New Hampshire cities and towns seemed to share one common goal in 2010: to become a dining destination. To ignite a spark in local diners, more restaurants teamed with city and town organizations — and also businesses — this year to share their culinary talents at affordable prices during week-long food-centric events.
The bar has been set high for you, 2011. Make us proud — and while you’re at it, make me a sandwich.
Here are a few highlights of the past year:
• Everyone wants to be food city: Joining the statewide effort to make New Hampshire synonymous with great food, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce organized the first Manchester Restaurant Week to the city in October. The first year of the event, which Chamber staff plans to hold annually, drew 25 participating restaurants. This restaurant week joined downtown Manchester’s Eats Week event and downtown Nashua’s Feast Week, both of which offered specials meals or discounts. Tastes — of Downtown Manchester, of Downtown Nashua and, in a different format, of Concord — continued this year and an event was even added to their number: In June, 10 eateries stepped up to be a part of the first Taste of Milford.
• Summer food festivals: Manchester saw its summer jazz and blues festival fade away in the past few years but the food events keep the Queen City and other area towns summer destinations. On one weekend in August, Manchester hosted three food festivals — a Greek Fest at Assumption Church, the Mahrajan Middle Easter Festival at Our Lady of the Cedars and the annual Latino Festival which brought the crowds down to Veterans Park. Meanwhile, that same weekend featured festivals in other area locations: Henniker Rotary Annual Chili Festival, Milford Peach Festival and Lobster Supper and the Southeast Asian Water Festival in Lowell, Mass. Also in the summer, the area played host to the Afro-Caribbean Festival, the annual Rock N’ Ribfest, assorted chowder, seafood and chili festivals and even more Greek food festivals (including lamb barbecues). And then in October…
• Spicy spotlight: Things in the Granite State got spicy in October, as Manchester beat out Las Vegas to host the World’s Championship Chili Cookoff. Chili heads nationwide flocked to the Queen City for the comfort food competition during the first weekend of October in Veterans Park. The city also hosted its own “Chili Week,” allowing local restaurants to put their spoon where their mouth is and compete for the Manchester chili crown. And just last week the mayor’s office announced that Manchester would play host to the cookoff for another year — mark Friday, Sept. 30, through Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011 on your schedule now.
• More local: Kris Mossey, president of the NH Farmers Market Association, predicted that 2010 would be the biggest year yet for local farmers markets. Hooksett and Salem joined the farmers market scene for the first time this year and Concord held its first winter farmers market (and will continue the market this winter). Wheels are in motion for a Manchester cooperative market, which plans to continue its membership growth into the new year, and the Concord Cooperative Market, is currently expanding to meet the needs of its members. The New Hampshire Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-NH) also began offering tours of local farms, discussions on growing techniques and workshops across the state. More local farms are offering community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs to ensure their customers that they can get fresh local produce, even through the winter. Local foods play a big part of the “Have Knife, Will Travel,” chef swap series at Richard’s Bistro in Manchester (look for the next trade off of chefs cooking in each other’s kitchen in January). Justin Lyonnais of Commercial Street Fishery, the Manchester seafood restaurant that closed this year, helped to come up with the event.
• Concepts were a-changin’: Local eateries evolved in 2010 and will continue to do so into the new year. After 16 years, Hanover Street Chophouse owner Chuck Rolocek closed C.R. Sparks in Bedford, opting to weave the Sparks menu into the Chophouse’s. Michael Timothy’s in Nashua will close for two weeks on Monday, Jan. 3, and reopen as MT’s Local/Kitchen & Wine Bar, bringing Michael Buckley’s famed Granite State eatery back to its roots as a warm, casual and affordable restaurant boasting “comfort food with a creative twist.” Mint Bistro in Manchester closed its doors in August, with plans to reopen in the new year not as occasion-only fine dining but under what owner Roi Shpindler said will be a modern Asian-American fusion concept.
• A taste of Asia: Mint Bistro will join the likes of Sunshine Oriental in Concord and Crepes Island in Manchester, both restaurants that brought some flair to Asian cuisine in the Granite State this year. Sunshine Oriental brought dim sum to the state capital in June, creating such a craze among diners that the restaurant elected to offer the small plates daily instead of on weekends only, as planned. Crepes Island owner Alice Kultawanach, who purchased the Hanover Street mainstay in July, put an Asian spin on the French tradition. Crepes, Kultawanach said, are wildly popular in Asia. Who knew?
• Milestones: Four Manchester food businesses hit noteworthy business milestones this year. Hanover Street Chophouse celebrated five years, Cotton 10, Richard’s Bistro 15 and Van Otis 75 years. Things Are Cooking, a Concord kitchen store, celebrated 20 years of selling spatulas and crock pots to the community. Food for Thought with the Taste Buds radio hosts Red Arrow owner Carol Sheehan and pal Michelle Trumble celebrated their show’s second anniversary and 100th episode.
• Local foodies made names for themselves: Damian Martineau, chef and owner of Damian’s on the River in New Boston, visited the White House in June to participate in First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Chef Move to Schools” event. Southern New Hampshire University culinary students put themselves on the map in September at the New England Dessert Showcase in Boston by making the world’s largest Boston Cream Pie. Catholic Medical Center cytotechnologist Eliza Enstine’s peanut butter and chocolate Chex mix was named one of five finalists in a national Chex mix competition. The winner will be announced Jan. 17.
• A year of good beer: Excitement over home-brewing and micro-brewing continued this year with brew fests all over including Nashua’s new Brew Festival at Holman Stadium in September. In December, Brew Free or Die president Michael Fairbrother took on another role, and another libation, and opened Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry.