Visiting Historic Exeter
Great food and history in Exeter
The welcoming doors of the venerable Exeter Inn.
Photo by Stillman Rogers
We arrived after dark but had no trouble spotting Inn by the Bandstand, with its yellow facade bathed in lights. Our room, Lakeheath Lodge, was worth the climb to the third floor, up a stairway bordered by a gracefully curved wood banister original to the 1809 house, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Each guest room is different, and ours was rustic chic, its Adirondack-style décor playing well with the dark wooden beams and exposed chimney brickwork.
Dinner at Epoch
It was a short walk to the Exeter Inn, where we had reserved a table at Epoch. After rich pumpkin bisque garnished with toasted pepitas and pumpkin seed oil, we followed with half servings of greens with shaved butternut squash and candied sunflower seeds in pomegranate vinaigrette. Several dishes are offered as half portions, allowing us to sample more. We chose braised rabbit with roasted cipollini onions, spinach and mushrooms tossed with pappardelle, and a mushroom risotto served with duck confit and black mission fig jam. We appreciated the chef’s mentioning on the menu the local suppliers of seafood, cheese, organic vegetables, maple, honey and ice cream.
We headed back to Water Street for lunch at Hammersmith Sandwich Company, where we ordered cups of soup and half-sandwiches. Cream of wild mushroom was redolent of portobellos, oyster mushrooms and shiitakes, and the creamy tomato blue cheese was velvety and flavorful. The chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich included white meat, ham, melted Swiss and smoked Gouda. The grilled turkey melt added Provolone and a creamy pesto spread.
We spent the afternoon pleasurably browsing (OK, and buying) on Water Street, which is highlighted by a long block of fine 19th-century brick mercantile buildings. At In-Home we admired furnishings and art created by artist/woodworker Anna Hardy Evans, and at Two Flights Down found gently-worn contemporary clothes and works by local artists. We could easily have spent the afternoon at Water Street Bookstore, the seacoast’s largest independent bookshop.
After stops in Exeter Fine Crafts and A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words, where we found more local artists’ work (and at the latter antique maps), we strolled up to Puddlejumpers, filled with quality clothes and amusements for children. At The Chocolatier, owner Jayne Welcome introduced us to their latest irresistible: Snappin’ Turtle Popcorn. Picture all the ingredients for turtles — pecans, caramel, chocolate — stirred into fresh crispy popcorn.
Across the street at Serendipity Boutique we found a home for shoppers with a conscience, a gallery dedicated to New England-made (mostly in New Hampshire) and Fair Trade clothing, accessories and décor. The combination of stylish clothes and jewelry by local designers mingles with exotic works by craftspeople from Peru to Kenya to Nepal.
After a stop in Santerre’s Stones ‘n Stuff to see beads, jewelry, minerals and fossils, we found ourselves at Cornucopia Wine and Cheese Market, in a little 1910 building next to our inn. Back home, we gratefully accepted the tea offered and settled into wing chairs in front of the fireplace in the antique-filled living room.
Dinner at Blue Moon Evolution
The chef at Blue Moon Evolution sources most of their organic farm-to-table produce from less than 50 miles away, emphasizing healthy cuisine. That doesn’t have to mean dull, as a trio of pierogi, one filled with quark from a local dairy, proved. The grilled trout was delectable, served with roasted wild mushrooms and horseradish crème fraiche. Pork saltimbocca was made with Kellie Brook Farms meat and Boggy Meadow baby Swiss, finished with Dijon-maple sage cream.
With the Art Deco Ioka Theater dark (and on the latest New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s list of seven most important structures to save), we returned to those two comfortable wing chairs in front of the fireplace in our room and enjoyed glasses of complimentary port.
Breakfast this morning featured Belgian waffles with berries. We had printed the walking tour from the Exeter Historical Society’s website and set out to follow it. It begins right across the street from the inn, and includes the inn itself and the bandstand, the Swasey Pavilion. Without the tour, we wouldn’t have known to step inside to look at its decorated ceiling.
Front Street is an almost-solid line of distinguished buildings, including the 1798 Congregational Church, the 1735 Gilman House (#46), the 1730 Thing-Lovering House (#76) and two impressive mid-19th-century mansions. At Gale Park we found one of the few of Exeter-native Daniel Chester French’s sculptures in the state. Back at Water Street is the 1775 Folsom Tavern, where President George Washington stopped on his 1789 New England tour.
Before heading home, we enjoyed a late lunch at Green Bean on Water, where we warmed up over steaming bowls of hot soup, made right there from fresh ingredients.
After chipotle-smoked chicken chowder and a creamy leek and brie blend, we split a sandwich of chicken salad, dried cranberries, roasted walnuts and lemon mayonnaise.