Best of NH 2009
What if someone explored the whole state and returned with an array of the finest flavors, most fantastic fun and awesomest adventures, then laid them all out before you, just to make you happy? That would be so cool. You’d be eternally grateful, right? Well, don’t mention it. Because just seeing the smile on your face is reward enough. Enjoy!
Editor's Picks: Food and Drink
American Tapas: Maybe the Spanish came up with the concept of small-plate dining, but the owners of Stella Blu (formerly Manhattan on Pearl) have extended the concept to American ethnic selections. Here you can choose a paella from the “Latin Quarter” or orange-hoisin-glazed beef skewers from “Asia Town,” and each will be beautifully presented as a meal in miniature. Another good reason to visit this delightful Nashua (www.stellablu-nh.com) spot is the extraordinary mixologist on staff, Jared Bracci, who has built a solid reputation in the area as a knowledgeable bartender.
Retail Wine and Food Combo: Putting the right wine with the right food takes a bit of experience. The knowledgeable staff at Wine Thyme in North Conway and Wolfeboro (356-VINE, 569-WINE) can help you find the perfect pairing. The North Conway location is a restaurant and bar, serving tapas style dishes; the Wolfeboro location is a retail store with great to-go food.
Tropical Drinks: Valdir and Regina de Almeida came from San Paulo about 12 years ago and opened the Brazilian Café and Market in Manchester (935-9832) about a year ago. A few of the tropical drinks offered are exclusive to the Brazilian Amazon rain forest. The Caju is extracted from the shell of the cashew plant. Acai (ah-say-e), another native of the region, is gaining in popularity as a health drink. You will also find the popular high-caffeine soft drink Guarana, laranja com hortela (orange with carrots), maracuja (passion fruit) and even abacate com leite (avocado with milk smoothie).
Chickpea Frites: You’ll think you are sinking your teeth into potato steak fries at the Saffron Bistro in Nashua (www.thesaffronbistro.com) but think again — this tasty side is a smooth purée of chickpeas, tasty and high in fiber to boot. To get this dish you’ll have to wait until the fall when the menu also sports savory lamb.
Budget Asian: Great food at reasonable prices is the trademark of Pho Golden Bowl in Manchester (622-2000). Try the extra spicy beef sate pho for a taste of Vietnamese cuisine. Delicate essences of cilantro, watercress and pepper infuse thin slices of raw beef that are added at the last minute. Order it to go and it comes as a kit to put together at home.
Tequila Flights: With a tequila list of more than 70 brands at Agavé in Portsmouth (www.agavemexicanbistrodos.com), you might want to opt for a flight of three to sample and pick your favorite to drink straight up or to make your margarita. Try the tableside guacamole served in an authentic lava molcajete as an accompaniment.
Lobster Bisque: A good lobster bisque is sinfully creamy and tastefully rich, abundant in the essence of our native crustacean. That is what you will find at Commercial Street Fishery in Manchester (www.csfishery.com). Let a bowl of perfect bisque be a start to a fabulous summer meal followed by fresh lobster, corn on the cob and all the fixings of a New England Clambake available here all summer.
Raw Chocolate: You would suspect that an organic market would find a way to make chocolate even healthier than currently claimed. Aphrodite raw chocolate at Katrina’s Organic Market & Café in North Conway (356-6068) contains no refined sugars and the cooking temperature is kept below 94 degrees, minimizing the chemical buzz of dark chocolates.
Lobster Roll: We are talking packed and overflowing with fresh lobster meat. The Beach Plum Ice Cream Stand (www.thebeachplum.net), across from North Hampton State Beach, serves them up on a traditional-sized bun and in a foot-long variety for an ultimate lobster immersion. No extra fillers here, just a touch of mayo and lettuce and tomato if you want it, but then again why would you?
Oyster Shooter: You could call it a Bloody Mary with guts. A raw oyster is the centerpiece of this shooter presented at the Epoch Restaurant at the Exeter Inn (www.theexeterinn.com), but the star is the delicate, clear tomato juice distilled from fresh heirloom tomatoes. Don’t bother with the V-8 — this is the real stuff. The addition of General John Stark Vodka from Flag Hill Distillery adds a potent and local touch.
Made-from-Scratch Ice Cream: No commercial mixes go into the ice cream at the Walpole Creamery (www.walpolecreamery.com), just pure, all-natural (and usually local) ingredients, blended in small batches. The milk travels two miles from their own dairy farm, the maple syrup (no artificial flavorings here) is from their own grove and the fruit, whenever possible, is from local farms. Buy this ultra-creamy treat at their scoop shop on Route 12 in Walpole or by the pint in a few lucky places in the Lower Connecticut Valley.
Artichoke Dip: Mitchell’s All Natural Fresh Salsa of Concord (www.mitchellsfreshsalsa.com) gets a lot of attention for, well, their salsa. Deservedly. In fact, their whole product line is excellent (including a great bag of tortilla strips), but it’s their artichoke dip that sends our editorial hearts aflutter. Rich, cheesy, artichokey, but magically light and delicious. You could eat it with a spoon. In fact, we have. And it was good.
Macadamia Nut Chicken: You see this popular dish around, but Chef Matt Lee of The Granite Restaurant in Concord (www.graniterestaurant.com) knows how to make this chicken dish with mellow macadamia nuts and just the right level of seasoning in the crust. In fact, he wowed the judges at a recent Iron Chef contest when asked to prepare this, his signature dish.
Burger Challenge: Taverns of yore were meeting places where all the important decisions were made. The new $4 million renovation at the Wolfeboro Inn (www.wolfeboroinn.com) will take you back to the past in style. The menu has been carefully constructed by new chef Carl Smosna, who has brought back tavern classics with a twist. His huge lunch-plate-sized burger comes with a challenge: If you eat all 2 lbs. of the Black Angus patty with lettuce, tomato and cheese on a 7-inch bun, you get a certificate for a free lunch. It’s called the Big Moose Challenge. (Or you could just eat half and take the rest home for lunch the next day.)
Cheese Plate: Corks Wine Bar at the Bedford Village Inn (www.bedfordvillageinn.com) is an upscale playground for adults. Try your hand at making your very own blend from six different varietal wines, and then move on to the food menu to create a customized cheese plate. It won’t be an easy task — there are more than 10 types to choose from including varieties of cow, goat, sheep and blue cheeses. If you’d rather leave all the thinking to someone else, order the Chef’s Full Cheese Board ($33).
Trout: Coated in crushed pecans for added crunch and flavor, and served in a delicate buerre blanc with hints of orange, trout is — not surprisingly — always on the menu of Keene’s Blue Trout Grill (www.bluetroutgrill.com). Other dishes are just as appealing, whether it’s the silken scallops with lemongrass or Chef/owner Amy Miller’s fabled chocolate desserts.
Braised Beef: In a world of quickly-seared sirloin, it’s easy to forget the deep layers of intense flavor achieved by the ever-so-slow braising of more tasty cuts. Liz Jackson, chef/owner of Libby’s Bistro in Gorham (www.libbysbistro.com), remembers, and her Forever Braised Beef, bursting with flavor and served in its own rich braising juices, reminds us how good beef can be when a skilled chef is willing to take the time.
Bacon & Eggs: Everyone knows that farm-fresh eggs are delicious. Take that same principle and apply it to bacon and you’ll see the genius of Twist of Fate Farm in Dunbarton (www.twistoffatefarm.com). They take the two most beloved breakfast foods of all time and produce them in the most delectable way. Their goal is to raise all livestock with a “big heart and a kind hand” so eggs are proudly laid by the farm’s “ladies,” while piglets are born in open free stalls and dine on grain and organic yogurt. They also raise tender and contented beef and turkey.
Crazy Good Brownies: Chocolatey, creamy, rich and fudgy — that’s how Bellows House Bakery in North Walpole (www.bellowshouse.com) describes its brownies and, boy, they are all of that and more. Choose from fudge, fudge walnut, peanut butter chip, chocolate chip, macaroon and caramel pecan. No fake stuff in these; they’re made with real butter and other quality ingredients.
Smoked Sausages: Maybe it’s because they’re slow smoked over a hickory fire, or maybe it’s the natural spices and casings used with premium meat. Whatever the magic ingredient is, the sausages made by the North Country Smokehouse in Claremont (www.ncsmokehouse.com) have fans not just in New Hampshire but all across the country. The sausages the smokehouse makes — spicy andouille, chorizo with brandy, whiskey fennel, linguica, chourico and Irish bangers among them — tempt your palate, each in its own way.
Organic Soups: If you need to feed your soul as well as your stomach, head to Mizuna in Greenland (www.mizunanh.com) and peruse their list of all-organic soups. Vegetarian and meat-lover friendly, you’ll find everything from Cabernet beef stew to vegetarian chili. While you’re there, try one of Mizuna’s inventive and fresh salads (like the mushroom orzo or Mediterranean pasta salad) or check out their ready-to-take-home meals — the list changes daily and can include everything from mac and cheese to chicken pot pie and vegetarian wild mushroom cannelloni.
Hummus: It’s an ancient food that never gets old. Smooth, healthy, delicious and versatile. Hannah Fine Foods Market in Exeter (772-3500) tests the boundaries of hummus with curry and chicken and other exotic mixtures. Visit the café for inexpensive and tasty Mediterranean fare or grab a pack of hummus to go.
Fried Buttermilk Chicken: Maybe you can remember that great fried buttermilk chicken from family picnics of yore. You can find it again at Cotton in Manchester (www.cottonfood.com) where Chef/owner Jeff Paige was inspired by the Shakers of Canterbury Village to re-envision simple foods from simpler times. Tender and succulent, the all-natural chicken is indeed a simple gift to your taste buds.
Trail Mix: “Good for you” is sometimes code for tasteless (or just gross), but the gluten-free and organic Kizmix Trail-Mix from Will n’ Rose’s in New Boston (http://marketplace.willnroses.com) is both healthy and delicious. Made with organic soaked and sprouted grains minimally processed for easier digestion (and better taste), it’s perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or to toss in your hiking pack. Five different varieties of this guilt-free snack are available — Vitality, Peace, Balance, Native (made with all New England ingredients) and Strength.
Caramel Popcorn: It’s an old favorite, but just try to stop eating this simple yet delicious treat by Michele’s Sweet Shoppe in Concord (www.michelesweetshoppe.com). This popcorn is sweet, crunchy and completely addictive. Once you’ve devoured the classic flavor, give these three creative variations a shot — caramel apple, caramel cappuccino and chocolate caramel.
Energy Drink: The unofficial soda of New England, Moxie is now owned by Cornucopia Beverages Inc. in Bedford (www.moxie.info/cornucopia.htm), and has spun off its own energy drink. It makes perfect sense — after all, “moxie” can be defined as having vigor, verve and pep. Originally created in 1876 as a cure-all tonic, the soda has a long history of success, dips into near obscurity and several resurrections — but still maintains a loyal fan base. You can even celebrate the new Moxie variation at this month’s 26th annual Moxie Festival in Lisbon, Maine.
Supper Club Revival: You may come for the fine food at the Canoe Club in Hanover (http://canoeclub.us), but stay to enjoy the night. Just as supper clubs in the Midwest once provided locals with food and an evening long on entertainment, here you will find live performances seven nights a week, from a roving magician to a folk duo to area vocalists and a jazz pianist. It’s just enough to keep the night young but not too obtrusive for an evening gathering with friends.
Crispy Chicken: They should call it chicken with an attitude. The food at the Korean Place in Manchester (622-9377) is famously good, but this dish deserves your attention — palate-pleasing flavors combine with just the right amount of heat. Add in the artistic presentation and you’ve got a true taste of Asia.
Old Fave in New Digs: Aylmer’s Grille (www.woodbound.com), the popular Jaffrey restaurant, has moved to the freshly renovated Woodbound Inn in Rindge, where Chef/owner Aylmer Given continues to mix and mingle cuisines from around the world into his own brand of New American. Chef Aylmer delights in spinning the map of the world as he mixes cuisines and styles, creating in his own unique takes on even such venerable dishes as chowder.
Cheesy Nachos: If you want real cheddar cheese melted on your nachos, head for Harlow’s Pub in Peterborough (www.harlowspub.com). What passes for cheese in other places (“that yucky orange stuff,” the pub’s menu calls it) doesn’t pass here. And the cheese is toasted to perfection. Plus Harlows is just the kind of place that nachos taste better: warm fun and idiosyncratic. Get it with veggies or top it off everything you can imagine.
Over-the-top Popcorn: A Little Confection in Laconia (www.a-little-confection.com) is a premier chocolatier that makes great chocolate goodies like cookies and fudge. But they have somehow perfected over-the-top popcorn. Their caramel popcorn brittle is buttery and somehow still crisp even though it’s drenched in caramel and drizzled with white and milk chocolate. Fresh macadamia nuts and almonds give it the finishing touch. How many Weight Watcher points? Don’t ask, just enjoy.
Lunch Special: If Rachel Ray likes it, it’s got to be good, right? And it’s not just the doyen of cookery who’s a fan — lots of publications (USA Today, for one) are singing the praises of Miller’s Café and Bakery in Littleton (www.millerscafeandbakery.com). A great (and inexpensive) way to experience the restaurant (and its super views of the mighty Ammonoosuc River) is with the $6.99 lunch special of half a sandwich and cup of soup. Top it off with a piece of their amazing strawberry rhubarb pie. You’ll find out why they call it “the best lunch in Littleton.”
Old-Fashioned Cake: The answer is real butter and loving care. The question is what makes the cakes from Soirée Cakery in Hopkinton (www.soireecakery.com) taste so, so, so much like a classic cake from the time before Betty Crocker. We indulged in a moist vanilla butter cake with a hint of Malibu rum that was layered with coconut butter cream and finished with lightly toasted coconut. The best thing (or the worst thing) is that we couldn’t stop eating it — luscious but not too sweet. Each cake is handmade by Kristy Stephens Ammann.
Gourmet sloppy joes: Forget the Manwich and head over to Zampa in Epping (www.zampa.com) for a full-flavored incarnation of the sloppy Joe. A ragu of beef, pork and onion is slowly simmered and served on a grilled bun with hand-cut pommes frites. Owners Julie DiTursi and Cory McPhee seek out local and sustainably-raised meats, fish and dairy so the entire menu is a dip into the divine.
Filet of sole: There have been changes in the wind in Windham. The Lobster Tail Restaurant (lhttp://lobstertail.net) is under new ownership with an updated menu. The market is gone and that space is now a beautiful beer and wine lounge. Gone also are the paper plates. Your stuffed filet of sole with lobster sauce will be appropriately served on fine china. A third location on Rte. 111 in Hampstead features a market with a great selection of fresh seafood delivered daily.
Restaurant to Hang Out and Dine In: The Lazy Lion Café in Deerfield (www.thelioncafe.com) is a magnet for locals and we can see why — there’s friendly service, homey breakfasts, light lunches and casual dinners with occasional live music by local artists. The restaurant is designed to feel comfy, like a home away from home, and it won’t take long before they know your name (or at least what you like).
Decadent Appetizer: Foie Gras may be appearing less frequently on menus as some restaurants try to cut costs, but at the Bedford Village Inn (www.bedfordvillage.com), you can continue to find Executive Chef Peter Agostinelli’s seasonal take on the sublime treat on the appetizer menu in the dining room. This spring his version was Hudson Valley sourced and served on a truffled potato rosti cake with a poached duck egg and spring mushrooms.
New Twist on a Classic Dessert: The whoopie pie is a classic New England dessert that has stood the test of time and you don’t mess with a classic, right? Well, Whoop It Up of Suncook (http://whoopitup.biz) took that as a challenge — they shrunk a whoopie pie, dipped it in chocolate and called their creation the whoop-et. Even the whoopie purists will applaud. Makes you wonder what else you could shrink and dip in chocolate.
Omelettes: You can accept the testimony of Fresh Local in Newington (www.freshlocaltruck.com) owners Josh Lanahan and Michelle Lozuoway. Or you can just believe the contented clucking of their free-range chickens that come from either their hens or those within a 10-mile radius of their tiny new restaurant on the Great Bay. Practically everything is locally produced. Breakfasts are exceptional. So are burgers and beers at sundown. But Josh and Michelle have no plans to raise their own steers. “We’re still trying to make a profit,” Josh says.
White Lasagna: White lasagna has been a favorite at Chequers Villa in Tamworth (323-8686) since the popular restaurant on Route 113 opened 25 years ago this July 1. “It was something my sister created,” says co-owner Carole Ewing. “It’s a chicken and spinach with Alfredo sauce lasagna.” Specialty pizzas are always in season at Chequers, which has a rep as a great date spot with an intimate feel.
Steak Bomb: New Hampshire is now tied irrevocably to the term “steak bomb” and has been ever since a Derry sub shop attempted to trademark the term. If the title belongs to any of the myriad Granite State eateries who pile ingredients into a hoagy roll we suggest ownership go to Bill Cahill’s Super Subs (882-7710). They lay it on thick and messy, with peppers, onions, salami, cheese and plenty of savory, juicy steak. Locals swear by it. Tourists travel from afar just to bask in the aroma.
Chocolate Cake: With 40 years baking experience, Brenda Poirier opened up New London Confections (www.nlconfections.com) in 2001. She offers a wide variety of classic and specialty cakes, but she’s the queen of chocolate. With chocolate truffle, espresso dream, chocolate raspberry and much more, her selection is deliciously broad. Brenda bakes up tender cakes, fills them with luscious mousse and tops them with rich chocolate ganache. They are heaven on a plate.
Sticky Ribs: The tender succulent ribs at Four Restaurant in Portsmouth (www.fouronstate.com) have just enough tang and just enough sweet to make them disappear in short order.
Bosnian Cuisine: Restaurant Adria in Nashua (www.restaurantadria.com) serves up home-style food from the owner’s homeland. You can find sweet-sour stuffed cabbage, earthy stews and hand-mashed potatoes along with homemade Bosnian-style sausages and cured meats. Don’t leave without trying the fragrant homemade white bread.
Kabobs: Whether lamb kabobs, chicken kabobs or shish kabobs, Cedars Café in Nashua (www.cedars-cafe.com) fills its skewers with the finest of meat, all expertly marinated and charbroiled. For a real treat, try the bargain-priced house special combinations like the chicken kabob, kafta, tabouleh and hummus. For dessert — they say the baklavah is to die for, so why not indulge, just this once?
Best Vegan Restaurant: Mention the words “vegan food” and most people immediately cringe. Vegan fare has gotten a bad rap thanks to mass-produced veggie burgers and the like, but the folks at Divine Café & Grille in Exeter (www.divinecafe.org) know what they’re doing. Give their gourmet organic vegan burgers a try and be prepared to redefine your idea of vegan (and burgers). At five ounces — Divine’s vegan burgers are about double the size of most frozen patties.
Gluten-free Menu: For people who have to avoid gluten, it’s tough to eat out. Nearly everything has at least a bit of gluten-containing wheat, oat, barley or rye in it. But at Rafferty’s Restaurant & Pub in North Conway (www.raffspub.com) the menu is “99 1/2% gluten-free,” so those with a need to avoid it have a range of choices — hoagies, pizza, chili and other usually-forbidden dishes — that other restaurants don’t offer. The Raffertys, who are sensitive to the issue because they have a daughter who can’t tolerate gluten, have worked hard to make their meals just as tasty as those with gluten.
Exotic Menu in a Traditional Setting: If you like a little adventure with your meal, Rick’s A Café and Grille in Kingston (www.ricksgrille.com) is the place for you. Along with the usual fare of steak tips, haddock and the like, Rick’s serves up alligator (pan-seared with a sherry cream sauce), ostrich (tournedos), buffalo (marinated top steak) and kangaroo (grilled on a salad). If you’re feeling really daring, try the mixed game dish with all of the exotic meats, plus some Rocky Mountain oysters — it comes in a cognac demi glace.
Colcannon: For an authentic Irish dish, try a side of colcannon at the Peddler’s Daughter in Nashua (www.thepeddlersdaughter.com). It’s a traditional staple made with mashed potatoes and cooked cabbage that’s meant to satisfy hunger and warm the soul alongside a pint of Guinness.
Sangria: On a hot summer day (or any day for that matter), stop in at Consuelo’s Taqueria in Manchester (www.consuelostaqueria.com) for a glass of this refreshing fruit punch for grownups. The specials board will tell you what flavor is available, though they are all equally delicious and well worth a try (or two or three). Pair it up with a burrito, tacos, enchiladas or tortas, and you’ll feel like you’re south of the border in no time.
Handcut Potato Chips: Real potatoes — real good crunch and salty flavor. Bagged chips will never do it for you again once you try the handcut potato chips at O Steaks and Seafood in the Opechee Inn in Lakeport (www.opecheeinn.com). If you find yourself on the north shore of Winnipesaukee, Chef Scott Ouellette makes the same chips at his casual restaurant Canoe in Center Harbor.
Bread Pudding: If it’s your lucky day you will find Chef Brianas’ bread pudding blessed with creamy peanut butter at Unums in Nashua (www.unums.com). This rich dessert is also loaded with chocolate chips, but changes its inspiration with the seasons and the whims of the chef.
Buffalo shrimp: Find a dozen finger-licking good shrimp at the Strange Brew Tavern in Manchester (http://strangebrewtavern.net). They are battered in beer, fried to a light golden brown and then coated with the house spicy buffalo sauce. Oh, please, pass the celery sticks. To quell the fire you will also find a huge selection of beers on draught.
Editor's Picks: This and That
Web Series: The latest online entertainment format is the Web series, typically short episodes that tell a story in a classic TV genre. But leave it to New Hampshire to turn the form on its ear. Odd Noggin Land (http://oddnoggin.com), created by John Herman and Ryan Plaisted, follows the adventures of three friends who just happen to have gigantic food items for heads. The protagonists are Burger, Fries, and lovely lady Ketchup. There’s romance, suspense, comedy and dancing (it’s a musical) and the production values are high. Probably best viewed that way as well.
Citizens in Action: It could be 3 o’clock in the morning but still they are there, waiting. Some have driven many miles on short notice. A plane with returning veterans is about to land and the Pease Greeters (http://peasegreeters.org) want to be sure the troops get a big welcome back — applause, words of appreciation, handshakes, refreshments, phones. They do the same for troops departing for battle zones. The “serving America's heroes” started in 2005 when the Seacoast Detachment Marine Corps League provided the first volunteer welcome. Since then the number of Greeters has swelled to more than 100 and not one flight has been missed.
’80s Saturday Night: Break out your acid wash jeans, shoulder pads and skinny ties — it’s time to flash back to the ’80s with Jordan Wilder and WZID (www.wzid.com/pages/2830246.php). Every Saturday night from 7 p.m.–midnight you can relive all the (totally awesome) hits from AC/DC to Tears for Fears. If you’re dying to hear some Devo or your favorite REO Speedwagon tune, you can jump back to the present and send him a request via the Web site listed above.
Patriotic Small Town Event (tie): The two towns are in different parts of the state — Fremont’s in Rockingham County, New Boston’s in Hillsborough — but they share a talent for creating one heck of a patriotic celebration. For Fremont, it’s Memorial Day, with its red-white-and-blue parade, the reading of the Gettysburg Address, the patriotic songs, the decorating of veterans’ graves and more. For New Boston, it’s Fourth of July, when festooned floats wend their way through a flag-bedecked town to the tunes of marching bands.
Business Event: The get-together to celebrate the BOB Awards winners at the Grappone Center in Concord is just two years old, but already it’s a talked-about, much-enjoyed, very-hip event. The awards — Best Accountant, Best Commercial Photographer, Best Overnight Delivery Service and the like — are made based on the results of a poll of the state’s businesspeople conducted by the NH Business Review, which throws the party. (Full disclosure: NHBR is a sister publication of NH Magazine, so, yes, we’re a bit biased, but trust us on this one).
Paranormal Inn: At Whitefield’s Spalding Inn (www.thespaldinginn.com) the bumps, creaks and cold spots aren’t quite so easily explained by the settling of a foundation, old floor boards and drafty windows. Recently purchased by the Hawes and Wilson families of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS, the-atlantic-paranormal-society.com), the Spalding Inn is said to house ghostly and human guests alike. While it sounds a bit like the plot of “The Shining” (nice, normal family meets horror at a beautiful hotel in the New England mountains), the Spalding Inn is a charming example of a cozy country retreat. Just make sure everyone else sees the friendly bartender, too.
Super-geek: In the pantheon of fan-oriented geekdom the heros run comic book stores. The demigods stage comics conventions. Chris Proulx of Double Midnight Comics (www.dmcomics.com) not only operates one of the most obsessive and compulsive local markets of fan materials, he helped start the Granite State Comicon, now in its sixth year at the Center of New Hampshire. He and buddy Brett Parker made a super-geeky tribute film for Manchester called “Nowheresville” a decade ago and gave birth to the New Hampshire Film Expo, which moved to Portsmouth and became the N.H. Film Festival — a somewhat more elite affair, but the awards night still is laced with geek chic.
Best Local Print: Local artist Charlie Hunter thrilled train buffs and Keene enthusiasts alike with his Art Deco rendition of the Yankee Flyer train crossing the iconic Cheshire Railroad stone bridge that crosses the Branch River in sight of Rte. 101. Creative Encounters (www.creative-encounters.com )on Main Street in Keene commissioned the art and sells the prints, framed or not.
Surreal Remodel: Though the original 1878 lobby of The Music Hall in Portsmouth (www.themusichall.org) probably wasn’t lit by vibrant LED lighting, the major renovations nevertheless stay true to this venerable theater’s Victorian-era roots, all while thrusting the venue into the realm of contemporary theater and art. Rounded walls with Corinthian columns, gilded mermaids wrapped around light sconces, red velvet banquettes on a base of transparent cubes illuminated with brilliant blue light, green marble, grotto-like hallways, twisting bronze vines and trees forming the ticket window frame and other equally surreal yet beautiful touches. The renovation is about more than beauty — the lobby is now five times its original size and includes expanded rest rooms and a spacious meeting place.
Summer T-shirt: At several store locations around Squam Lake, you’ll find a shirt that perfectly describes summer life in this tranquil community. It reads, “squam.calm” — and it’s worth the price just to see the confused look on city folks walking by.
Psychic: Seeking to “create a space of unconditional love that promotes world peace and complete joy.” Lauren Ellen Rainbow (www.laurensrainbow.com) offers mediumship (connection to the deceased), healing, prophetic insights and initiations. She organized the WZID Simply Spiritual Psychic Event for their Women’s Expo this year and has been a featured speaker at the event in the past. You may not buy into the whole communing-with-the-spirits-of-the-dead thing, but full of energy and laughter, Lauren always brings high spirits to any event.
Union Leader Decision: Ah, the UL, love it or hate their editorial policies, you gotta give them props for being decisive. But the decision to let star columnist John Clayton leave their bullpen in 2008 has to rank as one of their most puzzling. Clayton’s “In The City” column has always been grassroots journalism, local color and folk history all wrapped up in plain paper like a gift from a favorite uncle. So a sigh of relief could be heard in the Manchester metro region when his byline reappeared. There aren’t many ways to get your name in the paper without getting elected or robbing a bank, but Clayton loves the chance to find regular folks and tell their stories with careful and fascinating detail.
Local Talk Show Host Without a Show: Talk radio in New Hampshire has always been a transient affair, but one constant seemed to be that always, somewhere, you could hear the dulcet trombone notes of the voice of Woody Woodland, opining in his rational and curious way about the topics of the day. Woody’s favorite subjects were things that made you go “hmmm,” like lingering questions about various conspiracy theories (Kennedy, Lincoln and, believe it or not, Marilyn Monroe), but he could hold his own on any topic. No matter who he was interviewing or was on the other end of the call-in phone, Woody made talk radio into a class act. Please, somebody give this guy a show.
Editor's Picks: Shops and Services
Curiosity Shop: Step inside and you’ll be dazzled and puzzled. Ask Roland about his Mt. Agassiz Trading Company in Bethlehem (www.agassiztrading.com) and he’ll tell you he started it 20 years ago “... as a result of my insatiable fascination of things that force the rational mind to think twice.” Much of it’s for sale, including antler carvings, brass geegaws, skulls and bones, and vintage electrical equipment. Much of it is not for sale, like the museum-quality 1930s-era shoe store X-ray foot examiner (remember those?), the human skeleton and the electro-shock therapy machine.
Garden Center: It’s only the second summer for the new owners of the Amherst Garden Center & Flower Shop (www.amherstgardencenter.com), but they’re already going gangbusters. And no wonder — if you’re looking for trees or shrubs, you can choose from a veritable forest of them; if you want garden plants, there’s row after row of them. Go inside and, near the soil, fertilizer and all the stuff you need to make things grow, you’ll see tanks of pond fish, including koi. Need help with creating a water garden? You’ve got it. Oh, they do flower arrangements, too.
Outdoorsy Outlet: Most everybody’s shopped at one of the 64 Eastern Mountain Sports (www.ems.com) stores that dot New England and points south. But a lot of people don’t know that the mother ship of all those EMS satellites, the corporate headquarters, is in New Hampshire — Peterborough, to be exact. You can get the same quality outdoors equipment you get at their other stores, plus if you want something found only on the Web site, you can get it there and then since that’s where Web orders are fulfilled. A perk of having corporate headquarters right upstairs means sample sales you don’t get in other stores.
Musical Squeeze: In just a few years the Accordion Connection (www.accordionconnection.com) on Route 106 in Gilmanton has established itself as the premier spot in the state to both learn about and learn to play this unique instrument. Once considered the height of cornball-ness, the “orchestra in a box” has made a comeback in recent years thanks both to the popularity of zydeco music and a number of popular musicians who’ve incorporated its unique snuggly sound into their recordings.
Place to De-bug Your Bug: If you’re a Volkswagen fan, there’s only one place to go if you need to get your car — or microbus — overhauled or repaired. Peter Harris at Automahnn in Belmont (267-8530) has been perfecting the art of the bug for so long he’s practically legend among VW aficionados around the Northeast.
Crafty Legend: The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen stores around the state are known as the place to find great works of local artists. But it’s still worth the time to visit the original shop in Center Sandwich, which is still known by its original name, Sandwich Home Industries (284-6831). The old wooden building is just open during the summer but local artisans give frequent demonstrations. The League is such an institution in New Hampshire that it’s sometimes taken for granted that all this great artistry is juried and made available across the state.
Women’s Jeans: Finding the perfect pair of jeans doesn’t have to be a retail nightmare. At Alapage in Bedford (www.alapageboutique.com) you’ll find the largest selection of jeans north of Boston and, better yet, a knowledgeable sales staff that can help you choose the best fitting and most flattering pair. The “Jean Bar” includes easy fit jeans and trendsetters, so whether you’re looking to stand out at the party or find something comfortable for everyday wear, Alapage has the answer.
Rural Antiques Store: Potato Barn Antiques of Lancaster (www.potatobarnantiques.com) is a huge one-stop shop for antiques and collectibles, including books, furniture, holiday collectibles and a large selection of linens and quilts. Specialties are ladies’ clothing and accessories (circa 1860-1960), vintage tools and lighting such as lamps, hanging and wall fixtures and restoration parts. If you can’t find what you’re looking for (you probably will), the owners are eager to fill requests.
Vintage Designer Shop: Alice Blue Antiques (532-7015), on the Green in Jaffrey, mingles rare vintage laces and needlework with contemporary fabrics to create original one-off wearables for women. One of the owners travels to France annually to find antique laces and handwork for their designer collection, and for sale separately to collectors of antique needle arts.
Community Arts Market: Concord is slowly establishing itself as a cultural epicenter for the state. The latest development is the birth of the Concord Arts Market (www.concordartsmarket.com), on summer Saturdays in the parking lot of the Justice Department off Green Street. The organizers carefully jury vendors and the results are eclectic and surprising at every turn, from the tiny clay vessels of Boyan Pottery of Contoocook to the fantastic mirrored mosaics of Rambunktious Glass of Dover. Local musicians and acrobats perform and just down the street by the Statehouse, the Concord Farmers Market provides an organic counterpoint.
Lingerie: Bra fitting is big business lately, and Top Drawer in Bedford and Exeter (www.topdrawerboutique.com) has got you covered in that department, but the classic allure of lingerie is the ability to blend style, sexuality and class into a set of cool underthingies. Here is where Top Drawer shines — with sleepwear, undergarments and apparel that are imaginative, fresh and exciting, not just trendy.
Book Store to Get Lost In: For those who love them, a used book store is an escape from reality. The very smell is intoxicating and liberates the mind. Visit Drake Farm Books in Hampton (www.drakefarm.com) and you might escape so far you’ll have a hard time finding your way back. But you won’t mind a bit. The winding path through the well-organized (but not TOO well organized) stacks takes you up stairs and around islands as you pass original art, sculpture, curiosities and into a room full of antique linens and a Fairy Glen. If you get disoriented, a friendly cat will probably rub up against your leg and lead you back to the entrance, assuming you are actually ready to leave — which, if you love books, is probably not the case.
Men’s Jeans: They say fashions come and goes but denim is forever. Maybe so, but designer jeans for men have made a comeback. Fast Eddie’s Dirty Laundry (www.fasteddiesdirtylaundry.com) of Portsmouth is jam packed with trendy jeans from designers in Britain and Japan with prices ranging from $80 to $200. A stitch-free heat sealed denim creates a clean look. Fast Eddies is a laundromat-themed store that’s fun to browse, even if you don’t plan on trading in your Levis.
High Fidelity Record Store: Once upon a time record store greatness was based on quantity. Now, with the Internet putting the infinite jukebox as close as your keyboard, the measure of a great record store is in its vibe. Portsmouth’s newest record store, Odyssey and Oracle (319-1656), capitalizes on this fact, offering a charming DIY aesthetic and a mix of music that is eclectic, to say the least. And the emphasis is on real vinyl, filling about half the store. Why? Because while digital music is cheap and easy, it’s really nothing but individual bytes of sound separated by empty space. Put a needle in a vinyl groove and you get continuous cascading waves of music. Ponder that while listening to your 99 cent iTunes on your tiny little iPods.
Camera Store: Downtown camera stores are among the last of a dying breed, but you’d never know it at the Main St. Concord Camera (www.concordcamera.com) with wall-to-wall product, helpful employees, cutting-edge digital printing and card reading and the best advice anywhere from seasoned store owner Michael St. Germain. The store has been around for more than 100 years, so it’s seen virtually every technological change in photography come and go. Hundreds of dedicated customers are betting that it will lead the way through the digital revolution as well.
Classic Hair Cut: They do it old style with a new wave flair at Lucky’s Barbershop and Shave Parlor in Concord (www.myspace.com/luckysbarbershop). And that’s the way lots of guys like it. That accounts for the epic wait during peak hours, but there’s always space on the room-length bench, plus solid male-oriented reading material and good music bopping from the CD player. Plus, there’s beer on tap if it’s after work, and there’s pleasant conversation with the barbers, each one the kind of guy you’d trust near your throat with a straight razor.
New Coffee Shop: New London residents were bereft last fall when Jack’s Coffee closed. It was a long, cold winter without that morning jolt of java. Happily, the baristas are back brewing espresso, cappuccino and latte; hot and cold. Gen Izutsu opened Ellie’s Café and Deli (www.elliescafeanddeli.com) in April. There’s a new menu with deli fare and a few surprises. The café is spotless, the staff is smiling and the place is packed.
Organic Farmstand: Yes, Brookdale Farm Stand in Hollis (www.brookdalefarms.com) is now certified organic for many of their fruits and vegetables, but woman cannot live on berries alone. The outdoors are filled with bedding plants of all types, and inside the gift shop takes you directly to France with fine imported soaps, accessories and more. You can still find interesting specialty foods and a great selection of fresh-baked pies for a treat, too.
Editor's Picks: Fun and Adventure
Place to Land a Space
Shuttle: At the new McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center (www.starhop.com) in Concord, pilots of all ages can test their skills at landing the space shuttle, using a simulator just like those the real pilots train on. And if the learning curve is greater than the landing trajectory, the plane doesn’t crash. That’s only one of the experiences at the new hands-on science center. Young visitors delight in starring as television meteorologists, filming their own weather broadcast, which they can watch on the delayed-image screen.
Family Summer Camp: Why should kids have all the fun? Waterville Valley Camp allows you to go to camp as a family. You all bunk in a condo or hotel and then, come morning, send the kids off to a Sports for a Lifetime Academy (www.sportsforalifetime.com) day camp that uses Waterville Valley facilities. They’ll golf, play tennis, swim, hike, mountain bike and more while you spend your day relaxing, perhaps doing many of the same activities as your kids (but not with the kids). One special part of the kids’ program — an overnight on Mt. Tecumseh guided by folks at the nearby Rey Center. (By the way, Margret and H.A. Rey created the Curious George books)
Patio with a View: Two great American pastimes are combined at The Patio (www.patiomanchester.com) in Manchester — fine dining and watching baseball. The Patio, located at Manchester’s Hilton Garden Inn, is positioned atop the left field wall of the Fisher Cats’ home field. The menu includes everything from entrées like soy ginger mahi mahi to pizza and buffalo wings, and the cocktail menu is just as diverse with Ball Park Sangria, martinis and a long list of beers. Eat, sip and don’t forget your glove — you might just catch a home run in the middle of dinner.
New Festival: Just in its second year, the New Hampshire Fall Festival at Portsmouth’s Strawbery Banke (www.strawberybanke.org) in October is an exceptional celebration of autumn. There are the requisite farm animals and livestock (check out the exhibits and demonstrations), harvest-themed crafts and live music, but there’s also a range of not-the-usual activities, including presentations on heirloom seeds, canning and food preservation, flower arranging, demonstrations and exhibits on historic crafts and industries, coopering and more. Lots to do for kids, too.
Indoor Play Gym: “Go outside and play” is not often a year-round option when living in New Hampshire. For all those cold months (or rainy summer days) take the kids to the Discovery Stop in Londonderry (www.thediscoverystop.com). Designed for children ages 12 and under, the always squeaky clean Discovery Stop is open for play daily. You can also host your child’s next party here, stop by for a “Mom and Me” art class or attend special events like “Luau Fun” and “Christmas in July.” The Discovery Stop is one of those rare places where your kids will have fun and learn a thing or two without even realizing it.
Best Family Getaway: There aren’t all that many places left where families can happily vacation together. Luckily, there’s The Inn at East Hill Farm (www.east-hill-farm.com). Located at the base of Mount Monadnock in Troy, this inn on a farm has fun and adventure for both kids and adults alike. Parents can enjoy relaxing at a hearty country breakfast and kids can have fun collecting the eggs that will be served. No matter what season you choose, there are plenty of things to do from swimming, fishing, horseback riding, water skiing, sleigh or hay rides, plus children’s activities that include milking cows, crafts, campfires and games. The kids will be entertained while you put your feet up and enjoy a good book.
Salsa Spot: One Spanish-English translation of salsa is “spicy flavor” and that’s just what the Gusanoz Mexican Restaurant in Lebanon (www.gusanoz.com) offers its customers with its free salsa lessons. They happen on the second Saturday of each month with the well-known DJ Spin Doctor as the teacher and spinner of great Latin tunes. The party goes on (the restaurant serving all the while) until midnight.
Inn for Dogs (and Their Friends): Whitman and Lilly will be right at the door of Spruce Moose Lodge and Cottages (www.sprucemooselodge.com) to join the innkeepers in welcoming four-legged guests and their two-legged friends. The North Conway B&B makes sure their canine guests have turn-down treats and a discount on anything they (or their traveling companions) buy at Four Your Paws Only, North Conway’s center for all things canine.
Upscale Resort for Kids: At The Balsams (www.thebalsams.com), even the spa welcomes children, with massages and facials specially designed for little people. And no kids-out-of-the-dining-room-by-7 rules, either. The Balsams’ philosophy is that children are valued guests, too, and the entire staff makes sure they are having a good time, whether they’re dining or learning to fish with parents or learning dining room etiquette as part of the day camp program while parents play golf or enjoy other adult pursuits.
Place to Blow Off Steam: Who knew there were still so many steamboats around? As many as 60 show up for the annual Lee’s Mills Steamboat Meet (476-2224) based at the town docks in Moultonborough. The 10-day event is considered the largest hobby steamboat event in the world. Running from Sept 11-20 this year, there’s a parade of boats each Sunday and a cruise on Wednesday from Moutonborough to Tuftonboro. You can watch and cheer them on. (If you hissed at this event, what would it mean?)
Go Kart Track: Do you feel the need for speed? Get your adrenaline rush without the pricey speeding ticket at Hot Laps Karting Center in Weare (www.hot-laps.com). With adult 13-horsepower racing carts that can reach up to 60 mph, you’ll feel like you’re a part of NASCAR. If the kids are coming along, they also offer a toned-down version for younger racers.
Family-friendly Resort: Located in the heart of the White Mountains, Indian Head Resort in Lincoln (www.indianheadresort.com) has all the charm of “Dirty Dancing”-era family resorts, plus all the modern amenities (think 50-inch plasma TVs and HBO in every room). There’s something for everyone at every age — outdoor enthusiasts will love fishing, hiking, biking and more, while those looking to relax can take a swim in the indoor and outdoor pools or decompress in the saunas. Kids shows and supervised nighttime activities will give the grownups a chance to check out the nightly entertainment in the Thunderbird Lounge.
Best-Kept Park Secret: Wellington State Park on Route 3-A in Bristol, on 240 acres, is the largest freshwater beach in the state’s park system on a lake widely considered one of the cleanest in the country. There are ample opportunities for hiking, fishing and picnicking as well as swimming and boating, with lifeguards on duty from June 21 through September 1. There’s also a free boat launch and hiking trails leading to places like Mount Cardigan. Local officials say more Massachusetts residents than Granite Staters use the beach — and you know that’s not right.
Dog Day Afternoon: Sometimes the gap between Christmas and spring can seem a little long. So make the trip to the World Championship Sled Dog Derby (www.lrsdc.org) held in Laconia every February. In recent years the organizers have figured out how to make the race more visible for spectators — which means it’s more exciting.
Place to see Monarchs (other than the Verizon Wireless Arena): You can find out everything you ever wanted to know (but didn’t know who to ask) about the amazing Monarch butterfly. Just head to The Fells in Newbury (www.thefells.org) for its August 29 Trail Walk Series event. Trail guide Angela Neilson will take you (rain or shine) to the milkweed meadow, a popular monarch habitat, and explore the characteristics, range, diet, life cycle and behavior of the Danau plexippus, aka Monarch butterfly.
Cooking Workshop: Whether grilled cheese is the limit of your culinary prowess or you’re an aspiring chef, Chez Boucher Cooking School (www.chezboucher.com) in Hampton has something to offer. Classes range from professional training and wine classes to kids’ after-school instruction and summer camps. Create a special night out with your significant other at “Couples Night,” or gather a group for the popular “Cooking With Friends” evening. After you’ve prepared your chosen meal, everyone is invited to sit down to enjoy and critique their creations.
Foodie Trail: New Hampshire’s wineries and cheese-makers have joined with a cidery to create three routes that motorists can follow to sample and buy direct from the producers. Walk in the vineyards, watch cheese being made and tour the wineries with this as a guide. The new New Hampshire’s Wine & Cheese Trails brochure, produced in conjunction with New Hampshire Made, is available at state tourist information centers and downloadable from the state tourism Web site (www.visitnh.gov).
Summer Plunge: Before water parks and city pools, taking a plunge off a ledge was the cool thing to do on a hot day. Grab the family, pack a picnic and bathing suit, and head to Rattlesnake Cove in Holderness to make a splash. The 15-20 foot drop off of Big Rock lands you in the clear and cool waters of Squam Lake. Even those who are anxious about taking the plunge will quickly lose their fears as they receive encouragement from bystanders (or, if you’re there at the right time, from the surrounding wildlife). A perfect place to spend family time in the outdoors, you’ll find yourself taking frequent trips to Rattlesnake for a quick fix on warm summer days.
English Gardens: Carved from the forest on Route 127 in Franklin, TarbinGardens (www.tarbingardens.com) is a little oasis of formal and informal gardens, where afternoon tea is served among the blossoming shrubs and flowers. Bring your own picnic to eat in the gardens, then wander at leisure through the hedge-walled garden room, around the ponds and past bog and alpine gardens, to a meadow where Highland cattle graze. Most paths are accessible to motorized scooters and all of the gardens can be seen from wheelchair paths.
Editor's Picks: Arts and Entertainment
Art Sale: Nahcotta, on Portsmouth’s trendy Congress Street (www.nahcotta.com), already had a reputation for a great gallery and gift shop, but when they decided to think small, it went over big. Their Enormous Tiny Art Show in 2007 made the idea of buying real art cooler and more accessible (and in most cases cheaper). Now each September and February the walls of Nahcotta are festooned with great art, bite-sized (10 inches square or smaller), like this 6.5 inch thread-on-paper design by Dana Robson.
Best Pop Culture Blog: Thanks to the all-pervasive influence of the Interwebs, the lines between business and pleasure have thinned. Suddenly games, TV, comic books and film have emerged as bellwethers of global attitudes and provide a common argot for youth from Beijing to Baltimore. Here in the Granite State we’re fortunate to have a team of pop culture zealots tracking the herky-jerky sense and sensibilities of this realm. The insiders at Geek Force Five (www.geekforcefive.com) stalk cool factoids and deliver raw intelligence on an almost daily basis. In an age when pop culture is America’s most substantial export to the world, and where presidential candidates announce their campaigns on late night television and engage in serious debates with comedians, a blog like Geek Force Five is a force to be reckoned with.
African Beat: Northern New Hampshire is about as far as you can get from West Africa, but you’d never know it to hear the infectious music of The Black Bear Moon Rhythm Ensemble (www.blackbearmoon.com). The band plays authentic instruments ranging from African flute, balafon, djembe and log drum, and received training from musical masters in Guinea and Ghana, West Africa. Once they give you the rhythm, they also show you how to use it with traditional dance instruction.
Professional Theater: The quality of summer theatre in New Hampshire is already excellent, but The Winnipesaukee Playhouse (www.winniplayhouse.com) takes that assumption for granted and builds upon it with meticulous attention to detail of sound, set, casting and composition. The theatrical result is sort of like going from regular TV to high definition. Perhaps that explains why this little theatre group near Weirs Beach mops up at the New Hampshire Theatre Awards every year. Their season starts June 24 with Woody Allen’s “Play it Again Sam.”
Bongo Power Pop: Hard to put your finger on what’s so catchy about the music of The Whatnot (www.thewhatnot.com). Maybe it’s that percussive punctuation of the bongo drum, maybe it’s the spot-on three-part harmonies or the hook-a-minute melodies. Maybe it’s just the sheer fun that these guys are obviously having playing rock & roll that is so contagious. They’ve been around for five years (decades in the life of most bands) but they still sound as fresh and full of promise as coffee percolating in a doughnut shop.
Traditional Irish Music: Some of the best traditional music never makes it to the stage. It warms up living rooms and radiates from porches, leads an impromptu ceili after meals are served and wine is poured. The musicians of Réagánta (www.reaganta.com) are a trio, but also a hub of the state’s community of traditional musicians, drawing in friends for special gigs and joining in for musical gatherings (like the Irish acoustic sessions that have taken place at Concord’s Barley House on Tuesdays for many years). Listen to their new CD, “Cup of Tea,” and with their fresh voices and crisp musicianship, you can also hear the laughter and tears, the stories and songs of community that knows no country or boundaries.
Reason to Rock: The folks at Child & Family Services know how to get things done. First of all, they work the mean streets (and back roads) of the Granite State on behalf of the most at-risk and vulnerable segment of our population. It’s tough work and getting harder in a down economy. But these folks also know how to party, as exemplified by their wonderful annual concert series: Concerts for the Cause (www.cfsnh.org). Performers are chosen with a great ear for artists who are perhaps not in the Top 40 countdown, but who can still get fans, from 14 to 40, on their feet. And the spirit of camaraderie and shared mission permeates their events, reminding you that doing good and having a good time are sometimes the same thing.
Jazz Man: Joe Deleault (www.joedeleault.com) is a performer, composer and session pianist who travels the world and has performed with Grammy-winning artists including Jon Bon Jovi, LL Cool J and zydeco master CJ Chenier. But it’s his collaborations with local artists like sax man Don Davis and performances at intimate venues like the Dream Farm Café in Hollis that make him a bright star in the Granite State constellation of jazz.
Music News: The Blues Audience Newsletter (www.bluesaudience.com) has been promoting live blues to the New England blues community since 1991. A sizable portion of that community resides in N.H. where one of the longest-running blues programs still broadcasts from WUNH. Publisher Diana Shonk isn’t just a fan, she’s a musician herself and a graphic designer, so the newsletter is a labor of several loves. With broad vision and meticulous detail, Shonk passionately delivers the news on the blues.
Summer Theatre Tradition: The Barnstormers Theatre, the oldest professional summer theatre in the country (www.barnstormerstheatre.org), is committed to the stock theatre tradition. “We’re probably the only company left on the planet doing a new show every week,” says artistic director Bob Shea. And you owe it to yourself to visit and be blown away by the talent they attract to Tamworth. The sleepy little town accommodates guests. The Daley Café at The Other Store (across the street from the theatre) serves delicious meals with local produce before the show on play nights, and the Tamworth Inn keeps the pub open late.
Local Comedian: Comedy, they say, is hard, but Jimmy Dunn makes it look easy (www.jimmydunn.tv). This is because humor isn’t so much something Dunn does, it’s what he is: a funny guy. And he’s connected to his state and his region in a way that few comedians are, so you always know he’s laughing with you. He’s had film roles, hosted on NESN, shared the stage with Robin Williams, Tony V. and Bobcat Goldthwait, but it hasn’t gone to his head. Yet.
Oscar Night: Red River Theatres in Concord (www.redrivertheatres.org) is easily the sweetest little movie venue in the state, with two full theaters and a screening room, cool interior design, stadium seating, great concessions (reasonably priced) and an attached parking deck. They are also becoming masters of the local film series, like Barry Steelman’s Pre-Code Classics, documentaries on N.H. figures like Sherman Adams and William Loeb, and the N.H. Jewish Film Festival. But they scored a coup on Oscar Night 2009 by securing the only sanctioned Academy Award celebration in the state (one of about 50 in the entire country) and then packing it with local film experts and luminaries (like Oscar winner Ernest Thompson) to provide color commentary on the biggest night of the year for movie lovers.
New Art Scene: The recent reopening of Manchester’s Currier Museum of Art established great art as something essential to the state. Now, with a grand opening on June 27, the Portsmouth Museum of Fine Art (www.tredwellfoundation.org) proposes to catch that fire and spread the illumination. Their mission differs slightly with a greater emphasis on the contemporary and the local. A gallery will allow art lovers to support the artists they love by purchasing their work, and the mission is to extend the transformative power of contemporary art to young minds, partnering with groups like the Andy Warhol Foundation.
Piano Man: Giovanni Varano looks more like Jackie Gleason than Billy Joel, but he performs everything from ZZ Top to Monster Mash with his own peculiar delivery — think Randy Newman meets Leonard Cohen. He plays weekends regularly at Giuseppe’s Pizzeria & Ristorante (www.giuseppesnh.com) in Meredith with the Mills Falls illuminated behind him, and has garnered quite a following.
Breakout Rock Band: Carrying the New Hampshire banner with them wherever they tour, and they are touring pretty constantly of late, Wild Light (www.myspace.com/wildlight) is getting attention from all the right people. They’ve been written up in Rolling Stone and Spin Magazine, and they impressed the crowds of discerning hipsters at this year’s SXSW festival. Their debut album “Adult Nights” is mature in content and in character but in the most precocious and delightful way (See “Breaking Through” story under the "Arts" tab).
Unsigned Rock Band: Led by in-demand session man Mark Paquin, the band named Famous (www.myspace.com/famoustheband) lives up to its name with great word of mouth among fellow musicians and fans of articulate and refined heavy metal. When he’s not playing eardrum-crushing bass riffs with Famous, leader Mark Paquin also plays a monster jive and ska-jazz trombone. When his band plays in Portsmouth, local stars drop by to take notes and Famous provides music guaranteed to satisfy the most discerning headbanger.
New Venue: Any performing arts enthusiast in New Hampshire is familiar with the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord (www.ccanh.com). Now, fans can enjoy the same kind of fresh, exciting work in its new venue, the Spotlight Café. The hip, club-style atmosphere perfectly complements the leading edge shows and performers the Capitol Center is known for, but provides a slick spot to showcase local talent as well.
Community Play: A descendant of one of Swanzey’s original colonists, Denman Thompson, was born in Pennsylvania. His family moved home to Swanzey when he was 14 and he lived there for the next three years among the Yankee characters he made famous in “The Old Homestead,” now America’s third oldest outdoor drama still in production (www.oldhomesteadswanzey.com). At the Potash bowl, Route 32 in Swanzey, July 17, 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m. Band concert at 6:45 p.m. Since 2007, the biggest stars of the show have been Buck and Ike, two Simmental oxen, who pull the hay cart past the stage in Act 1.
Granite State Variety Show: “Frost Heaves” (www.frostheaves.com) is a fictional town in New Hampshire. Think of it as our version of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Ken Sheldon of Hancock, the show’s creator, becomes Fred Marple, the narrator of the town’s adventures. Ken’s wife, Christine Halverson, is the marketing agent. There is a cast and band, too. “Frost Heaves” will soon return to the Peterborough Players Theatre and will still be priced right. “We think cheapness is making a comeback,” says Marple. Check the multimedia page for a video dispatch from Frost Heaves by Fred Marple.