Best of NH 2006




Is it way cool? Is it trés hot? Is it fresh? Maybe it’s all of the above, like the fabulous hot chicken wings pictured below. If it’s the very best, we’ll find it and we’ll share it with you. Here’s our report on the state of excellence for 2006.

Editor's Picks

Coffee Roasters: “Sweet-toned, deeply roasty aroma, with cedar, chocolate, sweet orange and floral complication. Simplifies a bit in the cup, but displays a simple, powerful richness with muted, tight-knit complexity: chocolate, cedar, pruny dry plum. Cleanly rich in the finish ...” — so wrote the critics of Coffee Review while sampling the Organic Colombian Full City Roast at A&E Roasters (598-3338). They included it among their highest-rated coffees with a score of 91, but all the A&E roasts are worthy of your attention if you are a lover of great coffee.

Alfresco Dining: Some of the best cuisine in the Peterborough area can be enjoyed outdoors under trees wrapped with tiny white lights at Acqua Bistro (924-9905). Get there early for Saturday evening, as competition for seating on the patio is pretty stiff. Within earshot, a babbling brook for water therapy.

Quesadillas: Laurie and Michael Heeney have long been lovers of fine Mexican food, but they had to travel to find it. No longer. They’ve opened their own restaurant, Amigos Mexican Cantina (673-1500), in their hometown of Milford. All their food is great, but the grilled quesadillas — chalupa beef and fajita chicken are just two of the many fillings offered — really stand out.

Fresh Biscotti: Rich and nutty, the biscotti from Anna’s ItalianBakery (286-9400), in Tilton, are hefty enough to withstand submersion in hot coffee or tea, then burst into a mouthful of flavor.

Low-Carb High-Taste: Chef Aylmer Given of Aylmer°s Grill (532-4949) in Jaffrey believes that people on low-carb diets should be able to eat as well as anyone else. That°s why he always tries to have at least one low-carb choice on the menu — and non-dieters order these without noticing anything missing.

Reuben Sandwich: Loaded with Boar's Head meat and tangy sauerkraut, and oozing with Russian dressing, these hot sandwiches at Billingsgate Deli-Market (772-9905) are decadently messy and delicious. There will be grease all over your fingers, but that's a good thing because you know there's some good butter on that rye. Get a pickle — one of the big ones from the huge jar.

Best Land-locked Chowder: The chef-owned new Bistro Nouveau (542-8000) lives up to its claim of "innovative food, fresh ingredients and great value." They have stolen the show at the Chowderfest in Sunapee and have become destination dining in the up and coming town of Claremont.

Best N.H. Breakfast: You can have breakfast lots of places, but at Blake’s restaurants in Manchester (669-0220) and Milford (673-6300), you can get a real New Hampshire breakfast. It starts with tasty Littleton Grist Mill pancakes (organically grown whole wheat flour that’s been stone ground) and smokehouse meats, and is enhanced by local jams and jellies.

Liver & Onion Dinner: It's cut and dry: You either love it or you hate it. And the Liver & Onion lovers out there will find an especially tasty experience when they try the sautéed calves liver at The Carriage House in Rye (964-8251), a dish that introduces bacon to the perennial duo. And perhaps those who turn up their nose at this oft-reviled dish will be swayed to the other side.

Pasta and Marinara: Jim Naugler, owner of Del Vaudo’s (598-8007), uses old family recipes to round out the Italian section of the menu of this Nashua restaurant (the former Skol). Gramma Vaudo’s Polpettine (meatballs and sausage served with pasta in marinara or bolognese sauce) would be a good choice to sample the family legacy. The red sauce is bright and alive with flavor.

Pulled Pork: Before you even open the door at Down ’n Dirty BBQ on Manchester’s West Side (624-2224), you’re hooked. The delicious aroma of hickory-smoked meat that’s cooking inside over an open fire permeates the air. It’s authentic southern pit BBQ, made from an old family recipe and cooked to perfection by professional chefs Craig Leduc and Matthew Crist. Add homemade cornbread, BBQ beans and coleslaw, and you’ve got yourself a great down home meal. (Full disclosure: A member of management for New Hampshire Magazine has a financial stake in this establishment, but we couldn’t let that stop us from sharing it with readers. It’s that good.)

House Dressing: A garden salad can be really boring, so a lot depends on the dressing. Have no fear if you go to Giorgio’s Italian Eatery in Milford or Merrimack (673-3939, 883-7333), for there you will find a house dressing with a tangy taste that will have you loving lettuce. It’s a vinaigrette fusion of Italian and Greek, laden with the Sklavounos family’s “secret spices.”

Best Turkish Delights: From yogurt to sour cherry juice to halva to sliced fried eggplant in a can to saffron to baklava, you will find it at the Grand Bazaar at Seven Hills Restaurant (943-2327). Owners Umit and Merve Palabiyik have made their way from Turkey to Nashua to delight locals with the tastes of this ancient land. The Grand Bazaar is the marketplace of the soon-to-be-opened Seven Hills Restaurant at 57 Factory Street in Nashua.

Holiday Meal: It always seems like a countdown is on until the next mouthwatering, home-cooked turkey dinner graces the holiday table, but there's no need to wait until November. Hart's Turkey Farm in Meredith (279-6212) has the turkey and fixin’s to make any day feel like a holiday at home. Get it in the classic style, with gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce, or break from convention to try Turkey Tempura (nuggets dipped in tempura batter) or Turkey Divan (broccoli spears, sliced turkey, sliced ham, Swiss cheese, mushroom sauce, sautéed onions and grated cheese).

Bistro-by-Night: The lunch-hour café at Jack°s of New London (526-8003) morphs into a classy little bistro in the evening. The half-dozen evening entrées feature creative combinations of fresh local ingredients.

Chocolate Experience: The slightly peppery floral notes of lavender blossoms are strong enough to hold their own against a background of white chocolate ganache, pistachios and fine dark chocolate. Ask for a Pistache at L.A. Burdick café chocolate shop in Walpole (800-229-2419). If you don’t mind a few cosmetic blemishes, ask if there are any seconds available.

Spring Rolls: You can't eat at Li Yuen (964-8181), a truly authentic Chinese restaurant, so you have to take it all home. And do not leave without the crispy, savory spring rolls. Get them to go all hot to eat in the car or grab a bunch for the freezer to have for days on end. Better yet, take one of Li Yuen's cooking classes and learn how to make them yourself.

Gingerbread: Rich, dark, bursting with fresh-from-the-oven gingeryness, nothing finishes off a good meal like a warm slice of gingerbread at Libby°s Bistro (466-5330) in Gorham.

Smoky Beef Brisket: Slow cooked for a day or so, the tender at the bone brisket that comes out of the big red smoker at Goody Cole's Smokehouse (773-5657) is full of aromatic hickory — but no sauce. You put that on yourself in mild, medium, hot and sweet. Add a smoked sweet potato if they have them with lots of dripping butter. Again, more gym time, but it's butter!

Moules Frites: So every restaurant in Portsmouth makes its own mussels — white wine, tomato sauce — but the mussels at Lindbergh's Crossing (431-0887) come with little hand-cut fries and a tangy garlic aioli. Dip the fries in the mussel broth, then in the aioli. Then dip bread into the broth. Then eat a mussel. Or some variation on that theme.

Pho: Add a squeeze of lime, a tangle of bean sprouts, a pile of cilantro and make it as hot as you want with a few squirts of hot chili sauce — Pho is the ultimate Southeast Asian comfort food. Little Saigon in Manchester (641-3387) has the traditional big bowls of broth and noodles with beef or chicken and the fresh condiments to go with it. Don't forget to make a lot of slurping noises — it's expected.

Best Taste of the Middle East: If you can never make a decision when the menu presents interesting options, take a group of friends, the more the merrier, to Mezza in Nashua (883-4224). You will get to taste most things on the menu and a few special dishes prepared especially for your group. You will quickly learn the authentic flavors of Lebanon.

Lobster Bisque: At the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield (800-438-3017), Chef Kevin Cottle is determined to create some of the most interesting and flavorful dishes available at a large hotel. He buys fresh and local when possible, including elk from a local farm. Just be sure to start with the lobster bisque. He wrings all the flavor out of the shell for a robust, creamy blend.

Filet Mignon with Bearnaise Sauce: Sure, the beef is great at Orchard Street Chop Shop (749-0006), but it may be just a vehicle for the rich Sauce Béarnaise (or the tangy house-made Worcestershire sauce). A glass of good, rich Cabernet, a six-ounce filet medium rare, some creamed corn and sweet potato fries along with a big dish of Béarnaise — yep, you'll need extra time at the gym, but it's worth it.

Dipping Oil: Butter is so last year — now crusty Italian bread is dipped in oil. At the Pasta Loft in Milford (672-2270), you won’t miss the butter one bit (you can still ask for it, though). Not only is the olive oil warm, there are whole cloves of garlic in it that have been softened by being submerged in the oil and baked for nearly an hour. Take breath mints and enjoy.

Best Old-World Delights: For an escape to another time, pop into Nashua’s Riverwalk Cakery & Coffeehouse (578-0200). It is like the Austrian-Hungarian empire still rules. Recipes from the past, strudels and fabulous brownies, too, all in a cozy, comfortable atmosphere. Even better, they roast all the coffee in-house for fresh and rich espresso and lattes.

Smoked Ribs: Opened in mid-2003, The Well Dressed Hog (743-2278) is a destination for indulging in the art of smoked ribs. Owner Fred Sliwinski learned the trade from a BBQ master in Portland, Maine. Sliwinski spent several years as a mobile BBQ operator before opening the store in Dover. ww.welldressedhog.com
Coffee Frappe: Sure, a burger is great, but there's nothing like the coffee ice cream frappe at Wild Willy's Burgers in Rochester (332-1193). This cowboy-themed burger joint serves it up thick and rich. Get it with whipped cream and jimmies for a bit more texture.

Takeout Fish Chowder: Petey's Summertime Seafood in Rye (433-1937) is where the locals eat. It has fine-eatin' seafood, including some of the best darned fish chowder found in the Seacoast. Take it home and enjoy.

Bookstore Food: Browsing through a bookstore can make a person hungry. At Toadstool Bookstore in Peterborough that’s not a problem. Tucked in the corner is Aesop’s Tables (924-1612), where you can get a great cup of coffee or tea, homemade soups, sandwiches and pastries. Enjoy the food and your book at the same time.

Sticky Buns: If you’re a lover of sticky buns, get a pencil and write down 1777 Lake St. in Bristol. There, at Basic Ingredients family bakery, you’ll find the best around. Have them plain or with nuts and raisins. There’s even an eggless version for vegans. Grab a great cup of coffee to wash the stickiness away. Then repeat the cycle.

Fried Green Tomatoes: It’s one of those roadside establishments that seemed to change owners every other season, but that little diner on the outskirts of Andover on the way to New London is now Blackwater Junction Restaurant (735-5099), and it has established itself as a popular local hangout, famous for making a great breakfast with all the traditional offerings — plus a few unusual ones that they do unusually well. Ask for the fried green tomatoes as a side dish with just about anything and make it special.

Fried Seafood: People like to avoid the term in these diet-conscious days, but the Clam King in Manchester (669-2868) is famous for good-ol' deep-fat frying. Seafood items that they crisp up to perfection include clams, haddock, scallops, shrimp, even swordfish. Their secret weapon, however, isn't a fish, but a robot. The Clam King's donut robot turns out the most delicious morsels of fried dough you've ever tasted. Why? Because they are so fresh you can still burn your fingers on the grease. Try these and you'll know why Krispy Kreme built its southern donut empire on a neon sign that reads "Hot."

Crab Ragoon: Crab ragoon is such a delicate balance of crisp and creamy, of sweet and salt, that it takes mastery to make it more than just another portion of the pupu platter. Manchester’s Golden Bowl (622-2000) sculpts their rangoons to look like perfect little Chinese lanterns, and they taste perfect, too. It’s the ideal appetizer for the generally remarkable cuisine of this restaurant.

Indian Buffet: Whether you're a curry junkie or a newcomer to the exotic cuisine, you'll find a tasty dish at India Palace (641-8413). But if it's your first time, how do you know whether the Chicken Vindaloo or Paneer Masala will suit your taste? And browsing the large menu, even a loyal diner may face commitment issues. The solution? The restaurant's locations in Manchester and Nashua offer a celebrated lunch buffet with lots of variety, excellent garnishes and some delicious Indian desserts — sample away and discover a new favorite.

Ultimate Grilled Cheese: The Salt Hill Pub in Lebanon (448-4532) has many comforts and comfort foods for the weary Connecticut Valley traveler, but if it’s strength to vanquish Bluto (or the Blue Meanies) that you need, you’ll want to order The Popeye. It’s rye bread (or your own favorite variety) crisp grilled with spinach and feta cheese. The sandwich is a real meal and the flavors blend so well you can’t believe no one ever thought if it before. If you want to go crazy, ask to dip your Popeye in a little olive oil.

French Canadian Cuisine:: Located right in the heart of Berlin, Tea Birds Café (752-4419) offers patrons the ambiance of a small-town gathering spot and some darn good home cooking. On the menu are favorite French-Canadian dishes like Pate Chinois (Chinese Pie or Shepherd’s Pie) that tastes just like grandmère’s. Bon appétit.

Beef Stew: If the authentic-style décor doesn’t transport you to Ireland, The Peddler's Daughter’s (821-7537) Irish stew will. Full of flavor, meat and those good-for-you root vegetables. Enjoy the cuisine and imported beers on the new Nashua Riverwalk right alongside the Main Street restaurant.

Cole Slaw: The right blend of crunchy and creamy, subtly flavored and with just the right degree of tang, cole slaw doesn’t get any better than at the bright airy Sunflowers Café (585-3463), at the corner of Routes 12 and 119 in Fitzwilliam.

Lobster Roll: This tasty dish is a record holder at Tamarac Restaurant in Laconia (366-9300): 881 were once sold in just one day. The lobster is blended with mayo and celery and packed into one of two roll sizes: a regular will get you 8.3 oz of lobster meat and the jumbo weighs in at 12 oz. Sink your claws into one and grab some fries and cole slaw, too.

End-of-Dinner Cheese Plate: While all the dishes are great at The Dunaway (373-6112) —inventive cuisine made from locally grown produce and farm-raised meats — it's great to just skip dessert, grab a glass of Sherry and indulge in a cheese plate. Chef Mary Dunaway learned the art of the fromage from some of the best and creates plates with 1, 3 or 5 cheeses each with its own interesting accompaniment, like a tart pickled fennel or gooey honey comb.

Bread Basket: Delicate breadsticks, air-light brioche, flavor-packed fruit breads are only a few of the breads baked daily at Richard’s Bistro, Manchester (644-1180). A selection is brought to each table and they rarely last until the appetizers arrive.

Dinner on the Trail: Worlds apart from the pass-the-meatballs of most hikers’ meals, dinners offered at The Highland Center (466-2727), at the head of Crawford Notch, may be served casually, but they’d do any restaurant’s menu proud. Sophisticated, healthy and always including a vegetarian choice, the menu at this AMC super-hut (it has private rooms in addition to bunkrooms) is worth a trip north.

Centerpieces: Flowers always brighten up a table, so no need to think too hard about a centerpiece, right? Tell that to the folks at Blooming Acorn (471-1433), where every centerpiece is a creative exercise. They use perfect flowers as part of a mixed-media work of art, with unusual or unique vessels and a flair for the imaginative in blends of color and texture.

Big Party Caterer: Castle Caterers (622-7786) can tackle a “Titanic” affair with their steamship round of beef and other savory delights from their gigantic carving station. But even the smallest details don’t escape the attention of this premier party support crew. Uninspired by the typical backyard fare? Ask about the various clambakes, barbecues and fantasy feasts they can rustle up for just about any size crowd.

Best place to buy a bottle of wine — Expert: N.H.'s oldest and largest private wine shop, Ceres Street Wine Merchants (431-2640) features wines from around the world, stored in a proper cellar (even equipped with special non-UV lighting). David Campbell is proprietor: "Having once lived in the Bordeaux region and later in the Loire, I've been around the grape most of my life. I handpick a bunch of wines thought to be of some special interest and leave the mass market to others.”

Place to Buy a Bottle of Wine — Beginner: The stock at D'Vine Wine Gift Boutique (623-0900) is neatly arranged, and limited to what they personally know and can recommend. A great place to cultivate your inner oenophile without feeling helpless or intimidated.

Consignment Shop: The Consignment Gallery (668-4114) in Bedford is huge and has everything from almost-antiques to new-and-still-lovely (but no longer the right color for the previous owner) furniture. Let someone else’s change of heart be your bargain of the day.

Used Book Store: Crackskulls of Newmarket (659-8181) is a true small-town jewel, with a great variety of books and CDs, comfortable seating, good coffee, tea, ice cream and famously good hot chocolate. Started around the turn of this century by a couple of UNH grads it has since been passed to new owners. It’s still a great place for a political meet-up or just to kick back and enjoy the brainy ambiance and the eclectic music on constant rotation.

Food Bargain: Discount Food Warehouse in North Walpole (445-5317) has great goodies, tremendous deals on olive oil and natural foods and household chemicals. Stocking up for the next flood, hurricane or Armageddon? Just looking for a bargain? This is the place.

Best Wool Fabric: If you’re a crafter and want wool fabric, you have to go to Dorr Mill Store in Guild (that’s near Newport, 863-6377). The 57-inch-wide, 100 percent wool fabrics are made right across the street from the store and finished for easy workability. The solid shades, and there are many, are permanently moth proofed and you can re-order. Come in houndstooth, too. dorrmillstore.com.

Classic Marketplace: The Durham Marketplace (868-2500), located in the university town of Durham, is highly evolved. Not only do they offer produce in season from local purveyors, they carry an impressive line of cheeses recommended by local food mavin Mary Ann Esposito. Every town should have a great market like this.

Strong Spirits: Prohibition is now officially over in the state of New Hampshire. Flag Hill Winery has added a still and is using the sugar in local apples to create New Hampshire’s first home-grown vodka, General John Stark Vodka. It’s elegantly packaged and engraved with Stark’s image and his famous words that adorn every N.H. license plate. You can even give it a shot in the Flag Hill Winery and Distillery (www.flaghill.com) tasting room. While there, try the maple liqueur, a blend of maple syrup and John Stark Vodka.

Coffee and Flowers: Aromatic it must be — FloraLatte in Littleton (www.ehfloral.com) specializes in two distinct items: flowers and coffee. The store’s floral work has been featured in prestigious wedding magazines, including this spring’s Grace Ormond Marriage. And organic free-trade coffee just tastes better when served alongside a bouquet of fresh cut Dutch and English garden flowers.

Takeout Dinners: No time to cook? Not to worry. Humble Pie of Milford (672-9130) is open six days a week offering some of the best old-fashioned cooking for you to heat and eat. They have lots of choices that change daily — shepherd’s pie, prime rib, roast pork, lasagna, to name just a few. You can buy for just one, if you want, and the prices are probably less than you could make it for.

Goat Cheese: It all started when Valerie Davies and her husband William bought a goat to keep their horse company. Now their Heart Song Farm in Gilmanton Iron Works (364-GOAT) has 40 goats, all providing healthy, Grade A milk for cheeses, both fresh and aged. Valerie, who learned her craft from master cheese makers, says these are goat cheeses that everyone will love — very mild, creamy and sweet. Order fresh from their Web site, www.Heart-song-farm.com.

Virtual Makeover Artist: Kriss Soterien of Kriss Cosmetics in Manchester (624-2333) will, in one look, find the perfect makeup colors to have you glowing like a movie star (and she should know, since she’s provided makeup services to some of the most famous faces in the world). Of course, you can arrange for a makeup lesson or private consultation, but either way, you will be getting products from her own line of mineral-based makeup. And they are a good value, too. www.krisscosmetics.com.

Artisanal Hotdog: Admit it. Hotdogs are good. North Country Smokehouse (800-258-4304), one of the nation’s leading specialty meat purveyors, wants to make them great. The Claremont-based company has recently launched a new selection of gourmet quality franks. North Country meats have been celebrated in the Boston Globe and the New York Times. Celebrate the finer things in life, like locally made gourmet hot dogs, at your next backyard cookout.

Chocolate Fountain: This is a trend that’s almost gotten out of hand. Now you can buy a mini tabletop chocolate fountain or rent a big one for a party. While the delightful sight of a cascade of cocoa-colored goodness is appealing, what really matters is not the “concept” of a geyser of chocolate but the flavor of a single drop. Here’s where Swan Chocolates (423-5950) shines, with a chocolate fountain that tastes just as rich as it looks. Willy Wonka would be proud.

Tiles Boutique: Because they’re handmade, each of Keene-based Trikeenan Tileworks’ (355-2961) tiles is a little different. But the subtle variations only make Trikeenans’ 52 glazes more beautiful — beautiful enough to convince the producers of TV’s “Moving Up” and “This Old House” to feature it on their programs. The tiles are made from high-fired stoneware, allowing them to be freeze-thaw resistant enough to use outside, too. www.trikeenan.com.

White Tea: You know that tea is good for you, but haven’t made it a regular habit. Think white tea with melon from White Heron Tea (www.whiteherontea.com) in Portsmouth. The organic China Pai Mu Tan, paired with white melon essence, is light and refreshing, with none of the tannins that may have made you wrinkle your nose. These free-trade teas are full of antioxidants and are good for the planet.

Cider: White Mountain Cider Company (www.whitemountaincider.com) in Glen presses apples in the fall for a fresh-as-can-be cider experience. To extend the apple season, they flavor freshly made donuts with a cider mix (available online) and offer a variety of apple butters in their country store. If you are still hungry, they have great food in a comfortable, remodeled farmhouse a few steps away. Think grilled apple cider-brined tenderloin.

Recycled Architectural Detail: They provide cool items to builders and remodelers while preserving the structures and details of the architectural heritage of the region. ADMAC Salvage at the Tannery Marketplace in Littleton (www.admacsalvage.com) specializes in everything from porch parts to period plumbing fixtures and hardware, from mantels and unique doors to old brick and stained glass. Located in the old Saranac Tannery, the place is part-museum and part-hardware store, but completely amazing.

Antique Cufflinks: It’s a bedazzling array of new, custom and antique jewelry in a stately Victorian carriage house. It’s Bijoux Extraordinaire (624-8672), where owners Arthur and Judy Anderson have a superb collection of antique cufflinks from the golden age, 1880 to 1950, when every man had jewelry for his shirt sleeve. From ornate Victorian to geometric Art Deco designs, the eye for detail has never been so sublime. Oh, if only Father’s Day were in July. By appointment only, or visit online at www.jewelryexpert.com.

Car Wash: We take car washing seriously here in the Northeast, driving through clouds of salt dust or swarms of sticky black flies. We need a serious car wash to cut through all that. And we also want one that’s touch free to protect the paint job, that’s environmentally sensitive to help save the world and it’s gotta be family operated, clean and efficient, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and have a cool-looking logo. “Impossible,” you say? Au contraire. Black Dog Car Wash(blackdogcarwash.stores.yahoo.net), with two locations in Rochester (and more coming), is a car wash that’s actually worth taking a drive just to experience. Don’t forget to roll up the windows.

Traveling Spa: If your home is your castle, why can’t it also be your pleasure dome? The Bodywork Café (www.thebodyworkcafe.com) is a “traveling wellness spa,” designed to blend the luxury of the spa with the comforts of home. They bring all the gear needed to provide therapeutic massage, milk baths, envelopment and exfoliations in the privacy of your own domicile. They even clean up afterwards, so you can enjoy the afterglow. At-home coaching on fitness and nutrition can be provided as can the services of a personal “spa chef” who will create a customized gourmet menu to complete the experience.

Educational Toy Store: Imagination Village (225-1060) in Concord reminds you of one of those magician’s boxes that seem tiny on the outside but that keep pouring forth a stream of wonderful and amazing things. The little downtown storefront is merely a portal into a delightful maze of shelves and displays of hand-picked stuff that is both educational, cool and fun (OK, sometimes just fun). They also have an abundance of practical supplies for teachers or home schoolers, or just for kids who like to learn (most of them do, really). Get lost in this village and you won’t want to find your way out.

Farmstead Cheese: Who mooed your cheese? Meet the bovine responsible for some tasty cheddars and brie at the Sandwich Creamery (284-6675), tucked away at 124 Hannah Rd. in North Sandwich. The visit would not be complete without a sampling of their farmstead ice cream, too. Check their Web site for directions. www.sandwichcreamery.com

Antique Marketplace: The New Hampshire Antique Co-op in Milford (673-8499), one of the very first group shops in New England, is again on the leading edge of the antiques market. A major expansion this past year (it’s now 20,000 square feet with a three-story tower and an upstairs art gallery) makes it a destination shop for retail customers, antique and fine art dealers and the interior design trade. The owners, the Hackler family, created a Main Street, Small Treasures Hall, Market Square and Discovery Barn, where you can find everything from Federal furniture to baseball trading cards.

Beautiful Beads: The beading craze may be dying down a bit, but beauty mixed with quality (and quantity) is an eternal formula for success. Cathi’s Crystals (www.cathiscrystals.com) in Hampton is so loaded with gorgeous Swarovski crystals, silver, semi-precious stones and other shiny things, it literally dazzles the eye. They offer classes and on-premises beading facilities to help you create your own work of art, but Cathi is a celebrated designer. Her “soldier’s hug” bracelet (featured in the Feb. issue of New Hampshire Magazine) has been bought by celebrities ranging from Bush to Bono to Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks. Proceeds from the sale of the bracelet go to a fund for families of veterans who die in action in the Iraq war.

Food on the Move: Today, if you dine on a train, you’re likely eating a very expensive sandwich and some chips. Gone is the romance of yesteryear’s trains with white-tablecloth dining. Well, no, it’s not gone. Just go to North Woodstock and get aboard the Café Lafayette Dinner Train (www.cafelafayette.com). You’ll enjoy five courses of fine food while you watch the beautiful Mt. Washington Valley scenery pass by.

Indoor Sports Complex: Looking a little like a giant marshmallow sitting in a field, the white “Dome” at Hampshire Hills in Milford (www.hampshirehills.com) — all 94,000 square feet of it — is an indoor sports complex that rivals any in New England. It allows members to enjoy baseball, soccer, lacrosse, football, golf, Frisbee and other warm weather sports while it snows outside.

History for Kids: Take the kids and yourself for one last look at the clever interactive saga of the state’s history. Word is out that Heritage New Hampshire (heritageNH.com) may be closing at the end of the summer. Wouldn’t it be great if it could be moved to the Manchester Millyard instead of closing entirely?

Preservation Coup: The Lakes Region Conservation Trust (www.lrct.org) purchase of the Castle in the Clouds expands the already generous offerings of the state architectural treasure with even more concerts and lectures, and further expands the 45 miles of walking trails that surround the historic mountaintop castle.

Shooting Range: Whether it’s a desire for self-defense, a need to vent frustration or just a discovery of the primal power that comes from pulling the trigger on a powerful firearm, range shooting has become a massively popular indoor sport. Manchester Firing Line Range and Belmont Firearms and Range (www.gunsnh.com) are the two premier spots to experience the phenomena first hand. Classes range from “Mastering the Defensive Snub Revolver” to clinics on self-defense and firearm safety.

Place to Come in from the Cold: With the world’s worst winter weather, the top of the Presidential Range is not where you’d want to spend much time outdoors in cold seasons, but it’s cozy inside the Mt. Washington Observatory (www.mountwashington.org), where a limited number of guests can spend the night. Arrive by snow tractor and join the staff for dinner and a tour to learn about their work.

Simply Lovely Walk: Purgatory is the name of the 1/2-mile-long rocky gorge that forms a boundary between the towns of Mont Vernon and Lyndeborough. Black Brook runs through the ravine, drops roughly 50 feet to form the upper falls. Purgatory Brook is a headwater stream for the Souhegan River, and falls into the Souhegan Watershed. Directions: From Mont Vernon on Route 13, go north on Francestown Turnpike for about 200 yards. Make a left on Beech Hill Road for 2.6 miles and make another left on Salisbury Road. At a T-intersection, make a left on Purgatory Falls Road and park at the end of the dirt road. Two trails meet here; both go to the falls.
View of Southern N.H. from other than Mt. Monadnock: The view from the top of the very walkable trail from Rte. 123 to the fire tower on Pitcher Mtn. www.msgtc.org

Miniature Golf: A little-known secret of the miniature golf world is that these places are viewed by guys as great places to score with girls. Let’s face it, the game isn’t full of thrills but it is rich with hormonal metaphor, as the couples engage in a playful mating ritual traipsing from green to green. But for many young ladies, the concrete dinosaurs and sheet metal loop-de-loops are a turn-off. Victorian Park Family Entertainment Center in Salem (898-1803) shrewdly places its links amidst a lush Victorian garden. Here adolescent lust blends with edenic beauty. For couples who have advanced beyond courtship to child rearing, a complete family entertainment complex beckons on the premises.

Drive-in Theatre: The drive-in theater is experiencing a revival as a cultural bonding ritual, and all the qualities that make it such a memorable part of family life are present at Laconia’s Weirs Drive-In Theatre (366-4723). It’s the largest of New Hampshire's drive-ins with four screens, a capacity for about a thousand cars and a local vicinity FM radio broadcast for the soundtrack. The location seals the deal. How many drive-ins can show “King Kong” on a giant screen while a smoking volcano is visible over your shoulder. (That’s actually just the massive centerpiece of the nearby Weirs Beach Water Slide.) Plan ahead and your movie can be the finale of a cool daytrip. Some Weirs attractions will get you a couple of bucks off movie admission if you keep your stubs. (Warning: Magic vanishes if you view drive in theater in daylight hours.)

Yoga: Hot yoga at Manchester’s Bikram Yoga (manchesterbikramyoga.com) actually heats up to 105 degrees, helping you steam away your aches and tight muscles while achieving oneness of mind and body. It’s set in the spartan environs of a recycled mill building with exposed bricks and beams. The austere environment (no incense, chanting or music) assists the yogic purification process, both mental and physical, and the additional warmth allows the muscles, tendons and ligaments to stretch and maximize their use and strength. It’s an invigorating workout that will leave you feeling clearer and more complete.

Unsung Destination: Next time you’re heading out to the Lakes Region to explore, pass up the magnetism of the big lake and veer toward the town of Bristol (www.townofbristolnh.org). Situated on the banks of beautiful and swimmable Newfound Lake, Bristol’s natural sights, crafty shops and culinary offerings will make you wonder why you never hear about this wonderful place. Be sure to check out Iron Horse Metal Works and Earthly Treasures, both previous Best of NH winners. Basic Ingredients, picked this year for its sensational sticky buns, is actually packed with delightful offerings, and Cardigan Mountain is close at hand. Check the schedule for Katie’s Cookin’ Cabaret and you’ll have made it a day to remember in a place you won’t forget.

Destination Art Gallery: In Lebanon, the recently remodeled AVA Gallery (www.avagallery.org) can keep a curious art lover busy for at least a day just wandering around and meeting the denizens who maintain studios and are often glad to talk about their art. AVA is undergoing a significant expansion with the intention of preserving the basic character of the old factory building that has provided such abundant space and light. Possible improvements include an elevator, a café and a small auditorium for film and presentations.

Wild Animal Show: The big bears at Clark’s Trading Post (clarkstradingpost.com) in N. Woodstock are having as much fun as the kids who are watching them perform. There are lots of other activities for small fries at this low-key park, including a train ride, but it’s the bears everyone will remember.

Locally Filmed Movie: When two former Seinfeld writers staged the independent film “Live Free or Die” in Claremont, it could have been another cheap shot at humor set in the sticks, with Yankee stereotypes running around in flannel shirts, but instead the somewhat dreary settings of the former mill town became a muse for the filmmakers and something with some soul emerged. At least there was enough substance to earn the film the top jury prize at the 2006 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Celeb Bio: Biographies aren’t often page-turners, but Lisa Rogak weaves the interesting life of Dan Brown into a lively tale. “The Man Behind the DaVinci Code” (www.danbrownbio.com) is a good read, and not just for “Code” fans.
Theatre Alfresco: The New Thalian Players’ (newthalianplayers.org) outdoor productions at Veteran’s Park in Manchester. More than 10,000 came to see “Grease” last year (OK, it was free admission, but donations collected actually allowed the Players to chalk up a profit). This year’s production of “Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” should be bigger still — a sure sign of the cultural renaissance in Manch.

Summer Opera Company: Opera North in Lebanon (www.operanorth.org) consistently delights audiences and critics alike with its productions of everything from Gilbert and Sullivan to grand opera. And the rest of the year the company keeps opera alive in the Upper Valley with school performances and informal free programs.

Avant-Garde Theatre: The great off-Broadway theatre companies that have really pushed the envelope are few and famous. Think the Living Theatre, the Open Theater and Bread and Puppet Theater. Now think Andy’s Summer Playhouse in Wilton (andyssummerplayhouse.org). Seriously. This rural meetinghouse has hosted some of the most cerebral and experimental original plays in the Northeast, and the cast largely consists of youth and children from Northern Mass. and Southern N.H. Artistic Director Robert Lawson is a guiding light, but the theatre draws unexpected depth and height from each member of the cast and crew. A must see.

Locally Produced Documentary: The War Tapes. When Zack Bazzi, Steve Pink and Mike Moriarty left for the front lines of Iraq with the N.H. National Guard a few years back, they each had a video camera in their pack. They had been asked to record their experiences by N.H. filmmaker Deborah Scranton. They did, and the resulting documentary is drawing raves. “Single best documentary to understand the Iraq war,” says someone who should know, the NY Times Baghdad Bureau Chief John Burns. It is the first war movie filmed by the soldiers themselves.

Place to Hear “New” Folk Music: A great way to see some of the best up-and-coming artists in the folk field is the Wolfeboro Folk Concert Series (www.wolfeborofolk.com). “We always have our shows on weekdays,” say co-producer Steven Patterson, “because an act can be in Boston and rather than just sit around waiting for the weekend they can come up to Wolfeboro and play for a night.”

Literary Event: Dan Brown. Alan Alda. Doris Kearns Goodwin. All have been on the stage at The Music Hall in Portsmouth this past year as part of the Writers on a New England Stage program. And coming soon, John Updike. The star-studded parade of authors comes as the result of a partnership between N.H. Public Radio and The Music Hall, in collaboration with RiverRun Bookstore (www.nhpr.org, www.themusichall.org). The authors come onstage to speak about their works, then sit to chat one-on-one with NHPR’s Laura Knoy, who draws out wonderful morsels of information, as only the award-winning host can.

Contra Dance Band: With half a dozen years of playing together and a couple of lifetimes of experience between them, the musicians of Airdance (www.airdance.cc), including fiddle guru Rodney Miller and guitar genius David Surrette, know their way around the musical firmament. And the irrepressible sounds they produce have driven thousands into fits of dancing. Contra dance is one of the few healthy addictions in the world, and these guys are like local crack dealers when it comes to getting folks hooked. Their music is bright, young and “edgy” in just the right way. It’s a pleasure to listen to, even if it’s while sitting at your desk. But I dare you not to tap a toe.

Band on the Rise: What are the marks of a band that can actually break out of a local scene? It’s gotta be good, honest, original and able to touch some mysterious cultural nerve — and it’s gotta be lucky. There’s just so much going on out in the music world that lightning must strike to really set a band on fire. Well, we wish The Band June (www.thebandjune.com) good luck and a bolt of lightning, because they’ve got the other qualities in spades. Based in Bow where singer, songwriter and guitarist Mechelle Zydenbox lives, the band tours widely and even made an appearance this year at NYC’s famous CBGBs. Like the farmer says, there’s no better way to get struck by lightning than to be outstanding in your field.

Irish Acoustic Celtic Jam: A traditional Irish jam isn’t really so much a performance as a quest. The musicians explore different tunes and try on new ones, each time wandering deeper into their inherent complexities. They share what they discover with one another as they travel into the music and listeners are invited along on the journey as well. The band at Concord’s Barley House (www.thebarleyhouse.com) is as seasoned and personable a set of musical travel companions as you could ask for. The group changes week to week for their Tuesday night jams, but they’ve been playing together in some configuration for about five years.

Community Access TV Show: It’s too bad that the most famous community access TV show, “Wayne’s World,” was actually made on network TV, since every attempt at breaking the mold in this thankless medium is inevitably compared to it. But Granite Planet, produced by L.A. expatriate Lou Bortone and his merry band of actors and comics, is so ambitious it’s more easily compared to the Saturday Night Live comedy show that gave birth to Wayne’s World. Granite Planet attempts high concept sketch comedy which is sometimes a bit more ambitious than the talents of the crew, but always interesting and a quantum leap beyond just about anything else on citizen’s band TV.

Rural Nightclub: A true pub isn’t just a dimly lit joint with some bric-a-brac on the walls. It’s a place with a personality, moods and warmth —even a kind of innate intelligence —that turns a building into something alive. That’s the feeling you get when you walk into Harlow’s Pub (harlowspub.com) in Peterborough. There’s plenty to look at on the walls, or to eavesdrop at tables filled with a menagerie of local types. Even the stage, with a lavish mural back wall, seems more like a living room loft than a performance space. Great food. Great beers. True to the laid-back lifestyle of the area, Harlows only stays open to about 9 most nights, or until the bartender thinks the party is dying and rings the big bell for last call.

Podcast: James Patrick Kelly of Nottingham writes mind-bending, Hugo Award-winning science fiction and fantasy, alternative-historical plays, poetry, essays and even planetarium scripts. His stories and books sell well and have even been produced for TV, but he’s giving some of his best stuff away for free as podcasts (www.jimkelly.net). He reads his own works well, and has even enlisted the N.H. Theatre Project’s Genevieve Aichele to class up his Nebula-award nominated novella “Men Are Trouble.” Listen in awe, and if so moved, drop some cyberscrip in Kelly’s PayPal account.

Party Band: With a name like Jumbo Circus Peanuts, they’ve got to be good (and weird), and they are both. Their Web site, www.jumbocircuspeanuts.com, gives you an idea, but you’ve got to see them in the flesh, and fin, and feather, to really appreciate the act. They are in great demand on their native Seacoast and increasingly anywhere that folks want to have a good time to some happening tunes. That’s why they were picked as the headline act for the Best of NH 2006 party.

Funky R&B Band: Rhythm and blues are smooth and sexy. Funk is fun and full of jive. Any band that can mix these elements, toss in a mastery of the classics and add a talent for original composition can rule the world of music — at least on a local level. And the Seacoast-based Rhythm Method (theonlymethod.com) rules. They have the formula down pat with great on-stage chemistry and instrumental verve. This version of the Rhythm Method may not be Vatican approved, but it sure sounds heavenly when you want to do some funky genuflections on the dance floor.

Library Film Program: Every town library is a treasure trove and an asset to its community, but the Nashua Public Library (www.nashualibrary.org) takes the job of community center more seriously than most. Case in point: their Plaza Pics series where great classic and recently released family films are shown outdoors in Greeley Park to an audience assembled in folding chairs and on picnic blankets. Each movie is preceded by excellent live entertainment, magicians, musicians or jugglers, and it’s all free. You won’t be shushed and you don’t even have to worry about overdue fees.

Library Reading Program: Just entering their 17th year, the Canaan Town Library’s Meetinghouse Readings (www.meetinghouse.us) continue to attract some of the region’s greatest storytellers, writers and poets to read their own works aloud. Past readings at the town’s 1793 meetinghouse have featured luminaries such as Russell Banks, Donald Hall and Alice Munro. This year the library’s “Five Evenings Of Storytelling and Poetry By Great Authors” (running from July 13 to Aug. 10) features the likes of poet Grace Paley, N.H. Poet Laureate Patricia Fargnoli, Sy Montgomery (“The Good Good Pig”) and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (“The Secret Lives of Dogs”). Conversation is encouraged between readings and thoughtful children are welcome, but “Please, No Infants, Toddlers or Squirmers!” declare the organizers.

Radical Board Game: Talk about your American Inventors, RADGames Inc. (924-6446) has started a line of what they call “super add ons” — extra boards, pieces and rules — which form a kind of parasitic relationship to popular board games, speeding up and adding excitement to the classics. They’ve started with “Monopoly,” so can “Clue” be far behind? ( ... Pres. Clinton, with the chainsaw, in the holodeck ... ) For anyone who likes to think outside the box, it’s a great concept. www.radgames.com.

Way to Build Your Own Army: If only we could miniaturize all the armies of the world and turn them into collectible, hand-painted sets that could be put back in the box whenever we grew weary of war. Not likely, but Hampton Miniatures (800-826-0177, www.hamptonminiatures.com) does allow us to dream. They carefully craft, cast and hand paint soldiers from Revolutionary War and medieval times. Each one is a tiny (54mm) work of art.

Ballet School: Dancers and theatre lovers alike are fortunate to have the Petit Papillon (www.petitpapillon.org) right here in Concord. Students come from all over the state to develop dancing skills. Their performance group, The Children's Ballet Theatre of New Hampshire, performs a few times a year, and rather than seek out professionals for lead roles, the school only casts company members — nurturing the students’ metamorphosis from young beginners into brilliant dancers.

Improv Comedy: Portsmouth-based but drawing swift-witted talent from all over the place, Stranger Than Fiction Improv Theater & Comedy (www.strangerthanfiction.us) has become a sort of comic dynasty in the region. They not only work the stage, appearing with the likes of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Wayne Brady, but they work the streets with such absurdist shenanigans as their Pacsmouth event which turns the avenues of the Port City into the world’s largest video game board.

Christmas Show: The WZID Christmas at the Palace show at the Palace Theatre in Manchester is a festive hoot that showcases talent from in and around the state with celebrities and surprise guests like Livingston Taylor showing up at the last minute, just to join in the fun. Operated as a live-to-tape radio show, there’s a “North Pole Home Companion” vibe throughout and a sense of drama as the performances flow in and out of breaks for “station identification” and advertising. The audience really feels like a part of the act, and by the time the music and merry mayhem draws to a close, and the indoor snow machine cranks up, there’s a genuine feeling of peace on Earth and goodwill to all.

Waterpark: You’d think that the majestic White Mountains and dense Great North Woods would be enough to satisfy visitors to New Hampshire’s North County. You’d be wrong. Some of the most delightfully quirky and wonderful small theme parks are clustered in little towns up there, and right on the boundary of Lincoln and Woodstock is the country’s best small waterpark. The Whale’s Tale (www.whalestalewaterpark.net) offers 11 slides and an 85-foot, whale-shaped, heated pool with a wave pool, lazy river and spraypark. At night they light the tiki torches and bring in live bands and DJs, while barbecue hits the grill and island drinks spin in the blenders. Lots of events are staged to benefit local causes. Aquatics International picked them as the best waterpark in the U.S. serving less than 100,000 guests annually.

Karaoke Night: The Daniel Street Tavern in Portsmouth is where the locals gather to test their pipes against the great American songbook in that grand old Japanese tradition known as Karaoke Night. You’ll hear American Idol wannabees and even some American Idol reject wannabees. It’s all good. Even when it’s bad.

Photo Op: Chocorua Lake with Mt. Chocorua in the background is said to be one of the most photographed scenes in the U.S. If you are headed toward the Conways on Route 16, you literally can't miss it. Just outside of Chocorua Village, Route 16 north goes up a curving hill. Just after the crest of the hill, the barn on your left helps to frame the view down to the wooden Narrows Bridge with the big lake and mountain just beyond. While the best view is on Route 16, try and avoid stopping on the side of the road. It's better to turn off at your first left, park and walk back up. There are great pictures to be had from this parking area. The public can swim, picnic and fish. No motors of any kind are allowed on Chocorua Lake. The northern part of the lake is reserved for Tamworth residents and is clearly marked. Chocorua Lake is under tremendous pressure due to its easy access and proximity to busy Route 16. Please take your trash.

Snacks for the Sensitive: Food allergies can be serious business, so it’s good that restaurants and producers are taking them seriously, but who ever heard of a serious cookie? Kids want to have fun and, allergic or not, they want fun food. Gaks Snacks www.gakssnacks.com is a Windham company with a mission to ensure that even product sensitive kids (and adults) can have snacks that make them smile. With no nuts, eggs, wheat, or dairy (or cholesterol or trans fat) you’ll wonder how they create the natural textures and flavors in their cookies and cakes.

Cheerleading Gym: In just a few short years the membership of Laconia’s Lake City Cheer Gym (528-6699) has grown from a few avid wannabees to an 80-member gym with five competitive All-star teams who compete against some of the best cheerleading teams in the country. In that time they’ve captured three world bids and five national titles along with dozens of trophies for regional competitions. The facility recently expanded and in spite of the winning titles, they encourage youngsters of all skill levels to reach their personal best.

Unsung Celebrity: North Conway born and raised, Gordon Clapp honed his talent at the Eastern Slope Playhouse, and appeared in the legendary "Return of the Secaucus Seven" which indy-icon director John Sayles filmed almost entirely in Mt. Washington Valley. Along with acclaim for dozens of film and TV roles, Gordon got an Emmy for his portrayal of Detective Medavoy on "NYPD Blue" and was nominated for a Tony Award for featured actor in the 2005 revival of "Glengarry Glen Ross" on Broadway. He’s also a distant relative of Green Mountain Boy leader Ethan Allen, but we can overlook that unfortunate Vermont connection.

NH's Best Kept Wildlife Secret: It's not the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, though if you're lucky you can see its cousin, the Pileated Woodpecker. It's the return of the mountain lion, panther, cougar, catamount or whatever name you choose. Official sources claim they aren't here. As recently as September of 2004, the NH Fish and Game Department stated that mountain lions were gone from the state by the late 1800s. But independent wildlife experts disagree, suggesting that signs exist and sightings have been made in areas around the Ossipee Mountains. If you don’t believe it, talk to one of the growing numbers of daylight witnesses who insist that, indeed, the cat is back.

Celebrity Headstone: Late on a summer night, if the air is dry as a Moroccan desert wind, you can hear a moaning among the headstones at the Red Hill Cemetery in Moultonborough. Listen closely and you can make out the words “Round up the usual suspects.” Here lies Claude Rains, who played Captain Louis Renault to Bogey’s Rick and helped save a French resistance movement in the classic film Casablanca. Not only is this an especially cool corpse to have in our state, the tombstone has great élan. To find Claude’s final resting place, take Rte. 25 in Center Harbor to Bean Road. The cemetery is small and you shouldn’t have much trouble locating it, about six rows from the entrance. A photo is online at http://www.morbid-curiosity.com/id144.htm.

Community Bookstore: Local art and authors, regular barn dances, readings, musical performances, plus local celebs like “Swampwalker” David Carrol wandering in, Mainstreet BookEnds of Warner (456-2700) is a place where you feel at home just sitting and reading or catching up on news and opinions. It doesn’t actually “feel” like a bookstore, more like a Utopian crackerbarrel general store where citizens dine on knowledge and art, but there’s a great selection of titles from the best seller to the obscure.

Perfect Partnership: The New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection (www.nhfarmtorestaurant) has stepped up to the plate and hosted a collaborative effort that puts growers and chefs together in the kitchen and everyone is invited to the table. Along with supporting local farms, keeping revenues closer to home and bringing fresher food to the finest restaurants, the initiative sponsors Growers’ Dinners hosted by local restaurants to showcase produce and meats from local farmers. Six have been planned so far this year.

$100 Hamburger: The term was created by small-airplane pilots who decided to go on a “burger run” and fly off to some small airfield they’d never visited before. To qualify, the restaurant must be within walking distance of the field the burgers must be tasty and the price (minus fuel and landing fees) less than $100. According to pilots in the know, the best burger run in the state is to Patrick’s Pub and Eatery (293-0841), just about a mile from the Laconia Municipal airport. A big burger with fries there is actually only about $7 (We recommend the Club Burger with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo for $7.59).

Best Hollywood Back Lot: Claremont is apparently ready for its close up. Two acclaimed independent films have already been filmed in town and another is planned. Like so many cinematic romances, it all began with a chance encounter. Third generation Claremontian Nick Koloski struck up a conversation with a couple of visitors at his downtown café and they turned out to be scouting locations for a movie to be called “Live Free or Die.” Nick’s local knowledge proved to be so helpful that he got hired to assist with “Sensation of Sight,” filmed in Keene, and then with “Old Love,” which was also shot in Claremont. Nick says he can’t go into detail about future projects, but the town can expect more starring roles in the near future.

N.H. State Slogan (Other Than Live Free or Die): “Life is Good” was not exactly the most original three words ever applied to a T-shirt, but the positive message resonated and, in just over a decade, the creators, brothers Bert and John Jacobs, have turned their humble and optimistic shirt design into a multi-million dollar industry (www.lifeisgood.com), which happens to be based here in the Granite State. It was a surprise that no one seriously proposed their motto as an alternative during the recent flap over what message to put on the state’s welcome signs. Maybe it’s because Bert and John originally hale from Mass. (or that they’ve been promoting a Boston challenge to the Keene pumpkin festival’s world record for lighted pumpkins). No matter. Everyone knows life is even better up here.

Abstract Stream of Consciousness Music Reviews: If you are over 40, Eric Saeger’s writing will take you back to the early vinyl-rich days of Crawdaddy or Creem Magazine, when writers like Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer discovered that rock & roll music required a different kind of exposition, one that rattled the synapses the same way that a wild guitar riff or bass line could rattle your teeth. Sometimes they skew pretentious, but Saeger’s short CD reviews in the Hippopress (www.hippopress.com) are packed with pop cultural references, classical detritus and psychological effluvia and they are fun to read, even if you have no intention of ever buying the album he’s writing about.

Educational Program: Adopt a Dead Person is a remarkable teaching program dreamt up by 8th grade social studies teacher John Fladd of Deerfield Community School. Rural Deerfield happens to have about 100 cemeteries and Fladd conducts field trips to three of them each year and allows each class to select a “dead guy” who, by the end of the year, will be thoroughly researched and connected to the rest of the class curriculum. The program has turned into a windfall of genealogical research for local historians who are amazed to see such interest and attention to detail from a bunch of whippersnappers. www.almostgruntled.com/deadperson.html

Peculiar Celebrity Convergence: Along with serving soups salads and wraps and converting into a late night martini bar, Hullabaloo Cafe (542-5747) on Pleasant St. in Claremont somehow attracts Hollywood scouts, presidential candidates, film stars from Great Britain, and has been the location for a scene in an HBO documentary on Sen Joe McCarthy. Bill Griffith of Zippy the Pinhead fame left a signed cartoon. The writers of Seinfeld came in to eat and struck up a conversation with owner Nick Koloski. Next thing you know he was showing them some good locations for a film they were planning to make (see Best Hollywood Back Lot).

Place To Meet A Presidential Candidate: The JFK bust in front of Nashua City Hall is viewed as a good luck totem (and superb photo op) for many candidates. Most of them stop by at one time or another, even some Republicans.

Extreme Local Journalism: Attracting more than 9,500 paid subscribers in the first year, The Connecticut Valley Spectator (www.cvspectator.com) has swiftly become the largest paid weekly in the state. They credit their emphasis on hard news, crime, sports and entertainment for the tribute, but even some fans call it the National Enquirer of the Upper Valley because of the extraordinary attention they pay to the “strange doings” of the region. Eschewing AP and wire service reports, they use local stories, local writers and local sources to generate compelling news and entertainment reports. Editor Aaron Nobel says that their sports editor treats the local high school kids like cover subjects for Sports Illustrated. That approach to the Upper Valley, generally, seems to be paying off and not only in circulation. The paper brought home most all the big trophies from the recent N.H. Press Association Awards.

Extreme Local Radio: It was already well known for its focus on local sports and local folks with shows like “Coffee Chat,” but under the new management of former U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey, WKXL 1450 AM in Concord has embraced the local focus like just about no other station. Much of the programming is generated by volunteers, and when the floods hit the Concord area, WKXL was broadcasting live from the scene when other stations were getting their feed from the same wires as the citizens. They recently won three AP and six N.H. Association of Broadcasters Awards. But are the advertisers listening?

Senior Center Food: You are probably thinking, “How good can fish sticks and Jell-O be?” Put such prejudices aside. In the former summer house of legendary financier Harvey Dow Gibson is the Gibson Center for Senior Services. Since 1979, this North Conway non-profit agency has been providing area seniors with social and educational programs, transportation and Meals on Wheels. They also serve a daily lunch in their dining room, and presiding over the spacious Gibson kitchen is Chef Rick Spencer. A graduate of Johnson and Wales, Chef Rick has overseen the kitchen operations at some of New Hampshire's better known inn dining rooms like The Bernerhof in Glen and The Darby Field Inn in Conway. With barbeque guru Steven Raichlen (“The Barbeque Bible,” et al), he started The Taste of the Mountains Cooking School. You can check the menu online at www.gibsoncenter.org.
Spiced Nuts: House on the Hill Spiced Nuts (www.houseonthehillnuts.com) have taken the grand Confederate tradition of coating the moist specimens of the king of nuts (the pecan, of course) with a savory crust of sugar and spice. Their “Family Jewels” variety are worth every sugar and crystalline ginger-infused calorie. Seems a strange choice of a name for a snack food, but they bottle them in classic “Ball” canning jars, so maybe there’s a logic to it.
Art Installation: Controversial “installation artist” Fred Wilson has shocked staid museum curators by displaying the skeletons (sometimes literal ones) he finds languishing in their basements and storage closets and arranging those finds among the items already on display. When he was turned loose on the Hood Museum at Dartmouth, what shocking raw material did he find for his latest installation? Dozens of likenesses of famous alum Daniel Webster. For those who were unable to see it live, the installation, titled “So Much Trouble in the World,” has been collected in book form, just out from the University Press of New England (www.upne.com).
Dazzling Renovation: It was a spectacular unveiling that may be the first time a proscenium received a standing ovation. The proscenium arch of The Music Hall (www.themusichall.org) in Portsmouth with restored columns, elaborate contours and paint was the star at a private ceremony for supporters in June. During Phase One of the ongoing restoration of the 128-year-old Music Hall, beneath crumbling layers of plaster and paint, were discovered angels and arches and even an elaborate mural. The project was awarded a $395,000 grant from the Save America’s Treasures Program to assist in the process and to upgrade systems, bathrooms and the roof. Phase Two should be complete by 2009. There will no doubt be more surprises and plenty to cheer about when that work is done.

N.H. Cultural Engine: It’s like the boiler room for local creative expression, The Palace Theatre in Manchester (www.palacetheatre.org) not only attracts great touring acts like the Three Tenors but produces first-rate professional theatre and hosts theatre groups ranging from the Palace Youth Theatre to the Palace Silver Stars. The transformation of the Palace from a trash-strewn meatlocker (really) to the gem of the Queen City has been the work of countless avid believers and staunch advocates. And even Hollywood glitterati have taken notice. The Palace Youth was a recipient of a $5,000 grant from Paul Newman this year.

Eclectic Cultural Business Center:,Books. Antiques. Linens. Art. So what the heck is this place? Drake Farm in North Hampton (964-4868) looks like a historic barn on the outside but unfolds like a Chinese fan once you enter. A vast library of used books are for sale, carefully categorized and packed with collectibility and antiquarian interest. Curios and antiques fill a couple of downstairs rooms, plus a lush variety of fine linens. Fantastic photographs and peculiar works of sculpture reveal the presence of a cabal of artists who meet here and plot the cultural revolution. You can linger for quite a while, maybe even lose track of time. But no worries. Owner Bob Gross combs the place before closing time to shoo out any dazzled stragglers.

Not Especially Political Blog – Conservative: You get the impression that Paul Sand is a conservative fellow. He’s a Unix system adminstrator for the University of New Hampshire and seems to at least have a good sense of humor when the sacred liberal cows get skewered, but his blog site is full of cultural references and intellectual games. The title of his blog, Pun Salad, is actually an anagram of his name. Visit okoboji.unh.edu/punsalad/.

Not Especially Political Blog – Liberal: The Concord Monitor is considered a “left-leaning” perodical, to the extent that such labels have meaning anymore but Mike’s Blog (www.conmon.com/MT/) written by Monitor Editor Mike Pride, transcends any such red/blue conflicts and provides keen observations, both micro and macro, on the state, and offers a remarkable view of the daunting job of editing one of the state’s great newspapers.

Fertilizer: Cockadoodle DOO is a Portsmouth company that’s pushed a certain envelope to the limit. Artisan manure? Well, we’re buying it. It’s not just the clever name, there’s something charismatic about this fertilizer. Maybe it’s the fact that you can download the Cockadoodle song from iTunes, or the fact that it’s organic (apparently not all manure qualifies) and, according to their Web site (www.purebarnyard.com), it’s completely safe for kids and pets.

CREDIT DUE: Thanks to all the many eyes and ears of the editorial network that helps us compose the Best of New Hampshire each year. We’d thank everyone personally here if we could, but rather than risk a sin of omission, let’s just says thanks to everyone who truly seeks out and finds the Best of NH.

Reader's Poll

Hottest regional ice cream picks

Hard Ice Cream
(top 8)
Annabelle's Ice Cream
49 Ceres St., Portsmouth
(603) 436-3400
annabellesicecream.com

Blake's Ice Cream
blakesicecream.com

Goldenrod Restaurant
& Drive-In
1681 Candia Rd.
Manchester
(603) 623-9469

Hayward's Ice Cream
45 Eastman St., Nashua
(603) 888-4663
haywardsicecream-nh.com

Johnson's Dairy Bar
Rte. 4, Northwood
(603) 942-5796

Kimball Farm
Route 124, Jaffrey
(603) 532-5765

Lago's Lone Oak
175 Milton Rd., Rochester
(603) 964-9880

The Puritan
Backroom
245 Hooksett Rd.
Manchester
(603) 669-6890
puritanbackroom.com

Soft Ice Cream
(top 8)
Arnie's Place
164 Loudon Rd., Concord
(603) 228-3225

Cremeland Drive-In
Ice Cream
250 Valley St.
Manchester
(603) 641-6663

Glenn's Kreme & Kone
146 Main St., Salem
(603) 898-8968

Izzy's Frozen Yogurt
33 Bow St., Portsmouth
(603) 431-1053

King Kone
D.W. Highway, Merrimack
(603) 424-6848

Lago's Lone Oak
175 Milton Rd.
Rochester
(603) 964-9880

Rick's Gourmet
Ice Cream
149 Emerald St., Keene
(603) 352-4226

The Piazza
149 Main St., Keene
(603) 352-5133


Appetizer
Shorty’s Mexican Roadhouse
shortysmex.com
Appetizer Chain/Franchise
Applebee's
applebees.com


Barbecue
Muddy River Smokehouse
21 Congress St. Portsmouth
(603) 430-9582
muddyriver.com

Barbecue Chain/Franchise
Smokey Bones
smokeybones.com

Buffalo Wings
Wings Your Way
13 Jenkins Court
Durham (603) 868-2425
wingsyourway.com

Buffalo Wings
Chain/Franchise
Hooters
hooters.com

Caesar Salad (tie)
Keene Fresh Salad Co.
44 Main St., Keene
(603) 357-6677

Caesar Salad (tie)
Piccola Italia
Ristorante
827 Elm St., Manchester
(603) 606-5100
piccolaitalianh.com

Chicken Fingers
The Puritan
Backroom
45 Hooksett Rd.
Manchester
(603) 669-6890
puritanbackroom.com

Crab Cakes
The Common Man
thecman.com

Onion Rings
Weathervane Seafoods
weathervaneseafoods.com

Fried Clams
Newick's
newicks.com

Salad Bar
Red Parka Steak House & Pub
Rte. 302, Glen
(603) 383-4344
redparkapub.com

Salad Bar Chain/Franchise
Ruby Tuesday
rubytuesday.com

Shrimp Cocktail
Tinker's Seafood
545 Hooksett Rd.
Manchester
(603) 622-4272
Fried Calamari

Surf
207 Main St., Nashua
(603) 595-9293
surfseafood.com

Clam Chowder
Newick's
newicks.com

Soup
Loaf & Ladle
9 Water St., Exeter
(603) 778-9619

Soup
Chain/Franchise
Panera
panerabread.com

Chili
Shorty’s Mexican Roadhouse
shortysmex.com

Chili
Chain/Franchise
Wendy's
wendys.com

Hamburger
T-Bones
t-bones.com

Nachos
Margaritas Mexican
Restaurant &
Watering Hole
margs.com

Nachos Chain/Franchise
Chili's
chilis.com

Wraps
Seedling Café
9 Water St., Nashua (603) 594-4002
theseedlingcafe.com

Wraps
Chain/Franchise
D'Angelo Sandwich Shops
dangelos.com

Thick Crust Pizza
Elvio's
2888 White
Mountain Hwy.
North Conway
(603) 356-3208

Thick Crust Pizza
Chain/Franchise
Pizzeria Uno
unos.com

Pizza
Chain/Franchise
Pizza Hut
pizzahut.com

Pizza
Sal's Just Pizza
sals-pizza.com

Thin Crust Pizza Flatbread Company
flatbread.com

Lunch Buffet
Red Apple Buffet
161 Loudon Rd.
Concord
(603) 226-8866

Diner
Red Arrow
61 Lowell St.
Manchester
(603) 626-1118
redarrowdiner.com

Children's Menu
Chain/Franchise
Friendly’s
friendlys.com

Children's Menu
T-Bones
t-bones.com
Sunday Brunch
Michael Timothy's
212 Main St., Nashua
(603) 595-9334
michaeltimothys.com

Breakfast Place
Parker's Maple Barn
1316 Brookline Rd.
Mason
(603) 878-2308
parkersmaplebarn.com

Delicatessen
Amato's
New York Deli
109 Rte. 101A, Amherst
(603) 577-3975
Dessert Place
Galley Hatch
325 Lafayette Rd.
Hampton
(603) 926-6152

Gourmet Takeout
Market at Luca's
11 Central Square Keene
(603) 358-3335
lucascafe.com

Cup of Coffee
Breaking New Grounds
14 Market Square
Portsmouth
(603) 436-9555

Cup of Coffee
Chain/Franchise
Dunkin' Donuts
dunkindonuts.com
Local Coffee Shop
Breaking New Grounds
14 Market Square Portsmouth
(603) 436-9555

Martini Bar
Cotton
75 Arms Park Dr.,
Manchester
(603) 622-5488
cottonfood.com

Margarita
Margaritas Mexican Restaurant &
Watering Hole
margs.com


Bagel
Bagel Works
Keene (357-7751)
Concord (226-1827) Porstmouth (431-4434)

Bagel
Chain/Franchise
Panera
panerabread.com

Restaurant
with a View
Pond View
Rte. 125, Kingston
(603) 642-5556

Hip Atmosphere
CR Sparks
18 Kilton Rd., Bedford
(603) 666-5880
crsparks.com

New Restaurant
Hanover Street
Chophouse
149 Hanover St.,
Manchester
(603) 644-2467
hanoverstreetchophouse.com

Casual Restaurant
The Common Man
thecman.com

Fine Dining
Michael Timothy's
212 Main St., Nashua
(603) 595-9334
michaeltimothys.com

Chinese Restaurant
Chen Yang Li
124 South River Rd.
Bedford
(603) 641-6922
chenyangli.com

Japanese
Restaurant
You You Asian Bistro
150 Broad St., Nashua
(603) 882-8337

Vietnamese
Restaurant
Vietnam Noodle House
138 Main St., Nashua
(603) 886-4566

Thai Restaurant
Thai Garden
118 Main St., Keene
(603) 357-4567

Indian Restaurant
Shalimar India Restaurant
80 Hanover St.
Portsmouth
(603) 427-2959

French Fries
Caesario's Pizzaria
1057 Elm St.
Manchester
(603) 669-8383

French Fries Chain/Franchise
McDonald's
mcdonalds.com

Italian Restaurant
Piccola Italia
Ristorante
827 Elm St.
Manchester
(603) 606-5100
piccolaitalianh.com

Irish Pub
Restaurant
Wild Rover Pub
21 Kosciuszko St.
Manchester
(603) 669-7722
wildroverpub.com

Mexican
Restaurant
Margaritas Mexican
Restaurant & Watering Hole
margs.com

German Restaurant
Inn at Danbury
67 Rte. 104, Danbury
(603) 768-3318
innatdanbury.com

Middle Eastern Restaurant
Athens Restaurant
31 Central St.
Manchester
(603) 623-9317

Romantic
Restaurant
Bedford Village Inn
2 Olde Bedford Way
Bedford
(800) 852-1166
bedfordvillageinn.com

Seafood
Restaurant
Newick's
newicks.com

Steakhouse
Hanover St.
Chophouse
149 Hanover St.
Manchester
(603) 644-2467

hanoverstreetchophouse.com
Steakhouse Chain/Franchise
Longhorn Steakhouse
longhornsteakhouse.com

Homestyle
Cooking
The Common Man
thecman.com

Dining on a Diet
Seedling Café
9 Water St., Nashua
(603) 594-4002
seedlingcafe.com

Butcher Shop
Meat House
themeathouse.com

Caterer
Market at Luca's
11 Central Square
Keene (603) 358-3335
lucascafe.com

Local Microbrew
Smuttynose
Brewing Co.
225 Heritage Ave.
Portsmouth
(603) 436-4026
smuttynose.com

Bakery Bread
Me & Ollie's
775 Lafayette Rd.
Portsmouth
(603) 682-9882

Bakery Bread Chain/Franchise
Panera
panerabread.com
Cakes/Pastries
Frederick's Pastries
109 Rte. 101A, Amherst
(603) 882-7725
frederickspastries.com

Pies
Pie Guy
78 N. Broadway, Salem
(603) 928-9743
pieguy.com

Cookies
Black Forest Cafe and Bakery
212 Rte. 101, Amherst
(603) 672-0500
theblackforest.com

Brownies
Bellows House
Bakery
117 Church St.
North Walpole
(603) 445-1974
bellowshouse.com

Gourmet
Chocolates
Van Otis Chocolates
341 Elm St., Manchester
(603) 627-1611
vanotis.com

Fudge
Van Otis Chocolates
341 Elm St., Manchester
(603) 627-1611
vanotis.com

Florist
Chalifour's Flowers
46 Elm St.,
Manchester
(603) 623-8844
chalifoursflowers.com

Jewelers (tie)
Barmakian Jewelers
300 DW Highway
Nashua
(603) 888-7800

Jewelers (tie)
Jonathan's Jewelers
460 Rte. 101, Bedford
(603) 471-2828

Hair Salon/Spa
Soleil Salon & Spa
22 Haverill Rd.
Windham
(603) 434-8233

Sports Bar
Billy's Sport Bar
34 Tarrytown Rd.
Manchester
(603) 622-3644
billyssportsbar.com

Romantic
Country Inn
Bedford Village Inn
2 Olde Bedford Way, Bedford (603) 471-1846
bedfordvillageinn.com

Music Venue (large)
Verizon Wireless Arena
555 Elm St., Manchester
(603) 644-5000
verizonwirelessarena.com

Music Venue (small)
Tupelo Music Hall
2 Young Rd.
Londonderry
(603) 437-5100
tupelohall.com

Place for a Party
UnWine'd
865 Second St.
Manchester
(603) 625-9463

Cool Night Spot
The Yard
1211 South Mammoth Road, Manchester
(603) 623-3545

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