Discovering Milford

Don't miss out on the antique (and food) finds in Milford

The New Hampshire Antique Co-op is filled with all kinds of treasures. Photo by Stillman Rogers

We know there’s a lot more to Milford than food and antiques, but it’s always one or the other that takes us there — sometimes both.

Milford’s reputation as a center for antiques is a longstanding one, dating from a long-gone landmark along the old Route 101A in the center of town. You couldn’t miss it, a great yellow hulk of a wooden building. Reed’s White Elephant Shop billed itself as “the largest antique and second-hand shop on Earth,” and in big letters running along the front of the store it promised you’d find “anything from a collar button to an elephant” in its rambling showrooms.

The radically updated version of the White Elephant Shop sits west of Milford’s Oval, an even larger but much tidier emporium of all things yesterday. The New Hampshire Antique Co-op is more like a museum of Americana arranged by an eccentric collector. Glass cases enclose the smaller and more fragile treasures — silver tea strainers, beautiful art nouveau plates, rows of mid-century Bakelite bracelets, elegant estate jewelry, Civil War relics, an art deco tea set.

Beyond are rooms full of furniture — one is devoted entirely to highboys and chests-on-chests, another to deeply carved Asian pieces. Treasures lurk in hidden alcoves — like a mirror-studded mid-century bar and an English picnic hamper fitted with all its accessories. Upstairs are the collectibles, less valuable but no less interesting — glass Christmas tree ornaments, aluminum cookie cutters, a brownware bean pot, advertising signs from a long-closed diner.

Our energy wans long before our interest does, so we take a break and walk across the street to the second reason for today’s outing, lunch at My Sister’s Kitchen. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d never spot this tiny restaurant with a split personality. One menu announces the usual breakfast and lunch favorites: eggs several ways, pancakes, sandwiches, the daily soup. It’s the other one that brings us to Milford: a page of Russian comfort food.

We are comforted just contemplating the list, and deliberate at length before choosing a plate of chubby stuffed cabbage rolls and one of mushroom vareniki. These are the Russian version of pirogi, satisfying dumplings filled with Portabella mushrooms and served in a flavorful sauce of sautéed onions and tomatoes. When we dithered over whether to have our shared plate of cheese-filled blinis with the sisters’ own peach or strawberry jam, the sister who handles the front of the house (the other one rules the kitchen) suggested some of each. We returned well-fueled to admire more antiques and the Co-op’s top-floor art gallery.

There are other worthy options for both antiques and dining in Milford. Papa Joe’s Humble Kitchen began life as Humble Pie, dedicated to preparing fresh-daily, heat-and-eat meals to serve at home, which they still prepare, but they’ve added a menu of burgers, fries and sandwiches. The most expensive thing on it, at $7.29, is a double burger with Genoa salami, onion rings, cheddar and pepperjack cheeses, bacon, jalapeños and lettuce. On Fridays there’s fish and chips and fried clams. Like My Sister’s Kitchen, it’s a companionable place, filled with regulars at lunchtime.

For dinner out, we chose Giorgio’s Ristorante & Bar, the Milford location of the popular Merrimack Greek-Italian restaurant. The Greek side of the menu features skewers of juicy chicken souvlaki and lamb shanks slow-braised with fresh herbs and tomatoes. On the Italian side are veal picatta, shrimp fra diavolo and a carbonara of house-made wild mushroom ravioli.

The Robin's Egg porch. Photo by Stillman Rogers

Just east of the Oval, Milford’s sloping main square, Robin’s Egg combines antiques, almost antiques, and restyled and quirky used furniture with new stuff and everything in between that would look good in a home. Just browsing through its galleries, where painted furniture, vintage lace and collectible décor blend together in livable settings, inspires me to “do something” with my own collections. Or at least to think about it.

Consigning for Good makes no pretense of suggesting an interior décor look, but it does offer lots of furniture ripe for remake. And there’s no telling what other treasures will turn up, from a Pillsbury Doughboy cookie platter to an antique barn lantern. Most of what you find in this shop has been donated, so the consigner’s share can go to a local charity or nonprofit. It’s a good place to bring all that stuff stacked in the garage for a yard sale.  

After a quick stop at the Bookside Café at the Toadstool Bookshop for a pick-me-up cappuccino, we catch up on Milford’s past at the Milford Historical Society’s Carey House Museum. Here we learn that the bell in the town hall is Paul Revere Bell number 56, one of the oldest in existence. In perusing the exhibits, which range from fine furniture to Civil War relics, we find a large collection of tools used by quarry workers and stone carvers, from Milford’s once-famous granite quarries.

There were more than a dozen of these, most in the town’s southeast corner, and they produced a high grade of building granite. The 30 columns that line the front of the US Treasury Building in Washington are from the Lovejoy Quarry. Milford granite was especially prized by stone carvers for its even texture, which took well to polishing. The quarries employed their own stone carvers, most of whom trained in Italy, and they were known for their cemetery memorials. Beautiful examples of their work stand today in Milford’s Riverside and West Street cemeteries.   

The two memorials on Milford’s Oval, one to each of the World Wars, are from granite quarried here. Although the heyday of the quarries ended with the Depression and the advent of cement as a building material, the last quarry didn’t close until 2006.

Categories: Weekend Trips