Boston Restaurant Blog -- August, 2007
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
It has been a summer of short trips for me so far, including New York City (twice), the Pioneer Valley, Rhode Island (several times), and most recently, the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We headed up to the peaceful little town of Jackson a couple of weeks back, enjoying the mountain views, swift-moving streams, and slow-paced feel of the area. And along with way, we tried out a few more restaurants, including one that has risen instantly to my list of top 10 favorite restaurants in New England (more to come on that later).
We left Boston on Friday afternoon, dealing with traffic here and there, until we finally broke clear of the cars on Route 16 in New Hampshire, motoring at a good clip to our first dining destination. The Pizza Barn is a place that I have drive by literally hundreds of times in my life, but I had never stopped there to eat until now. The restaurant is actually a barn, with high ceilings, a loft, lots of beams and pegs, and long, communal picnic tables. In a way, the Pizza Barn reminded me a bit of Prince Pizzeria on Route 1 in Saugus, MA, though unlike Prince, there is table service here. We ordered a large pepperoni pizza, and it truly was large, but it was also bulky, thanks to the sheer amount of pepperoni slice on the pizza. In fact, it was almost difficult to see the rest of the pizza through the pepperoni, and the grease that came off the meat soaked the crust, the plates, everything. And yet this was a very tasty pizza; The sauce had a zing to it, the cheese was tasty and gooey, and the crust was a bit thicker than I am used to, but it had a slight sweetness that complemented the flavor of the rest of the pizza. We had trouble finishing the pizza and had no appetite for the rest of the evening, but what a feed it was--everything that we had heard about the Pizza Barn was indeed true.
The next morning, we had a tasty breakfast at the inn we were staying at, then meandered around Jackson and North Conway before hopping on board the Dining Car "Chocorua," which is a beautifully restored dining car on the Conway Scenic Railroad. We had a light lunch on the dining car, enjoying the views of the Mount Washington Valley along the way to Bartlett, where the train stopped before heading back to North Conway. We hopped off the train and went immediately to Zeb's, a North Conway institution that is one of the nicest country stores in the White Mountains.
From North Conway, we headed north, spending the afternoon around Gorham and Pinkham Notch, including a stop at the scenic Dolly Copp Picnic Area, before heading back to Jackson for the evening. And it is in Jackson where I had one of the best dining experiences of the year. The Thompson House Eatery, which is in the village of Jackson, represented so much that I love about classic New England dining, from the rural location (set in what appears to be a large field) to the rustic, cozy atmosphere inside (at least part of the restaurant is a barn, which means we ate in two barns over the weekend), to the friendly, attentive staff, to the absolutely incredible regional dishes that they offer. The bread and salads were both fresh and tasty, and the entrees were truly memorable. One entree, the mushroom ravioli in cream sauce, had organic veggies mixed in with the raviolis, including some of the best plum tomatoes I've had in awhile. And the other entree, chicken and veal with tomatoes, mushrooms, and cheese was a heavenly mix of flavors that might have even been better than the mushroom raviolis.
After the Thompson House Eatery, we drove down to North Conway to grab some pretty good, though not great, ice cream at Lickety Splitz before heading back to Jackson for a nightcap at the elegant, classy Wentworth in the center of town. The scotch was smooth, the piano player was terrific, and the clientele was, well, rather interesting in an old money kind of way--perhaps not quite my scene, but very nice nonetheless, and a fun way to end the night.
Sunday morning found us having another good breakfast at the inn, after which we headed out of Jackson (always a sad thing!) and drove down the West Side Road, hitting a farm stand before jumping onto the Kancamagus Highway for some more spectacular scenery. Once we hit Route 93, we zipped down to the exit for Ashland and Holderness, stopping at Walter's Basin for lunch in the latter town. Walter's Basin is situated in a tremendously scenic spot, basically where a short waterway connects Little Squam Lake to Squam Lake itself. Walter's Basin is on Little Squam, with the dining room affording views of the lake and the wooded hills behind it. Because of the restaurant's location and name, you would think that Walter's Basin would feature mostly freshwater fish entrees as well as some steak and chicken dishes, and while it does, their menu seems to concentrate more on barbecue dishes than anything else. We decided to go with some BBQ items, starting with an appetizer of nachos and smoked chicken (the smokey flavor of the chicken was fabulous). Then we moved on to a couple of dishes that were a bit similar to each other--one was a potato filled with chili and cheese, while the other was a potato filled with brisket and pulled pork (I believe they were called the blazing saddle and the smoking saddle, but don't quote me on that). Both were surprisingly good, with the chili being moderately hot while the brisket and pulled pork were slightly dry, but filled with flavor from the rub that was used on them.
The town of Holderness pretty much marked the end of our trip, as it was our last stop before heading back to the Boston area. That night I was dreaming of the dining experience I had at the Thompson House Eatery, counting the days until my return to the Jackson area (probably late September or early October). I would love to have the restaurant featured on this site, but it has quite a following, not just in New Hampshire, but also throughout New England and in other parts of the country. So no, it is not quite a hidden restaurant, but yes, it is, in my opinion, a destination spot that lovers of regional New England cuisine should seek out.
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