Written by LeeMichael McLean
It’s America’s Oldest Summer Resort, home to serene lake views, wooden boats, diverse eateries and (now more than ever) Presumptive Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney. Personally, I like my quaint New England lake house without a side of anti-gay Republican politics, but the armed Secret Service boats, trampling press corps, and ever-present campaign signs are making that temporarily impossible; I’m very much looking forward to when our summer hideaway, this election, and, by unfortunate association, my gay marriage are no longer interesting enough to make the front page every day.
But New Hampshire takes its swing state politics seriously, (First in the Nation voting and such), and I’m just a part-time summer visitor, so I’m trying to keep my mouth either shut or full of delicious local food. Luckily, there is plenty of that here as well. Don’t let Mitt scare you away—Wolfeboro is big enough for us all and too wonderful to miss. The antique shops, annual art fairs, bandstand performances, cute boutiques, and diverse food options make this trendy town arguably the best spot off Lake Winnipesaukee.
East of Suez
The ambiance is eccentric at East of Suez (775 S. Main St., 603-569-1648)—the restaurant is squeezed into the first floor of an eclectically decorated lake house and the glassware is a collection of vintage summer camp cups and random logoed pint glasses—and the Asian/South Pacific food is equally an adventure. My family typically requests a table on the screened porch with a calming wooded view, but once a year we gather our friends and pile into the reserved Tatami Room—one of those shoes-off affairs where you sit on a mat and your legs hang down under the table. That’s where we found ourselves last week and of course they didn’t disappoint.
The asparagus-shiitake skewers, salt-dusted and char-broiled with yuzu kosho, had a surprising zippy tang (no really, everyone was delightfully surprised). However, my entrée won the night and attracted many a jealous eye but no prying forks: I kept my maguro tempura roll all to myself. The generously sized hand roll, dipped in a succulently sweet secret sauce, was fried for probably six seconds. It arrived thickly sliced and dotted with the sushi equivalent of those irresistible, crunchy, translucent bubbles on country fair fried dough.
East of Suez is cash only, but it’s also BYOB, which helps to keep the bill way down. Important safety tip: this is a popular spot with a small kitchen so specials go fast! Ask if they are out of anything before you fall in love with the lyrical menu descriptions.
The Restaurant 03894
When The Restaurant (37 N. Main St., 603-569-3000) opened a few years ago, it filled a niche we were all hungry for: upscale American. The menu features a cheeky Elvis-inspired burger with peanut butter and bacon (definitely worth a try!) but veers from typical bistro fare with refreshing entrées like quinoa-stuffed roasted avocado with tangy lime-cumin dressed greens, veggie-packed cold soba noodles, and Thai red curry. The specials are always inventive and this is one of the few places in town where you’ll find oysters on the half shell.
Dependably satisfying—”great food. fresh ingredients” is its motto—and decorated with local memorabilia, The Restaurant has excellent (and surprisingly rare) outdoor seating and an extensive bar selection. The make-your-own s’mores set-up, complete with tabletop fire, is a cute way to end the evening.
Reservations are highly recommended for tiny El Centenario (14 Union St., 603-569-3445), but you can stand at the bar with a margarita and homemade, still-warm corn tortilla chips while waiting. Last week, our group of six went all in with the table-side guacamole preparation crafted to your exacting specifications. My friend Guido ordered a reckless amount of cilantro, and the rest of the table happily ordered a second, separate bowl. Guido’s seemingly insatiable desire for this sometimes-soapy herb may nearly have been met for one night.
The hilarious waitress delivered an adequate caution about the enchiladas mole, convincing a few people to opt for the variety plate with three different sauces to choose from “just in case.” The lone holdout swears he loved the thicker-than-usual chocolatey sauce that filled his plate like a fudge puddle, and everyone else was quite content with a more measured serving—as I have been on several occasions.
At the waitress’ recommendation, I tried something new: pipian de cacahuate, or chicken with a peanut, guajillo, and tomato sauce. I’m going to assume the name loosely translates to “Peanut Shake-And-Bake Spectacular,” since the salty legume was certainly the leading flavor as the waitress promised, though I loved it and the dish was a big hit for sharing.
What trip to the lake would be complete without a drippy, delicious cone of walk-up-window service ice cream? Bailey’s Bubble (5 Railroad Ave., 603-569-3612) serves the town’s best frozen treats from a shed only slightly bigger than a walk-in closet, and somehow they offer all the fixins you could ever want from that tiny space. A line of impatient dessert lovers usually takes up several of the town’s precious few parking spots, but it moves fast. The black raspberry frozen yogurt with chocolate sprinkles really hit the spot for me last weekend, my diabetic dad loves their sugar-free options, and my stepmom says the butter pecan is finger-licking good.
Butternuts’ Good Dishes
Should you want to cook a gourmet something-or-other in your bare-bones cabin, this specialty cookware shop (12 Railroad Ave., 603-569-6869) is where you must stop before you go anywhere else. We refer to it as the “best of everything store” because the chipper proprietress isn’t shy about boasting of each and every kitchen device’s awesomeness—and this packed store uses every square inch of available space for one awesome kitchen gadget after another.
The store also offers local foods from nearby vendors (best pumpkin pie soda ever) and farms (best chevre ever), and also sells freshly prepared entrées (best orzo primavera ever). The owner even convinced us (with a taste test) that she sold the best peanuts ever. I’ll also admit the silicone pasta lid we recently bought there has changed our lives—it rests on top of your boiling pot and recirculates any spillover to keep the water magically inside. Buy two for yourself and one for a gift!
LeeMichael McLean is a frequent contributor to Good. Food. Stories., reporting on food finds from his travels far and wide. His passions include Lake Winnipesaukee, trying new restaurants, and complaining that he should be spending more time writing. LeeMichael, his partner, Bryan, and their son live in a farmhouse they renovated in Milton, MA.