Taste & Travel
Falling For New Hampshire
NATHAN FONG discovers fall in New England and eats a lot of turkey.
I WAS AWARE THAT NEW HAMPSHIRE is known for the first primary in the US presidential election cycle, and for its beauty, especially during the fall foliage season. But there is more to experience in this quaint New England state. Driving through its various towns is to discover a living museum of colonial history and architecture, as well as a lively, seasonal culinary scene.
After flying into Boston, a brief one-hour drive across the state line brought us to the charming town of Portsmouth. Settled in the early 1600s on New Hampshire's short 18-mile coastline, Portsmouth was once one of America's busiest ports and shipbuilding cities and remains one of the oldest working ports in the United States. Downtown Portsmouth's Congress Street is a typical Main Street USA, with three-storey stone and red brick Federal buildings and cast-iron street lamps lit with the warm glow of incandescent bulbs, reminding me of a Frank Capra movie set.
We checked into the Hotel Portsmouth, a Victorian mansion built in 1881 and renovated in 2014, with contemporary furnishings and amenities. The hotel provides a curated menu of delectable breakfast and afternoon treats which can be enjoyed in the various stately salons located on the main floor.
After a day of travelling we were famished and happy to find ourselves at Café Mediterraneo, a busy bistro on Congress Street. Started by partners who began in Boston's North End (famed for Italian restaurants), this award-winning restaurant has been producing Italian fare since 1993. For antipasti we were drawn to tender calamari, tossed with garlic, lemon, jalapenos and cherry peppers, served with harissa aioli. Sautéed local shrimp were succulent, and fragrant with fresh herbs, garlic and white wine. For mains, we took the traditional route with a splendid Veal Piccata smothered with lemon, capers and roasted peppers, and a rustic Linguine alla Puttenesca, with anchovies, capers, garlic and basil in a spicy marinara sauce.
Strawbery Banke is a remarkable 10-acre living history museum set on the waterfront, consisting of 32 period homes and eight heritage gardens spanning some 300 years. Exploring its streets gives a sense of the social, economic and religious backgrounds of the pioneer families who lived in the homesteads. The 1695 Sherburne House housed one of the earliest resident merchants and his enslaved Africans, while the 1919 Shapiro House was home to a family of Russian Jewish immigrants trying to balance their strong cultural identity with new-found opportunities in America. As a chef, I also found the General Store interesting — styled as it was during the war, with food stamps and rationing of basic ingredients that we take for granted today.
Later, we hopped on the Granite State Growler Tour, a unique local brewery adventure. The state's first craft brewery tour takes guests to meet some of the best artisan brew masters and to sample their beers, while a guide entertains with stories of New Hampshire's rich and foamy history of brewing.
Although the state has a small coastline, several restaurants have a fortunate location on the water's edge. Martingale Wharf Restaurant & Bar is located in Portsmouth's historic port in a landmark building overlooking the busy river and harbour. The interior is contemporary in design, with creative neon lighting, curved banquettes and smartly clothed tables. The menu is an ode to east coast seafood and international flavours — mussels are infused with Indonesian curry; lobster shines in a quesadilla. Simpler seasonal entrees include seared dayboat scallops with a roasted corn and wild mushroom “succotash,” and a superb Seafood Mixed Grill of lobster, jumbo shrimp and blackened ahi.
Down the street, overlooking Lake Winnepesaukee, is another historic building, originally the Rogers family residence and now the Wolfeboro Inn. This stately white lodging, built in 1812, is the home of one of the earliest pubs in the region, Wolfe's Tavern, which is known for hand-crafted cocktails and an impressive bar menu featuring over 100 beers.
After driving through the vibrant autumn foliage of the Ossipee Mountain Range, we arrived in Moultonborough at the spectacular Arts and Crafts period Castle in the Clouds. Formerly called Lucknow, the private mansion was built in 1913 by shoe industrialist Tom Plant and his wife Olive. The magnificent country estate spanned 6,300 acres and featured a unique 16-room mansion, stables, six-car garage, a greenhouse, golf course, tennis court, a man-made lake and a boathouse on Lake Winnipesaukee. Financial burdens forced Plant to sell Lucknow and, after various owners, the estate became the property of the non-profit Castle Preservation Society and was restored and added to the National Register of Historic Places in America.
The region was once a thriving hub of industry. Thomas Plant gained his riches from operating the largest shoe manufacturer in America, and the area also had one of the largest hosiery factories. In the quaint town of Laconia we visited one of the
earliest factories in New England, the historic Belknap Mill. This beautiful red brick building was built in 1823 and survived the years of change by adapting to the industrial needs of the day, until overseas production took over. It was fascinating to see the antique machines still in operation, creating plain and fancy socks (available in the gift shop).
The Quakers were a religious group formed during the 18th century in England. A splinter group who relocated to New England in the 1780s were known initially as the “Shaking Quakers” because of their ecstatic behavior during worship services. At its peak in the mid-19th century, the Shaker community in colonial America included some 18 major groups. Today, all but one active Shaker community in Maine have become museums. The Canterbury Shaker Village, set among 700 rural acres, incorporates the original village structures. Guided tours and demonstrations highlight the skills and enduring values that allowed the Shakers to maintain a successful utopian society for more than 200 years.
The New England states are especially known for Thanksgiving so it was fitting that we found Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant, a family-owned restaurant that serves all things turkey, from traditional roast dinners to croquettes, pies and meatloaf. This multi-room restaurant has been a popular venue for over 65 years. Turkey is one of my favourite meats, and we had no problem starting with Turkey Tempura, lightly battered and deepfried to a light golden hue, served with hot mustard and cranberry sauce, and turkey livers sautéed with mushrooms and onions, served on toast. Next up, a roast turkey dinner, complete with stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. Not bad starting the holiday season so early!
Leaving the Lake Region we headed towards the White Mountains. Covering about a quarter of New Hampshire, the White Mountains are part of the northern Appalachian chain and are the most rugged mountains in New England. The curving road took us through steep foothills and deep valleys, all lined with deciduous trees, slowly losing their fiery colours at autumn's end.
We had a wonderful lunch at the Woodstock Inn, Station and Brewery. This historic train station has been transformed into a boutique inn, restaurant and brewery taproom, crafting more than a dozen year-round, seasonal beers. We marvelled at how the old train station architecture with its massive wood beams has been incorporated into an eclectic and whimsical interior design.
Before heading to the newly opened Glen House, we paid a visit to the Omni Mount Washington Resort, one of the last remaining grand hotels in the region. In the early 20th century wealthy families would come for the summer season to escape the heat and humidity of Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Opened in 1902, the sprawling hotel is a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture with vibrant red tiled roof, whitewashed exterior, stately columned lobby, vaulted ceilings and majestic fireplaces. But most impressive are the commanding views of Mount Washington and its range, freshly dusted with snow.
Since 1852, the Glen House has been an iconic inn in the ski resort area of Gorham, in White Mountains National Park. The new hotel, opened in 2017, was built in classic New England vernacular, with clapboard and painted trim, similar to the previous four Glen Houses (which all burnt down) that have stood on the original site. Today's spectacular inn offers modern day comforts, spacious airy balconies, panoramic views and the simplicity of Shaker design.