Dining Destinations in Walpole
Find much more than historic white clapboard houses and tractor showrooms in beautiful Walpole
I can always name a handful of New Hampshire restaurants that are truly worth the drive — whether the travel is across the state or across state lines. The Restaurant at Burdick’s in Walpole is one such top destination. Besides being an excellent French bistro, the building also harbors a chocolate lovers café, plus a wonderful market sourcing locally and from afar for interesting selections in meats, cheeses and specialty items. Find all this on the placid main street with nary a stoplight in sight.
When I headed north on Rte. 12 out of Keene seeking the dining gems tucked into tiny towns, bucolic was the first word that cames to mind. The hills rolled, the green of the grass intensified and civilization wound back a few decades. Farming remains a viable way of life in the watershed of the Connecticut River.
My breakfast stop was Stuart & John’s Sugar House in Westmoreland. It’s set on rolling farmland and is part of the sugaring operation that started in 1974 by then-youngsters Stuart Adams and John Matthews. They were childhood friends at the time and currently remain active. Stuart’s father, Roger, bottles the syrup and his mother, Ellie, does the shipping. The restaurant — with all the charm of a church basement and folding chairs — is part of the sugar house. It’s a Plain Janer, but the folks who serve and are served are as friendly as can be.
With my priorities on straight, I picked pancakes as the sponge for the maple syrup. To really up the ante, there is the “add ice cream” option. Why not, they scoop Blake’s Ice Cream in the adjacent scoop shop. The Belgian waffles come highly recommended by patrons and are nicely decorated with berries and a whipped cream frame.
The pancakes had a slight taste of cornmeal, which makes for a heartier batter. And of course, ice cream and maple syrup are the perfect marriage. Their corn fritters could probably be topped with ice cream too. I did drop a spoonful into my coffee.
It was a beautiful Sunday and brunch at The Restaurant at Burdick’s, about eight miles up the road, beckoned.
A sense of warmth from the cheery yellow walls and the glint of sparkling tiny lights make dining at Burdick’s a real pleasure, and that’s before you look at the classic French bistro menu. Choices range from beautiful salads to their famous chicken salad to a grilled lamb burger to croque monsieur with a Mornay sauce and classic steak frites with compound butter. Oysters on the half shell are a staple here too, along with an onion soup gratinée.
For brunch, expect a nice array of Sunday specials including celery potage ($7) for the soup du jour and Bibb salad with bacon lardons ($12) for the salad of the day. On the breakfast side of the spectrum, the French toast du jour is made with a house-made brioche, possibly served with lemon curd and blueberry compote ($14). More hearty choices might be chicken livers Provençal ($15) or a trio of house-made patés, eggs Benedict on toasted brioche, grilled steak with local eggs ($21) and a house-corned beef hash with poached eggs ($15). These are not diner prices. This is not diner food. The baguettes alone are worth the trip.
Of course, dessert is not to be missed, whether you have it served or go straight to the Chocolate Shop and Tea Room and have it boxed up to take away. It’s hard to leave without an iconic chocolate mouse or penguin just to pop in your mouth or feast with a small or very large box of assorted bonbons. Or maybe it is best to drink dessert. They now serve drinking chocolate in dark, milk or single origin varieties, along with interesting teas, and in warm weather, iced and flavored chocolate frappés. Oh, so many ways to get that chocolate fix.
Burdick’s is serious about their chocolate sourcing. They are now partners in the Diamond Chocolate Factory in Grenada, and co-owner Paula Burdick spends a good deal of time onsite working with the staff and overseeing conditions.
Pushing away from the table, I sought renewal in a drive through the village and up one heck of hill to taste wines at Walpole Mountain View Winery. The mountains in question are in Vermont, but the grapes are all grown onsite in Walpole on Barnett Hill. While many Granite State wineries supplement their own grapes with shipments from California, owner Virginia Carter is proud her family made the decision to fill their acreage with 28 hardy French-American hybrids. They were inspired by a Google search that turned up the Minnesota Grape Growers Association. So it had been done before and they are doing it here too, producing a nice selection of 14 varietals, from a Cayuga White to a St. Vincent red. Their signature blends range from a mellow Barnett Hill Rose to a dry 1761 Walpole Red to sweet dessert wines.
Tasting a flight of six of their wines in their sky-high tasting room is to be experienced. Find great views and a favorite wine for everyone. Don’t hurry out.
After finding respite in wine, I headed back to the center of Walpole to enjoy the newly renovated Bellows Walpole Inn. Manager Bobby Hall is familiar to many locals. He has probably taught most Valley bartenders how to make a great Manhattan. With stints at Burdick’s and Nicola’s Trattoria, he was just the man to open this newly improved venue for owner Steven Rudek from Sacramento. Improvements bring the venue into the 21st century with modern lighting, a fashionable bar and walls clear of cloying wallpaper. Their small plates menu is interesting, and service starts with a basket of jarred olives, jarred goat cheese and jarred spiced nuts for $2 each. Pay for what you take.
The small plates range from risotto fritters ($10) to crispy duck breast ($15). Chef’s selections include zucchini noodles ($7) and rack of lamb ($22). Sides are priced separately. Expect an interesting drink list created by Bobby. The dessert menu didn’t sway me, so I headed a bit farther north to Carol’s Scoop Shop.
There’s nothing like antique cars and ice cream. It happened to be cruise night, and a nice selection of rods and vintage cars was backed up by the tallest cornfield I had seen this season. There is something special going on in Walpole. Here are owners who have invested in the land and the buildings to carve out destinations in a sleepy village and its environs. Maybe there are cosmic forces. Yes, it is a beautiful place and you can bet all residents, both rookies and veterans, work hard to keep it that way.
Besides, how bad can your day be if it starts and ends with ice cream. Make mine a pumpkin spice, thank you.