A Dining Tour of New London
There's something for everyone to love in this small town including restaurants, inns and gift shops
Millstone at 74 Main. Photo by Susan Laughlin
A college always makes a small town a great town, but there’s more to New London than Colby-Sawyer College. It starts with the drive into town. Suddenly, after getting off I-89 at Exit 11 and with a left onto Main Street, the beauty of the town starts to unroll. Iconic New Hampshire, the way we want to think of our state, survives here.
Gracious Colonial homes, really built in the Colonial era, are set on high points, allowing for stunning views of mountain ridges to the south, while just a short way out of town on the other end, Mt. Kearsage can be seen lingering to the north. The heart of town is the college, a classic gazebo, a few historic white clapboard government buildings and the hospitality of The New London Inn, built in 1792. It could be the set for a remake of “Groundhog Day.”
My visit was during a warm day in winter, but as I recall, this town really blossoms in summer when just about every business sets out window boxes to put the finishing touch on Main Street, saying with flowers, “We love this town and you will too.”
But where to eat? Peter Christian’s Tavern was much beloved by locals for years, but recently closed. A massive rehabbing of the building at 195 Main St. is underway, which may open later this spring with a new enlarged bar and dining area, plus inn rooms above. Hopefully, the new ownership and management will retain the former tavern’s cozy appeal and famous chili. Most certainly, their famous mustard will be the thread linking the past to the present.
While Peter Christian’s faltered, Tucker’s moved into town, and it’s now a very popular breakfast and lunch spot located in the former Jack’s space. Jack Diemar added much to the town almost 20 years ago — his restaurant was one of the first with locally sourced menus complemented by a charming dining space and welcoming seasonal patio space in front.
Tucker’s now carries that heavy skillet, offering “Good Eats. Great People.” Breakfast promises locally sourced eggs for “Bennies” made with their own hash and eggs baked in a slice of challah bread. They offer a real breakfast-lover’s menu, well-executed with homemade hash, artisan breads, locally smoked meats and potatoes browned in bacon fat. But for breakfast, get there before 11 a.m., as the menu turns toward sandwiches until they close at 2 p.m. This is the same Tucker’s that opened in Hooksett in 2014 and branched out into Concord and Dover. And yes, the staff is really made up of “Great People.” A kind server pointed out to me that there was a sticker on my new pants. Ugh!
Waiting for hunger to return, I wandered through Larks & Nightingales, featuring women’s clothing from Tribal. Upstairs in the same building is Nourish, where proprietor Kristen Branzetti takes a serious approach to nutrition by offering natural cosmetics, supplements, local eggs, homemade bone broths, butter bombs (a treat to drop in your coffee I was told) and holistic nutritional counseling.
Skewered quail served with raw vegetables, rice and an Asian dressing from Millstone at 74 Main Photo by Susan Laughlin
Other shops on Main Street include Allioops! Flowers and Gifts, which has colorful potted flowers ideal for gifts, Artisan’s New London offering jewelry, some of which is made locally, more dress shops, several consignment shops and Gourmet Garden, a store featuring locally produced specialty foods and crafts. After oohing over the deliciously soft faux fur throws by Donna Salyer at Lady P’s Boutique, I headed to the local coffee shop, Grounds, for real warmth.
Obviously a favorite haunt for locals, Grounds offers homemade gluten-free sweets, a wall of candy by the pound and chocolate truffles in addition to their correctly prepared coffee and espressos. Sipping my perfectly smooth mocha latte, I remembered ... cheesecake. New London is home to a cheesecake heaven and, yes, it is open until 6 p.m. I packed up quickly.
You know when an entrepreneur can start by selling her cheesecakes to friends, graduate to internet orders and then open a retail location, she has something good going. Mary Wicenski at Pleasant Lake Cheesecake Company bakes a delicious, rich cheesecake in more than 30 flavors. The best part — you can buy minis for a two-bite taste. How damaging can that be? The case offers a tempting selection with each mini topped with a dollop of whipped cream and lemon curd, hazelnuts or fresh fruit. After sampling a half bite of strawberry-topped nirvana, I headed across the street for nutritional sustenance and beverage.
Millstone Restaurant was renamed Millstone at 74 Main in 2014. Not sure why, it’s not on Main Street, but rather Newport Street, the spur that leads back to I-89. If you miss Newport and continue straight, you can see why people love this picturesque area. New London is probably the “second home capital” of the Granite State.
Squeezing into the bar near friendly locals Marge and Rose, I quickly came to love the restaurant. Seating areas are carved out of the room to maximize good feng shui for dining, with low lights, high-top booths and cozy corners. The menu has a definite Asian influence on several items, and I appreciated the lighter touch. The skewered quail was an interesting take on serving a small bird, and there were other items I wanted to try, but in spite of the lively conversation I moved on to the next location.
Talk about longevity. The New London Inn has offered hospitality since the days of the Concord Coach. Fittingly, the inn’s restaurant is called The Coach House and the logo features our national conveyance of olde. But nothing makes me feel older than young people who don’t know the past. The sweet hostess knew nothing of previous owners, Bridget LeRoy and her husband Eric Johnson, who invested much into restoring this property. Remaining as evidence are the wooden lampshades created by Peter Bloch, art glass and the Thursday’s Child event series, an initiative started by LeRoy. On Thursdays, 50 percent of the net profits from dinner is donated to a local group. Coming up in April, recipients include the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail, Friends of Tracy Memorial Library and two others. Visit the inn’s website for a complete schedule and to make reservations. The current owners, Bev and Dan Wolf, are huge supporters of local artisans as well.
The aptly named Goose Burger at The Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille. Photo by Susan Laughlin
The Coach House dining room has all the airs of fine dining with white tablecloths, a fireplace and a wall of windows looking out onto New London’s gracious green. The latest executive chef is Josh Duda, emphasizing French countryside cooking and Asian fusion, all designed within seasonal New England-inspired cuisine. I enjoyed a Caesar salad of Little Gem lettuce with a nice lemony dressing and a pleasant “bourbon smash” libation made with raspberry preserves. The nice couple seated nearby shared a bite of their juicy burger with crispy shoestring fries. That was enough to get me into a burger mood, so I moved on to the next location, The Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille.
The Goose, as locals call it, is at a perfect nexus for outdoor enthusiasts after a day on the slopes, ice fishing or in my case, shopping. We’ve all earned a good beer, and The Flying Goose brews a broad selection in hop and hue. The beer they could call their flagship, the Long Brothers American IPA, is a clean, West Coast style, but I tried their seasonal chocolate milk stout and found it very refreshing. The European visitor sitting next to me asked for a Bud Light, so without too much explanation, I recommended my dark beauty and she was delighted with the choice.
I was happy to see local sources for their burgers, including dear Carole Soule’s Miles Smith Farm. Soule works hard to get the word out on local sourcing, and The Goose does a good job translating beef into delicious burgers. Variations ran the gamut from a lamb burger stuffed with goat cheese on a pretzel bun to a bison burger with blue cheese and bacon to a beefalo burger topped with a sausage patty and cider BBQ sauce. That burger menu brought tears to my eyes, but without ado, I ordered one with the longest description and devoured the whole thing. Well-sated, I had to head back, but listed in the sidebar below, in short, is what I missed and could be on your agenda:
Lake Sunapee Country Club
289 Country Club Ln.
Open to the public for dinner after 4 p.m.
Oak & Grain at the Inn at Pleasant Lake
853 Pleasant St.
A first-class, five-course meal prepared by new owner/chef Bryan Leary hits all the high points for taste, presentation and local sourcing. Spend the evening while Chef Leary talks you through the menu for an immersive dining experience. He changes the menu on a daily basis.
King Hill Inn & Kitchen
499 Andover Rd.
Bring your 11 best friends and/or family for a personalized dining experience with your gracious host and chef, Paul Licari. Restaurant is only open to pre-reserved groups or functions for up to 100. Reservations only.