It’s been quite a year for the southern New Hampshire food scene, with annual events like Rock’n Ribfest in Merrimack and new events like the New Hampshire Coffee Festival, already scheduled to return in 2014. There are new restaurants, restaurants that closed, a continued rise in farmers markets and continued interest in trends like sourcing locally and providing gluten-free options. Here are some of the highlights from 2013, plus a few things to look forward to in the first three months of 2014.
Craft beer reigns
The craft beer trend continues to grow in the Granite State. Perhaps it’s in our roots, since Portsmouth is known for its brewing history (as seen on display last summer during Strawbery Banke Museum's special exhibit “Tapping Portsmouth: How the Brewing Industry Shaped the City”). Cask & Vine (Derry) opened one year ago with 12 lines of craft beer on tap that rotate regularly, plus special beer dinners and events with craft brewing. Dover gained a few new craft beer locations, like Leaven, a craft beer pub, restaurant and sourdough bakery, and One Love and 7th Settlement, microbreweries that share space on Washington Street. Border Brewery (Salem) also opened this year. The Southern New Hampshire Brewers Festival celebrated its third year at White Birch Brewing (Hooksett).
“There’s definitely a peak of interest in what New Hampshire is bringing to the table,” Ryan Maiola of Henniker Brewing Co. said. “That’s one of our main objectives here is to really go out and educate the consumer about the different choices they have. Especially in New Hampshire, there are a lot of micro breweries popping up here now.”
There are also Granite State Growler Tours, in which guests take a bus from one local brewery to the next (nhbeerbus.com).
Gluten awareness grows
In 2011, it would have been difficult to find gluten-free options on the menu. Now, chefs across southern New Hampshire are saying that they’ve noticed an increase in customers requesting gluten-free products. Many restaurants have responded to this demand by introducing gluten-free menus. Buckwheat’s Gluten Free Bakery has been catering to the needs of restaurants through wholesale product, and this summer it opened an outlet (Nashua), open on Saturdays for customers to come in to the bakery storefront.
“As far as the demand, obviously it’s one of the fastest-growing intolerances or allergies in a while,” said Shawn Cassell, manager at Joe’s American Bar & Grille in Nashua. “We have a lot of new guests come in that are surprised to find the gluten-free products we carry, which allows for a lot of returning customers, too.”
Although it’s a chain with locations around New England, Joe’s is a scratch kitchen. It’s also one of the wholesale accounts with Buckwheat’s Gluten Free. When the menu changes, it’s able to make changes based on what gluten-free product they have available, from pizza crust and dinner rolls to garlic bread and beer, Cassell said.
Coffee was a-buzz
From latte art to a brand new coffee festival, coffee fans had a great year in the Granite State. Amherst’s A&E Custom Coffee Roastery owner Emeran Langmaid introduced Thursday Night Throwdown competitions, hosted at local cafes and coffee roasteries. The competitions feature dueling baristas who compete in creating latte art and are held on the second Thursday of the month. Cafe la Reine in Manchester participated in December. Owner Alexandra Puglisi, a graduate of St. Anselm College, opened the new Elm Street cafe in the spring of 2013, with a cafe-style menu including sandwiches, baked goods and salads, coffees, lattes and teas, plus monthly Java Jams events with musicians. In September, the first-ever New Hampshire Coffee Festival, held in Laconia, featured free coffee, samples, coffee-inspired grilling, roasters and vendors, coffee sack races and a coffee bean bag toss. According to an NHPR report on the event, organizers ran out of their first 2,000 sample cups in an hour. Next year’s festival is already scheduled for Sept. 13.
Farm-to-table trend continues
Eating, buying and dining local has been a growing trend across the nation, and especially in New Hampshire during the past couple years. More and more restaurants are starting farm-to-table special dinners, with courses designed around ingredients from local farms, including 11Eleven Bistro (Manchester) and The Farmers Dinner, which hosts farm-to-table dinners at various restaurants with dialogue on sustainable and local food sourcing. Charlie Burke, President of NH Farm to Restaurant Connection, said that Martingale Wharf (Portsmouth), The Wentworth (Jackson) and Sugar Hill Inn (Sugar Hill) all were certified local in 2013, with several in the process of certification.
“People are really looking for it,” he said. “I get emails from people coming to New Hampshire wanting to know where to go.”
In addition to restaurants going local, farmers markets have continued to grow. Most communities, from Auburn and Weare to Deerfield and Salem, now hold weekly farmers markets in the summer season, stretching from June through October. Concord added a second market this year, so the city had one each Wednesday and Saturday throughout the summer. Winter farmers markets have also grown popular, with extended seasons to allow for markets year round.
Restaurants like Murphy’s Taproom (Manchester), Halligan’s Tavern (Derry), Milly’s Tavern (Manchester) and The Farm (Manchester) all regularly host Paint Nite programs (see paintnite.com).
“We like to provide a wide breadth of range for entertainment,” Todd Griffin, manager at Milly’s Tavern, said. “For us it just seemed like a good fit for all the stuff going on already.”
The company Paint Nite approached Milly’s Tavern to host the painting programs, where participants sign up to attend and paint in the restaurant or bar.
Similar to Paint Nite, guests can create their own masterpieces at Muse Paint Bar (Manchester), a paint studio with bar service. Muse serves appetizers and drinks; you can even sip a glass of wine from LaBelle Winery (Amherst) while you paint.
As seen in the December 26th, 2013 issue of The Hippo