Dining at the End of the Trail
Fitness experts will tell you that hiking burns between 360 calories per hour for a 125-pound person and 504 calories per hour for a 175-pound person.
For this North Country-based, avid-hiking 170-pound writer, the reward at the end of the uphill part of a hike is, of course, the view.
Similarly, upon reaching the trailhead and parking lot, the treat at the end of the hike is to get back in the car and head to the nearest fine dining establishment, where my thirst and appetite can be satiated.
There are more dining choices in Mt. Washington Valley in the east and the Lincoln area in the west than there are hiking trails in the White Mountains.
Among my favorites? After a hike in the Pinkham Notch area of the White Mountains, for fine dining in a casual atmosphere, you can’t go wrong by driving north to Libby’s Bistro (115 Main Street, Gorham, 466-5330; dinner served Wednesday through Saturday; reservations recommended).
Operated by the husband-and-wife team of Liz and Steve Jackson and chef Nancy Cordwell for the past seven years, the cozy restaurant is located in a former old brick bank building. The seasonal soups include such offerings as carrot ginger soup with Indian-spiced, pan-seared scallops. For dinner, savor the boneless breast of duck au poivre with confit. For dessert, reward yourself with a baby chocolate cake.
“We get people phoning in their reservations on their cell phones from the hiking trails all the time. Although reservations are recommended, we can always find room,” notes Liz Jackson.
If pizza is more to your liking, the top two local choices after hiking in and around Mt. Washington Valley are the Shannon Door Pub (Route 16, Jackson, 383-4211) and Flatbread Pizza at the Eastern Slope Inn (2760 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, 356-4470).
A popular Irish eatery and pub where everyone is made to feel like a local, the Shannon Door’s walls are decorated with pictures of everyone from the Sons of the Irish Rebellion to local Emmy-award-winning actor Gordon Clapp (Det. Medavoy on ABC’s “NYPD Blue”). Ask for the Freeman pizza — it’s not on the menu, but if you request it, you’ll enjoy the garlic-and-sausage favorite of a local Harvard-educated plumber, the late Bob Freeman. The Greek salads are also phenomenal.
Situated in the heart of North Conway Village, the Flatbread Company prides itself on using dough that is made with 100 percent organically grown wheat. Among the brick-fired favorites is the nitrate-free pepperoni (mushrooms, wood-fired cauldron tomato sauce, herbs and cheeses).
If you crave a hearty expert streak or burger after hiking (and who doesn’t?), head down Route 302 from Crawford Notch to the fabulously friendly Red Parka Pub Steakhouse and Pub (Route 302, Glen, 383-4344), where “good food and good times” has been the motto for more than 30 years. Entertainment is offered six nights a week.
A few can’t-go-wrong choices in North Conway include: Horsefeathers (Main Street North Conway, 356-6862), home of the always upbeat Up Bar for live entertainment and always creative suppings such as spicy Maine lobster crab cake, the sumptuous curried crab and asparagus bisque (I always order it), and the pan-seared beef medalions, served with wild mushroom raviolis.
Other great choices include creative southwestern fare at Coyote Rose (Main Street, 356-7673) the incredible pasta dishes at Bellini’s (on Seavey Street, 356-7000), Decades (also on Seavey Street, 356-7080), featuring prime rib and steak, along with great martinis; and The Toasted Lab Wood Grill and Bar (36 Kearsarge Street, 356-6460). At the latter, the pistachio-encrusted filet mignon is out of this world!
For a truly local microbrew to quench your thirst, check out the Cathedral Lager and spicy Texas briskets at the Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. (Route 16, North Conway, 356-6381). The servings are plentiful, and the signature garlic mashed potato is delicious.
Those hiking on the Kancamagus Highway (U.S. Route 112) will want to head to some of the fine establishments located in the southern end of Mt. Washington Valley.
Fun choices in Conway Village for lunch and dinner include Chinook Cafe (447-6300), located on Main Street. Pack the curried chicken salad sandwich before heading out on the trail (it is served with carrots, apples and raisins in a tomato garlic wrap). As a hiker, you’ll feel right at home: over the cafe’s entryway is an AMC Avalanche Brook Trail sign.
The Inn at Crystal Lake (447-2120) on Route 153 in Eaton features a great pub for martinis, burgers and eclectic dining, accented by the opera room. There, you’ll find one whole wall of opera CDs, which are played at a pleasant level by hosts Tim Ostendorf and Bobby Barker, who have transformed the old lakeside inn into a fun place for pubbing or dining.
Nearby is the Snowvillage Inn (447-2818), just up Stuart Road in Madison. The scenic drive by the lake to get to the inn is matched by the incredible feastings and view of Mt. Washington to the north. Host Kevin Flynn is a raconteur extraordinaire, and the inn is renowned for its seasonal soups such as ginger peach, and the scintillating rack of lamb.
On the Lincoln side of the Kanc, The Common Man (745-3463) on Pollard Road offers traditional good eats. A favorite is the double thick pork chop, oven roa