165 Miles from Manchester

Yeah? So what?

Fly fishing season starts soon and so does the urge to travel north. Once you commit to the three-and-a-half hour drive to the top of New Hampshire it’s easy enough to let the landscape roll by. Northern New Hampshire has its appeal and the leg through Bethlehem and beyond is mostly appealing for what isn’t there — urban sprawl.

My destination was the Rainbow Grille & Tavern in Pittsburg. Its location on Back Lake, 165 miles from Manchester, is not a deterrent for their returning quests … it’s a feature. Hunters, fisherman and other escapees from civilization have targeted this place to soothe their soul and enjoy a hearty meal for more than half a century.

I pulled into the lodge parking lot late last fall. The mystique was already working. Tall Timber Lodge sits on the edge of a lake and the setting sun beamed a golden reflection right into the lobby. Coming in from the chill of the evening, the warmth of the fireplace enveloped the room. I could see that this room was a pleasant place to gather — I could feel the warmth from the stove, the owners and from the history. A pair of high-power binoculars rest near the window. Was that a merganser on the lake? Talk was not so much what you did, but what you saw. Life here is not so much about the nightlife, but the wildlife.

Many hunters these days are of the catch-and-release variety and not really into the kill. Later that evening I met a hunter who had rigged a camera stand at a deer “rub” to find out when the deer may be visiting the area. I think the whole process had changed him and he found more satisfaction going through his gallery of deer candids than rifling through a pocketful of buckshot.

The evening sunset over Back Lake can be viewed from the Tall Timber porch.
Photo by Susan Laughlin

Bottom line is, visitors don’t have to be hunters or fishermen to enjoy unspoiled nature and the laid-back atmosphere of Back Lake. There is a great restaurant onsite and, if you decide to stay, and you should, there is a variety of accommodations from quaint lodge rooms to two-bedroom luxury cottages to four-bedrooms homes for larger groups.

Tall Timber Lodge and the Rainbow Grille are a family operation. The brother-and-sisters team of Cindy Howe, Judy Caron and Dave Caron have split responsibilities for the whole resort that originally was started by their father.

The year was 1982 and the economy was on the bottom end of the economic seesaw. Construction work was hard to find. Dad made the bold move of relocating to Pittsburg. By purchasing Tall Timber, where the family vacationed, he created a job for himself and the whole family.  The plan — use construction skills for the never-ending upkeep on a resort. They didn’t want to separate the family so all the kids, including Dave, Tom, Cindy and Judy, in their early 20s and younger at the time, agreed to pitch in too. Their father’s life-altering decision has impacted their life ever since and the siblings have made their living in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire, taking over the operation completely when dad retired in 2004. Now Cindy and Judy run and own the lodge, and Dave Caron is executive chef and his wife Linda manages the restaurant. If you need a fishing or hunting guide, one of the other siblings or in-laws can take care of that too.

It’s a way of life city dwellers don’t understand. It’s peaceful and traffic problems are limited to avoiding orange traffic cones and frost heaves. Good food and friendship become more important. They serve up both here.

Not that he gets out of the kitchen much but Dave know his customers and what they order. Instead of table numbers, the meal ticket comes to him in the kitchen with the guest’s name so he knows who’s in the house and how they like their steak.

Morning frost is worth getting up early to see before it fades in the morning warmth.
Photo by susan laughlin

Sometimes there is an inverse relationship between fancy presentations and flavor. Food is prepared relatively simply here, but it tastes spectacular. Dave and Linda travel quite a bit when time allows and enjoy bringing back ideas from Napa Valley to try in the kitchen. All of Dave’s dishes — from the trout almandine ($22) to the sockeye salmon with Drambuie-Highland sauce ($22) — have been tweaked over the years, but steaks and game meats are the wheelhouse of the Rainbow Grille. The beef is certified Angus and the elk, bison and venison are shipped in from the Dakotas from the best sources. Game choices are on the specials menu since availability is seasonal.

Not sure exactly what goes on in that kitchen that makes all the food choices so appealing … could be the mesquite in the grill, the house blend of pepper, the type of salt, the quality of the meats. Or is it love? Dave tells his co-chefs to cook like they are serving family.

It is a drive to get up here, but it’s also an adventure to see the top of the state and experience if only for a weekend, the life of those who chose to escape urban living.

For fishermen, ice out on the lakes and ponds begins between late April and mid-May, providing some of the best fly fishing of the season. Also at this time, the landlocked salmon enter the upper Connecticut River for the spring smelt run.

Yes, relax, grab the binoculars or the fishing gear. Finally, turn off the phone. There is no cell coverage anyway.

Seasons at Tall Timbers

  • January, February and March: Snowmobiling
  • April: Closed
  • May: Fishing, moose watching, bird watching for loons, osprey and eagles
  • June: Hiking, mountain biking, ATV trails and paddling
  • July & August: Family activities, swimming and boating
  • September: Bear hunting, deer hunting (archery, Sept. 15 to Dec. 15), waterfowl hunting and small game hunting
  • October: Grouse and other bird hunting, youth deer hunting; (Oct. 26-27): Moose hunting by permit only
  • November 2-12: Deer hunting (muzzle loader)
  • November 13 – December 8: Deer hunting (regular firearms)
  • December 9-31: Backcountry skiing and snowshoeing
Categories: Features