Friday, March 20, 2015

"Still the Best"

Catching up with some WMUR's Viewers Choice winners which, as usual, includes plenty of Lakes Region representatives.

For instance, the state's Best Chocolates includes the famous Kellerhaus - which, incidentally is one of the oldest candy shops in New Hampshire.

 Cafe Monte Alto in Plymouth.

Their annual "best coffee" race, as usual, included a number of Lakes Region area spots including Cafe Monte Alto in Plymouth and Aroma Joe's, which has several locations including Laconia.

 Kathleen's Cottage Irish Pub & Restaurant.

The Best Irish Pubs include Patrick's Pub & Eatery in Gilford and - at number one -  Kathleen's Cottage Irish Pub & Restaurant in Bristol. (It also includes the Holy Grail Food & Spirits in Epping, which is notable because the owners are opening a new location in Laconia soon.)

Around the same time, folks were still in a St. Patrick's Day mood when they picked some of the best Corned Beef and Cabbage spots including George's Diner in Meredith and (again, at No. 1) Kathleen's Cottage - plus,  the Holy Grail.

You just can't keep a good Lakes Region spot down.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Missing Eats

It’s called “You Know You’re from Laconia, NH, when…,” a Facebook group where you can discover a lot about the Lakes Region’s past.

For instance, members frequently reminisce about all kinds of businesses that no longer exist, especially food business: restaurants, bakeries, bars…

It was here that you learn about a short-order cook named Ken “Spider” Osgood. Later in his life, Spider was known for a large display he’d put up on his property facing Union Avenue, a conglomeration of various large gears interlocking… They were symbolic of the clock repair business he operated later.
But when he was younger, “Spider” was a local legend, a man whom could move with such speed and agility in front of his grill that he literally drew a crowd.
If the movie or the dance or the special event you went to that night hadn’t been as entertaining as you’d hoped, you could always count on Spider to provide a thrill or two as he musically and magically flipped hamburgers, rolled omelets, dolled out cutlery to customers, and replicated various waitresses’ orders without the benefit of pencil and paper.
Get a taste of what Spider Osgood was like by checking out the short film here.

Another thing you’ll learn from “You Know You’re from Laconia, NH, when…” is that some local favorite menu items are no longer available.
It’s an issue we’ve raised before. In this case, it’s dishes like "Mr. T's Fried Cheese" sandwiches.
The fried cheese sandwiches were a staple of a little eatery on Route 3 in Winnisquam named the Double Decker. Summer folks and local families would flock to place, filling its parking lot and enjoying all kinds of delicious foods – most of which we know now can kill you any second.

Yes, you can still find the fried onion rings and frappes at other spots, but those fried cheese sandwiches are long gone…  As are two popular counterparts: fried egg and fried bologna sandwiches.

Not long ago, we stumbled upon an aged menu from the famous Copacabana nightclub in New York City. When it opened in 1940, the “Copa” became one of America’s most exclusive nightclubs, a place where celebrities, politicians, and crime bosses could be seen among the wealthy and famous. (It was also the place where several prominent musical and comedy acts became famous, and it was not unusual in the 1950s to see record albums that had been recorded live at the club.)

The menu holds obvious pop culture historical significance, but it also provides some insight into what people were eating at one of New York’s toniest eateries more than 60 years ago.

And some of it, like the fried cheese sandwiches, is just no longer available in most places.

For instance, the Copa’s appetizers included a serving of Genoa salami, half a grapefruit and assorted canapés. (You may remember canapés from long ago: they were small pieces of bread topped with a tasty topping, anything from meat to jellies. You rarely see them – or the world “assorted” – on menus anymore.)

For dinner, you could choose chicken a la king on toast, calf liver with bacon, calf sweetbreads or Long Island duckling with apple sauce.
Or the baby lamb stew. Why identify the meat as coming from “baby" lambs? Did that somehow make it sound tastier? Today, you'll find lamb stew on menus but it’s unlikely it will be labeled as made from “babies.”

There was also a special section on the menu offering various kinds of “rarebit." Welsh rarebit, Long Island rarebit, Golden Buck rarebit, Yorkshire rarebit….  What’s rarebit? According to the Food of England website, it’s grated cheese blended with beer (or milk and butter) and served with seasoning (usually mustard) that's spread over hot toast, and then grilled.

It was not too long ago that small San Francisco café became famous for serving toast  – basic, warmed-up bread. (You can read the startling story about the founder here.) The phenomenon has grown, and now in almost any big urban center in America you can find a place specializing in toast – all kinds of breads with all kinds of spreads.

Why not get one of our local great restaurateurs to open a Lakes Region rarebit restaurant?
That would be new – in an “retro” kind of way.
If mac-and-cheese can make a comeback, rarebits are sure to be successful.

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.