A Summer Culinary Tour of Center Harbor
Lake views for relaxed summer dining
The cheese board selection at Lavinia's offers a selection of local cheeses, toasted rosemary almonds, marinated cherries and garlic-rubbed focaccia.
There's nothing quite like a lake view when dining. Somehow the shimmer of blue sky on water or the dance of reflected lights in the evening slow down our built-in accelerometer. Instead of ticking off constant motion, dining is a time to slow down and focus on food, company and, with a bit of luck, the view at hand.
After checking a few online reviews, including the Wolfeboro Forum online and recommendations from locals, I planned a full day of meals — satisfaction that promised a dine worth the drive. First off, I headed to The Mug Restaurant for breakfast.
Though not located directly on the lake, The Mug had a view of Lake Winnipesaukee and the M/S Mount Washington at dock ... if it's Monday before 11 a.m. The lake/nautical theme is reflected in the restaurant, with its blue-and-white color theme that includes a small bar area, also with views. With a generous selection of seafood on the menu, it's the perfect spot to feed your need for seafood. Seems inevitable that people lust for fish when water is in view. Of course, none of the fish served here or other lakeside restaurants offer fish from the lake. You'll need a boat and a fishing license for that. Otherwise, find a decadent lobster Benedict placed atop a grilled croissant. Chef Chris Lopes locks in his lobster prices for the year to keep this summer favorite affordable in and out of season. A pan-seared, gluten-free crab cake is also offered as appetizer or à la Benedict.
A number of Benedicts are available at The Mug Restaurant
The Benedict had come recommended and my order was quickly taken and beautifully presented. The accompanying red-skinned potatoes were perfectly seasoned. A touch of sweetness came through from the Portuguese sweet bread foundation and the Hollandaise had just the right lemony touch. Chef Lopes is proud of his from-scratch cooking throughout the menu. His omelets are extra fluffy because they are finished in the oven. For libation, the coffee and espresso is freshly brewed with beans from Mad River Coffee Roasters in Thornton.
The Mug is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner in season. If you arrive for lunch, consider The Mug's burgers, as the meat is a special blend ground fresh daily from nearby E. M. Heath Supermarket, a locally owned market with a long history of service. Although breakfast is served until noon, consider the pomegranate chicken wings baked with a bread crumb coat and tossed with a sesame-orange dressing, or the spicy buffalo calamari served with a cool green goddess dressing made with avodos.
Nearby Canoe Restaurant is another area favorite. While usually very busy for dinner, you may be able to find a seat at lunchtime. Chef Scott Ouellette now has a chain of fine dining restaurants, but this one focuses on quality comfort food. If you come by boat, just give the restaurant a call ahead and they'll pick you up at the Center Harbor town dock.
Savory fried oysters at Canoe Restaurant
There are several different spaces to dine and all are attractively designed. The screened porch offers lake breezes, while the main dining room gives you a touch of lake life, with canoes hung from the ceiling and generous windows for the view.
The calamari is a standout with its sweet and touch-of-sour flavor. Ouellette has said, "Don't say you don't like calamari until you try mine." Day boat scallops are hard to beat, but expect to pay premium prices for them this summer as all restaurants suffer through a serious price hike. More summer favorites include the Canoe Mac n' Cheese with a rich blend of cheeses and additions of lobster or sirloin strips, if you choose. If you don't like the idea of taking your food live, the oysters here are freshly shucked and then deeply fried for a bit of crunch with the succulence. If you just want to take a break for lunch, nibble on the Canoe chips along with a potent potable — just enough flavor to carry you through to dinner, here or up the street.
Dinner at Lavinia's in the center of town is special indeed. New owners, Chef Brendan McGuff and his father Steve McGuff, are building upon the past to create a memorable dining experience. In two words, the place is exceptional and historical. Brendan is bringing a California flair to the cuisine and Steve is managing the numbers.
In the 1820s the gracious Coe House was the home of John and Lavinia Coe. Coe was an avid abolitionist and the building served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Eventually, the home was downgraded to dorm space for Belmont College. More recently the building was revived as a restaurant by the owners of Home Comfort. As designers they created an amazing space — the dowager was once again a debutante. Original hand-painted wallpaper from France was reconditioned and the rooms were re-imagined with an eye to history and style.
The former home of John and Lavina Coe is now known as Lavinia's.
Recently the Coe House was renamed Lavinia's Relaxed Dining and now with the McGuff's as caretakers, it is simply called Lavinia's. She would be proud.
Lavinia's retains much of the character as a former home. Dining is in small separate rooms, which adds an intimate touch in the perfectly appointed space. There is a bar on each floor and occasional entertainment can be found on the first level. On Wednesdays and Thursdays in the bar, consider the Triple B. Just what you need — the Belknap burger, one beer and one bourbon from their top-shelf selection for $19.
Excellence on the menu starts with the small bites. Marinated olives have a touch of lemon zest and rosemary. First course choices include a satisfying selection of local cheeses, along with toasted rosemary almonds, garlic-rubbed grilled foccacia, house mustard and cherry chutney. The house salad is memorable with goat cheese fritters embedded in a mound of mixed greens dotted with red-wine infused cherries.
Entrée items will change with the seasons, but a house pasta will remain onboard year-round in a variety of incarnations. Think of house-fresh ricotta and smoked onions as well-qualified flavoring agents. Other options range from the comforting Belknap burger to the extravagant lobster Alfredo, lavished with butter and cream. The regular menu is available in the bar.
The flour-less Kahlua chocolate cake at Lavinia's is rich and seductive.
Desserts are simple, but well executed by Brendan's mother. The Kahlua cake is ripe with chocolaty goodness and striped with a raspberry reduction, while the NH maple bread pudding is homey and rich.
The wine list is just being developed, but fine choices can be had in every category, even single-serve bottles of Prosecco. Reds include Duckhorn Decoy, Justin and Silver Oak. Whites include Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay and Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc. A majority of the selections are available in 3- and 6-ounce pours, including house wines.
For an extra special dining experience, get reservations to be seated in the cupola above the third-floor attic space. The small space just fits two diners who are able to climb steep stairs and duck their heads when necessary. Privacy is assured and the view of the lake is outstanding. Servers have to leg it up quite a few times and a larger tip is suggested — maybe even required.
The "Great Pond," as Lake Winnipesaukee was called by the original settlers, has many destination points along its circuitous circumference — consider the small-town charms of Center Harbor for shopping and inspired dining. It's pretty easy here to slip into "island time" for stress relief.
Visit Center Harbor
The Mug Restaurant
Daniel Webster Hwy., Center Harbor
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner in season.
232 Whittier Hwy., Center Harbor
Lunch daily, 11:30 to 2:30
Dinner nightly, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. or 9:30 on Friday and Saturday, reservations strongly suggested
18 Center St., Center Harbor
Open daily from 5 p.m.
Other area dining options
Pat's PIzza and Seafood
Tasty pizza including a seafood version
The Bob House
More things to do
The M/S Mount Washington
Docks here in winter and on Mondays through October 19 it picks up passengers at the Center Harbor dock.
The answer to all your gift-giving needs, including that special one for yourself.
There is live music at the gazebo in the center of town.
June 6: Annual Summer Tent Sale at Keepsake Quilting
Save on quilting fabrics, patterns and more.
12 Main St., starts at 8 a.m.
There are more than 300 acres of hiking in Center Harbor. More information at centerharbornh.org