Indoor Winter Fun in Manchester, NH
January’s short days and chill weather suggest a city weekend of museums, theatre and comfort food
Picasso, "Woman seated in a Chair," 1941, Currier Museum of Art.
Photo by Stillman Rogers
Friday Evening Dinner at Cotton
We were pleased to note that the menu credits local sources, and began with baked Heart Song Farm goat cheese with roasted tomato sauce, basil and fresh-baked ciabatta. For mains we chose Pork Saltimbocca over griddled polenta with sage-perfumed Madeira demi-glace, wild mushrooms and julienned prosciutto. Grilled lamb steak in Cabernet demi-glace was served with almond-mint pesto, grilled asparagus and fingerling potatoes roasted in sea salt. We accompanied these with a bottle of very reasonably priced Argentinian Malbec.
Ash Street Inn is an anomaly: an inviting and quiet B&B that you’d expect to find in a village in the Monadnock Region, but it’s right in the middle of Manchester’s downtown. Innkeepers Eric and Darlene Johnston have kept the decorative details and charm of their 1885 Victoria home, but updated those places travelers would prefer be strictly modern, such as the baths. Eric offered us our choice of cooked-to-order breakfast, and we didn’t hesitate before ordering the blueberry pancakes guests at a neighboring table suggested.
The windy morning didn’t invite a long walk, so we drove to the Millyard Museum, where we were immediately immersed in a different Manchester. Beginning with the Merrimack River itself and the falls that made it an important fishing grounds for native people and early settlers (an early brand of salt cod was named Amoskeag, we learned), the museum’s permanent exhibit “Woven in Time: 11,000 Years at Amoskeag Falls”
An invitation to find Manchester's story, the Millyard Museum
photo by stillman rogers
traces the settlement of Derryfield and the growth of the mill complex. Using old photographs, documents, recorded interviews and artifacts ranging from raw cotton to actual looms and finished fabrics, the exhibit captures the products (which included fire engines and Civil War rifles) and the life of workers and immigrant communities that grew throughout Manchester. We were astonished to learn that today 70 different languages are spoken in the city.
We returned to our own neighborhood, only a block from Ash Street Inn, and lunched at the Currier Museum of Art’s Winter Garden Café. My Waldorf salad — baby spinach topped with chicken, apples, celery, grapes and walnuts in lemon mayonnaise — was delicious, and the roasted Portobello sandwich came on a sourdough roll with caramelized onion, roasted red peppers provolone, tomato and roasted garlic mayonnaise.
At each visit to the Currier, we are impressed by the depth and breadth of the collections. These are not just “a work” by Monet or Rubens or Constable or Tiepolo, but definitive examples of their work and style. The same is true of the Picasso, the Rouault and the Matisse sculpture. We were delighted to learn that the Zimmerman House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in New England that's open to the public, was open through the first weekend in January, and were able to get spaces on that afternoon’s tour. We left the museum by van with our guide, Angela, and spent the next two hours mesmerized by the craftsmanship and architectural detail in this house, the epitome of Wright’s concept of Usonian home. Back at the museum, we headed upstairs to savor some White Mountain artists and to appreciate the many ways in which the Currier’s collections relate to the state, with both NH artists and subjects.
Dinner at Piccola Italia
We chose Piccola Italia because it was just around the corner from the Palace Theatre, but it was also just right for the blustery evening, warm and inviting with a menu of Italian comfort foods. I was comforted indeed by my plate of Gnocchi del Piemonte, light potato gnocchi sautéed with mushrooms, onions and peas in creamy sauce with hints of Parmesan. The Veal Fabiana was equally satisfying: scallopini sautéed with Portobello, oyster and shiitake mushrooms in marinara sauce made with port wine, stirred into fettuccini with melted Manchego.
The Red Arrow Diner
photo by stillman rogers
The Palace Theatre, on the National Register of Historic places, was the talk of its day in 1914, when its interior was cooled by fans blowing air over ice blocks beneath the stage. We didn’t need the air conditioning, but appreciated the perfect acoustics and view of the stage. On arriving back at the Ash Street Inn, we found fresh scones waiting, so we carried them to our room along with a pot of tea to enjoy in front of our fireplace.
We chose omelets from the list of breakfast options, and were pleased to note a sunny day without wind — a good chance to view Manchester’s “outdoor museum” of historic architecture. With the guidance of the Historic Trail Map we’d picked up at the Millyard Museum, we walked up Elm Street to admire the grand Victorian mansions that still line it. Older than these, the John Stark House, where the general grew up, is open to visitors, but alas, not in January.
The tour led us back into the business district and close to Red Arrow Diner, a historic attraction in its own right, where we stopped for lunch. We stuck with our comfort food plan, ordering chicken pot pie (theirs had a topping of hash browns) and a meatloaf club — a thick slice with bacon, lettuce and tomatoes on sourdough. With it came a choice of side, so what could we choose but mac & cheese?
On our way out of town, we stopped at another place we’d learned about at the Millyard Museum — the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, a small collection of flight memorabilia and exhibits inside the 1937 Art Deco terminal at Manchester Airport, built as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.