby was way more fun (and less work), than building a house,  I’m left with an extra 10 pounds and mad cow disease instead of shelter :-)  ¡Buen provecho!

CP4Less:  Check out Good Eats for a discounted Barley House gift certificate or register for the Barley House e-newsletter.  They occasionally send out coupons, and send a nice one on your birthday.

Posted in Concord | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thousand Crane – Manchester

I Call ‘Cat on Lap!’ I’ve already introduced you to one of my neurotic rules -Rule of 3-, so I might as well confess my ‘cat on lap’ rule.  I’ve always had affectionate pets.  Growing up, our  cat Purry was super snugly (I totally thought there were 2 g’s in snugly), and Rick and I are the proud parents of two super cuddly cats, Lua and Bailey.  If you have a love-addicted pet, than you know how heart wrenching it can be to remove them from your lap.  I mean, they chose YOU for their nap location!   So, in our family, if you have a cat (or any pet) sleeping on you, then you can call ‘cat on lap’ and anyone else in close vicinity has to get you stuff (glass of water, snack, book, remote control…the possibilities are endless!)  Case in point – the other night I had cat on lap (here’s a picture for proof) and consequently couldn’t make dinner.  So I called Rick on his way home from work, activated the rule and asked him to grab some take-out for dinner.

He decided to try Thousand Crane, a Chinese and Japanese Restaurant.  He selected some standby takeout favorites (crab rangoon, fried rice, beef broccoli, sesame chicken) and a few new and unusual things.  I appreciated the sturdy containers used for the liquidy meals in place of the typical paper cups.  It kept the counter cleaner, and it was far easier to store leftovers in the fridge.

Our order of crab rangoons were filled with the classic creamy filling.  Strangely, the rangoons that accompanied the mango dinner plate were prettier but had far less filling.  The Mango Shrimp was a pleasant surprise, as long as I ate the mango and shrimp separately.  The chunks of mango were sweet and the shrimp was breaded with a great flavor, I just didn’t enjoy the combination of the two together.

Both the Pork and Vegetable fried rice were moist, and tasty even after reheating in the microwave the following day . 

Their Beef with Broccoli was my favorite.  The meat was tender, the sauce was flavorful but not overly salty, and it all tasted amazing mixed in with the fried rice.  And check out how the broccoli isn’t cooked to death!

I’d never heard of, much less eaten, edamame – you suck the delicious soy beans  out and toss the pod (the outside is lightly salted).  These were fun to eat and the beans had a silky texture.  I have since found the product for sale in Hannaford’s natural freezer section; they not only taste even better than Thousand Crane’s, but you get more for your $$.  I eat them pretty much every day now!

The Vegetable Tempura was gross- the soggy fried vegetables were 99% breading.  The zucchini and eggplant were the worst, the mushroom and broccoli were tolerable, while the sweet potatoes were okay, since they tasted a bit like sweet potato fries.  I suggest you pass on this.

The Sesame Chicken had a good, strong sweet sauce, lots of sesame seeds, and was delicious, although there seemed to be a lot more breading than chicken.  I prefer my sesame chicken with a little breading, not the other way around.

Rick really liked the Unagi Sashimi (eel), but it was only okay in my opinion (it’s the item on the right of the next picture, hidden underneath the garnish).

The Ebi (shrimp sushi on the left of the picture) was tasty, but when is white rice with seafood not good?!  I love the texture of rice in sushi, so this was a tasty treat.  I wish we had ordered more!

I passed on the egg drop soup, as I’ve never been able to stomach the texture of it, but I was told it was enjoyable, and it appeared to have nice chunks of cooked egg white and carrots.

This is one of the better Chinese food places but it’s not amazing.  I believe they have all-you-can-eat sushi on Thursdays for $20, although I’ve never been.  The 45 minute drive means we probably won’t be back, so I’ll keep looking for a good “can’t cook, I have cat on lap” take-out place.

My Dad has tried calling “Future Cat on Lap,” claiming to my poor mother that she needed to bring him a glass of water because “what if Yoda (their cat) wants to sit on my lap while I’m up and I miss it?”  Mom actually called me on the phone (I’m the original creator of the rule and therefore the interpreter of any discrepancies) and asked for a ruling.  Sorry Dad, while I applaud your ingenuity, “future cat on lap” is not grounds for making other people do your dirty work.  I, on the other hand, have a laptop AND a cat on lap, so I think I’ll ask Rick to make me a mudslide.  Ahh, I love this rule….  ¡Buen provecho!

CP4Less:  Good Eats has ½ off gift certs
-Go to their Facebook page and sign up for their email club; you’ll get 15% off and a coupon for your birthday.

Posted in Manchester | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cactus Jacks – Manchester

Whose Cheese is That? Whenever I visit my parents, my mom likes to put out a cheese and cracker plate.  When she  puts the platter down, without fail my dad will ask, “Whose cheese is that?” and then waits expectantly for one of us to respond with an enthusiastic “Nah-cho cheese!” Usually its me who gleefully shouts it, but remember I get genes from my dad, the poster child of this sort of behavior. If you like cheese -the dairy product, not the comedic styling- then you’ll be content at Cactus Jacks. They put loads of it on just about everything.

I’ve been to Cactus Jacks on South Willow Street several times because my mom works nearby, so it’s an easy place to meet up. If you’re in the bar and you ask, they’ll bring complimentary chips and salsa (they charge you in the dining room). The salsa was a tad too spicy for my wimpy taste buds, but the chips were coated in a seasoning blend that made them a savory snack, and were difficult to stop eating even sans salsa.

We were quickly brought waters, and then began the painstaking task of choosing our meals. You already know I’m slow, but now I’m with my mom, who I obviously inherited the gene from.  The bar began to fill up, but the booth still offered enough privacy. The atmosphere of the restaurant and bar is relaxed and casual, but not loud, so you can easily converse.

Mom finally chose the haddock tacos, recommended by the Phantom Gourmet (my dream job). Cactus Jack’s has an extensive selection of sides, and she chose the daily vegetable of butternut squash and sweet potato fries. I ordered the Seafood Casserole, also with butternut squash and sweet potato fries. Apparently, in addition to the inability to make up my mind, I also inherited her love of orange vegetables.

The Taquitos appetizer is a staple that we order every time. Chicken and cheese chimis are deep-fried and served with a large ramekin of amazing avocado ranch dip. Can I just say how much I love it when a restaurant gives you a large enough serving of sauce to last through the entire appetizer?!

Our meals arrived, and I was surprised at the size of my tiny meal. The sweet potato fries were crunchy, salty and sweet, but so few, especially given the $1 up-sell from regular fries. The butternut squash was perfectly sweetened. The seafood casserole had a unique flavor, and I think people who enjoy seafood casseroles would like this. I however, apparently do not like seafood casseroles. I prefer my seafood with pasta, veggies, sauce or spices, not hidden in breadcrumbs.  The overpowering wine flavor competed with the seafood.  Cactus Jacks in general has pretty good prices, but this was $18 and not worth it.

Mom’s haddock tacos had good sized chunks of fried haddock, cheese (of course), lettuce, and tomatoes in a hard corn shell, which was then wrapped in a soft flour tortilla smeared with crab dip (I wanted more of this cream cheese and crab dip deliciousness). They were better than my casserole, but certainly not the best thing on the menu, although with more crab spread, they may have been.

On subsequent visits, we’ve tried other dishes as well. Rick’s PretzelWrek- sliced roast beef warmed in au jus and Swiss cheese on a pretzel roll wasn’t my favorite (I’m not a fan of horseradish or swiss cheese) but even I could enjoy this excellent sandwich. And oh, the pretzel roll! If you like Ruben sandwiches, horseradish or anything along these lines you need to try this sandwich.

The Mango Tango Enchiladas were disappointing. Like some of their other dishes, overwhelming amounts of cheese completely obliterated the other flavors. At this point, I was getting frustrated with CJs. Their apps are good but I had yet to find an entrée that grabbed me, until….

If I could eat the butternut squash lasagna every day, I would. Butternut squash layered with spinach, lasagna noodles, the perfect ratio of cheese, and white cheese sauce with a side of honey roasted root vegetables made for the ultimate winter comfort food. The butternut was sweet, the sauce was warm and creamy, the cheese was…umm… cheesy, and the root vegetables were a delightful palette change between bites of the lasagna. Unfortunately, this lasagna was a special, and I haven’t seen it since. Ohhhhhh bring back, bring back, please bring back lasagna to me –e-e! (Hey, I warned you I sing kid songs for a living).

Cactus Jacks is a casual place to go for a adequate meal at a decent price as long as you know the dishes you enjoy there. While I prefer TBones (everything I’ve ever had there has been excellent) over CJs, I’ll certainly be here again due to habit. Can you imagine what would happen if my mom and I had to decide where to go and it wasn’t predetermined? We’d never get there! ¡Buen provecho!

CP4Less: Sign up for their email list to receive a coupon (and another on your birthday).

Posted in Manchester | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Z Food & Drink – Manchester

Titanic Decisions I do not always make sensible decisions. For our honeymoon, my husband and I went on a cruise to Canada. I’ve always been wary of boats, seeing as I watched Titanic at an impressionable age. I’m nervous of a history-repeat, regardless of where the boat is (even, say, at the equator, where icebergs are rare). Let’s not even touch on my irrational fear of sharks. So, not only did I choose my honeymoon to be on a boat (suspect decision #1), but we went to Halifax, which is uncomfortably close to the actual Titanic crash site (suspect decision #2). While in Halifax, I decided it would be neat to go to the Halifax Titanic Museum (suspect decision #3). Having to get back on the ship after a full day of wandering through images, artifacts and stories of the Titanic tragedy was challenging to say the least.

Strange decision 53,001 through 53,006: I have been to Z Food & Drink not once, not twice, but a full six times. Every visit, I leave disenchanted, but I keep going back, hoping they’ll prove me wrong. “I’ll never let go Jack, I’ll never let go!”

Z is located on Elm Street in Manchester, so you have to try your luck with metered on-street parking. An interesting tidbit: Z is on some kind of emergency NH power grid, so whenever we get those massive power outages that last for days, Z is up and running for business.

I want to like this place. I really, really do. The atmosphere is cute and fun, the menu reads well, and the complimentary rosemary truffle popcorn you get before your meal is positively addicting. Unfortunately, most of the servers we’ve had were impersonal, our one interaction with the owner was disrespectful, several of their dishes have been disappointing, and I’m tired of the ‘hit or miss’ risk I take each time I eat here. With the fairly steep prices, it’s really not worth the gamble even when they hit, and I’d much rather go to a place that is consistently good.

Their Asian Nachos is one that’s enjoyable every time. This nacho appetizer is drizzled with wasabi and peanut sauce (needs more) and sprinkled with cheese (needs more). Despite the lack of toppings, the texture and crunch is satisfying and the peanut sauce is the best part. The Chicken and Chips lunch meal is another success story. The sweet apricot dipping sauce really complements the chicken, and the sweet potato fries have a surprisingly good spicy seasoning.

The bartender we had the one time we ate at the bar was unfriendly. There wasn’t anything on the short cocktail menu that appealed to me, so I did what I typically do and asked for suggestions. I listed a few liquors I enjoy as a starting point (this is how I discover some amazing drinks- asking the bartender for their ideas) but she simply pointed to the cocktail menu. When I pleasantly tried to get a suggestion again, she pointed to the menu and said something along the lines of “these are my specialty drinks” and then proceeded to sarcastically read them to me as though I couldn’t read them myself. Its fine with me if a restaurant only wants to serve certain mixed drinks, but then don’t advertise (and look like) an incredibly well-stocked bar (which by the way, is one thing they do have – a huge, beautiful, fully-loaded bar).

The drinks we did get were fine but weak. The Cozmo had an unpleasant flavor I couldn’t identify, but the Violet was enjoyable and Hubby liked his Ginger drink. We had a good chuckle over the straws: they are quite a bit shorter than the tall bar glasses, so they don’t reach the bottom of the glass. This makes it impossible to drink the last inch or so of your beverage without tipping ice all over your face.

Here are the misses: The Tacos (we tried tuna, duck, pork, and beef) were fun to order, and at only $3-4 each, a great price. They looked beautiful, but were lacking any unusual or interesting flavors. Other dishes we have tried on our visits include the Fish Chowder (okay), Scallops (WAY too salty- and you know I love salt!), Chopped Sirloin (okay), Goat Cheese Croquettes Salad (potential with the croquettes, but didn’t meet my expectations), Chopped Steak Burger (just a normal burger), Lobster Risotto (bland).

The salt and pepper plate on the table is adorable and fun, but sanitation-wise makes me nervous as I watched other diners dip their food (like a fry for example) directly into the salt.

To finish on a sweet note – the Almost Frozen Lemon Mousse dessert was excellent. It resembled lemon ice cream more than mousse, but I enjoyed the deliciously strong lemon flavor that complimented the accompanying shortbread.

If the power is out, and you need a place to eat, you could give Z a chance. I, however, think it is finally time for me “to let go.” Sorry Leonardo DiCaprio! ¡Buen provecho!

Keep it Local: Z is committed to using regional and organic ingredients when possible.

Posted in Manchester | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

BeanTowne Coffee – Hampstead

Click for icon explanationWhy I Shouldn’t Drive a Big Rig I can’t drive more than 30 minutes before getting sleepy.  I first noticed this phenomenon in high school, and quickly adapted my habits.  If I had to travel far, I had someone else take me or hopped myself up on all kinds of caffeine.  But come on!  There are people whose job is to drive all day, and they’re not falling asleep, so what’s wrong with me?   Over a recent family dinner, my parents were recounting stories of our childhoods.  Apparently, when I was a baby, I often had trouble falling asleep.  My father would load me into the car and drive around town until the purr of the car put me to sleep.  So turns out that from a very young age, my brain was conditioned to associate driving sounds with sleeping.  Yikes!

The good news is, I can take myself to BeanTowne because it’s less than 10 minutes away.  It’s the typical coffee shop setup- order at the counter and take your food to go or grab a table/comfy couch.  They have plenty of free parking and they’re easy to find, right off Route 111 in Hampstead.  I’ve been here twice, and the service has been inconsistent.

When I eat out, I like to talk to the employees about the food.  Hearing their opinions and what the popular dishes are is a part of the dining experience that I not only enjoy, but helps me order delicious food I wouldn’t normally select.  On our first visit, even though we were the only people there, the folks behind the counter were impersonal.  I tried to interact and ask questions about their menu, but was greeted with one word answers and a general feeling of “why can’t you hurry up and choose something so I can get back to chatting with my coworkers.”  It wasn’t extreme, but there was a definite undercurrent of impatience.

This truly surprised me because the ambiance of their Facebook page (is there such a thing as Facebook ambiance?) is quite the opposite.  Their page is rich with positive quotes, encouragement to be kind to others, humor, and appreciation for the customers.  They clearly have a loyal fan base and are often doing positive things for the community (such as donating money to community projects or raising funds for others in need).  BeanTowne seems to enjoy using their establishment to help others rather than simply make a profit.  Luckily, my second visit was more in-line with what I expected.  Helpful counter employees pleasantly discussed various sandwiches and helped us make our final choices.

Some of their sandwiches are served cold, some warm, and some both, but this was not stipulated on their menu.  On my second visit, I happily noticed this information is now included on the menu board.

The Chicken Pesto sandwich (pesto, roasted red peppers, portabella and provolone) was warm with crisp bread and not too much cheese, which let the pesto flavor come through.  It could have used more veggies, and overall was not filled as much as I would have liked.  The flavor was subtle but good.  I especially liked the texture of the grilled bread.

The New Englander (turkey, apples, lettuce, cheddar and cranberry mustard) was served cold.  The cranberry mustard added a pleasing sweet/tart flavor to the turkey and apples.

The Farmer’s Market (rosemary chicken salad, cheddar, walnuts, apples and lettuce) had a hearty scoop of chicken salad with lots of lettuce (I like my sandwiches fully loaded.  To me, the bread’s main purpose is to get all the fillings into my mouth).  I loved the crunchy walnuts and apples, and the chicken salad was moist and well spiced.  This was probably my favorite of the three.

Along with sandwiches, they sell decadent-looking desserts.  They also carry, of course, an extensive beverage selection, but I’m not really a coffee person, so if you’ve been here, please leave a comment (although given my driving issue, I really should become a coffee drinker!)

The pricing is super convenient, with all sandwiches running $5 for a half and $6.88 for a full (not including tax).  On both visits, the sandwiches were made extremely fast, which is useful if I ever need to pick up a fresh, quick sandwich to-go.  And while I think I prefer the Riverwalk Café, the hour drive wrecks me, so I will certainly be going BeanTowne more often for a tasty lunch.  ¡Buen provecho!

CP4Less:  None that I’m aware of, although I think they have a frequent coffee card.
Keep it Local:  BeanTowne is constantly donating (or collecting donations) for various local needs, ranging from individuals to non-profits like the food pantry.
Posted in Hampstead | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Riverwalk Cafe and Coffee Shop – Nashua

On a Bailey’s Mission Someone please invent me a TAA help group (Thorough-Addicts Anonymous).  When I got married, I made a database of every wedding location within 2 hours and dragged my poor husband-to-be to almost every one.  When we moved, I made a list of every restaurant within a 30 minute radius and I’ve been trying to visit them all ever since.  I despise the feeling that I’m missing out on something, so my solution is to explore all options.  Not actually possible, I know – hence my need for the help group.  Buffets are torture because I need to try everything offered, which means I end up fuller than Thanksgiving.  While in Ireland, my Thorough Addiction forced me to try everything  Bailey’s flavored (5 cheesecakes and 6 ice creams) although I’m disappointed to say not a single one hit the spot.  When I saw Bailey’s gelato (similar to ice cream)at Riverwalk Café and Coffee House in Nashua, you know what I had to do.

Riverwalk conveniently has a parking lot and is a typical coffee joint where you order at the counter and either take your food with you or eat at a table.  The menu is posted on the wall behind the counter and they have a Gelato Fiaso freezer on the side.   I’ve tried Fiasco’s gelato in the past and have been very impressed, but I don’t see it often because they’re based in Maine.  The employees (one was on her first day of training) were very friendly and asked if I wanted a sample.  Well Bailey’s of course!  They proceeded to strongly encourage me to try the rest of the flavors, and I complied.  They chatted happily with me as they walked me through all the flavors, which  change each week.

Even though they were fairly busy, the counter workers were friendly and patient, which was a welcome change after the impatient interaction I experienced at BeanTowne Coffee.  Rick and I ordered two sandwiches to share – an Asian Turkey Wrap and Eggplant Panini.  We grabbed a table and admired the local wares that were on sale; always nice to see local businesses supporting each other.  Our sandwiches were prepared quickly.  The Eggplant Panini (breaded eggplant, roasted red peppers, cheese, lettuce and pesto sauce) was delicious, although the eggplant was so thin I couldn’t really see or taste it.  If the sandwich was renamed so I didn’t expect the eggplant to dominate, they’d be all set.  Interestingly, it is named the Vegetariano Panini on their website, which makes loads more sense.

The Asian Turkey Wrap deserves its own review page.  Diced turkey, mango chutney, cilantro, mayo, peanuts and lettuce made for the best cold sandwich I’ve ever had.  The texture of the crunchy nuts really made this wrap stand out.  I wish I lived closer so I could eat one for lunch every day (hmmm, probably good that I don’t).  Just writing this makes me want to drive over there and get one.

I ordered a cup of Bailey’s and Peanut Butter Chocolate Pretzel gelato for dessert.  The Bailey’s gelato was far better than any Bailey’s ice cream I had in Ireland (they all just tasted like vanilla).  This gelato was incredibly rich, creamy, and with the deliciously strong flavor of Baileys, could never be confused with vanilla.  The PB Chocolate Pretzel (which I discovered I liked thanks to the sampling generosity of the staff) was salty, crunchy and chocolatey.

I live an hour from Nashua, but Riverwalk’s friendly service and delicious food means I look forward to visiting the next time I’m in the area.  And Nashua is certainly closer then Ireland, so I’m glad their Bailey’s is better!  ¡Buen provecho!

Is there a favorite food that you continuously try at various restaurants to find who makes it the best?  Comment below!

Posted in Nashua | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Richard’s Bistro – Manchester

UPDATE:  Richard’s closed and re-opened as Delux 36,  with the chef from Richard’s as the new owner.  According to their Facebook page, old gift cards to Richard’s will be honored during January 2012 at 50% value.  Strangely, the website states they will not accept them.  Hmm..

Wedding Dinosaurs  What song did you use to walk down your wedding aisle?  I bet it was something classically beautiful or fun.  I bet it wasn’t from Jurassic Park.  As you may know, when I’m not eating at restaurants, I’m teaching music.  So when it came time to choose my procession music, I sat down with my iTunes playlist of 29,526 songs (no joke) and got to work.  My husband and I have always been fans of John Williams (he composed the music for little known films such as ET, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, Home Alone, Schindler’s List, and Jurassic Park) and one gorgeous song from Jurassic Park just kept grabbing my attention.  Could I really walk down the aisle to a song from a movie about dinosaurs attacking humans?  Hey, it’s my wedding, and the song really is beautiful, so we went with it.

Before we walked down the aisle, we had our rehearsal dinner at Richard’s Bistro in Manchester.  Since then, we celebrate our anniversary each year at Richard’s because: 

  1. We had our rehearsal there
  2. It’s got the same name as my husband
  3. It’s really good

So, Happy 4th Anniversary babe!  Richard’s is a small, lovely restaurant with a parking lot after 5pm (rare on Elm Street).  Upon entering, you’ll see a large platter of complimentary cheese, grapes, and toasted bread slices, so be sure to go grab a plate of that at some point.  We were soon presented with their famous bread basket which they graciously explained- a honey wheat bread, sourdough (I think), a cheesy bread with sun-dried tomato and artichoke chunks baked right in, and a sweet muffin bread (apple/pear, maybe with banana; I was too busy drooling at this point) served with sweet butter, herb butter, and olive oil flavored with bits of anchovies.   I grabbed the sweet stuff (have you seen my taste in wine?) and Rick grabbed the savory.  The honey wheat and muffin bread were excellent as expected, and Rick’s were amazing as well (yes, I snagged a few bites- I had to report thoroughly for you after all!)  The sourdough was crispy on the outside and moist inside, and the cheesy bread was like a meal in itself.  I love the fact that the bread basket is so filling because then I can *try to* eat only half of my meal (which is usually a fairly small gourmet portion to begin with) and relive the magic during tomorrow’s lunch.

On top of the free bread basket, grapes, cheese, and crackers, Richard’s will also typically serve you a complimentary bit of food – something small that feels like an appetizer.  On my last visit it was a spoon with a dollop of chicken salad on it.  Today was a tasting cup of chilled strawberry soup – very well spiced with a unique, enjoyable flavor.

We visited on one of the recent 10000 degree days, and both gulped down water like we’d just been rescued from the desert.  Our server jovially and consistently refilled and refilled.  I ordered their Roast Sea Scallops with fried sweet potato and broccoli rabe, while Rick veered off course with their Bistro Burger- his thinking being their food is always so good and gourmet, what must they do to a burger?  My food arrived looking delicious, but Rick’s, not so glamorous.  His looked and tasted like a good ole’ burger.  Disappointing, but perhaps it’s on the menu for guests who feel like comfort food.  On the other hand, my scallops were seared with a crisp coating and richly seasoned.  The broccoli rabe and sweet potatoes paired nicely with the scallops.  The prices are on the higher end, but you are also getting a better product.  While my serving was pretty small for the $25 price tag, I have to remember that not only is the food delicious, but it comes with all those other “extras.”   Their drink prices are quite steep, ($15) but the drink menu looks amazing, so I will be returning to try their Crème Brulee martini, perhaps with an app instead of a full blown meal.  Their dessert menu is user friendly, as you can order a full size dessert or a mini version of pretty much any of them for only $3.

At the conclusion of the meal, the server uses a fancy metal scraper-thing to clear the table of bread crumbs, which always makes me feel classy- although calling it “metal scraper-thing” makes me feel less so.  The bill is usually accompanied by a chocolate truffle (basically tasty chocolate mousse piped onto a wrapper) which is a nice touch.  Always good to end the meal with chocolate!  Richard’s served me yet another delicious meal, and I look forward to returning soon to try my martini, definitely before our next anniversary.  ¡Buen provecho!

Do you have a food tradition for your anniversary?

Posted in Manchester | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

MaryAnn’s Diner – Derry

My First Flash Mob (sort of)  According to the dictionary, a flash mob is “a group of people who quickly assemble in a public place, do something bizarre, and disperse.”  I first heard about flash mobs in 2007 from a teacher during my master’s degree.  I studied with the same group of women for the entire program, so after two years, we had grown close as well as punchy.  During lunch, we decided to do a flash mob during class to surprise our professor.  Class was conducted in a seated circle, so our plan was to, at a specific time, all take off one shoe, place it in the center, and return to our seats.  When the time came, instead of watching with confusion, our professor simply paused his sentence, took off his own shoe without any knowledge of why we all did, and casually placed his shoe on the pile.  Now, while a flash mob is meant to be enjoyed by the unaware observer, not joined in by, this certainly gave the rest of us a good laugh and insight into our professor’s go-with-the-flow personality.

Since graduating, our class gets together every so often to catch up.   Recently, we met at MaryAnn’s for brunch.  There is a convenient parking lot in back of the building and the atmosphere inside is bright and fun.  They sat us in an enormous booth conveniently secluded so we wouldn’t bother our neighbors, and our server did an excellent job of frequently checking in on us.  Although I don’t drink coffee, I was impressed with how frequently she came back to offer coffee refills.

Their extensive menu included  Guinness Raspberry Steak Tips, which I think Rick would love to try.  The menu itself is a bit off-putting: stating “No substitutions on any breakfast.”  Unsure what that meant, I asked for no peppers in my omelet anyway, which seemed to be fine.  The Loaded Veggie Omelet – $5.75 – was indeed gloriously loaded, although a little too much cheese for my taste.  The pan fries were crispy on the outside, soft inside and well seasoned.

I’ve heard several people speak highly of MaryAnn’s, but while my meal was tasty, it wasn’t amazing.  To be fair, I’m not the biggest fan of eating breakfast out- I much prefer lunch, dinner, dessert or drinks. Even when I do, I almost always order an omelet, so my opinion is obviously incomplete.  What MaryAnn’s does have is cheap prices, quick service, and the food comes out fast.   I’m sure the other patrons appreciated that we didn’t do an encore performance of our shoe flash mob.   ¡Buen provecho!

Help me break the omelet cycle.
What’s your favorite dish to order when you eat out for breakfast?
  

Posted in Derry | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

La Carreta – Manchester

¿Que hora es? Mom is from Guatemala, which is great because this means she speaks Spanish and I’ve been introduced to fantastic customs, food, and culture.  But it also has its drawbacks:  half my family lives so far away and perhaps the most troublesome – Mom runs on Guatemalan Time.  What’s that?  Well basically, nothing in Guatemala happens on time.  No, really.  If a family gathering starts at 5pm and you show up at 6pm, you’re too early and receive the evil eye.  Basically the rule is: start getting ready to go once the event has already started.  Now this works great when you live in a country where everyone does this.  However, when your mom is on Guatemalan Time and you’re on Eastern Standard Time, this can present issues.  Sometimes Mom doesn’t even start to prep an appetizer until after the start time of the gathering.  By the time we finally arrive, it’s practically dessert time!  Mmmmm, apple pie and deviled eggs, the perfect combo.  My family and I have long since come to terms with it and now find it endearing, along with the way she pronounces phrases like ‘chips and selsa.’ 

For Mother’s Day, (I know, this post is long overdue!) Mom chose to gather at La Carreta in Manchester .  La Carreta has several locations, but Mom thinks the one off the Daniel Webster Highway is best.  We easily got a parking spot in their large lot and found a bench outside the restaurant where we awaited the guest of honor.

Mom loves La Carreta because all the servers speak Spanish, which gives her the opportunity to feel connected to her home.  I was not impressed with our server.  I like to ask questions like which are the most popular dishes or the server’s opinion on certain drinks.  He just kept saying, “They’re all good, whatever you want,” and glaring with impatience (and no, it wasn’t a language barrier, his English was great).  It was downright uncomfortable.  The severer was cold and impersonal to everyone at the table until Mom spoke in Spanish to him.  It was quite comical actually, suddenly- all smiles, tapping our shoulders/arms affectionately (Latin American countries are very hands on) and lots of conversation.  The water and the free chips and “selsa” kept coming without being asked for and we were suddenly the stars of the room.  Go Mom!

I’ve never been impressed with La Carreta’s food.  I find it bland and unoriginal, but oh their margaritas!  This is what I am here for!  This visit, I opted for a Raspberry margarita which turned out even better than their classic margarita.  I split my drink with Rick, which allowed me get the 32 ounce-er and meant I could drink more than half because he was driving.

My Pescado Yucatan (fish with bell peppers, onion, and summer squash) was enormous.  The fish on my plate was so gigantic I’m surprised the fisherman didn’t pop out for a photo op.  I won’t need omega 3 for at least a month.  Sadly, Super Fish had very little flavor, but the veggies were incredible, so they more than made up for the flavorless fish.  The rice that came with the meal went perfectly with the fish and veggies.  Mom ordered Camaron Yucatan, which was basically the same dish as mine, but with shrimp instead of fish.  That’s the way to go, my friend.  The shrimp was amazing and it had the great veggies/rice like mine.  I’m so glad I finally found a dish worth ordering here, seeing as we come here a lot with Mom.

Dad’s steak (Steak Jalisco or Rancero Chef’s Special, I can’t recall) had a deliciously rich sauce with an interesting texture that made for an enjoyable dish.  Rick ordered one of their Combination Plates which is a really great deal- less than $10 for several items.  I’m not a huge fan of their combo items, but many people are, and there are many options to choose from.

For dessert we tried their fried ice cream, as I’m a big fan of this dessert, but I’m sorry to say I’ve had better elsewhere.  The flakes they used for coating created a weird, stale texture, but it still tasted good (ice cream and chocolate is hard to mess up).

This was the best visit I’ve had to La Carreta:  I found a good dish, had a great margarita, and don’t forget the complimentary Andes Mints on the way out.  And if you’re ever running late to something, you can always say that you’re on Guatemalan time for the day and all will be forgiven.  ¡Buen provecho!

CP4Less:  La Carreta has weekday happy hour specials from 2-5pm and there is almost always a coupon in the Hippo magazine.  GoodEats sometimes has gift certs.

So, where is your favorite place to get a Margarita?

click the itty bitty “Leave a comment” button below


Posted in Manchester | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments