Friday, January 30, 2015

Country Cow Makes Boffo Showbiz!

You may recall a while back when we announced that the Country Cow Restaurant in Campton, a local favorite, was going to be featured on a Food Network television series called Restaurant: Impossible.

The premise of the show is that a once-successful restaurant has fallen on hard times. At its lowest point, Chef Robert Irvine and his team of specialists show up to "save the day."  It usually makes for high drama and an engrossing rise-from-the-ashes story.

We drove up to the Country Cow a few days after Irvin and his team were scheduled to be there but the restaurant had closed and there was no signs of life. We weren't sure what happened. We had heard that there were restaurants that Irvine worked with that were deemed "too broke to fix". 

But we'd eaten at the Country Cow, which sits next to the Blair Bridge. The food was very good and if the palce didn't seem to quite match the romance of its surroundings, we didn't think a smart restauranteur couldn't make it work. 

Well, apparently, Irvin's visit was a success and the episode of the show with the local eatery was shown this summer.

Thanks to our friends at BusinessNH magazine for filling in the details.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Nice Nachos!

Thanks again are due WMUR-TV for coming up with another "best of" list.

It's not scientific, but it's still fun to see how folks rate things - like the recent sample of the state's best nachos - and, as usual, several Lakes Region places came out strong.

For instance, the Crazy Gringo in Weirs Beach - a traditional Bike Week favorite, and known as "the Best Adult Daycare in the Lakes Region" -  made the Top 10 - as did Patrick's Pub in Gilford.

Cactus Jack's, which has a restaurant in Laconia as well as several other places around New Hampshire, also made the cut.

But the No. 1 spot went to our friends at the Panther Pub in Plymouth.

It's hard to argue with any of the winners but we are a little surprised that Burrito Me, which as spots in both Laconia and Plymouth, didn't win a nod.

We'll just keep it our little secret.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Romantic Rondevouz

It's hard to think of a sweeter place to dine with your sweetie than here in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.

And that's not just our opinion.

Not long ago, WMUR-TV asked its viewers to name the Best Romantic Restaurants in the state.

And, no surprise to us, local places were prominent among the top ten identified. In fact, four Lakes Region restaurants made the list.

Fratello's Italian Grille in Laconia won accolades, maybe as much for its wondrous white tablecloth dining room and its flavorful antipasto salad as anything else.

The Italian Farmhouse in Plymouth was also named. Its joyous, casual atmosphere and rich variety of pasta makes it a great spot for a date. And it's  one of the Common Man Family of Restaurants, which was founded by Alex Ray of Ashland.

Finally, Frantello's around-the-corner Lakeport neighbors, O Steak and Seafood, was mentioned. O, which is located in the Lake Opchee Inn & Spa, is known for its dreamy setting and excellent menu, including breakout items like lobster mac-and-cheese. And O is part of another great Lakes Region chain: the Magic Foods Restaurant Groupfounded by Chef Scott Ouellette includes other stellar entries like Canoe and the North End Restaurant, both in Center Harbor.

That's three out of ten for the Lakes Region when it comes to the most romantic dining spots in New Hampshire.

So, eat your heart out, you Portsmouth food snobs. 

Or, better yet, bring your sweetheart to one of our places for a great meal. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Red Sox Lives

Not sure where this fits into our usual subjects of Life in the Lake Region reflections, but...

Maybe in the general New England sensation that surrounds life here... Above the joyful chatter of winter activities and excited planning for the coming "season's" fun is that peculiar tone of all New England: Life is tough but family is forever. Food is great fun as well as its nourishment. It's too hot or it's too cold outside - but where else would you rather be?

Your Obedient Servant, in shock and awe, with the 
2004, 2007 and 2013 Red Sox trophies.

It was in this spirit that The Last Wife and I traveled down to Cape Cod for a short respite during Thanksgiving week. It was the first Thanksgiving we were not among family, which made it unusual enough. Being on "the Cape" (as she, a former South-of-Boston resident, calls it) during the "off-season" was even more peculiar. 

Think of standing in the middle of Center Sandwich in mid-January.

So it was a pleasant, restful week although I had some work to do and would periodically squirrel myself away in a cafe while The Last Wife probed the shops, talk with the locals and noshed on a tasty pastry. 

That was was happening the afternoon when she suddenly showed up at my table with an excited look on her face. It turned out that the local fire department had a special event going on that evening. In just a couple of hours, the World Championship trophies of the Boston Red Sox teams in 2004, 2007 and 2013 were going on to be on display.

I honesty didn't think too much of it. Would seeing the awards somehow make the games come back? Still, she was excited and I was glad to grab a light dinner to get our photos taken with the statues.

At six o'clock, we were among the first people to enter the fire department's garage. We walked casually around the small crowd gathered there and soon saw the awards, lined up on a modest wooden table standing by the side of an ambulance.

Somehow, it worked. 

Sitting there, each more than a foot high, the shiny objects were not overwhelmingly impressive in themselves. But there was something about them... Was it a vague memory of watching Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, "Big Papi" and John Lester clutching these things during the celebrations as their joyous smiles nearly broke through the TV screen? Maybe it was recalling the terror of sweating it out after "A-Rod" knocked the ball out of Derrick Lowe's glove, or when Dave Roberts jumped to steal second base.

Maybe it was just the days, weeks, months and even years of watching, waiting, cheering -  "living and dying" - with the Old Towne Team.

But those little pieces of hardware were amazing. I was in love. 

They screamed out to the soul: "We're winners!"

Someday I may not live here... The day may come when I'll be far away, in a plush retirement community or a modest senior citizens facility.  And I will remember with warmth Lake Winnipesaukee, watching the sun set over Squam, eating ice cream while cruising around Ossipee... 

And I will remember 2004, 2007 and 2013.I will remember the years I fell in love, and I will be glad I was in New England in those days.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

When Diners Were Alive....

Once upon a time, neighborhood diners were the center of the social universe in small towns, especially at night.
The most notable diners in the Lakes Region were the Shore Diner and Paul's Diner on Union Avenue in Laconia. 
That's because those were the two places where Ken "Spider" Osgood worked as a short-order cook. (Not at the same time; the two were on opposite sides of the road and he served at both at different times.)

Ken was a man with keen hands and a sharp mind. He had the ability to whip around his work station with such speed and agility that diners would be amazed. He whistled and talked with such obvious pleasure that people would stop by just to watch the magic act he called work. (You can get a little taste of what it was like on this short film, which was shot by Gary at in 1972.)

Not everyone likes this 1982 film but it captures what life was like at the 
neighborhood diner in the 1950s. It alto has stellar cast of young actors who later became starts. 

Folks who remember Spider say he was fast, accurate and friendly. 
"If you were sitting at the counter, and had a pocket in your shirt, he would fire all your silverware into your pocket as he walked down the line," wrote one former fan at "I never saw him miss."
"We spent the summer of '67 with my band at Weirs Beach," wrote Paul Odgren on another website. "If we had a little money, we'd go watch the Spider show... One night, a guy in a booth needed a fork. Spider said, 'Don't move,' and tossed it like a dart from behind the counter right into the guy's shirt pocket, tines up.
"He never wrote anything down," he added. "He'd watch the waitresses as they listed everything ordered by a booth, and he'd nod a little and say, 'uh, huh' after each item, and (he) never screwed anything up."
As the film shows, the diner would fill up with patrons around 2 a.m., after the local bars closed. That's when Spider would be at his best.
"We would drive up from Alton in the early 70s just to watch him work," said another former fan.

He was not only fun to watch, but people said that Spider was a great cook. And his bright, upbeat attitude kept the diner's atmosphere a great place to visit... That's what people who remember say.

Today we have great cafes, like the one that overlooks Meredith Bay. We have an amazing  variety of foods in the Lakes Region. And we have great restaurants like Fratello's.

But there was something about diners... They were special places.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Food First

If you're a regular reader of our Lakes Region blog, you know that your Obedient Servant has a soft spot for dishes that have largely disappeared from America's restaurant menus. 

From consommé  to that old New England favorite "red  flannel hash," eateries have largely abandoned these old-time goodies - unless they're somehow reinvented, as adding lobster to mac-and-cheese did a few years ago. (Here's a previous post about the phenomena.)

This old postcard image of the Victorian train station
in Laconia is unrelated to the story - except that there 
was once a restaurant here, back in the 1990s. 
But we love this historic old building.

Not long ago, while researching our newest book - Legendary Locals of New Hampshire's Lakes Region will be released in the spring - we stumbled on the old menu of a certain now long-gone "tea room" in the Center Harbor area. (Tea rooms themselves were once an important part of American culture; a European transplant that existed mostly in big cities, they sometimes found their way into smaller towns and tourism communities like those in the Lakes Region. The small, cozy businesses were usually owned by women and were fashionable places for women to gather. Tearoom menus were usually modest, with an emphasis on "lighter fare.")

Here are a few of the items listed, along with the prices:

Orange biscuit - five cents.
Bread and butter sandwich - five cents. (NOTE: We had a cousin who ate "cake" sandwiches and recall older relatives talking about eating bread-and-butter sandwiches during the Depression.)
Pimento salad - ten cents.
Raspberry salad - ten cents.
Orange punch - five cents.

Is there such a thing as a "pimento salad"? The closest thing found on contemporary recipe websites is a "pimento cheese salad." So, as was the case with the lobster mac-and-cheese, it could be that a new ingredient has rescued this old-fashioned menu item from impending obscurity.

A pimento, by the way, is a type of small red pepper. Many may be familiar with it, as it often serves as the stuffing pushed into small green olives. And it is in this curious role that it found its way into many 1950s kitchens. 

A "meat roll" that contained green olives and other tangy, pungent ingredients was often referred to as a "pimento loaf." Really, it was a big thing.

And now it's rediscovered it here, as a significant salad ingredient. All hail the long-neglected pimento! (But you can keep the pimento loaf.)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

James Bond: From Weirs Beach, With Funspot

It's from the Onion, so it's not true... but it's a laugh, anyway, about the Lakes Region.

Check it out here.